Getting Ready for the New School Year

Ever since we started homeschooling in 2011, we have changed classrooms and curriculums several times – all without regret. There is no fixed plan that we follow when we start preparing for the next school year. We are “fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants” people, and we operate upon the need-of-the-moment. So whatever needs fixing or changing, that’s what we work on. Every thing that has worked well for us the last year, usually stays as is. Now, we are starting another school year, and I would like to share with you how we plan (supposedly) for the new year. 

For starters, this is how our class rooms have looked for the past 4 years:

So you see, our forays into the four corners of our house have allowed us to learn some valuable lessons on where and where not to situate a classroom. So let us start with the first tip…

1. Where Should Classes Be Held?

Based on our experiences, we’ve found that a downstairs, quiet (kind of), well-ventilated and out-of-the-way place works best for us. RD is easily distracted by noise, so we choose to stay away from the kitchen, because it is where most activities happen throughout the day. We chose to stay in a part of the living room, by the way, and it is a place where there isn’t a lot of “traffic.”

RD is also bothered by heat, and cannot concentrate when temperatures are warm. Fortunately, our farm is located in a somewhat cooler part of Bukidnon, so we usually have really mild, cool temperatures. Still, there are some days that are really stuffy and we are thankful that this particular room has a lot of windows on its three sides!

  • Clean-up and Decluttering
    A year’s worth of work tends to build up inside such a small space, so a few weeks before school has to start, we embark on a general cleaning of the area and declutter by putting stuff in two piles: 1) stuff that can still be used, and 2) stuff to throw away. The former is divided into two more piles: the give away pile and the pile with materials RD can still use for the coming year. The give away pile usually consists of books that are already below his reading level, and some books that have been rarely used. The second pile which RD can still use usually contains art stuff and books he still hasn’t read or are above his reading level.
  • Organizing
    While we’re cleaning and decluttering, I am usually looking for a way to re-organize the area in a way that looks different (somehow) from the year before to give the place a fresh, new look. Shelves are usually arranged in a different way, and books are given a “new home.” Art materials and other stuff also end up in a new place, but always within easy reach. Colored pencils and old pencils are sharpened, while everything else gets a rub down or a wipe down.
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    2. Planning the Curriculum

    The curriculum I use is usually on a what-works-and-what-doesn’t basis. Ever since we started homeschooling, I have changed books almost every year, especially if I notice that RD isn’t being challenged by the lessons. We used a Bible curriculum before where I noticed that RD would keep yawning whenever we were doing a lesson. He was so bored with it that he asked me one time, “Can we not do this right now?” So around a month into the school year, I was already on the look out for a more challenging, age-appropriate material. Good thing, I found a kid-version of a Bible study series which we’d fallen in love with called Precept Upon Precept. I asked RD’s academic adviser if she approved of the book being used in place of the boring one, and fortunately, she agreed! I was so happy about it that I posted a blog about it – RD Embarks On A New Bible Curriculum.

  • Pick Up On Visual Clues
    Whenever I notice that a curriculum is not particularly challenging to RD, the first thing I do is ask him if he likes it or not. RD is honest enough to tell me if he does or doesn’t. I also pick up on body language because RD is a visual child, and as such, is very expressive with facial expressions and body language that I know when he is bored or not.
  • Get Some Clues From Activities He Likes To Do
    RD is visual-spatial more than auditory-sequential. He works best with his hands and with lessons that have a strong visual content. He will rather work, than listen. Because of this, I choose books or material with a lot of hands-on activities and colored pictures. When choosing chapter books for him to read, I choose good content partnered with some illustrations, and it works! Art is a particular favorite subject of his, as well as science, because of the colored illustrations that are in his science books.
  • Plan The Shows He Can Watch On TV
    One of RD’s most favorite show to watch on cable TV are war documentaries, cooking competitions, and survival-type shows. Knowing this, I usually plan our class schedules around the time when these shows are on. We check the schedules on the internet, and plan accordingly. If a particular show is on, and I feel that it has some connection with either his Social Studies or History classes, we put classes on hold, and schedule that class on another day.Cartoons are off-limits until Friday afternoon, and even then, he can only watch those that we approve of. Video games are limited to Saturdays and Sunday afternoons only.

    Sometimes, we also come upon a subject matter that he is interested in, but don’t have the time to look it over, I list this subject down and look it up when I have time, so we can watch or read about it during break time or on Saturdays.

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    3. How Long Should I Hold Classes?

    Children can only focus on something for so long. As soon as their attention span reaches its limit, everything we say or do after that point just goes through deaf ears. The focus time of an 11-year-old is 20-50 minutes, so my lessons should only span that time per subject. In previous years, our lessons would last until he finished one whole lesson. I discovered that this wasn’t productive at all, and only made RD tired. I tried limiting our lessons to only one hour no matter if it was done or not, and it has worked wonders with RD’s attitude and disposition toward his lessons. If you have to do a lecture, limit it to the required attention span of your child’s age. If he/she wants to continue over the limit, that’s fine, as long he/she is not forced to go over the limit when he/she doesn’t want to.

    Below is a chart showing how much focus time children can muster: Picture1

  • Start slow
    After two months of vacation, it’s usually customary for us to start in a relaxed pace so RD gets used to doing classes again. We usually start with two to three classes per day then add another class or so the next week until we reach the regular five classes per day. The first subjects we start with are usually his favorite ones like Science and History for MWF (Mon-Wed-Fri) and Bible and Social Studies for TTH (Tue-Thur).
  • Set up a daily schedule
    RD thrives on variety, so our classes don’t follow a fixed schedule every day. I vary subjects per day so RD doesn’t get bored with following the same class at a particular time each day.Here is how our schedule looks like:
    Picture3

4. What Do I Do If I Have to Cancel Classes Unexpectedly?

There are times when unexpected errands or emergencies have to be taken care of on a school day. What we usually do is leave or assign some activities or seat work that RD can do independently. If the errand involves going to the bank or purchasing stuff, RD comes along so he know what people do inside a bank or a government office. Sometimes, if we have to go to a bank, we take this chance for RD to deposit some money into his bank account by himself.
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If we have to do some purchasing, he helps with choosing and getting the stuff we need to buy off the shelves or he helps in adding up the purchases on a calculator as part of his learning experiences in every day math.

These are what we usually do when preparing for the new homeschool year. Of course, there is no tried and tested way of preparing for the new school year. We just usually assess what needs to be changed, fixed, cleaned, organized or added to, and then go from there. These tips listed above are generally what we do when preparing for the school year, and here’s hoping this helps you gear up for your year – whether you’re just starting your first homeschool year, or if you’ve already been homeschooling for a few years.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to make any changes. Our preparations are not fool-proof. If, by any instance, you feel you have to tweak your schedule, or you need to change your curriculum, by all means, do so. Every success we’ve gone through have been reached through hits and misses, and we just thank God that there have been more hits than misses. But you’ll never know what works best for you and your homeschooler if you don’t go through some misses! Enjoy each step of the way – be it positive or negative. Learn from your mistakes and move on, and may God bless your preparations!

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