This is part 3 of a 3-part series on "Making the Most of Your School Year". Listen HERE to the full conversation with our Homeschool parents or find it on the Watermark Family Ministry Podcast. Be sure to check out Part 1 on Private School and Part 2 on Public School for helpful principles specific to those educational environments.
This will be our 9th year to homeschool. That statement wells up a mixture of emotions within me: surprise that we’ve been going at this for nearly a decade, slight fear that maybe I’ve missed something or not done enough along the way, and profound thankfulness that I’ve had the opportunity to share in the educational journey with my kids and homeschool community. It has been an adventure for sure! One full of joys & struggles, encouragement & discouragement, discoveries & frustration, laughter & tears, and lots of adjustments along the way.
Each year seems to present its own challenges. Sometimes those challenges are expected and planned for, but sometimes they come clear out of the blue. I’ve found that when I take the time to implement four basic principles, H.O.M.E., our year seems to run a bit smoother. These principles don’t take away the challenges, but they do help me face them with a bit more grace.
It’s hard to get someplace if you don’t know where you’re headed. I usually start planning my school year by spending some time re-evaluating what I believe about education and our family’s educational mission. I pray through what’s worked in the past and ask the Lord to guide us in the year ahead…that I wouldn’t get caught up in the cultural current, but that I would be open to His plan and leading. Once that re-centers me, I spend some time praying over each child. I consider areas of gifting as well as areas of struggle as I set goals for the coming year.
Nothing derails a school day quicker than jumping into a lesson only to realize I never made the needed copies, or worse yet, don’t have the supplies needed for a fun activity or project that goes along with the lesson! I’m not homeschooling so that we can fly through the lessons and move on. I want my children to engage with the material we are learning. But that can’t happen if I haven’t done a little planning and preparing.
There are many ways to go about organizing your materials and making a plan. I have friends who do this weekly. They have a specific day of the week that they use to plan and prepare for the coming week. I know others who spend time each evening writing out a task list for each child and making sure they have the necessary supplies. I’ve tried both of these methods and they just don’t work for me. Inevitably something keeps me from completing the list and our next day is spent scrambling to figure out what needs to get done. To make the most of our school year I really have to use a significant portion of our summer to make sure everything is in order and mapped out. It is a huge time commitment on the front end, but for me, it’s what works best.
Take some time to discover what works best for your family, and give yourself permission to try something different if the first method doesn’t really work for you.
As beneficial as planning can be, sometimes there’s a need to scrap the plan.
The first year we homeschooled I did all I could to pick the “perfect” curriculum for our crew. We were excited to jump in and get the school year started, but within just a few short weeks it became apparent that one particular subject was not working for us. Frustrations were mounting and tears were almost daily. This was not a good way to start our homeschool journey! The day I threw the textbook across the table in frustration, I knew we needed a change. I hated feeling like I was wasting money on the curriculum that didn’t work, but, even more so, I hated the way it was sucking the joy out of learning. In that situation, making a curriculum change was the best thing I could do for our family, academically and relationally.
Adjustments to our day have also come in the form of scrapping a lesson to focus on heart issues or relationships. There have been numerous times that I’ve altered our academic plans because my time was better spent focusing on attitudes of disrespect, dishonesty, or lack of diligence. Though it’s often time consuming and exhausting, the time I spend investing in my child’s character is always time well spent. And let's not forget about the days when the 2 year old just needs a bit of extra attention or half your crew comes down with the stomach bug! Those are the days you need to give yourself a little grace and allow for adjustments!
Our year is also more enjoyable when I make adjustments in our schedule for opportunities to serve, explore, or connect with others outside of our home. There are so many service and homeschool opportunities in our area that I can’t possibly keep track of and plan for them all. Being willing to set aside the bookwork for an impromptu outing usually does wonders for our morale and presents us with many learning opportunities that I couldn’t possibly create in our home.
It’s easy to get sucked into the to-do list…especially as kids get older and academic pressures mount. There is certainly a time and place to buckle down and get work done, but when I neglect the need to have fun together, I miss opportunities to connect with my children and school days can begin to feel long and heavy. Bringing an element of “fun” into our school day can be as easy as story time outside with a picnic; math facts on the trampoline with jump breaks in-between, and making time for art, music and science experiments. We also benefit from an occasional outing that is just focused on fun and connecting. An afternoon ice cream break, a day trip to play putt-putt, or even a spontaneous play date can really provide the break we need to feel refreshed and refocused.
As my oldest child is entering his junior year in High School, I am reminded that the days are long but the years are so short! I must make the most of our days, using them to grow him academically, but also embracing the freedom we have for fun and connecting during the school day.
The homeschooling journey is one that presents its own unique set of joys and challenges. With a little bit of processing and planning, and an open mind for adjustments and fun during the year, we can make the most of our school year.