Back-to-School Basics for the Rookie Homeschool Teacher: 7 Tips I Wish I Knew Before I Started Homeschooling
June 10, 2014
I remember feeling excited and yet overwhelmed when I began this educational journey. After reading all the Missouri laws and regulations on homeschooling, I wasn’t sure how to practically implement them. Do you have your copy of First Things First: A Guide for the Missouri Home Educator from Families for Home Education (FHE)? This is a valuable resource that I regularly reference.
I didn’t have a mentor friend to go to for advice, so now I pay it forward for others. I invite rookies into my home and let them look at our curriculum materials, classroom set-up, lessons plans, and record keeping documents. As you will find out, we all do it differently, but it really helps to see how someone else homeschools. We each tailor our homeschool to the unique needs of our own families (e.g., learning styles, family schedules, number of children, educational philosophy). Summer just began, but I suggest taking this time to prepare for the fall.
This is the first of three blogs that will cover seven tips I wish I knew before I started homeschooling…
1.) Set a Reasonable Pace for the Academic Year
I use Post-it notes to divide up all of our workbooks and textbooks into three sections or trimesters (3 months to finish each section). This corresponds to the nine months we are doing the traditional/four-day a week schedule at our desks (September-May). I try to take one field trip day each week to help break up the monotony of desk work and being at home all day. Marking the pages with Post-it notes helps me visually see what we need to get through every 3 months. Sometimes, I even tear out pages and staple them together in weekly units. If we get behind a little, we can finish up any remaining material in June.
We start our school year one subject at a time, beginning in July (when the Missouri homeschool calendar starts). I pick the subject that will probably be most difficult for us to get through...math. Then, we add spelling in a couple of weeks and another subject every week or two. We are up and running when school officially starts for public schools in the fall. Our first full day of school is the beginning of September, but it helps to gradually add classes from July thru August and build up to a full day (about six hours for our family: three hours in the morning, one hour lunch break, three hours in the afternoon).
Don’t make the mistake I made and try to start every subject on your first day of school! Homeschooling is an adjustment for you and the kids, especially if you have recently switched gears from a traditional private/public academic setting. This allows everyone time to get used to the format of each subject before you add more to your workload.
Another great reason to start early is that you will finish early, too. By spring, we are getting tired of school and ready for a nice break. We will be phasing out of subjects just like we gradually started them, thus reducing our daily workload.
Rotate your subjects. Another rookie mistake I made was to attempt to teach every subject every day. I found it more feasible to hit the core subjects daily (i.e., Math, Reading/Literature, Writing/Grammar, Spelling, Science, History, Geography). I created a weekly rotation for the other subjects (or electives) like Art, Music, Physical Education, Home Economics, and Foreign Language. Now, I try to rotate through one elective each afternoon.
2.) Don’t overschedule your day with classwork!
When I first started out....I overscheduled myself and made the school day too long. Big mistake. We also didn't get enough breaks throughout the day from each other. Homeschooling can get a little close and crowded at times! I turned into the grumpy teacher, Miss Viola Swamp, from Miss Nelson Is Missing! If you haven't read this book....it will make you laugh!
It is really important that you make time for breaks throughout the day. You need time to regenerate and rejuvenate, and so do your kids.
Here are a few ideas:
We take a “spelling walk” around the neighborhood for a mid-morning break. I bring their spelling words and do a verbal quiz as we stroll. You could also quiz the kids on any subject. A great resource is Professor Noggin’s Quiz Card Games (all subjects).
Schedule a daily quiet time. We spend 30 minutes in our rooms after lunch. Younger kids nap while older kids read or listen to an audiobook and play with Legos.
The kids have free play outside with friends once school work is completed in the afternoon. This gives me some quiet time to tidy up from the school day and get started on the late afternoon/evening events like sports or dinner.
It was also helpful to move around the house during the day even though we have a dedicated school room. We might do a “read aloud” book selection while cuddled up on the couch or work on math at the kitchen table. My kids needed some movement and got tired of sitting at their desks all day. As you know, physical movement gets the blood going, which facilitates brain activity and memory.
The best thing I did was buy a mini trampoline! I often send the kids to jump on it between subjects. It is also a fun way to practice skip counting or spelling words while jumping. Older students will enjoy any Rock 'N Learn music CD (they come in all subjects). Younger kids will enjoy music and movement CDs by Greg and Steve. Our all-time favorite is Kids in Action. MCPL has many of these selections!
“I think the most significant work we'll do in our whole life, in our whole world is done within the four walls of our home.” ~ Stephen R. Covey