Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Staying Organized

I recently saw a question asking how much time one spends on planning lessons, gathering school materials, researching topics, & so on. All the typical things most of us get caught up in doing.  This question really struck me because this is something that I use to get really caught up in. I mean really caught up in.
In fact, I spent so much time creating notebook/lapbook things, planning lessons, gathering supplies, & on & on that Mr S lamented he hardly saw me on the weekends. I also burned out really quickly & found myself really struggling to be excited about all our learning. I thought I’d share some ways I put the fun back into our homeschool, & some tips I have for staying organized with the least amount of effort:

Dedicated learning area: This means all our learning supplies are located in one place. Our learning area has a large table in the middle of the room & long bookcases on the walls. All our needed books for learning are in this room.  All our school supplies, paper, pens, scissors, paint, coloured pencils, etc. It's all here in one easy to find location.

Book Bins: The top shelf of our book case is dedicated to the books we know for sure we’ll need this year. The tubs are all clearly labeled on the main shelves making it easy for anyone in the home to locate the book we need. Keeping our books for the year separated saves us hours of mindless searching or wondering each week. We've had many dedicated learning areas from great big to tiny. Regardless of the space we've always had a bookcase {or two} nearby with the books needed for that school year.

My planner: This stays, all week, on the middle of the learning table. Inside my planner are our read aloud lists, math grading papers, a place to jot down notes for next year’s curriculum down, things that are happening during our week, & goals for the kids each year. By keeping the planner on the table I can quickly mark off the things we’ve done as we do them, jot notes down for areas I think a child needs more practice, or add the other work we’ve done in a day. It’s my lifeline when it comes to our school day. 

Morning/Table Tub: In the middle of our table is a basket or tub. Inside our tub is a pencil box with pencils & erasers inside, our Memory box, & our math flash cards. I also keep a sharpie, large eraser/rubber & ruler in the box. Things I’ll need on a daily basis that I don’t need/want to be chasing down each morning. It also happens to be the things we tend to need first thing to get our school day rolling.

Backpacks: For home educators this probably sounds really funny, but these are huge for us. My boys keep their school books in here. The ones they need each and every day. Spelling, math, Bible, Science journals, & so on. They also keep a small tin of coloured pencils in there for decorating notebooking pages & working on their Bible timeline. They each have a pair of scissors, a ruler, a travel pencil sharpener, & a glue stick as well. At any given time no one has to say, “Mum, I’ve lost my...” They know exactly where it is & if I see it on the table then I know it’s not where it belongs.

Mamma’s Book Shelf: I suppose in a classroom this would be the teacher’s desk or personal area, but in our house I have a bookshelf that holds all the things I’ll need for the school year. This is outside of the top shelf of the normal bookcase. This shelf is located on the opposite wall. On it I have a couple of magazine holders that hold our Core guides from Sonlight, they hold any extra textbooks the kids might need {both boys usually work through 2 spelling books a year, so the extra spelling book would be located on this shelf so I know exactly where it is when I need it}, my other Bible, my box of books, & Teacher Manuals. I tried storing my manuals in a backpack, but the pack I had wasn’t roomy enough.

Curriculum: For me, this turned out to be a life saver. When Morgan outgrew our the Five In A Row curriculum, I floundered a lot. I tried to gather up my own resources & make them work, and while it did work for us it was a lot of work. I don’t regret the work that I did or the time that I spent on it, but for our family buying a prescheduled laid out curriculum was the ticket. We enjoy it and thrive with it. It works for us. However, I refuse to keep or use a curriculum that requires me to tweak it too much. It’s a waste of money & time. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking curriculum, but if you’ve tweaked it so much it doesn’t even come close to resembling what you start with, then it’s probably time to move on to something else.

