Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fall Homeschool: Get Ready Now

Well, no longer can we ignore the fact that summer is 2/3 over for most of us and school is fast approaching. I thought I'd reprint a post from my old blog on getting ready for homeschool. Can you tell this is on my to-do list this week? Thankfully, the curriculum is here. All I need to do is get the room ready again.

I know most of us feel as if we just finished up our school year, but now is the time we really need to start thinking about the fall if we plan to homeschool this next year. Being prepared ahead of time will make the experience much more pleasant, while waiting until the last minute will create an atmosphere of frenzy as you rush around making preparations and this hurried feeling will be absorbed by your children and result in an unsettled start.  By getting things ready now, the first day should be much more calm and organized allowing children to settle back into routine quickly and happily (well, somewhat happily anyway). 

1. Order Curriculum
When it comes to organizing for homeschool, most of us think of getting our curriculum ordered. This is of utmost importance and you need to have it on hand before your first day of school. If you haven't done this already, do it this week or weekend. Tell your husband to take the kids on Saturday if necessary and get it ordered! Every homeschooling mom in the entire United States is ordering curriculum in the summer and shipping dates will get longer and further out. If you order by phone, ask what the expected ship date will be. Keep a running list of companies you are ordering from, their phone number, items you ordered, ship dates/arrival dates, invoice numbers, and cost. Having the information at your fingertips will be handy for follow up as well as for reordering the following year. As each item arrives, be sure to check it off and note anything that is backordered. You don't want to be charged for something that never showed up. Also, if anything is damaged, call immediately. 

If you plan to go to a homeschool convention to order your curriculum, take a notebook listing the same information as mentioned above and fill it in as you purchase. Don't forget to take along a list of what you are shopping for. You will need to take along an inventory list of items you have on hand as well. If you are shopping for math curriculum, it's hard to remember what manipulatives you already have at home when you're in a mass crowd and feeling rushed to put in your order. 

2. Determine A Homeschool Area
Just because you homeschooled in an area of your home last year, doesn't mean you should do it there this next year. Did the space work well for you? No? Move to another location! If it was just okay, is there a place that would work better? Over the last 12 years, it seems we have schooled all over the house. When my oldest was the only school aged child, we set up a classroom in a corner of her room. We out grew that quickly. Next we set up a desk beside my desk in the back of our living room so she could work beside me while I worked on a home-based business. We eventually worked our way to the kitchen table when number two started doing school work, and we tried a stint at our large kitchen island. Finally, with child number 3, I decided to invest in some small folding tables about 4' long; one for each child and myself. I added a rolling cart
and large white board for each table as well. Everyone got their own set up. I arranged these in a manner that allowed each child to focus on her own work, but kept them in an area where I could move easily from one child to the next. Shelving with books and supplies rounded out the workspace with all this is arranged in an area of our upstairs bonus/family room. Why didn't I do this YEARS ago? What a difference it made in everyone's concentration.

Look around your house. Is there a room that could be converted into a classroom? It might mean putting two children in one bedroom so that the second room can be used for school. Perhaps a large nook could be designated as a school area. Be creative and think outside the box, but do it now before school starts. 

A final word about homeschool areas. This is the place you will be spending most of your time each week. I know I'm in my school area at least 6-7 hours a day, 4 1/2 - 5 days a week. Your homeschool area needs to be a place where you WANT to spend time. If it isn't, find some time to just sit in the room quietly where you can view the entire room. Think about each area and what you can do to make it more inviting without being distracting for study. For me, I like globes, baskets, and books, so I bought some bookshelves at an on-line site toward the end of last year for a nominal price with free shipping. These don't have to be the kind built to last a life time. They just need to work for a few years while you homeschool. I added our baskets and books, put our globe on top along with a few other items and organized them in a pleasing manner. It was amazing how much these shelves changed the feel of our room. Before it seemed cold and sterile. Now it is an enjoyable place to sit and work.

