How Do You Kick Off the New Homeschool Year?

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No matter how long we've been homeschooling, we are curious about how other homeschoolers do things. And homeschoolers who are newer to the game obviously have lots of questions! I wrote a series some time ago that attempted to answer some of the questions homeschoolers ask each other. Questions about how we handle some of the little details and about our opinions on different aspects of homeschooling. Questions that we all might answer differently because what works great in one family might not work at all in another. 

It's time for a new round of How Do You Homeschool articles. Some will be updated versions of the original series and some will be new, because there were a lot of questions I never got to the first time, and there are always new questions I didn't encounter earlier.

For those following the traditional school calendar in any form, the start of a new school year is coming up quickly! So to start the new series, let's talk about starting a new year:

How do you get your school year off to a good start?

Assuming you've already got your curriculum ready to go, and have fulfilled any legal requirement such as a letter of intent or joining an oversight group, how do you kick off the school year in a positive way, and how do you set your homeschool up for a successful year?

Mission Statement - If you haven't already thought about it, you may want to write a brief mission statement for your school year. Decide what's most important for you to accomplish and your guiding principles to do that. I did that by choosing a School Scripture each year. Just as churches and businesses write a mission statement that helps them focus their efforts, a homeschool can benefit from a similar statement. If you're not sure what yours would include, keep it in the back of your mind over the next few days and weeks and probably you'll get some ideas. If you'd like to see the School Scriptures we've chosen, here's where I most recently summarized ours: School Scripture 2020-2021

School Scripture on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Plan the schedule - Every school or homeschool needs lesson plans, right? You should have some kind of planned structure to build your homeschool days upon. If you lean towards unschooling or child-directed learning, that structure will be very broad and flexible. If it's your first year homeschooling, you may not know what your daily schedule should look like and you may not know how detailed your lesson plan should be. Consider your child's age and personality, and how your family usually functions. Very young, active children benefit from having a routine of knowing what comes next and how long they'll be doing a certain task. In general, younger students do better with "we're going to do this many pages in the workbook, and then we'll take a break before doing the next subject" than sticking to a set number of minutes per subject. Middle school and high school age kids are more able to work within a time frame like spending an hour per subject. 

In our homeschool, I always tried to make the First Day - or even the First Week - of a homeschool year special in some way. 

Take First Day photos! Just because they don't have a bookbag and a school bus to catch doesn't mean that first day shouldn't be memorialized. 

My daughter played along with the First Day Photo tradition all the way through high school, and her two years at community college, and in just over a week, I'll have to get a First Day photo for university!

My sons got less cooperative as they got older, but I have some great photos from their early grades!

Okay, this one is a joke from a summer vacation that included a living history museum, but it summarized how these two felt about First Day pictures!

First Day Event - Do something different to make the "official" first day of homeschool a special event. We usually have a special treat for breakfast or lunch on the first day each year - donuts or waffles for breakfast, or maybe we go out for lunch. Just something out of the ordinary. Some homeschool families I know make a big event of going to an amusement park or something similar, and plan it for the first day that public schools in their area are back in session. That's especially fun if the first day back to homeschool falls on the same day!
New School Supplies - If you've been homeschooling for awhile, chances are you don't need much in the way of school supplies. Or maybe one of your goals was to avoid having to shop for all the school things when everyone else in town is in those "back to school" aisles of the store. All the same, there's something special about a brand new box of crayons, a couple of blank composition books, or some colorful new notebooks. For you as the teacher too! I still teach at a co-op, and I get some new pens or a new notebook or lesson planner in preparation for a new school year.

My favorite teacher notebook from a few years ago,
 and my brand new planner.

Ease Into It - This was a practical strategy that helped us most years. Instead of going hard-core on the first day, with everyone getting up early and jumping right into a full schedule with all subjects, we got going in stages. A gradual adjustment to getting up at a set (and earlier) time than during summer, and easing into coursework with just a few subjects and half days during the first week or two and then adding the rest later. This gave us a chance to see where we might need to tweak the schedule as well. In scheduling and even with curriculum choices, be prepared to make adjustments early on if you see that something isn't working. Flexibility is one of the greatest advantages to homeschooling!

Clarify Expectations - Every one of the twenty-plus years that I homeschooled, and with kids that grew up doing it, we still needed to have some sort of a "back to school" conference to talk through our goals and plans for the year. Some simple reminders leading up to the first day, like a reminder that "you know you're going to have to be up and moving earlier once school starts, right?" or, "remember, there won't be TV or movies until schoolwork is done". I tried to consult them about what they thought would work best, for instance, "is first thing in the morning still the best time for you to work on math?". During the first week, preferably on the first day, we usually talked through the daily and weekly routine; we reviewed the expectations as to how much time should be devoted to each subject; and we looked through the curriculum we're using again to get a refresher in how it's laid out and our plan of attack. 

Look Ahead - We very often took our family vacations in the fall, so even as we kicked the school year off in late August, we were able to look forward to something fun coming up. Having a vacation or a fun field trip planned helps motivate everyone. Plan some small appropriate rewards for you and your students as you complete certain education milestones. Have some as known goals to work for like dinner from their favorite restaurant when they reach the halfway point in their textbook. And be ready to surprise them with fun rewards when they ace a test at co-op or finish reading an assigned novel that was difficult. 

How do you kick off a new homeschool year successfully? Leave a comment and let me know what works for you - or leave a homeschool question you're curious about.

See more Back to Homeschool thoughts in these blog hop series:

5 Days of Back to Homeschool Coffee Breaks on Homeschool Coffee Break @ - This is the hub for the Back to School Blog Hop, August 14-18, 2017

Some of this article was adapted from my previous post: My Back to Homeschool Checklist: Get Off to A Great Start as part of the My Back-to-Homeschool Checklist seriesoriginally published in August 2014.

You may also find some good ideas at the Not-Back-to-School Blog Hop: Making Memories to Start the School Year hub at the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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