In Michigan, public schools start the day after Labor Day. It’s a tourism issue, encouraging folks to travel the state for the last weekend of summer, and many private schools start weeks earlier, allowing longer breaks mid year and an earlier end date. Since a later start and an early finish sound good to me (heck, who learns anything in school in June?), we start after Labor Day and end around Memorial Day, with a few loose ends that we promise to each other to finish in the summer but generally don’t. So, according to my calendar, we’re less than two weeks from Day 1, and I’ve been planning their work and our end-of-summer activities with that timeline in mind. Aside from an online class starting this week and three more starting next week, all which I only realized yesterday (What? The online homeschooling teacher in California doesn’t follow the Michigan public school schedule?) , all is on target.
Kind of. I have severe pre-homeschooling school year jitters. Severely severe. Insomnia producing, anxious cuticle picking, crabby-when-spoken-to jitters.
I don’t usually feel this way. Generally, I’m excited about our start. Returning to routine generally soothes me. This year, the thought of fall just gives me the heebie jeebies. This summer, while packed with fun stuff like Stunt Camp, SUUSI, good times with friends, and trips to see grandparents, was just too busy. My younger son with Asperger’s does not transition well, and busy trips away followed by quiet time at home really throws him off. Heck, I don’t transition well. Every week has been different this summer, with no semblance of routine at all. Somehow this summer, we forgot to relax, or perhaps we did that in the first half, and the effects have worn off already.
It’s more than that. Last year was far from stellar. Both boys were plagued with executive function challenges, with my older revealing how much he really needs assistance with planning and scheduling and my younger struggling with compliance and anxiety (he’s poor at the compliance and good at the anxiety). All around, I was glad to see that year behind us. But the question of how to make this year better all around continues to plague me. I’ve involved them when planning solutions to those problems, although I’m not sure this will actually change our outcome, as their insight to the problems of last year is a bit foggy given their difficulties with (here’s the refrain) executive function.
My younger wants a schedule that gives the times he’s to do things. His main concern with a simple to-do list is that he won’t get it all done and be able to do what he wants to do. Never mind that Mom is pretty good at knowing how long assignments should take for her kids. Never mind that the day is long and his homeschooling day, if he stayed on task, would be fairly short. I’ve agreed to give this a try, but I can smell the anxiety in the air when his schedule says math at 9 am and he’s still finishing spelling at 9:05. This is not a flexible child. As I said, I’ll try his way, but I have my reservations.
My older wants a daily task list. As I posted last school year, he and I have tried a variety of planners on paper and the computer with no success for more than a day or two. Last year, we ended up using the low-tech white board. I don’t object to the whiteboard, but he took to erasing items that were only partially done, which hampered his ability to remember to finish them later. Also, I did all the list making, and I think, at 14 and technically 9th grade, he should be learning to keep track of his life just a bit more than that system allowed. I’m again playing with planners for the iTouch, but I’m still not impressed. I’ve started using Opus Domini on the Mac, which is the simplest interface for scheduling I’ve yet to find, but that’s yet to be released for the iTouch or iPad, and I have no idea if it will work for him. Since little of what works for me works for him, I’m keeping my enthusiasm in check. Whether we schedule on paper, white board, or computer, I’ll be looking for ways to gradually turn the reins over to him.
My planning is another bugaboo this fall. I’m designing a course for my older son on Earth Science and Meteorology (the latter to a greater depth than a general college level Earth Science class would go, since he’s been studying the subject independently since he was six). In addition to science, I’ll incorporate history, literature, and composition into the course with and underlying focus on note taking and study skills. Whew. He’s quite interested in how weather and geologic events have affected history, so we’ll focus on the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, the Little Ice Age, famine and drought across the ages, and more, while learning how to write an academic paper. I’m enthused but cautious. Last year, we dropped so much, somewhat due to my giving him more responsibility than he was ready to take and somewhat due to Life Circumstances Beyond Our Control. Life has settled, and I’m returning him to my side for more of his learning until he has the skills to be more successful on his own. Still, I’m worried. Have I put in enough material? Have I put in too much? How do I teach study skills when I never remember learning them? When am I going to find the time to read all these books at the same time he does? I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.
I have less planning concerns about my younger’s studies, since his three online classes this fall limit my planning to science, composition, math, spelling, and handwriting. After we tie up a few loose ends for Chemistry, he’ll start Earth Science, too. I’ve done little to plan for that yet, but the course is clearer there, given we’re using a standard text with labs and all. I’ll flesh it out with videos, current events, and other readings, but the big work is done by the textbook folks. Somehow, I continue to feel anxious, but most of that focuses around his compliance issues.
Ready or not, our school year is fast approaching. While we don’t have the rush to find new clothes and hunt down a long list of school supplies all while filling out the mounds of paperwork that go with sending a child to an actual school, we have our own angst as the school year starts. And despite my worries, each time a store clerk or stranger says, “Hey, at least they go back to school soon,” I smile, grateful that we’re doing that at home.
Happy new homeschool school year, for all those who see September as a beginning. I’d love to hear from you about your concerns or joys about your new starts, whether they are in fall or some other time.