The key to useful and accessible homeschool library: Good organization. If you want to wrangle your book collection into a well-organized library, you’re going to have to get hands-on. Here’s how.
Truly, the biggest hurdle to cobbling my own history curriculum together has been organizing the resources in such a way that I know where they are, I remember all of the ideas that I had, and I don’t leave anything out.
My homeschool organization method: A bullet journal and an as-we-go planner than lets me keep up with what we've done instead of trying to anticipate what we're going to do.
[We're so excited to welcome the wonderful Beverly Burgess to the HSL blogging team! I'm not posting the video, but there was definitely some happy dancing going on in the office when she signed on as a regular contributor. —Amy]
It’s May and I’ve lost my mojo. I even doubled my caffeine intake to no avail.
It seems most every homeschooling parent gets to a point when they need to wrap up their school year. Even those parents that homeschool year-round, feel the pull of spring in May; the need to be done.
Homeschooling parents can quickly be overcome with the amount of material that’s accumulated throughout a long and creative homeschool year. Wrapping up the year can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips to get that clutter off your kitchen counter and put the homeschooling year to bed.
1. File end of year paperwork. Be sure to file any end of year paperwork required in your district. Evaluations, portfolios, or other measures of progress, as well as letters of intent to homeschool, may be due now. Spend some time and get those out of the way so you can enjoy the summer days.
2. Update transcripts/report cards and evaluations. Don’t wait for months to finalize report cards or evaluations. You will want to complete this task while the information is fresh in your mind. Tracking courses and progress is especially important if you are creating a transcript for your high schooler. Grades, field trips, courses, online classes, community groups, service projects, lab work, job experience, internships, apprenticeships, extracurricululars; all are easily lost or forgotten if not immediately recorded. Unschoolers should also record any classes, experiences or community involvement for their portfolio or transcript.
Unit studies can be easily put away in file folders labeled with the year or grade of the child.
If your child has completed a class through another organization, be sure to gather certificates of completion or grades from the teacher, if that is offered as part of the class.
Kids' school work can also be saved digitally. Take a photos and file in a folder for your portfolio or create a scrapbook of your incredible year. Grandparents especially love thumbing through scrapbooks and sharing memories with their grandchildren. Scrapbooks are also a great way to deter naysayers who might think your kids sat around eating Cheetos all year long.
3. Toss the rubbish. What do you do with the hordes of paperwork that have accumulated? If your children are in their elementary years, save a few special pieces of artwork and toss the rest. The craft stores have pizza-style boxes that you can buy which are great for storing both artwork and academic work. The pizza boxes stack and store easily on a shelf, don’t take up much room, and hold a lot of material. Save one or two papers each month from each subject and toss the rest. I usually save one paper that shows beginning skills and one that shows mastery. My district/state doesn’t require evaluations of our work but I do save the boxes for three years and then get rid of them.
If you have many 3D sculptures, dioramas, hanging mobiles, and the like for art projects, it can be tougher to part with these masterpieces. Gifting the grandparents or aunts and uncles is a great way to share your homeschooling days with relatives. We always told our kids that if it didn’t fit in the storage box, we could not keep it. Certainly, a few special pieces were kept but the majority went into the box or were gifted away.
4. Clean up the extras. Dump the moldy bread science experiment that’s been sitting on your shelf for weeks. Organize your homeschool space if you have one, clean off the desks, put the glue sticks and crayons back in their holders, give everything a good spring-time scrub down.
5. Label and store books. I have a filing system for all of my books. At one point, I was homeschooling three kids in three different grade levels. The number of books, texts, instruction manuals, and other material accumulated through the years, was astounding. Before you pack everything up for the year, label the inside of every single book with an approximate grade level. Include chapter books, workbooks, and manipulatives in this process. I also place grade level stickers on the spines, so that when I store them, I can easily pull the next grade level I need for the coming year. Having organized books has been a lifesaver on so many occasions.
Donate, sell, or trade any items that you won’t use again. As my kids aged up through grades, I save curricula that was going to be used again. Any grade level items that we’d no longer use were donated or sold.
