My personal favourite start date isn’t actually until the end of October, after the canning and harvesting are done for the season and the weather is getting quite crispy to spend long hours outdoors in my part of Canada. However, some years, like this year, we do begin (at least some of) our school year earlier. And do I always follow my “M-F schedule” the first week? No. I wait for the second week (or a bit later) to do that. 🙂 I like to wait for a “schedule” until I have first given an overview to everyone.
For a smoother and happier beginning with a multi-grade group (e.g. a large family), I have done 2 different things that work well (though not both ideas for the same year):
- Stagger the students to different beginning dates so you can spend one-on-one time with each level to get them started with an overview, help to organize them, and hand out new books, etc. (Just because you all live together and have the same teacher doesn’t mean that you all have to begin at the same time.)
- Choose JUST A FEW subjects to begin that first week – ones that include everyone and have multi-media and hands-on activities with. Think of an approach where kids go to “learning centers” perhaps and make the week extra special for them. 🙂 While some kids are happily occupied, you can call each student aside, one at a time, throughout the WEEK (don’t try to do this all in one day), and get them organized with new notebooks, showing them how to write in their notebook, etc. – your expectations for how they should organize their area and do their schoolwork. Doing this gives them a special overview/big picture for the year, encourages them to be super-excited and eager, AND gives you time to go through at least the major stuff, without everyone clamoring for attention or trying to ask lots of questions all at once. 🙂
Our family could be understood by some folks to be “year-round” homeschoolers, partly due to the fact that we make a point to still learn new stuff over the summer months. But we sort of “unschool” during the summer and re-start more things in the “new school year” with a plan. I also might “partly unschool” for September and October, meaning that, if we have started studying our academic subjects for the year, those studies are understood within a super-extra-flexible schedule. (Example: The desks and books might go outside, we might decide to harvest tomatoes all afternoon, or just have a science day or spend a few days doing lots of pioneer history. Spelling and printing might only be done on rainy days.) But by the end of October, we tend to get into more of a regular-still-flexible routine like what these “Monday to Friday” schedules posts describe, because the snowy weather has begun.
(To answer an honest question – if beginning a more regular routine in October, do we then just shorten our year and end in mid-May when traditional homeschoolers try to do so? No. If beginning in October, we tend to end in July (e.g. when I begin canning), with a large spring “pre-black fly” break around the time of homeschool conferences. During those “spring break weeks”, the kids might do larger independent projects (e.g write and illustrate a storybook, make a science fair-like presentation) or catch up on silent reading or enjoy extra time outdoors in the beautiful spring air. But then the black flies and mosquitoes return in mid-May, along with hotter/humid/not-so-pleasant weather until sometime in July usually so why be outside as much during those times? ( – especially if living in the woods near creeks and ponds… I mean you can just walk out on your porch and catch a whole mouthful of protein some days! 😀 We have more open space where we are now so there are fewer bugs and more likelihood of being outdoors in May/June than in our previous home but still, it IS buggier until at least 3 super-hot days in a row. So why not have schoolwork to enjoy indoors during those weeks, while enjoying a wonderful fall and early spring break from the normal rhythms!?)
For this homeschool year, I’ve chosen to “begin” right after Labour Day…
This week, I don’t have super amounts of energy (mainly because I’m recovering from EMF exposures again) and I ate something that didn’t agree with me on the weekend. My arm is still strained from summer injuries so the kids have to lift the boxes to unpack what we need. Our house is for sale this year so that adds the feature of “try not to unpack anything that will make too much of a mess to clean up” and limits which units I will want to cover first. In other words, this isn’t the most ideal situation to begin a homeschool year (we love doing projects and hands-on stuff!) but that doesn’t mean that we have to have a gloomy start! We can still have lots of fun!
The First Day: Surprise Unit plus Science Unit
THE MORNING: I began our first day this week with my “surprise unit” – I read and explained a lesson on wilderness survival and shelters. This “surprise unit” will also include orienteering skills. (B.B. (webname) can count this unit study as physical education and the others can count the shelter lessons as part of a science unit on structures and mechanical forces. See my Pinterest homesteading board for more ideas on practical life skills.) We reviewed the elements of weather (click here for sample curriculum) together and then, yes, we divided into 2 teams to follow instructions to build “lean-to shelters” in our backyard! That lasted most of the morning and we had lots of fun! 🙂 My littlest has just been potty-trained and also likes her “snacks” so she and I were sometimes indoors or at the picnic table.
THE AFTERNOON: The first science unit I’d like to do this year is a shorter one – about “flight and air properties” (geared towards grades 4-10 but I can include the younger ones in most of the lessons). After lunch chores, I snuggled with my littlest on my lap while my older girls unpacked the “flight and air” unit binder and related books for all ages (e.g. about butterflies, birds, airplanes, helicopters, bubbles). Then the kids watched a 30- minute presentation on “flight and birds”. Then we moved to our “schoolroom” for a note about one (of three) air properties. I wrote it as we discussed it with marker on chart paper. (There are 2 more notes this week about the other air properties because I’m not on a regular schedule the first week.) I demonstrated a couple of things with blowing into a drinking straw versus a paper towel tube (yes, Mommy can do that too!) Then I showed them (in our entry room), a folding table that was set up with some colourful 8 1/2 x 11″ blank papers and a book, “Origami Paper Airplanes” (part of this literature bundle that we sell). While some kids wrote the note into their new science notebooks, others folded paper airplanes and flew them around the room. What fun! 🙂 They kept trying new designs for hours! It gave me some time to get new notebooks out for some other subjects as well. I also took the time to print a simpler note for my young primary son and for my toddler (in “her purple book” – just a duo-tang with a few blank papers so that she feels like a “big kid”). My older primary son can copy that note from his brother’s book instead of the note on the chart paper.
