Guest Post: Planning for an Organized Year

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So, Funny story about Crystal, who is tackling this guest post for me. Crystal is the first homeschooler I have ever met “in the flesh” . . . back when I still believed the stereotype that all homeschoolers are weird and socially stunted (yeah, I was wrong). We both were part of the Spouses Club board, and were working insanely hard to keep everything running smoothly.
I had just sent Bug off to public school Kinder, and was toying with pulling him, but was feeling terribly overwhelmed at the idea. Crystal invited me over and showed me her set up, and once I got past the “oh my gosh, you’re so organized” first reaction, I finally started feeling like maybe this homeschool thing wasn’t at all as insane as I had previously thought. Crystal was just so calm and cool about it. She made homeschooling look easy.
Then, I moved about a million miles away, and never got to hang out with Crystal again in the flesh (huge bummer!). Over time, I’ve found my way as a homeschooler, but looking at her post now makes me chuckle, because I have a lot of these same set ups in my own home, no doubt because seeing them in hers years ago taught me a little bit about the benefits of organization and clear work zones.
With that, I am going to hand this post over to Crystal, so you can see for yourself what I mean. She’s kind of a homeschool ninja, so enjoy her post, and then head on over to her blog, Are We Warm Yet? to read more about her homeschool life.
have a better year by starting off with an organized space
I’ve spent the last 13 years working with children as a Speech-Language Pathologist, and the one thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t set them up for success right away, you are doomed to fail.  Special educators often speak of “front loading” our students, or giving them the information and tools they need prior to going into a situation.  I carried this mentality over into my homeschool, and it has saved me from consuming vast amounts of boxed wine at the end of the day.

After I’ve decided what curricula I’m buying/trading/stealing, I walk into the classroom and figure out how to set it up to best meet the needs of my kids AND myself.  Here are the things I try and ask myself:

  • Where are the critters going to do the vast majority of their work?
    • A table?  A desk (this is what my kids do)? A couch? Their bed?  When you’ve figured it out, make sure they have what they need in the immediate vicinity or you will spend hours watching your child wander the house.  Count on it.
  • Where am I going to be when they are doing said work?
    • Are you the hover-type that can spend hours sitting next to your child while looking over their shoulder?  Are you the type that needs a desk too (me)? Are you the type that just likes to give the assignment and finish your laundry?  Either way, make a space for you too so that the kids have a singular place to track you down (again avoids the walking the halls thing).
  • Where are they going to for down time?
    • They need downtime!  I have a room that we’ve turned into a library/danceroom/manipulative room.  This is different than playing outside or going to their room to play with toys.  This is where they still do their work, but with a change of scenery.  We have beanbag chairs, blankets, lots of game for them to learn together, etc.  This is the part I love about homeschooling!  What kid wouldn’t rather snuggle up with a good book on a beanbag chair with a blanket rather than a hard school desk?
  • Where am I going for down time?
    • You need downtime too!  My downtime place is the kitchen (usually with a cup of coffee and a stack of papers to grade from the day before). During my downtime, kids must respect the bubble.  I need that time during the day to think my own thoughts without squeaky voices invading my world.  Recharge zone!
  • Where am I going to put all of their “stuff?”
    • Organize it now girlfriend.  You can see some of my ideas below.  It’s important for them to know where everything goes.  I SPEND THE WHOLE FIRST WEEK TEACHING ROUTINES ON HOW AND WHERE THINGS ARE ORGANIZED!  Please do this.  You can send me chocolate as a thank you later. Experienced classroom teachers do this.  Getting kids into a routine is not a bad thing.  That is real-world stuff!  It only makes them college-ready and ready for the workforce in general.
  • Where am I going to put all of MY “stuff?”
    • Again, if you are organized, planning is so much easier.  I have cabinets and containers just for mommy materials.  No kiddie touchy-touch.
  • How can I make the stuff from spinning out of control?
    • I have a few organizational ideas below, but basically carve out serious time to file away the kids’ work as you go.  I use binders for most of their work (labeled of course).  I also take pictures of their artwork and put them in a notebook.  Anything that I really want to keep (artwork wise) gets put in a portfolio made out of 12X18 construction paper laminated and bound together.
  • What can I add to enhance their learning experience?
    • For my kids, music is a must.  After they have gotten started for the day, I put on Pandora.  We listen to everything from Gregorian chant to 70s music.  I try and stick to classics if I can, but all my kids have different personalities and they all “jam” to different things.  As long as it’s not distracting, music is on almost all day.  I have one kid who is a kinesthetic learner, so work is sometimes done on a yoga ball.   What can you add to enhance your kids’ learning?
  • What can I take away to enhance their learning experience?
    • This is just as important!  We have a no electronic rule during school.  If there’s a Kindle in the room, my middle child is trying to access it.  If there is food nearby, my kids are immediately off task.  On days when daddy is off, he too is banned from school.  I hate to do it, but (although important) my kids would choose to wrestle with daddy over tackling word problems anytime. 
Below are a few of my ideas that answer the questions above for my family.  Most of it deals with the “stuff” issue as stuff seems to rule my little world.  Enjoy!

