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Heard of a 'Practice Week'? Here's 3 Ways We Prep for The School Year - by Mary Ellen Barrett

Heard of a ‘Practice Week’? Here’s 3 Ways We Prep for The School Year


So here we are with another school year looming upon us, and the panic mode is starting to set in with moms who follow the traditional September …

So here we are with another school year looming upon us, and the panic mode is starting to set in with moms who follow the traditional September to June calendar. Lesson plans, IHIPs (Individualized Home Instruction Plan), book searches (where did I put that?), cleaning and reorganizing. It’s a lot.

All through the long summer, bedtimes have loosened up, snacks have been doled out freely without much regard to schedules, dinners have been late, and we’ve been sleeping in way too late. As wonderful as it has been, it is not the kind of schedule to make for a successful school year.

The sudden dropping of all our lazy summer habits in favor of the stricter schedules of school time has led to more than one meltdown here in the Barrett home.

A few years ago, I came upon the idea of a ‘practice week’.

It has helped a great deal with our easing into the first week of school and has minimized the shock to the systems of some over-sunned and over-sugared children.

The idea behind practice week is that you begin the routine of school but not the actual school work yet.

1. Early to Bed, Early to Rise…

We begin with bedtimes. The Sunday before practice week, I enforce bedtime. I give everyone plenty of warning that this is going to happen, and I give out any new bedtimes to older children.

This, more than anything, makes the actual first week of school much easier on the children since they have already adjusted and are much better rested than they would be had we not begun early.

This bedtime enforcement includes me as well since I have a tendency to stay up way too late in the summer, sitting on the deck and enjoying the warmer weather.

This is a nice part of summer, but it is more important to get to bed and be rested for the coming day. When I’m tired, I’m cranky, and a cranky mama is not the best homeschooling mama.

It is my custom to get up an hour and a half earlier than I wake the children. This has, in the past, been a 5:30 a.m. wake up call for me, but this year it will be 5:00 a.m. I know, yikes.

The problem is that now we are much busier during school hours, and it’s just harder to get everything done in a reasonable amount of time with my customary 7:00 a.m. wake-up and 8:00 a.m. start time.

So now we will begin earlier. No one is happy about it, but hey, we’re Catholic and suffering should be offered up.

I find that the days are much easier when I am diligent about bedtimes and particularly about my getting up early. It’s not my favorite thing to do, and it is getting a little harder every year, but the mortification is worth the peace in my home and heart.

With that time I can pray quietly, exercise, drink that essential first cup of coffee whilst it’s still hot, shower, dress and primp a bit for my family. The peaceful time for me enables me to deal more effectively with the sometimes chaotic mornings we face here in the Barrett home.

2. Gathering for Morning Prayers

The next important part of practice week is gathering for morning prayers. As the children have gotten older it has been much harder to gather in the mornings during the summer months.

My oldest had a full time job in Manhattan requiring a long commute; the next oldest had a few morning babysitting jobs as well as being away at camp for a while. There are sleepovers and early beach trips and nature walks; you get the idea.

So in practice week morning prayers are mandatory and the outside activities cease. We gather right after breakfast and pray together (more about our prayer routines in an upcoming post). Praying is the best way to ensure a successful homeschool day.

If we don’t gather in prayer before we work, I find that the stresses and strains of daily life intrude a great deal into what should be the serene rhythm of our day.

The next component of practice week is morning time. During our homeschool days I use a basket full of material that is specially picked to fill out our home education. I blogged very fully about this at my personal blog a few years ago (Read ‘Morning Basket’), but basically it’s a basket that is filled with seasonal treasures such as saint stories and nature stories, Shakespeare, poetry, civic lessons and some sketching materials with which we all begin the day together. Morning time takes anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour and gives me an opportunity to close any gaps in our learning or to enrich our knowledge of a particular subject.

3. Dimming the Screens

The final part of practice week is the dimming of the screens. During the summer there is much more time for video games and movies. On rainy days the tablets come out and the handheld games surface more than I am willing to tolerate during school times.

So practice week affords the chance to ease out of the habit of having screen time. The screens go dim and we bring out puzzles and board games during the heat of the day. The other times are devoted to playing in the yard and generally getting the house ready for school proper.

Gearing up for a school year takes a lot out of us moms. We plan, we shop, we worry, we shop some more, we organize and we schedule. Then, when we feel really ready, we begin, only to find out no one else is ready. Ugh! It can cast a pall on the whole year if you aren’t careful.

Practice week smoothes the transitions and irons out the rough spots so that school can begin with a calm, collected mama and rested, happy children.

Isn’t that worth practicing?

About Mary Ellen Barrett

Mother of seven children and two in heaven, Mary is wife to David and a lifelong New Yorker. She has homeschooled her children for eleven years using Seton and an enormous amount of books. She is a columnist for The Long Island Catholic and blogs here . Meet Mary Ellen.
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