Some back to school thoughts

Our family has had a wonderful summer filled with some local travel, lots of outdoor exploration, family movie nights, time catching up with friends, late bedtimes and late sleep-ins. Now that Labor Day is upon us and the air is cooling off in the evenings, we’re coming to terms with the fact that it’s time for back to school.

Summer vacation on the Puget Sound.

Honestly? I’ve spent most of the summer totally checked out from the ‘homeschool mom’ part of my life and have fantasized more than once about releasing this tremendous responsibility. If the COVID situation were different, I think it’s entirely possible that this would have been the fall that we decided to try school, for at least one of our kids. But circumstances are what they are, and we are heading into another year of homeschooling. As I try to get my head in the game, here are some things I’m thinking about now to make the transition easier.

Protect our mornings

I know a lot of homeschoolers relish the ability to ‘do school’ anywhere and any time. But, our family functions best when we have four consecutive mornings a week dedicated to our lessons. That means I stop scheduling things that might interfere with our lessons, I park my phone in the kitchen during our learning time and basically do whatever it takes for us to feel focused and supported on our school mornings.

Get organized around food

I’ve spent the whole summer very much winging it in the food department, and I’m slowly working on being more intentional around food. The last few times I’ve made muffins I’ve doubled the recipe and put 12 in the freezer. I’m starting to make broth again and storing some. I’m giving myself permission to Instacart Costco orders, which is life-changing because I absolutely hate going to Costco but my kids are eating record amounts of food lately. I’m dusting off an old meal plan and making adjustments for how we’re currently eating. It’s nothing earth-shattering but it’s amazing how helpful it can be to just sit down with a bare-bones meal plan and a few cookbooks before making a grocery list.

Get organized around clothes

Anyone else have that kid who will come downstairs in bike shorts and a tank top when it’s autumn and pouring down rain outside? I find that having an edited wardrobe really helps streamline the morning and avoid having a kid digging through sun dresses to find a seasonally appropriate outfit. My kids and I spent two hours yesterday going through their stuff – pulling out what doesn’t fit anymore, tucking away warm-weather clothes that might fit again next year, or that could go to a younger relative and making notes of any needed items (turns out my 4-year-old doesn’t currently own any pants). I love using this wardrobe tracker – I use it with my 8- and 4-year-olds and my 12-year-old uses it all on her own. My kids are starting another year of forest school soon so I’m also paying attention to whether they have the outdoor gear they need.

Get organized around school supplies

I spent some time yesterday printing out the bullet journal we like to use to keep track of my kids’ independent work. I have my kids’ curriculum and books stored all on one bookshelf so I don’t have to check four different places when we sit down to do math for the first time. I need to spend a little time this weekend looking at my second grader’s September circle time so I’m not trying to learn the songs on the fly. Over the summer I purchased a new set of drawers where my kids can keep their independent work and I need to spend some time making sure those drawers are loaded with the right stuff. We need to track down art supplies that have been put in travel bags for trips this summer and put them back in our art cabinet. I give my kids back-to-school gifts each year (think twice before you start that tradition! ha!) and need to gather that stuff over the weekend and wrap it up.

Plan but stay flexible

Haven’t we all learned how to be more flexible over the past year and a half? I am still actively working on getting my kids’ extracurricular commitments for fall figured out as activities are in flux and Oregon is in the worst shape we’ve ever been in since the pandemic started – just as kids are headed back to schools and activities. It’s been a high priority that both my 12- and 8-year-old have at least one activity this fall that gets them around peers and gets them moving. It’s a work in progress.

Setting priorities

I listened to an excellent podcast recently about the dilemma of whether to send kids back to school/activities right now, and the reporter discussed the idea of choosing a top priority for your child and letting that priority guide your decisions. For example, if your top priority is making sure your child doesn’t catch COVID at all costs, you might make one decision, but if your priority is your child’s mental health, you may make a different decision. For one of my children who is very susceptible to respiratory illnesses and who is too young to be vaccinated, we are prioritizing safety. For another child who is vaccinated and has struggled a lot with mental health during this time, we are prioritizing getting back to a new normal as much as possible.

Making a bucket list

When I switch to business mode when we go back to school unfortunately I can switch to *all business all the time,* and forget about having fun. I like writing a seasonal bucket list to remind myself of fun traditions we love to do each season, or special trips or events we’re hoping to do. Some items on my 2021 fall bucket list include apple picking, baking dragon bread, a spooky poetry teatime and planting a Japanese Maple in our yard.

Here we go!

I’ll be teaching sixth and second grade this year and have a busy four-year-old in the mix and the deeper I get into this homeschool life the more I realize that this is a full-time job. And it’s ok to have mixed feelings about going back to your job after a long, relaxing summer. The responsibility we’re carrying as parents in this moment is huge and we need to give ourselves grace if things feel heavy. Getting organized helps, and giving yourself permission to feel your feelings helps too. Hugs to all you homeschool parents out there – I hope your year gets off to a good start!

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