6. Plan some fun activities to celebrate
Get out of the house by planning some time with friends to celebrate the great weather. A picnic in the park, care-free playground days, lunch out with the kids, or a field trip can give you some much needed energy to push through those last few weeks of homeschooling.
Be proud of all your kids have accomplished this year. Don’t worry about the small things that didn’t get completed. Your children have likely learned so much exploring their own love of learning. Enjoy these last days and finish strong!
Color-coding changed my life. If that’s not a nerdy thing to say, I don’t know what is, but it’s totally true.
It started with portfolios, which I use to keep a homeschool record of each year. (I use a method similar to this, but for elementary and middle school, I just keep one folder per kid with everything in it.) I always buy the same colors: pink and purple for my daughter and blue or green for my son, just because those are their favorite colors. After a while, I started buying my sticky flags in the same colors—we do a lot of book-based learning, and it was so much easier to glance at the markers sticking out a book and to be able to quickly tell the pages I’d marked for my 3rd grader and the pages I’d marked for his big sister. Then, I realized that a little colorful tape would make it harder for them to blame each other for disappearing pencils, so I wrapped a little pink or blue washi tape around the ends of their Black Warrior pencils. It was amazing how much more responsible they felt for their pencils when certain ones clearly “belonged” to them. After a while, I started buying all their school supplies in the same color sets because it made them easy to keep up with. And finally, I bought purple and green pens, which I used to plan their schedules and keep homeschool notes in my bullet journal and on our family calendar. (I should do a post on bullet journaling one day because it really revolutionized my homeschool organization and solved my hunt for the non-existent Holy Grail of Homeschool Planners.)
But we didn’t stop there: I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but we now have a whole dinnerware set with different colors for each family member. (If the purple cereal bowl is still in the sink when lunchtime rolls around, my daughter knows she’s got to wash it before she can ladle out her bowl of soup. And no one steals my coffee mug anymore!) We have color-coded towels (which everyone, including me, is better about remembering to hang back up) and color-coded water bottles. It simplifies things—you know with a glance whose towel ended up in the middle of the hall or who left their pencil on the porch. And somehow it makes me feel organized—or at least, less unorganized, which, for me anyway, feels like big progress.
Your mission this week: Give color-coding a try. Pencils are an easy place to start—just wrap a little washi tape just above the eraser—but consider how color-coding might help any area of life where keeping up with things can feel stressful. (Finding library books? Keeping up with socks? Organizing artwork?)
Suzanne and I are talking about back-to-school season in the latest episode of the podcast, so naturally school supplies came up. It seemed like the perfect time to share some of our favorite homeschool supplies. Share your faves in the comments!
Parts of this were originally published in the winter 2015 issue of home | school | life, but we’ve updated and expanded it a bit since we’ve got school supplies on the brain this time of year.
I once walked into the house after a two-week holiday and immediately thought, “The neighbors must have had a party in here! We couldn’t possibly live like this!” But alas, we do live “like this,” and the grime in the sink and the Lego blocks on the floor were wholly of our own making.
Before I had children, when my husband and I both worked outside he home all day, the house was always clean and tidy. We hardly owned anything and our home only really consisted of a few small rooms. As our family grew, so did our possessions. I had less and less time to clean, dwindling enthusiasm for tidying up toys that would just get dragged out again, and I wanted to spend my time with my babies, not with my clutter.
It used to really bother me that my house was untidy. It bothered me a lot. I used to think to myself that I wanted people to walk into my house and feel relaxed, not stressed by having to move toy train tracks or Spiderman magazines off the seat before they could sit down. I didn’t want people to have to step over big bags of outgrown clothes in the hallway, waiting patiently to be given away to charity. I wanted people to feel at home here.
Back on that day we’d just returned from our holiday, when my house was in such a state it looked as though it had been ransacked by burglars, I noticed how my children reacted when we walked in. The six-year-old put his pjs on then went straight into the living room, lay on the sofa and started looking at his Spiderman magazines. My 10-year-old stepped over those charity cast-offs and went upstairs to listen to an audiobook. My 13-year-old went to the kitchen and started baking cookies. They felt at home.
