The halfway point of your homeschool year is a great time to check in with your kids about what's working — and what isn't.
[We're so excited to welcome the wonderful Beverly Burgess to the HSL blogging team! I'm not posting the video, but there was definitely some happy dancing going on in the office when she signed on as a regular contributor. —Amy]
It’s May and I’ve lost my mojo. I even doubled my caffeine intake to no avail.
It seems most every homeschooling parent gets to a point when they need to wrap up their school year. Even those parents that homeschool year-round, feel the pull of spring in May; the need to be done.
Homeschooling parents can quickly be overcome with the amount of material that’s accumulated throughout a long and creative homeschool year. Wrapping up the year can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips to get that clutter off your kitchen counter and put the homeschooling year to bed.
1. File end of year paperwork. Be sure to file any end of year paperwork required in your district. Evaluations, portfolios, or other measures of progress, as well as letters of intent to homeschool, may be due now. Spend some time and get those out of the way so you can enjoy the summer days.
2. Update transcripts/report cards and evaluations. Don’t wait for months to finalize report cards or evaluations. You will want to complete this task while the information is fresh in your mind. Tracking courses and progress is especially important if you are creating a transcript for your high schooler. Grades, field trips, courses, online classes, community groups, service projects, lab work, job experience, internships, apprenticeships, extracurricululars; all are easily lost or forgotten if not immediately recorded. Unschoolers should also record any classes, experiences or community involvement for their portfolio or transcript.
Unit studies can be easily put away in file folders labeled with the year or grade of the child.
If your child has completed a class through another organization, be sure to gather certificates of completion or grades from the teacher, if that is offered as part of the class.
Kids' school work can also be saved digitally. Take a photos and file in a folder for your portfolio or create a scrapbook of your incredible year. Grandparents especially love thumbing through scrapbooks and sharing memories with their grandchildren. Scrapbooks are also a great way to deter naysayers who might think your kids sat around eating Cheetos all year long.
3. Toss the rubbish. What do you do with the hordes of paperwork that have accumulated? If your children are in their elementary years, save a few special pieces of artwork and toss the rest. The craft stores have pizza-style boxes that you can buy which are great for storing both artwork and academic work. The pizza boxes stack and store easily on a shelf, don’t take up much room, and hold a lot of material. Save one or two papers each month from each subject and toss the rest. I usually save one paper that shows beginning skills and one that shows mastery. My district/state doesn’t require evaluations of our work but I do save the boxes for three years and then get rid of them.
If you have many 3D sculptures, dioramas, hanging mobiles, and the like for art projects, it can be tougher to part with these masterpieces. Gifting the grandparents or aunts and uncles is a great way to share your homeschooling days with relatives. We always told our kids that if it didn’t fit in the storage box, we could not keep it. Certainly, a few special pieces were kept but the majority went into the box or were gifted away.
4. Clean up the extras. Dump the moldy bread science experiment that’s been sitting on your shelf for weeks. Organize your homeschool space if you have one, clean off the desks, put the glue sticks and crayons back in their holders, give everything a good spring-time scrub down.
5. Label and store books. I have a filing system for all of my books. At one point, I was homeschooling three kids in three different grade levels. The number of books, texts, instruction manuals, and other material accumulated through the years, was astounding. Before you pack everything up for the year, label the inside of every single book with an approximate grade level. Include chapter books, workbooks, and manipulatives in this process. I also place grade level stickers on the spines, so that when I store them, I can easily pull the next grade level I need for the coming year. Having organized books has been a lifesaver on so many occasions.
Donate, sell, or trade any items that you won’t use again. As my kids aged up through grades, I save curricula that was going to be used again. Any grade level items that we’d no longer use were donated or sold.
6. Plan some fun activities to celebrate
Get out of the house by planning some time with friends to celebrate the great weather. A picnic in the park, care-free playground days, lunch out with the kids, or a field trip can give you some much needed energy to push through those last few weeks of homeschooling.
Be proud of all your kids have accomplished this year. Don’t worry about the small things that didn’t get completed. Your children have likely learned so much exploring their own love of learning. Enjoy these last days and finish strong!
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?
When I first began to homeschool, I did a small “graduation” for my son’s Kindergarten year because so many other people were doing something similar, but after I did it, that somehow felt wrong. I think a graduation should come at the very end of one’s education. But I still wanted to mark the end of our year so that the boys could see that they were progressing and accomplishing good things. That’s when I decided to do an end-of-the-year review where I’d simply showcase everything we had done that year.
I consider July the end of our school year, but I don’t worry about finishing the curriculum we’re using. While we do finish some items, there are many resources I just put a bookmark in and start where we left off in September. Also, on the official paperwork, I say our school year is from September 1 – August 31. By law, my boys are supposed to have 180 days of school each year during that time. I know I go over that amount, especially when you consider how full of learning our daily lives are.
Most of the work I do to mark the end of the year is quiet work I have to do by myself at my computer. This year, I’ve been hard pressed to work up the motivation to do this, but I am slowly getting it done!
First, I create a progress report for each of my boys. This is required by law in our state of Georgia. Briefly, this is how I do it:
On a piece of paper I list and make each area of study a heading. Under each heading, I create bullet points and list all the applicable curriculum my boys have completed (if we haven’t finished something, I note the pages we’ve completed); apps they’ve used; field trips; library books read on that subject; projects; outside classes, if any; and summer camps that support that area of study.
I also make comments on their progress such as: “The nine-year-old’s reading skills have greatly improved this year.” “The six-year-old is showing a growing interest in math.”
