313

Organizational Tools I Couldn’t Homeschool Without

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.

My Favorite Organizational Tools for Homeschooling:

  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.

    Stack of notecards

    At 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. 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.

  3. Chore Chart

    Child's 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 this? The door hanger has chores clipped on the left, and as they are completed, the child moves them to the right. Love it!

  4. Label Maker

    As homeschoolers, we 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 the way it is with 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.

  5. 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 they’re 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.

    Young girl reading book
  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 an “Ode to My Crock Pot” and really mean it. Just thinking about my crock pot makes me hungry for chicken tacos. With minimal planning and five or ten minutes in the morning, dinner is guaranteed. Thank you, Crock Pot. I love you.

    Chicken taco on a plate
  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.

And a Bonus Idea …

I wish Workbox Systems had been around when I was homeschooling. 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.

Are you ready to organize your All About Reading materials? Check out this Real Moms, Real Kids post to see how Lexi does it!

Organizational Tips Recommended by Our Readers

  • A closet with shelves, bins, binders. Computer, printer and all supplies “live” in there! (Recommended by Susan F. via Facebook)
  • Google Docs on my phone, Excel and these bins. (Recommended by Stefani M. via Facebook)
  • Pencil pouches to organize activities with small pieces. (Recommended by Anna W. via Facebook)
  • Office Depot 13-Pocket File Box (Recommended by Sarahi D. via Facebook)
  • Sticky tabs, workboxes, teacher binder, teacher box. (Recommended by Merry M. from AALP)
  • Shelves, plastic page protectors, shelves, 3-ring binders, mini post-it notes, shelves, baskets. Did I mention shelves?! (Recommended by Shannon M. via Facebook)
  • Crates and hanging folders. And shelves! (Recommended by Heather S. via Facebook)
  • Erasable friction pens to color code lesson plans and a folder system for schoolwork. (Recommended by Jolanthe E. via Facebook)
  • A weekly laminated lesson check off form, daily plastic bins for the PK/K kids, and lastly a menu plan! (Recommended by Wendie D. via Facebook)
  • My planner, my printer/copier/fax, my laptop, LOTS of bookshelves, Ticonderoga pencils, and my magnetic dry erase board! (Recommended by Tanya A. via Facebook)
  • Clear bins from Costco and pencil boxes to keep each kids books and supplies in for the week! (Recommended by Beth F. via Facebook)
  • Coffee, cheap spiral notebooks, and a library card (Recommended by Lea Ann G. via Facebook)
  • Evernote! (Recommended by HomeschoolWithLove.com via Facebook)
  • My pressure cooker…chicken breasts from frozen to perfection in 18 minutes! (Recommended by Erica via blog comment)
  • A morning checklist (for the kids!) and a large binder portfolio. (Recommended by Laura via blog comment)
  • Zip-top baggies, sharpie markers, and pencil boxes!! (Recommended by Diane via blog comment)
organizational tools pinterest graphic
< Previous Post  Next Post >

Leave a Comment

Rose

says:

Very good tips! Thank you!

Sublime.

says:

Thank you so very much. The tips are extremely helpful.

Lisa

says:

Thank for you for this! Very helpful! And I’m so trying your chicken taco recipe! :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lisa,
We’ll be having chicken tacos made this way this coming week! We serve it with cabbage, cilantro, and lime and a side of corn and beans. Yum!

Maria Bra

says:

Thanks so much for your invaluable tips. The first one sounds really good. I’ll try it myself ;)

Becki

says:

Great advice!!!!

Ruth Dexter

says:

I have shelves and shelves of books that I struggle to keep organized. My kids ( almost 9 and younger) couldn’t do any of the shelving. Recently, i got color coded labels organized my books by subjects. Now it is super obvious where everything .

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a great idea, Ruth! Thank you for sharing it.

Donna

says:

Thank you for all the wonderful tips! I am so glad you mentioned workboxes! We have used them almost from the beginning. Sue Patrick, creator of the system has cancer and it would be great if we homeschool moms could encourage her on her website. Thank you so much.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Donna,
I used workboxes for many years too. I am so sorry to hear about Sue Patrick. Thank you for letting us know.

Becky

says:

Thanks for some great ideas! Getting and staying organized is challenging.

N. Lynn Schofield

says:

Workboxes, simplified: I once looked at the Workbox system, and it seemed so complicated. All those drawers, those symbols and stickers—it just wasn’t going to work with me tending younger children and tackling dishes and laundry while my older kids homeschool. When for Mother’s Day my MIL gave me a colorful 20-drawer cart like those featured in the Workbox system (only double), I found a way to make it work for me. Each student has one personal drawer. In that drawer go the materials he/she needs for that day (for example, Math DVD and worksheet, handwriting copy work, writing assignment, Latin workbook, assigned novel, etc.). On top goes a checklist for that day. Mine is a simple one I made in Word. There is also a small pencil/pen box in it. Right when we return from dropping the kids ages 3-5 at half-day Montessori (another secret of our homeschooling success), the child takes the drawer to wherever he/she is working that day and gets started. Needed items too big for the drawer go on a shelf where the child knows to look. If I am needed for a subject (such as AAS, AAR, violin practice), I write “with Mom” on the checklist, and the child knows that he/she has to come do that subject when I ask, when I am available. Schoolwork is not done until I have checked everything and the student has made corrections, filed the papers in his/her notebook, put the books away, etc. Books needed the next day stay in the drawer. Before cleared to be “done with school” for the day, the child has to put the drawer back. Every day after schoolwork is done or in the evening, I quickly write up the checklists for the next day and make sure the materials are in the drawer. This takes five minutes or so, because I already have my plan written out in a homemade planner that I fill out Sunday night for the week. That leaves 18 drawers for storing subject materials (the AAS drawer, the Latina Christiana drawer, the Math U See Epsilon drawer, the Math U See Gamma drawer, the violin music drawer, etc.), a drawer for Dover coloring books to do during read-aloud time, a drawer for extra notebook paper, etc. In one of them I keep all our “table time” materials (unless too bulky to fit), which is my name for the subjects we do together (history, science, literature, religion, Latin/Greek roots, poetry, memory work and recitation). When it is “table time” (currently 10:30-noon, ending when the boys get home from school—God bless my carpool), I grab the tray and the kids and we gather at the table to begin the rosary, which is how we begin. In all it works very well to keep my highly disorganized children (two of whom have ADHD) on track and their materials in order. The checklist is wonderful—it mostly eliminates arguments and helps motivate my children to work in a timely manner, knowing that if it isn’t on the checklist, they don’t have to do it, and that if it is on the checklist, they (usually) must do it or they have no fun time until they do do it. Sometimes I need to adjust when I realize something is harder for them or takes longer than I originally anticipated, but that is easily done.

Julie

says:

Love this. Thanks so much.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wow! Thank you for taking the time to write out this detailed discussion of how you organize your homeschool. Fascinating, and very helpful.

Suzanne Filz

says:

Loving the index cards, I have a ton of post its falling all over the place all day :)

Erica

says:

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.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Erica,
I think you have convinced me to invest in a pressure cooker!

Laura

says:

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.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Laura,
These sound like great organization helps. Thanks for sharing.

Sarah

says:

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!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

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.

Tammie

says:

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.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Tammie,
I used workboxes for years. Instead of shoeboxes or a drawer cart, I used flat bins with lids that stacked but allowed books (like All About Spelling!) to lay flat. It’s a great way to organize your day.

Diane

says:

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.

Erin

says:

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

Lacey

says:

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

Nicole

says:

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

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.

Karla

says:

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

Citysister

says:

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

Sandi

says:

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

anissa

says:

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

HillaryM

says:

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. ;)

Vickie

says:

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

alina

says:

love the chore chart!

Shay

says:

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

angie

says:

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! :)

Laura

says:

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!

Sonja

says:

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!

Leave a Comment