Saturday, 27 August 2011

Planning and Preparing for Back-to-School

To me, the run-up to a new school-year is one of the most fun times in the life of a homeschooling mom.  All the great, optimistic plans, the excuses to buy new notebooks and pens and books, the joy of clearing out last year's stuff to make way for the new.

Yet, it can also be a stressful and difficult time.  For one thing, if you're anything like me, you've just had a fantastically relaxed summer vacation.  I've just returned from two months in my home state of Texas, where -- ok -- we were setting record temperatures over 105 and it never rained, but having lived twenty years in England, there's something glorious in having the sun on-tap whenever you want to brave the scorching weather for a half-hour or so.
Soaking up the sun in the sand.
Now it's back to dreary, chilly reality, an empty calendar looming in front of me, and lesson plans to arrange for four children who range in age from 11 to 4, and a house to de-clutter after the exodus at the end of last term.

Factor into that the vacation-thing: piles of laundry and new books and toys and swimgear, all gathered over the past two months when the children seemed to decide that sunshine was some kind of growth hormone, and they all shot up about an inch, which meant new clothes and shoes as well.

Unusual picture of me among the clutter
(unusual that it's me, not that there's clutter!)
So to help us all -- new homeschoolers as well as veterans, since every year is a new challenge -- I've come up with a handy little acronym to help you get everything ready in under a week's time.


You can either think of it in terms of having a RADAR device that locates everything that's coming your way, or you can think of that character in MASH who always seemed to be able to know what was coming ahead of time and so anticipated his commanding officer's needs.

This is your RADAR for the coming year:
  • R) Remind yourself why you're homeschooling.  I think it's important every year to recall your purposes and motivations, because there are times (and we all have them!!!) when you just can't think of who thought homeschooling was a good idea.
  • A) Avoid over-buying curriculum and supplies.  The flush of having a whole year's worth of stuff is so exciting, until the credit card bill comes.  Spread out your costs if possible (for example, some curricula, like ShillerMath, might offer payment plans -- if there's no penalty for doing it, then it's not a bad solution).  Better yet, look into free options like AmblesideOnline.
  • D) De-clutter.  I can't tell you how important this is for starting your year, since you'll invariably clutter back up during the year.  I'm going through a phase right now of having a very critical look at the books on my bookshelves, choosing only those "living books" that don't "undermine the child's integrity".  In other words, that doesn't dumb-down the reading experience.  I can't believe how many annuals of Teletubbies, Thomas the Tank Engine, and My Little Pony I had accumulated, and now they're going down to the charity shop.
  • A) Adapt any curricula or programme so that your input is minimized, particularly in terms of combining  children or even your whole family together for some things. I know with some boxed options, this will be hard, but there is only one you, and that makes it really important to protect yourself from burn-out. Otherwise, it affects not just the homeschooling, but the home itself.
  • R) Routine, not schedule.  I think of schedules as rigid, whereas routines are more flowing.  Instead of using a time frame like "10:00-10:30 Science", I just aim to do science after we've done our history reading, which should be around 10 or so.  An example of routine in a timetable can be found at Simply Charlotte Mason. Just note: at first, they looked overwhelming to me, and then I realised that -- true to the Charlotte Mason method -- the number of different subjects were being covered in only about 10 or 15 minutes each.  This is so children can concentrate for a long stretch of time (between 2 and 4 hours, depending on the age), but not have to focus too long on any one thing and so get tired and cranky.   You can, for example, mix in some silly dancing, or PE, or computer time, or music practice so children, especially boys, can move between desk work and something that uses a different part of the brain and perhaps is more geared toward gross motor skills.
  • S) Stay simple, and stay sentered ... yeah, yeah. I stretched that one.  Again, though, it's a matter of protecting yourself.  There's such a tendency to overcommit to lots of outside clubs and sports, seemingly overcompensating for your children's social opportunities at home (though children who are at school are also dangerously overcommitted, and they haven't got that excuse!).  Keep it simple, because actually there's a huge bonus for children to be left alone sometimes to make up their own entertainment.  And keeping it "sentered"?   That's getting yourself a break from it all, a time when your kids are doing something on their own and leaving Mommy to have some Quiet Time.  It may be to pray or meditate, read a novel, have a cup of tea or coffee, soak in the tub, potter in the garden, or whatever is your method of choice to relax.  But honestly, do it every day.  Every day.
A good book about simplifying, not exactly about homeschooling is Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.  Maybe pick up a copy and read it in your Quiet Time!

So fix your eyes on your RADARS in these last few days before you leap into your homeschooling again, and hopefully, you'll be able to see all those things that lie ahead of you. 

Remember: forewarned is forearmed.

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