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Creating a Simple Homeschool Office

I often pride myself on the flexibility homeschooling brings, the freedom to bend our home’s learning, to do things differently. Go to a park in the middle of the day? Yes! Read books in our pajamas? Of course! School in the summertime or on the road or in a field with binoculars? Works for me. For all the freedom allowed us––a true privilege and point of gratitude––there are many details to keep tabs on as well. In the US, each state holds different expectations and requirements of homeschoolers, and if you are new to homeschooling or considering it, I recommend doing some research in your own area. Some states require attendance, lesson plans, portfolios, or state testing, and, if like us, you are approaching the university years, keeping tabs on a transcript is important, too. Regardless of the size of your home or your affinity for organizational systems, it is important that you create one that fits your home.

Last year, I felt myself swimming in loose ends and paper trails, too often asking or answering the question, “Have you seen ___?” There were too many bits and pieces that went unchecked last year simply because of the lack of organization. This year, I wanted a central, permanent spot for my children to hand-off their finished work on their time table, and for me to pick it up to read and check on my timetable. Naturally, there’s some amount of joyful chaos during any day juggling so many agendas, but I love knowing where our resources and work are right when I need it; you too?  

That said, you do not need a lot of space to create an office for your homeschool.  Books and guides can reside on any bookshelf in the home, and notebooks pre-filled with cardstock, page-protectors, and folders can be a wonderful way to keep tabs on learning in the younger years. For those of you gathering artwork, workbook pages, writing assignments, or tests from your children, keeping a single spot to receive them will be a gift for all of you. This is the first year we are using this system, and already I can see the benefits.

When I partnered with Staples this month, I knew I needed some help. As a homeschooler, I love shopping online for specific needs, but walking through the store is helpful for feeling products and pulling together ideas, whether supplies, resources, or organization tools. In fact, according to a recent survey commissioned by Staples and Fatherly, 85% of parents prefer to do their back-to-school in stores. Surprising, right? The Staples associates were so helpful and directive, going out of their way to answer questions and help me find the right things for our home, from folders with metallic unicorns for my daughter to art supplies, calculators, clipboards, and now file folders that would look nice on my kitchen counter. Maybe I decided the final part about the kitchen counter, but having Staples associates available to answer any and all questions was a game changer, especially as a homeschooler when I do not have a schoolteacher to share their additional expertise.

I wanted to create a small homeschool office in our kitchen, one that fit functionally and aesthetically with the rest of our home, and I needed a system that was simple enough for each of us to follow and lovely enough to not want to move it to a closet. I immediately loved these folders and file sorter for our space, and they’re exactly what we needed! But Staples had so many other lovely choices, too, like these bright Poppin’ paper trays. I even picked up a planning notebook to keep ideas, questions, books, and grading for all of the children in one place this year. (But if you’re looking for something a bit fancier than a Moleskine planner or simple spiral, the Day Designer definitely caught my eye.)

To set up our new system, I labeled each of the files with one of my children’s names for the front sorter. Anytime they finish something that they need me to read, revise, or grade, they simply drop it in their file. This allows them the freedom to hand-off their completed work while saving me from collecting random papers throughout the day. High-five! I check their files as I have time and record grades for the older ones in the back of the planning notebook, then hand them back for final drafts or to go in their page protectors inside their notebooks. In the back section of the file sorter, I keep a large envelope to hold any important papers I might need to keep track of during the year, along with the planning notebook and curriculum guides for the elder ones. The kids each have folders in their notebooks for their random papers, and I have a system for my own. There is a printer and laptop we use nearby and fresh paper in the cabinet below. Everything has a place this year, and I’m thrilled!  It’s incredible how a square foot of well-used space can create an office for our homeschool, but it is exactly what I needed. How do you keep all of the papers ordered and in place? Also, to see our larger supply list and how we create our notebooks, read here.

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This post is sponsored by Staples. All opinions and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat.

Organizing Notebooks + Supplies for the New School Year

This time of year always feels a bit like Christmas. New books arrive in the mail and fresh paper and pencils fill our shelves. Although our routines and studies flex each year, these late summer months always cultivate expectation for us. We flip through books and organize notebooks and consider how best to arrange our spaces, excited (and sometimes a bit nervous) for what lies ahead.

As a homeschooler, I aim to keep our supply list simple and neatly divided into three general categories: books, notebooks, writing and art supplies. I find it helps me better organize our needs during my planning and also prioritize simplicity of time, space, and budget when purchasing new things for the homeschool.  

