1. Plan your calendar days, for the entire year, on paper. This may seem like an obvious first step, but it is crucial for a successful year. Something happens when I get it out of my head and onto paper; things like accountability and being intentional. I begin by printing two yearly calendars that I can look at side by side. (the kind that have all twelve month on one page). The first thing I mark off are the holidays. We typically take off the entire week of Thanksgiving, three to four weeks for Christmas, and one week for Easter. Since I aim to complete at least half the year by Christmas (which is 90 days), I count backwards from Christmas, skipping Thanksgiving. A modified year-round approach works best for our family, with six to eight weeks on, then one week off, so I calculate our start date with that in mind as well. Finally, I add five "buffer" days for those unexpected events like the stomach bug, a family crisis, a spontaneous field trip, etc. If we need them, we use them; if not, that's an earlier end of the year! The second half of the year is easier to plan. I start after New Year's Day and mark off our pattern of six weeks on, one week off, adjusting around Easter. Ideally, I like to be finished around mid May, which is usually where I end up.
2. Keep the first week light. Attitudes seem to be better if we ease back into things, so we start with just math, bible, and reading aloud. Additionally, most of the battle for us is in starting to wake up early again. During summer break I let the children sleep in (7:30 or 8:00 in our house), but during the school year I wake them up around 6:30 so we can start our school day no later than 8am. Another thought is to start your first week on a Wednesday, so that your first week is only a half week.
3. Plan a special surprise. I put together a small gift for each of the children, which I leave out on the table for them after they go to bed. Usually I include a box of their favorite candy, new mechanical pencils, a "cool" notebook (i.e. NBA, Hello Kitty, etc), and a personal note of encouragement for the new year. Something along those lines; you don't have to spend much. I also like to make them a treat form breakfast, such as chocolate chip pancakes or cinnamon rolls. (both are infrequent in our breakfast menus)
4. Incorporate chores. One day last year I had a "light bulb" moment. Why it took me ten years to come to this realization, I cannot tell you. Here is the truth that triggered the light: when you're a homeschool mom, you are working TWO full time jobs: one is teaching, and the other is managing a home. Since this isn't Downton Abby, all the work falls on you. But that doesn't mean you have to be the one doing it all! I'm convinced one of the most important, most effective things we can teach our children are chores. Not only is it impossible for me to do it all, I fail my children greatly by not requiring them to work. As I often tell them: "we all live here, so it takes all of us working together to get it done." If a child can operate the wii, iPod, or computer, he can most certainly operate the washing machine! I also remind my boys that one day they will be husbands who can bless their wives by being willing and able to help out; and the girls, that one day they will be wives and mothers, in charge of managing their own homes.
5. Find a co-op or support group. This thing called homeschooling is hard! What a blessing it is to gather with like-minded families and join in the journey. Sharing your struggles, giving a hug, or just being able to bounce ideas around makes such a huge difference. Plus, we have to give our poor, unsocialized children a chance to get together, too, right? <insert sarcasm> If there isn't a group in your area, consider starting one. Options might include a book club, field trip days, park/play dates, or even a monthly mom's night out. Just don't trod the path alone; we need each other for encouragement and support!
6. PRAY! This should actually be the very first thing we do, both before, and during, the year. I need the Lord's wisdom and guiding hand, for He sees the bigger picture, the end of the path. He alone knows the future of each of my children, and what they truly need to learn, both academically and spiritually. I need His grace and strength every day to be the teacher and mom my kids need. When I try to do it in my own strength it gets really ugly, really fast. I can have the best laid plans, the best intentions, the best curricula, but unless the Lord blesses it, I find my efforts are in vain. I will be quite honest: I struggle to keep my focus on Him and keep my priorities right. Too often I plunge through the planning or lessons, relaying mostly on myself, and asking His blessings as an afterthought. But, by The Lord's grace and patients, I'm learning to make my supplications first, and then follow His leading.
Have you discovered something that works well in helping you plan for the new year? I'd love to hear your thoughts or ideas!