It’s August … Augusta County students return to the classroom next week … and my mind wanders back to the days when I educated my children at home. This was the time of year when I would begin planning for the new school year.
Thankfully, because I was able to set our school schedule, I chose for our lessons to start back after Labor Day. Unstructured, warm summer days were for enjoying the activities that there was little time for the rest of the year when we were busy with lessons, gymnastics, baseball, soccer, co-op classes, writing club, and my leadership responsibilities within the local homeschool group.
Summer, however, was for hiking, exploring, swimming, biking, traveling, camps, visiting grandparents, sleepovers with friends, summer sports, camping, campfires, and anything else we wanted to do in the slowed pace of long days, short nights, and hot weather.
Each summer when the first of August rolled around, I would order our curriculum for the upcoming school year, and it was usually delivered within a week. Then, as the kids played outdoors in the pool on those hot August days, I would sit at the picnic table under a nearby shade tree, unpack the box of curricula, spread out my weekly lesson planner, and begin laying out our study schedule for the year.
The smell of chlorine would mix with the loud hum of cicadas buzzing in the late-summer heat while a warm breeze stirred the branches overhead. In the background was the youthful sounds of my kids splashing and squealing and doing exactly what I wanted them to do — squeeze every minute of fun out of their vacation time. It was a routine year after year after year.
With two children several years apart in age, I usually worked out the entire year’s schedule for one student before starting on the other. There would be an overall what-we-expect-to-complete for the year, and then I would break it down into first half and second half, September through May. Out of that, there was flexibility to adjust as we got into subjects.
Lesson plans were always — always — written in pencil. We had a schedule, but we also went with the flow. If a beautiful autumn day beckoned us to the mountains, I would shift subjects around to cover something we may encounter on our trip — earth science, history, geography, biology.
If butterflies came through our yard on migration, as they had often done throughout the years, we stopped to take in the wonder of that seldom-seen phenomenon as hundreds of the brightly-colored insects fluttered past.
During winter, we usually held school on snow days. But we also enjoyed our snow days so classes were usually abbreviated for a quicker exit to the yard for sledding and snowman-building and, if we stayed out late enough, bonfires.
While pulling curricula out of the shipping box while sitting at the picnic table, I made notes of extra subjects to be added, often individual lessons each child was interested in that I sometimes felt would be a better fit than the extra curricular subjects that were offered.
Both my kids always tested well above their grade levels each year but I still worried about something slipping through the cracks, and determined to do my best to avoid having that happen.
Reading was a favorite activity with my children. I have written before about our read-out-loud time  when we got lost in the world of Little House on the Prairie and numerous children’s classics and poetry when they were young. As they became older, new books entered our lives and the kids began to read more on their own … but they would indulge me when there was something I wanted to share with them.
On warm days, reading often took place outside on a blanket especially when they were little, as they squinted at ants marching through the grass or watched a bee busily gathering pollen from clover blossoms. Winter days were spent by the fireplace or wood stove, as they often stretched out on the floor with a coloring book while listening to stories of Ma and Pa Ingalls and the big storms of South Dakota.
I miss reading with my children.
Even though they have both graduated from college, those memories float to the surface at this time of year … bittersweet memories now that our school days are in the rear view mirror, and my now-adult children have households of their own. But it’s a reminder that my husband and I were willing to do whatever it took to provide a solid foundation with a good education to prepare them to spread their wings, go out into the world, and become responsible citizens.
Enjoy the waning days of summer … they will become a distant memory as the school bell rings to begin a new year of classes.
Originally published August 3, 2014 .
Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership for five years in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and for eleven years in Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin College in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and a minor in Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the shadow of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. The story of how she began her homeschool journey is told here: Back in the homeschool classroom: Blazing new trails .
Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:
– Reading out loud to our children  (July 2015)
– Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed? (April 2015)
– The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’  (February 2015)
– ’50 reasons homeschooled kids love being homeschooled’ 
– Grown son’s first home  (April 2014)
– Support group vs Co-op  (February 2014)
– Where it all began … blazing new trails  (January 2013)
– Grown son’s first home  (July 2013)
– Staying in touch with homeschool friends  (July 2013)
– New Year’s Eve  (December 2012)
– More sleep = homeschoolers happier, healthier than public school students?  (April 2013)
– Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom  (March 2013)
– Rainy days  (May 2013)
– A chance encounter  (June 2013)
– Autumn  (October 2012)
– The rain rain rain came down down down  (April 2012)
– Why we teach our own  (April 2012)
– Casey  (April 2012)
– The wedding … letting go  (September 2012)
– The pain of grief  (August 2012)
– When faced with a challenge … no whining  (April 2012)
– The simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh  (August 2012)
– First day of school  (September 2012)
– The rise of homeschooling  (February 2012)
– Hot summer days  (July 2011)
– Constitutional lessons and the Judicial branch of government (March 2012)
– Mary Baldwin commencement 2012 … SWAC Daughter graduates with honors  (May 2012)