It may seem like a funny time of the year to write a post about beginning well in your homeschool but I’ve always been frustrated when a helpful post pops up on “the day” leaving you no time to take advantage of the advice. You know what I mean, those adorable crafts for a saint’s feast day that are posted on the day and not the week before so you can prepare and take advantage of the advice. It’s a pet peeve to be sure.
This might actually be timely for you because many moms are trying to wind up their school year and, judging by the questions I’m getting via email and Facebook, are already planning for next year. This is wise. It’s nicer to have a plan going into the summer when you are a little more wired to relax than to have it hanging over your head and then frantically trying to get your act together before your term starts. Not that I would know anything about that (Hurumph).
Even if you school throughout the year, sketching out how things are going to progress going forward into 2020 is a good idea. It frees you up to spend time on the fun aspects of planning.
Since more than a few people have asked lately let me share with you a few ideas I have for getting your academic year set up for success.
- Give yourself a deadline.
You might need two deadlines. I usually set a date by which I want all my materials in the house and the planning done. Then I set a hard and fast date to begin the school year. For us it is usually around the Feast of the Assumption. It gives us the opportunity to ask Our Lady to intercede for us and to dedicate our studies to her. Whatever dates you choose make sure they are written in stone (barring any catastrophes of course) and share those dates with your husband (the principal). If you need assistance in choosing curriculum or programs, if you need scheduling advice, if you think you may need extra help in the way of housekeeping or tutoring then ask your husband’s counsel and get it done in time to make your deadline.
One of the benefits to this is that it helps you and your household regard what you do as a job. I get so frustrated by the attitude that homeschooling your children is just something you do and mothers (and fathers) don’t need the basics that people who teach children in brick and mortar schools need. Deadlines help to encourage organization and productivity as well as fostering a serious attitude about what you are doing.
- Don’t Waffle. You know your kids better than anyone and you know how they learn. If you’ve been doing this a few years and you have a good groove stick with it. I can’t tell you how many moms come to me tired and frustrated that their fourth grader can’t add. After speaking with them a while I find they are on their fifth math curriculum. They are looking for that magic program that will be so much fun and the child will love it and learn quickly. It’s like looking for a unicorn in your bathtub. It’s not going to happen. Math can be hard and many kids don’t like it. It requires a lot of repetition and a lot of practice and hard thinking. None of that is fun. Sure there are fun math games to play and you should absolute take advantage of them (some of my favorites are linked below) but please don’t try to get out of the hard work of teaching math by looking for that magical program. The same goes for reading, writing and grammar. So once you pick a program stick with it for, at least, the whole year. That is the only way you can evaluate it’s progress. If you are feeling some curriculum blues please, please don’t go on social media and ask everyone what they are doing. You will get as many recommendations as there are grains of sand in your sandbox and you will also be plagued with ads for all of them for the next six months.
If the kids are making progress, and have learned what they needed to learn then continue along with that math (or reading or grammar…) and then, magically, you will find how much easier it becomes for you to teach these subjects because you know that text/program/curricula inside and out and you aren’t constantly second guessing yourself. This brings peace. Peace is good.
- Organize the stuff. Have you ever been full into the first day and discovered one the kids didn’t have a math or spelling book? I have. The child in question was, of course, delighted. Me, not so much. Nothing like falling behind on day one. When that happened a few times I instituted my dishpan method of organizing the coming year’s school work. I label a dishpan (cheap ones) with each child’s name and that is where it all goes until I’m finished. After making the list of courses they are taking and what I need I shop the house for books and resources I already own. Each dishpan has a list taped to it so I can check off as I find what I need. I’ve been at this a while so I already own a lot. After the house shopping is done I make a list of what I need to buy and I start making purchases. The bulk of my buying happens at the National IHM Conference in Fredericksburg. Most of the major curriculum providers are there as well as a bunch of lovely Catholic vendors. Dave and I make a weekend of it, in spite of my working the whole time. He is my muscle, hauling around the books I buy. If you are going to be there come say hi to me!
When all the lists are checked off and the pans are full then it’s on to…
- Have a place for everything to land. Each child needs a place to put their stuff. In my house it’s cubby shelves in the dining room where most of the school work takes place. I’ve also used crates, tote bags and each child having their own shelf in a book case. These different methods have evolved over the years as the kids get older and the family needs change.
The important part is that when the day is done all the stuff has a place to go so that the next day you don’t spend two hours trying to locate a book. Having a central location for supplies like pens and pencils is essential as well. We use a rolling cart which is perfect for right now since it can live in the dining room but easily be rolled away at meal times to go live in the office. If you have very young children something on wheels might end up being a big disaster so a basket or tray might serve you better.
- Plan ahead. It’s really necessary to sketch out what each day should look like. This helps prevent surprises and disorganized days. This step requires more thought than action on the part of mom because you really need to spend some time visualizing how your days will play out. What time should everyone get up? What morning chores need to be done? What time should your school day start? Are there breaks? How many and for how long? Are there co-op days or outside classes? What about online classes? Who is driving where? All of these things must be thoughtfully considered and planned out. Pen and paper are a good beginning, whether it be in your planner or in a notebook, sketch out your days and find a rhythm that works for your family this year. It may look different than last year’s rhythm and it will likely change again next year. It may change in two months which is why it is extremely important that you schedule time for yourself to consider the schedule, plan the lessons and grade the assignments. This time, whether broken up over days or scheduled in a few hours at once, is essential to getting a good start and keeping your homeschool moving along gracefully. Moms who plan have peace, moms who don’t, well they don’t. It really does allow for space to be spontaneous when the opportunity presents itself, if you know that the essentials are usually taken care of.
Remember to not schedule every minute as well. Board games, fort building. Lego creations are all essential to development and time in the day to pursue these activities is really important. Leave some space for play.
You might read this and think, “YIKES, this is a lot of work!” and you would be right. Homeschooling is a lot of work. Anything worth doing is a lot of work and educating your children is no different. I sometimes encounter moms who want this all to be easy and fun and you definitely need days that are easy and fun but by and large it’s hard work that takes hours out of every day, including weekend hours of planning and prepping. There is no getting around that. This “ahead of time” work will serve your family well and bring peace to your home which, in turn, will allow for easy days and fun times. Get yourself set up to have a great start for your next year!
What are your best tips for getting off to a great start?