3. Clean and Purge
Just like the other areas in your home, you need to do a thorough summer cleaning in your school area. I usually try to do this before school starts, right after Christmas, and at Spring Break. That way it doesn't build up too much. Get rid of old papers, broken crayons, used up pencils, dried out pens, and whatever else is accumulating. Rearrange books and straighten any areas where items have wandered from their original "homes". These areas also need to be wiped down and sometimes even disinfected with a natural cleaner. 

4. Gather Supplies
If you wait until early August, school supplies go on sale at rock bottom prices. However, they are picked over fast so you will need to get there early. If you are needing an unusual item or something that is hard to find, buy it early in the summer. I love the Crayola brand Twistable colored pencils, but these are rarely on sale and often picked over quickly. When I was in Target this past week, I found a set of 30 for $6.99 which is a good price although not on sale (although their website sells them for $10.99!). Needless to say, I grabbed them on the spot.  If you keep an envelope system to set aside money for schooling,  you should have cash set aside to make these purchases when you find a good deal.

5. Organize Your Homeschool Space
This is crucial! Your entire year will feel fragmented and frustrating if you don't get your space organized to function for your needs. Clear out anything that is not necessary for daily work and anything that is used on a daily basis should be easy to access. No digging for supplies! Invest in stackable containers, rolling carts, inexpensive bookshelves, extra desk items, and anything else that might make work easier. Be sure each student has plenty of desk top space to spread out when studying or working on a project (that's why I like the 4' folding tables). Don't let them clutter the desk up with books or other items. I only allow one little organizer per desk top that holds their pencils, erasers, markers, twistable pencils, scissors, glue stick, and a few other small items (see below).

Finally, don't forget your own desk. Make sure you have grading pens, highlighters, staplers, and plenty of file space with extra files. Oh, and I like my area to feel pretty. Add a little touch that makes it special.

6. Set Your Dates for the School Year
Besides your projected start and finish dates, determine holidays, family vacations, field trips, special events, and anything else that comes to mind. Make a special note of any lessons outside of home such as music or sports activities. That way, when you are making out your lesson plans, you can adjust accordingly. Don't forget to add a reminder on your calendar for important items such as filing your Homeschool Affidavit if your state requires one.

7. Determine How to Keep Your Records and Lesson Plans
Now is the time to call your advisor or HSLDA and find out exactly what records you need to keep for legal reasons, possible transfers, potential colleges, scholarships, and transcripts in general. This will vary from state to state and may require a bit of researching on your part. You won't have time once school starts, so do it now. Buy whatever record keeping books you may need, files, and forms so that you have them on hand. 

8. Make a Master Lesson Plan

For lesson  planning, determine how detailed your plans will be and purchase something that will fit your needs. If you can't find what you want, create it on your computer. Last year, I made a template that fit exactly what I wanted and included a M T W TH F under each subject so that I could circle it in order to keep myself accountable. Each day that we completed that subject, I circled the date.

9. Renew or Sign Up for HSLDA 

If you are in a charter school or have an ISP, you don't need to do this. However, if you are going it alone (which is what I do), you really need to invest in a membership for Home School Legal Defense Association. I just set this money aside and consider it an expense of homeschooling that is a must. Even if you never have to use their services (which I pray we never do!), you are helping other families that might otherwise, never be able to afford attorney fees if their homeschooling is challenged. In addition, your dollars go toward lobbying for the rights of homeschoolers all across the United States. Be sure that other groups are paying to lobby against these same laws! Don't forget to do this before you get caught up in the school year.

Here are a few photos of our own homeschool set up. The classroom takes up about one fourth of our upstairs family room and is mainly along one side of the room and a bit of another. Sorry I didn't include photos of my desk, but it is pretty much the same as the girls.

Whew! There's a lot to do before September! Well, we better get busy, ladies. Just think how much you'll enjoy the rest of summer knowing you're prepared for fall!

Would you be so kind as to share any tips you have for getting ready for the year to begin? If you post about this topic on your own blog, be sure to leave a link so we can read and see pictures of your classroom! All of us could use some great inspiration!


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