6 Steps to a Successful and Stress-free Back to (Home)School

Mother helping daughter with homework
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Whether you're getting back to homeschool after a summer break or starting for the first time, the first few weeks can be an adjustment for both the students and the teaching parent. Try these tips for a successful start to homeschooling this year.

1. Don’t start all subjects at once.

Every year I advise new (and sometimes veteran) homeschooling parents not to jump into every school subject at once.

After several weeks off their school routine, students (and their parent-teacher) need some time to adjust to routine again. That’s why most of the public schools in our area typically start the new school year midweek. Doing so gives teachers and students time to acclimate to their school schedule.

We like to start with a mix of light and heavy core subjects and something fun. For us, that might mean something like language arts (light), science (a little heavy, but not as mentally taxing as math), reading, and art. 

When my kids were younger, we added a subject or two a week until they were working at a full load. Now that my final two students are both teens, we’re usually at a full load by the second or third full week of school with the exception of electives. I usually don’t add those into our schedule until September when all of my kids' friends, public and homeschooled, are back in school and our schedules are more predictable.

2. Plan an outing with your homeschool group.

One of the redeeming qualities of back-to-school time for most kids is seeing their friends again. Homeschooled kids needn’t be any different. Plan a fun back-to-school bash with your homeschool group. If you’re a veteran homeschool mom, make an extra effort to find and include new homeschooling parents.

If you’re a new homeschooling family, be willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to help you and your kids find homeschooled friends. Check your local support group newsletter or website for upcoming events and go. Introduce yourself and your children. Many new homeschooling families assume that everyone in the group knows everyone else. While that can be true, it’s just as possible that you’ll find yourself sitting among a group of families who are all new the group just like you.

3. Cut everyone a little slack.

Because the start of a new school year is a readjustment for everyone, allow for some bumps in the road the first few days. Despite what some homeschool moms would lead you to believe, not all kids (or their parents!) are excited about getting back to formal learning.

I’m not suggesting that parents tolerate poor behavior, but don’t lose sight of the fact that readjusting to a school routine may take some time. There may be tears, grumbling, and bad attitudes – and not necessarily from the kids!

If you’re a brand-new homeschooling parent whose children have previously been in public or private school, don’t take it personally if they compare your teaching style to their former teachers or your homeschool to their public or private school experience.

That is all part of transitioning from public (or private) school to homeschool.

4. Don’t stress if everything isn’t in order.

It will also be a much less stressful back-to-homeschool week if you don’t get frazzled if (or, more likely, when) that idyllic vision of the first day (or week) of school doesn't play out exactly as you'd imagined. A highly organized person might tell you to plan far in advance to insure that everything is in order. However, as a veteran homeschooling mom, I’m going to tell you that even with the best planning some things are just out of your control.

Sometimes the homeschool curriculum is back ordered. Sometimes the toddler spills juice on your brand-new planner. Sometimes the math disk won’t load.

All these events are part of life. They won’t result in your children begin irrevocably behind.

You may even laugh about them later. Better still, with the right attitude, you’ll later reminisce about how much you learned about whatever topic you chose to follow on the impromptu field trip, library visit, or Netflix documentary binge watching you did instead.

There are plenty of learning opportunities in everyday moments that we often overlook. If everything isn’t perfectly lined up for your first day of school, improvise, and capitalize on those learning moments you may miss as you get into the daily routine of the school year.

5. Plan a morning routine.

An effective morning school routine can go a long way toward a stress-free homeschool day. Therefore, it can be extremely helpful to have a plan in place right from the first day of school.

If you have younger children, this morning routine might consist of activities such as:

  • Calendar time – adding the date to the calendar and practicing naming the days of the week and months of the year along with concepts such as yesterday, today, and tomorrow
  • Practicing the letter, word, color, shape, or number of the week
  • Reading aloud
  • Recording the day’s weather

For older students, morning time might include:

  • Current events – You might use a free online program such as CNN Student News or read the paper or a current events magazine to introduce topics for discussion.
  • Read aloud
  • Poetry (writing or memorization)
  • Fact review/drill – vocabulary words, multiplication facts, spelling practice, etc.
  • Review of the day’s (or week’s) schedule to ensure students understand your expectations and that work is being completed

For our family, the key to a smooth morning routine was not tackling schoolwork that required a great deal of brainpower first thing. Doing low-key activities that were important to our day, but weren’t difficult to complete gave the kids a chance to wake up and get into a formal-learning mindset before moving on to more taxing activities.

6. Don’t be too rigid.

Keep in mind that not all schoolwork needs to be done at the table in the schoolroom – especially in the early weeks of school when the weather is so pleasant.

Take a blanket outside or curl up on the couch for read-aloud time. A clipboard makes it easy to take math worksheets out to the read-aloud blanket or tree house. We used to have a wooden play structure with a covered platform where my kids loved to do much of their written work when the weather permitted.

There will be plenty of cold-weather moths for sitting inside doing schoolwork. During the first few weeks of school, let everyone ease into the routine by being a bit more flexible about where the kids are doing their work as long as they are working diligently and completing it correctly.

The main points to remember about having a successful launch for your new school year are to remain flexible and don't expect everything to fall into place immediately. The first few days may not look like you'd imagined them, but soon you'll all be back in your homeschool groove.