Homeschooling through a Rough Start

rough start to homeschool | homeschooling rough starts and failures

In spite of well-laid plans and brand new supplies, the beginning of each new homeschool year seems to bring it’s own unique challenges. Ours is no exception. Our first year of homeschooling, I shut the whole thing down after our first month to revamp everything that wasn’t working. One year, everyone caught the flu on “start week.” Another year, we moved across country, arriving in our new home in September. With all of these challenges and changes, both good and bad, I’ve learned that there is something to say for “soft starts” to a new year and easing in. There’s also nothing wrong with homeschooling through a rough start.

Because we have a few of those unique challenges this year as well, I started a couple of weeks earlier than normal to allow ourselves the opportunity to ease in and break for life’s surprises. Our first day was beautiful! The picture-perfect day of happy kids elbow-deep in clay and learning.

homeschool first day

The next day, I went head-to-head with one of my kiddos, repeating for the millionth time that conversation of “it’s against the law for you to not do school, so you better work with me here.” Day three was somewhat better, and the week slowly improved. Our second week has been up and down as well, and I’ve already decided our math curriculum might not be working out. We’re off and running to our usual rough start.

But experience has shown me, we will get through it, and the year will run its course of smooth turns and rough patches. My friend, that’s life! That’s parenting! That’s definitely homeschooling. We always have visions of the ideal, but we have to remember that rough starts aren’t failures— they are simply rough starts.

3 things to remember if you are homeschooling through a rough start:

  1. A rough start does not characterize your year. Every good book opens with a conflict. Every good story involves overcoming challenges. The fact that your year may be off to a rough start does not mean you are going to have a terrible year. But it may help you to understand the challenges, the conflict, that will be part of your homeschool story this year. And just like a good book has twists and turns, ups and downs, your homeschool year will, too. The greatest stories are about those who overcome the challenges. Your rough start is merely chapter 1 of a great adventure.
  2. A rough start does not define you (or your child). It’s easy to let those difficult moments define us, to think a failed attempt means that we are failures. But that isn’t the case. Often, we can see that in everyone’s life but our own. Your rough start doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for this. Your child’s rough start doesn’t mean she will be impossible for you to teach or even that she will always be this challenging (though it sometimes feels like it). Accept God’s grace each day, for yourself and for your child. I’ve had some rough patches with my kids, but we love this journey together. And each year, we make great memories. The challenges are often part of those good memories, as we learn to overcome together. 
  3. A rough start is sometimes part of gaining momentum. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike how difficult the first few pedals were? You wobble along trying to keep your balance until that momentum picks up, and then you are off! Sometimes, a homeschool year has that wobble at the start. You push and push and push. Then, the momentum of learning picks up and things get a little easier. Each time we stop for a break, there is that wobble of beginning again. But just like learning to ride the bike, you hang in there, knowing that if you push past those first few ungraceful moments, you’ll make it.

Are there exceptions? Are there rough starts that just aren’t meant to be? Of course, everyone’s story is different. But as a friend who’s been there a few times, let me say that if you are homeschooling through a rough start, take heart. Chances are, it’s only the beginning.

A peak inside my Homeschool Organization

homeschool organization | homeschooling without a school room

I’ve organized our homeschool in so many different ways. Early in our journey, we had a designated school room. However, for the last four years, we’ve homeschooled without a designated space—at the dining table, on the couch, in the kids’ bedrooms, etc. For years, I’ve organized our homeschool with a system of file folders, one for each school week or unit study topic. But last year, I found myself in a major  “loose-paper-crisis.” My kids were not following through with putting all those assignments away, and I ended up with a house full of loose school assignments EVERYWHERE. It was a nightmare! My solution is not brilliant, but hopefully it will be an improvement. So, here’s a peak into my homeschool organization for this year and my year-long goal to “inspect what I expect.”

A peak inside my Homeschool Organization

Bookcase in plain sight, with shelves for each child

I moved the bookcase to the landing on our stairs. This way, school can still be tucked away when I’m “ready to not see another school book for awhile” and yet, it’s also close enough that I can glance up the stairs and see if each child put away what they were asked to put away. It’s the principle of “inspect what you expect,” and last year I really failed on the inspection side of things. This year’s homeschool organization should allow me to quickly inspect without having to go room to room throughout the house.

