back to school

37 Fun Ways to Celebrate the First Day of Homeschool

37 Fun Ways to Celebrate the First Day of Homeschool

It's that time again! We've rounded up some great ways to celebrate your first day of the new homeschool year, whether you want to keep it simple at home or take a big adventure together.

  1. Go roller skating.
  2. Visit a paint-your-own pottery studio to create a special back-to-school souvenir.
  3. Have a backyard campout.
  4. Give everyone a small budget, and hit a flea market to refresh your homeschool space for the new year.
  5. Spend the whole day in your pajamas.
  6. Work on a volunteer project together.
  7. Plant a container garden.
  8. Drive to the nearest river and go tubing.
  9. Set your alarm to wake up and watch the sunrise together. (You can take a nap later!)
  10. Go out for a fancy brunch.
  11. Ask everyone to make a First Day of School mixtape and trade your mixes.
  12. Take a hot air balloon ride.
  13. Have a karaoke party.
  14. Make a first-day-of-school time capsule.
  15. Take back-to-school photos.
  16. Compete in a backyard Olympics competition.
  17. Write a letter to yourself to open on the last day of the school year. 
  18. Go geocaching.
  19. Pull out your art supplies, and create self-portraits.
  20. Make new school year’s resolutions.
  21. Take a day hike.
  22. Have a karaoke party.
  23. Paint a mural.
  24. Dress up in last year's Halloween costumes.
  25. See a movie matinee.
  26. Have a backyard luau. 
  27. Build and launch rockets.
  28. Bake and decorate a back-to-school cake.
  29. Have a tea party.
  30. Wash your car.
  31. Decorate your driveway with sidewalk chalk.
  32. Take a personality test, and compare results. (Try the Enneagram or the Myers Briggs test.)
  33. Fill up your wall calendar with holidays, birthdays, events, and celebrations you are looking forward to this year.
  34. Solve a jigsaw puzzle together.
  35. Write your autobiography.
  36. Go shopping for school supplies.
  37. Make official school t-shirts.

Back to School/Not Back to School

When you're a family where some kids homeschool while others go off to school, "back to school" can look lots of different ways.

When I first started homeschooling, I’m pretty sure I believed that homeschooling was all-or-nothing: either you homeschooled your kids throughout their childhoods, or you sent them off to school. But many families I know aren’t like that. Maybe their kids homeschool for most of their childhoods, then head to junior high or high school. Maybe their kids avail themselves of select activities at schools but remain homeschoolers. Maybe some of a family’s kids attend school, while others homeschool. 

We’re that kind of family—a part homeschooling, part schooling family. Our thirteen-year-old son learns at home and has no interest in going to school—ever. Our ten-year-old daughter attends a private, part-time “school for homeschoolers” and says she never wants to go back to full-time homeschooling. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well for our family. You’d never know just how much hand-wringing and agonizing it took to get us to this point. 

Our part-time schooling arrangement came about during a particularly long, brutal winter up here in Minnesota in 2013-2014. Cooped up by heavy snow and wind chills that were regularly hitting twenty or thirty below zero, the only learning we seemed to be doing was about working through interpersonal conflict, and boy, was there a lot of that kind of learning. I was stressed. They were stressed. My energy for homeschooling was at an all-time low. 

One bitter-cold February day, I sat both kids down in the living room and said I thought we needed to really look at whether homeschooling the way we were was the happiest choice for our family. My daughter, then eight, burst into tears.

“But I don’t want to go to school!” she wailed.

We’re that kind of family—a part homeschooling, part schooling family.

I told her there might be another, less drastic option. A few old homeschooling friends of ours had ended up attending a three-day-a-week Christian Montessori school intended to give homeschoolers some of the benefits of school while allowing time for family learning, too. The school had unusually long breaks—six weeks off in December and January, two weeks in March—and finished for the year in mid-May. There were no grades, no tests, and minimal homework. It felt like School Lite—a gentle way to try out school without completely giving up on homeschooling.

My son was emphatically not interested. My daughter agreed to check it out. 

The day we toured the school, I was impressed by the school’s peaceful, friendly atmosphere. But there were also things that gave me pause. The school was run by evangelical Christians, but our family isn’t Christian. Would my daughter be accepted here? Could we as a family feel comfortable here even though we don’t go to church and aren’t believers?

My daughter was quietly observant throughout the school tour, her body language stiff. By the end of the tour, I was sure she was going to say she wasn’t interested. Honestly, I kind of wanted her to say she wasn’t interested. As miserable I’d been with homeschooling that winter, I didn’t feel ready to give it up, either. 

As we left the school and walked to our car, I asked my daughter, “So, what did you think?”

“I liked it!” she declared. She was perfectly clear on the matter; she was going to that school that fall.

