It’s that time of year again – back to homeschool!
Homeschoolers use their educational freedom to teach their kids in a style and on a schedule that suits their family. That means that some homeschool all year ‘round, others started weeks ago, and some have not yet begun.
It’s the same here at True North Homeschool Academy -some of our online classes have started while others, including our homeschool clubs, will begin later on in September.
We have found that even though we are not returning to a “school building,” home educators have their own back to school traditions. There is excitement in the air as many of us are beginning a new homeschool year, meeting new students and friends, sharpening those Ticonderogas, and cracking open our shiny, new curriculum.
Some families have simple traditions such as purchasing new p.j.’s, kicking off the year with a field trip, or participating in the online National Homeschool Spirit Week, which is the 4th week of September every year.
We asked some of the Academy teachers to share their favorite “Back to Homeschool” traditions and words of advice as we roll into a fresh (and maybe a little challenging) homeschool year.
Traditions We Love
Dana Hanley is our German teacher and her first day of school tradition involves making Schultueten and filling them with candies and small school supplies. It is a German thing, but over there, the class party is on the first day of class, not the last day of class. Dana says: “ I really like that general attitude. Last year, we did a brand new outfit for each kid, too, because I randomly thought how much I loved getting new school clothes when I was a kid. All of my kids are asking to repeat that one!”
Pets are welcome too in the Pool homeschool room!
Tamara Warner Pool shared with us some words of wisdom and a peaceful way to begin the homeschool year. “My children needed a consistent rhythm and flow to their days, so we would gently enter our new school year and gently exit it for our break times. We don’t have “First Day” photos, and we didn’t have “Last Day” parties, but we did celebrate small accomplishments and goals achieved when any of them crossed a “finish line.” If we were involved in a coop or activity, we would build up to that so everyone was prepared for whatever disruption that would bring to our routines.”
Dr. Kristin Moon reminisced about when her kids were younger. One fun tradition they had was that they got the day off on their birthdays (hers too!). As the kids got older and co-ops and college classes mandated, they come to class even on their birthday that changed, but they all still remember those days fondly. She advises us to prioritize relationships over the curriculum. “We get so caught up on finishing books or getting through a lesson plan that it can be easy to overlook when a kid just wants some mom time. As homeschoolers, we can put the books and lesson plans aside when our kids need us to. Don’t ALWAYS be in teacher mode. Yes, as homeschoolers, we are always learning, but don’t turn everything into a forced lesson. It’s ok to go to the beach and enjoy each other’s company; you don’t have to quiz them on how tides are formed. My third piece of advice: don’t get so wrapped up in your role as a homeschool mom that you forget the person who you were created to be. Continue to make time for friendships, your health, your marriage, and your hobbies.”
Sonya Goodwin Hemmings encourages us to: “Be careful as you tailor your students’ education not to eliminate all of the obstacles that threaten to stand in their way. Struggle always precedes growth. It is quite essential. And when parents and their children pray and persevere together through a difficult subject or even a difficult year, the rewards that lie on the other side —shared knowledge, special bonding, and confidence to dig into the next challenge — are incredibly sweet.”
Emily Harkey counsels homeschool parents to “Pray…a lot!” and offers practical tips and reminders. “Think about dinner when you wake up and use a crockpot or Instapot as much as tolerated by your people. Make eating cereal for dinner a special treat when needed. Give lots of hugs and smiles and affirmations throughout the day, especially to your older kids who can work on their own while you work with your littles. During the younger years, remember that if you’ve been able to touch the three R’s every day: reading, writing, and arithmetic- that is an EXCELLENT school day…even if you are unable to replicate it again in another week’s time. Give yourself some slack and grace. Take a teacher’s “in-service day” when you need it and have your kids clean while you take a day away to work on you, and go to the dentist or get your hair cut. Organization and routine is your friend. Pray for your kids and all those who influence them.”
BJ Prammon, our Art teacher, points out that “back to school” can be casual and doesn’t have to be routine. “Our most prominent tradition for back to homeschool is really our lack of formal tradition. I never remember to take a “ first day of school” picture. Back to school shopping really doesn’t happen until October. I don’t like making school charts, and my kids don’t like following them. Even as I write this, I haven’t gotten around to ordering a social studies curriculum for my oldest. I’ll get around to it. We start on a different week every year, with different curriculum and different learning strategies, different goals, and, frequently, different opinions. If any of that could be rolled up into some sort of formal stab at useful information, I suppose it would be this: Don’t let what other people are doing dictate your own groove. Don’t let what last year looked like keep you from exploring this year to its fullest potential, even if last year was a really good year, but especially if last year was a ‘bad’ one.”
