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Organizational Tools I Couldn't Homeschool WithoutAre you ready for your homeschool year to start?

I have to admit that I’m a bit jealous of those of you who are getting ready for the upcoming school year. My kids are now well beyond their school years, and I miss the “getting organized for the start of school” part of homeschooling.

We homeschooled through high school, and during that time there were several organizational tools that I couldn’t homeschool without. Well, I could, but I’d be crabby and disorganized, and you don’t want to see me crabby and disorganized.
Here’s my personal list of must-have organization tools:

1. Stack of 3×5” index cards

A little stack of index cards was the heart of my organization system. Keeping a dozen or so index cards in my back pocket at all times meant that I could immediately capture important thoughts. If my daughter was working on a project, and I noticed that she hesitated on the multiplication fact six times seven, I could quickly jot it down so we could review this fact at the beginning of math class tomorrow. If my son misspelled some words on a 4-H project, I would jot the words down so we could cover those words the next day. If I remembered that we needed eggs while I was in the middle of a science experiment, I could write it down and never miss a beat.

Organizational Tools I Couldn't Homeschool Without - All About Learning PressToward the end of the day, I would take a minute to sort the cards. The note about the math fact would be tucked into the teacher’s manual of the math book. The note about the spelling words would be added to my son’s Spelling Review Box (which was actually an index card box back then). A question for my hubby would go next to my place at the dinner table so I would remember to talk to him when he came home.

This simple capture system meant that my mind could be relatively clear as I went throughout the day. I didn’t have to hold on to each thought, trying to remember it for later. I could immediately transfer an idea to a card and free up my mind, trusting that I’d come back to it later. It’s easier for me to trust an index card system that lives in my back pocket than it is for me to trust an electronic system such as a list in Word or a digital to-do list. Index cards are always there for me, I don’t have to interrupt what I’m doing to capture an idea, and I know that I’ll remember the list in my pocket (at least when I change out of my jeans!). And there is satisfaction in physically putting a note in the right spot—a spot where I will be prompted to look at the note at the appropriate time.

2. Chore chart

We used the P.E.G.S. system from Family Tools for many years. At the time, it was the best system I knew of (that was before the Internet became mainstream, believe it or not), but now there are lots of great ideas for chore charts online. Here’s a super cute idea that I wish I had thought of:

Organizational Tools I Couldn't Homeschool Without - All About Learning Press How simple and motivating is that? This door hanger has chores clipped on the left, and as they are completed, the child moves them to the right. I want one.

3. Voice mail or answering machine

For me, the phone was the biggest source of interruptions while we were schooling, so next on my list is voice mail. Unless I was expecting a call from the doctor, I turned the phone ringer off and let calls go to voice mail during our school hours. Trust me—if it’s important, they’ll call back or leave a message. Educating kids is more important than making sure that everyone can get hold of you at every single moment of the day. Keep your school day on track and let voice mail work for you.

4. Book shelves, book shelves, book shelves.

There’s no question that instilling a love of reading is one of the most important things you can do for your children. And one way that I encouraged reading in our home was to have books … lots of books … available for my children to read. Whether it’s engaging picture books that your child can read on her own or books that you can read aloud together, be sure that your book shelves are filled with a wide variety of books for your family to enjoy.

5. Brother label maker

We homeschoolers have a lot of paper to deal with. Lesson plans, kids’ projects, school records, ideas for future projects, and so on. For a while, I felt like I was going to drown in the sea of paper. And then came my Brother label maker. Have you ever had a tool that you liked to use just for the sake of using it? That’s me and my label maker. I like to use it, and so I do. With my labeler, I want to file. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs a label maker, but if you have an issue with paper clutter, figure out what would make you want to get on top of the paper clutter and stay on top of it. For me, it’s my labeler. I have the PT-18R, but there are less expensive Brother models out there, too.