I wept many tears that spring and summer, agonizing that sending her to school was a big mistake (always out of sight of my daughter, of course). 

My daughter did occasionally feel out-of-place attending a school where almost all the other kids were regular churchgoers. She was startled when one teacher mentioned that they didn’t teach about evolution at her school, but that they prayed for people who believed in it. My daughter had taken a class about evolution at our local zoo the year before and had read extensively about it at home. The idea that her school would completely dismiss discussing it floored her.

At home, we talked about approaching these sorts of differences as a chance to learn about the range of perspectives that make up our country and our world and the different ways people approach controversy and disagreement. We brainstormed how she could stay true to herself even if she didn’t feel comfortable speaking up loudly at school. I was grateful that our family’s work together as homeschoolers had laid down a foundation for us to talk this way, and that my daughter’s years as a life learner have given her a strong sense of self she can fall back on when she feels confused or out-of-step with the people around her. 

As that first year went on, my daughter found that she really liked the way Montessori learning combines structure with freedom of movement and choice. She’s also fairly introverted, and she found that her school—a school where “nobody knows how to be mean,” as she put it recently—helped her come out of her shell. Seeing the same kids regularly in a routine, predictable environment was more comfortable for her than going to unstructured homeschool play groups, where she’d mostly clung to my side and not talked to the other kids. Once-a-week, short-term classes for homeschoolers also hadn’t really given her enough time to warm up to other kids. 

I still don’t believe that school is necessary for kids to get “socialized”—it’s simply that for my individual kid at the developmental stage she was at, this particular school was a better social fit. 

I still don’t believe that school is necessary for kids to get “socialized”—it’s simply that for my individual kid at the developmental stage she was at, this particular school was a better social fit.

Meanwhile, back at home, my son was enjoying having three days a week of one-on-one time with me, combining a few classes at a local homeschooling co-op, a bit of math, lots of reading, and plenty of time pursuing his passionate interest in all things gaming-related. Some days, it felt like we had our own little writer’s colony of two, as my son worked in one room on video game-inspired fan fiction or creating the rules, characters, and storyline for a role-playing game he was designing, and I worked in another room on my own writing. We’d check in with each other over lunch, a board game, or during a hike by the Mississippi, two creative colleagues egging each other on. 

My daughter is now preparing for her third year at her school. It will probably be her last one there; she’s feeling ready for a secular learning environment, where she doesn’t worry that she might scandalize a schoolmate if she mentions a pop singer she likes or alienate a teacher if she mentions evolution in a school project. 

Luckily for us, there’s another part-time option for schooling here in our town, a public charter school where students attend classes in person three days a week and then work at home two days a week. She is hoping to transfer there for sixth grade. She wants school, yes, but she still wants a bit of freedom about how she spends her days, too.

I tell her that if she’d ever like to return to homeschooling, it’s always an option. She just smiles. “You really want me to come back to homeschooling, don’t you?” she teases me.

Well, yes, I’d love for her to come back to homeschooling. But what I want even more is for her to know she has choices. I’ve learned I can trust her to make the best of whatever situation she’s in and to know what’s right for her, even if it’s not what I would have chosen for her. She’s learned that she can handle new experiences with grace, take the good with the bad, and then walk away when something is no longer working for her. Those are lessons that I think will serve us both well as she moves forward in her life’s adventures, wherever they take her.


The Joys of Not-Back-to-School

The joys of not-back-to-school: Or why I love being a homeschooler

On Twitter the other day, someone posted a series of photographs of parents who were jumping for joy while their children stood by, looking forlorn and ready for their first day of school. While I believe all these images were probably staged, and the children were probably told to look sad while the parents looked overly happy, I know that many parents do feel elated when it’s time to send the kids back to school.

As a homeschooling parent, I don’t get this at all. Sure, sometimes I dream of having a day here and there sans children, which I never, ever get. (Sigh.) But if I had to send my kids away from me every day? All day? I know I’d cry, and I’d never feel happy about it.  Of course, I know that there are many, many parents who are not happy because they have to send their children away each day while they have to go to work. I am very sorry for these parents, and I wish our society was more pro-family.

Some parents may have a career they care deeply about, and I understand that. Other parents may not have the temperament to spend all day with children. For many, it may be that they get used to having their weekdays free without any children around, so when the kids come back from school, it’s a striking difference. And I’ve heard that kids tend to unleash their pent-up energy once they get home, so maybe they aren’t as well behaved with their parents as they are with their teachers. I don’t know for sure, but I think many parents have no idea the difference that homeschooling could make in their children.