Noticing all of this inspired me to look again at my goals for my home. I wanted people to feel relaxed and comfortable here. Which people? Visitors who hardly ever come? People who might raise their eyebrows at my clutter or criticize me for having a messy house? Naysayers who question my life choices and shrink from the chaos of my life? No. The people who I want to feel relaxed and at home here are the only people that matter: my family.
I’ve taken to saying that my home is a “working home.” When you visit a “working farm,” you’d expect rather a lot of mud and straw and dust and mess, because it is a place of work. Similarly, when you come to my home, expect mess because this is a place of work and creativity and imperfection. And we embrace all of that.
When you visit us you may have to cleave a path to the sofa, but I can always guarantee excellent reading material (particularly if you are a Spiderman fan) and excellent home baking.
One of the biggest practical challenges of homeschool life is feeding everybody all the time. And lunch — right smack in the middle of your day — can be the biggest challenge of all. These four strategies won’t make lunchtime hassle-free, but they will free up your brain enough to worry about what you're going to do for dinner instead.
Solution 1: Lunchboxes
- Pros: lunch is ready to go whenever you are
- Cons: requires night-time prep; not always the most budget-friendly option
Take a cue from the school set, and simplify lunchtime by packing it up the night before. Stick with the classics — we like hummus, quinoa, cucumber, and grated carrots on a spinach tortilla or peanut butter, honey, and banana on oatmeal bread for easy sandwiches, with little containers of yogurt, fruit, veggie chips, and a cookie for dessert. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can steal some cute bento box ideas, but kids who don’t pack a lunch every day are likely to be just as excited about a plain sandwich and apple combo. (I get all my best sandwich ideas from the Saltie cookbook.) Make a lunchbox or brown bag for each kid, stash it in the fridge, and lunch is ready to go even before you start your morning coffee.
Solution 2: Freezer Meals
- Pros: easy on the budget
- Cons: gets boring; does require some advance planning
Once-a-month freezer stocking ensures that you’ll always have a hot lunch at the ready. Our freezer faves include macaroni-and-cheese bowls; black bean and butternut squash burritos; soups and chili; and chicken potpies. There are lots of freezer meal cookbooks out there, but I’ve splattered and dog-eared Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook enough to recommend it. Freeze meals in individual portions (so you don’t have to listen to a 10-minute argument about whether you should heat up spinach lasagna or kale, sweet potato, and lentil hand pies), pop them in the fridge at bedtime, and they should be ready to heat up for the lunchtime rush.
Solution 3: Snack Plates
- Pros: great for picky eaters, no cooking needed
- Cons: assembly required; can be expensive
The beauty of this cheese plates-inspired lunch is that you can assemble it with all the random bits and pieces in your fridge and cupboards. Presentation is what makes a snack plate like this feel like lunch, so take the time to arrange small wedges of cheese, little stacks of chopped vegetables or fruits, cured or smoked meats, leftover tuna salad, and other hearty nibbles. Add crackers or vegetable chips — homemade or store-bought — and spoonfuls of mustard, jam, chutney, and purees to the plate. Set it out, and the kids can assemble their own lunches from the ingredients. It’s nice to give each kid her own plate, but you can also set up a fancy spread on a serving plate or cutting board for everyone to share.
Solution 4: Emergency Pizza
- Pros: versatile; easy to customize for picky eaters
- Cons: requires last-minute stove time
Until a genius friend introduced me to tortilla pizzas, I always thought pizza was too much hassle for lunchtime. But using a tortilla for a base makes a quick pizza as easy as a grilled cheese sandwich. The usual tomato-mozzarella-mushroom combo is great, but you can get adventurous with pesto topped with leftover grilled chicken, veggies, and fontina cheese; butternut squash puree topped with goat cheese and bacon; or even hummus with crispy chickpeas, avocados, and roasted garlic. Lay your tortilla flat in a cast-iron skillet, layer on toppings and cheese, and let it bake in a 375-degree oven for about 13 to 14 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned and crispy.