At the very top are our portfolios (I’ll explain more about them later on in this post), our timeline, our counting bears and some shared spelling/phonics tools. The first cubby to the left are upcoming books. For instance, when my child finishes a math book or unit, this is the shelf with the new material. Next, shared games followed by shared encyclopedias and resources. On the middle row, each child has their own cubby to keep their specific books and resources. On the bottom row, I store some of the reading books for our current unit study topic.

homeschool organization

School Assignments Bound Immediately

I save money by doing a lot of my own printing from ebooks. It’s also the cheapest way to use Tapestry of Grace, our core curriculum. But to avoid the “loose-paper crisis of 2016” repeating itself, I’ve already “bound” their different school projects and activities into three-pronged folders. My sixth grader has a literature/writing folder and a history folder; my fourth grader has a literature/writing folder, a history folder, and a math folder (for her Math Mammoth curriculum); my kindergartener has a math folder (for his Math Mammoth curriculum) and a history folder (with his Story of the World coloring pages).

homeschool organization | make your own student notebooks

Clip-boards for projects in Progress

For each child, I purchased clip-boards that include storage. My idea is that our lapbooking/notebooking projects that we are working on can be stored inside the clip-board, while also providing them a hard work surface for coloring and writing. Once the projects are completed, we will immediately place them into our portfolios—and I will personally direct this to ensure that those projects actually make it to their final resting place. (“Inspect what you expect;” it’s my new school motto.)

homeschool organization | organizing lapbooking and notebooking supplies

Portfolios for final projects

Previously, we kept all school work in each child’s Case-it Binder until the end of each term. Then, we’d transfer to our portfolios. I’m sure you can see where my “loose-paper crisis of 2016” had its origins. What did make it into the Case-it binder (and wasn’t lost in every nook and cranny of our home, specifically the kids’ bedrooms), often got lost in the transfer process. I think as the kids got older and the amount of work increased, our old system became much, much too complicated. So this year, our homeschool organization includes direct and immediate transfer directly to the portfolio; there is no transitional holding place. It will be part of our completion of each unit study; we don’t move on until it’s in the portfolio.

Shared Supplies

All colored pencils, crayons, and markers are my personal possession and must be returned to me. I’ve had it with lost pencils and fights over siblings borrowing from each other. We started this summer, and so far so good. With all of their creative endeavors, I still own what I originally owned. And we all know where it is. Plus, with only one set of supplies, it’s much easier for me to “inspect what I expect.”

Thankfully, my oldest is pretty good with organizing himself if there is a good system in place. My middle child needs me to keep her on a shorter leash, to hold her accountable after each subject. And my youngest will need to fit into the same routine I’m establishing with his older sister: “put this away and get out your next subject.” Besides, all that running up and down the stairs will be a good brain break for my active learners.

While I’m hopeful that our new homeschool organization will remedy some of our past problems, experience has taught me that there is never a final ultimate solution to end all chaos. But I’m definitely ready to give it a try.

Dragonfly Summer Nature Study

summer nature study | summer homeschoolI love how summer learning kind of takes on a rhythm of its own. We don’t have any formal “school” going on just yet, but as we wrap up this season, I’ve loved watching spontaneous learning just happen. And nature study is one of my favorite ways to watch learning happen naturally. It’s such a fun activity to encourage curiosity, exploration, and research. This summer, we’ve been noticing dragonflies and damselflies. The result has been an informal dragonfly summer nature study that has lasted all season.

Our Dragonfly Summer Nature Study

It all started with a dragonfly on our outside patio.

dragonfly summer nature study

As we “oohed” and “ahhed” over it, I asked the kids if they knew any differences between a damselfly and a dragonfly. We consulted some nature books and Google Images and observed some basic differences: dragonflies have larger wings that spread out when at rest, thicker bodies, and eyes that are closer together; damselflies typically have wings that fold when at rest (many times, it looks as though they only have two wings), thinner bodies, and more distance between their eyes.

Honestly, my kids took it from there. We observed dragonflies and damselflies on every nature walk for the rest of this summer. They even built damselfly and dragonfly lego creatures.

dragonfly summer nature study

They watched a swarm of damselflies mating and laying eggs in our favorite pond. And they picked up a dead dragonfly in a parking lot to observe at home under our microscope.

Tips for a summer nature study (or any nature study)

  1. Take a walk and see what catches your child’s attention.
  2. Ask some questions and find some answers together. Google it, or check out a library book. But make sure that it’s answering your child’s questions and feeding his interest in the topic.
  3. Allow your child to “narrate” or put the new info to use—whether that’s teaching the new info to you on the next nature walk, drawing in a nature journal, or playing with legos! 

I love having a time of the year to take a break from our classical/charlotte homeschool and to enjoy some summer spontaneity. And while I’m looking forward to adding some structure back into our lives and am excited about our new books and fresh supplies, I also love that learning can happen without those lesson plans, too. Learning happens anywhere!