Week Number One. I think it’s the most intimidating week of the year for me. At least at the beginning of the year it is (but when February rolls along, I’ll probably say that every week). Nevertheless, always at the close of our first week, there exists this sense of accomplishment, regardless of what actually happened during the week.
So, even though it was a week of our children seemingly forgetting everything that I’ve taught them in the past (as evidenced by their blank stares and puzzled looks), and…
…even though it was a week of constantly pep-talking our Challenge B student that, yes, he actually really can write a 5-paragraph essay in one week, and
…even though I stumbled through my first week of using Spell to Write and Read (which is actually such a good program that I wish I had stumbled through it years ago instead of avoiding it like the plague)
…we made it! Not only that, it was a lovely week, and I am once again immensely thankful for God’s goodness and faithfulness.
As we start our year, I wanted to take a few moments to share our beginning-of-the-school-year reality because, although we may have grandiose plans and aim really-very high, none of us are ever meant to do it all. (Honestly, I’ve learned to hold our plans loosely because I never know exactly what God has in store for us.) Over time, I’ve discovered ways to make the beginning of our school year so much more enjoyable, so I thought I’d share those ideas so that you don’t get this false sense that we hit the ground running our homeschool-year marathon at a full-out sprint. Here’s the bona fide truth: We don’t. Here’s what we actually do…
Three Tips for a Simple Start
- Taper into the school year. We started our school year this week simply because our oldest was beginning Classical Conversations Challenge B. Even though Stephen started with his full course load, the younger two boys (younger three boys, if you count the toddler scribbling on random pieces of paper) started with just our core work, which consists of Bible, math, and Spell to Write and Read (SWR). (Independent reading and family read-alouds continue throughout the summer, so that’s not really considered part of our school days.) Our Classical Conversations Foundations program doesn’t begin for another two weeks, so this gives us three weeks to get into the swing of things. Next week we may add some history or one of our loop schedules, which brings me to…
- Use a loop schedule for anything outside of the core daily work. Instead of worrying about staying on a strict schedule of completing such-and-such task on such-and-such day, loop scheduling allows us to cycle through subjects in a loop instead of doing them on a certain day each week. For example, in a normal block schedule, I can set aside Wednesday afternoons for poetry study, Thursday afternoons for composer study, and Friday afternoons for art projects. But… if our schedule is interrupted due to unforeseen circumstances, we will either totally miss what we planned to do for a particular subject that week or have to double up the next week to “catch up.” If instead I use a poetry-composer study-art loop, we can cycle through those tasks without worrying about totally missing out on Art Friday, for example. If we don’t get around to art on Friday, we’ll just do it on Monday or whenever we can next fit it in. Even though on our reading plan we have assigned tasks for poetry, composer study, and art study each week, we often fall “behind schedule” because of things like illness, drama rehearsals, field trips, or Distractible Mom Syndrome. In this case, we just pick up where we left off the next day and don’t worry about not getting it finished on a particular day. You can find out more about our loop schedules by scrolling about midway down our Cycle 2 Reading Plans post. Click here to download our sample loop plans and a blank loop template for you to organize your own loop schedule! Loop Schedules PDF | Loop Schedules XLS
- Start with something fun and make it a family tradition. Each year we’ve started our first day of school with Monkey Bread. It’s the only time during the entire year that I make Monkey Bread. (This may seem a bit odd, but it’s just our special beginning-of-the-year thing.) This year I wanted to add in a beauty or wonder element, so we ended our first week with some Van Gogh inspired painting. Our children are always up for making a mess, so this was a great way to bookend our week: super-sweet stuff at the front end, and super-messy stuff on the back end.
Note: I boldly announced we would be painting in the style of Van Gogh using acrylic paints before I checked our art supplies. In the end, the only light color we had was bright yellow. All the other light-colored paints had turned into rubber. (This ended up also being a lesson on improvisation.)
A few other memories from our week:
Before we started, I told David that I was going to need him to help me learn how to teach SWR, a calling which he took pretty seriously. Once I explained to him how it was supposed to go, he would not let me mess up on the spelling dictation. I’m actually thrilled about his enthusiasm because he is needing some spelling remediation – and I am needing the extra practice!
I decided to drop manuscript (printing) practice for our 7-year-old (Levi) and just focus on cursive this year (again using SWR – along with Cursive First). I am utterly amazed at how different his writing looks after just four days of practice! In addition to this, Isaac has started imitating his brothers who are memorizing the phonograms. The boys get such a kick out of him making random sounds and then bending over a sheet of paper to scribble something. Golly, it’s just so cute! In conclusion, the dreaded Spell to Write and Read program has actually been a complete joy to learn this week! I went through SWR training at the end of July and am so glad that I had the focused training. I’m hoping to help other parents (who wish to use this program) through this initial process of figuring out how to get started.
Something that continues year round for us is our family read aloud time. This summer we’ve read some fantastic books: Beneath the Cat’s Claw, Rebel on the Path, and The Hiding Place, and we are currently finishing up George Muller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans. (<— These are affiliate links.) I find it ironic (but fully part of God’s provision) that we are reading a book about a man who lived by tremendous faith in the midst of whatever circumstances and touched the lives of thousands of children for the glory of God. The thing is… homeschooling takes a tremendous amount of faith in the midst of whatever circumstances and touches the lives of children for the glory of God. In the words of C.S. Lewis:
The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.
Favorable conditions never really exist to make homeschooling the easy choice, right? When we first started homeschooling, we didn’t have everything in order and in place and perfectly set up. (Who am I kidding?!? We still don’t! ha!) Homeschooling’s never really easy. Although it may be the most challenging thing I have ever done, it’s also the most rewarding. I would not trade it for the world, and I am grateful for the opportunity that God has granted me in teaching my children.
As I consider the faith of George Muller, I recall the words of Christ:
…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
All it takes is faith as small as a mustard seed. God will move mountains for us this year. Faith in Him, not in ourselves – that is my prayer for us all as we enter a new school year. I look forward to seeing what He has in store for us!
With best wishes, great hopes, and many prayers,
A few random updates not at all relevant to this post
I just don’t know how else to get the word out about this, so here goes! Recently I updated some of our Cycle 2 Resources:
I’m also excited to announce that there is now a Scribblers section on the Free Learning Center at ClassicalConversations.com. While you’re there, be sure to check out the free resources provided for each program!