I like to ensure that we have a little fun worked in to our first few weeks of the homeschool year. It’s a nice way to ease back into the more structured days of school after the lazy days of summer, and there’s so much we can do that might be too expensive or crowded otherwise.
Here are a few ideas you can try:
- Have a “Not Back to School” party. Our homeschool group does this every year. On the first day of public school, our group gets together and has a party. It used to be at a member’s home, but now we meet up at a local, kid-friendly place. The kid-friendly place is actually entirely kid-oriented, which means that on that first day of school, the place is pretty much completely empty but for our group. This has several advantages: it’s quieter, less crowded, we get more personal (and better) service. We do pizza, soda, games, the adults get to chat, and everyone has a good time. It’s relaxed and fun and there’s no stack of paperwork to fill out at the end of our day. 😉
- Go to the movies. The matinee prices are only slightly cheaper than the regular prices (for us, about $1), but it is a little cheaper. But the best part of this is the theaters themselves. They are empty! I mean, seriously, when we go to the movies before 2:30 any week day during the school year, we are almost the only ones there. We went to see Home back in May, and it was us and two other families, each made up of 3 people. You get your choice of seats, no strangers invading your space and trying to take the armrest, and you’re almost guaranteed that the movie won’t be sold out. Major win!)
- Game day. If you want something to do that’s fun, but can’t afford to spend money to do it, have a game day at home. There’s a plethora of games that can have some serious educational value (I list some here and here) and are tons of fun. Spend your first day of school playing games, snacking and talking.
- Hit the local swimming spots. Public pools, swimming holes, lakes, and springs are all packed during the hot summer months. While it’s refreshing to take a dip, some of that refreshment is ruined by how close together everyone is on the shore, having to keep a constant watchful eye on your stuff as well as your kids, and let’s not even talk about how the day can be ruined if you promise the kids swimming and you get there and they turn you away because it’s too crowded. But once school starts again, those crowds thin out big time. With less people, you can worry less about your stuff, and while you’ll still be watching your kids, it’ll be less stressful because they’re easier to see. I’d recommend you go early, because chances are good that after school lets out for the day, families will still head out, but starting the day with a swim can be incredibly relaxing.
- Check out small theme parks, zoos, or aquariums. Disney and the like are usually pretty busy year round, but you can often find that the smaller theme parks, ones that are local and only have the one location, are less crowded once school starts. Zoos and aquariums will still have families with kids too young for school, but the crowds are still smaller. You might find coupons or other discounts to get in for less (ask about homeschooling discounts), but even if you pay the regular price, the fact that the crowds are smaller can usually make it worth it. You can spend more time, see everything for longer and more clearly, and if you check their website before you go, you can often find printables that will add a nice educational aspect while still retaining the fun.
- Bowling, skating, and parks. All of these places will be much less crowded during school hours, and bowling alleys and skating rinks will sometimes offer some great discounts for coming in during those hours. If you’re part of a homeschooling group and can get enough members together, sometimes these places will offer discounts for the group. Parks are less crowded once school starts, and depending on where you live, going in the morning is preferable to going in the afternoon, when the heat gets too intense. This can also be a nice way to meet other homeschooling families – don’t be shy, say hello and start talking!
- Kid-friendly museum exhibits. We live about an hour away from a natural history museum, and they often offer some great exhibits that are perfect for kids. Dinosaurs, sharks, evolution of wolves into dogs – those are just a few of the exhibits we’ve gone to see. We go during school hours and find that the exhibits are much more fun that way – the quiet makes it easier to hear the recordings or the guide as they explain things, and while there are still often plenty of people, they’re mainly adults or families with kids in strollers or otherwise kept in control, so it’s easy to move around. Our natural history museum offers free admission, you only pay for parking (and if you plan it right, you can sometimes go on days when even parking is free!), and special exhibits. Often, they also offer a steep discount (several dollars off or even free admission) for good grades, requiring a report card as proof – and they’ll allow you to either make up your own report card, or just take your word for it once you explain that you homeschool. When that happens, you only have to pay your own adult admission to the special exhibit, and that can make this a super inexpensive way to spend a day.
- Bike rides, walks, or hikes. Whether you go around the block, or head out to local trails, taking a day to spend in the great outdoors on a bike or on foot can be a great way to start the school year. Fresh air and exercise are important, and adding in some local wildlife and plants can add an educational component – you can talk about the plants and animals you do know, and take pictures of the ones you don’t so you can look them up later. Create a scavenger hunt for the kids to look for various things – a rough rock, a smooth rock, a brown leaf, a thin leaf, two kinds of ferns, three kinds of mushrooms, etc. Teach them how to know what plants or mushrooms are edible and which ones aren’t, and how to navigate and find their way back to where they started (compass, sun, leaving signs, etc.).
Whether you add an educational aspect to something, or do it purely for the fun factor, starting the school year with some fun activities can set the tone for the rest of year, and make it easier to get back into the structure of school. The best part about the activities I’ve listed here is that, depending on where you live, these are things that can be done long after the first days of school. Even if hiking or swimming are out after a few weeks due to cooler weather or snow, many of the rest can be done any time of year. Sprinkle in a few here and there throughout your school year, once a week or once a month, to keep things fun and give the kids something to look forward to.
What fun activities do you do with the kids once the public kids go back to school, or to keep things fun throughout your school year?