A peak inside my Homeschool Organization

homeschool organization | homeschooling without a school room

I’ve organized our homeschool in so many different ways. Early in our journey, we had a designated school room. However, for the last four years, we’ve homeschooled without a designated space—at the dining table, on the couch, in the kids’ bedrooms, etc. For years, I’ve organized our homeschool with a system of file folders, one for each school week or unit study topic. But last year, I found myself in a major  “loose-paper-crisis.” My kids were not following through with putting all those assignments away, and I ended up with a house full of loose school assignments EVERYWHERE. It was a nightmare! My solution is not brilliant, but hopefully it will be an improvement. So, here’s a peak into my homeschool organization for this year and my year-long goal to “inspect what I expect.”

A peak inside my Homeschool Organization

Bookcase in plain sight, with shelves for each child

I moved the bookcase to the landing on our stairs. This way, school can still be tucked away when I’m “ready to not see another school book for awhile” and yet, it’s also close enough that I can glance up the stairs and see if each child put away what they were asked to put away. It’s the principle of “inspect what you expect,” and last year I really failed on the inspection side of things. This year’s homeschool organization should allow me to quickly inspect without having to go room to room throughout the house.

At the very top are our portfolios (I’ll explain more about them later on in this post), our timeline, our counting bears and some shared spelling/phonics tools. The first cubby to the left are upcoming books. For instance, when my child finishes a math book or unit, this is the shelf with the new material. Next, shared games followed by shared encyclopedias and resources. On the middle row, each child has their own cubby to keep their specific books and resources. On the bottom row, I store some of the reading books for our current unit study topic.

homeschool organization

School Assignments Bound Immediately

I save money by doing a lot of my own printing from ebooks. It’s also the cheapest way to use Tapestry of Grace, our core curriculum. But to avoid the “loose-paper crisis of 2016” repeating itself, I’ve already “bound” their different school projects and activities into three-pronged folders. My sixth grader has a literature/writing folder and a history folder; my fourth grader has a literature/writing folder, a history folder, and a math folder (for her Math Mammoth curriculum); my kindergartener has a math folder (for his Math Mammoth curriculum) and a history folder (with his Story of the World coloring pages).

homeschool organization | make your own student notebooks

Clip-boards for projects in Progress

For each child, I purchased clip-boards that include storage. My idea is that our lapbooking/notebooking projects that we are working on can be stored inside the clip-board, while also providing them a hard work surface for coloring and writing. Once the projects are completed, we will immediately place them into our portfolios—and I will personally direct this to ensure that those projects actually make it to their final resting place. (“Inspect what you expect;” it’s my new school motto.)

homeschool organization | organizing lapbooking and notebooking supplies

Portfolios for final projects

Previously, we kept all school work in each child’s Case-it Binder until the end of each term. Then, we’d transfer to our portfolios. I’m sure you can see where my “loose-paper crisis of 2016” had its origins. What did make it into the Case-it binder (and wasn’t lost in every nook and cranny of our home, specifically the kids’ bedrooms), often got lost in the transfer process. I think as the kids got older and the amount of work increased, our old system became much, much too complicated. So this year, our homeschool organization includes direct and immediate transfer directly to the portfolio; there is no transitional holding place. It will be part of our completion of each unit study; we don’t move on until it’s in the portfolio.

Shared Supplies

All colored pencils, crayons, and markers are my personal possession and must be returned to me. I’ve had it with lost pencils and fights over siblings borrowing from each other. We started this summer, and so far so good. With all of their creative endeavors, I still own what I originally owned. And we all know where it is. Plus, with only one set of supplies, it’s much easier for me to “inspect what I expect.”

Thankfully, my oldest is pretty good with organizing himself if there is a good system in place. My middle child needs me to keep her on a shorter leash, to hold her accountable after each subject. And my youngest will need to fit into the same routine I’m establishing with his older sister: “put this away and get out your next subject.” Besides, all that running up and down the stairs will be a good brain break for my active learners.

While I’m hopeful that our new homeschool organization will remedy some of our past problems, experience has taught me that there is never a final ultimate solution to end all chaos. But I’m definitely ready to give it a try.