Books: Look, let’s be honest we can all complain that our library system is squat & can’t live up to our expectations. I’ve learned that it’s far less stress, & actually cheaper for me to purchase all the books that we’ll need for the school year in advanced. This saves me hours of time trying to locate them at the library, struggling to get them to the house in time, & being absolutely frustrated beyond belief. Instead, I take the time in the summer during our break to locate all the books we’ll need for the year via the cheapest sources I can find. When the books arrive they go straight into the book bins so I know where they are & I mark them off my list so I don’t make the mistake of buying excess copies.

Lunch Menu: This is huge for us. I don’t know about in your home, but lunch can take ages here & most of that is people choosing what they want. To avoid all the hassle I make a menu up and that’s what people get. If they don’t like it they can fix themselves a pb&j sandwich so we can keep on moving.

My File Box: While I no longer store weekly things in the box, it’s still used regularly & kept right in the school area. I have a file for receipts. I save receipts for many items, including school stuff due to taxes. So all my receipts have a special place in the box. If I pull pages out of curriculum to run off copies, I slip the master sheets into a page protector and file it in my box. Extra timeline pieces, extra copies of notebooking pages, & so on all go in the box in their own files. At any given time I should be able to locate what I need in a matter of seconds instead of hours.

Preparing Ahead: Think of it like a parent teacher conference. Basically I set aside a small amount of time, usually on Friday, to make sure everything for the week has been put where it belongs. I make sure my planner was fully updated, school bags are neat and tidy, book tubs are in order, pencils are sharpened and away, etc. I also take a small amount of time to check over lessons for next week. What math games will we play? What equipment do I need for science experiments? Do I need to run off any extra copies? Are my timeline pieces for the week in the pocket of my planner where they should be? Do we need more glue sticks, printing paper, or any other supplies? I also assess the notes I’ve taken for the week.. These might just be short snippets of, “Jayden’s handwriting is coming along in leaps and bounds, be sure to let him know you’re impressed!” or “Encourage Morgan to use his cursive on his notebooking pages he’s doing awesome with it.” They might be more important like, “Slow down on latest math lesson & work in more games until concepts are fully understood.” It doesn’t matter what it is, this is the moment to check them so I’m ready for the following week.
That’s it! If it sounds like a lot, I promise it isn’t. Most of it is a “one time set up” situation and it’s off and running. In fact, the only thing that’s a weekly upkeep is my Planning Ahead area. However, it’s a quick thing because everything else in our learning area is working for us instead of against us! How about you, what works for you to help you stay organized & spend more time having fun instead of excessive amounts of time planning?


Sheryll said...

Love your basket file box! Where did you get it? I'm using a plastic file box but it is quickly becoming too small. Yours looks nice and roomy. I think my biggest time waster is looking for printables, printing, laminating if needed, cutting, etc. This year we are doing six weeks on, one week off. I am hoping to use that week off to print and prepare everything needed for the next six weeks.

Nancy said...

Love your learning room. I love your blog and hearing how you do things and how things are going. Your so honest but also so incredibly helpful.

We also found Sonlight to be a good transistion from FIAR.

Butterfly said...

My biggest time consumer is researching curriculum options and planning ahead, rather than getting on with the wonderful things we already have and making the most of the 'present'.

I am reading this post attentively and have a lot to learn!!!

Jen's Busy Days said...

I like how your school space is organised and separate from the rest of your home. It is much the same here at my place although our school stuff does share space with the lounge and TV but they are not usually in use at the same time anyway.

I do not like school clutter taking over all my house. I am very grateful for a room that I can leave school in and that I can "rest" in other spaces around my home.

Also loved hearing how you organise your schedule. I could do with an easier method for journalling little bits like noticing a child needs some repetition with a maths concept.

Best wishes
Jen in NSW

Kendra said...

Sheryll I picked it from Office Works. They had it listed, for a while, on their website too, but one in Tassie had some in shop so ours was purchased directly in the store.

Anonymous said...

Does your library have inter-library loan? I just go onto the library's county site, log in, and request all of the books I need that are not avaiable at my own library. I can find almost any book. They do all of the work for me. I get an email saying they are in, and I go pick them up off of the shelf and check them out.