Starting Your School Year Simply

If the start of a new school year finds you stressing over all you have to do, it shouldn’t. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some suggestions to help you start your year with peace.

Plan less. You can always add more later.

Have a basic plan, but you don’t have to have it all mapped out. Don’t feel like you have to have every detail planned to start your year. If you have a basic routine for your day and books for the main subjects -Reading, Writing, and Math- you can start with just that. I think the tendency for most homeschool moms is to plan way too much. We have our own ideas, we see Pinterest projects, we look through curriculum catalogs and websites and it all just looks SO GOOD! We are afraid of our kids missing something, so we overplan. What happens, though, as we make our way through the year, is that we start to feel overwhelmed. That overwhelming feeling is from DOING WAY TOO MUCH.

If you have special first day of school plans as some people like to do, great! Make the most of it! BUT you don’t HAVE to have something special for the first day. You can just start. Our family has a tradition of opening new chapter books on the first day of school and taking pictures. It’s always been something fun for all of us, however, because of COVID and items back-ordered, we won’t have that this year. But it is OK! Our first day will look very simple. We’ll probably take pictures, get back into our familiar school routines, start slowly with a few subjects, enjoy a good afternoon reading, and call it a day. I know that as we get going, we will pick up the pace, but I don’t have to have that all figured out from the start. It can be as simple as opening your books again. Many years, I spent so much time trying to map out the perfect schedule and fit in every ounce of the exciting ideas I want to try with them, only to realize as the days played out that my plan wasn’t workable. One thing I thought would take 15 minutes, took 45 minutes instead… and so on. You really have to see how the day plays out to know what is going to work best for your child and for you. You will probably need to re-adjust things as you go anyway.

As I share with you, I remind myself, KEEP IT SIMPLE!

Leave space in your day for the things that have to happen in a home.

This is not a school. This is a home. Remember that in a home, home things happen. Meals have to be made, dishes need to be washed, laundry run. Little ones want snuggles at nap time. There may be errands or interruptions. These may seem to be taking away from your school time, but I think core life skills are developed in these moments. A home is a place that is always moving, always living. That’s the beauty of home- the life happening in it. When it takes time in our day to prepare a meal, complete morning chores, water the garden, read to a younger sibling, take the mail to an elderly neighbor, the kids are not missing school time. No, they are learning very practical, life-long skills!

Remember that for little ones, learning the habit of a morning routine (dress, make bed, brush teeth) takes time! It can take weeks, months. (For some kids it takes years, ha!) Take the time to help them do it well. It will pay off as they grow!

With older kids, practicing life skills develops in them an awareness of the work it takes to keep a place running. If older kids are home to watch familiar meals made time and again, they might surprise you and ask if they can try it on their own. When they are part of the regular work of a home, they learn skills they will use for life!

Don’t feel like you have to manage all the house work and the kids school work yourself! Involve them in the work! Have them help as they are capable with meal clean up and other household tasks. If you are checking a child’s work and hear the washer timer, it’s ok to ask that child to switch the laundry while you finish correcting his work. Have the attitude that says, “We all work together to keep the house running!” If the family is tidying up and someone finishes early, it’s ok to give them more work if you are all working as a team to pick up the house. Work together. Then rest and learn and play together.

Have a routine, not a schedule.

If you are writing out a schedule with times on it, for example, what you will be doing from 9:00-9:30, etc., you are likely to be disappointed and frustrated. With kids at home, unexpected things happen. The baby has a blow out in the middle of math. The toddler refuses to nap. The dog gets out of the fence and you have to load everyone in the car and drive around the neighborhood to get him back. Your child has a rotten attitude and you have to deal with a discipline issue. You were up all night with a baby and you got a late start. These have all happened to me at some time or another-with plenty more examples I could throw in for good measure! Instead of a schedule, try making a list what you want to do for each day. Our kids each have their own checklist so it is visible for them as well as for me. They start with the first subject and move on as they finish their work. This is motivating to them to see what they will be doing now and what is coming next.

Focus on building character and having conversations.

This is one area that tends to get pushed to the side, but if given appropriate focus, it will pay dividends in your year. Are your kids squabbling? Does your child challenge you at every turn? Do you hear constant whining that wears you down? Do you feel yourself wearing down with the negative atmosphere in your home? Maybe it is time to pause and focus on character issues. How much learning can happen anyway when you are angry?

We have hit phases in homeschooling where the kids all seem to go haywire. Nobody is listening. Everybody has a sour attitude, including me! The kids are all fighting and driving me nuts. These were times when we all needed an attitude adjustment!! When you stop and address the heart issues behind the behavior, this is a good interruption in your day. It may be discouraging initially that you weren’t able to get through that day’s plans, but it will be one step back for many steps forward in the future!

As much as possible, limit distractions.

This does not mean that kids have to be in a room all alone with the door closed sitting at a desk. Maybe some kids need that from time to time to help them focus, but that’s not necessarily the solution. As much as possible, try to limit distractions. Does the TV need to be on during school hours? Unless it is for educational purposes like a documentary or the news, it could be very distracting. Even more distracting are devices and phones! This is tough because, of course, some of the kids’ school work is online. As much as possible, try to keep phones face down, silenced, or in a bedroom, or all three. This is easier to manage for younger kids than older kids. In my opinion, there is nothing more distracting in our house than my phone sitting alone on the center island. It seems like it calls to all my children! We have a general rule in our house. No entertainment-type screen use during school hours. If the kids have some of their school work online, try saving it for the last thing on their checklist so it motivates them to get the harder subjects done first. If older kids have phones, encourage them to check their texts and messages at breakfast, lunch, and after school. Screens can be a huge distraction for kids and adults alike!

Learning with your children can be a wonderful experience for both of you! This is quality time you are spending together. Don’t allow the pressures of what everyone else is doing- or what you think your child should be doing-or even all your great ideas-take away from what you are learning together right now.

Keep it simple.

Focus on building your relationship.

Help them get to the next level of their progress at a pace that is right for them.

Enjoy the process.

It can be a beautiful thing.

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