A peak inside my Homeschool Lesson Plans

a peak inside my homeschool lesson plans

Over the years, I’ve taken the whole idea of customizing our homeschool to a new extreme. Our homeschool style is largely classical with a Charlotte Mason twist, and my homeschool lesson plans tend to be just as “custom.” I plan some subjects in the most traditional sense; I loop-plan other subjects; and I just record what we accomplished for still other subjects. Because my homeschool lesson plans are so unique, finding the right homeschool planner can be a little tricky. Which is why this year, I’ve ditched the traditional planner and just picked up a cute graph-paper notebook from Plum Paper Planner

Take a peak inside my homeschool lesson plans.

Planning by Terms

I love the Charlotte Mason method of planning the year by three 12-week terms. We have one term in the fall, a one-month break for Christmas, followed by a winter term and a spring term. Each term, I change things up. We finish certain books or subjects and add in others. We finish certain topics in our classical-style history cycle and begin others. It also gives me the freedom to tweak our schedule every 12 weeks and re-evaluate what is working and what isn’t.

Planning the “Discipline” Subjects

My “discipline” subjects like math and grammar and spelling are easy to plan in the traditional sense. I figure out how much we need to get accomplished each term, dividing the number of pages or lessons by the number of days. I usually also assign how much time I expect the assignment to take, just to help us set goals and manage time well. From here, I type out a printable weekly assignment sheet that my kids use to actually check off their work.

homeschool lesson plans | term 1 schedule | dialectic stage

Planning the “Inspiration” Subjects

Our “inspiration” subjects include history, science, literature, and some writing. Although I assign certain books for my kids to read and plan for when I think we will get to those books within the term, I tend to loop-plan these subjects. As in, we move on when the topic has been covered. When we finish our projects and books on the Vikings, we move on to knights and castles. When we wrap up one writing project, I introduce the next. My younger two (K and 4th grades) will be continuing with science in this same fashion, looping through different biology topics. My 6th grader, on the other hand, likes to take his science more seriously, with weekly assignments.

In my homeschool lesson plans, this loop-planning looks almost like bullet journaling. I write in the projects, books, and audiobooks I expect us to get to in the next few weeks. As those assignments are completed, I’ll check them off. If they don’t get completed, it’s no big deal. I’ll write an arrow through the box and move the assignment to the following week.

homeschool lesson plans | weekly plans
For privacy, I’ve deleted my kids’ names from these plans, but you get the idea.

Planning “Meeting Times”

The time I spend one-on-one with each child is what we call “meeting time.” And I plan this time pretty loosely, mostly just recording what we’ve done. For my 6th grader, we plan to meet once a week, similar to last year. I’ll check over his work, hand back graded assignments, and answer questions on the upcoming assignments. New to this year, we’ll also be adding a discussion time with some questions about his reading and history topics, in a very classical model.

The “meeting times” with my younger kids are much different. For my kindergartener, all of his assignments require one-on-one with me. We’ll cover reading and phonics as well as math, and his time with me should take about 45 minutes or so each day. As those assignments are completed, I will circle the letter for the day of the week we worked together. At this stage, I usually work through subjects for an allotted amount of time, doing a little extra if he’s in the mood or a little less if he needs more playtime, rather than forcing him to complete an entire lesson on a particular day. I’ve never had any trouble completing subjects this way, and it gives my littles the flexibility they need early on.

My “meeting time” with my fourth grader is done very similarly. Because of her dyslexia and other learning challenges, she needs a lot more of my attention to get her harder assignments completed. Our subjects together include math, grammar, spelling, and some writing, but I adhere to the Charlotte Mason “short lessons” principle. All together, we’ll spend about an hour, and I’ll circle the letter for the day of the week that we got to each subject, alternating some of the subjects each day. 

Planning for flexibility

As you might have noticed, I don’t have daily homeschool lesson plans. I like to see my week and customize each day to get done what needs to be done. This allows us some flexibility and margin when we have busy weeks or bad days or sickness or whatever else life throws our way. On their good days, my kids will knock out quite a bit of the week’s work. On our bad days, we may only get to math. But by the end of the week, it works out—and I don’t stress about being “behind.”