6. List of favorite easy meals

When it comes to meals, I’ve gone from one extreme to the other. Early on, I would come up with detailed menu plans, with a full meal for every day of the week. I’d shop for the ingredients … but when it came time to actually make the meal, I’d often be running short on time because a project took longer than expected, or a good educational opportunity came along, or I was just plain tired. For me, the best way to get dinner on the table is to keep a running list of super-easy meals that everyone in the family enjoys.

7. Crock pot

This is related to #6. I could easily write “Ode to My Crock Pot” and really mean it. Just thinking about my crock pot makes me hungry for chicken tacos. Minimal planning and five or ten minutes in the morning, and dinner is guaranteed. Thank you, Crock Pot. I love you.

Organizational Tools I Couldn't Homeschool Without - All About Learning Press

8. Alarm clock

This is actually first on my list, but I put it at the bottom so I wouldn’t scare you. I like to sleep in as much as the next person, but if I let the kids wake up first, I would start out my day playing catch-up. By the time I showered and got going, the kids would already be started on a project of their own, and I’d be the bad guy reining them in for school work. For me, getting up with the alarm clock keeps my plans from falling apart and keeps the atmosphere positive.

One more idea that I wish had been around when I was homeschooling is the Workbox System. Workboxes are a way of organizing all your child’s school work for the entire day. I think that workboxes would have worked great for my kids—they could have seen at a glance exactly what they had to do for the day. My kids were the type who wanted to know the bare minimum they had to do before they could get started on their own projects. They would actually ask me for the checklist of items; I think that was so they could make sure that I wasn’t expanding the list during the day.

Sue Patrick, who came up with the Workbox concept, explains that kids “can see how much work there is to do and what it will mean to be finished. They can see the hard work ahead, and they can see the fun things to come. By including difficult work, fun work, projects, centers, and group activities, most children will actually look forward to coming to school in the morning.” A Google search will turn up all kinds of ways that families have adapted this system for their own uses.

What do you do to keep your homeschool organized? Post in the comments below and we’ll add your idea to Readers’ Tips box below.
Readers’ Tips:
  • Evernote and IKEA Kallax shelves. (Rebecca S. via Facebook)
  • A closet with shelves, bins, binders. Computer, printer and all supplies “live” in there! (Susan F. via Facebook)
  • Google Docs on my phone, Excel and these bins. (Stefani M. via Facebook)
  • Pencil pouches to organize activities with small pieces. (Anna W. via Facebook)
  • Clear, plastic shoe boxes, bookshelves, folding tables and chairs for portable desk space, my copier and laminating machine. (Michelle L. via Facebook)
  • Office Depot 13-Pocket File Box (Sarahi D. via Facebook)
  • A daily planner, a library card, and book shelves. (Michelle R via Facebook)
  • Metal rack/cart, plastic boxes…and the internet! and Pinterest! (Marie D. via Facebook)
  • Sticky tabs, workboxes, teacher binder, teacher box. (Merry M. from AALP)
  • My recollections table carousel makes supplies neat but always on hand! (Robin W. via Facebook)
  • Shelves, plastic page protectors, shelves, 3-ring binders, mini post-it notes, shelves, baskets. Did I mention shelves?! (Shannon M. via Facebook)
  • Crates and hanging folders. And shelves! (Heather S. via Facebook)
  • Erasable friction pens to color code lesson plans and a folder system for schoolwork. (Jolanthe E. via Facebook)
  • A weekly laminated lesson check off form, daily plastic bins for the PK/K kids, and lastly a menu plan! Wendie D. via Facebook)
  • My dollar store student planner. (Sandy G. via Facebook)
  • Bookshelves, plastic bins, stapler, whiteboard to post up schedules,binders, and labels. (Rebecca B. via Facebook)
  • My planner, my printer/copier/fax, my laptop, LOTS of bookshelves, Ticonderoga pencils, and my magnetic dry erase board! (Tanya A. via Facebook)
  • Clear bins from Costco and pencil boxes to keep each kids books and supplies in for the week! (Beth F. via Facebook)
  • A 17-foot wall of built-in cabinets and shelves! (Robin E. from AALP)
  • Coffee, cheap spiral notebooks, and a library card (Lea Ann G. via Facebook)
  • Evernote! ( via Facebook)
About Marie Rippel

