Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Four Keys to a Successful First Day of (Home)School

Well, it's that time of year again.

The time when...
*school supplies are set out in the front of every store
*parents fight the crowds with a supply list in hand
*children's wardrobes are spruced up with new school clothes/shoes...or uniforms
*parents and children meet the new teacher
*children wait and hope that their friends will end up in their class 
*facebook, twitter, and instagram are flooded with "first day" photos

All the business and stress leads up to a day when kids are dropped off and mom goes back to her normal routine of homemaking or career building and things are more peaceful after a busy summer schedule.

But, in the homeschool world things can play out quite differently.  In our home we school year round taking just a few weeks off to wipe the slate clean for the new year.  We don't usually have to fight the crowds for school supplies.  Wardrobes aren't the same priority when you can do school in your pjs and there really is no need for backpacks and lunch boxes.  But on the first day of school at home things really kick into high gear.  The first day of school can be overwhelming for the mom who will be teaching several different grade levels with a nursing baby and/or a few excitable preschoolers running around. 

So, for all of those homeschool moms who will have a very busy first day of school this year, I want to give you four keys that I have found to unlock a mostly successful first day of HOMEschool.

1. Make a Schedule....just do it.
I know, I know...I can hear the groaning.  But, one of the keys to success in any area of life is having a written plan.  A schedule is nothing more than a written plan for your day.  There are many different types of schedules with different levels of detailing.  On my schedule, I have everything that I would like to accomplish on a daily basis and time for working on long term projects.  I recently heard a schedule described by Heidi St. John over at The Busy Mom as "the training wheels for your day".  It is not your master and you are not a slave to it.  I really like this description.  When the going gets tough, you can always leave the schedule but if there is no written plan things are likely to be left undone.  When this happens extra work (and stress) can be heaped on the next day.  The times that I have tried to school with no schedule or just a skeleton of a schedule, I have experienced more stress from things being undone and piling up than I have from sitting down creating a schedule and letting it guide me through my day.  So, have a written plan!

Here is my schedule two years ago.  It changes a bit from year to year but some of the essentials that work well for us remain the same:)  I used Managers of Their Homes to create my schedule but any schedule is better than no schedule.

2. Start before the first day or take it one step at a time.
Aside from a written plan, I do believe that this is the single most helpful thing I have ever done for a successful first day of school at home.  And, it is so simple:)  Rome wasn't built in a day!  Easy does it...really. 
The week before our "first day of school" we go ahead and start getting back into our school year schedule. I start by getting everyone (especially baby and myself) back into the bedtime, wake up, naps, and feeding routine.  The kids practice getting morning jobs done efficiently.  This just seems to take time in our home.  And time is abundant without the extra pressure of a full day of schooling ahead of us.  So, I can peacefully help those who are struggling with their morning routine.  Some years I have started the morning schedule one week and then added the afternoon the next week.  However you choose to ease into things, take it one step at a time.  This one simple key eliminates so many issues on the actual first day of school for us. 
* Next year I intend to start my Jr. High student a week before everyone else as he will begin doing more independent work.  This way I can devote as much time as necessary to ensure his success before adding in the other kids.

3.  Train the littles.
This is high on my list of priorities before the first day of school.  The week (or two) before that anticipated first day, I start sitting down with my toddlers and preschoolers at different times throughout the day and playing the games that I intend for them during school times.  This gives me the chance to teach them the appropriate way to play with and clean up the games, puzzles, and art (you know...without throwing pieces all over the house and painting the walls).  It also gives me the opportunity to see how well each of these items will work for that child and the chance to put away the items that just will.not.work for independent play.

4. Begin with exploration, fun, and laughter.
On the actual first day of school, my kids are always curious about new books, notebooks, computer programs, note cards, supplies, etc.  So, we do very little "school" on the first day of school...although they do learn a great deal;)  Since there is no reason to hit the ground running, I let them have a chance to thumb through things and become familiar with each book or program during the time when they will be doing that subject.  They can also ask all of those 100 questions:)  I look for any project, art, experiment, or kitchen fun in the first few weeks of our MFW curriculum and plan on that for our afternoon school time (when we usually do MFW).
One year we painted t-shirts that had our school name and verse on the back. 

Last year we went on a field trip for our first day of school.  The second day is available here
To add to the fun, we usually have a special breakfast and then a protein snack mid morning to keep them going (actually we do the protein snack pretty regularly throughout the school year).  Lastly, remember to find opportunities to laugh throughout your day.  It might seem obvious but I find that I can become so focused on the details that I forget to laugh with the kids.  Learning is fun!  So, creating a love for learning takes precedent over any one lesson in our school. And sometimes that means leaving my lovely schedule:)

These four keys have unlocked a more successful first day of (home)school for us the last few years. 

What things do you do to unlock success for your first day of school?

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