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 20 and 22, and I miss the “getting organized for the start of school” part. We homeschooled through high school, and during that time I discovered 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:
1. Stack of 3×5” index cards
This 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.
Toward 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: 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.
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.
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 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.