As a blogger, I may be compensated in some way (either pay, product, or experience) for sharing the post below All opinions are my own. ~Heidi
I’ve been doing this homeschool thing for quite some time now – in fact, we’re entering our 18th year. Every year looks a little bit different at our house – different curriculum is chosen, we do school in a different location, we plan our days differently. I have discovered a few “constants” throughout the years – these things are tried and true tips that are sure to hold your school together, even on days when you feel like it’s falling apart at the seams! So, as we all prepare for Back-to-School, I hope you’ll find these tips useful.
1. Have a good homeschool plan (or planner)
I’m a bit of a planner freak, so that’s why this is number one on my list! Years ago, I would sit for hours, days, and weeks and plan out my oldest daughter’s entire homeschool year before the school year even started. I’m not that much of a die-hard anymore (or glutton for punishment), but I’m still a firm believer in a plan.
We’ve used lots of different planners over the years as well – planners for Mom, planners for kids, etc. There have been years that I’ve designed my own online planner, years that we’ve used the lovely planners from Apologia, and years we’ve opted for planners bought at local stores. Gracie has been keeping track of her own plan – in her own planner – for several years now. Ian, on the other hand, is still under my watchful eye. Since we’re doing Abeka Academy this year, the planning is all done and laid out for me in a handy-dandy book!
It doesn’t matter what type of planner you choose – whether you keep everything together in one planner or each kid has their own – just USE A PLANNER (or, at the least, have a basic plan in mind for each day).
2. Use a record-keeping tool
Several years ago, I was introduced to a brand new program called My Home School Grades. It was the first record-keeping tool that I had ever used that actually worked for me (and, trust me, I’ve tried plenty of them!). I’ve been using it faithfully ever since and I recommend it to anyone who asks me about record-keeping and transcripts. With this simple program, you can manage your students’ grades, use your curriculum and lesson plans (many are already loaded onto the site to select from, or you can add them manually), track extracurricular activities, print official transcripts (that are college-ready), plan your homeschool day YOUR way, track attendance, and document your homeschool journey.
Maybe you have another favorite record-keeping tool and that’s ok – just as long as you have one and you’re using it faithfully throughout the school year. DO NOT wait until the last week or two of school and frantically enter everything or try to gather all your grades and come up with something on your own. Trust me, this is no fun and it simply doesn’t work – and you’ll be kicking yourself for it. Find something that works for you and USE IT.
3. Assemble a nice assortment of resource materials and reading books
Even if you think you have all the curriculum that you’re going to need for your school year, it’s nice to have resources handy too. I like to have an assortment of extra history, science, math, and language arts resources out in the open where my kids can just grab them as needed. If there’s something they’re learning about and want to expand the learning, I want to make that as easy as possible. Your resource library doesn’t have to be extensive – I’ve actually downsized mine over the years – just have things handy!
4. Create a healthy balance when it comes to technology
This is a newer tip on my list. As my kids have grown and become more tech-savvy, and have needed the internet for school research, etc. it has become essential that we keep the lines of communication open and set boundaries where technology is concerned. If you aren’t sure where to start to talk to your kids about technology, I highly recommend the resources over at LeahNieman.com – she has a great Social Media Agreement that you can work through with your kids and you can download it for free if you sign up for her newsletter. She’s also got some great resources available to you in her shop.
My daughter Gracie is 16 now, and entering her senior year of high school. She’s been on what I call “college time” for years now . . . she goes to bed around 2am and sleeps ’til 11am. I’ve tried to change her, but her brain just won’t shut off at night; so we’ve learned to “roll with it.” However, I am not comfortable with her being online to the wee hours of the morning when no one else is awake. It’s not that I don’t trust HER; rather, I don’t trust others.
When it comes to Ian, I don’t trust him. We have caught him sneaking out of bed at night to come down and play Minecraft on the iPad. When that was discovered, he found out that he could sneak around and use someone’s computer (so we had to password protect them all). He’s gotten caught playing his DS late at night, he’s purchased a movie on Amazon.com without permission (it was “just an accident”), he has been caught using my phone (so our phones are now password protected as well!), and there’s no telling what he might do next if left to his own devices!
While it’s great to set boundaries with your kids, it’s also nice to know that you don’t have to worry about them straying from them. So, I am thrilled about this new little gadget that we’ve added to our home and homeschool for this year! It’s called Circle, and it’s my new best friend! Why? Because, with this one little white box and my cell phone I can control all the devices in our home. I can tell Circle which devices belong to which family member, and I can set their internet access to turn off at a certain time each night. I can even set time limits for individual things done online (such as Facebook, YouTube, etc.) It works with any device that connects to our home wi-fi, so I can even limit guests (watch out if you’re coming to visit!)
When I first read about Circle, I was excited; but it was only available for Apple devices. Now, it works with Android phones as well! It was easy to hook up (simply plug it into the wall), and (with a little help) I was able to set it up pretty quickly. I now have the peace of mind of knowing that my kids are safe and that they’re not online during times that they shouldn’t be.
School can come before fun, and now – thanks to the Circle – I can use things like Minecraft (or even things watched on Netflix and Hulu) as rewards for doing school. We have sat down with our kids and discussed the limits we’ve imposed, and why. Everyone is in agreement, and the Circle is there to back us up (just in case!)
And, what about when the kids are away from home? Well, Circle recently launched Circle Go for Apple devices (and I’m told it’s “coming soon” for Android as well). This allows you to take the settings from your kids’ devices at home and extends them to 4G LTE and any other WiFi network they hook up to. THAT is pretty impressive!
EXTRA TIP – Have a few “sanity savers” on hand for MOM
Let’s face it . . . even with these tips, we’re all going to have a day here and there where we want to just throw in the towel. I’ve had plenty of them over the past 18 years! So, I recommend keeping a stash of little “sanity savers” close at hand for those times. This year, I found myself a Homeschool Mom’s Bible that has a short devotional for each day of the year. It’s my goal to get up before the kids each day and read the devotional and pray over our day. I also found this little book filled with short daily readings/tips on Mom/Son relationships. I plan to read one of these each morning (’til they run out) as well. But, my favorite sanity saver is, by far, CHOCOLATE. I love the bars by Lindt (currently the dark chocolate pineapple one is my favorite) and Ghiradelli and try to keep a few at my desk at all times. They’re nice because you can just break off a small square whenever you need a chocolate fix (or daily, as the case may be). You know what your little indulgence is, so make sure you have it on hand (even if you have to hide it away somewhere).
Now, armed with these simple tips, go and have a great school year!
And, if you have tried and true tips that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment!