An Organized Space for an Unorganized Homeschooler
I read that chronically late people tend to be optimists. This makes sense, of course. We’re always positive that we will get where we need to go with no disruptions at all. What’s that? I need to be across the city for our lesson in 10 minutes? No problem! What? No, of course I’m not in the car yet. I’m confident that all my children will walk straight to the car and buckle themselves up without any prompting — and there certainly won’t be a single lost shoe/diaper blow out/dish detergent disaster/missing car key to slow us down.
Optimist. Not realist.
Always being late is frustrating and embarrassing, and I can’t even use my three kids as an excuse because many of the homeschool families that I meet up with have four or more kids and they still manage to make it on time. How? How is this possible?
Organization comes naturally for some people, but not for me. Somehow though, I’ve managed to keep our homeschool fairly organized. It’s true — I might not know where the coffee bean grinder is after 25 minutes of frantic searching, but I can find the math books in 30 seconds flat. Of course, we won’t be using the math books until I can make a cup of coffee, but that’s beside the point.
4 TIPS FROM ONE DISORGANIZED HOMESCHOOLING MOM TO ANOTHER
I had 5 tips but one of them was “start with a clean space” and I realized that is not going to win me any friends. We’ll do 4.
Tip #1: Group Supplies by Time
Our day starts off with circle time. Now I have to admit that I don’t love circle time. I need two cups minimum of something warm and caffeinated before I can bring myself to sit on the floor and sing children songs. I love my kids but circle time is just not my thing.
My kids couldn’t care less – they love circle time (two of them, at least), and when I finally realized how many subjects I could cram into our morning meeting, I realized that I was foolish for skipping it and I broke out the ukulele.
To make life easier, I store everything that I need in one basket: our Bible lessons (on the kindle) and a Bible, our English Lessons Through Literature book for the day’s poem, fable and/or painting, our Spanish lesson printouts, and a copy of Laying Down the Rails for the day’s character lesson. To get school started, I only need to grab my morning basket, the instruments bin, and, ideally, a fresh cup of tea. When we’re done, everything is thrown back into the basket where it stays until the next morning.
Tip #2: Everything needs a home
This was probably the number one most helpful tip I’ve ever read — and it came from that book I didn’t like. All of our homeschooling supplies have a place that they belong.
I’m sure all the organized people are wondering why this even needs to be said, but my fellow disorganati get it. We all have that … pile … that just migrates from desk to table to chair to bookcase and is never really put away because it doesn’t have a spot to go.
Not in my house. Not anymore.
- Our morning supplies go in the morning basket.
- Our binders go on the hutch.
- Our books go on the bookcase (more about that below).
- Our art supplies go in the closet caddy.
- Our subject-specific supplies go in the dresser.
You remember the dresser, right? A couple years ago, when it was slated to go smack-dab in the middle of my living room, I painted it a pretty colour. It didn’t really go well. It’s no longer a stand for the fish tank; now it’s our computer desk/homeschool station.
Each drawer is dedicated to a different subject or supply: languages, math, stickers & stamps, paper/notebooks, history & art, nature & science. This works incredibly well because when I’m cleaning up after lessons, I just have to toss the supplies in the right drawer. Think elevated junk drawer. The drawers aren’t overly tidy (well, they are today because I took a picture) but it doesn’t take long to find anything I need. It’s a system that works well for me because it builds on my laziness.
Tip #3: Make Sure Everything is Labelled
It took me a long time to realize that just because I know the second drawer on the left is for math supplies, I shouldn’t assume that everyone automatically knows. Even though that’s where we get the math cards from day after day after day.
Everyone needs to know where to find things and where to return them when they’re done, so I broke down and I broke out the label maker.
I am a huge fan of labelling, and there are so many lovely ways to do it! Personally, I really like chalkboard labels with cafe-style lettering. Oh, and I also think that laminated photographs on toy bins are so clever. Yes, I spend a lot of time on Pinterest. No, I will never get around to actually making any of those.
In the wisdom of my many years, I’ve come to realize that a sharpie and some masking tape now is better than hipster-chic never. Sure, it doesn’t look nearly as nice, but focus on the fact that the rest of your house will look so much better without clutter everywhere, and that will more than makeup for your chicken-scratch-on-green-painters-tape system. Besides, you can always upgrade to hand-stitched burlap labels or vintage luggage tags or whatever when you have more time. Like when your kids have graduated.
Tip #4: Limit Your Books
Have you noticed a trend in simplify-your-life type books to get rid of your books? Kim John Payne recommends limiting the amount of books in your child’s bedroom to five or six favourites because the rest becomes visual clutter. The KonMari method recommends tearing out your favourite pages and throwing the rest of the book away (that still makes my brain hurt).
When I read advice like this, I’m a bit baffled. Get rid of my books? I love my books! All homeschooling families love their books. However, I have come to realize that I maybe don’t need to own them all (it’s hard for me to write that).
It took me awhile to get going, but this year I got rid of a ton of books and I have to admit that I’m happier with the amount I own now. I’ve only kept my absolute favourites, and I know that the others are still out there in libraries and bookshops if I ever need to read them again.
All of our books now are stored on the family bookshelf in the living room. It’s not neat, but it’s somewhat organized: picture books on the bottom two shelves, children’s chapter books on the third shelf, and my books on the top two shelves. It’s helpful for me to know that every book we own can be found there, and anyone who finds a misplaced book knows exactly where it’s supposed to go.
Well, except the cookbooks. They go on the bookshelf downstairs, with the other dozens and dozens of books I couldn’t bring myself to donate. Oh, and my daughter’s chapter books are all in her room. She has over 300, so of course they’d never fit on our one family bookshelf. And my husband’s large collection of WWII books are all in his hobby room in the basement. But other than that, all of our books fit on one bookcase.
It feels good to be minimalist.
The hardest part is not bringing more books in to replace the ones that I donated. My advice to fellow homeschooling parents who love to collect great books: be intentional about how many books you purchase. Read the books first from the library if that’s possible, and only buy the ones that you LOVE. Don’t go crazy at thrift stores either — remember that a five picture books for a quarter might not actually be a good deal if they’re going to stress you out every time you have to pick them off the floor.
One great way to avoid clutter is to use ebooks. Confession: I don’t love ebooks — not the way I love regular books. There’s something about the way a real book feels in your hands when you flip to your page. An eReader can’t replicate that cozy, happy feeling.
That being said, ebooks definitely have their place. Like when you realize you forgot to order the next book on your reading list so you download it instantly from Amazon. Or when your eight-year-old has hidden your Kindle so that she can read a Babysitter’s Club book instead but you can just pull up the same book on your iPad. Or iPhone. Or computer. Yeah, take that, kid.
A Final Thought: Free Yourself from the Kitchen Table
A lot of people assume that you need a tidy classroom setting to do homeschooling, using either a big kitchen table or even desks in a dedicated room. However, the great thing about homeschooling is that it’s flexible. We homeschool where ever we are. Circle time is usually the living room floor, while history readings tend to be done on the couch. Copywork might be done at the table but it just as well might be taken back to River’s bedroom. Sometimes we even do math on my bed if it’s made — so, not very often.
As much as I would LOVE a dedicated homeschool room with a chalkboard and a map and maybe even a super loud bell that I could use to startle my children whenever I feel so moved, I wonder if my kids would enjoy staying put in one place for most of the day. I think it feels more natural for us all to do school where ever we happen to be.
How about you? Where do you do school? How do you keep it organized?
This post was written for the iHomeschool Back to Homeschool Blog Hop.