As a homeschooled kid, I thought very little about the amount of time and effort it took for my mom to keep everything organized. The concept only entered my mind when a new “school cabinet” showed up in our basement or living room and quickly filled up with books and DVDs, or when I saw my mom sitting at the kitchen table, notebooks and schedules spread out before her, like a ship’s captain consulting star charts and plotting the right course. With three kids, it took organization and discipline to make it all happen. Add in another child, or two or three, and homeschooling really gets complicated. Here are a few tips for keeping your little sailors and their school gear shipshape.
Organization begins with stowing the books and supplies. My mom used a large cabinet with double doors and plenty of shelves, but other moms use cubbies, bookcases, drawers, and wall shelving─anything that can conveniently store a lot of books and educational items. To make it easier on you and on the kids, assign each child his or her own shelves, drawers, bins, or cubbies. Try color-coding these storage spaces using labels and the children’s names. The colors allow little ones to identify their supplies, even if they cannot read yet.
Of course, you also have those miscellaneous supplies that everyone needs─markers, pens, pencils, glue, scissors, sticky notes, folders, and paper. A separate cabinet or desk, placed in an accessible spot in your homeschool area, can house these “common use” items.
Using a Planner
Many textbooks and teacher’s manuals come with planning aids, and detailed homeschool planners are available online or in notebook format, depending on the style that is most comfortable for you. Before the beginning of the school year, set aside ample time to go through the kids’ upcoming subjects and create a plan for each child and every school day, right through the first month. It’s time-consuming but much less stressful in the long run. Of course, you can adjust your planner as you go along until you have a schedule that works well for everyone.
Teaching in Shifts
Homeschooling a mix of grade levels offers the potential for teaching independence and self-motivation. Using homeschool DVDs or online videos helps immensely here since you can start the older children with their lessons and check in on them periodically to keep them on track and to answer questions. Meanwhile, you can focus on the little ones who don’t yet have the attention span or the learning skills to take on a lesson by themselves. For instance, phonics and reading with a couple of the younger children happens while middle grade and high school kids are busy watching their video lessons.
If you don’t use video lessons, simply set up the older children in a quiet corner of the house with their reading assignments and then talk through the concepts with them later while the little ones are busy with worksheets. Work together on fun activities such as art, music, math manipulatives, and science experiments.
Knowing When to Flex
Many moms find that allowing their kids a little flexibility within the overall schedule works wonders. For example, Sophia may want to do math first and then science, rather than vice versa. If it doesn’t negatively affect anyone else’s schooling, Mom allows her that freedom to switch the two subjects. That way, Sophia is more engaged and interested in her work, and she gains a sense of responsibility for making that decision. It doesn’t change her assignment─ it just improves her mindset.
Motivating the Sailors─and the Captain
Whining and wailing about the workload happens in every homeschool, but it can really sap a mom’s patience. With a combination of consequences and rewards, you can keep wayward sailors in line and stay the course for a successful homeschool day. If Jackson doesn’t finish his math assignment within the allotted time, it goes on the “evening work” pile and the schedule moves on to the next assignment. Jackson─and his siblings─quickly realize that the more they accomplish during school hours, the less they have to do later.
At the end of the day, not every pencil may find its way back to the pencil holder, and a couple of history pages may still be unread. What matters is the moments when their eyes light up with understanding, when they randomly give you a squeeze around the neck and a kiss on the cheek, or when they bend over a younger sibling and say, “Let me teach you what I learned.”
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Rebecca K. is a work-at-home freelance writer, a novelist, a wife, and a mom of two bright-eyed little ones. She credits her success in writing and her love of books to her mom, who homeschooled three kids from pre-K through high school.