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Spring Cleaning for Home Schoolers

April showers bring May flowers. But for most home educators, it’s also the time of year to prepare for our Spring home school review. You’re probably sorting through piles of paper and organizing examples of your child(ren)’s classwork, projects and travels. So while you have it all spread out anyway, why not do some home school Spring cleaning? Here are some tips that work for me.

Your goal should be to create simple material, space and time management techniques that make your family’s lives more comfortable and enjoyable. These systems must be easy enough to actually use. Come up with ideas that fit your family’s lifestyle and personalities. Ask for your kids’ opinions and help.

Being organized doesn’t necessarily mean devising some complicated color-coded filing system, sorting teeny-tiny math manipulatives into teeny-tiny storage containers or arranging your books exactly like the library. Nor is it about running your family’s lives by a stopwatch with an inflexible timetable. Nevertheless, it would be nice to be able to find a glue stick when you need it.

A place for everything

Here are suggestions for getting and keeping your home organized for school:

Search out supplies. First, you have to figure out what you have. Do you have school supplies spread throughout the house? Turn your inventory-taking into a scavenger hunt. Get your kids to search out everything you use, make a big pile on the floor and then start sorting. Don’t count paper clips, but take stock and you’ll be surprised by how much stuff and duplicates there are.

My son uses plastic tote baskets as his portable toolboxes. He puts in a few of everything he’ll need or want while doing deskwork. We keep one on our worktable and one in his room. If we do projects in the living room, on the bed or outdoors, the tote and a clipboard go with us. We remove items from their original containers, combine similar objects into tins, baggies or small boxes, and store those extra materials away in larger labeled boxes.

Weed out the old. Now you have to decide where you’re going to put it all. Do you plan to keep every scrap of paper, science experiment, dead bug and art project forever? In our little apartment, we work on the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ principle. After our bi-annual review, my son picks a few projects to display, and I squirrel away some representations of that season’s work. Everything else winds up in the recycling bin.

Stack those shelves. How many books does your family have? Even if you don’t want to store all your reading material in one room, maybe you should re-evaluate why and where you keep reading materials. Are your children’s books at a child’s height? We rotate books from room to room just to make it interesting. If you have books to which you refer to often, keep them where you use them. It sounds so simple, but notice where books pile up and put a bookcase or basket there. Sell, swap or give away books your family has outgrown.

Organize the database. Avoid printing out website information until you need it. I save oodles of information in folders on my computer’s desktop. At the end of the month, I move everything onto my external hard drive. I K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) by organizing by the subjects we study and then by more specific details. For example, Reading: Fiction: Anne of Green Gables: Synopsis. When I have the computer arranged by name, I see exactly what I have. You might sort by topics of study or interest. Maybe your family prefers folders for each month or child. Devise a system that you can remember. And don’t over-think your search words.

Do the math. Here’s an easy math problem. If your family has an appointment 24 kilometres away at 11am and you need to go to the bank, get gas and some snacks, what time do you have to leave your home? No, not 10:30am. Be realistic about how long driving to your destination actually takes, especially with little kiddos. We pack for field trips the night before.

Invest in a day planner and use it. Set goals, even if it’s in terms of morning, afternoon, evening or sometime this week. Keep a ‘to-do’ list you can do anytime. Stash reading material in your vehicle. Write down everything. Review and plan daily.

I’ve given up wasting time by putting away stuff today we’re just going to pull out tomorrow. I use large litre-size plastic zipper bags to hold works-in-progress and toss them into stackable milk crates when we actually want to use our dining table for dining. By leaving out hands-on items, my son’s curious nature is more easily piqued. Neatness doesn’t always count!

Susan home educated her son for 12 years through high school graduation. She lives near the Mid-Atlantic Ocean and is on permanent creative sabbatical. 

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