Wednesday, May 23, 2012

End of the Year Celebrations

Getting to the end of the school year can sometimes seem like a long uphill hike, especially from about February thorugh the end of the year.  We may begin to wonder if we are getting anywhere at all, and progress really seems like it may never come.  Doubts can pile up and we wonder if we've really learned much at all, or if we are really cut out for this homeschooling project.  But eventually, we do reach the end of the year!  We may crawl or limp to the finish line, but we do finish!  Did we just survive the year, or did we conquer it?  Sometimes it can be a little bit of both.

How do you mark the end of your school year?  What celebrations do you plan?  Do you look back and see where you've been?  Do you tally the activities that you have completed during the year? 

Some homeschoolers follow a traditional schedule and take a summer break.  Others school throughout the year taking their breaks as the family needs them for family obligations or off-season vacations.  Regardless of when they happen, I want to make a case for having a definite space and time for marking completion of goals and celebrating your accomplishments.  We follow a pretty traditional schedule, taking a break for the summer and starting up again in the fall, so our family just had our "end of the year celebration".  This is always one of my favorite times of the year and not just because we are finally done!  Somehow, when we first started doing school at home I began a habit of writing out a record of what we had accomplished throughout the year and putting it in a folder for our records.  This isn't something required by our state, but I guess I thought we should have something like it just for our personal records.  It turns out it has been a huge blessing.  It gives me a chance to look back and ask, "What did we do this year?"  I don't know about you, but I can get to the end of the year, dragging into the finish line pretty discouraged, wondering, "What was all that about?"  Stopping to look back and think about what we learned and writing it down in a formal way makes me really encouraged about our progress and I realize that what we did really was pretty great.  There are things that it helps me to correct, too.  I may get to the end of the year and realize that we really were spinning our wheels in spelling or science, but it helps me to focus my efforts on what I can improve next year versus what is really going pretty well and doesn't need any changes.  My method of evaluating the school year may not look like yours, but if you haven't been stopping to evaluate, I encourage you to try it this year and see what a difference it makes.

Here is how I do it.
  • I type out a record (by subject) of what we covered during the school year for each child.  I may list what curriculums we used, what books we read or what major projects were part of our learning.
  • After typing out what we covered, I make sure to note any special progress that we made in that subject (usually referring to last year's report to see if we have accomplished goals we set or made progress from where we ended the previous year.)
  • I also leave space to record any goals for next year.  This might simply be to mention which curriculum we will be using or what we may need to emphasize next year to address any challenges or difficulties that we had in that area this year.
  • I make sure to include a list of all the books that the child has read during the year, all the books that have been read aloud to them and all the field trips, sports or special activities that were part of our year.
  • I always include a section on spiritual training, character and discipline so that I can evaluate what were our biggest teaching opportunities in those areas.  I like to note what I see as their character or personality strengths and weaknesses, how we addressed discipline problems and what was our family's spiritual focus that year.
  • Finally, I also like to have the kids complete their own evaluation of the year.  They answer questions like, "What was your favorite subject?"  "What were you most proud of?"  "What was the most difficult?"  "How would you like to improve next year?" or "What do you want to learn more about?"  I include their evaluations (in their own handwriting) and any end of year test scores in the file altogether.
This might sound complicated, but it doesn't have to be.  It can be as simple as writing a letter to your kids at the end of the year, talking about how much they accomplished and what goals you have for them next year.  It could be a list of books, projects, activities and subjects.  Or it can be more elaborate.  Although mine looks more extensive, I use pretty much the same form each year and change the curriculums and add a few comments based on what this year was like.

Another thing that we like to finish the year off with is a family celebration.  This might just be a special meal or ceremony or field trip.  The last few years we have celebrated the end of the year with the first camping trip of the summer.  This year we headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for fun in the sun, sand and water.  What else could a boy want than to dig in the dirt all day?

What are your end of year traditions?  If you school year round, do you still have a starting and stopping place?  How do you celebrate accomplishments?  I would love to hear from you....

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