Ora et labora
~St. Benedict

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tips to organize your homeschool life

By: guest blogger Jennifer Jones

I have eight children...yes, eight. I homeschool them all. That's right. It's totally possible with just a little organization and a lot of flexibility. Homeschooling eight kids can definitely be a challenge so organization is key to making it through our day! We are eclectic homeschoolers and have a pretty loose schooling schedule, but being able to be flexible in a family of ten means there has to be some kind of underlying system in place that works for all of our varied personalities. Through much trial and error over the years I found that I keep coming back to four simple ideas that really work for us and hope that they can help your family too.

*Set Goals! - Goals may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you're considering how to organize your homeschooling supplies or your child's weekly schedule - but setting goals is truly the basis for how I organize everything we do, goals give me a path. I am constantly touching base with my kids to find out what their personal goals are and meshing those ideas with mom and dads ideas. We have weekly family meetings and we even have individual meetings with each child every six months or so with the primary purpose of discussing their short and long term goals and coming up with concrete plans for those goals. We have daily goals, weekly goals, monthly...and long-term goals. On rough days we even have hourly goals. I may not always call them "goals" but that's what we are doing when we set our schedule for the day or decide what activities to attend each week.

*Weekly Schoolwork - Having eight kids means eight individual academic levels and needs to be met and kept track of. This is the area that I have had the most trial and error in, so much error! But after a lot of research and patience I found a system that works well for us and I think it would be useful for a smaller family too. One of my personal goals for homeschooling my children is for them to become independent learners so they are able to teach themselves about anything they become interested in. So I approached organizing our schoolwork in a way that would allow them each the most independence and freedom of choice, from the oldest to the youngest child. The checklist is different for every child and includes their educational and personal goals for the week. Here are a few examples:


As you can see, the lists vary based on age and interests. All the lists are posted on a bulletin board at the beginning of the week and the goal is to complete the list. They have freedom of choice over when to accomplish the items on the list - depending on their personalities, some of mine finish it all in one day, some stretch it out and a few procrastinate and do it all at the last moment. Each of them are learning about their own style of learning through this process as well. For the youngest kids (6 & 7) I give them a daily checklist so that it is presented to them in smaller chunks. I am able to be more in control of their choices this way, but they still feel that they have the same freedom as the older kids when they choose which task they want to do first, etc. 

My big job to support this system each week is to fill up their individual folders with everything they need to accomplish their weekly goals on the checklist. Each one has a pocket folder with sections labeled according to what they are working on. If a child has a goal of completing 4 phonics lessons for the week, I make sure those are all in the right place in their folder when the week begins so they can easily do them whenever they are ready. And so on for all the subjects. I also double check at the beginning of the week to make sure that any items that don't fit in their folders (books, etc.) are readily available on the bookshelf. It takes me some time each Sunday to get all of this ready, but once I have it done I don't have to spend time at all the rest of the week looking for items the kids need. This frees up my time to be accessible to the kids as they work on their goals during the week.

*Project Books - Two years ago I started looking into project based learning and found out that it really fit our family's homeschooling style. If you haven't already heard about project based learning I definitely suggest researching it more yourself! One of the things we added to our schooling is another great organizational tool for the kids - project books. Basically, each child keeps a journal of sorts of all the things they want to do and learn about - their "project" ideas. They jot down notes about how to accomplish those project goals, what they need to purchase, who they need to help them, what to research, etc. For the younger kids they will draw pictures of what they want to do (lately it has been a lot of project ideas for Minecraft builds) and tell me words to write down concerning how they will do it. The project books are kept in the kids' pocket folders so that they can add to them each week, look through them to help remember any goals and take steps as needed to reach those. I love this! It is very personal for each child and extremely empowering for them to know they can follow their passions. And the project book itself is an excellent peek at what is going on in their minds. This can be a great tool for any style of homeschooling!

*Curriculum Organization - Homeschool families LOVE books, right? And despite all our best efforts, curriculum keeps piling up around the house. With a large family and many levels of study this is even more true. From the beginning of our journey I needed a way to be able to get the most out of all the curriculum I collected so I did something that a lot of people wouldn't do. I tore up the books. Even those expensive Saxon math books. All of my curriculum - free, purchased, downloaded and printed - has been taken out of their original binding and placed into large binder notebooks. Why? So I can reuse it and reuse it and reuse it...and share with friends too. In addition to taking packaged curriculum apart, I use the same system to create my own unit studies. I have binders on many, many topics - from Egypt, to birds and the Grand Canyon to robots. In each binder I include everything that I have gathered to study about that subject. It's all there in one spot so I can reuse it as younger kids get older and also share with friends studying those topics. Saving so much time, energy and money along the way!

These are my four favorite tips for organizing your homeschooling family! Of course there are many other things we do at our house to organize on a daily basis - like joint Google calendars and bags/baskets ready to go for various activities out of the house, but these tips I have shared with your are the ones that have the biggest impact on our crazy family. I hope that they are helpful for you too. Have fun setting your goals!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Organized homeschooling with your heart in mind

Meant to inspire mamas to get where 
they need to be and let go of the rest.

What does being organized mean to you? I ask this because so many homeschooling moms are in a quandary regarding organization. Sub-topics can include, but are not limited to: scheduling, managing a household while teaching, meal planning, coordinating materials and supplies, and so on and so forth.

