Episode 96: Putting Last Year’s School to Bed!

It happens every year around this time- the school year is winding down! And with that comes the excitement of finishing the current school year, heading to the Homeschool Convention to prep for the upcoming year and a well-deserved break! One of the hallmarks of finishing any endeavor well is a thorough evaluation- what worked and what didn't! This week, we're focusing on putting last year's school to bed with a hearty end of year evaluation.

This week's episode is sponsored by For the Record!

For the Record

Spring is a great time to evaluate how the year went, as well as to take care of any homeschool Record Keeping you need to do; be that for State Regulations, upcoming college applications or simply YOUR peace of mind!

No matter what level of rigor your student is doing, For the Record will put your mind at ease. This book is filled with exclusive insight, actionable information, and even sample calculations — everything you need to successfully evaluate your teen’s homeschool work and feel good about the grades you put onto the transcript.

So don’t be intimidated — you CAN do this, and Ann will show you how in this quick and practical how-to guide.

Ready? You can listen below or read the Transcript!

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Lisa Nehring: Hi, this is Lisa Nehring, and you are listening to episode 96 of the It’s Not that Hard to Homeschool High School podcast.

Let's talk about how to evaluate today! Hey everybody. This is Lisa from It’s Not that Hard to Homeschool, and we are here with another episode of the podcast. I'm so glad you're joining me. It has been quite a winter, hasn't it? I don't know where you live, but where I live, it's been long, cold, and lots of snow involved, so I'm ready to wrap up the school year and get on to summer. How about you? One of the things I started doing years ago as we homeschooled was really do an evaluation at the end of the school year. What worked? What didn't work? What did we really love to do? What did we not love to do? How were the kids doing?

In many ways, just like I planned for the year ahead, I assessed the year behind so I could really spend my time and money in a way that really capitalized on both. School is almost over, not quite yet. We've got a couple of more weeks to go, but we so far have had a great year. We've all learned a ton. We've made some really great friends and had amazing memories. We have read a lot of good books. How about you?

Before we hit the summer schedule, let's just wrap up last year. How do I do that? It's pretty straightforward. No rocket science involved. I like to keep things simple.

How did the year go? First of all, evaluate how the year went:

  • What curriculum worked for us?
  • What curriculum did we actually use?
  • What did we love? What did we like?
  • What did we tolerate?
  • What did we not like?
  • What did we want to get rid of?
  • What did we not even touch?
  • What did we want to burn?

Think through all of it. Evaluate it to move forward well.

If it's just sitting on your shelf and not getting used, it's of no use to you. [laughs] Let's face it. We have all bought curriculums that just sits on the shelf and stares down at us throughout the year, providing a really robust guilt trip for us. Look, as moms, we already have enough guilt in life. If the curriculum is not working for you, resell it, give it away, gift it to somebody who can't afford curriculum this year, put it near your compost. Just get rid of it. Get it off your shelf. You don't need the clutter. You don't need the mental clutter. You don't need the guilt trip.

Did the curriculum work for your kids? Did it actually get used regularly enough to be beneficial? If you used it three times and you learned the one lesson you needed out of it, are you ready to move it along? It's really important to evaluate that. Sometimes we buy curriculum thinking we'll use the whole thing, and sometimes we just need a lesson out of it. I've actually done that where I've actually purchased curriculum, we've done one or two things in it, we got really what we needed out of it. Then it was time to just move it along.

You don't have to do all the curriculum. Guess what homeschoolers? You have the freedom you need to use the curriculum or give it away. When you evaluate, you get a clear idea of what you need to keep and what you don't.

Let's move on to evaluate extracurriculars.

  • Were there any you were involved in that were too time-consuming
  • too rigorous
  • too expensive
  • just straight-up a waste of time?
  • Did you do extracurriculars that actually added to your plan in your overall life
  • did they detract from your plan in overall life?

Just like curriculum, sometimes there are extracurriculars, there for a short season, sometimes there for a long season. Again, it can help to evaulate what worked and what did not work as you wrap up your school year.

I always thought I would get into homeschooling, I would find activities, and we would just do them forever but we have 5 kids ranging over 16 years. By the time my youngest was really in high school, my older kids were out of the house. By the time she was in elementary school, I had kids in college. We'd moved actually across the country. We were doing totally different things as far as extracurriculars and things that we did for fun. My whole plan about finding the one thing, the one perfect thing, are you looking for that too? [laughs] It just never worked out for us. I've given up on it.

Sometimes we just use things for short seasons. Sometimes they are longer. I appreciate those too but if your extracurriculars aren't working for you or they cost too much time or they cost too much money, let's face it. Sometimes we've been involved in extracurriculars, they have really stretched us financially and we just decided that we didn't want that pressure. We didn't see our kids really developing passions out of those things, we didn't really see it being a long-term benefit, and because of the extra money pressure, we just decided not to do it or sometimes we were just driving way too far.

