Tag Archives: organization

Life Interferes

Out for breakfast with the grandparents.

What is it about spring that makes it so hard for us to get on track? Lately, we have just been stuck for getting our basic stuff accomplished. We’re doing okay on things, but I wish we were doing more. We have just stalled out.

And it’s not just the pollen or the warmth in the air calling us back outside. It’s just been life.

We have been seeing the husband act, enjoying a visit from some grandparents, and taking advantage of the return of baseball.

We have been finishing essays for the contest for the friends of the library, preparing presentations for co-op, finishing out our Destination Imagination season, and making those literary Peep dioramas for Easter.

We’ve been diving into the Mindstorms set the kids saved up for, trying to keep the biology experiments from expanding beyond the dining room mantle, and playing around more with Scratch programming.

We’ve been distracted by the board game Dix-It that we bought at a co-op outing to the games store, the art book The Great Art Scandal which we spent two days solving during school time, and Shakespeare prop and costume makings.

Honestly, with all that going on, who has time for schoolwork? On the other hand, at least we’ve got a rich and full life.


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I feel like I’m in a constant state of recalibrations as a parent.  The house and the homeschool are this incredibly complex, busy, multifaceted machine and it’s my job to constantly oil it, take readings, and generally do whatever tinkering engineers do on fancy machines.

Take our schedule and routine.  We started the year with little whiteboards for each boy that had a list of all the things we might do in a week, from copywork to a page in a workbook to watch a documentary.  At the start of the week, I would put little boxes next to all the tasks and we would slowly check everything off.  Worked great for a couple of months.  Then it was time for a recalibration.  I relabeled things on the little boards and would start the day by putting the boxes to check off.  Much more manageable.  Worked great.  And then…  it fell by the wayside because it was less great.  The other day, I peeled off the task labels so I could use the boards.  Time to recalibrate.  Lately, if we’re having a really full school day I list much more specific tasks on the easel board.  We need the checklists a little less in part because starting the day with our morning work routine gets us going.

Right now, I am loving the morning work.  I leave out simple things like math drills and grammar practice sheets.  I leave out more complex things like Wakeruppers pages and math puzzles.  I also leave out creative assignments like art challenges.  Will we still be doing morning work in a year?  Honestly, who knows.  It might have to be recalibrated.

The latest recalibration was that I realized we had drifted away from doing enough for language arts and writing.  We have still been at the poetry teas and have been plugging away at dictations, but we haven’t been as consistent with anything as I would like.  This is in part because we were playing with introducing All About Spelling to our routine and letting spelling be a big focus for Mushroom for the last couple of months.  Not a big deal.  We were like an old clock losing time.  I just needed to recalibrate.

One thing I’ve been trying to get back to especially is doing more narrations.  Mushroom wrote this one about butterflies and I think it’s his best writing for a narration yet (spelling and capitalization corrected, but nothing else changed):

First, the mother butterfly flies across the sky.  Eight hundred eggs come out of her or more.  All the eggs fall on different leaves.  As the eggs grow up they shed their skin.  They turn very colorful with yellow and black stripes.  The larva can only eat milkweed at this stage. Milkweed has poison in it that they can eat.  When they eat a lot of it other creatures that eat them get poisoned.

The time has come to make the chrysalis.  The butterfly makes a chrysalis.  At the top, there’s a silkmat.  Below the top there is a cremaster that sticks the chrysalis on to the tree.  The caterpillar changes into a butterfly.

I am always glad to recalibrate.  I feel like we’re always in search of that right balance with enough rigor, enough free time, enough fun projects, enough boring math practice, enough field trips, and so on and so forth.  It will, of course, never be perfect, but that’s okay.  As long as we keep tinkering and recalibrating instead of stagnating, then I assume the machine will just on humming along.

Industriousness and Organization

I commented the other day that I have always felt like Christmas Eve is for being industrious.  Since my mother was cooking our meal, I ran around the house doing tiny things that have needed doing for months (or even years) like labeling the toy bins in the basement and fixing the comfy dining room chairs so they don’t rock (they are not rockers).

