...Summers were for vacations, baseball games, and catching up on household projects? That was back in the B.H. (Before Homeschooling) Days, wasn't it? Most of us spend a significant amount of time each summer preparing for the upcoming school year. Wise planning makes the new year go much more smoothly. Every hour you spend in preparation saves you hours of time fumbling around later. It is worth the investment.
During our nineteen years of homeschooling, I found that each year was a little different. Factors such as where we were living at the time, how many children we had, and whether the youngest was a baby or a toddler all influenced how I planned for the year. Over the years, we have homeschooled in a schoolroom, around the kitchen table while on location with Dad's work, and from the living room couch during a difficult pregnancy. We started homeschooling when our sons were five, three, and six weeks old. After adding two more sons to our family, I discovered that it is definitely easier to homeschool with an infant in the house, than with a toddler! An infant stays where you put him!
Whether you are new to homeschooling or a seasoned veteran, there are several things you can do during the summer to prepare for the upcoming year. Firming up discipline, establishing routines, and academic preparation are some of the areas we will discuss here.
If you have not already established the habit of prompt and thorough obedience in your home, it is essential that you do so now. You must have a child's attention before you can teach him. When our boys were young, we often reminded them to "Do what I say, right away, with a smile." This summarizes the three requirements of obedience, whether from child to parent or from parent to God. Our actions don't show true obedience unless we do what we are told to do, right away, and with a proper attitude.
It is important that your child know what is expected—what he must do in order to please you. Defining your expectations helps. If a child delayed obeying us or started to argue about what we told him to do, we simply restated the "definition" of obedience: Do what I say, right away, with a smile. Then he understood that if he did not obey, he would receive correction.
Disciplining children requires that the parent be disciplined, too. Follow-through is essential. Perhaps you've heard the old joke:
What is the first rule for teaching a parakeet how to talk? You must have a larger vocabulary than the parakeet. What is the first rule for disciplining children? You must have more discipline than the child.
Although there are times when it seems easier to repeat your request, count to three, or just let it go, in the long run enforcing instant obedience will save you much time, energy, and heartache.
The most important things we teach our children are not found in textbooks. We are charged with teaching them to love and obey their Heavenly Father. They learn to love and obey Him by learning to love and obey us. And their view of Him will be reflected in how they view us as parents. Hopefully, we can communicate unconditional love and the perfect balance between justice and mercy that He manifests toward us. That is a lofty goal made possible only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to transform us into His likeness.
Your home will run more smoothly during the next school year if you and your children are accustomed to some day-to-day routines. Although our family didn't always rise at the same time every morning—it varied according to the previous evening's bedtimechildren could expect the same order of events before school each day. They were expected to use the bathroom, comb their hair, and dress before breakfast. When we had livestock, the animals were to be fed before the children ate. After breakfast, rooms were tidied (not a big job if things were left in order the night before) and morning chores were completed.
Morning chores were assigned according to the age of the child. Since our five boys' ages spanned almost ten years, their abilities were quite different. Each son was given as many chores as he was years of age. For example, the five-year-old had five daily chores—most of them to be completed before school while the older ones fed the animals. The eleven-year-old had eleven chores, some daily, some weekly, and some monthly. This was also the year of preparation for learning to take over his own laundry at age twelve. At each birthday each son received another responsibility along with new privileges. When the younger brothers complained that the older ones got to do things they weren't permitted to do yet, they were reminded that the older ones also had more responsibilities. To whom much is given, much is required.
When teaching a child to do a new chore, spend time with him demonstrating and then watching as he completes the chore himself. It may take several days (or weeks in the case of laundry) for him to faithfully remember all of the steps to doing the job right. Write on a file card what steps are necessary to complete the chore and post it in the room where he does that chore. If doing the dishes means wiping the counters, putting away the leftovers, and sweeping the floor, write those tasks on the card.
Then have periodic, unannounced inspections. It is important to realize that as a parent you can only expect what you inspect. Most adults wouldn't show up at work everyday if they thought no one would notice their absence. Be prepared to praise your child for the steps he has done well. Re-teach the other steps until you can count on him to do the job to the best of his ability. Do not expect adult level performance, but do expect effort and do encourage him for small victories.
Your family already has many routines that are working well for you. Periodically, evaluate them to see which ones need to be modified as your family's needs change. Routines keep you from having to start over every day with the basics of chores, discipline, and scheduling. Those decisions are already made and the tasks can be done rapidly because everyone knows what to expect. These structure-building routines allow us to be open to the fun surprises that God has planned to flesh out each new day.
Check back next week when "Mama" addresses academic preparations for the new school year.
© 2004 Marcia K. Washburn. Portions of this article were originally published in the CHEC Update Magazine and are used by permission. "Mama" Washburn writes from her nineteen years of experience as a homeschooling mom in rural eastern Colorado. She is a workshop speaker and is working on her second book. She can be contacted at email@example.com