When we started homeschooling, we were living in a tiny house. I mean, really tiny. And, the only place I had for “doing school” was our kitchen table, which was in the middle of our small 1930s kitchen and also the center for meals, craft projects, games, and gathering in general. All of my school stuff was stored in a few baskets in the pantry, and I had to pull it out and put it away to make room for mealtimes and memories.
Now, we are blessed to have graduated to a larger house with a bonus room, aka schoolroom, and with twelve years of homeschooling under our belts, our few baskets from the pantry have expanded and multiplied into an abundance of books, papers, projects, electronics, Legos, snakes, lizards—you name it. In addition, with my oldest now in college dual enrollment, my younger kids and I often take school on the road to the college library while my oldest is in class. Thus, my schoolroom often consists of a large tote.
To avoid the inevitable disarray getting so disorganized that it becomes a chaotic snowball, regular “spring cleaning” is a necessity. Organizing our school stuff is a vital part of homeschool planning. If I’m scrambling to find things, I’m not at my best, and our school time suffers. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what size school space you have. With a few key essentials, a plan, and organization, you can make the best use of what you have and homeschool efficiently.
Three Steps to an Organized Schoolroom
Develop an efficient system.
Have you read Cheaper by the Dozen? Mr. Gilbreth, an efficiency expert with a house full of kids was constantly pulling out his stopwatch to monitor the most efficient ways to do everything from brushing teeth to running a corporation. Assess your school space and find the best locations for items you use often. In our schoolroom, I keep a tray in the center of the table to hold our pencils, pens, sharpener, ruler, scissors, and even a tiny waste bin. (Recycled cans or jars make good holders for supplies.) With everything at arm’s reach, we avoid having to get up and down to look for a pen or colored pencil. In our old house, I kept these items in a small plastic tote that I could pull out for school and easily put away. My tote holds a zipper case with the essentials we need on the go.
Cut out the clutter.
Clutter and kids go hand-in-hand, but add homeschooling to the equation, and you quickly become overrun with books, papers, etc. At least twice a year, sort through books and donate, sell, or store those that you don’t need for that school year. Designate a spot for each child’s materials, or use colored stickers on the spines of books to code which books are for which child. If you like using e-books, you can free up a good bit of shelf space.
Get rid of papers you no longer need. In my state, we are required to keep a portfolio for each child. At the end of each grading period, I choose representative samples of their work and throw away the excess papers. Same goes for workbooks as they are completed. Pull out a few special pages, and throw the rest away. Things I always save are essays, handwriting samples, history projects, science lab notes, a few math samples, and their student planners—anything that took a lot of time and care to create. You’ll be surprised at how much you really don’t need to keep. If you are really sentimental, you can scan pages and store them on a flash drive before tossing the originals.
Organize and Plan
Gather all your teaching materials in one spot. Keep your teacher manuals, notebooks, and planners in a place where you have easy access to them, and store away anything you aren’t currently using. With multiple students, it helps to group items according to how you teach. If everyone does math at the same time, keep all your math manuals and manipulatives together. If you sit down with your kids one at a time, group your materials by grade level.
Spend a few minutes at the end of each day planning for the next day. Enlist the kids to help put things away and tidy up. When you wake up prepared, it is a lot easier to get schoolwork started on time.
I keep my planner right beside my computer or in my tote on days we are schooling on the go. Its spiral binding allows me to fold back the cover and have the page I need visible. I strive to plan lessons a week at a time, but life happens, so sometimes I revise the next days’ plans the night before. It is vitally important to start each day with a plan, even if it has to be modified. Not knowing what each child should be doing is a huge time-waster, causes you to lose momentum, and frustrates everyone.
Keeping your school space neat and organized is essential for smoother, more efficient homeschooling. Once things pile up, it can be overwhelming and discouraging. Set aside time to tackle the clutter, and enjoy the benefits of being able to focus on the lightbulb moments!
This article originally appeared in Family Magazine, 2015, Issue 2. Read it and more of my articles at HEDUA.com.