When you board an airplane, the moment of truth comes at takeoff. You’ve passed through security, stowed your luggage, and buckled your seat belt. Now it’s in the hands of the pilot. Taxiing over, the engines roar and the surge down the runway begins. It’s both an exhilarating and a slightly scary moment when you leave the ground to fly.
That sense of anticipation is much like what we homeschooling parents feel at the start of a new school year. We have high hopes for our children and our homeschool as summer winds down and day one approaches. The days (months?) of scouring catalogs and websites, reading books, and asking friends for curriculum suggestions are past. The planning and preparation are over, and now it’s time to begin the formal learning. And we feel prepared and excited!
But unlike the public schools, and unlike most of our personal experiences (since most of us were public-school educated ourselves), we can begin our formal school year leaning on the Lord. What follows are some ideas for starting the year off well. As a homeschool mom of fourteen years, I suggest you begin with the following.
Bathe your school year—beginning, middle, and end—in prayer. All the planning, all the purchases, all the high expectations will amount to zero “unless the Lord builds the [school].” Things you can specifically talk to God about include:
- That He would make your children hungry for Him and hungry for learning.That He would make you sensitive, not just to your children’s academic needs, but also to their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs over the course of the year.
- Your own willingness to be interrupted. What I mean by that is that I regularly tell Jesus, “I give You permission to interrupt my day.” I want to be flexible and loving to meet the needs of those around me, rather than bound to my self-conceived homeschooling schedule. Life’s lessons are often greater than academic ones.
- Protection from Satan. If it’s your first year of homeschooling, you may be surprised when it gets difficult. But when your son becomes uninterested, your daughter gives less than her best, and another child gets sick and can’t complete the lesson, remember you have an enemy. Satan—who comes to steal, kill, and destroy—hates your efforts to lead your children to Jesus and His abundant life, so don’t be surprised when your homeschool faces attack.
You need to know where you are headed if you are going to lead your children’s education. This is really a bigger issue than it might appear on the surface. If you just jump into homeschooling without thinking about where you want your children to end up in a year, six years from now, or at graduation, then where are you really leading them?
Does your family have a purpose statement? Does your homeschool have a purpose statement? In light of your purpose, what are your goals for learning? Our family has written a purpose statement which reads, “Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.” That is our guiding principle, the sieve through which we make our decisions, whether financial, relational, or school-related. That’s our overarching purpose. From that starting point, we then make decisions for our homeschool. If an academic purchase, social option, or extracurricular activity doesn’t line up with our goals, we say “No, thank you.” As a compass gives direction to a hiker, our family’s purpose gives direction to our homeschool, pointing us toward our overall goals for our children and their lives.
Realize that your children can’t learn it all in the first week or even the first month. Extend lots of grace and patience to your children, who don’t have to be the next Einsteins. Curriculums are written with lots of review and repetition built in so students can gradually reach mastery of a concept. In fact, though this is a simplified statement, the entire classical education model is rooted in the premise that concepts should be presented to children three times, in their three stages of mental development, in greater depth with each presentation. Repetition builds mastery and confidence.
Patiently accept that your children will hit learning plateaus. I coined that term after watching my children get stuck in a concept and not be able to move ahead for a period of time. For example, if they can’t get all their multiplication tables memorized, it is futile to move ahead in their math book until those concepts are solidified. So I give them all the time and patience they need; we take time off from the textbook to work on those multiplication tables. We do online drills and play math games. I want to give them time to mature mentally before they move on to more difficult math. Several friends have concurred that their children sometimes need time to digest material, whether it’s in math, early reading skills, or something farther along in high school. Only time and patience will allow that to happen.
Be patient with your children, especially if their learning styles are different from yours; Cathy Duffy’s Top 100 Picks for Homeschool Curriculum includes a primer on how to identify your children’s preferred learning styles. Since we tend to teach (and therefore select curriculum) in our own preferred method, we can miss the mark of what best suits our children. When your child hits a learning plateau, assess whether his ongoing need for review and for extra patience from you is due to a poor curriculum match for his needs.
And Mom, please extend patience to yourself! Give yourself patience as you learn how to use a new curriculum, as you establish a new routine, as you learn how to teach a child to read, or as you integrate a new baby, toddler, or grandparent into your homeschool. Each new year, even each new season, is different. Give yourself the grace you need. Ask your spouse to remind you of this and to be your cheerleader when you get discouraged.
Let the pleasure of your first days of school be rooted in your heavenly Father, not in pleasing extended family or homeschooling friends. Their approval may not endure, but Jesus’s approval is a strong foundation that won’t be shaken. When my homeschool seems to be running smoothly, I want Jesus to get His due credit. I don’t want my child’s academic success (success with math, high standardized test scores, and the like) to go to my head in pride. I want to find pleasure in my children’s personal development and growth as the people God made them to be, not in comparing them with their siblings or my friends’ children.
As you begin this school year, find pleasure in making memories with your children! Balance the book-based learning with enjoyable times outside of your home. Make time for fellowship, service, travel, outdoor exploration, field trips, and fun times with your children and other homeschoolers in your area. Find a co-op or support group in your area and get involved, keeping in mind an appropriate balance between being out and being at home.
Obviously, the beginning of a new year of school includes new books and new routines. In our homeschool, it also includes:
- A special breakfast on the first day.
- First-day-of-school photos on our front porch. It’s fun to look back at those pictures to see how much our children have grown over the years.
- A gradual slide into schoolwork after the summer. We might start by doing math each morning in mid-August, then add reading to our days the following week, eventually adding back all the other subjects to our schedule after Labor Day.
- Assembling school binders with tabs (such as Bible, Writing, Science, History & Geography, Art & Music, and Miscellaneous) on day one. As we add playbills, photographs, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia from our school year, these serve as each child’s portfolio for an entire year’s work and keep our homeschool organized.
- Meeting with each of my older children (approximately ages 12 and up) to go over what work they will be doing on their own, review their syllabi, establish high school grading contracts, and set goals for the upcoming school year. Unlike a public school teacher or guidance counselor, since I’m a homeschooling mom I’ll be readily available to them every day to update these expectations—but I want to begin our year on a positive note. I want this meeting with my older children to be a time of encouragement; I believe in their abilities and know they are able to be responsible for their own learning, but I want them to hear it from me from day one.
As the anticipation for another year of school builds, enjoy the process and enjoy your children. Starting another school year with the Lord is the best place to be.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct 2012 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Learn more at www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Jordan Sanchez
Melanie Hexter writes and homeschools in central Ohio, where she and her husband serve as joint president of their local support group. They offer a public Home School 101 workshop to families considering home education. Much like the disciples who walked with Jesus, their family wonders where the Lord might be leading them this year. Melanie has written Winning with Literature: U.S. National Parks Unit Study and Bible Storyboard, which she makes available to others at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com.