I used to feel very overwhelmed when thinking about everything I had to do in a day, let alone the things I thought I ought to be doing, and let's just throw in there the things I thought I couldn't do. I would wake up in the morning feeling like I was behind and then forced my depleted self to bed feeling like I didn't accomplish nearly enough.

I had set myself up for defeat, but how?

Surely, organizing a home and school can be recognized as a type of physical discipline. Well let's back up a step, although the practical applications are there - consider the attitude of such an undertaking. Have you ever tried new organizational methods or products to find that they only worked for a while, before you ventured right back to your old ways? It reminds me of a diet of sorts, the Organizing Diet would go something like this, for 3 easy installments of $19.95 "Get yourself in order, stay in order, & never fear clutter again!"

Organizing may not come easy to you for several reasons, like you are needing 36 hours in a day rather than a mere 24, you are wrangling wild animals and kids as a side job, you are stressing and eating Nutella from a jar, you are planning curriculum and cool field trips, or just too busy being social with other homeschoolers. Whatever the case, you want it done, but would rather not, or don't know how.  

Perhaps you just need a push in the right direction! Our homeschooling universe is quite unique and savvy. We are not separating learning from our lives, but embracing it as a way of life. Home educators in general are very giving and forthcoming when it comes to sharing information and even valuable time with each other.

If you have tried organizing yourself before and failed, then I encourage you to drop your current attitude. Yup, perspective is everything! Let go of your fears, be positive by not uttering the negative, pray, and breathe in and out. Do whatever is necessary to release any tension that may be lingering in your life. Surround yourself with other homeschool parents outside of your home that are positive and upbeat. Get out of your house and attend a homeschool activity, even if only once a month, but preferably more. You will find that support comes in many forms and can be extremely motivating. You may even discover that your idea of organizing changes or evolves over time.

Okay, so what about some practical ways to get your house and school in order? Big or small, there's always someone in our amazing community that has clever ideas to share. I'm excited to join forces with some local HS mamas to see just how they structure their family and school lives.

Join me in welcoming veteran homeschooler, Jennifer Jones, in our next weekly post. She will be guest blogging and sharing some of her favorite organizational tips that she uses with her sizable and charismatic family.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

New Mexico roadschooling notebook deconstructed

One of the perks of homeschooling is that we get to visit places when everyone else is at school and work.  So, in the middle of last March we packed up the kids and drove from Texas to New Mexico to try snow skiing for the first time.

Our goal was to get to Roswell, approximately 8 hours away with a nursing baby in tow.  Although our trip took a little longer, we made it to the little city by dark & then enjoyed all the aliens and UFO's it had to offer the next morning. Our final destination to Sipapu was only 4 hours further.

The boys did not rely on a bunch of movies or video games for entertainment.  In fact, we did a little prep before hitting the road & made some roadschooling notebooks to keep occupied. We included items like tape, pencils, map pencils, glue, sketch books, & magnifying glasses. They also brought along books to read and we played car games.

Here's our notebooks at a glance: 

Little T's notebook
I put together some facts and pictures regarding New Mexico, so the boys could familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. Even though we have things like Yucca plants in Texas, they still had fun pointing various ones out on the trip. 

I also mapquest our destination and printed out the map for them, along with the Sipapu trails they would encounter later.

Little T had "The Snowman" and "The Snow Queen" stories in his binder. I read them aloud to him, so he could close his eyes and visualize the stories. This helped him to unwind and relax. You can find these short stories on OMazing Kids.

Large manila envelopes are wonderful to punch holes into and add to 3 ring binders. They not only hold stuff (wonderful stuff), but add a sense of mystery and excitement. I found these neat little puzzles that I added into one pouch, along with a design your own snowflake worksheet.  The other envelope housed a design your own alien comic strip with crazy clipart included.

Building upon the skiing excitement, a short story called "Learning to Ski" from Have Fun Teaching was an attention grabber for Little T. Big T had ski slang definitions added to his book and we all had a great laugh. Plus they acquainted themselves with various parts of the ski gear they would soon be using from a simple Google search. 

Another resource I liked using and will be using again is called Printable Paper. They have every type of paper form imaginable that you get to print for free. I used some of the storyboard templates for the loose comic strip designs.  The snow globe worksheet came from OMazing Kids.

Our last secret manila envelope consisted of the "Pipe-cleaner Masterpiece." My handwritten instructions: Design a buddy, sculpture, or work of art! You can hang them around for fun. 

We had tons of "art" that was made and then scrapped and then made again.

My God-daughter and Little T with their pipecleaner art crowns.

Other items that lived in the binders were gallon sized bags with holes punched into the bottoms. A hand written index card let the boys know to collect items like pamphlets and post cards along the way. We even found some cotton in a field that made its way into one of the bags.

The favorites out of the notebooks were probably the games. We had two that kept all the kids and adults busy both ways on the trip. We played the license plate game, collecting one from each state and had a pretty decent travel scavenger list going.

The boys also worked on Boy Scout and Cub Scout badges and pins.  Little T was able to complete his Snow Ski and Board Sports activities, so earned the pin.  Big T worked really hard on his, but still needs to master those moguls. He'll have another opportunity at the beginning of the year. 

I don't think that TnT even finished everything in their notebooks, and that's okay with me. They learned a ton and were active participants in family discussions and knew what was going on around them at any given time. The important thing is that they were connected with us and the world around them and not buried in a video game or other electronic device.