Whether you are already back in the swing of things or still in the planning phase, what we can all take away from this collective wisdom is that the key to a great start is concentrating on keeping a school/life balance and focusing on what works for our family.
A huge thank you to these True North Academy Teachers for taking time out of their busy schedules to share with us!
(The following is a guest post from Lolita Allgyer, Marketing Associate and advisor at Praxis.)
What is Project-Based Learning?
Learning by creating a tangible project is one of the best ways to build a new skill, explore new opportunities, and discover what you enjoy.
Rather than focusing on getting specific subjects done lesson by lesson, project-based learning uses completed projects as educational mile-markers. This approach gives students physical representations of the skills they have built, and a sense of satisfaction in their creative ability at the end of every project.
The best part about project-based learning is that it can be plugged into many different homeschool methods. Into roadschooling? Add a couple projects related to your travels. Like a highly-structured approach? Include small projects as assignments. Unschooling? Help your kids craft projects that are related to the interests you see them building.
How to Build a Project Around a Learning Objective
There are two ways to use a project as a learning opportunity:
- Use the project as the end goal.
- Use the project to get to a goal.
When you use the project as an end goal, you focus on learning whatever you can to get the project done. An example of this would be “I’m going to build a tepee.” Then you’d study tepee-building techniques, learn about American Indians and their survival skills, build a science journal documenting what you need, and go on a field trip to source the building materials you need. Each of these skills and experiences would be a byproduct of your end goal: building a tepee. This is a great way to help a child or teen who has big ideas but needs some guidance on actually putting them into action.
Using a project to get to an end goal is slightly different. With this approach, a specific skill set is often an end goal, and the project is simply a way to get to that goal. A great example of this would be “I want to build writing skills.” Then you’d put together a project idea based on this goal: maybe you’d plan to publish a book, put together a creative writing journal, or use one prompt per day to push your writing ability to the next level. The options are endless!
If you’re helping a younger child learn, I highly recommend focusing on the first method of project-based learning. Watch any child at play and you’ll see they learn quickly and easily when they have a specific project to learn by! The second method is great to implement with an older child or a teen who really wants to focus on building a specific skill.
Using the Project As the End Goal
I’m convinced that projects teach you a combination of more skills than anything else can. Most of the time, you won’t even know the skills you’re building until you look back on the project.
I coach the Philosophy module at Praxis. Instead of just studying philosophy, we focus each week around a project: a video that relates to the concepts we covered in the week’s worth of content. Every participant that comes through this module is amazed at the skills they build just by creating something to go along with the information they’re studying.
- They build public speaking and debate abilities.
- They figure out basic video editing.
- They learn how to boil a big idea down into concepts that anyone can understand (sales!).
- They learn to quickly pick out what makes a good and bad video.
- They begin to understand basic filming technique like lighting, posture, enunciation, and much more.
After making one video every week for a month, participants at Praxis suddenly realize how much they have learned from the video creation!
- Do you or your child have a great idea for something to create? That’s your project.
- Expand on the project idea, brainstorming the possible skills that can be gained from it.
- Build a plan that will help your child maximize on the skills they can gain from the project.
- Figure out a daily and weekly action plan and goals that you can work toward.
- Document the project at each step of the way. A good completed project has plenty of documentation to go with it, whether it’s a little science journal, a slideshow with videos showing progress, or a write-up that showcases what your child has completed.
Using the Project to Get to a Goal
Projects make learning fun again! They’re also easier to showcase than tests and other methods of scoring learning ability, and they’re much more pleasant to look back on.
Using this method of project building requires you (or your child) to be highly goal-oriented. It means that you need to see past the project you are creating to the end goal of the skillset you will have built in the end.
In my work at Praxis, I always look for opportunities to branch out and learn new things that make me more valuable both to the company and otherwise.
I’ve always wanted to build a skillset in video editing, but that dream never got past the “great idea” stage in my mind. But when an opportunity came around to film and edit the Office Hours Podcast, I recognized that this was my opportunity to fulfill my dream of getting into video editing.
So I took on the project of producing this podcast. I made a lot of mistakes, stressed out some, and watched countless Youtube videos. But by now I’ve had over 50 hours of editing experience with Premiere Pro, having worked on anything from simple social media videos to ads to podcast episodes. I’ve still got a long way to go, but this project helped my dream of being a video editor come true.
