We homeschool year round, but September marks the start of a fresh school year for us. This means August is all about getting my brain and my home ready to tackle the challenges of a new season of homeschooling. Here are some of the ways I try to get us ready for a successful school year.
1. Start with Prayer
Before I begin writing out any homeschool plans (and definitely before I start shopping!) I like to take some time to sit with the Lord and ask what His vision for our coming school year is. Sometimes I sneak away to a coffee shop or library on my husband’s afternoon off for some concentrated time to listen and pray. Other times I take a walk through the woods listening to worship music and soaking in God’s creation to try to hear what He would speak to me. I may even spread my times of prayer out over several weeks, snatching a few minutes each morning with tea and a journal.
In these times, I ask God what he would like me to focus on with each of my children, what He considers most important for their development at this stage, and what character qualities He is working on in me. If I’m weighing a particular decision about curriculum or outside activities, I ask for His wisdom and invite Him to show me any solutions I may not have considered yet.
I truly believe these times set aside for prayer are vital to my own ability to homeschool effectively. There is no way I can accomplish the lofty goals I have for my homeschool, goals rooted in a desire to see my children love and serve the Lord, apart from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. So let’s invite Him into our homeschools!
2. Be Willing to Say No to Good Things
We have no shortage of amazing opportunities available to us as homeschoolers. Whether it’s neat ideas we see on Pinterest and Instagram, co-ops and classes targeted toward homeschoolers, suggestions from real-life friends, or a cool new curriculum everyone is talking about, we have so many (sometimes too many!) options.
There is no way one family can do it all. If we try to read every awesome book, incorporate every game, participate in every class or join every sports team, we are headed for burnout for ourselves and our kiddos. Fear of missing out does not lead our homeschool to healthy places. If you want to stay sane and give your children a peaceful home life, you will have to say no to good, even great, things.
This even applies to academic course work. You do not have to cover every subject every year. You don’t have to teach a given subject all throughout the school year either.
Once you’ve prayerfully zeroed in on the work that is truly yours to do, don’t add to the work God has given you by piling on extras. Stick to what is truly essential, and set boundaries for yourself to limit your focus (one activity per person per semester can be a helpful guideline).
3. Make a (Tentative) Gameplan
There’s no one right way to plan for your homeschool year. It may take some trial and error to find a method that works for your personality and your family.
I like to write out 3 – 5 goals for each of my children, whether academic, emotional or spiritual. I also jot down any books I think will light them up or subject areas I want to be sure to cover with them. Next, I have a brainstorming session with each of my kiddos individually. We discuss what they most enjoyed from the previous year, what topics they want to dive deeper into this year, and what classes or activities are available to them. I also bring in my husband into the planning conversation to see what I might be missing. His fresh perspective always adds new insights. With all that it mind, I write out a tentative plan with daily and weekly rhythms and a curriculum list.
Whatever you do, hold your plans loosely. You never know when life is going to throw you an unexpected road bump or when your kids will develop a burning passion. Last year I was all ready to dive into Early American History with my kids when my son became fascinated by John F. Kennedy. We decided to put my plans on hold in order to read books about JFK, watch documentaries and even tour his birthplace. I’m sure my kids took in more history this way than if I’d barreled ahead with my plans. As homeschool veteran Sarah Mackenzie is fond of saying, “planning is just guessing.”
4. Buy or Borrow What You Need
My first year of homeschooling I purchased what I thought would be an entire year’s worth of material up front. I soon learned this wasn’t the best way to go. As I tweaked our plans throughout the year, some of those resources ended up going unused. Even the ones that we did use to the fullest often collected dust for months until we needed them.
Now I buy just what I need to get started for the first 6 to 8 weeks of school. Some of these resources (like our math curriculum) will be used all year round. I’ve discovered other resources like literature books are needed for only a few weeks at a time. We try to get these materials from the library or borrow from a fellow homeschool family. If we decide they are special enough to add to our permanent collection, we then purchase them later on.
This spreads our homeschool budget out throughout the year, instead of having to make a huge investment all at once. And it makes sure we’re only buying what we truly need. I don’t have to try to guess in August what we’ll be using in February! I know I will still have money left in the budget to make those choices then.
5. Cultivate Your School Space
We pare down our normal school routine in the summer to make more time for beach days, nature hikes and get-togethers with friends. As a result, our school room often becomes a dumping ground for half-finished art projects, abandoned curriculum, and stacks of papers. Getting this space tidied up is a must if I’m going to start the new year in a good frame of mind.
When I begin working on my space, I like to spend some time reflecting on how I want my homeschool to feel? Years from now when someone asks my children what homeschooling was like, what do I want them to say? What do I want them to remember? And is my space set up to allow that vision to become a reality?
As you reflect on these questions, what changes can you make to bring your space into better alignment with your values? If you value your children’s ability to freely access materials when creativity strikes, rearrange your space to give them ready access to art supplies or drawing paper. Maybe you value books and reading. You could devote more space to a cozy reading corner or better organized bookshelves. Perhaps nature exploration is a high value for your family. You might consider creating a space to display your nature treasures where guide books and inspiring posters are close at hand. Whatever is most important to you, make sure your space is set up in a way that gives priority to those values.
We hope these tips help you get your school day off to a great start. Know that we’re here praying for you and cheering you on!
This post is Part One of our Back to Homeschool series. Check out some of our other new Back to School articles below: