The school year is just around the corner. If you have a young child and are getting ready to homeschool for the first time, you likely have a mix of emotions. There’s the excitement about a new journey and watching your child’s love of learning explode. You may also feel some fear about whether or not you’re truly ready for this new stage of life.
The way you start your year off will set the stage not only for this year, but also for a lifetime of learning for your child. Thankfully, you have a wealth of homeschool parents who have traveled this road ahead of you, and many are often happy to share what they’ve learned along the way. Here are five homeschool hacks that will make the start of your year awesome as you start teaching your child more about the world around them.
Hack 1 – Make Your Kitchen Self-Service
Homeschooling is rewarding, but it takes a lot of your time. One way you can streamline your day is to make your kitchen self-service. Both breakfast and lunch as well as snacks give your child the chance to learn some independence while freeing you to focus on other areas of your day and homeschool routine. This also gives the chance to teach your child some basic life skills, and even preschoolers and kindergartners can start learning how to butter toast and pour a small jug of milk.
So how does a self-service kitchen look? First, start with breakfast. Decide what you want your child to eat for breakfast, choosing items that don’t require much prep if possible. Then, lay out the non-perishable items on the kitchen table each morning before you go to bed, and make the perishable items easily accessible in the refrigerator. This might be a piece of fruit and some cereal. It might be a crock-pot of overnight oats.
After you’ve made your menu and put the food out, you’re ready for the morning. When your child is ready for breakfast, teach her how to prep the food and eat with minimal help. Then, have your child tackle the clean up too. You’ll be amazed at how much pride your little one takes in these daily tasks.
Hacking Snack Time
Preschool and kindergarten children need their snacks. Kids this age actually should eat every 2-3 hours. Yet if you’re not careful, you could up spending half your homeschool day in the kitchen. Make snack time easy by pre-making snacks at the start of the week. This will help limit portion sizes and will give something that’s easy to grab and go when your child gets hungry. Have a dedicated snack station in your homeschool area that your kids can grab a snack when they’re hungry without missing a beat on their school work.
Hacking Lunch Time
Lunch is a great chance for a break from your school work. In the younger grades, you can easily be done with school by lunchtime, and it gives you a chance to celebrate your accomplishments for the day before heading outside to play. Still, this is a place where you can give your child some control and free up some time.
Here’s how to hack lunch: plan your lunch menu at the start of the week. Prep what you need to, then have your child serve himself. Require proper cleaning up when the meal is done, teaching your child how to properly put dishes away and wipe tables and counters.
As an added benefit to hacking your kitchen into a self-service model, you will be training your little one to help with bigger kitchen tasks when they are older. Extra help around the kitchen is always a benefit, right?
Hack 2 – Just Say No
As homeschooling becomes more mainstream, the opportunities for homeschoolers seem endless. Co-ops, library storytimes, and even mid-day play dates with other homeschool families can quickly take over your schedule.
The beauty of your time freedom is that you can take advantage of these when they fit your goals, but keep that caveat in mind. You don’t have to participate in every opportunity that comes your way. In fact, if you do, you won’t have much time left to actually do school!
At the start of the year, outline your goals for your child. Then, say “yes” to those opportunities that fit that goal. For those that don’t fit your goals, don’t be afraid to say “no.”
By learning to say “no” to some things and “yes” to others, you and your children will find more value in those activities that you participate in. You’ll also find that you have enough time at home to keep the learning happening and give your child plenty of free time to simply be a kid.
Hack 3 – Hack Your Storage
Pencils, crayons, glue, and colorful pens – it’s all part of the fun of homeschooling. Yet if you’re not careful, your home can quickly get overrun. Yes, homeschooling comes with a lot of stuff. From school supplies to hands-on manipulative, you will want a lot of items on hand to keep your little one learning and engaged, but this means you’re going to need to get a little creative with your storage.
First, decide what type of storage system will work for you. Your storage needs to be accessible to your kids. Tall shelves are probably not the best option, but low shelves with storage drawers and tubs work great. If you don’t like to see your supplies, which can end up looking a little cluttered, look for a storage option with a door you can shut at the end of the day.
Does the question of storage have you perplexed? Here are some clever ideas other homeschool parents have used successfully:
- Use an over-the-door shoe organizer to store school and craft supplies. It’s easy for your kids to grab what they need and put it back when they’re done with this option.
- Give your child a tote that they keep their main supplies, like pencils and erasers, in. If you have a flexible homeschool plan that lets children “do school” where they feel comfortable, they can take the tote with them.
- Label, label, label! Label all of your drawers, bins, and totes so your child can quickly see what they need. For non-readers, use both words and pictures. This will help them start word association while also giving them a visual for where the times are.
- Invest in a rolling art cart. This can give you a convenient place to stash all of the “odds and ends” you need to keep school going. It is also easy to tuck into a closet when you want to put the homeschool supplies away.
- Use color-coding. If you’re homeschooling more than one child at the same time, consider color-coding your things. Give each child their own colored bin, and use colored sharpies to mark their items with a small dot. If you find one random red marker floating around the house at the end of school for the day, you’ll know exactly where it should go.
- Give each child a binder. There are certain things you will need to keep for your records and for sentimental value. Give each kid a binder to store these items. Label it with the year and age or grade, and you can quickly store it at the end of the year to keep your records up-to-date and give you something to look back on to remember how far your child has come.
Remember: the keys to homeschool storage are accessibility and limiting clutter. Find storage solutions that do both, and you’ll have a much more organized homeschool space.
Hack 4 – Use Your Library
The library is the homeschool parent’s best friend. At the library, you have a wealth of books and other media you can check out for free. This allows you to keep a rotation of quality children’s literature to keep your young child interested in reading, without having to stock your own library at home.
Before back-to-school, spend some time getting to know your library. Explore the resources they have. Make friends with a couple of the children’s librarians. Make your child comfortable with and excited about the library. You’ll find that it’s invaluable as your school year moves forward. Some things to consider picking up include:
- Picture books and easy readers to encourage early literacy
- Non-fiction books to accompany your science and history units
- Audiobooks for reading out loud when you don’t have time
- Kid-friendly science or history documentaries to go along with lessons
- Science materials, like telescopes or microscopes (these are available at some libraries)
In addition to getting books and other resources to use at home, the library often has free or low-cost opportunities for socialization. Homeschool story times, science clubs, and book clubs give you the ability to interact with other homeschoolers in your community while your child makes some friends. If you aren’t going to participate in a co-op or don’t have one nearby, this can help you make the connections that will enhance your homeschooling journey.
If you don’t have a library card, get one. If you don’t live in a library district, find one that offers paid library card options and buy one. It’s an investment, but you will reap many rewards by making that investment, and it will make your back-to-school time awesome.
Hack 5 – Focus on the Morning Routine
Most kids thrive on routine. One of the best ways to set the tone for your homeschool year is to establish and stick to your morning routine. That doesn’t mean you can throw the routine out for occasional fun days, but having a routine in place will keep your little learners on track day after day.
First, decide what you need in your morning routine. Do you need some time to read, meditate, and sip your coffee? Should you get up before your kids and enjoy some quiet time to focus your energy before the day? Is exercise important to your morning? Outline your goals, and make a plan. Then, determine what time you need the kids to get up.
Of course, your kids may not work on the same schedule. If they tend to wake earlier than you want, have them prepared with quiet activities or DIY breakfast they can manage while you finish your morning routine.
Next, decide what you want your kids to do to prep for the day. Many homeschool moms find that their kids focus better if they get dressed and brush their hair before starting their school time. Maybe yours love the fun of doing school in their jammies. Whatever works best for your child is what you need to do, but make it a routine.
Print out the daily schedule and place it somewhere your child can see. Use clocks and visuals to show what is happening for children who can’t yet read. Children do best when they know what’s happening next and what’s expected of them, so make this visual and prominent in your home.
In the first few weeks of school, work hard to teach your children the routine so it can be put on “autopilot.” the more independent your little ones can be in the morning, the easier your entire day will be as you move forward.
Remember, homeschooling is all about flexibility. You may find that your morning routine needs to adjust, and you are free to do that! That’s the beauty of being your child’s teacher.