Schools across the country are open. I know this because my local big box stores have huge layouts of pencils, rulers, paper and notebooks. The current trends of Hannah Montana and Batman are seen emblazoned on everything from clothes to lunchboxes. Near these displays, the stores have made copies of my local schools’ ‘Need to Buy’ lists. You know these lists, the ones letting the parents know what is and what is not needed or expected for each grade. On a recent trip for some groceries I picked up the lists of the schools my children would attend. Would, that is, if they weren’t homeschooled.
It was an enlightening experience taking a look at what local elementary, middle and high schools required. Now, admittedly, we homeschoolers can be a prideful lot, can’t we? After all, what can schools teach us about education? Did we not take our children from these same, said schools? Didn’t we do the necessary homework, so to speak, to realize homeschooling was best for our family? Why would we ever want to take advice from a system we have already rejected?
Maybe we don’t, but it is fascinating to take a peek into what they are doing as I do the same. I will be actively schooling 6 children this year from 9th grade down to kindergarten; as a result I will have one in high school, one in middle school and four in elementary. Taking a look at these lists revealed both what we have in common and what we don’t. And while I may not want to use the same materials or duplicate their lessons plans there a few things that I (and other homeschoolers) ought to have in common before we begin our own school year.
Paper and pencils are on every list for every grade. I agree wholeheartedly here. Each child should have pencils to call their own and paper that is fresh and clean. New paper calls out for words, ideas and stories. A sharp pencil makes writing easier and there don’t seem to be many children who don’t love making marks on a paper. They may not be legible but they are there.
Notebooks or binders? Composition books or wire-bound? In my hometown, it depends on the teacher and the grade level. In my home, I have children of every stripe. Some prefer to use binders while one of my daughters loves the black and white marbles composition books and another prefers single subject notebooks. I let them choose, variety being the spice of life and homeschool.
The lists also include the to-be-expected crayons, colored pencils and markers. Elementary students need the crayons (12 pack only) and perhaps colored pencils depending on the students’ grade. Not a single middle-schooler needs crayons, just the colored pencils while the high schoolers are recommended both. No crayons in high school? Not allowed or not expected? What about art class (that is if the school still offers art class)?
Other expected, run-of-the-mill basics were seen on almost every list — the scissor-and-ruler variety. Higher grades needed high-level calculators in addition to compasses and grid paper. The list also included, depending on the grade, such things as index cards or glue and/or glue sticks. Some grades specify the color of pens and how many (five blue, one black and one in red — for correcting the many mistakes they will make I assume).
The rest of the lists was just as interesting. Some were very explicit as to, for example, the type of folder, how many and in what color. There was exacting detail in some grades in what was required. The lists of almost all of the grades asked for a specific number of tissue boxes (even down to brand and type), bottles of hand disinfectant, and paper towels. Some, oddly enough, required both pint and quart sized zip-close bags. Knowing that school budgets are really tight every where, even in my kitchen table school, I understand most of those requests except the baggies.
I also found the things that are not allowed very revealing. No “Trapper Keepers” or any type of zipper binders. No mechanical pencils or pencil boxes. Pencil bags, yes, pencil boxes, no. No offensive slogans and no alcoholic advertising. Again, the beer ads I can understand but what is the problem with Trapper Keepers? Are they are hazard to young people or it is the concern about what might be hidden behind the zipper?
My high schooler was eager to see that a lap-top is recommended for her grade and higher. The fact that this list came from the local office supply store selling the recommended lap-tops did not sway her from asking for one. I told her that she will get one — after I get one!
So, as a result of perusing the lists I was once again confirmed in my call to homeschool. Getting ready for school in my house will be less hectic knowing I don’t need to go out and buy two dozen tissue boxes. I am not against tissues in my house, but we’ve found that toilet paper works just as well in a pinch and hand disinfectant is also not needed as we are within walking distance of two bathrooms (no hall passes required).
However, while I am restocking on many of the same items listed, such as the paper and pencils already mentioned, I can’t help but wonder about my binder-loving 6th grader (and others like him) in a class that allows only three-subject wire-bound notebooks and file folders (two pocket, no prongs allowed). Is it possible that limits and restrictions on what kids use to learn might not affect how well they learn?
As I am not a complete snob, there are a few school ideas that I do plan on duplicating in my homeschool — almost exactly. First off, teacher planning days. These are essential to every good homeschool and I will readily admit that I enjoy taking off a Friday or Monday from actually teaching my kids to review my lesson plans (so to speak, as I don’t actually do formal lesson plans for each child). These are regularly scheduled days to make sure I am actually doing what I said I wanted to do. Ensuring I am staying on track helps guarantee my children will stay on track as well. And every kid enjoys an unexpected day off school. Hey, you might even want to plan one with another mom and make it a play day so you can have an hour or two at your desk alone.
Secondly, field trips are another essential. It is vital to everyone’s state of mind, attitude and stress level to take a trip out of the school (house) and see the world. Make a monthly trip to the park, a local museum or potato chip factory. Get out of the house once in a while, watch your kids learn from someone else, see them in action in public and be proud. Again, doing this with another family makes it more enjoyable but if you are alone in your town don’t let that stop you from calling the local police department and see if your kids can come in.
Conferences are the third requirement. The conferences between the principal (my husband) and myself are an important key to our happy homeschool. Be sure to make regular plans to date during the school year. Keeping the relationship you have with your spouse healthy and vibrant is crucial. You can talk about how the school and kids are doing, but I also think that talking about anything but the school and the kids is even more important!
And don’t forget the parent/teacher conferences. Seriously. Take time during the year to have a chat with your kids about how well they are doing, how proud you are of their work and where they need to improve. Get the principal involved in this conference as well. Hearing how proud both of you are will make your children beam (handing out gold stars is optional).
But also be brave enough to take a look at yourself with a parent’s eye. How would you measure up if you were not the parent but only your child’s teacher? What bad habits or even sin patterns do you display as a homeschooling parent that you would never accept from a teacher? Not easily admitted are they?
None to worry though because Jesus provides us as parents/teachers and children/ students with the truly, absolutely necessary supplies we need to make it through the school year. Be sure to add Confession and Mass to your “before the school year starts” list. Do an examination of conscience based on the school year and what sins you know always cause havoc around the table or desks. Make a plan to go to Mass (perhaps even Daily Mass) as a family and offer yourselves and your family up to a new school year. Commit yourselves to the protection of a few saints — St. Paul, in this his holy year or St. Thomas Aquinas and every homeschooler’s favorite mother/teacher St. Elizabeth Ann Seton — to watch over you and your children. With their help and protection, you will do just fine, even if all of your kids don’t have the required allotment of clear, plastic report covers and you have no reason to use highlighters.