In a week or two, tens of thousands of school children all across the Greater Baton Rouge area will hop on yellow school buses while carrying new backpacks filled with freshly sharpened pencils and unused notebooks. I have two school-aged children, but they will not be among those fresh faces waiting to meet their new teachers. No, my children are not going back to school in the traditional sense. We homeschool.
Some homeschoolers strictly follow the public school’s calendar and live by a curriculum. Others completely do their own thing, schooling on evenings and weekends and ignoring the official start and end of the school year with little to no formal curriculum. We tend to fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes. I firmly believe that there should be no distinction between life and learning. Life is learning, and learning is life. However, the former teacher in me thrives on planning, scope and sequence, assessment, and curriculum. I do buy curriculum. Sometimes we even follow it. Curriculum in hand or not, we never stop learning, never stop reading, and never stop hands-on field trips. Summer break only exists for us in a sense that there are different opportunities for learning through VBS, swim lessons, and summer library programs.
I have some conflict over what to call “back to school” in relation to our homeschool. Technically, we are not going “back” to anything, because we never stop, but there is something inherently magical about this time of year. It’s a time of newness, time for a fresh start, and time of anticipation and curiosity about the upcoming year’s subject matter. I like to make a big deal about the start of a new school year, even though we are really just continuing on with what we’ve been doing all along.
Like most moms of school-aged children, I spend a significant portion of July scoping out back to school sales. Glue for a penny at Office Depot? I’m there and will be the proud owner of enough glue to last until my girls graduate from college (which inevitably means I’ll be donating glue to my teacher friends and spend several hours pinning glue art ideas on Pinterest). School uniform shopping is replaced by curriculum shopping for the homeschool mom. Which curriculum is all-inclusive? Which is rated the best? Can it be used again for subsequent children? What is the over-achieving homeschool mom using? How can I get it cheaply? Is there an app for that? These are the important questions.
The homeschool Facebook groups are especially busy this time of year, because everyone is selling off used curriculum and trying to get their children signed up for all the good co-op groups. A co-op is a regular meeting of families that engage in corporate learning. Moms and dads, and even older students, will take turns teaching co-op classes, and often the groups take field trips together. Most of my curriculum has been purchased, and my girls are signed up for two co-op classes. Phew! The rest of my summer school preparation will be focused on prepping our school room (which is currently covered in construction paper projects and play-doh, because summer) and planning an epic first day of “not” back to school celebration for my girls.
We officially start our school year the same day as our local school district. The girls choose their outfits, and I break out the chalkboard easel and take first day of school pictures, like most other moms. I love to mark the passing of time and reflect on how much my girls have grown, not just physically, but developmentally, academically, and emotionally. We load up in the car, but instead of heading to the carpool line, we go eat a special first day of school breakfast.
Last year the girls chose Waffle House, and we’ll probably eat there again this year. (Don’t judge. We –I mean- they like the chocolate chip waffles.) We went to the Baker Branch library after breakfast, because they had the Leif Erikson book we needed, AND there is a playground adjacent to the parking lot. History, literature, computer, and physical education all in one stop. Score! I was really rocking my whole “life is learning” philosophy that day. My girls have a fascination with the state capitol building, so our official first day of school seemed like a good time to learn the story of Huey P. Long in the back hallway, spot the pencil in the ceiling of the Senate Chamber, and search in vain for sight of our house from the 27th floor observation deck. We had a gloriously full day of learning together.
I haven’t hammered out the details for the first day of our 2015-16 school year yet. Maybe we’ll take a day trip to New Orleans or Ship Island. Maybe we’ll go see a movie or visit a nursing home. Maybe we’ll get lost in a local museum or go find a hiking trail. I do have new math, reading, spelling, grammar, science, and history lessons waiting to be delved into, but they won’t be looked at until our second day. Life learning is our first goal, so we’ll start our new school year doing just that!