Then, the day after Christmas, I tried being lazy, but instead I ended up pulling out the big shelf that has most of our currently in use homeschool books and repairing the bowed back with duck tape and nails so things don’t fall out into the ether.  Does this happen to your Ikea shelves too?  The back inevitably pops off and warps.  I think if I ever have to buy another shelf (it seems unlikely as I have filled every square inch with shelves already, but you never know) that I will duck tape the back to it from the get go.

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Then, I cleared off a bunch of books we’ve grown out of and piled them up to maybe pass on or sell or something, but at least they’re out of the way.  I keep doing that and have now piled up way too many K-2 materials.  At some point, there will be a used curriculum sale that I can set up a table at and charge a buck a book and then turn it around and spend it all on something new.  At least, that’s what I dream.  And, after all, that’s what the back room of the basement is for.

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We don’t have a dedicated schoolroom, so our dining room is the school space.  It looked festive with our Christmas dinner, but it has always doubled as a library and the more I organize and put things up, the more it feels more like a schoolroom and less like a dining room.  The Husband doesn’t mind a bit.  Whenever there’s a mess, he kindly says, “Well, we do live in a school.”  Still, I endeavor to keep it at least semi-contained.

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This was one of my recent innovations.  I’m not sure what this basket is supposed to be for, but I bought it at Target and shoved all the coffee cups full of pencils and scissors in there.  It looks so much neater that way and is so much easier to move off the table when it’s time to use the dining room table for dining instead of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.


Updating Our Organization

Last year, we had a lovely system for organization, which you can see on this post.  I made it for Mushroom, who really needed to know what had to get done in a day or a week.  It involved lots of little laminated slips and a corkboard.

This year, I wanted to change things up a little so I came up with this new system.  It probably wouldn’t have worked for us last year for various reasons, but I already like it better.  This year, there are daily things, weekly things and monthly things.  The daily things are simple: math and reading happen the same way pretty much every day.  Read for at least 20 minutes and do whatever I say is the next thing in your math for at least 20-30 minutes.  Done.

For weekly things, I made each boy a little whiteboard.  I used labels to write our most common weekly tasks, including all our language arts tasks, and things like documentary watching, which I want to do more of this year since we’re studying life science.  Each week, next to the tasks, I need to put either an X to mean we don’t have to do it, or one or more little check boxes to say that we do.  I like that if I realize the list isn’t comprehensive or something is unneeded, I can replace it with another label by just slapping it on top of the previous one.

For monthly things, I have made a little half-sheet slip of paper that they have to fill out with the required reading book they choose, the title of the writing project they completed, and what they did for their art project.

All we have is a little Ikea easel.  I put a magnetic strip at the top of the whiteboard side to hold the little whiteboards for weekly work.  They can be removed or can stay there.  I have continued to use the corkboard side by pinning various things to it, including the monthly checklist sheets.  The Ikea easel doesn’t come with cork, by the way.  I covered it last year with cheap cork tiles (it was an extremely easy project).

We really stuck with our organization system last year and only finally let it fall by the wayside mid-summer.  I hope we’re able to stick with this one as well.

Trying Something New

In order to help Mushroom with his anxiety about schoolwork, we’re implementing a new system.  We’ve only been at it for a couple of weeks, but I’m hoping it will stick, partly to help Mushroom calm down a little and understand what he needs to get done and partly to keep me on the ball with things I often forget to keep up, like narrations and spelling tests.

I spent more time than I had originally intended in setting all this up (laminating was involved), but I’m hoping it will pay off in helping me keep it going.

First, I covered the blackboard side of our easel with cork tiles, something that was cheap and extremely easy.  We use the whiteboard side all the time, but we haven’t touched the blackboard side in ages.  I labeled one side for Mushroom and the other for BalletBoy.  Then I made a list of all our daily tasks and extrapolated it by the entire week so I could make little slips with each task on them.  Some things, like “history narration” only needed a single copy per child.  Others, such as “One page of Explode the Code” needed a dozen since it’s entirely possible that I would ask them to do two or three pages a day for the whole week.

