SummaryEach school year is a unique adventure. As she prepares for her ninth year of homeschooling, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur offers seven tips for beginning well.
With eight years of homeschooling under my belt, one might think I would have lots of ideas about how to get the new school year off to an auspicious beginning, but the truth is that I am still learning.
Every school year is a fresh adventure.
As soon as I think I have my children figured out, they hit a new developmental stage and change.
Life and circumstances change as well.
So, in preparing to write this article, I asked the true experts—my teenage sons—what they thought was necessary to get the year off to a good start.
Between their thoughts and my own, we just may be on to something.
1. Have a Plan for Your Homeschool Year
Homeschoolers come in all personality types. In the Catholic homeschool group I belong to, there are those who have the full year planned out week by week with all handouts and extra materials ready to go before the school year even begins.
On the other end of the planning spectrum are those who sit down to order books the second week of September.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I like to decide at the end of the school year what we are going to do the following academic year. I involve my older children in the decision as much as possible. I live in the hope that if they help choose what they are doing, they will be more willing to do it.
I make the choices for my youngest child, taking into account her personality and learning style. Making a plan early allows me to relax and not think about school most of the summer.
The week before school begins, I sit down with the chosen books and figure out how much we have to cover each week to finish the material by the end of the year. I then plan for the first week, making sure we have all the supplies, print-outs, books from the library, etc. to complete the work.
Regardless of your homeschooling personality, a plan is important. As my fifteen-year-old stated, “If nothing is planned, school is not going to happen.”
2. Make Sure Everyone is Getting Enough Sleep
One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that we don’t have to follow traditional school hours.
While young children may be up and ready to start the school day by 8 a.m., teenagers often like to start the day a bit later. A full night’s sleep helps both learning capabilities and attitude.
Make sure your child has an age-appropriate bedtime, and keep all technology (televisions, tablets, cellphones, and hand-held games) out of sleep areas. Work with your child’s or teen’s natural sleep rhythms.
Try to get all the sleep you need as a homeschooling parent as well. I know there are times when a full night’s sleep isn’t possible (my daughter did not sleep through the night until she was four), but we adults do better with a good night’s sleep as well.
Whenever possible, go to bed as early as you can to get the sleep you need. Your children and your body will appreciate it.
3. Get Some New School Supplies
Traditional schools send out lists of required school supplies each year. As homeschoolers, we tend to have most of our supplies already, but it’s still fun to get some new supplies. What child doesn’t enjoy a freshly-opened box of crayons?
New notebooks, binders, pens and pencils can help build excitement for a new school year.
4. Start Every Day with Prayer
As Catholic homeschoolers, our primary task is to raise our children to be who God wants them to be. To do that, we need to pray, both privately and as a family.
Do whatever you need to do to spend at least a few minutes in private prayer in the morning. Offer your day to God and pray for wisdom and patience in homeschooling, that your children will learn what they should when they should.
Then, say morning prayers with your children. Everyone’s day will go better if it is rooted in prayer.
5. Ease Into the Homeschool Year
The transition from summer to school can be a jarring one, especially if you have reluctant learners or students with special needs. While you may be eager to tackle six or seven subjects on the first day, that can be a recipe for disaster. Aim for three or four.
Try to do something fun the first day, perhaps a hands-on science project or art project. You have the whole year to get everything accomplished. You don’t need to get it all done the first day.
6. Resist Overscheduling
All those activities can seem like a great idea, until you are trying to get three different children to three different activities on the same night. Or, you have one child who has three different activities scheduled on the same night. Things get ugly in a hurry.
A good rule of thumb is to have one extracurricular activity per child per season. In large families, that may not be possible. I’ve seen families rotate which child has an activity in which season.
It’s amazing how quickly life gets insanely busy. While a certain amount of homeschooling can be done in the car while traveling to various activities, to doctor’s appointments, or to visit grandparents, it is important to have uninterrupted stretches of time at home to get things done and to allow time for unstructured play.
7. Be Willing to Change the Plan
Homeschooling can be incredibly flexible. We can tailor the education to the child. We create our homeschooling plans with our child’s best interests at heart. It can be hard to admit that the plan isn’t working, especially if it involved a substantial financial commitment.
There are times when you have to be willing to adjust the plan. Homeschooling should not be a nightmare. While some difficulty can be expected, if you or your child can’t bear the thought of another homeschool day, something needs to change.
Don’t be afraid to try something new, whether that be a new book or a new approach.
There are also times when your child is struggling with a subject and simply can’t get through it as quickly as you might like. I plan on a weekly basis so that I can see what has been accomplished and what we need to work on.
Sometimes, you just need to spend more time on some topics. Other topics might be moved through more quickly. Adjust as necessary.
Lastly, plans can need to be changed because life intervenes.
Pregnancy, sickness, work changes, or moving can throw a wrench into any homeschool year. Rest assured that learning continues even when your plan goes out the window.
What ideas would you add to this list to get your homeschool year off to a great start?