As kids across the country go back to school, parents and caregivers are finding new, exciting, and creative ways to celebrate (and prepare) for another school year. Of course, every family is different, and there are a slew of back-to-school rituals to choose from. But what does back-to-school look like for kids who are homeschooled, and the families who homeschool them? Turns out, not all that different.
In the spring of 2016, there were over 2.3 million homeschoolers in the U.S., according to the National Home Education Institute (NHEI), and at least 3.4 million or more U.S. adults have been homeschooled for at least one year during their K-12 education. People who are homeschooled aren't a monolith, of course, and there are multiple ways to homeschool students. So, just like any family who sends their child to a school outside the home, families who homeschool mark the beginning of another school year in a variety of ways. And some choose not to make it at all, by either throwing "Not Back To School" celebrations or simply ignore the fact that another school year has arrived.
But for other homeschoolers, August or September is the start of a new cycle of education, and most of us mark it in many of the same ways school families do:
There are lots of ways to homeschool. Some people recreate a miniature classroom in their kitchen. Others make a tiny Montessori school in their backyard. And others head outdoors to explore whatever strikes their fancy. But, no matter how a family does their schooling (or unschooling), there are usually some kind of learning supplies involved.
Whether it's 3-ring binders and no. 2 pencils or binoculars and needle felting supplies, lots of homeschool families go back-to-school shopping. Even if their school year doesn't begin in August or September, when the back-to-school sales hit, frugal homeschool parents take advantage.
Buying New School Clothes
Kids grow, the weather changes, clothes wear out, and eventually kids need a new batch of outfits. It's common for parents to purchase a confidence-building, first-day-of-school outfit for their child to wear on that inaugural school day, and many homeschooling parents do the same.
But homeschooling sometimes comes with its own clothing requirements. For many homeschoolers, spending time outside is a big part of the learning process. For these families, back-to-school shopping might include purchasing a head-to-toe rain suit, or a child-size pair of fishing waders. For others, homeschooling is built around a traveling lifestyle, so back-to-school clothes might include a suitcase for life on the road, or a new lifejacket for spending months at sea. The shopping might look different, but there's definitely shopping involved.
Figuring Out Who's In Your Class & Who Your Teacher Is
Contrary to popular belief, homeschooling doesn't always happen at home. Lots of homeschoolers sign up for music, dance, art, theater, and sport classes, many of which are held at traditional schools. There are also classes offered by groups of parents ("homeschool co-ops"), by learning centers, or even by local pubic or charter schools. High-school age homeschoolers can often be found taking classes at a community college.
So, in August, homeschool kids, just like their schooling peers, are comparing notes on which classes they'll take, who they'll be learning with, and who their teachers are.
Feeling Excited & Nervous
While some homeschool families do schooling year-round, or make up their own schedule, many follow the schedule of their community's public schools, so they, too, start in the fall and end in the spring. And, like kids who are educated outside the home, homeschooled children can be excited and nervous this time of year. Some are excited for the new curriculum, some are a little bit scared by what the year has in store. Even if your 5-year-old child isn't leaving the house, their first encounter with a worksheet, for example, can be a big deal.
First Day Of School Pictures
I'll share a little secret with you: you don't need an excuse to take a picture of your kids. Like their public or private school counterparts, homeschooled kids are subject to the same clichéd back-to-school pictures. What can I say? Kids are cute and grandparents are constantly demanding a fresh supply of photos.
Baking Alphabet Cookies
OK, so maybe this isn't a widely known tradition, but it's one my family partakes in and it draws on a much longer tradition of celebrating the sweetness of learning. My mom baked me and my brother alphabet cookies on our first days of public school. Now, I'm baking alphabet cookies with my children as I begin another year of their homeschooling. Like all the other traditions, this one can work for any kind of education — homeschool, boarding school, neighborhood school, or anything else.
Lots of families have their own little traditions, whether it's a special breakfast, a note in the lunchbox, matching parent-child bracelets to wear, or a special book. Whatever the details, these celebrations are about celebrating learning and about the love and bond between parent and child.