I was once given some great advice regarding keeping both my home-making and my homeschool organized. It was the first time I met Marty, the head of my former homeschool group, and she was the speaker of the evening. I got to know her more personally much later, but when I heard her speak that night she had so much advice that has proven true. That night she gave us moms permission to take a few weeks off of school to organize our homes, should we need to. It is very, very important to keep our homes organized while homeschooling. I haven’t needed to take time off, but I take her words to heart. I have spent weekends reorganizing my system if I think it will work better another way. Moving to Missouri provided a whole new set of opportunities to re-assess the way we organize our work because I have to keep track of our subject hours here. When I feel like I can’t stay on top of my work or my parenting, I remember Marty’s pearls of wisdom and I take the time to do whatever I have to in order to get organized. One of the first things I do each day is I make my bed, after having a cup of coffee and my medicine. Once I’m able to move around without being in pain I make sure my bed is made and my room is clean. Like the old saying goes, “messy bed, messy head”. Likewise if we are all leaving the house, I have to make sure it’s fairly neat and clean. I have a hard time leaving my home in disarray because coming home to a messy house raises my stress level. I may have a little OCD too as my mood is tied to my work, and I take home-making and homeschooling very seriously. But the good Lord made me this way and I see it as a strength.
In addition to a set of home files (which I’m not going to get into today), I have a set of school files. Everytime I come across an article or a page that we might need in our future homeschool, I make a copy (usually I find them in library books) and put it in the labeled file folder. If it’s a page that has anything to do with insects, animals, habitats, weather, or plants and trees, I put it in our family nature journal. If it’s an article or resource that I found comforting or informative, it goes in my homeschool mom binder. Which is different from the household mom binder, for all emergency info, medical release forms for the kids, budget info, family calendar, and contacts. And also different from my lesson planner binder. I’m really excited about the system I have because it I feel secure in what I do and know that should I get confused or off track, I have a plan outlined in my system. My binders and filing system are key in helping me stay on track.
I am currently working on preparing a small book’s worth of notes and beliefs organized on my computer. I have written extensively on early childhood education and now elementary education. As my health has not been great, I have begun to plan out the boy’s entire homeschool career, beginning with our beliefs and philosophy. I preface everything I plan with the reasons for doing the lesson the way it needs to get done. It’s important to stick with a curriculum’s method once finding the right one instead of jumping around from method to method. So, let’s say I found what works in teaching my boys spelling, I would type the plan, complete with preparation, procedure, teacher notes, etc, and a list of words for each level(or grade for more traditional homeschoolers) and place it in the Word doc. I don’t use “grades” because they imply being ahead or behind, or right on schedule. Who’s schedule? I don’t know, but someone’s. So I use levels and when one reading, spelling, grammar or math level is complete, they move on. I like using the Explode the Code workbooks, Spelling Workout, and/or Rod & Staff Spelling for Tuesday’s work. On Tuesday we like to play around with our spelling words and workbooks have that covered with their word finds and crosswords. If we got to a point where we couldn’t afford the workbooks, we could have the boys make up silly sentences with their words or make spelling BINGO cards or any other spelling game. I like the workbooks though because I enjoy spending my planning time on the fun subjects of history, science, character, art, and field trips, not on spelling games.
