This time of year, in addition to my other tasks, I’m also doing something very important that will ensure my success for the rest of the school year. I’m preparing my plans and organizing my homeschool. If you’re going to be working and homeschooling (or having your child attend virtual school) this year, I strongly recommend preparing now. The more decisions you make now and the more planning, organizing, and prepping you do, the fewer decisions you will need to make when you’re really busy in the middle of the school year. Because I’ve always homeschooled while also either being in graduate school or working from home, I’ve also always taken the time to prepare ahead of time. Here’s what you can do to help ensure a smooth school year.
Know Your State’s Homeschooling Laws, Keep Records Anyway
I know, I know, there are a lot of people who will tell you that you don’t need to keep records and a portfolio if your state doesn’t require it. I’m here to tell you whether your state requires it or not, keep records. This is much more important for older children, but it’s also important for children who are advanced and will need support for acceleration in school if circumstances change and you have to put them into a traditional schooling situation and for children who are behind. You are your child’s advocate.
It’s harder to show that your child is doing work, but needs an IEP or additional support because they’re struggling if you do not have a record of what they’ve done. Children also LOVE to look back at how far they’ve come in a year. Know your state’s laws, keep records. You never know when you might have to show that learning is, in fact, happening in your home. A really great resource for anyone homeschooling is Responsible Homeschooling.
They list the laws for homeschooling and provide all kinds of resources to help parents and guardians homeschooling in a responsible, respectful of a child’s-needs manner. And they offer advice for how to seek help if a child is struggling.
Determine Where Most of Your Homeschooling Will Happen
It’s important to have a regular spot where the homeschooling happens. This doesn’t mean you can’t move locations when the mood strikes, but just like with working from home, choosing a regular spot for homeschooling or online learning helps your child get into the right frame of mind to learn. On that note, it’s also important to create a routine. How will you start your homeschooling day? We start with breakfast, then our “morning time,” where we ease into our day with a fun activity or by reading a chapter book or by coloring. I have my coffee, and it’s just a nice way to do things.
Get As Many Materials and Supplies As You Will Need
Nothing messes up a really good learning mojo like realizing you don’t have some supply for your science kit’s project or your markers are dried up. Take advantage of sales – get extras of markers, colored pencils, pencils, crayons now. Keep extras stashed away. Go through your science, art, and history curriculum. Any projects you’re planning to do, make note of what supplies will be needed. It seems tedious, but a little planning and prep-work now mean that you don’t have to make an emergency run to the store for a ruler or for sugar or for something else.
Outline Your Year By Week
You don’t have to do this, but I find that this makes my life way easier. Rather than just opening and doing “the next thing,” I create a big master spreadsheet. Each tab in the spreadsheet matches up to each subject for that child. Our state requires at least 180 days of school, or 36 weeks. I actually plan for 210 days of school, or 42 weeks. Do what meets your state guidelines & works for your family. I then look at my curriculum and decide how we will cover that in 42 weeks, then I break it down from there into how much has to be covered to meet that goal by the end of the year.
I don’t necessarily stick with this outline – what it does is let me know if we’re moving a lot slower through something, either I was overly ambitious or perhaps we need a less rigorous curriculum. If we’re zooming through it – was I providing enough challenge? Is my child really mastering the material? Do we need to add in more rigor? Should we genuinely accelerate the plan for that subject for the year?
The other benefit of outlining ahead of time: You don’t have to make decisions about what to do next. You already know what to do next.
Make A List of Library Books You Know You Will Need And Create a Reminder for When to Request Them
We rely a lot on our local library. As such, before we begin our year, I make a list of topics we’ll cover and I’ll research what books are available. Some of these books are to have on hand in case we’re particularly inspired by a topic, some form our literature curriculum, and some supplement our history and science curricula. I try to use books as often as possible. So, I create a resource list – by weekly topic – of books we will need. Then, I copy and paste the list into my calendar on dates that I will need to request those books by (since we’re still doing curbside pickup). I try to request books 1 1/2-2 weeks before they will be needed so that they’re ready for us. Bonus: I take that email receipt of what we’ve checked out and I put it on the calendar 3 days before the books are due.
Plan Social Engagement
I know, we’re all physically distancing right now, and it’s likely that will get worse in the fall and winter. BUT it’s really important to plan the ways where your child will be interacting with other children. Many virtual schools will have a social component built in, but for those doing more traditional homeschooling, you’ll need to do something. We do Girl Scouts. I’m looking into different classes on Outschool.
I’m hoping our science center offers some classes. I’m always on the lookout for interactive opportunities. I’m also considering organizing a virtual co-op. Many local co-ops are online right now, so you may want to look into that as well.
Schedule Breaks – Daily and Periodically
My break time is after lunch. The kids are asked to play quietly, do learning activities on the iPad or watch a video or show. It depends upon the day. By sticking to that as part of the routine, I stave off what, for me, is a time when I typically find myself running out of patience. It lets me recharge for anything we’re doing in the afternoon, it lets the kids recharge their own batteries, and sometimes, the littlest ones still will take a nap during this time.
It’s also important to put on your calendar when you will take time off. I like starting in early August because it means I can take a lot of time off in the fall for a fall break, for Thanksgiving, for a lot of December, for spring when it first is nice out and we want to get outside, and for when we just plain need a break (or when mom is swamped with deadlines).
One Final Note:
It’s not a competition. We are all trying to do our best this year. Our homeschooling isn’t going to look like yours or someone else’s. Comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t compare. It’s going to be a challenge, because everyone will be posting “all the things” they are doing on social media. Just focus on your children and meeting their needs – and your own mental health.