For me, however, I am used to seeing my boys everyday, I get to watch them learn and grow, and I can’t imagine any other way of life. I get to teach them! What’s more is that we have time to rest and be flexible with our schedule. We have time to go interesting places, and we get to spend quality time together as a family, and we are very close because of that. That is priceless to me, and it’s worth the sacrifices we have to make to live this lifestyle.

Every day I get to hear my boys’ questions, and I get to help them search for their answers. I hear their excitement when they see something new and interesting on the Internet. “Mommy, you have to come see this!” my son will yell to me. “Okay! Just a minute!” I’ll say, and when I can I’ll go look at the weird animal, usually a sea creature, and I’ll act like I think it’s just as cool as they do even though what I really think is cool is their interest and enthusiasm for looking up the creature in the first place.

I am jumping for joy that we homeschool. I’m jumping for joy that I have two well-behaved boys who are each other’s best friend. I’m jumping for joy that we get to spend our days reading good books, watching documentaries, playing and working on things that we’re interested in. 

This September we’ll be beginning our new school year, which is just a continuation of last year with a little bit of new stuff thrown in. We’ll start our weekly appointments again, dig in a little more into our books, and we’ll continue to learn and grow. The growing part is going very fast, and for me, I’m jumping for joy that I’m not missing any of it.


5 Things I Do in August to Get Ready for a New Homeschool Year

5 ways our family gets ready for a new homeschool year (#5 is my back-pocked bad day-buster!)

It’s almost time for our homeschool to start its seventh official year, and as I’ve been getting ready for another year to start, I realized there are a few little things I look forward to doing every summer that seem to make our year run a little more smoothly. I thought I’d share them here — and I’d love for you to share some of your back-to-homeschool tricks in the comments!

Set up a folder for each class. You already know I’m a big advocate of the folder system for organizing our homeschool records, so it’s no surprise that one of my annual back-to-school duties is labeling folders for the new year. With my 3rd grader, I just set up one 3rd grade folder, where I’ll stash memorable work and my notes throughout the year. For my high school student, I set up a different folder for each subject. I like to use portfolio folders because I’m always leaving them lying around or stacking them somewhere, and I don’t want all the pages to get mixed up. (These are the folders I use, but I don’t think they’re inherently better than other folders—I just like the way they look!)

Start our new book list. I keep a master book list of all the readalouds we do each year, and the official new school year also means the official 2016-2017 reading list. I used to keep a separate notebook for book lists, but now I just jot the list at the back of my homeschooling bullet journal. Because I am a giant nerd, I use a green pen to write down books I read with just my 3rd grader, a purple pen to write down books I read with just my 9th grader, and a blue or black pen (whichever is handy) to write down books we all read together. I find that these book lists are invaluable to me as the years go by—both as a reminder of what we have and haven’t read (which gets surprisingly fuzzy over time!) and as a series of happy memories. 

Fill in the calendar. Before we get into the week-to-week busy-ness of the new academic year, I like to set up a calendar to remind me of favorite holidays (Hobbit Day!), homeschool days, festivals, and any other events that we’d be sad to miss. I started doing this one year after we totally missed Banned Books week one year—we just got busy, and the week was over by the time it popped back up on my mental to-do list. Having a calendar doesn’t always mean we’ll be able to do all the things we’d like to do—but it does mean that the things we’re excited about won’t slip by unnoticed.

Rotate our bookshelves. I’ve written before about our library organization system, so you probably won’t be surprised that I spend several weeks in August rotating the bookshelves in our house to match up with our plans for the year. (I’m very happy to pull our U.S. literature classics collection out of its bins and put it back on the shelf, though I will miss our Native American collection, which is rotating off the shelf and into storage for a while.) I try to keep the books that will part of our planned homeschooling on the same bookshelf so that it’s easy to access them throughout the year. 

Restock our Terrible Day box. This is a plastic bin that I pull out on those days where nothing goes right—our fun field trip got rained out, everybody has a case of the grumpies, nobody wants to do any work, whatever. On those days, we pull out the Terrible Day box and randomly pick something fun to do. I keep it stocked with fun art supplies, Munchkin expansion packs, new board games, Lego sets, cool coloring books, craft kits—basically all the things that I know my kids will almost always be excited to get their hands on. There are some days where homeschooling is just too much, and the Terrible Day box really has helped turn some of them around.

What are some of the little things you do to get ready for the new year?


Our Favorite Homeschool School Supplies

Homeschooling is more fun with new school supplies! Here's a roundup of some of our favorite homeschool gear

Suzanne and I are talking about back-to-school season in the latest episode of the podcast, so naturally school supplies came up. It seemed like the perfect time to share some of our favorite homeschool supplies. Share your faves in the comments!

Parts of this were originally published in the winter 2015 issue of home | school | life, but we’ve updated and expanded it a bit since we’ve got school supplies on the brain this time of year.