Marie Rippel, curriculum developer of the award-winning All About Reading and All About Spelling programs, is known for taking the struggle out of both teaching and learning. Marie is an Orton-Gillingham practitioner, sought-after speaker, and member of the International Dyslexia Association. When not writing or teaching, Marie can be found riding her Icelandic horses.


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  1. My pressure cooker! Seriously, we cooked garlic wings in 12 minutes tonight. Last night it cooked chicken breasts from frozen to perfection in 18 minutes, and quinoa in 6 minutes. Total life saver when I’ve forgotten to pull something out to thaw, or when the crock pot didn’t get washed the night before.

  2. The two tools that have been invaluable for my 1st grader this year are a morning checklist that he can start on as soon as he’s ready in the morning (some days he’s chomping at the bit to get started so he can move on to his projects) and a large binder that serves as his portfolio. It’s required for homeschooling in our state, and by organizing a binder with tabs at the beginning of the year and dividing up his completed work into each subject, I’ve got a head start on my paperwork. I included tabs for assessments and attendance, and usually have a week’s worth of assignments in math and grammar and social studies tucked into the cover. It wasn’t my original idea, but it’s been a huge help. I think it will be even better when little brother is ready to start kindergarten in the fall, too.

  3. I love the workbox idea! What age/grade does this work for most of you? My kids are 7, 5, & 3 and right now they need instructions with each task/subject so I try to time their subjects and run back and forth!

    • Sarah,
      Workboxes can work with any age student. When my kids were the ages of your children, they easily knew which workbox they could do themselves and which they needed to bring to me. There is a LOT of information, adaptations, and such about workboxes online. I’m sure you can find a method that will work for you without a lot of searching.

  4. I work from home. I love the work box idea that way my son knows exactly what need to be Done that day. I can get back to work
    Definately going to sit down and plan a our days that way. He will have no surprises.

  5. Ziploc baggies–keeps all sorts of art supplies, manipulatives, flash cards, etc. organized and contained

    Sharpie markers–mark notebooks, workbooks, boxes, etc.

    Pencil boxes–holds pens, pencils, glue sticks, scissors, etc. so they don’t fall out of the cupboard.

    We don’t do workboxes with our large family, but this year I purchased a large box for scrapbook paper and gave one to each child. They hold workbooks and school supplies specific to a child. It is just a matter of getting the box down and putting it up at the end of the day. They are big enough for 12 x 12 paper but short enough to stack. When you can’t close the lid, empty out old papers.

  6. Index cards! Completely better than the random scraps and receipts falling from my pocket.

  7. Thanks for these great tips! We are starting our first year of homeschooling and appreciate advice from those who have gone before.

  8. I like the clothespin idea, with a large family I’m also in need of little tips and tools to help things run smoothly.

  9. My son is only 3 1/2, so we’re just starting out. Like you, I prefer to write something down versus using technology (though I love tech, just feel more motivated with pen and paper). I’m starting to introduce a few workboxes this year and I’m printing out a daily do list for me so I can check off my goals as we go along.

  10. I love all the organization ideas. It is very helpful now that I’m getting ready for the new school year.

  11. I love the idea of the door tag with clothes pins…I may just have to steal that one.

  12. Being a newbie homeschooler, I love all the suggestions you’ve posted here and can’t wait to get started!

  13. thanks for sharing!! I ‘ve never seen chores like that such a cute idea!

  14. I LOVE index cards. I use them similar to how you do Marie. I also have some really big ones (5×8 maybe?) that I write memory verses, poems, copywork, etc. on. Being so big, we can keep the week’s memory work displayed and still read it easily. I also adore my crockpot — could live without it, but not happily. ;)

  15. I love the chore chart. I need to get me a label maker. :)

  16. love the chore chart!

