Let’s all just pretend that I wrote this in the weeks following the end of our first year of school instead of in the weeks preceding the start of our second… deal? Deal. Moving on.
While it was messier and more chaotic than I expected, I’m officially calling our first year of school a major success. I really only had two main goals for the year. The first was that I would be able to figure out how the heck this homeschooling thing worked for us. The second was that the kids would have fun and learn that school was something to look forward to and not something to dread. Mission accomplished on both accounts! Of course the girls made leaps and bounds of progress in math and reading and other important life skills, but I honestly viewed this first year mostly as prep for making the future years a success.
Here are some of the most important lessons we learned:
1) Things that aren’t flexible will break under pressure.
A valuable science lesson, sure. But it was one that we learned in the grand experiment of life. 😉 If I wasn’t willing to be flexible about where we schooled, we would have missed a lot of days (when we were still getting settled into our new home) just because the dining table was too overwhelming too clean. If I forced myself to stick to lesson plans even when I realized they were clearly making us miserable, I would have failed completely on goal #2. We encountered this with our reading curriculum, which worked perfectly for one kiddo but was a huge struggle for the other. That is, until I started making some simple but significant tweaks to suit her learning style. Then it was smooth sailing for them both, but if I had just kept pushing, we would have both hated reading by the end of the year.
2) Teachers need to take notes too!
I realized during our second semester that I usually had tons of ideas during school for enrichment activities or general improvements but that I was rarely implementing them. Mostly it was just because I forgot about them until we were already “in school” again or when I sat down to try and organize my thoughts, I couldn’t remember them all. So I finally started keeping a notebook with our school supplies and at the end of each lesson, I’d jot a quick note if I thought of something and then right after we finished for the day, I’d sit for a couple of minutes and flesh out those notes. Once I did that for a few days, I had a lot less to write because I’d actually put the ideas into practice. But it was a really helpful habit and I definitely plan to keep it up this fall.
3) Be realistic about DIY curriculum.
I’ll be honest. I’m the person that sees things on Etsy and thinks “I can make that.” Or sees fancy breads at a bakery and thinks “I can make that.” Or sees homeschool curriculum and thinks “I can make that.” Noticing a pattern here? And the thing is, I really can. And you can too. Let’s face it, kindergarten curriculum is full of material that I mastered a long time ago. But even though I still like to hand pick our curriculum subject by subject (no boxed sets for us), I learned the value of having a book that tells you exactly what to do next. Sure, I could have made my own weekly plans for teaching math with manipulatives, but using Math U See meant that I didn’t have to decide the best sequence to teach them in. We still had the flexibility of adding in our own activities as needed, but it made school so much less overwhelming in the weeks when we were extra busy or recovering from sickness. There are tons of reasonably priced choices out there for each subject. Even if you want to go the DIY route, consider buying a cheap resource to use as a framework and fill out with your own activities. You’ll thank me in the end.
4) Decide on your minimum “survival schedule”.
As we went along, I noticed that there were a handful of days where a full school day just wasn’t going to happen (usually due to mild illness) but we weren’t necessarily down for the count. Somewhere along the way, I decided what our bare minimum subjects were, and occasionally we’d have a “survival day”. Which leads me to my next point…
5) Have a plan in place for sick days and make up days.
Even if your state doesn’t require it, trust me, you need to track attendance for your own sanity. I mean, maybe you don’t, but if you have an ounce of people-pleasing in you – it’s probably a good idea. It doesn’t matter what your system is, but decide on your minimum number of days attended, track them, and have a plan for when you’ll make up missed days along the way. This way, when post-holiday coughs and sniffles arrive, you won’t waste so much energy debating over whether you’ve already taken too many sick days.
…and lots more! For example, during our first real “summer break”, I realized that I’m shifting our whole calendar for next year so that we school during the hottest and coldest parts of the year and take our longest breaks during the nicest weather possible. 😉
So we did it! We survived our first year of homeschooling! I think I’ll buy myself a celebratory laminator…