Bought 3 of these from target and zip-corded them together.

I  purchased the chairs from Office Depot.  Each girl has their own color so no fighting!


Last summer I was walking through target and spied these really cheap cubicle thingies.  I bought six of them (I wish they’d come in cool colors, but alas).  Each girl has two of these suckers, and the top one has two plastic dividers that it came with to make drawers!  I seriously get too excited about organizational materials.  So here’s how I organize their “stuff”.

First…a list of the “stuff”:

  • Colored folders
  • Colored notebooks
  • Colored binders
  • Textbooks
  • Teacher manuals
  • Miscellaneous materials (e.g. dictionaries, lapbooks, books they’re reading, etc.)

Each of their subjects is color coded and each subject has its own folder, notebook, and binder.  This might sound a little cray-cray, but seriously it’s saved me tons of time.  I can say to Darlene, “Get out your math” and she knows she’ll need her blue folder, blue notebook, and blue binder.  Bang…done.  For my organizationally-challenged kiddo, this has avoided hours of walking around the school-room wondering where her “stuff” is.  For the oldest, this has taught her to be even more OCD than she already was (she not really OCD ya’ll…just a wanna bee).

So here’s the breakdown:

  • Drawer 1:  Has all of the pretty folders.  This is where the kiddos find their assignments for the week.
  • Drawer 2:  Has all of the pretty notebooks.  We use the notebooks for everything from journaling (pink – writing) to note taking (like in history – yellow) to answering questions about a story they read (like in reading – green).
  • Drawer 3:  Has all of the textbooks and some miscellaneous materials.
  • Bottom cubbie:  Has all of the binders.  These store all of their finished work (well at least the stuff that can be punched and put in a binder).

What’s the flow?

At the beginning of the week (usually Sunday evening), I put the work for the week in the folders on the right hand side.  On the left side I put the graded work for the week.  When the girls come in on Monday morning, the pull out their folders and pull out all of their graded work and start punching.  I used to do the punching for them, but the LOVE it.  Being the control freak I am, I used to fight them on this until the tired me knocked the control freak me in the head and said, “Seriously?  That would save you like 30 min. on a Sunday evening.”  So now they do it, and I watch tv instead.  When they are done with their work for the day, they turn it into my box if it’s done (like a math assignment) or put it back in their folder if it’s an assignment they’ll need later during the week (like a spelling list).  I grade everything in the box by the end of the week or by the time they need it (such as for a test) and voila – everything has come full circle.  Just like my waistline.

  Art Center

Here is our Art Center.  I bought seriously too much paint and construction paper at discount school supply.  I’m embarrassed to say that this isn’t even a drop in the bucket of what we have.  We have more wiggly eyes, glue sticks, card stock, and crayons than you can shake a pipe cleaner at.  We have a ton of those too.  I think the key to art supplies is:

  • Have a dedicated place for them.  I got this art cabinet at a daycare sale.  I think it was a kitchen or something; since then it’s been a baby doll changing station, a stove, a stuffed animal hotel, and now an art table.
  • Buy in bulk if you can.  It’s waaaaayyyy cheaper.
  • Think outside of the box.  ANYTHING can be an art supply.  We’ve made comic strip art, art out of batteries, art out of plastic grocery bags, you name it.
  • School supplies fall in love too.  Don’t separate them.  Put all of the scissors with scissors.  All of the glue with glue.  All of the wiggly eyes with wiggly eyes.  It seriously makes like so much easier if you are organized.  If you are woman enough to buy a label maker, do it.  The kids will follow your obsessive ways in putting supplies away if it has a cute label on the container.  In the picture below, I have little pink containers that hold my scissors and glue sticks (I have a lot more of these).  I also use Folgers Coffee containers for EVERYTHING (I also use creamer containers).  All of my manipulatives are stored this way too.
  • Make a place to display your art.  Kids love seeing what they created!  I took some pretty ribbon, cut three long strands and pinned them up on the wall labeled “Art is…”.  When the kids are done with a creation, they take a clothespin and hang it on the ribbon.  They love showing daddy and friends their creation, and I love that their apple painting isn’t drying on their desks.

Bulletin Board Area

So here is part of our bulletin board area.  I have TWO dry erase boards mounted on the wall; they are mounted next to each other to make one big bulletin board.  Essentially, one side is for me, and one side is for the kids.  On my side I have our “Number of the Day” instructions.  A few mornings a week when the kids go into the classroom there will be a number written on the board.  In their math notebook they have to do a series of SET manipulations with that number (see an example here).  I also do all of my teaching from here.  We put up science vocabulary, handwriting formulation examples, test reminders, etc.

On their side of the board, a ton is going down.  We do A LOT of math work on the board.  I get all old school on them and stand up there with a ruler while they come to the board to show me how to do a problem.  I usually use my Mrs. McKrackin voice that I’ve mastered over the years, and it gets them moving and loving board math.  Basically it’s a cross between Julia Child and Mick Jagger.  I also hang various things off of this with hooks (right now it’s the 10 Commandments).  I also have magnets so we can hang important items (such as examples of the art we are going to do that day).  There is a weather wheel of course (for my 5 year old) and a calendar to keep track of the days.    We also have three pockets labeled, “Ones,” “Fives,” and “Tens.”  This is used to teach regrouping of numbers.  Finally, we have a “number caterpillar” along the bottom of the wall. It’s used to teach basic counting and skip counting.  I can post more on those later.


                              Prayer Table                                     

We spend a good chunk of our week and lessons surrounded by, engaging in, and seeking out prayer.  We also have quite a few items that are sacred and/or special in regards to God (e.g. our Bibles, rosaries, Catechism, etc.).  The first time I found a bible laying next to a desk on the floor I was like, “Whoa Nelly!” and quickly made a special place for these items.  It’s also in the front of the classroom reminding us of what comes first.

All-Star Work

So one day I found about four of these clipboards lying around and being the Texas hick I am, I was like…”We could totally duck-tape those bad boys.”  So we did.  We used these to hang mentionable work (i.e. Spelling Tests, written works, pictures of them working hard, etc.).



So here I was at the beginning of the school year trying to decide how to organize our school supplies.  Do I go the “village” route and throw everything in the middle of the table for the kids to grab at their leisure, or do I segregate them into their own tiny spaces.  Visions of quiet bickering turned into visions of full on smack-downs over who gets the big glue stick on the right.  Divide and conquer it was!  I bought these caddies at the dollar store and did the same thing I did with the clipboards.  Bring on the duck-tape!  Somehow over the last year I had accumulated enough duck tape to fix all of the furniture in a small trailer in Louisiana (in which I have lived, so I can say this).  The girls had a blast decorating their caddies, and I’m happy to say that there have been no crayon wars to date.

I hope some of these ideas are useful to you.  May the force be with you my friends as you tackle another year!

Leave Crystal some love in the comments! What do you think? Is your home as organized as this? Have you ever duct taped a clip board, Texan style?


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  1. I love The idea of the tent, gonna try that! We have a nice area in our yard too for doing school work-yah! DebD

  2. Love, love, love your ideas! Thank you for sharing them! We use a cubby system too. I really want to have an outdoor area for school work. That is my goal for this summer. Maybe that will be our down time area. 🙂

    1. Definitely! During the fall we pitched a tent in the backyard and opened the “windows.” The kids had a blast and it was great motivation to get their work done (if they didn’t work, the didn’t get to stay in the tent). Crystal

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