Getting Organized for the New School Year

In their daily “Homeschool Minute,” the Old Schoolhouse recently featured tips on organizing, and it made me think about what I have done over the years.

This may sound strange, but I LOVE organizing. It’s probably my favorite part of homeschooling. Of course, things don’t always go as planned – hardly ever actually – but fortunately I am a very relaxed and patient person so that doesn’t bother me. I often enjoyed planning ahead for the school year during the summer months. When my kids were little I would take them to our local children’s museum or park, along with two heavy totebags full of my chosen books, reference materials, and planning notebook. I would find a place to sit where I could see the kids (the museum was very small), and I would start flipping through the books, writing down cool projects, potential read-alouds, and field trip ideas. I often used a unit study approach, based on what my kids were interested in. I liked to gather the “best of the best” in activities and books, picking and choosing what I thought my kids would connect with.

When I had finished brainstorming, I pulled out my blank yearly calendar and tried to get realistic. I liked using a grid with big empty boxes for each month, so I could pencil-in unit studies based on some kind of logical flow. I always checked nearby museums to see what traveling exhibits were coming that we might want to get ready for. When the art museum featured works by Picasso, we spent the previous three weeks reading about him before our visit.  Likewise, we looked at books about inventors before heading to the Eli Whitney Museum and read books about mill workers before visiting Lowell, MA. You get the idea. That’s why I liked to lay it all out in a yearly view first. Then I would focus in to three week intervals, writing down which books I would read aloud and which projects we might do. And I always double-checked with the kids to get their opinion on the list. They were usually up for anything I had planned, with a few exceptions. I could not get them interested in the Middle Ages, or weather, or birds, so we skipped those and did something else. Overall, this worked really well for history, geography and science type subjects.

For math, I planned a lot of hands-on activities and games, relying heavily on Scholastic materials and Family Math. When we used textbooks, planning was fairly straight forward. Once I started using homeschool planning software, I just entered in all the lessons for the year, sometimes skipping over certain well-worn sections to make sure we got through the new stuff.

Writing was probably the hardest thing to work in to the schedule, because the kids didn’t like it. But I kept it in small doses, usually in relation to our unit studies or scrapbooking, until they got older. This is one area where I wish I could have another chance at. After reading Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle, I have a new-found inspiration for helping my kids learn to write. Bogart really seems to understand kids and the essence of good writing. It’s a shame her program is so expensive, but if you have the money, it might help you plan a solid writing curriculum, even for the most reluctant writers.

As for physical organization, each of my kids had one of those rolling plastic chests of drawers that you find in an office supply store. We cleaned them out and reorganized the drawers twice a year. They labeled the drawers using plain white stickers and a Sharpie. This worked well for their personal notebooks, sketchbooks, art supplies, math books, and works-in-progress. We also used milk crates and lots of book shelves to hold the materials that everyone used. The hard part was keeping all of this out of sight, because my husband didn’t like to have everything in the dining room. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to always have closet space near enough to the dining table in all of the houses we’ve lived in. The worst situation was when we put our homeschool room (and dining table) in a screened porch in Hawaii. The red dirt, humidity and cockroaches took a toll on my books so I had to store everything in sealed plastic containers. I didn’t want to spray the house with insecticide so we had cockroach droppings everywhere!!! Cleaning was a never-ending job.

Another thing that I have found really helpful is filing cabinets. I have two two-drawer filing cabinets with a cheap unfinished closet door on top to make a desk. I use one drawer each for: reusable unit study/curriculum materials; blank office supplies like paper, folders, clear inserts and scrapbooking stuff; kids’ completed work and mementos ready to be scrapbooked; and large oversized family portraits and old photos/negatives and mementos. I suppose all of this could be stored in boxes too, but filing cabinets make it so much easier to get to. One of these days, I plan to scan the old family photos and put them in albums, but until then I need someplace safe to put them.

Someday soon I’m going to purge everything. I’ve got too much stuff!!! I’m keeping an eye out for used curriculum sales . . .

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