So, you’ve made the big leap: you’ve decided that you’re going to homeschool your child for the 2013-2014 school year. It’s a big step, and you’re a little bit nervous. After all, you’ve never done anything like this before.
Perhaps your child is a kindergartener, just starting down their schooling journey, and you’ve decided that the last thing you want is to send them to a public school, with all the inherent problems and issues. Perhaps you have always known that you wanted to homeschool, and it’s just time to take that first leap. You’ve looked through curriculum in a vague sort of way practically since they were born, preparing for this moment; and now that it’s finally here, while you’re a bit uncertain, you’re fairly sure that you’re up to the task.
Or perhaps your child is older. You’ve done the public school route. Maybe you’ve even given private school a try. Whatever the case, you’ve decided that public school isn’t working for your family, and you need to try out something different. Maybe you’ve always had homeschooling in the back of your mind, or you’ve been preparing for this for a while…or maybe you’re just discovering that this is something you need to do, and you’re jumping in with both feet and just hoping that there’s something soft to land on.
Whatever the reason for your decision to embark on this journey, attempting to jump in blind at the beginning of the school year will be detrimental to both you and your child—and likely your attempt to homeschool, even if only in the beginning. You want this to be a positive experience, and so you should prepare ahead of time, at least as much as possible.
Keep an eye out for sales. The new school year will bring crazy school supplies sales out of the woodwork. Staples and Office Depot will run penny sales, five and ten cent sales, dollar sales…whatever they think will bring customers to them over their competitors. Make a reasonable estimate of the materials that you’re going to need, make a list, and keep an eye on those sales. You might be surprised by what you can pick up for a very low price! As you’re looking at supplies, though, keep some things in mind. Before, you might have selected inexpensive materials on purpose, because you knew that they were unlikely to last the year. Even if your little darling is the most organized, careful child in her classroom, she is probably sharing her materials with everyone in the room. Jimmy, over in the corner, has lost all of his crayons by the second week of school. Bobby has broken three pairs of scissors by the end of his first art project—and only two of them were his. And as for glue sticks, well, everyone knows that those are communal property, so if you want your child to have the best, you buy a ton of them and just hope that there are enough of them for her to get to use one!
That’s not the case anymore. Now, you have the ability to determine what your child will use over the course of the year, and it’s yours and yours alone. You can splurge on that 96-crayon box and know full well that if there are any broken or lost, it’s through no one’s fault but hers. You can buy good scissors and expect them to last, not only for the duration of this school year, but the next one, as well. You need not put her name on every item in her pencil box. You can buy fun pencils with interesting designs, pens in whatever color you’re comfortable with her using, and mechanical pencils, and rest assured that you’re not going to have to buy another case of them in two weeks.
Take advantage of the sales, certainly. You might even buy an extra twenty-cent crayon box or two just in case some do go missing, or so you’ll have something to take on the road when you go on field trips. But do keep in mind that you can safely and easily buy quality products without having to worry that they will soon disappear, too.
As an added bonus, you also will not be expected to supply an entire classroom with ziplock bags, cleaning wipes, and hand sanitizer—so you may actually have some room in your budget for these more expensive items.
Start looking over your curriculum. Whether you’ve chosen to use a premade curriculum or prefer something that you’ve designed on your own, you need to do two things: number one, consider how long it’s going to take to accomplish these lessons, and therefore how much time needs to be allotted to them over the course of each week; and number two, make sure that you are adhering, as much as possible, to the state standards for your child’s grade. These standards were put in place to ensure that every child across the state of Tennessee acquires a meaningful education, and adhering to them ensures that when your child does go back to school—whether that’s in middle school, high school, or, ultimately, college—they have the building blocks necessary to continue with their education.
Make sure that you’re familiar with the curriculum, and that you have the resources necessary to answer your child’s questions. Look over what materials are going to be necessary for the following year, and refer back to the first point: gathering materials while they’re on sale. Consider any modifications that you’re going to need to make to the material, and make notes in the margins now, while you still have time to think about it.
