I’m sure most of us have memories of the first day of the autumn term back at school after a long summer of hazy days, ice cream cones and freedom. Maybe time has added a cozy glow to our memories, but for me, at least in my primary years, there was a sense of excitement of new subjects to learn, new teachers, new experiences and of course the anticipation of brand new, unsullied exercise books to be filled. Added to this is the change of season, as summer slowly mellows into autumn, with all the joys of blackberry picking and conker collecting.
I wonder how we as parents approach a new school year? For those of us who home educate, it can come with a sense of excitement as we anticipate learning new things alongside our children, plan outings and gleefully muse over any newly acquired books. We’ve done the planning and nothing has gone wrong yet! Although it may seem strange, I think it can also come with a sense of relief; long weeks of less structure and lots of social activity is great to begin with, but can also be difficult for some children and so settling into a well known rhythm can feel like sinking back into a comfortable old arm chair. For others, maybe the weight of responsibility sits heavily upon our shoulders, especially if our children have exams looming. And for some, a multitude of different challenges can make the term ahead seem more like the Himalayas than a delight filled country walk.
So, are there any tips that can help us prepare and transition from holiday time to term time in a good way? Below are a few practical suggestions I’ve picked up over the years, and I’ll follow it up with a second post about some emotional/spiritual habits that help me.
Planning our learning . How much we plan will depend on our style and philosophy and to a certain extent on our own character, and thus will be completely unique to each of our families. There is no right of wrong way. I enjoy the planning process. I begin with some discussions with each child about what they would like to learn. We are so blessed to have this freedom! This builds an excitement in them, and I hope also a sense of owning their education. I then need to find time to sit with my notebook and begin to work out what books we will need, how I will teach each subject and what other activities and commitments we will have on a weekly basis. It’s fun to plan trips which enhance what we’re reading about, and also craft/cooking activities. I plan on a half termly basis, using a regular A5 notebook and a different colour pen for each child. I also add in anything which involves the whole family, eg read alouds, outings, celebrations etc.
Collecting a book stash. This is also a favourite task…if something so delightful can be called a task. I amass an enticing pile of picture and chapter books to read alongside our “spine” text books. So, for example we have several different history text books, and as we work our way chronological through them, we read fiction of the time. This term we’ve reached the Victorian era so we’re spoilt for choice! I also use off the shelf books for maths, and a classical English language curriculum for my eldest daughter which I adapt as necessary.
Organising our supplies. This sounds obvious, but allocating areas for books, craft supplies, sports equipment, science chemicals etc does save time. However, I’ve never managed to consistently train children to keep pencils and pencil sharpeners in one place and this causes me more than a little frustration!!
Weekly planning. Once started, I do my best to plan a week ahead for our learning, activities, meals and extra jobs. I created a weekly planner which is in the Resource section, and sit with this, a cup of tea and our family calendar on a Sunday as I attempt to bring some order into the week ahead.
Begin some good habits a few weeks early. This is something I’ve found invaluable with our younger children. Some children love the challenge of hurling headlong into a new term and embrace the freshness of greater structure and less free time with enthusiasm. For others, the requirement to get up in the morning and focus on something which may be hard for them, is too much. So, we now start a few weeks before commencing term, with a gentle change towards the term time morning routine, morning devotions and some reading aloud. The latter is always welcomed and gives an incentive to change out of pyjamas!
I’ve learnt most of these by making mistakes and becoming upset and frustrated…so if you feel this way at times you’re not alone! However, I hope that some of these tips might be helpful and could be adapted into your homes as you look forward to a new term with all the anticipation of a well organised mum!!