By law, I have to teach reading, language arts, math, science and social studies, so I always list those, but since I don’t have to show this progress report to anybody, I consider it a keepsake, and I list the other things I’m teaching too: art, Spanish, and physical education. I also make a separate heading for my boys’ major projects that year. For example, this year my son has been learning how to play the piano and also studying the composers and listening to a lot of classical music. So I made a heading where I can go in-depth on this topic.
The progress report is usually about two pages long and once I’m finished, I print it out and put it into a 3-ring binder, which I call their portfolios. I make these binders at the beginning of a year, and I put any documentation I have about their school year into it, such as brochures to museums we’ve visited or the programs to the classical concerts we’ve attended. I also keep our daily work charts in the binder as well.
After the progress report is complete, it’s time to start on the fun ritual I do every year, and that is make a slideshow of all our photos from that year. I’m a photographer, so I take lots of photographs of our field trips and the boys’ projects and everything else. (Though, I have to admit, I got lazy this year and mostly used my phone camera!)
Making a slideshow with hundreds of photos and several video clips is quite a chore. That’s why I have not yet completed this year’s slideshow. Last year, my husband helped me by adding music to it. Once we’re done, however, we put it on a DVD and we can send it to the boys’ grandparents. They love it!
We actually love sitting down to watch it too. The boys are delighted to see photos of projects that by now they’ve forgotten about! (Sometimes this review inspires them to go back and work more on something!) If we took a vacation or had relatives visit us during the year, I include those photos too. Although it’s a lot of work, it’s worth the effort to have our photos in an accessible place and not lost somewhere on an external drive!
When it comes time to watch the slideshow (which is usually in late July or – ahem – maybe mid-August this year), I gather our curriculum, portfolios and major projects the boys have been working on that year, and I lay them out on a table. I take a photo of the boys standing in front of their work, and (in lieu of a report card), I give them a certificate of completion for that year and sometimes a small gift (something educational that will help them with a project). Then we watch the slideshow.
And that’s it. That’s our end-of-the-year ritual.
After this, we take some time off in August because it’s time to celebrate both my boys’ birthdays. They are three years apart, but their birthdays are exactly one week apart. (I didn’t plan it that way!) Then in early September, we start our new school year, continuing what we didn’t finish and/or sometimes getting out some shiny new curriculum. I do nothing special to mark the first day of school. I think our end-of-year ritual + birthday celebrations are quite enough!
Writing down my end-year-old work makes it seem like a lot, but I assure you, except for making that @#$%! slideshow, it’s not too time-consuming. ;)
If you’re interested in seeing examples of some of the print-outs I mentioned in this post, they are available as free downloads on my personal blog.
What do you do to mark the end of your homeschool year, or do you mark the beginning of the year? Or both?
Homeschooling high school doesn’t have to mean acquiring organizational super skills. This easy organization method won’t stress you out and will make your life a whole lot easier when you start working on transcripts and other official paperwork for high school graduation. (This is our most-requested reprint from the magazine.) The envelope solution is elegant, effective, and so simple you can’t screw it up. Start it in ninth grade — eighth if you’re feeling particularly ambitious — and when it’s time to start the college application process, you’ll be all set. Here's how it works.
Label a large envelope for each class with the full name of the course and grade number (such as 9-Honors English 1 or 11-AP U.S. History). Add a separate envelope for extracurricular activities — if your child is serious about an activity, like soccer or theater, you may want to create a separate envelope for that particular activity as well as one for general extracurricular activities.
Label another envelope with your teen’s grade level and Honors — you’ll use this envelope to stash certificates of achievement, pictures of science fair experiments, and other awards and recognitions. Add one last envelope for community service — again, be sure to label it with your student’s grade level.
Make a basic information sheet for each class your child is taking. Include:
- the textbook(s) used, with ISBN number
- a copy of the textbook’s table of contents (Do this now. The last thing you want to do is end up rooting through boxes in the garage in a couple of years to figure out if your son’s freshman biology class included a section on genetics.)
- the course description and syllabus
- the name of the teacher (yes, even if it’s you!)
- the number of credit hours the course entails
Tuck this information sheet securely in the envelope. Add items to envelope as the year progresses. Things you’ll want to include:
- graded papers and tests
- samples of presentations, lab reports, or other work done in the class
- a running reading list (Add titles of books and essays to the list as you read them so you don’t have to try to remember everything at the end of the year. Even better, have your student keep an annotated reading list — with notes about each book.)
- notes about associated activities — visits to museums, lectures, theaters, etc. — that relate to the class
At the end of the class, write the final grade and total credit hours on the front of the envelope. Inside the envelope, add:
- official grades — community college report cards, printouts from an online class, or your evaluations
- Ask any outside teacher to write a recommendation letter or evaluation for your student. Do it now while your student’s work is still fresh in their minds, and add the recommendation to your envelope. If you decide to ask this teacher for a recommendation when you’re working on college applications, you can give him his original recommendation to refresh his memory.
- If your student ends up taking an AP or CLEP exam in a subject, add the exam results to your envelope. Similarly, if your student publishes or wins an award for work she started in the class, add those credits to your envelope.
Use a binder clip to group your envelopes — depending on how your brain works, you may want them grouped by grade level, by subject matter, or by some other criteria. However you group them, they’ll make writing that final transcript a lot easier since all your information will be organized in one place.
Reprinted from the winter 2015 issue’s Problem: Solved feature, which also tackled writing your own curriculum, keeping up with library books, getting over bad days, how to tell the difference between a homeschool slump and when you’re ready to stop homeschooling, and lots more