At the start of the week, I’ll put all the little slips up on the board.  As the kids finish things, they can remove them and stick them back in their little pouches.  It’s my hope that it will help them learn to manage their time a little bit.  I’m going to guide them toward not putting off the things they least want to do until the last day of the week, but I want to leave some of it up to them.  Here’s the start of our second week below.

For the first week of “second grade,” I did put a few math pages up as well as free reading, but everything else was games, puzzles and computer games.  Mushroom was so excited to finish and so thrilled that there was a system that he did his work in the afternoons so he could be finished before his brother.  You can see the last day of our first week of school below.

I’m not sure what the consequences for not getting your work done are, which breaks one of my own parenting rules, but I’d still like to give it a little time and figure it out.  After all, if we get to Sunday and things aren’t finished, I’m not fond of “missing church” as a consequence (though they love Sunday school and choir so much it would be a punishment).  So we’ll see.

Getting Science in Gear

Over the summer, we’ve been mostly taking a science break, though we’ve kept reading some books, focusing a little on inventions and how things work, which seems to be a topic that reinforces a lot of our topics from last year.

My friend whose kids did science with us all year and I got together and dreamed up a list of topics for next year.  Our plan is to cover some very basic chemistry and some earth science, which a focus on geology.  Like last year, I started with the Usborne Science Encyclopedia as our spine.  However, while the physics topics were mostly appropriate for young kids with a little tweaking, a lot of the topics in chemistry would be above the heads of kids who needed to review states of matter.  We ended up with a list of topics that went slightly further off the order that the encyclopedia presented.

  • Atoms and Molecules
  • Periodic Table and Elements
  • Rocks and Minerals
  • Solids
  • Liquids
  • Gases
  • Changes of State
  • Metals
  • Formation of the Earth
  • Geologic Time
  • Earth’s Structure
  • Plate Tectonics
  • Volcanoes
  • Mountains
  • Rocks and Minerals
  • Oceans
  • Weather
  • Climate
  • Earth’s Resources
Yes, I know “Rocks and Minerals” is on there twice.  That was on purpose to, you know, tie things together (or justify buying a big rock set).  Last year, I did the vast majority of the teaching, but we’re planning to split it up a little more next year.  We’ll see how it goes.

As I waited for new science materials to arrive, I had a sudden spurt of need to organize things.  Before materials for next year’s science come, I decided I should clear out all the various science supplies that have built up over the last two years and organize them a bit better.

There’s all our stuff, organized into little plastic Container Store shoeboxes.  I’ve had those forever and they keep getting used for different things, outgrowing their purpose, getting put away, then getting used again for something else.  You can see our Snap Circuits and our exciting microscope, which the grandparents generously gave the kids a few years ago for Christmas.

Okay, now that it’s in all these neat boxes, where am I going to put it?  Somehow I don’t think I can leave it on the dining room table.  D’oh.  I probably should have planned that part.

In the Reading Box

It’s a constant quest to get the books organized and reorganized around here.  They’re constantly changing.  Here, I made a reading box with some of the current titles the kids can pick up and read independently.  Facing front are BalletBoy’s books and facing sideways (mostly) are Mushroom’s.

In Mushroom’s reading pile: BOB books, I See Sam Books, a couple of Real Kids Phonics readers, Ten Apples Up On Top, See Pip Point, and Polo and the Runaway Book.

In BalletBoy’s reading pile at the moment: a couple Nate the Greats, a couple Tashis, Frog and Toad are Friends, Poppleton Everyday, a Magic Treehouse, Commander Toad and the Voyage Home, Way Out West with Pirate Pete and Pirate Joe, and Angelina on Stage, which is sticking up in back along with the Polo book.

On the one hand, you want the books to stay where they should so they’re not scattered all over the house.  On the other hand, you don’t.