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Get Ready for School

Getting Ready for the First Day

by Leigh A. Bortins
We live on a lake, so we are always sad when summer ends. At the same time, there is a sense of relief as we return to normal schedules and routines. Children rarely welcome the return to school, but you can help them adjust by preparing them to study again and by having open conversations with them about your expectations for the school year.

Start working with your children on school right now. Summer break is too long for children to have uninterrupted free time. Although I do not homeschool every subject year-round, our family continues certain school activities throughout the summer. American schoolchildren need more practice and drill in math than they receive in a standard school year. In our home, we purchase a math book from the grade they have just finished to work on over the summer. This review is critical to cementing new ideas. Very young children need lots of practice with arithmetic-addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division-to prepare them for the abstract ideas they will encounter in algebra and geometry. Students in algebra and geometry need lots of practice with new equations and vocabulary. If your child will study algebra or geometry in the coming school year, spend some time familiarizing them with the vocabulary of their new subject. Students will perform much better in algebra if they have memorized the associative, distributive, and identity laws, for example. Students will perform much better in geometry if they have memorized the names of polygons, the Pythagorean Theorem, and formulas for calculating area of a square, circle, triangle, etc. Use the glossary of a math book to have them make flash cards. It will help them to memorize this knowledge even if they do not fully understand (that will come later when they apply the knowledge in class).

Children of all ages need to read daily and to be read to daily. If you have not been practicing these habits all summer, start now. Finish the summer by reading a book aloud as a family. Our family has continued this habit all the way through high school. Reading aloud together creates a family bond of shared experiences and demonstrates the lifelong joy of reading. In addition, children should read to themselves for at least 30 minutes a day in elementary school and an hour in junior high and high school. If possible, have them pre-read some of the selections for their upcoming literature class. Reading the books twice will enrich their understanding of the books. If you take time to read the book and discuss it with them, they will be more interested in the assignment.

Delight in history together by watching documentaries and by reading or listening to history books. Our family enjoys listening to the four volumes of Story of the World. The four cycles of history covered in these audio CDs will give you and your children a basic foundation for world history. If you know that your child will study United States History or World History during the school year, focus on that country or era when you choose documentaries. These are now readily available through libraries and instant-play video services. There is a direct correlation between the interest of a parent in an academic subject and the interest of the child.

Purchase reference materials for your home. Every home should have a quality thesaurus to assist students with writing. Even though word processing software contains a built-in thesaurus, the word selections are very weak. I recommend a book like the Synonym Finder for two reasons: first, the volume and quality of recommended words is excellent; and second, students need to learn to use books as reference materials. They will learn to use online tools without prompting, but they need to be trained to use reference books properly before college. Students should also have access to an atlas. Train them to look up locations that they encounter in all of their subjects. Teaching geography as an academic subject in its own right has fallen out of favor, but you can recover this instruction at home by referencing maps together. If your child will study a foreign language next year, purchase a quality dictionary for that language even if the instructor does not require it. Finally, our family also finds it helpful to consult a history encyclopedia and a science encyclopedia to supplement our studies. Having the proper references on hand and training your children to use them will make them better students.

In addition to purchasing the correct materials, have a family meeting to discuss expectations for the school year. Set goals with your children so that you give them a focus for the year. Discuss your expectations for school work and chores for the year. Discuss extracurricular activities and how they will fit into the study schedule. Work on the schedule with older children so that they begin to take responsibility for managing their time. Establish an evening routine with bedtimes appropriate for the age of your children. As you give older children new responsibilities for the year, give them new privileges as well. Allowing them to work on a schedule with you and giving them new responsibilities and privileges each year moves them a step closer to responsible adulthood.  
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Meet Our Expert
Leigh A. Bortins
Leigh A. Bortins is the founder and CEO of Classical Conversations, Inc. and host of the weekly radio show, Leigh At Lunch! She is also the author of The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education. She lectures about the importance of home education nationwide. Ms. Bortins lives with her family in West End, North Carolina. Her website is

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