Co-schooling runs into a bit of a snag when the families can't get together on the appointed day. It might be something unexpected: the phone rings, and we hear that someone is sick; the family will have to stay home that day. School won't happen together. Other absences can be planned for in advance: a family goes out of town for a vaction, or perhaps Grandma is coming to stay for a few days and nobody's going to have school. Either way, some allowance has to be made for the co-schooled subjects.
The first question: Are the families still both doing school that day, or is one family having the day off school? Often, we keep doing school even when we are out of town; for example, if we go to visit the grandparents for a weekor two, my children will still have school (albeit a reduced schedule) in the mornings. Or, if we stay home because one child is sick, the other children will still have some school to do. So sometimes it is the case that the families are both able to work, but separately rather than together. On the other hand, perhaps one family is taking the day totally off and the other is having a
full school day.
Hannah and I always try to talk to each other and decide what to do with each of the subjects on a given day. Here are some of the possibilities.
(1) One family does a lesson and the other family skips the lesson: that is,some children "missed school that day." This works pretty well for subjects where one day's lesson doesn't necessarily build heavily on what preceded it. An example would be a history lesson that involved reading a biography and then discussing that person's life.
Advantage: Both families stay "on schedule." Disadvantage: one family misses the lesson outright, and the other families miss the benefits of larger-group discussion. Some lessons will have to be altered because of the group being smaller.
(2) Each family plans to finish the assigned lessons by the next time they meet. This keeps you on a schedule if necessary, and it works well for workbook-type curricula where each family has identical resources (e.g. if you each own a copy of the textbook and the workbook), because all you have to do is agree which pages will be assigned during the separation. You don't have to be doing the work on exactly the same day, so this strategy can sometimes be used even if one family is taking a "day off," as long as there is sometime to make up the work. Hannah and I often do this with fourth-grade English grammar; even though she usually teaches the children and guides them through the workbook we use, I am comfortable enough with the material that I can teach it too, although I think not as well as she can. We can always call, text, or email if we have a question.
But if you don't have identical resources -- for example, if you are working from a set of books or materials owned by only one family -- another approach must be taken, such as one of the next two.
(3) If you can afford to set yourself back one session, you could postpone the lesson until the next time, and have one or both families do an "extra" enrichment or extension activity instead -- whatever works best for the family. Watch a video, take a field trip, write a paragraph, read a book, build a model... any sort of thing that you might not get to do if you were following the regular schedule, something that it won't matter that the other family misses.
(4) Or, if you need to stay on schedule more than you need to cover the material exactly as planned, you can abandon the planned lesson for that day and let each parent cover the same topic spontaneously with the resources they have available to them. Thanks to the Internet, there is always SOME information available to work from, even if the other family has all the books. Each child is going to have a different experience with the material, but this means they can spend some of their next class time recounting what they learned to each other.
(5) Or each family can do a special topic in the same general subject. Right now our middle children are studying art prints by Jacques-Louis David; but if we can't get together (I own all the David art prints), Hannah and I can each pull any art print from any resource, and work with that. I migh use a Renoir painting off an old calendar, and she might use a Cassatt print from another collection of postcard prints she owns, and we'll both still have "done" art appreciation that day. Skills stay sharp and habits are reinforced, and we can return to the David unit when we are back together.
(6) Assign extra practice or drill, and put off learning new material until the next time you meet. This is great for subjects where one parent is in charge of almost all the teaching of new material, but where either family is able to run a drill or practice session. It also means that no one will be "behind" even if they cannot complete the assignment.
We often do this with Latin. If I know in advance that we will be apart for one or more sessions, I will write up a worksheet of translation practice for each session and share the worksheets on Google Docs. If I don't have advance notice, I'll assign vocabulary drill with flash cards. It's always useful to get in a little bit of extra practice or drill.
(7) Use the opportunity to let one child catch up to the other. Every once in a while, even though they are all working together, one child will have a stronger grasp of the material, or will have completed more of a project, than the others. Then, if they are apart, the child who's "ahead" can pause his work on the subject while the others keep working. We have done this with a multi-step writing project where each child was working on his or her own research paper -- one child was farther along than the others, and so when a separation came up, we planned to have him take a break from working on the paper while the others had several sessions in his absence. Since there is no hurry to get the papers done by any deadline, and it is efficient for the teaching parent to be guiding the children together through the steps of the paper-writing, there's no reason not to give more worktime to the kids who need it when we get the chance.
(8) Swap the schedule around. We usually study world history together on Tuesdays at Hannah's, and American history together on Thursdays at my house. But if we have to be apart on a Thursday, we will often swap a session of American history with a session of world history, because it is much easier to use our world history curriculum separately than to use our American history curriculum separately. We'll do American history on the next Tuesday we're together instead.
(9) Everybody just skips working with a subject that day. We do this pretty often with composition, which is taught by Hannah at the pace the children naturally progress rather than on a schedule. At least in our state, we have no obligation to follow a pre-set schedule. We can use the extra time to catch up on something else.
(10) Embrace a complete change of plans (also known as "blowing off
school for the day"). I don't know about you, but every once in a great while I wake up and the weather is beautiful and I just know that we need to go to the zoo more than we need to stay home and study Latin and spelling and math. Or I wake up and the weather is CRUMMY and I just know it is a perfect day to spend the morning cleaning the house together, order pizza for lunch, and then re-organize the schoolroom while the kids watch movies. You've got to allow for that to happen a few times every year, I think.
Well, if you are co-schooling, you KNOW that some of the co-schooling days, your friend is going to call you up and let you know that morning that your expected plans are not going to work. I try to save up my we're-blowing-off-school days so that I can afford to do it on those days when the co-schooling plans fell through. Then I always feel like the unexpected change of plans was an opportunity to do something I otherwise wouldn't have made the time for. If I have enough advance notice, I might schedule a play date with some other friend and her kids, or get my husband to use a vacation day.
ADDED ON 1/6/11:
(11) We've tried co-schooling via Skype by now and found that it worked pretty well.
In short, because your schedule is intertwined with that of another family, co-schooling may reduce your spontaneity -- but because that family has the power to change YOUR schedule, it also teaches you how to be flexible on short notice. I am the original Mrs. Hates-To-Change-Plans, and I am living proof that this ability can be learned... at least when someone forces me to.