Put together a schedule. Obviously, this will be flexible and will need to depend on what else you have going on in any given week. A sick child, a doctor’s visit, or a field trip not ordinarily on the schedule will set the rest of it out of whack. However, your child will need the structure and reliability of a schedule to see them through a homeschooling curriculum. Dropping a stack of books and a bunch of worksheets in front of a child and saying, “Here, do this,” will likely not accomplish anything, particularly if they have no idea what they are expected to accomplish and when.
Consider what opportunities you want to make available to your child. Do you want them to attend the monthly classes at the aquarium? How about the weekly classes at the zoo? Story time at the library each week? Design your schedule accordingly, and keep in mind the diverse needs of all of the children in your home. A preschooler may benefit immeasurably from story time at the library, but an older child may be bored out of his mind. What could he do during the library trip that will keep him busy and help him to learn useful skills? Do you need to arrive early in order to set that up? Don’t forget about travel time when you put together your schedule!
Next, look at what your child will be expected to accomplish each week. You should have a general idea of what your curriculum looks like. A rigid, day-to-day schedule may work best for some children: this is the lesson that you will complete today, this is how much of it I expect you to have done, this is how long you must work. For others, particularly in larger families, a broader view may be more appropriate. How much work must your child accomplish each week? Each month?
Set up a series of rewards and consequences, too. Perhaps if the work is not completed on schedule, they miss out on a much-desired field trip. If they complete it ahead of time, maybe they will be permitted to go out for ice cream one evening, or to play a coveted game. Do you plan for your school day to cut off at a certain time each day, or will your child work until they are done? Take into consideration the needs of your child as well as the individual needs of your family.
Speaking of field trips…. Field trips are sanity savers. Really. Not just for you, but for your children, as well. Sure, they may do great at home for large chunks of time; but eventually, all of you will get stir crazy, and you will be ready to climb the walls…and do just about anything if it will get you out of the house for a little while.
So get out. Make it a part of the schedule. The park and the library are free, and offer plenty of opportunities. The children’s section of the Blount County public library has games available to play in addition to the countless books that are available to check out. There are museums, the aquarium, the zoo. Obviously, these things cost money; but the outing may be well worth it. Look into annual passes to at least one of the above, making it a one-time expense rather than a regular one.
Plan weekly trips out into your schedule, even if it’s just a trip to the library. It may be difficult to load a house full of children into a vehicle to get them somewhere, and even more difficult to convince them to behave appropriately while they are there—and that’s okay. That’s a learning experience, too—for all of you. You will ultimately learn how to manage, and they will learn what is expected of them when they are out in public.
Field trips are easier—and cheaper—with one child than they are for a big family. Plan ahead for them, and recognize up front that they truly are a necessary expense. If you’re pressed for money, look ahead for deals. Ripley’s Aquarium offers a great homeschooling discount. The Knoxville Zoo offers occasional free days. Many museums will accept less than their stated entrance price—really a “donation.” Look ahead to see what opportunities will be available and write them into your schedule ahead of time.
If you’re working through a homeschooling co-op or other group, you may also find that they schedule regular field trips with their students at a discounted rate. Do your best to plan to go on as many of these as are fitting for your students, simply because they allow both the opportunity to get out of the house and an opportunity for social interaction.
Prepare your children for your expectations. Let them know what they will be expected to do every day. Are there regular chores that they need to get done? Do you expect them to get dressed every day, even though they may not be going anywhere? What quality of work do you expect? Discuss this ahead of time, and make sure your child knows what to expect. Put as much as possible down in writing. Try not to get stuck on too many rules—often, flexibility is key—but have clear and precise expectations that let your child know when they are straying too near the boundaries. This includes boundaries for field trips, behavior on doctor’s appointments or regular shopping trips, and daily expectations at home.
Breathe. Planning an entire year of homeschooling all at once will feel overwhelming. Keep the big picture in mind, but remember that when you get there, you’re really going to be planning one day at a time. Don’t worry—it’s not as hard as it seems. Once you get used to it, it will be as routine as anything else—you just have to get there.