We also have a unique schedule for easing into Mondays, which includes projects, game-schooling, art, and other casual learning opportunities. I don’t necessarily have a lesson plan for Mondays.

Though our system may not work for everyone, it’s perfect for us. Just like your system should be one that works for you, regardless of whether or not someone else could do it your way. That’s the nature and beauty of homeschooling—finding a learning lifestyle that fits your family, your personality, and your planning style.

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Finding the right homeschool planner

finding the right homeschool planner | planning tips

My earliest homeschool memories include my mom working over homeschool schedules in her spiral notebook. Nothing fancy. Just a cheap spiral notebook with ruled paper. That “homeschool planner” served her well for years. Over the 6 years or so that I’ve homeschooled my own kids, I’ve been all over the gamut of homeschool planning. I’ve tried online planners, planning apps, free planning pages, printable homeschool planner pdfs, dry-erase calendar board, the Ultimate Homeschool Planner, Plum Paper Planner—you name it, I’ve probably given it a try. My planning needs and preferences are constantly morphing. But the one thing I’ve learned is that the key to finding the right homeschool planner is to know yourself and what you’ll use.

Tips to Finding the Right Homeschool Planner

Know yourself (and be honest). We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have short-comings. You won’t find your perfect planning system if you can’t be honest about what just won’t work. It’s not a statement of who you are if you can’t make a paper planner work or if you never get on the computer to log those lessons as completed. It’s simply a matter of a system that failed you. We are individuals with unique personalities; what works for one person won’t work for everyone.

Know what you are most likely to use. Some of this is trial and error. You simply won’t know until you give a few things a try. If you are good at keeping your Google Calendar up to date and like to keep Reminders and Notes on your phone, then try an online planner. If you are a list person who likes to write it all out by hand, then try a paper planner. Do you like to see your week’s events lined up vertically or horizontally? Do you like a large 8×11 size plan or a smaller “throw it in your purse” style planner? If you have no clue, then jump in and give something a try. Within a few days or weeks of using it, you’ll know what you love or hate about it.

Know what motivates you. And again, be honest. I’m cheap, and I hate to spend money on myself. But one thing I’ve had to be honest about: I just don’t plan well in an ugly planner. As shallow as that sounds, I have to have a pretty planner with soft, high-quality paper that invites me to sit down and plan. I literally try to think of something just so that I can write on that paper. If my pen scratches across the page, I won’t write it in it the way I should. Bottom line, if you hate your planning system, you won’t plan. If you hate sitting at a computer, online planning will not change that. If writing by hand is hard for you, then writing in a planner is not going to be a win. So find motivation that will make planning pleasant, and reward yourself for doing it. If stickers are your thing, than motivate yourself with some cute stickers and a Lisa Frank pen. If chocolate is your proverbial carrot, than by all means, have a private stash that only comes out during planning.

My homeschool planner for the 2017-18 school year

This year, I’m stepping way out of my norm for planning. But in a way, it really makes sense for me. Last year, I had two “planners” for homeschool. I had a traditional weekly planner from Plum Paper Planner that allowed me to customize my headings, add extra note pages and checklists, etc. It was my second year to use a Plum Paper Planner for homeschool, and I’ve loved them. But last year, I also had a cute little notebook from Plum Paper that was smaller and filled with graph paper. My idea was that all my brainstorming and Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, etc. would end up in my little notebook, then the final version would make it to the planner. But what I found last year was that I was much more excited about jotting down plans on that graph paper inside the notebook than actually using the planner itself.

While I love Plum Paper Planners as my personal planner for church, work, and home life, I’ve opted for the (much cheaper) Plum Paper notebook for my homeschool plans this year. It’s been fun to set it up, similar to bullet-journaling. And when I was done with planning, I didn’t want to be—I sat with it open hoping I’d think of something else to write in it. That, my friend, tells me I’ve got a winner. (Or that I’m a total nerd. lol!)

homeschool planner | finding the right homeschool planner | Plum Paper notebook

Here are a couple of other posts to get you started planning your homeschool year:

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