by Kyndra Steinmann
So, you’ve recovered from the excitement of the convention, finished up those lessons from last year, and have been spending the long summer days relaxing. Everything was peaceful—and then you saw the flyers for back-to-school sales and the Virginia sales-tax holiday! And suddenly, September is here, and you need to be making some plans with all of those wonderful materials you bought a month ago.
And then…you start remembering last year, and how frustrated you were when your littlest couldn’t sit still and his math paper took all day. How can you ever do the fun things you want to do if you can’t even get him to do a simple math page?
Stop! Before you get discouraged—and before you pull out the curriculum and your planner—you need to do some thinking, some strategizing, and some vision-casting.
Look back over the last year and make a list of what went well. What was easier than you thought it would be? What really captured the children’s interest? Was it something different for each child? What lessons or subjects were they focused on and rarely fought you over? These are the things you want to include more of into your school day.
Now list what went poorly, and why. Ask yourself why math was a struggle. Was it the time of day? Did they need a break? Was it the curriculum, or perhaps even your approach?
Finally, consider each child—list their strengths, their weaknesses, growth you saw in them in past year, and their areas of struggle.
These lists are the foundation of your plan for this year.
Using the lists you just made, there are three areas in which you can now strategize: routine/schedule, specific goals and techniques for each child, and academics.
Looking at your lists, ask yourself where the sticking points were in the flow of your day last year. Did things fall apart mid-morning because the toddler was tired of playing by herself? Did everyone’s concentration fail at 11:30 because blood sugar was low and they’d been sitting too long?
How about getting started with the day? Did you find that the children were able to transition easily from their getting-up routine to their school routine? How about you? Do you need to pour a cup of coffee before you begin? I do! Did you find that the first couple of assignments dragged because there was too much energy to allow them to concentrate?
Some of these kinds of issues can be eased by creative scheduling changes. Look for times when you can add energy-reducing activities or ease transitions between activities. Realize that you will need to train the children about what you expect during school, and accept that some days will just not go as well as others.
Jot down a general flow for the day, and then turn to your child-specific lists.
Specific Goals and Techniques for Each Child
Here’s where you will fine tune your general flow to fit your current season of life. Your goals and techniques need to be specific, and you need to write them down and put them in your planner for reference.
Here’s an example of some of my goals and techniques for my eldest son. He’s going into third grade this year, and we use a mixture of Rod and Staff (reading, phonics, math, spelling) and unit studies (science, history). He is on the Asperger’s side of the autism spectrum and does much better with clear, measurable goals and with subjects done in the same order every day.
|Goals||Techniques (These are notes to myself to remind me how I want to work with each issue.)|
|Complete assignments (house and schoolwork) without arguing, dithering, or panicking.||Arguing: use reminders and consequences (sit for five minutes each time he argues); practice better interactions (“Does your voice sound kind?”—remember that sometimes it sounds like arguing but isn’t—so teach better ways of asking questions) Dithering: timer, extra jobs/practice
Panicking: calming techniques (silly putty; doing first one or first row with me)
|Complete a math assignment in a reasonable time frame.||Set a timer for five minutes. Tell him either, “See how much you can get done,” or “Do X amount and then jump on the trampoline until the timer rings.”|
|Move from one assignment to the next without dithering.||Have assignments out and marked and give clear (written) instructions on what to do next.|
|Handle new or intimidating material without panicking.||Give clear instructions on what to do if I’m working with someone else (skip it and move on). Give clear instructions for alternate activities if skipping doesn’t work. Train.|
|Improve speed with combinations.||Drill, speed drills, encouragement from Papa|
Doing this for each child, whether or not they have special needs, will give you a good insight into where you need to spend the majority of your efforts as well as a starting point as you write your plans for the year.
Academics are indeed very important, and the temptation is to start there—but it is important to remember the greater purpose of discipling our children to their full potential as servants of God. We need to be sure that we are using academics not only to teach our children the knowledge they will need to succeed in life, but also to encourage them to excellence, perseverance, and wisdom.
Look at your textbooks, look at your calendar, and consider what you learned and strategized about your family and their needs. Ask yourself: How many weeks are we going to have school this year? When are our breaks? How am I going to allow for illness or special activities that take us out of the house? Do I need to do all academic subjects every day, or can some things be done only a few times a week or even once or twice a month?
You know that there will be off days and illness, so plan for those now by building blank days into your plan. When those days show up in rotation, you can take them as days off or use them to catch up. Think about the flow of the academics as part of the flow of the day, and incorporate the quiet times and the energy into learning so that education isn’t just something that happens at a desk, but is a constant in your life.
Finally, cast a vision as parents for the atmosphere of your home. Think together how you will accomplish that vision, and set step-by-step goals. Cast a vision for all of your children, individually, concerning how you would like to see them grow in knowledge, faith, and grace throughout the year. Then look for places to encourage that growth. Keep track of how they are growing and fine tune the goals as the year progresses. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you have made a plan you won’t need to tweak it to fit the ups and downs of life and the strengths and weaknesses of yourself, your spouse, and your children. Instead use your plan and your strategy lists to keep you mindful of the point of all of this.
Most of all, rest in Christ for the strength and grace to accomplish His work in the upcoming school year.