5 Things to Do Before Starting the Second Semester

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The winter break between semesters is an ideal time to evaluate your homeschool year and plan for the second half. Before you resume school in January, try these simple steps to ensure that the second semester goes as smoothly as (or more smoothly than) the first. 

1. Schedule a planning day.

In public and private schools, teachers typically return to work after Christmas break a few days before their students. They use this time to plan for the upcoming semester, complete paperwork, and organize the classroom. Homeschool teachers need planning time, too.

It can be difficult to arrange an in-service day as a homeschooling parent. Now that my kids are teens, it’s pretty simple. I just work in the morning while they sleep in or encourage them to go visit friends for the day. It was trickier when they were young, but I found some practical ways to make it work.

  • Swap child care days with a friend. Your kids get to play with friends for the day and you get time alone to work. Depending on the ages of the children involved, you may actually wind up with two days to work, though one won’t likely won’t be as quiet as the other. When it was my day to host, I found that I was able to get quite a bit done because all the kids were entertaining one another.
  • Go to a coffee shop. Enlist the help of your spouse, a relative, or a babysitter so that you can leave your children at home and enjoy a planning day at a coffee shop. I often find that I’m more productive in such a setting because I feel as though I’m supposed to be working and there aren’t distractions such as dirty dishes and laundry vying for my attention.
  • Enlist the help of your spouse or the grandparents. Sometimes it’s easier for your spouse or your children's grandparents to take the kids out for a day. They can enjoy spending a quiet day together or do something special like visit a park, a children’s museum, or a movie while you catch up on the planning and paperwork aspect of homeschooling.

    To make the most of your in-service day, plan ahead. Make sure you have all the supplies you'll need to plan for the upcoming weeks such as paper, printer ink, laminating sheets, folder, and binders. Plan a simple meal for yourself, turn the ringer off the phone, and avoid the distracting temptation of social media.

    2. Update paperwork.

    Depending on your state’s homeschooling laws, you may need to submit information such as first semester grades and attendance to your umbrella school or other governing body. The umbrella school that my family uses requires this information by January 15 each year, but I like to do it during my planning day before the start of the semester so that it’s completed before we get busy with school and I’m more likely to forget.

    Even if your state laws don’t require such reporting, this is a great time to update your student’s portfolio or transcript. Waiting until the end of the school year increases the odds that you’ll forget to include something. Consider all that your student did this semester and add to his portfolio or transcript classes taken, extracurricular activities, electives, and volunteer hours.

    3. Cull papers.

    We homeschooling families can accumulate an overwhelming amount of papers. Mid-year is a fantastic time to sort through them, recycling or shredding those you don’t need and storing or filing the rest.

    As you sort through papers:

    • File those you need for homeschool recordkeeping.
    • Save samples of your student’s work, reports, and final drafts of writing assignments for his portfolio or to back up his transcript.
    • Select the items you’d like to save as keepsakes. You may consider using some of your student’s artwork to make greeting cards for relatives or nursing home residents.
    • Save papers that were only used on one side to reuse as scratch paper.

    4. Assess what’s working and what isn’t.

    Before you begin your second semester, spend some time evaluating the first. Assess what worked well and what didn’t with regards to your schedule, curriculum, extracurricular activities, and classes taken outside the home. Then consider any changes that you may need to make for the second half of the school year. You may need to make some mid-year curriculum changes if modifying it won’t be enough to make it work for your family.

    Are there extracurricular activities or classes that you need to drop or those you’d like to add? If you’re adding any, consider how they’ll work with your existing schedule. Are there any areas that have been causing stress in your family such as bedtime or school start times? If so, is there any room for negotiation or flexibility?

    The start of the second semester is the perfect time to make curriculum and schedule adjustments to help your school day run more smoothly and allow you to capitalize on the small tweaks you've identified so that you can make the most of your time in the upcoming semester.

    5. Plan a mid-winter break.

    Homeschool burnout is very common during the winter months when the days are rather long and monotonous and spring break seems far away. There are some simple steps you can take to avoid homeschool burnout, but one of the simplest is planning a mid-winter break. For the last several years, I have planned a week off of school around the middle of February.

    Even if you can’t plan an entire week, a long weekend can do wonders for avoiding burnout. We don’t usually plan anything special during our week off. The kids and I just enjoy the free time to follow our own interests. However, if cabin fever is part of what has your family going stir-crazy, consider some fun family outings. You might even plan a week of educational field trips, giving your family a break from formal learning, but still accumulating the school days necessary to satisfy your state’s homeschool laws. 

    Unless you have mounds of papers to sort through, most of these activities aren't very time-consuming, but they can go a long way toward ensuring that you and your students finish the school year strong.