Parenting Guru: Back-to-school tips for homeschoolers

I made the decision to homeschool my four-year-old daughter this fall instead of sending her to a conventional preschool system. Several factors played a role in my decision: the cost of private pre-K, my success homeschooling her last year, and the simple desire to let my daughter enjoy her early childhood a little longer. This summer has been one of laziness and relaxation-- of skipped baths, extra TV time, swimming, and long days at the playground. I know it's just a matter of time before I have to prepare my daughter to get ready for another year of homeschooling. Here's how we're preparing.

Get serious.

As the summer wanes to a close, you'll have to get your own act together. Are you ready to be a parent, educator, and (possibly) a member of the paid workforce? Get ready to say good-bye to sleeping in, lax schedules, and lenient rules. Even for homeschooling families, the summer is over when it's over. Once you've established the first day of school, get real about focusing on your child's education.

...But not too serious.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that is provides children with a much more friendly and flexible environment than a mainstream school setting. So, while back-to-school is a time to start focusing seriously on your child's education and emphasizing learning over laziness, it's important to still have fun. Trips to the playground, walks in the woods, and melting popsicles don't have to be a thing of the past just because your homeschool is back in session.

Re-Organize Your Time

Summer is all about unscheduled fun for kids, but it's important to help your kids switch modes as you prepare them to go back to homeschool. Set a schedule and work with it. Even children on a flexible curriculum still need to have a regular bed time, play time, and learning time during the school year. The same is true for homeschooling parents. Get your own schedule organized so you can lead your kids into an organized school year.

Reclaim Your Home

Over the course of a summer, a home is likely to resemble a large indoor playground more than a school. This sort of jungle-gym environment is not conducive to learning, since it tends to be full of distractions. It also isn't conducive to teaching, since a cluttered home claims much of a parent's time. At the end of the summer, do a thorough cleaning of your home. Reorganize or remove anything that hinders learning. Make sure that at least one room in the house serves as a viable classroom setting.

Pre-Plan Your Lessons

Have your entire year's curriculum planned, but flexible, before the summer ends. On-the-fly lesson plans can be advantageous for several age groups and learning styles, but you should know in advance what your plans are. Have all workbooks, textbooks, and unit plans ready in advance and adapt them as needed. If you plan to work with a free-form, unschooling, Waldorf, or Montessori style learning pattern, do so with set goals and intentions.

Back-to-school time is exhilarating and stressful for all parents, but it presents additional challenges to homeschooling families. What are you doing this fall to prepare yourself and your homeschooled kids for fall?

Juniper Russo is a freelance writer living in Chattanooga, Tenn. When she's not busy homeschooling her dinosaur-obsessed four-year-old, she writes about a diverse array of topics including parenting, science, health, and green living.