We live in a country and sometimes the drive was really not even worth it. Now, on the other hand, sometimes the drive really was worth it. You just have to weigh that out. What social events provided healthy social interactions? I hate to say this, but even in the homeschool community, you can be in social situations that are negative, that aren't really that positive for you or your kids. You got to just really weigh those out. Is it really worth it for us to be part of this? Just think through all that.

Let's evaulate co-ops and online classes and other outsourced programs?

  • Did they work
  • did they deliver what you expected?
  • Did they deliver something that you didn't expect both either negative or positive?
  • Were they worth the time
  • planning effort it took to participate?

We've been involved in co-ops in class days. We really got to the point where we used co-ops as extracurriculars, like the art, the PE, the things that we needed groups for music, choir, that kind of thing but we didn't use them for our academics because they just didn't provide what we wanted and needed for academics.

We were involved with some academic class days that did and really appreciated those for a season. I will say the same thing for our online classes too. We were involved with online programs for 12 years at this point, I think. Some of the early ones, we were in one group. Two of the teachers were unbelievable. They were phenomenal. One of them was just a total dud. It can vary by program, it can vary by teacher. Just be aware, do your due diligence, do your research, and then evaluate, “Is this really what we want to put our money in time and effort towards?”

What programs, events, activities, sports, are you going to continue? What are you going to get rid of? Again, you're just evaluating what worked well. Not just academics, not just curriculum, but the church activities, the sports activities, the co-ops, the classes, the online programs. Just evaluate all of it. It's really a good time to do it at the end of the year. If you do year-round schooling, just find a time. When do you do the bulk of your curriculum shopping or whatever, if you do?

Let's evaulate how well you were able to systemize:

  • what programs
  • events
  • activities
  • sports

Can you systematize anything? It could be as something as simple as just having two simple lunches that you eat throughout the week and your kids know they get to either pick A or B, something that simple.

Systematizing a morning gathering. That's what we did. Even when our kids were in high school, we all gathered at 9:00 AM. They had to have breakfast, and their chores done. I didn't care when they got up in the morning as long as they were ready to sit down at 9:00 AM in the living room together. Then we just did a morning gathering and we would do our divos, read-alouds, memory work together. Maybe it's systematizing something else like once a month cooking or book shopping or shopping online.

I actually do a lot of shopping online at this point, and honestly, I don't really love to do it but if I just set aside a time once a month, and do it all at once, I get it out of the way. You know you can have those auto shipments happening now. Just make sure you don't put on auto-ship something you don't want. I recently got a package in the mail and I'm like, “What on earth is this?” Somehow I'd put something on auto-ship I didn't really need that much of. Systematizing can really help make things more simple and straightforward, and allow you to have time to do that amazing readout together you wanted to get to.

Also just think about do you need to shift priorities in the coming year? Our kids grow and change as they go through ages and stages and that's fantastic, but last year we might have been really working with our pre-reader and they took off this year. Your priorities are going to shift. What are you prioritizing this coming year that you had to really pay attention to or not pay attention to last year? Just good things to think about. Sometimes we have kids who have learning disabilities or are medically fragile and that priority is just going to be a long-term priority.

Evaluate how you can manage the other important needs of your life around the non-negotiables. How do we systematize things so that doesn't consume our life, if possible? Every season brings with it new blessings and new challenges. What's a crisis this year might be settled by next. Just think through what are the priorities, what are your academic priorities, what are your kids' physical priorities, social, spiritual. We're all complex human beings.

Learning how to evaulate how you manage the priorities in your home will help you achieve the goals that are important to you. So much to think about. That was step one. [laughs] I got a couple of other steps for you, but step one is just evaluating how the year went. Then step two is sorting and organizing. I like to sort through papers, notebooks, curriculums, books, DVDs at least once a year. We live in the far north, so we have what we call winter lockdown. It's really cold so we don't have our windows and doors open. We have everything shut down and warmed up so we can survive the winter.

At the end of the winter, we sort through everything. Books and curriculum that we're not going to use literally I sell or donate or I compost it. Crunchy Mama right here. I'm not opposed to composting a curriculum you're done with or you don't want to use anymore. The stuff I keep, I clean it up and put it back on the bookshelves. The memories I want to keep- We did a blog for years. My kids have made scrap scrapbook. We've made yearbooks, the printable yearbooks. Those have been really fun.

I would just say journal it somehow. Journal what you've done for the year. You've probably created some really great memories. At least parts of it and you want to remember it. Then I like to go through clothes and winter gear while we're at it because the kids grow at the speed of sound year after year. Whatever we're not going to use or we've outgrown, move it along.

  • Number one is evaluate how the year went.
  • Number two is sort and organize.
  • Number three, teacher training.

