Here in Australia we have a week or so before everyone officially heads back to school. Though our family doesn’t necessarily go by that calendar it does make me aware the year is ticking over. When we go shopping we are surrounded by “back to school essentials” as they sell uniforms, backpacks, lunch boxes, shoes, book lists etc. As a homeschooler many of those items aren’t necessary but the words “back to school essentials” caught my attention.

What are the essentials for school – or study as it is in our case – for this year to be a successful year? If you were to give this some consideration you may well come up with three different ideas (and I encourage you to do that) but for me they are: Character, Space, Routine.

1–Character is the quality of response we have to people or situations.
The people our children will face in the coming year are – us their teacher, their siblings, other adults who teach them, other kids they learn alongside of, online interactions, younger homeschool kids, parents of friends, people in business, people at church, people on the street. How do my children respond to these people? With kindness, respect, obedience, patience, virtue?The situations our kids will face in the coming year are – study at home, chores at home, relational time at home, creative time at home, church, interaction with interests groups (sports and drama), play dates, shopping and other business interactions, etc. How will my children respond to those situations? With joyfulness, responsibility, dependability, punctuality?

So as I plan for the coming year parents can ask themselves:  Can I see gaping holes in their responses – do I foresee gaping holes in their responses. Now is the time to work on those. If you were to hit every lack you see in your child’s life this week not only would the child be completely overwhelmed so would you!! That is not what training our kids is about – but instead choose one key response you would like to work on and talk about it, find situations where they can practice that, commend them for their growth and good choices. Keep that response in the front of your mind, and theirs, over the next little while. In a few weeks, start working on another. I find it takes a month of talking, practising it and praying about our responses, before the knowledge moves from head, to heart, to hands (life). Take time to observe and plan what lessons are necessary but only teach one at a time.

2–Space: Over the next two weeks many teachers will be thinking about how to make their ‘space’ stimulating. We need to be doing this at home too – though I don’t think that means lots of posters on the walls and things hanging from the ceiling. I have tried to maintain that my home is my home, it isn’t a classroom. But at the same time, lots of learning goes on here. Learning happens in my kitchen, lounge room, dining room, laundry, bathroom, guest room, office, family room, and bedrooms. The whole house is a space for learning.

Though each of my children have varying talent for keeping things in order I did notice that each of them learn better when they have order around them. Not military starkness but a homely orderliness. During each of our study breaks I get the kids to spend a few hours (or a day, depending on the need!) to get their desks – their space – in order and then another day getting their creative cupboard in order (a place where they keep the tools and materials for their individual pursuits).  Looking back I wish I had spent this time decluttering the homeschooling supplies – if I did this each year I wouldn’t have been left with a overwhelming task at the end of 18 years!!

Teaching the kids to maintain order is a part of family life. Two aspects are key: to put away their toys, games, equipment when they are finished – before they move on and having regular chore times where the whole family cleans and maintains the home. Both these aspects of training help our children take responsibility for order in their life.

3–Routine looks very different in different people’s lives, it even looks different in different seasons of life. The idea of routine is that you have order in how you spend your time, that there is purpose for your days and that the important things are getting done. I am not naturally an orderly, structured, routine person but I knew when I was first married if I was going to achieve the things that I wanted to achieve I needed to have routine, I needed to establish some habits.

Now is a good time to think about what you want to happen in your day and to break up your day into different blocks of time to achieve those things. In our family we want to have time for relationships (time to be with each other), time to look after our home and possessions (chores), time for learning and getting things done (focus time), time to pursue our interests and time to just relax. These things then give structure to our day – we find the best time throughout the day to get these priorities happening. Then we do that, day in and day out and voila! You have a routine!!

Now is also a good time to consider what makes it hard for your plans to actually happen. Do you have too much in your day, have you moved on with your kids growing up, have you made allowances for the different ages in your family and their different needs, have you been real about the outside commitments you have. Are you simply just slack – and need more accountability to make it happen. Think through these things now, so that you can start to work on them.

Teaching our kids to respond to people appropriately, to look after their space and to establish healthy routines are all a part of a whole life education – we should not be pressured to hit the books if these areas are out of control. These things establish the framework for healthy growing and learning and we need to give them due consideration.

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