This article is reprinted from the fall 2014 issue of home/school/life.
[As part of our website launch celebration, we're reprinting some of our favorite columns from the past year on homeschoollifemag.com. Enjoy!]
I’ve always been a bit envious of my friends who have something concrete to show for the hours they spend on their favorite pastimes. My friends who knit end up with scarves and cute hats. My friends who run have a collection of t-shirts from various 5ks and 10ks. As a reader, I have never had much to show for the hours spent curled up with a book, ignoring chores, friends and family, and the great outdoors.
But a few years ago I decided to combine my love of reading with my love of lists, and everything changed. First, I started keeping a book journal. I’ve never had the discipline to keep a daily journal of what’s going on in my life, but this came easier. I picked out a cute notebook and began writing down the title, author, and date read for each book, eventually adding a rating system. (It is very satisfying, after an especially infuriating read, to mark down that 1-star-out-of-5 next to the title. Take that, you terrible author who wasted my time with your badly-written morally-corrupt sexist-racist mind-numbingly-derivative unfunny-when-you-think-you’re-funny novel! Consider yourself rated!) I also try to write down what I loved or hated, which is a fairly good substitute for the conversations I’m dying to have about a particular book on those occasions when I don’t have a book club handy. My great-grandkids may not be able to learn much about life in the long-ago 2010s by reading my journals, but they’ll at least know what I thought of the latest Neil Gaiman (4 stars out of 5).
As the stack of notebooks began to accumulate on my bedside table, I decided that I wanted an easy way to rank and sort my have-read list. LibraryThing and Goodreads are two good online options to catalog book collections and maintain various book lists — I use LibraryThing and, every so often, I update my online have-read list with the latest entries from my book journal. Here’s where it really gets fun. Once the books are entered and tagged with various categories (of my own choosing), I can sort them in all kinds of ways. I can tell you that my fiction to nonfiction ratio is about 2:1. I can tell you that my most prolific reading year (since beginning this system) was 2009 (some of my favorite kids/YA fiction that year: Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell), and my least prolific was 2012 (faves of that year included The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente and Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell).
Using LibraryThing’s Stats/Memes section, I can see that my reading is nearly evenly split between male (51%) and female authors (49%) and that I favor living authors (68%) over dead ones (32%). My favorite thing to do, though, is to page through LibraryThing’s list of book awards and honors (updated by members of the online community). For each award — and there are hundreds here — the books are listed with the ones I’ve already read helpfully checked off, so I can see at a glance that of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, I’ve got 150 down, 1164 to go. (Since there have been different editions of the 1,001 list, the total number of books included is 1,314, which hardly seems fair.) Seeing the books I’ve read listed by award also helps me find awards that I was previously unfamiliar with, but which seem to do a great job picking books that I’ve loved. The Alex award, given by the ALA to books written for adults that have special appeal for young adults, is an example — after finding that it included several long-time favorites (To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, just to name a few), I knew I would be returning to find books to add to my to-read list.
I’m not going to tell you how many books are on my to-read list. Suffice to say that even if I don’t add any more books from now on, I’ve got a solid decade (maybe two) of good reading in my future. My to-read list is something to look forward to, something to help me manage my disappointment about all the wonderful books that I can’t quite get to at the moment, that I’ll forget about (in the midst of homeschooling and planning dinner and picking the kids up from dance class) if I don’t keep track somewhere. And while it’s not exactly a scarf or a t-shirt, when I check something off the to-read list, or rank all the fiction I’ve read in 2014, or add another full notebook to the bedside stack, I have a sense of accomplishment in building a lasting record of my reading life.
So in 2015, as you’re considering your reading resolutions (I’ll be trying to break the 2009 record), think about starting your own life-list of books read — or helping your kids start theirs, so they can watch the notebooks stack up, concrete evidence of hours well-spent ignoring chores, friends and family, and the great outdoors. Happy reading!