Written by contributor Amida of Journey into Unschooling. She really did buy 24 tubes of glue sticks.
For many of us, it is Back to School season, and with it, all the hopes, relief, and excitement of a fresh start. In a way, it is like the beginning of any cycle, be it the New Year, new house, or new job. You get a chance to do over and somehow get it right this time.
I was at the back-to-school section of a store the other day and overheard a mom exclaim, “I love new school supplies!” She was selecting designer notebooks, fashion folders, and neon paper with her daughter, who kept asking which items and designs she ought to pick.
There was a time when I had shun back-to-school sales. Who needed another dozen brand new #2 pencils? What was wrong with the clothes already in the closet? Was there really a need to plop down $200 for a new “school” wardrobe? But, there in that store, listening to the mom and daughter gush over their shopping, I admit, I too, felt some of their excitement.
There is nothing like a crisp, blank notebook — with its potential to be filled with new ideas and learning — to give you a sense of all that is to come. I watched the groups of parents and children browsing the aisle, each with a shopping list, no doubt sent to them by the teachers. “We need six pencils,” announced one Dad to his son. Those teachers are pros. They know exactly what is needed to be ready to go.
Homeschoolers are a different story. I hear lots of resolutions about how this year, it’s going to be different:
- This year, we will take more field trips.
- This year, we will learn hands-on.
- This year, learning will be fun.
We take that blank planner and fill it with days of projects, day trips, and ample, fun learning opportunities. We go over syllabi and pencil in our calendars with assignments. We fill our amazon cart with all the books we will use this year.
We stock up on reams of filler paper, new boxes of crayons and 24 tubes of glue sticks from Costco. We buy files and clear shelves so we can organized the year by child and subject.
Before you get carried away, here are a few points to keep in mind as you resolve to make this the best school year yet!
1. Make a list and change it twice.
Photo by Enokson
Each fall, I make plans, big plans, master plans. It is a process I love even though I know in the end, I won’t follow through. I make a list of all the goals for the year and divvy them up accordingly. I scour reading lists and grade-specific syllabi and borrow the ideas that I wish to incorporate. My list is long and ambitious.
And therein lies the problem. When you compare the overly ambitious Ideal List to the unpredictable Reality List, there is no possible way to fit everything in and still have a life.
So you take out a field trip here. Take out a unit there. Maybe you get tired and discouraged after a few weeks and decide to have a LEGO day instead.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nor does it mean we have failed another year if our original plan falls through. Whereas in the past, I was discouraged by any discrepancies between my children’s learning schedule and what I had planned for them, I now know a few stumbles aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
I’m going to tell you now: we all have setbacks. Even the seemingly most organized and confident homeschooling mom has her moments of doubt. Furthermore, school teachers don’t always get through every page of the textbook.
So go ahead and make yourself a big list and know that not everything will be crossed out. If it makes you feel better, add in a few totally unrealistic goals (learn to ride a unicorn, anyone?) as a reminder to keep it fun. Breaks are sanity savers and a list is nice guidance when you’re ready to get back in the game.
2. Reward or bust!
Just as a little M&M helps the potty trainer run to the nearest bathroom, so, too, does a little reward now and then help keep the motivation strong.
Put your reasoning aside and let her buy that Littlest Pet Shop folder. While you are at it, don’t forget the multicolored notepads and bejeweled #2s to get everyone psyched.
Remember, those teachers know what they are doing. Along the way, don’t forget to break up the routine and throw in a reward day here and there.
3. Remember that there’s life after school.
Photo by Phalinn Ooi
As home educators, it is easy to let schooling be the center of everything. We ponder whether a TV show or game is educational. We make sure school work is done before any “fun” is to be had.
We threaten to withhold playdates or field trips until assignments are completed (tell me you haven’t done this). We look forward to Summer, Winter, and Spring Breaks, and then feel guilty for actually doing nothing.
We may teach our children, but at the end of the day, we are also their parents.
Teach your kids to bake a cake, but don’t feel the need to always label it as an “educational moment” and quiz them on how many pints to a gallon. Just have fun with the process and time together. Even school kids get a reprieve from structured learning at the end of the day.
4. Enlist support.
And finally, when you feel you have had it, turn to your fellow homeschool mom and have a good rant session. More likely than not, she is probably going through or has gone through the exact same thing and knows what you are talking about!
There are so many times when I’ve felt I am failing my children and a friend pulls me through and vice versa. We take turns being the Voice of Reason.
If worse comes to worse, and you are both in at a low point, there is nothing like an understanding friend to commiserate with and laugh with afterwards when you both come to your senses again.
What are your Back to School Resolutions?
I needed this post today! I was just telling a fellow homeschooling mom/friend that I don’t even want to start my school planning because I basically know that I will fail at follow through. It’s so good to know I’m not the only one! Thanks for the encouragement!
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Ha!! I just withheld story time at the library until a first grade writing paper was completed YESTERDAY!! Story time was great! And let me just add, it’s still not finished! Lol!
I remember the excitement of buying school supplies as a child and the expense when buying them for my kids.
There is a wonderful book out there by a woman named Sybil Marshall called An experiment in Education. She taught in one of these one room schoolhouses (if I remember correctly) and she talks about how art was interwoven throughout their curriculum. When kids get very involved in complicated art projects that tie into curriculum those projects can take the place of lego days.
Thank you for this post! We are unschooling this year. I have already been making big plans on how we are going to “not” do school! This was a good reminder of what is important and what is not and how to be okay with change!
this is why I stopped planning. We aren’t total unschoolers, but I buy the books/stuff we need, then just…do some everyday. If I write it down and do’t do exactly that, I freak out on y kids and tear myself apart. If I just say “let’s try and get this stuff done by the end of the year”, we’re golden. Bad day? End early, without having to rewrite th next months plans. Good day? Do some more. Get stuck? Take a break, try next week. It is the only way I don’t feel the sword of Damocles hanging over me.
Wow! This post is right on target. I found myself, laughing, shaking my head in agreement and now teary eyed. Thanks for the reminders, the encouragement and most of all thanks for being candid. I love this post. Thanks for sharing!!
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Ok, you told me to tell you….no, I have never threatened to withhold play dates or field trips until assignments are completed.
I oftentimes come home from work tired and I just want to change into my shorts and t-shirt and fix the family dinner. My back-to-school resolution is to change my attitude about these chores in a positive way and devote a few minutes helping the kids out with their lessons. I owe them that.
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I’m new to this journey as my oldest is just 4 YO and I appreciate the perspective. I love new school/office supplies but we don’t really need them and the grandparents send us a care package every year for back to school with lots of extras. I’m still trying to figure out why people think scissors are disposable. I now have 6 sets of safety scissors that were given to me (well at least there is plenty for when friends come for craft play dates, right?)
I did preschool for a couple years and I would get very discouraged when I would get behind on the curriculum, not so much because it was such a big deal for preschool but because I felt that it was a failure on my part. A few years of perspective and wise homeschool bloggers like you helped me to form a new attitude. I set learning goals last year and stashed them away, then reviewed them after a year and I was surprised to see how much we accomplished even though we got off track with the curriculum.
This year we have a plan and we will do our best and we will have gotten farther than if we had no plan. It reminds me of a quote ” reach for the stars, you may never get there but you will go farther than if you had never reached for them at all.”