I log onto homeschoolreviews.com daily and either read about what’s going on in the lives of my fellow homeschoolers or offer answers and advice to the many questions asked every day. Years ago I logged on and read a post that changed the way we homeschool. One of the hs pioneers in the group was asked about her unique way of homeschooling. She explained that she needed to find a way to homeschool on a budget of next-to-nothing and she wanted her homeschool to be influenced by Miss Charlotte Mason (who has been one of the key mentors in my homeschooling life). So she created a list of books that I have looked to and used in our reading, history and science. She typed out a very specific book list that she had her girls begin reading, once they learned read. And they make their way through this list of quality reading books and then they copy any vocabulary words in bold or words they don’t understand into a notebook. Later they look up the words in a dictionary. In the history and science readers, she has her girls copy key sentences and keep a log book full of notes. I added my own flair to the plan and when I talk to Big Bird later about what he reads, he’s welcome to pull out the notes and look at them. This encourages him to write, which is something he doesn’t like to do. It makes for a better conversation and he remembers more when he keeps those notes. He’s also building study skills which he’ll need this coming year when we begin MFW:ECC. Reading is never just reading, other than when we read great literature. Reading has to kill two birds so it’s always connected to science or history. I have created a list and the kids go through that list and begin copying the vocab and taking notes once they complete the Explode the Code phonics/spelling workbooks. That’s the point at which they are ready and prepared to begin writing on this level. I am thankful for Khris, her lists, and the time she took to share all her work with us as she has made a huge difference in our hs.
In order for homeschool to work I need to feel organized and the kids need to be inspiring our subjects. So how do I plan ahead? I never know what they are going to be immersed in next year. I keep a list, created by me, my books, and ideas taken from the boys. And as we spend time delving into those topics, I cross them off the list. Sometimes we spend a year on something and have exhausted the interest and the kids become experts in that area. Other times I need to make sure we get in other topics on the list even if it’s just an introduction. For example, the kids have not shown a burning interest in the body and health science, so I make sure we cover that topic every year. If we read a book and I can fit in labs or activities that surround the subject of the human body, I seize the opportunity and cross it off the list for a year.
This year I had to begin keeping meticulous records. It was frightening at first. I spent weeks trying to record everything we did. I tried to take the activities and we did turn them into credible hours. I bought teacher record keeping books, I used the back of my planner, and wrote it down in a notebook, but nothing was working for me. In my mind, I still felt disheveled. Finally I decided that I’d had enough and was going to concur this from another angle. Here’s what I did and feel free to steal it. I made a spread sheet and listed the subjects at the top; core/home and non-core/home took up 8 spaces. The core subjects are math, language arts, history and science. The the next 8 spaces were non-core, such as art&music/home, art&music/not-at-home, P.E., Bible, and extracurricular. If the kids take an art class, that counts as art/not-at-home. Down the side I have each day of the month listed by number, example: today is 27 on this spreadsheet. Each month has its own sheet and each child has his own sheet because we spend different amounts of time on subjects. I have scheduled an allotted time each day and each week. I have the hours and subjects filled in ahead of time and tallied and totalled up already. Should we miss a scheduled day, I go in and change it. Otherwise, it’s all filled in each day. I make sure to schedule one hour of math per day if I have one hour of math per day on the chart. It’s all pre-done and I simple change it and subtract the hours should we have a sick day, or a snow day.
Getting organized is an ever-changing process. As the kids grow and we move into more advanced studies, we’ll change how we keep track of what we do. I am happy with the freedom that homeschooling affords me. I have realized that in homeschooling, it is impossible to hold my children back. They learn when we are homeschooling and when we aren’t. And if I counted all the hours they spent learning it would be constant. I had to cut it off somewhere.
This post is getting quite long so I’ll cut it off here, but there are a few more points I wanted to cover and so I’ll briefly bullet-point them for you. In my homeschool mom binder I keep a list of contacts related to homeschooling. I have all the conference information under one tab, homeschool moms I meet under another, ideas and classes to look into in another, local and online group info and passwords in one, my children’s blogs, favorite websites & passwords in another, and templates for everything under the sun in yet another section. In the very front I have page protectors filled with words of wisdom and inspiration and encouragement from other moms and educators. I tear them out of my magazines and place them in the protectors. I read them often and they make me smile.
I manage my home and my small book-consultant business on the side in a very simple and organized way. I don’t ever let my business build up or get too behind. I hope to expand that business one day, but am happy with the small size because it’s all I can handle right now. I may get into how I organize that later, but I need to get to my kids now… they are chomping at the bit for my attention!
Have a wonderful day and Happy Wednesday!