By Guest Blogger Laura Simon

I’m no stranger to this back-to-school thing.  Just last year, I was preparing for my fourteenth year as a classroom teacher while frantically racing through Target with my kindergarten son’s insanely detailed supply list.  Is there really a difference between Crayola and the store brand?  Because I can’t see one.

August is something I both dread and enjoy.  There’s all the excitement and emotion of a new school year, the resolutions (yes, I will grade EVERY SINGLE PAPER my students submit within twenty-four hours), and the glorious smell of new school supplies on my desk.

There’s also the heartbreak of taking my own children back to childcare, saying one last goodbye to the summer pool, and waking up to my racing heart after my recurring back to school nightmare.  You thought only students had those?  Nope.  Mine involves trying to teach a class of high school students while hoping no one will notice that I forgot my pants.  It ends – every time – with my principal coming in to talk to me about my inappropriate attire.  It is no less horrible every time I dream it, even though I’ve never actually arrived at school in any state of undress.  (Although on several occasions, I have found myself wearing mis-matched shoes.  And once I forgot to change out of my slippers.  I was tired.)

But this year, back-to-school is different.  I’m on leave from my paid teaching job and I’m preparing to homeschool my own children.  The only supply list is the one I write for myself, and while I don’t have to race the other moms to Target, I do have to pick out curriculum.  When I did this as a classroom teacher, our district gave us a whopping three choices.  As a homeschool mom, I have approximately 5,473 options for math alone.  What if I choose the program with the wrong manipulatives?  Will my children be in remedial math forever?  The struggle is real.

The school supply list is tricky as well.  My middle son, who has not spent any time in public school, desperately wants a backpack like his big brother.  I can’t fathom how he’ll use it; perhaps he’ll need to tote his pencils from the kitchen to his bedroom.  And how many pencils do I really need this year, because even if my students steal a pencil, they live with me, so I’ll probably get it back.  Most likely in the laundry.

My favorite part of back to school has always been setting up my room, but I don’t have a classroom to decorate anymore.  We are fortunate to have an upstairs bonus space that is serving as our family/play/homeschool room.  But there are no bulletin boards to create, no desks to arrange, and unlike all of my former classrooms, this space does not require an army of plug-in air-fresheners.  I am planning to paint one wall with chalkboard paint, a task that Pinterest tells me should be easy and fun, although I’m fairly certain it won’t.  And I’ve had to clear some space for all that curriculum.  But the room is in our house…it is already decorated.  My slippers are already on the floor.

Even lesson plans look different to a homeschool mom.  I am still preparing for multiple classes and grade levels: my 1st grader, my pre-kindergartener, and my 1-year-old.  (I’m not really sure the 1-year-old even counts as a prep, with her stickers and crayons.  Our objectives this year are simple: learn to feed yourself, say something other than “no”, and stop drawing on the walls.)

But I no longer have to cram learning into forty-five minute segments for eight hours a day.  There are no pep assemblies and fire drills to account for, although there is an active toddler.  The impact might be the same.  In light of that, I’m setting flexible goals.  We might have days where we do three math lessons, and others where we count the cucumbers at the grocery store.  Who knows?  The beauty of homeschooling is that it can ebb and flow with my children’s individual needs.  We’ll take longer on some topics and move quickly on others, and I get the privilege of making that decision.

Fortunately for this aging brain, I don’t have to memorize 160 names anymore, and I am already intimately familiar with the spelling, pronunciation, and discipline records attached to the ones on my roster. We did join a co-op, which means the kids and I are sharing the back-to-school anxiety that wonders, “Will the kids in my class like me?” and “Will the other moms in the co-op think I’m crazy?”

I won’t miss the faculty meetings, the in-services, and all the last-minute changes in policy that happen in every school, every year.  I will miss the friendships I’ve formed with my colleagues.  I hope to find that with other homeschool moms, but it won’t be the same as popping across the hall for three minutes of venting before the bell rings.

One thing remains the same, no matter where and how I teach, and that is the August taste of anticipation.  What will our breakthroughs be?  What teachable moments will plop themselves right into our laps?  What will we laugh about together?  What will stretch our minds and change the way we think?

This teaching thing?  It is amazing.  Growth is going to happen this year, and for the first time, it will be my own kiddos having those light bulb moments.  I’m scared to death, but I’m so excited to get started.  Maybe we’ll start a few days early.

I’m quite certain I never said that when I was teaching.

I’m sure we’ve got some homeschooling moms out there.  How do you prepare for a year of homeschooling?