Organization is More Than Notebooks and Shelves

Hey! Did I mention that I’m working on a book about homeschooling middle school? There are hardly any books specifically about the middle school years and I really think there should be one. Middle schoolers are… well, they’re the best. Prickly, passionate, wild, playful, deep thinkers. They’re great. Anyway, here’s a second little snippet. This one is from the chapter I am working on about organization. I really cracked myself up with this one because I am not someone who is beautifully organized. To prove it, here’s a photo of what our homeschool space, which doubles as the dining room, looks like.

Partway through writing this section, I paused and looked at my notes and figuratively scratched my head. I’m probably the last person who should try writing The Life Changing Homeschool Magic of Tidying Up. I’m not that organized. If you saw our dining room, where we do most of our schoolwork, then you wouldn’t be especially impressed by our shelves or our messy bins of stuff. We’re not homeschool magazine cover-worthy. Not even close. I also don’t keep extensively organized planners or binders. We don’t do things like workboxes or any of the other fancy organization systems that some homeschoolers use. Why, then, did I think organization was worth a full chapter and so many words?

The real focus of your homeschool should be your kids, not your planners. Middle school requires us to be especially flexible. When homeschooling is at its best, we’re being flexible and dynamic. We are engaging our kids and making sure they’re progressing while giving them space to be themselves. We’re honoring that sometimes they roll their eyes and sometimes they get excited about ancient Egyptian tombs or quantum physics. We’re letting them wander around in circles for half an hour and then bringing them back to that math book without judgment.

On the other hand, without at least some modicum of organization, the whole thing can fall apart. Luckily, we don’t have to keep detailed records like in high school, when transcripts and college admittance is on the line. However, I think keeping the chaos of middle school somewhat organized can be a real challenge. There will still be papers, books, schedules, and projects to keep in some sort of order. How will you assign work or give feedback? How will you show up on time or encourage kids to be responsible for their assignments or things?

At the end of middle school, one of my sons needed a middle school transcript for a program he was considering. As we compiled it, I looked at the myriad of things we did and thought about how it needed to be molded into some sort of sense. What was an elective or an extracurricular? How did a study of microscopic stream life and several months building model rockets add up to science? Of course, it all looked fine on paper in the end. You can make it come together however you need to. If I had wanted to, I could have just written “Math 7” followed by “Math 8” and “History 6” followed by “History 7” and “History 8.” However, I wanted to be a little bit honest, so I put down “Science of Flight” and “Graphic Design” and other units he’d done. I was struck by how piecemeal it seemed, but also how diverse and accomplished. He seemed like such a serious young kid when I looked at all the things he had done on paper.

Middle school is wild unexpected like that. When you’re teaching a child to read, at the start of the year, they’re struggling through basic readers and maybe a year later they’re casually reading Frog and Toad or even a Magic Treehouse book. However, in middle school, sometimes it can be harder to pinpoint these particular triumphs. It’s even harder if you have a middle schooler who gets a case of spaciness or grouchiness. In the day to day, you can easily begin to feel like you’re running in place without ever getting anywhere.

Organization can actually help with all of this. It can help you organize your thoughts, make sure you stay reasonably on track amidst a chaotic life, and help you pause and reflect so you can see that progress.

I’ve seen amazing homeschoolers who can’t see how amazing they are because they’re disorganized. I’ve also seen homeschools brought down by a lack of organization. It’s not that the homeschool was actually failing, just that the parent couldn’t feel a sense of success and couldn’t keep up with the chaos of growing kids. Middle school is tough. You need some level of organization to fall back on.

Organization is more than just where you keep the pens and the notebooks. You should have places for those, sure. However, organization is really the underlying way that we communicate with our kids, give them essential feedback, reflect on what we’re doing, and make changes going forward. Organization is how we structure our days and where we put our attention. Organization is how your system runs. It decides what happens and what stays just an idea. That’s super important stuff that deserves some of your attention.

This is not to say that I think you need to suddenly become an office supply advertisement. Some people do love to have systems that include tons of bits and pieces. It can help to have the right piece of paper in front of you every morning, or the right app open on your phone helping remind you to stay the course or at least record the veering course for posterity. However, your systems can also be pretty simple.

Let’s just be honest. Simple systems are best, but even simple systems tend toward chaos. No matter what organization system you implement, it won’t be perfect. This isn’t to entreat you to work toward perfection. Just like how your student is going to work through a messy, chaotic time in their life, you guiding them through it will also likely be a little messy and chaotic.

My main goal is that you recognize that organization can be a linchpin in your homeschool. It can make or break things. That’s why it’s worthy of your attention and thoughtfulness. But also, don’t judge yourself when your systems inevitably don’t work out or don’t keep up. Just reflect on what’s working, let go of what you don’t need, and revise what you do need.

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