by Katie Julius

September looms. First day of school photos fill your social media feed. School supplies have been picked over in the stores. You feel behind. You feel unprepared. You feel overwhelmed. You feel defeated. And you haven’t even started your school year yet.

As homeschool parents, one of the great freedoms we have is being able to set our own schedules. This is usually a blessing. We can take breaks when it’s convenient for us, plan around vacations or important celebrations, or step away when everyone isn’t feeling well or there’s a major change in our lives.

But sometimes, this freedom can cause negative feelings to creep in as we watch the world around us start school on a traditional timeframe and in a seemingly “picture-perfect” way. Whether it be a new school outfit, the gorgeously handwritten sign for the front-door photos, or the perfectly curated supplies or stack of curriculum, we can sometimes struggle, playing the never-can-win comparison game.

Please don’t get me wrong. If all of those things bring you joy and are a blessing to you and your family, continue with them. There’s nothing wrong with doing those things. But, if you are up at 3:00 a.m. finishing your curriculum purchases or lesson prep or frantically searching for where you put that “first day of school” sign a year ago–a search that’s creating a flurry of frustration and stress not just for you, but your kids also–take a deep breath and read on.

Savor Summer

First, you are on your own timeline, no one else’s. We don’t start school until the Tuesday after Labor Day. One year early in our homeschool journey, we started in August. We were so busy with the preparations and planning happening for the extracurriculars outside our home and the end-of-summer activities, that we ended up getting very little done.

Now, we savor these last days of summer. Most of our local schools are back in session by mid-August. Without the distraction of academics, we are able to really enjoy the last few weeks of August and early September at the beach, parks, and other outdoor activities while the weather is still warm, and without the crowds of June and July.

Set Aside a Planning Day

I usually have all of my curriculum by mid-August. I’ve done my research, looked through samples at convention, and made my purchases. But, I usually just stash them all in our play/school room or my office when they arrive. Then, as the start of our school year approaches, I plan a day that I devote to pulling out everything I bought, organizing our school space, and planning or preparing anything that I need for the first few weeks or so. I usually make a list of possible field trip opportunities and how those would fit in with our year. 

I don’t plan out every single day, or even each week. It’s more a chance for me to remind myself of the decisions I made about curriculum and what our schedule is going to look like. I try to do this on a day when my husband will be home, so that he can be in charge of my daughter and I can focus without interruptions.

Skip the Extras

While having traditions and rituals can be exciting, they’re not necessary, especially if they cause you unnecessary stress or create a negative atmosphere in your home. Taking a photo of your kids on the first day of school doesn’t need to be elaborate. Have them stand on your porch, in the living room, in the kitchen … wherever you have a space, and just take the photo.

Pancakes shaped like letters and numbers are great, if you enjoy cooking breakfast each morning. In our house, it’s usually a toasted bagel or a bowl of cereal. That’s okay, too!

Again, there’s nothing wrong with doing these fun traditions with your kids as long as they don’t cause an undue burden on you.

Just Start

I suffer from procrastination paralysis. I don’t know that it is any kind of official term, but to me, it means that I keep putting things off because I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I think it is or the amount of time it will take. Usually, once I start it, it ends up not being as much as I thought, but I’m also usually doing it under pressure as a deadline looms, and it also is not my best.

I am an over-planner and perfectionist as well. I can easily spend hours and hours planning everything perfectly. Whether it’s Pinterest, Instagram, or just an Excel spreadsheet I’m trying to make match what I have in my head, I often spend more time planning and organizing than the activity itself takes.

To anyone with similar tendencies, I urge you (and myself) to just start. Pick a date that you are going to start school and start that day, even if you don’t feel like you’re ready. It will never be perfect. You will never be 100% ready. And even if you think you are, something will happen that you will need to change your plans anyway! You can tweak things as you go. You can add extra projects later if you have the time. The important thing is just start when you say you’re going to start.

Discipleship is the Goal

Remember the reason you homeschool. It is not just to teach them about history or science or even how to read. As Christian home educators, the goal is to grow disciples of Jesus. We can do that by presenting a Christian worldview in their curriculum or the activities we choose to be involved in. But more importantly, we do that by the way we live our lives.

Creating a stress-filled environment leading up to the start of the school year by trying to do “all the things” is not God-honoring. God is not a God of chaos. He is the God of peace. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Trust Him to guide you this year, not your color-coded planner.