  17. i also have an affinity for index cards! Great idea about the list of easy meals too!

  18. i definitely have to do the alarm clock thing… and i am going to try the workbox idea as we start our first year of homeschooling! :)

  19. I need to use some of these organizational tools in our busy home. My biggest help thus far has been my crockpot. I love being able to start dinner in the morning and then not worry about it for the rest of the day!

  20. These are great ideas for a beginning homeschool mom like myself. Since my oldest is only a preschooler, the biggest organizational tool is an alarm clock. The clothespin chore chart is such a great idea!

  21. Katherine says:

    Thanks for all of the organizational ideas. My mind is racing now! I am new to AAR/AAS and excited to implement some of these suggestions.

  22. Hi! Well, this is our first year of homeschooling (pre-k) and I decided to implement a modified Workbox System and so far we are BOTH loving it!

  23. What a cute idea for a chore chart!

  24. I need my calendar to keep me on track!

  25. Great ideas!
    Need to set the alarm!

  26. I love these cool ideas. I have four children and I am always in need of better organization to make things run a little more smoothly. Thanks for passing these along.

  27. I loved the idea of the workbox system, but my kids are little (my oldest is 5) and my husband didn’t like the idea of spending a lot of money for something that would take up a lot of space and not *need* all that space. So, instead, I made something sort of like a workbox for myself. I use two file folder crates, the kind you get at office supply stores. I have a bunch of file folders in them, and in each file folder is a subject. I start at one end of the crate and work my way to the other, one folder at a time. It keeps us on target with what we’ll be doing that day. On shorter days, I do the first few folders in one of the crates and skip the last ones, which are less essential. It has the basic idea of workboxes, where everything you need is available and all together and ordered, so you know what to do next. But it takes up less space and cost less to setup. When the kids are older and independent in more subjects, though, I might consider trying workboxes then. :)

    • You can actually find a fair amount of people who do workboxes in just this fashion, there are lots of pictures and blogs online of how people have adapted the system. The compact nature of the file crates does appeal to me! I have a friend who does that, and one of her sons takes his whole crate to his room to work! I use a file box for my Teacher Box, and keep all of my IG’s in it: I used to try to keep them on a shelf, but so many fall over and it just wasn’t convenient as my kids got older and more work needed correcting. Have fun!

  28. All this information is absolutely wonderful and I’m taking it all in! this will be my 2nd year homeschooling, so I’m still trying to figure it all out. I do love my label maker also! And I couldn’t live without it! I am also a big supporter of turning off phones during school time. I feel like nothing should interfer with that. We’re in the process of converting a portion of our basement into our school room.

    One item that I could not live without is our family calendar. Every family member has a space on it and I keep track of everything that the family has going on there. It stays on the fridge and I check it every night before I go to bed and first thing in the morning. I have also had to train myself to stand right by it when I am making appts. so I write it down right away :) It has been a lifesaver for our family.

  29. It’s tax-free weekend in Texas right now. So when my oldest DD & I went shopping this morning, I happened to remember seeing the door hanger chore charts and picked up the supplies. All four kids made theirs today, and I put your blog as the source on my Facebook page. They loved making them, as that’s the most creativity we’ve had all summer!
    I’m going to try the 3×5 card idea in my pocket–that’s right up my alley. And, I had already bought four new bookcases for my school room last week. The rest of your ideas I love and use at least weekly. It was a great post; thanks for sharing!!

  30. Will be coming back here often as I start my first year of homeschooling….Aghhhhh! :)

  31. Christy Marez says:

    I love my label maker and the plastic file crates to store all the school printouts and such. I also can’t live without binders and sheet protectors life savers.

  32. Looking forward to trying the workbox system this year. Love the clothespin chore list idea too!

  33. Love your website!

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