In Japan this phrase characterizes the bright new uniform worn by a child going to school for the first time. Imagine the six-year-old decked out in his new duds and carrying his Pokemon backpack. Can’t you see the joyful anticipation on his smiling face? Even though we schooled our children at home, I wanted them to feel the excitement and anticipation of a new year, a new adventure that would warrant a shopping trip to Wal-Mart for matching notebooks and folders, mechanical pencils, colorful erasers, etc. But in spite of the fact our ‘classroom’ was well-stocked, the first day of school was just as full of great expectations, disappointments, and tears as the public school on the corner.
It’s not hard to set the stage: The enthusiastic mom-teacher who spent the summer searching for the best curriculum choices, planning out schedules, and setting goals comes to her home-made classroom to find herself confronting her bleary-eyed-children who are still swimming in the mindset of lazy summer days. Ka-Boom!
Strange it took so many of these frustrating days before I ever learned to approach the school year more gradually and realistically. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to make plans, set goals, and choose your books carefully, but setting realistic goals and expectations are easier to achieve and make for a smoother transition.
I learned that involving my children in the selection of their curriculum and planning gave them a feeling of ownership in their own education which made the transition into the independent learning of middle and high school years a natural progression. So here are a few tips for the new homeschooling mom with an agenda:
1. Start slowly
As I referred to earlier, sometimes we barrel over our children with enthusiasm. Introducing one discipline or course at a time during the first week makes the additions more palatable. In other words, perhaps the first day you begin with a devotion, prayer, a read aloud and some language arts review. The second day, you begin in much the same way, but now you add a game to re-introduce math skills that may have become a little weaker from lack of use during the summer months. By the third day, you stream-line the language arts and math and bring in your science or history using a fun fact or experiment. I know that this takes a great deal of creativity and preparation, but if you do the work at the beginning you need not do as much preparation as the momentum takes over. Then the experiments become monthly or the games become part of a Friday fun day review of the week. A note to those teaching middle or high school children at home: you might not have the freedom to introduce courses so slowly, but I found concentrating more energy on two subjects on one day and another couple on the next does not overwhelm and frustrate a middle-schooler quite as quickly as an overload the first day does.
2. Begin with the youngest
In my experience, if the youngest in the family were given some attention at the beginning of the school day, they were more content when I had to focus my attention on the older students. Plus, the older children usually had some chores to attend to at the beginning of the day which made this easier to accomplish. I would set aside special ‘school toys and activities’ for the younger children and we would do these together first thing. Friends of ours started each day with a read-aloud for history or as a devotional for all their children and that seemed to suffice. It didn’t always work for our family to begin together because I had one child who was particularly task-driven and would wake up ready to check things off the list before the others were ready to do school.
3. Be willing to tweak your plans or expectations
Sometimes I would have such a detailed plan for the first days of school that any interruption or distraction made me frustrated and often angry. This would snowball and soon my dissatisfaction became my children’s and no one was happy. If something takes you off course, evaluate whether or not it is worth the distraction. Sometimes the best learning is the unplanned. Remember that plans often change over the course of the year. It is best to concentrate on broader goals and be willing to change the path that takes you toward them.
4. A note about great expectations
I don’t want to communicate an attitude that is lackadaisical. During one of the annual evaluations of my children, I recall asking the educational psychologist why my children strove to do excellent work for her and mediocre work for me. She replied with the question, “Who sets the expectations?” Obviously, I had set expectations that were too easily achieved and did not challenge my children. I began to understand that having high expectations usually led to higher achievement . So, I don’t mean to imply that you should be ready to lower the expectations you have for your children the first week of school because they might not want to work very hard. Rather, communicate your goals and how you intend to help them meet them throughout the year. Admit that they might be unattainable, but you will strive toward them nonetheless – and do your best not to let anger get the best of you if some eyes roll.
5. Finally be grateful (Moms)
The best way to ward off discouragement and disappointment is to have attitude of gratitude. You are very privileged to educate your children at home. You will have challenges and work very hard, but you will not regret a day you spent learning with your children. Take it from a home-school mom at the end of the journey, time goes quickly and soon the children you are struggling with will be grown and gone. Enjoy the experience!