- Determine the goal. Here’s how to set goals that you can actually achieve!
- Break the goal down into manageable chunks depending on the child’s age and experience level.
- Brainstorm 3-5 possible project ideas with your child.
- After letting the project ideas sit for a little, narrow the project ideas down to the one that you both like the best!
- Break the project up into daily and weekly goals that you can keep track of.
- Don’t forget to document the project as you build it! This is the fun part- make a daily drawing of where you are in the project if it’s applicable. Take a picture every day of the child with the project. Let them make short videos talking about what they learned in the process. The options are endless!
A couple of final thoughts
I’ve laid out a step-by-step plan that can be used for a 6-month-long project like a research paper on a topic your child is passionate about. But it can also be applied to a field trip that you’re taking to a science museum for another child with a curious mind.
I’ve geared this article toward homeschool moms looking for ways to teach their kids new skills via projects. But this method is applicable to projects you’re completing for yourself as well. Projects don’t stop when you turn 18 and graduate. In fact, they give you a method for teaching yourself anything, anytime in life!
My point is that project-based learning is a mindset and a way of life, not just an educational plug-in. That’s why it’s so valuable.
(If you loved this post be sure to check out 8 Software Tools that Teens Can Master.)
Lolita Allgyer is a homeschool grad who is passionate about education, specifically in the arena of helping individuals learn how to educate themselves. She works for Praxis, an alternative education company that combines a 6-month professional bootcamp and a 6-month apprenticeship at a startup. This post was originally published here on the Praxis blog.
Homeschool Files, Papers, and Records…OH MY!
You’re starting to think about how much coffee and tea you’re going to have to drink in order to even START planning your homeschool year….I get that! Between registrations, letter of intent, standing in line, praying for curriculum sales, and wondering if you’re making the right decision, the LAST thing you want to think about it is keeping records.
As daunting of a task as this is, especially if you have multiple kids, it’s a necessity. “But, Tammie, how do I keep things documented without becoming a hoarder?” WHEW! I understand that, too. Take it from someone whose Mom kept every Christmas ornament from ALL THREE kids…yeah!
So how do you control homeschool files?
First, get a documentation binder. This was a lifesaver for me when I started and still is now.
In my binder, I have the following sections:
- State laws and evaluation protocols from HSLDA and my state’s website
- Cover school confirmation of enrollment and teacher verification
- Curriculum/resource list for all of our children along with receipts of purchase
- Attendance reports—number of days, number of hours, etc.
- Medical reports such as shot records, physicals, eye exams, etc
- Activity pics from field trips and co-op moments
- Work samples—don’t save EVERYTHING, just show progress
- Community service, including letters of commendation, letters of recommendation, awards, etc.
Next, get a Planner!
There are a MYRIAD of planners out there for you to use, but putting things in writing is important, especially if you have to call in a substitute family member to help you out for the day. Believe it or not, as a working homeschool mom myself, I made a Substitute Teacher Binder for my own HUSBAND!
When it comes to choosing a planner, always ask yourself if the design answers these seven questions:
- How much?
Why these seven questions?
It’s because these are the questions you will wake up and go to sleep answering on a daily basis. The planner that you use needs to help you get that out of your head and onto paper! If you are in the market for a planner that has a layout like this, check out my planners!
Also, consider getting planners for your children as well and help them to help you stay on track. Giving THEM a checklist of things to do gives you one less thing to think about. Only answer the questions asked. When it comes to record-keeping, we are prone to include ALL THE THINGS when we document what we do in your homeschool—STOP IT! Those same seven questions listed above are the same seven questions your documentation binder and planner should answer, whether it’s for your eyes only, an evaluator, or a friend or family member who’s coming to help.
Record-keeping doesn’t have to be as daunting of a task as others make it out to be! Stick to what is most needed and keep it moving! You have more important things to focus on, right?
(Are you overwhelmed with homeschooling madness? Maybe it’s time to check out True North Homeschool Academy’s Academic Advising!)
Tammie Polk is a Mompreneur on a Mission! She is a married, homeschooling mother of three girls ages 15, 10, and 5 from Memphis, Tennessee. When she’s not pouring into her girls, you can find her writing, doing crossword puzzles, or playing games! Her major claim to fame is being the author of over 30 books on life, faith, family, and business- all of which were written in the last three years. Tammie is also a business coach, homeschool consultant, motivational and inspirational speaker, and international radio show host!