SummaryA good school year takes forethought and prep. Christine Smitha’s 5 tips will make a big difference in the tone and manageability of your homeschool.
Success is all about preparation. Winning a race takes training and a healthy lifestyle. Acing a test takes study and a good night’s sleep.
So too, a good school year takes some forethought and preparation. Here are 5 ways you can prepare your families for a successful school year.
1) Find your spiritual footing.
Success may be all about preparation, but preparation needs to rest on a solid foundation, and for us, that foundation is God. The saying goes that “If everything is right with the Lord, then everything else will be alright too.”
Conversely, if things aren’t going well in the spiritual realm, they’re not going to go very well anywhere else either. So, right now, before the school year gets started, determine how to incorporate prayer and the sacraments.
For yourselves, Mom and Dad, make time for personal prayer before the children get up, or before you begin the tasks of the day. Alternatively, set aside time in the evening for a little spiritual reading or solitary prayer.
Figure out if it will work for your family to go to daily Mass, or at least on certain days of the week, such as Mondays to start the week well and Fridays to give thanks for another week accomplished. If you don’t live near daily Mass, consider reading the Epistle and Gospel of the day with your children at breakfast, or watching EWTN’s daily Mass. Pick a particular saint to be the patron of your school year, and commit to asking for his/her intercession and the intercession of each day’s saint every morning.
Take a Bible verse as your motto, frame it, and place it in a prominent place where it can be a constant guide and inspiration. Sirach 21:21, Psalm 119:66, Proverbs 9:9, and John 14:26 are just a few of the many excellent verses on teaching and education.
Teach your children a good prayer or novena to be said together at the beginning of each school day, and think about incorporating observance of the noontime Angelus tradition. One way or another, allowing school to revolve around Christ will help to ensure it stays on track.
2) Choose Dad’s role for the year.
Most endeavors in life benefit from a bit of coaching assistance, and in homeschooling, fathers usually fulfill that role. In some families, emotional support is all Mom and the kids need from Dad to get through the week. However, for many families, the more Dad can be involved in the homeschool, the better off everybody will be.
If you haven’t previously done this, then right now, before the new academic year begins, you should sit down together and work out at least one significant way Dad can get hands-on with homeschooling this year.
You might be in keeping with many families if you decide that Dad is going to be the Math and/or Science teacher this year. However, for some families, it might work better if Dad teaches a different class.
Homeschooling mom, Kim, told us that her husband teaches history, music and art. Susan says that her husband is the foreign language teacher in their household. Mada told us her husband teaches the kids English. Many times, we’ve heard that fathers are the religion teachers in the family.
Dad’s role doesn’t always need to be an explicitly teaching role, however. We’ve heard wonderful ideas about alternative ways for dads to be involved in the homeschool from a number of Seton families.
Elizabeth says that in her house, “Dad grades everyone’s work. It keeps us all honest!”
Lacey told us that her husband administers all the tests. Meagan’s husband has a really interesting approach, in which “he takes turns leading one discussion topic parallel with the children’s lessons before he heads to work. Each day is a different topic so he knows where the children are in all of their studies, and it gives me a small coffee break.”
Dads can teach. Dads can run review sessions. Dads can lead experiments and field trips, or act as academic and behavioral counselors. Ultimately, whatever specific role dads take on, as long as they remain the “C.E.O. . . . Chief Encouraging Officer,” as mom Anne puts it, they’ll be making a significant and positive contribution to the homeschool.
3) Establish basic structure.
Some people are going to be more comfortable with a greater degree of organization, and some people are going to be more comfortable with less. However, all benefit from at least a basic system being in place. A fundamental level of structure or organization makes it possible to stay abreast of school and life and to prevent catastrophic collision when they intersect.
Look at a calendar. Even if you don’t want to plan an entire semester, or even a quarter at a time, at least look at the month ahead. Take note of feast days, birthdays, family events, anything that might be a potential interference with school, so you’re not surprised when those days arrive. Schedule a handful of slightly longer schooldays and a Saturday morning or two to make sure you can make up the time that might get lost to activities and external events. If you need them, you’ll be glad you’ve already made provision, and if you find you don’t need them, so much the better; then you’ll have extra time to give to something else important.
Establish basic policies for daily time management. In one house, these might be as simple as determining which subjects will be covered on which days, or whether they’ll be covered in a morning or afternoon session. In another house, these might involve setting time limits for each subject, and schedules for when each child will have one-on-one teaching time with Mom or Dad. Settle on basic breakfast, snack, break, and lunchtime routines, so that your children learn what to expect and what they can or can’t do at these times.
Don’t forget to give some thought to the way chores and general housekeeping will fit into the daily program; after all, life must go on, even when you’re homeschooling. Know when laundry and vacuuming will take place, and plan who gets to help you with dishes and taking out the trash.
4) Set up a classroom.
Not everyone has the luxury of dedicating an entire room to school (though if you can set aside a room for exclusive scholastic use without permanently alienating some part of your family, we highly recommend it). Nonetheless, studies have shown that serious work is best accomplished in a distraction-free zone. Do whatever you can to make this possible for your children. Some families set aside their dining room for a classroom for the entirety of the school year.
Homeschool mom Bridget uses the spare bedroom as a classroom. Keri says her family does school in their loft. Kelly set up her family’s enclosed sun porch as their schoolroom.
Consider using a basement, even if it is unfinished, as long as there is heat and you can provide good light. A section can be cleaned, arranged with desks and shelves, and decorated with maps and diagrams to provide an encouragingly academic environment.
If there simply is not space to dedicate an entire room to school, find ways to set aside a section of a room. Rearrange furniture in the living room so that one corner can be turned into a school corner. If your staircase has a large landing area at the top or the hallway has a nook, see if those spaces can be utilized for individual study carrels as you’d see in a library. Mom Krista is very creative, and keeps the bar in her kitchen for school use, while “the cabinets above contain all the homeschool books.” Ultimately, of course, children can do schoolwork just about anywhere, but they’re guaranteed to be more efficient and effective if they can be provided with a little individual space set aside just for their academics.
5) Review your resources.
This is one of the most important preparatory activities you can do. Look over the lesson plans so you know what each course will be teaching and what assignments are scheduled when. Review textbooks and workbooks (this does not necessarily mean read cover to cover) so you know exactly what material your students will be interacting with on a daily basis.
Log into your MySeton account and peruse the supplemental exercises, study aids, book analysis guides, learning tools and for high school, the audio/video tutorials, so you’ll have a sense of what helps are available when they are needed later on. Finally, check Seton’s contact page to learn who your counselor contacts will be in case you need to call or email with questions once school begins.
Following these five basic steps of preparation for a new academic year will make a big difference in the tone and manageability of your homeschool.
Get ready, get set; now go have a great school year!