I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Homeschool Mom, Make the Effort. Have the Fun.

Homeschool Mom, Make the effort. Have the fun.

Written by Jessica.

It’s back to school time, and that means looking at the year ahead and planning all of the teaching and learning that will take place. It means choosing the books and curriculum and topics and projects and activities that we’ll take part in. It’s a time for thinking about new beginnings, goals, and starting the year off right.

As I’ve been thinking about the school year ahead, I’ve been considering how much and how well I incorporate the “special” and the “fun” into our days. Sometimes I do jazz hands really well, and other times, not so much. I don't think I'm alone in this.

As home educators, we are usually good at checking off the big stuff: the teaching of academics, instilling character and faith development, imparting practical life skills, and the like. But home education isn’t about creating a better version of “school” at home. It’s a philosophy and a way of life, and it makes room for so much more. I want to make the most of the unique time and opportunities that homeschooling gives my family.

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While considering these things, I’ve been reflecting on how the adage, “The family that prays together, stays together” is said to be true, and how there is also much truth in this one: “The family that plays together, stays together.” Making memories and celebrating the joys of life as a family are so important in keeping families strong and in shaping children’s futures. Creating time for this shouldn’t be just an afterthought. It should be woven into our days just as intentionally as all of the other important things.

Be intentional

Like anything that we place value in, the first step to creating fun is carving out the time and planning for it. It’s really easy to get complacent in family relationships and routines. Factoring in some “special” and “fun” rather than expecting it to just happen means being intentional about it. It might mean deliberately keeping an afternoon free every week for going to a park, taking nature hikes, or going to visit grandparents. It might mean designating or naming a theme day each week for doing something that everyone enjoys (baking cookies with mom day, snack and movie afternoon, arts and crafts day). There are lots and lots of possibilities unique to every family’s interests, but the main thing is to prioritize special family time. We can't just let the days and opportunities pass us by.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot

Meaningful family fun doesn’t have to be expensive. To be sure, there is a time and a place for treats and splurges, but they shouldn't always happen. So while going out for ice cream sundaes every year on the first day of school would be fun, doing the equivalent at home can be, too. Going out for breakfast every Friday morning would be really nice, but so would having Friday as pancakes (or other “special” breakfast) day. Fancy field trips every other week would certainly be wonderful, but regularly doing free outdoor activities together would be, too. It takes some creativity and forethought, but the important thing to remember is that family fun is about being together and making memories. It doesn’t have to be about “buying” the experience.

It doesn’t always have to be complicated

Or take a long time. Or be an event. There are lots of ways to put some special and fun into ordinary days without using a lot of extra time or energy. There are many things that can, by intention, just become part of a family's routines. Maybe it’s having an afternoon tea time with read-alouds, or going outside to play for half an hour every morning to burn some energy even though there’s still more school work to be done, or starting each day with the same meaningful rhythms, or a having regular board game afternoon, or reading a new kids’ joke every day for a laugh, or learning a new song together each week for fun. Fun will look different in every family, but simple, everyday things done intentionally can have a big impact.

Homeschool Mom, Make the effort. Have the fun.

Create traditions

In our family, we have a pretty sizable, and growing list of things that we “always do” at certain times of the year. Some of these things are free, others have a small cost, but they are all things that have become traditions and that everyone looks forward to. My children know, for example, that whenever we get our first snow, no matter what we’re doing at the time, we’ll all don our coats and go outside to catch the flakes and marvel at them. They know we'll go to an orchard to pick apples every year and to a farm to take hayrides for autumn fun. They know that we’ll stay up late and have an end-of-summer campfire at my parents’ in the days before we start back to school. Holiday and seasonal traditions unique to each family are among the easiest kind of “special” and “fun” to incorporate. Over time, the things we “always do” will become some of our most meaningful memories.

Celebrate the school year

In our family, we have things that we always do on the first day and last day of school. We take pictures on the first day, the kids fill out an “all about me” questionnaire that is precious to look at year-to-year, and they make some kind of self-portrait type art. More recently, we’ve also started doing “first day of school caddies.” For the end of the school year, we always have a celebration with a special dessert and outside summer fun of their choosing. Even though it’s more about “NOT back to school!” than “Back to school!” for homeschooling families, special activities on the first and last day of school frame the year and make it special.

Know that things change

We’ve done an end of the school year celebration for every school year since we began homeschooling. I remember well that in one of those very early years, our oldest two requested chocolate chip muffins, apple slices, and cups of cold milk for their dessert treat. It touches my heart and still makes me smile to remember that (no one would request that today)! After that, there were several years of cupcakes, cakes, or ice cream sundaes with water balloon games in the backyard. This year, they wanted to do a picnic lunch at my parents’, have sundaes, and swim. As children get older some of what is special and fun to do will stay the same, and in other cases, the foundation of the tradition will stay the same but the details and specifics will change. That’s okay.

Take photos

Lots. We’ve always been a family to take a ton of photos because it wasn’t long into motherhood that I realized time goes by far too quickly. Take pictures of the first and last days of school, the milestone learning days, the ordinary ones. Take pictures of the “special” and the “fun” that you do. And then, take the time to look at them! We had the idea to put a digital photo frame on our counter. On the first day of each month, we upload a generous sampling of pictures from only that month of the year, for all of the years that the children have been born. The kids love seeing what we did in the current month in years past. It’s a wonderful conversation starter and visual reminder of the memories we’ve made, the traditions we keep, and the joys we’ve shared. It reminds the kids (and parents) of things we “always do” and gives us ideas for the future.

Make the effort 

Children grow up. Our time to enjoy, cherish, and love them while under our roofs is finite. There is a limit to the years that we have to teach and share with them all that we want them to know. Making the effort to take that field trip or go on that outing (when we don't really feel like leaving the house), to help them bake that dessert or do that craft (that’s sure to make a mess), or to take them outside or to join in their play (when we’d rather be checking off our to-do lists) makes the most of the time that we have together as a growing-up family. Our small efforts can go a long way in reinforcing some of our bigger messages about love, self-sacrifice, serving, marriage, and family.

Homeschool Mom, Make the effort. Have the fun.

At the end of our homeschooling years, I hope that my children will look back and know that we gave them a top-notch education, that we imparted our Christian heritage to them as best we could, that we taught them our values and beliefs, and that we helped them to be well-equipped for life and to be all that God has called them to be. But I also want them to remember and to be shaped by the fact that we loved each other, that we had fun together, that we laughed, that our home was a place of happiness, and that there was much joy found in our ordinary days.

So here’s to a new homeschool year filled with lots excellent learning - with plenty of special and fun mixed in!

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