I wrote this article in June of 2012. It was originally published on Heart of the Matter Online (now theendinmind.net) as “5 Summer Seeds to Plant for a Ripe Fall Harvest.”
If you follow a traditional school schedule, these months of the year might find you sipping lemonade or sweet tea in the warm afternoon, reading your favorite book or crafting–something that relaxes and refreshes you while on break from the school year. Of course, there is that nagging thought that hangs out there like thick, looming clouds right before a summer rain: a new school year is coming soon.
When you have completed this cycle for long enough, you notice an ebb and flow to the school year. As a parent, you find that blissful nexus of curriculum, teaching methods, and extracurricular activities that transforms your children’s experience into something beyond school. But if you are like me, there are also seasons that can rattle your confidence. In our years of homeschooling, we have seen each of these seasons and a few more. Do any of these scenarios look familiar to you?
- Beginning the journey as a brand new homeschooler
- Life dealing a crushing blow to what was your routine (and those “blows” can be physical, spiritual, and/ or psychological)
- Homeschooling in a new season—another child “entering” school, a child beginning the high school years or leaving home
And as those seasons change, shaking our homeschool foundations, all of the question marks in our bewildered minds boil down to this: Can I do this? Do I still want to do this?
Some homeschool consultants or other experts within the community might suggest that homeschooling is a year-by-year journey which parents must revisit and make the commitment to continue before each school year begins. Personally, I have found that looking at the homeschool year annually in order to determine whether we should continue can be self-defeating for a couple of reasons. Primarily, if I judged our success based upon how the kids performed or how I felt at the end of each year, we would have quit homeschooling years ago; some years, I felt, were just that tumultuous. Secondly, had we made the annual decision of whether or not to homeschool, we would have missed out on the life-altering event that homeschooling has become for our family. Viewing it as a shorter term decision would not have required us to take some of the actions that we have taken over the years; we would have dealt with all of the changes as temporary, and we would have moved on. Instead, looking at homeschooling as an extension of who we are—a longer-term perspective—has transformed our family and the way that we relate to one another. Finally, seeing home education as one of my life roles allows me to complete the various “housekeeping” tasks of homeschool much as I complete my other life roles—with the right level of activity in the right season. Our Father tells us to occupy until He comes (Luke 19:13), and this is our commitment: to employ ourselves in this task of homeschooling, ever looking to improve and to increase until He speaks through a burning bush to tell us to do something different. Seriously, our children’s educational process would have to be wrestled away from me for me to surrender it.
These are five activities that I believe are critical during a homeschool parent’s personal down time before beginning an “official” school year:
- Immerse yourself in God’s Word. Again, if you view homeschool as an annual decision with the associated progress report, the temptation to throw in the proverbial towel will outweigh all of the potential blessings that might be in the pipeline—if you hang in there with yourself and with God. Nothing happens that is a surprise to Him—the terminally-ill relative, the job loss, the math anxiety. You simply must remind yourself, through reading and speaking it daily, who you are in Christ. You may have your own scriptural affirmations, but these are a few of mine.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)
However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
- Commit to the research you need to be successful. Summer, or whenever you take an extended break, is an excellent time to purposefully surf the Internet. There are so many places, via blogs, sites, or video, that can help you in areas where you may be lost, inadequate, or proficient and hoping to continuously improve. This is a great opportunity to enhance your creativity, if you are lacking ideas for a hands-on learner; be sure to check the reviews of that must-have curriculum you are about to purchase; also, what better time to read that homeschool how-to book (or peruse a fantastic site like Heart of the Matter Online?)
- Plan. For those of you who are not planners by nature, you might have mentally skipped on to #4. But I would invite you to consider that when you fail to plan, you allow the plans of others to rule your day. Also, there are startling statistics that point to the difference between achievement and effectiveness, all based upon the ability to write down what you want to accomplish. Does that help you put something down on paper? As for those of us who thrive on planning, this is an ideal activity to partner with your research. Ideas can become realistic at this point without the added burden of trying to “run the business,” so to speak, as you build your business. Use this window of time to make your plans firm. Go ahead and list that first few weeks of activity (As an aside, I normally do not plan day-to-day for more than one month as those extended plans inevitably go awry). Also, do not forget to include the kids in your planning, especially if they are old enough to contribute; they might have ideas on what they want to learn, or how they want to learn it.
- Dream. Amidst all of the tactical items that must take place, do not forget your imagination. What does school look like for your home? What experiences do you want your children to have? What do you consider an ideal day? When we began our homeschool journey, I never saw our kids in desks; I never envisioned a traditional classroom. Though the reality of our homeschool day does not resemble my dream, either, the understanding that I wanted something different than traditional schooling helped me avoid needless expenses and focused my efforts toward a home and school environment that worked for us.
- Secure curriculum. Though the middle of this list has no particularl order, I very intentionally began with prayer, and I very intentionally ended with curriculum. I also intentionally used the words ‘secure’ curriculum rather than ‘purchase’ curriculum. Obviously, curriculum purchased too soon can be a huge waste of money once you complete some of these other activities and realize that what you bought has nothing to do with what your home and family need. There are so many ways for a child to learn—co-ops, library or museum programs, trips, and/or interviewing relatives and friends. Be sure, especially during these times that are economically challenging for so many, that you explore all your options before you spend. There is a second reason to consider curriculum on the back end of your preparation. Curriculum can become a source of pride, and therefore derail your efforts by allowing you to focus more on ____’s products than on your child’s development. Think about it: when you talk to other homeschoolers about what happens in your home, inevitably the question comes: “So, what curriculum do you use?” Is your response filled with excitement, or do you list off brand names the way some women flaunt shoes? As a personal reference, I recently realized that a curriculum that I enjoyed so much when the kids were smaller ceased working when they entered high school. Sadly, I then had to confess to myself that I held on to a couple of years of poor teaching and worse retention because my faith was in a name. When I thank customers for purchasing our curriculum, I always state that I thank them for allowing us to be a part of their child’s educational process. I take very seriously that someone is buying into my ideas and my perspective. The words you place in front of your children are as much a place of prayer as the decision to homeschool in the first place.
This list is by no means an all-inclusive. I would love to hear of your pre-schooling activities. In any case, may the Lord bless your harvest abundantly.