Hey, you're a teacher, you're an educator. Plan on a homeschool conference, convention, or parent practicum and get recharged. I don't know about you, but when you're homeschooling, you have a couple of jobs. You're the manager, but you're also the task-doer and so you're the decision maker, but you're also the hands-on deck. That can be exhausting because you have so much to juggle and prioritize all the time.

Getting yourself to homeschool conference or convention can really make the difference between just feeling like you don't even want to face your house or your kids anymore to being ready to go again, but really, teacher training, y'all. Determine an area you want to build your own copiousness in this year and make a plan for doing it. I'll be honest, one year I really wanted to learn Latin. I just really wanted to learn it and I did. I learned it by teaching it to a group of willing families and then I taught it online for a few years.

My kids actually went farther than I did. It was really a fun, joyful study. We love language, we love wordplay, so it was a lot of fun for all of us to do together. I also spent a year just really trying to dig deep into logic. That was a little bit challenging. Find one thing that you want to learn as a teacher, as an educator, and share that with your kids. I say it all the time, but

You are your child's best resource.

Lisa Nehring

There's another movement in reading circles where you find an author and they're your author, mentor for the year and I love that idea because I don't just read books like I find a book and I like it. I find an author and I read everything they've ever written [laughs]. That might be something you want to do this year. Find an author that you're really intrigued by and read a number of books that they've written this year and just see how far you get. That could be really fun. You might want to do that with your kids.

You might even want to start a book club. Don't forget to add in some fun and breaks for you during your regularly scheduled programming so that you feel refreshed and ready for what's next. That's number three. Teacher training. Number four. Look ahead. Make a list of curriculum supplies you need to check out and purchase. Now, I love to plan [laughs].

I'm going to be honest, I really enjoy planning. I like thinking through what we're going to do. I like thinking academically. I like planning out what's ahead. I like thinking through curriculum, but I don't really enjoy curriculum shopping. If I haven't been able to get my hands on it, I really like to see it and touch it because the layout is important to me. I'll tell you why. I worked for a third of the 30 years that we homeschooled and really, I like open and go curriculum. I don't like to plan lesson plans, that's not my deal. I like to know what I'm doing and I like to get into it.

I really got down to the point where I only looked at like three or four curriculum suppliers, and those suppliers were people who had open-and-go curriculum. It was fairly academic. I knew I could count on them. It was not visually overwhelming because I have some very visual kids and sometimes the overwhelming print on the page could just short them out. Yes, open and go was my deal if you love lesson planning and you like to really get into the weeds, think about that. What kind of curriculum do you want to use? The other thing and this is just me, but it might be a helpful tip for you guys.

I really over-planned every year. I did a big brainstorming session for every year. I put down everything I thought we could possibly fit in. Field trips, trips, books, curriculum, how many read-alouds? How many books would my kids read on their own? How many sports and activities and extracurriculars could we fit in? I would dream big, and then I would just over plan, what can we fit in? Then, like life. It didn't work out, so then we would just go with the flow, but that might not be your deal.

Maybe you like to start small and build from there, whatever works for you. Make a list if that's helpful to you, and then check out the stuff that you want to buy either at a friend's curriculum, review, open house, we've done that several times. We'd get like 30 or 40 homeschoolers in the area, or just open it up to your group, and say, “Hey, bring your favorite curriculum or your favorite two or three for the year and come. Be ready to do a two to five-minute spiel on it, you're not selling anybody, we're just sharing.”

Then have it there for people to look through, that can be really super helpful to other people in your group, and it might be a way for you to sell or give away some of the stuff.

One of the things that I've really come to appreciate was beginning and end dates to our school year. We did do year-round schooling for quite a while, but it left us all feeling like we were just really on a never-ending hamster wheel. We never really felt like, “Okay, we're done.”

Maybe that's just us, but just a tip that we found was we would start at the end of summer, we would go pretty hard and fast and not take a lot of breaks until Christmas break, take like three to four weeks off at Christmas, start again early mid-January, and just hit it hard till the end of April or early May and be done. Part of that does have to do with the fact that we live in the Far North, and so when winters here, there's no reason to not be inside and doing homeschool and reading the books and sitting by the fire and doing all the things.

Once it's summer out, we wanted to be outside gardening and riding bikes and all those kinds of things, but that worked for us. If you like year-round homeschooling, definitely do that. I really found that setting a yearly academic schedule of 30 to 36 weeks really helped us feel like we got more done, we felt better about what we did get done. We actually started looking forward to what was ahead instead of feeling like we were never ever done with school. That again, is another area for you to evaluate and determine what works best for your family!

Okay, those are my tips for putting the school year to bed. I hope they were helpful for you. Remember, evaluate how the school year went, sort and organize your materials and supplies, get some teacher training for yourself, and then look ahead. This is Lisa with It's Not That Hard to Homeschool. Hey, it's not that hard to homeschool. Till next time guys, stay awesome.

Lisa Nehring
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