It’s still July, not quite August yet, but most stores have their “Back to School” supplies out and sales going. Where I live, school starts in roughly 2 1/2 weeks, and in some places, it’s starting even sooner than that. Returning to school is becoming a major topic of conversation.
For us personally, we won’t be starting school for well over a month yet. We wait to start until the Tuesday after Labor Day, so we’ll be starting on September 8th this year. But despite our many days of summer left between then and now, that back to school vibe is infiltrating our home just a little. It’s not affecting the kids, but it is affecting me.
I’m not panicking, nor am I rushing to get anything done. But I am looking ahead and figuring a few things out. Such as, planning a field trip or two that take place just before or right around the time we’ll be starting school. Such as, scheduling in some events with our homeschooling group that we will be attending, so that I can plan our day (whether a school day or not) around them.
Whether this is your first year or not, the fact is, you can’t just wake up one morning and start school. You have to do a little planning ahead of time in order to be prepared. This may be less true if you plan to unschool, but a little forethought can help out even there.
So what kind of planning should you be doing to ensure you’re ready for that first day of the school year? Here’s a few ideas:
- School supplies. Whether you unschool, school at home, or something else, chances are at some point, you’ll need to make use of “traditional” school supplies: scissors, pencils, paper, crayons, notebooks, markers, rulers, etc. You may not use them the same way they’re used in school, or as often, but if for no other reason than arts and crafts, you’ll want them. So take advantage of the sometimes steep discounts going on right now (or soon) to pick up copious amounts of the things you can be pretty darn sure you’ll use. If you find good deals on something else that you aren’t as sure you’ll use (or won’t use as much of), pick up smaller amounts, but again – take advantage of the sales to save money and stock up now.
- Clothes. Many areas are offering tax-free holidays. These are days, usually over a weekend or maybe a week or so, where you can pick up certain “school-related” items and not pay sales tax on them. In my area, this typically includes school supplies (making those sales a little better!), certain computers (usually up to a certain price), and most clothes (up to a certain price per item). While the kids may not be returning to school and “need” new clothes to show off, maybe they do actually need new clothes. Even if they don’t, perhaps you know they will soon, or you plan to buy them clothes for Christmas or an upcoming birthday. Take advantage of the savings (even if they aren’t all that significant) and use the tax holiday to get what you need (bonus: these sales usually aren’t specific just to children’s clothes or computers, so if you need new clothes or a new computer, this can be a great time for you to get what you need, too).
- Look for other deals. You can often find deals from museums, theme parks, indoor playgrounds and other play places, offering discounts just before school starts or just after. The days just before school starts may prove to be very crowded with everyone trying to fit in a few last-minute moments of fun, but if you can stand the crowds, you can often save quite a bit. And in the days after school starts, not only can you save money, but you’ll often find that places are not nearly as crowded – and sometimes, they might even be practically deserted, but for families with kids too young for school. It can also be a nice way to start off your school year, giving the kids a day of fun before you get into the swing of things.
- Sit down and do some planning. Everyone plans their homeschool differently. Some plan down to the minute for each subject that will be studied on each day, and even what they’ll make for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Others just work up a loose outline of the subjects they intend to cover, and maybe specific topics within each subject. Whatever your planning style is, take advantage of one of the lazy days of summer (or maybe a rainy one) to get some planning done. Work out a schedule, figure out your subjects, figure out the timing. Plan the first 2-3 weeks of school, if that’s your thing. By getting a little ahead on your planning, it will give you some breathing room once you start school back up, and help you remember what you wanted to do to start things off.
- Get organized. Get everything together that you’ll be using for school. School supplies, books, files, folders, printouts, library cards, tote bags or backpacks for when you take school out of the house or need to return library books – gather it all up and put it in a central location that is out of the way but easily accessed. This will help you when it comes time to start school and you need to use the items – less time spent searching for things you need is more time spent teaching, which means you’re done sooner and the kids can get back to playing and you can get back to work. This can also help you see what you might still need to get – including a bookcase or something else to organize everything.
- Involve the kids. If you unschool or otherwise plan to include at least some child-led learning, ask them now to start thinking about what they might want to learn. This will give them time to think and come up with ideas, and it will give you time to research and find information, resources, and supplies to encourage their interests. If you wait until you start school, you might find that you intend to research “after this” and “after this” never comes. You get so busy taking care of the things you “need” to do and working that there’s just no time – or by the time you do find time, it’s been weeks or months and their interest has waned, or they’ve forgotten, or the seasons have changed and now you have to wait to follow up. Do it now so that when you start school, you can be ready to begin.
If this is your first year homeschooling, you’ll also want to pick your start date, if you haven’t already. Your start date should be one that works for you, not necessarily the public school start date or one that you hear other homeschool parents using. We chose the Tuesday after Labor Day, because that gives us nearly 3 uninterrupted months to school before Thanksgiving. There are no major holidays, no long weekends (unless we choose them) to throw us off-track before we really get on-track. Some people prefer to start in early August or even July, so that they can take off all of December, or even all of November and December, for the holidays. If you’re not sure when to start, consider when you’d like to end, and figure out the latest you could start to finish by that date, and then use that to decide when to start. We like to be done before Memorial Day weekend, and starting right after Labor Day, we usually do pretty well at meeting that goal.
Also, if it’s your first year, consider underplanning. On paper, it’s easy to look at your schedule and think you’re not doing nearly enough, but once you start, it ends up being overwhelming and far too much. You start skipping things, saying you’ll “get them tomorrow”, until you end up with a whole list of things that you “get to tomorrow” and you never do. That piles up and makes you feel like a failure, and it continues to snowball. Even if it looks like it’s not nearly enough, consider underplanning your day. Go with half of what you think you should be doing, and see how that goes. If you find that you’re getting that done, or even getting it done earlier than you thought you would, then go ahead and increase it a little each day until you find that sweet spot where you’re getting everything done but not taking too long or putting things off.