The beginning of a school year sets the tone for the entire year. Using a soft start to transition rather than jumping in at full speed can help ensure success for everyone!
A Case for the Soft Start
As a homeschooler, I have always needed and taken a summer break. So every August our family faced the contrast of summer and the school year ahead. This concept of starting slowly truly is something that I heard several times over my early years homeschooling before becoming a “believer.”
In the past when starting something new, my tendency was to prepare well and hit the ground running. While I believe being well prepared is important, I didn’t consider the implications of how this more aggressive approach would impact me and especially my kids.Like adults, kids handle change differently. However, many kids don’t like change and need a transition to help adjust well.
My kids were never ready to leave summer behind. (Let’s be honest: Who wants to say goodbye to the fun of Florida summer days with the allure of so many outdoor adventures awaiting us day and night?) They were even less eager to begin a new school year on the heels of such active summers. What they needed was a gentle transition—a slow start to the new season.
The start of every new season benefits from a time of transition into the next.
This soft start time can be as valuable as anything else that you do to prepare.
No matter what summer was like, it will probably be a very different rhythm than the school year. Whether you homeschool year-round or take summers off, we all have to start somewhere. Whenever you begin, the soft start is a way to offer a gentle on ramp to what could be a shocking experience.
I’m not sure the first time I heard the concept of a “slow” or “soft” start to the school year, but I wish I had implemented it much earlier. I’m confident that it could have made our transition from the carefree days of summer to the new school year a bit easier.
Create Special Traditions
A “soft start” can involve using traditions to set an expectant, fun tone. Traditions give kids something to look forward to and helps build anticipation for the year ahead. It also gives them fond memories of their homeschool experience to look back on.
Here are some ideas for traditions you may want to begin:
Back to School Breakfast
Fix a special breakfast at home with unique school supplies at each student’s seat or at a restaurant. As they grow older, the breakfast tradition may change a little. For example, if you have older kids as I do, one of the things I like to do is take each of my kids out for a favorite breakfast or coffee. I love to hear what they look forward to (and also what anxieties they may have related to) in the new school year, and help encourage them.
Take the first day of school to take advantage of short lines at the local amusement park or other places that are now practically uninhabited with the return of public school. This time can also serve as a celebration of sorts as we enjoy the freedom of schedule—one of the many benefits afforded to us as homeschoolers.
Have a back-to-school party that celebrates the school year ahead
- Include other homeschool families
- Give out special school supplies
- Choose a theme (i.e., luau or summer theme)
For many years, we were a part of a small homeschool co-op that met every Friday. The back-to-school parties we did with our co-op are still some of our fondest memories! These times to reconnect with friends and anticipate the co-op school year helped my kids to look forward to the new year.
Review the previous school year
Before jumping into new material, take the time to review and celebrate what you learned last year. Keeping in mind that this review can help the transition to the new school year, I suggest making this time very light-hearted and fun so that kids stay encouraged.
- Create discussions. Review doesn’t have to be elaborate. Keep it simple by just asking a few prepared questions. You may ask each child to share what they remember learning about or ask them what one of their best memories was from the previous school year. These times can often be springboards for great discussions and reminders of how much our kids learned.
- Play games. Use any games, flash cards, or activities from last year to review. One fun way to do this is by using any material from the previous year to create a Jeopardy-themed game. Each category can represent a subject or general topic which has answers (rather than questions) that increase in difficulty from easiest to hardest. Having kids make the game themselves offers a great way to review.
With games, puzzles and unit assessments included with every lesson, Trail Guide to Learning makes reviewing easy.
Practice your new schedule or routine
Rehearsing a new schedule or routine can be done several ways. Sometimes taking the extra time to explain and walk through changes to schedules and routines can make all the difference when it comes to success. Often feeling pressed for time, I would just give the list to my kids and not see the results I hoped for. Ultimately, the changes weren’t implemented and we were all frustrated. What if we took the time to:
- Create a written list or calendar with the new schedule or routine. Have a family meeting and carefully walk through each change.
- Take a “mock” week practicing the new routine before implementing it. Walk through the new mealtime, bedtime, or chores schedule and prepare any lunches, packing snacks, and book bags as if it were actually happening. This can provide the opportunity to tweak anything that needs changing ahead of time. Then take your lunches or snacks to the park, pool, or backyard for some family time.
Establish new routines slowly
Even though my kids weren’t going to a brick and mortar school, we preferred for them to have an earlier bedtime and wake-up routine during the school year. We did have other activities that necessitated a more rigid schedule than summertime, so earlier bedtimes were important.
I always found it helpful to slowly work up to those earlier times over a period of a week. If those times will change in your family, I also suggest starting with one at a time—either the bedtime or the wake up time—and work up to the ideal times. Since the bedtime directly affected the time my kids woke up, we naturally started there.
Introduce subjects slowly
- Instead of starting every subject all at the same time, try starting one or two subjects a day and build up to your full subject load over a period of a week or even a month. This can help tremendously to help stave off overwhelm.
- When using Trail Guide to Learning, I suggest that you and your kids spend several days together getting acquainted with the lessons, resources, and notebook pages. Discuss how you’ll organize your school day. This will also help build anticipation and excitement for the material you’ll be learning.
Through a soft start, you can help make the transition to the new school year more enjoyable and less stressful for all—while building precious family memories.
Through experience, I’ve realized the slow transition time is what I prefer. Both my kids and I do so much better with it! A slow start is such a gracious way to ease your kids into the new new school year.