By Judith Jolma
Has this ever happened to you? Upon returning from your beach vacation, you look at the calendar and realize that school begins in three weeks! Summer just started!!! You want to enjoy the moment. Instead, you have to open up the catalogs and order your curriculum. Out of default, you just order what you used last year, or maybe you try something new because it looks pretty, but you aren't really able to remember the details about last school year. So the next year will most likely be an exact repeat of the last one (only with new books).
Pro tip: plan next school year NOW!
September may be more than half a year away but the second semester is prime time to prepare for it. Why? Because this is your window into next year. If you can carefully observe the success and challenges of this year and respond with a plan to adjust accordingly, you will be set for success.
How to prepare for next year
This is the best time of year to evaluate every part of your homeschool. How is it going? Do you
love the curriculum? Most importantly, here in the second semester, are you -- as the teacher -- still excited to engage with the lessons? If you are not enthusiastic about the work, the kids will reflect your attitude so you need to work with something that draws you in. That said, just because you are still loving the material does not guarantee that the kids will. For example, you may be a literature enthusiast and you chose a literature-based curriculum. However, if your child has dyslexia and reading is ten times harder for him than it is for you, he may be resisting. There are many reasons a child may find it difficult to engage with his lessons -- it could be too easy. It could be too difficult, he may need more tangible examples because abstract thought is still beyond his development. Sometimes children are very happy doing what is easy, so observe if your student has reached appropriate milestones. Another important question is “Did these lessons serve the family culture?” If you are a family that likes to learn on the go, for example, but your books tie you down to hours of work pages each day, you may want to switch it up next year. Is there something new you want to explore? Finally, if everything you are doing is working, celebrate and don't change a thing. Don’t fix what ain't broke. Take advantage of this second semester to observe the good and the bad, so you can make adjustments before next year.
Many states require an end-of-year test to prove progress in Homeschooling. In most states you
may request a religious exemption from this requirement. And many states leave that decision entirely up to parents. Check with your state (and HSLDA) to be sure you are in compliance with your jurisdiction. Assuming the choice is yours to make, should your children take an achievement test at the end of the year? Not necessarily, but I do, and here's why. In my homeschool we do not take tests throughout the year. I want my children to study for the love of learning and do not want them to learn to study for the test. So we don’t take tests. But test-taking is a valuable skill and one that needs to be taught. So I take advantage of one big achievement test so that they can learn how to take tests. There are many achievement tests available. Home Educators of Virginia has a great breakdown of different tests available HERE.
I usually use the California Achievement Test (CAT)/Terra Nova. Although these tests are not due until the end of the school year, I like my kids to take them early in the second semester so that if the results uncover any challenges, we have time this year to address them. I can also make well-informed decisions about priorities for next year. One very important note about these tests: These should be anxiety-free. Build in ample rewards and incentives for your children. Make test week something everyone looks forward to. I give my kids a whole week off after they complete their tests. They are always excited to see their results, too. We never use a test result as an opportunity to scold or shame. We always focus on our achievements. Those areas that they don’t score so well in? We talk about those as our opportunities for mastering new skills. The disadvantage, of course, of taking an unrequited achievement test would be the negative impact it could have on the child’s confidence. Many kids have had damaging experiences with tests and if they have anxiety about it, perhaps it is best to do without the test this year. Wait for him to grow into a more positive mindset. Also, guard yourself against anxiety about any testing.
NEVER allow a poorly performed test to cause shame or guilt. This is not a competition. Whether your jurisdiction requires an achievement test or not, keep these exams in perspective. They are a tool. Nothing more.
Observe and take notes
While we should never stop observing, the second semester is a time for a special kind of heightened observation. If you made a plan at the beginning of the year, look to see if you lived up to it and if you need to pivot. Be honest about your homeschooling. Is academic work your master, or your servant? Never let the work lord over you. It is there to serve your needs. What worked this year? What did not work? Take notes about each child, yourself, and the family dynamic. Be objective. List the wins, achievements and struggles of each member of the family. Include all aspects of each person: physical, academic, emotional, spiritual, and relational. These notes empower you to choose summer activities and create a new plan that serves the whole family and addresses each unique need. Finally, observe the family dynamic -- is it working, is this the culture you designed? Late in the summer when you sit down to order your books and create your lesson plans, you will be so thankful if you did this work now.
So here in the last half of the school year, take advantage of it to think ahead, evaluate your approach, consider year-end testing, observe, and take notes. The most important thing to remember is that homeschooling is so much more than academics. It is about forming the whole child. That child is primarily formed by the culture that surrounds him. YOU choose that culture. YOU can be intentional about that culture.
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