Back To School Prep

When our oldest daughter was wrestling with some emotional struggles half way through third grade, my husband and I decided that homeschooling might be a better fit for her. We finished out the year at home and happily witnessed a jump in her self-confidence and enjoyment in learning. Yes! We knew we made the right choice for her.

But what about her little sister? Kids’ personalities and needs at different stages are so unique, and choices about their education have to be unique, too. We’ve found that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any family. As a social butterfly with a teacher she adores and a need to have some space from her overshadowing big sister, public school is where our middle kid is headed for first grade.

This untypical situation leaves us with a back-to-school prep season unlike any we’ve experienced before. Some things have stayed the same: the thrill of starting something new, an eagerness to get back to routine, wanting to pull my hair out from nonstop sibling bickering and “I’m bored” complaints. But the school year preparations – those are very different.

Where The Dough Goes

We’ve spent more money on books than clothes for our homeschooler. We’re just not as concerned about switching out her faded, well-loved summer grubs for a shiny new look. Instead, most of the back-to-school budget goes towards carefully chosen curriculum that fits our daughter’s interests, subject level and learning style. We’ll fill in the wardrobe gaps as needed with the changing seasons (and probably pay less doing it), but for now, her grass-stained knees are welcomed in class.  Our younger daughter, however, will look a little more polished come September.

Home school curriculum  sara hm school4

It should be noted that there’s a wide variety of teaching methods and philosophies when it comes to homeschooling. Many parents choose to piece together their own unit studies or lessons using mostly free resources (libraries and the internet are godsends), field trips, projects and more.  That has been my own approach in the past, but this year I’m hoping to scale back my lesson-planning time and embrace a little more structure. So while our family’s back-to-school budget needs to accommodate curriculum supplies, many homeschooling parents spend next to nothing this time of year.

Supply Checklists

Pencils and erasers can be found on both of our kids’ lists this year, but that’s about where the similarity ends.  Instead of traditional items like crayons, folders and tissues, our homeschooled fourth grader will get a re-stash of craft and science experiment supplies, along with copy paper for the printer.  No need for a new backpack and lunchbox, but a magnifying glass and some graduated cylinders? Yes, please!

Planning and Organizing

This is where the biggest difference lies. There’s not much to it with a traditional student: make sure their hair is neat, fill their backpacks and then get them to the bus stop on time (although that is admittedly a challenge in itself). But as part of the legal requirements of homeschooling, every student needs a plan of instruction for the year. That means that the bulk of my back to school prep isn’t revolved around spending, but planning. What does my kid need and want to learn this year? How will I teach each subject? Should we join local classes or meet-ups? What field trips should we plan? All of these questions and more run are on my mind while I piece together a yearly plan and a daily/weekly routine that works for everyone.

 sara hm school sara hm school1

I also look back on the past year to make note of what worked and what didn’t, and then make changes accordingly. For example, this year we’re setting up a dedicated workspace for those times when my daughter needs a retreat from her two-year-old, wanna-be-rockstar brother to give an assignment her full focus. We’re also going to try a four-day schedule, leaving a full weekday open for field trips, projects, cooking and other hands-on fun.

sarah hm school3 sara hm school2

Just like a teacher spends time setting up their classroom in the days before their students walk in, I’ll be working on getting everything organized to make the transition out of summer vacation as smooth as possible. A little effort now will make a big difference in our daily routines. As a work-at-home mom and teach-at-home mom, organization is essential.

Despite the work involved, I’m excited to get the ball rolling! Homeschooling is just one of those things in life that isn’t always a walk in the park, but ultimately worth every bit of time and effort it takes. I’m looking forward to a fun year of learning for all of my kids!


Sara HVM EditSarah Coppola is a wife, mom of three, Hudson Valley native and adventure-seeker. She founded Family Friendly Hudson Valley to discover and share all the great stuff for families found in our own backyard.

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21 Comments on Back to School Prep: Homeschool vs. Traditional School

  1. My kids go to public school and we get a specific list. It makes my life easier just to walk through Target and check stuff off as I throw it in my cart.

  2. My boys started last week and they do well in public school. I love though, that there are options for those that don’t do as well or need an optional environment to learn and thrive.

  3. Wishing you all the best in getting your own school year going and that it is filled with adventures! Hope you get to plan a lot of fun trips with your kids for some fun hands-on lessons!

  4. So interesting. I’ve thought about home schooling (we’re still a few years away though) so it’s great to hear the practical differences between the two. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I don’t have kids but have friends that do, plus friends that are teachers, and friends that homeschool. I will say that seeing it from an outsider as a parent I’d prefer homeschooling I think.

  6. That is neat how you have a perspective on both homeschooling and public school. My son had a lot of trouble in the 3rd grade and I really thought I was going to have to homeschool him. Something about the 3rd grade!

    • Thank you! And that’s wonderful! We’re not sure how long we’ll be homeschooling. For now we’re taking it year by year, but I am hoping to hang on as long as possible.

  7. Before reading this article I really didn’t know any of the differences between traditional and homeschooling practices when it came to back-to-school time. Interesting read!

  8. I had toyed with the idea of homeschool in the past, but I don’t think it would make sense for me to do it now since work keeps me pretty busy. I do admire those who are able to do it, though!

  9. That is so awesome that you were able to figure out at a young age what worked best for your daughter. So happy to hear that she is thriving. It seems like you’re really creating a well-rounded education for her. So great!

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