Back to school blues? Not for homeschooled kids

It's pretty hard to miss the back-to-school hype. Stores and commercials hawk back-to-school sales. Neighborhood kids -- and parents! -- count down the days 'til the first day of school with a combination of excitement and dread. An air of breathless, frenzied anticipation circles the end of August/beginning of September. But what if your kids don't actually go back to school? What if your kids go to school at home?

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Your kids don't have to miss out on the back-to-school excitement just because they don't attend a traditional school. Here are some tips to help you get your school year off to a good start.

Take advantage of sales

You might not have an official school supply list, but there's no reason you can't take advantage of the plethora of back-to-school sales. Families who learn at home find late summer a great time to stock up on school and art supplies. "We use back-to-school sales to stock up on the essentials while they're at rock bottom prices," says Kris Bales, author of "Homeschooling 101" and "Hands-On Learning." "On the list is always composition books, pencils, glue sticks, 3X5 index cards, glue sticks, and crayons, whether we need them or not, because who can resist brand-new crayons?"

I always stock up on notebooks, pens, markers and glue sticks. And instead of putting the stash out all at once, I keep some supplies stored up in the attic, ready to pull out mid-year when the markers have gone dry and the pens of have gone missing.

Not-back-to-school

For years, my family kicked off the school year with a not-back-to-school picnic. We joined other homeschool families at a local park and celebrated our freedom from strict schedules by spending the day outdoors. We played games, we connected and we made plans for the upcoming school year. Kids scampered over playground equipment while moms scoured local theater catalogs, planned recurring park days and brainstormed creative learning activities. (A medieval meal, anyone?)

Other homeschool families mark not-back-to school by waving at passing school buses or driving past the neighborhood school on the way to a fun activity. Kids love these small declarations of freedom -- and so do most parents.

Make it special

Your child might attend school at home, but that doesn't mean the first day of school has to be just another day at home. Bales goes out of her way to make the first day of school a special day for her three kids. "The very first year we ever homeschooled, we started with a field trip to the historic district of our town," Bales says. "Other years, we started with a pool/pizza party."

If your budget (or schedule) doesn't allow for an outing, spice things up at home. "At the very least, I try to make a favorite meal," Bales says. "This year, it was macaroni and bacon casserole. There's something about a favorite lunch that takes the sting out of the end of summer break." Linzey Seiber, a Cinncinati-based homeschool mom, makes a special breakfast for her kids on the first day of school.

Mark the occasion

Remember your mom taking pictures at the front door each year on the first day of school? You can do the same, even if the kids' school is at home. "I take a billion pictures," Seiber says. Each year, she takes photos of her kids in the same location, to document their growth and changing appearances.

For extra-special memories, hand your camera to the kids. It's fun to see the first day through their eyes!

Have some fun

You might be tempted to dig right into the curriculum, but make an effort to have some fun on the first day -- especially if this is your first year of at-home learning. "If your kids have been in public school, make an effort to get homeschooling off to an exciting start, since they're likely to be missing their friends and the familiar routine of school," Bales advises. "The first year we homeschooled, I made it a point to start a week after the public schools did, because the idea of an extra-long break really appealed to my oldest. Then, we started the year off with a bang, by taking a fun field trip related to our first history topic of the year."

Ease into a routine

No one says you have to cover every subject on the first day. Most teachers don't! Instead, start with the core subjects, or start with your student's favorite subject. Adding in the other subjects over the next few weeks will give you (and your students) time to adapt to the new schedule.

"Don't feel like you've got to jump into everything all at once," Bales says. Take your time and enjoy the freedom that comes with learning at home instead.

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