As much as I hate to rush summer along, it's right around this time when I start getting ready for a new homeschool year. I thought I'd share this overview of the steps I take, and then, in future posts, I'll go into further detail. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, because we all approach September differently - some of us homeschool, some don't; some of us have kids, some don't! - and I think it's always nice to share ideas.
* Planning & Preparing for a New School Year *
1. Tie up last year's loose ends.
I first pull out last year's educational plans (one for each child, filed with the town) and begin a "year-end report" document for each child. As much as I love paper, I do this on my laptop. And to refresh my memory, I go through our in-basket, last year's file folders, my calendar, and this blog, in order to remember what they/we did this past year. I then draft the three reports and after showing them to Bill, I print them out. We mail in the reports (along with our new ed. plans) in early August.
2. Start a planning page for "new year" thoughts and lists.
I have a tab for this in my home management binder. I just take out last year's pages and file them, and then insert new pages for this year.
3. Think, think, think ... and envision.
I like to spend a good bit of time imagining the year ahead, and thinking about what I'd like to see happen - what we need to work on and how I'd like things to be different. I have to make time to do this - even schedule it in! But I also often have to reign myself in, because I do love to think ... and time can get away from me! Some of these ideas will be more concrete than others: (re)teach cursive and listen to more audiobooks ... immerse ourselves in nature and work on independence. I have some pretty strong feelings and ideas about this year because this is Bookworm's senior year! So it's my last year with all three boys enrolled in my "class." *sigh*
4. Meet with my family.
This is a chance for us all to sit down and talk about our hopes and goals for the new year - activities outside the home, both academic and not (classes, sports, clubs, volunteering, etc.). I also talk with the boys about their curriculum - which subjects and topics we'll be covering this year.
5. Write out the 2012-2013 educational plans.
I write a plan out for each one of the boys, which we submit to the school system for approval. This includes an outline of topics to be covered and the curriculum we plan to use. (I always make sure to note that we will include these resources, but not limit ourselves to them.) Then, along with the year-end reports and a few other requirements (notice of intent, instructor qualifications, hours per subject, etc.), I send the whole kit and kaboodle to the superintendent's office. (A copy gets filed under my home education tab.)
6. Ready the space.
Some families have designated learning rooms, some learn all over the place; we do a bit of both. We do call our sitting room off the kitchen our "learning room," but we hardly limit ourselves to this space. For all intents and purposes, however, this is the heart of our homeschool. Sometime in August - when the weather's not too hot! - I like to do a thorough cleaning of this room. I wash the windows and birdfeeders (ok, Bill does this) and vacuum/dust/mop and polish ... till everything's shining bright and smelling fresh. (I also think about our outside learning spaces - all around the yard, the garden and woods.)
And as I weed out old bins, baskets and bookshelves, I begin a list of things to replenish. This becomes our "back-to-school" shopping list ...
7. Gather our materials.
If I was really on top of things, I would order our curriculum in the spring, when Oak Meadow is having its 20% off sale. Unfortunately, I'm never ready to order that soon. So I decide what curriculum we need to purchase as I write out the education plans. Then I place our orders and cross my fingers it's all in stock! After I've made those purchases, I finalize our school supplies list and then I'm off to shop. Once I have it all home (or delivered, as the case may be), I keep our supplies set aside until our first official day.
At this time we also look at the boys' clothes and see how things are faring in that department. Having all boys has been wonderful for reusing clothes - huge savings there! But there are always more things we need - new shoes, backpacks, jackets, sports gear, church clothes, pajamas and slippers, etc.
8. Reasses our routine.
I look at what our weekly schedule will be like - how many days are we at home vs. how many days are we out and about? Every year is different - some years we are more active than others, but I always try to have a balance. I can't function (and we can't get our work done) if we're out all the time, so I like to have *at least* two days that are free from any outside activities (at least during the daytime). Depending on what days are busy, I may need to change up some of our home-based activities (i.e. craft days, faith @ home, nature walks, baking, etc.).
Then there's the daily routine ... now, I know not all homeschooling families get up early, but we do - partcularly on days we have outside classes or Mass. Summer mornings have been much more relaxed, so it's good for us to start waking a little earlier each day - and getting ourselves "together" earlier too (i.e. dressing, eating, etc.). It's really not that big of a change for us, since we are already fairly early risers, but it helps ease the transition all the same.
I have a group of dear friends - homeschooing mamas I've known for years - with whom I meet for coffee once or twice a year. We usually try to make one of these meet-ups at the end of the summer so we can give ourselves a little boost and see what's up with each other. We don't see each other as often as we did when our kids were small, so it's really nice to check in and catch up. And the ideas we exchange - resources, upcoming classes, etc. - are wonderful. And of course, it's great to talk with like-minded women whose "school year" will look very much like mine. I always walk away from our time together feeling inspired, invigorated and truly connected!
I am also quite fortunate to be part of a wonderful homeschool support group. We have participated in many acitivites and many ways through the years, but my favorite annual event is our "September Planning Meeting." At this meeting - run like a true business meeting - we make plans and share ideas and I diligently take minutes for the newsletter. We schedule things too - like parties and fairs and community events. This meeting always gets me fired up for a new year of home learning and happy living!
10. Create a lesson planner.
I've used different planners and methods through the year, but I always need some way of keeping track of our academic plans and goals each week. My new planner is still under construction right now, so I'll have to get back to you on this point!
11. Plan for kickoff!
I am often asked if we have to sync up our schedules with the public school calendar, and the answer to that is, thankfully, no. We have to commit to the same amount of hours, but it's up to us when those hours fall. So we don't have to take February vacation if it's not convenient (and most years it's not) but we can take Holy Week off because that's important to us.
So we "start" our school year the day after Labor Day - every year, without fail. The older boys also take elective classes at a local homeschool center, and those start up this week, too. So we'll really be getting "back into the groove" that first full week of September! I like to plan special meals for that week, and I also like to take a "class" picture of the boys, every year.
It's always nice to mark a special day - a turn of year - in happy, familiar ways. These are the things that make fond family memories, and let our kids know we are proud of them and we're excited about learning new things, too!
Well, this got to be quite longer than I originally intended, but I hope you found it somewhat of interest. For me, and my household (and homeschool), a successful "new year" has its start here in the dog days of summer. As I stated above, I don't like to rush time along - goodness knows, it needs no help! - but I think a little forethought and preparation makes any season more enjoyable.
(Speaking of, does anyone else think about Christmas in July?)
Have a good Monday, my friends ... I'll see you here again very soon!