Integrating faith… After supper, our family showed Daddy what had been built in the trees and it looked like it was going to rain. We hurried to look after our goats and chicken. Suddenly, birds screamed a warning call through the air as they quickly headed for the forest. My daughter and I were remarking on how it was really cool how God’s creation senses a storm coming (the leaves turning, the birds’ songs sound different). Within about 3 minutes, the wind came up and rain started to fall.
Now, it rained all that night – poured, soaking, very wet. We would be indoors much of the second day for school. But everyone remained excited and eager to learn. 🙂
The Rest of the First Week and Getting into a Rhythm/”Schedule”:
As mentioned above, more time with the flight and air properties unit is planned this first week. But next week, this specific science unit will only be on a couple of days in the week, similar to what you would see on the school schedule examples of Tuesday and Thursday – every day will not be like this first week back-to-school. The “Surprise Unit” will also be scaled back to be less than a full morning. The rest of the subjects can be started to get into a routine (especially on rainy days) or gradually get started over the autumn months, depending on how many other things are going on to learn about (e.g. harvest-time, family vacations, and other types of things which many families have on their the fall calendars).
One subject area that I’m not planning to do much or anything in until we get much colder weather (late fall/early winter) is writing for the K-5/6 levels. Yes, our teens have begun writing for their English hours (but won’t likely get into grammar until winter). This decision to ignore some writing lessons for K-5/6 is partly because I’d rather have my younger kids get used to writing more in other subjects and express their creativity in art or projects in the fall season. Plus, we don’t follow a curriculum that requires tons of “measured out” intensive writing lessons so it is something that I can easily set aside for a while. (In contrast, “spelling” is more so a “measured out” subject with 33 weeks so we begin that subject in the fall.) Our writing curriculum books are solid, foundational, fun, but also very flexible which means that most of the assignments or lessons on skills can be done on a weekly basis in the winter (or summer perhaps) and only occasionally in the fall/spring so that it frees up even more time outdoors for hands-on learning opportunities and priorities.
With some cool and rainy weather this week, we took whatever chunks of time to unpack, set-up, and overview other subjects indoors, subject by subject, doing a few subjects each day. (My preference would be to do this on our screened porch if it wasn’t too damp for papers or comfort; sometimes it gets drier by the afternoons.) If we’re indoors, this can be done in a similar method as we did the “Flight and Air” unit – to provide multi-media and hands-on activities as well as “a written something”, which gives us time to begin a subject AND time to get each individual student settled into what is expected. (If it is accomplished outdoors, the sights/sounds/smells of the atmosphere/environment itself seems attractive enough in order to take one child or one group aside to set-up a subject.) Sometimes, it is the whole group which can get their individual books handed to them at the same time of course.
This year, I think we will once again be using the crate system for their workbooks, with the exception of the high schoolers who will use a bookshelf. (I also plan to put a single-column pocket chart (back up on the wall) for organizing a few of the subjects – pages that would otherwise flop over on a shelf.) However, with a potential move this year, I might be switching into more of a “learning center approach” where a labelled box becomes the place for everything related to a subject or two – including all teaching resources and student notebooks. (In a sense though, I wish we could screw the large multi-column pocket chart back in the wall especially for the younger kids who stay on track finding their books when needed. The pocket chart system is easier to “grab-and-go” for each subject. I show these ideas on post(s) about organizing for school.)
Oh, one more thing I forgot to mention from the first day…
Each of my kids were also given their first research report assignment for the year – to think of a musical instrument that “uses air”, research it (likely this one will take younger kids to the library for books and the older kids to search online with keywords), and write a report by the end of this month, including at least one diagram that is hand-drawn. They can think about which musical instrument they want to learn about and then, when Daddy takes them to the library, it should be easier to know what to look. So this is also something fresh and intriguing that they will be able to work on whenever. (I like assigning a longer/open-ended type of project to help fill in the spots of time – it could be for any subject. The due date length is about a month for these sorts of things.)
P.S. For the second week, an example day is that we spent a bit longer in parts of geography, skipped over a colouring page for the littles that can fit in later this week and substituted a different one for just for fun (a scarecrow – we gathered a bit of hay from our goats’ supply to glue on texture to that page, cut a fringe as a frame around it, and checked an empty butterfly cocoon on our garden’s fence post). Like mentioned above, we also skipped over the “Tell Me Cards/Poetry Board” creative writing (for this month or so) and I had a slightly longer math lesson (metric system) for the grades 4-8. We spent our “Family & Home Studies” time just simply harvesting more veggies in our garden too. Otherwise, the older students ended their “school day” around 3:00 p.m. for that day as they handed in their first English writing assignment. This is the sort of flexibility I try to describe – that you can put a lot of learning into your day, winding it around daily life in the home, but you also have the freedom to pick and choose what, of your plan, you want to accomplish each day for each main age group.