That said, I do love gathering fresh school supplies with my children. It is a small pleasure among the other hours spent planning, and the joy shows in them too! We partnered with Staples this year and enjoyed browsing the variety of supplies there to use in our own home and work. Plus their back-to-school sale and in-store expertise was a wonderful bonus! They were so attentive.Keep reading to hear more about the supplies we purchased and how we’re using them to build our notebooks for the year.

 

ART + WRITING SUPPLIES

In my philosophy, if children have access to high-quality art and writing supplies, they will naturally want to use them. In that thought, I always make sure we are stocked with the basics. For us this includes: Staedtler graphite pencils, Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor pencils (we love Lyra, too), Sharpie pens, Staples wood rulers, white cardstock, lined notebook paper (college and wide-ruled), lined Stickies, Post-It tabs, and non-toxic Crayola Air-Dry Clay and chalk. I may at times purchase drawing notebooks or watercolor paper, but since the cost can add up quickly, I find a weighty cardstock suits well enough for our use.  

NOTEBOOKS

Notebooking is a favorite way for us to keep track of our learning and reading during the year, and also practice writing and illustration regularly. I’ve noticed in years past, if the supplies are not in place, we can quickly lose papers and interest altogether. Setting everything in its place at the front of the year is key.

During the early years of homeschooling, my children have kept three notebooks: Literature/History, Science, and Poetry/Bible. As my older three children are bridging into upper school years, they each have six notebooks, one to match each seminar in their Classical Conversations classes: Exposition, Logic, Reasoning, Research, Debate, and Grammar.  

Regardless of age and different studies, each notebook is composed the same way: heavy or medium weight page protectors, a two-pocket folder, and pre-loaded paper (lined or cardstock, depending). Each of the children picked out their own folders for their notebooks, each suiting their personalities––from solid colors to bicycle-riding bananas and metallic unicorns! They’re helpful for holding handouts and helpful learning tools to reference, like algebra laws, diagrams, or vocab lists, during their studies. The folder’s primary job is to keep loose papers in place.

The page protectors become a storehouse for finished essays, paintings or illustrations, copywork or narrations. As the notebook becomes full, I can slide out the pages to store away on the shelf until the year’s end, when they each have a catalogue of their learning. I have learned the hard way that all of the writing and artwork can easily pile up during the year if it does not have a home.

How do you like to organize your work during the year? Do you keep notebooks or another system?

 

#BackToSchoolSpecialists


This post is sponsored by Staples, but all images and opinions are 100% my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

Beginning Again | Our Resources for the New School Year

I tend to get more emails this time of year wanting to hear what resources and materials we’re using in our home. Early in this journey, I felt awkward sharing public details about our annual plans or routines. It sounds a little silly to me now, but it also reveals the level of insecurity I felt about charting an unknown course in such a public manner. If you scroll back far enough on these pages, you’ll find there’s no direct course at all, no magic trick to the best education, or must-use curriculum for every child or family. Routines and process have ebbed and flowed here with our family’s needs. As it turns out, the unknowns I felt so insecure about in the beginning have become the most important and life-giving element in this journey. What I have learned is this:

pay attention, recognize the needs in your home, and plan accordingly. Fear and doubt are prone to creep into any choice one makes, but they should never be the decision-makers. A beautiful story waits to unfold in those unknowns. 

As I mentioned here, Liam began high school this year, and aside from the emotional strangeness of entering his final years at home, I find myself stretched in a new way to meet the needs of a high school, junior high, and grammar school under one roof. It changes so quickly. They change so quickly. While I am no longer having to consider nap-times or potty training, I am now considering PSATs and college admissions and keeping transcripts right alongside reading and spelling lessons and experiential learning for my younger two.

I’m mentioning this because you’ll notice the shift here, even as I write out the resources we’re using this year. The boys are both in the Challenge program with Classical Conversations (at their request), and following a designed, socratic-style curriculum with a once/week classroom seminar. Their learning feels like an organic step from our home toward preparation for the college years, learning how to plan for deadlines, how to study or annotate a book, how to take notes in a class, how to form an argument and listen/respond to someone else’s, etc. Although the content they will be studying this year is selected ahead of time, the quality of what they learn is still largely dependent upon them, so they are slowly learning how to manage time and take responsibility for their education in a new way. Their descriptions below will feel more robust than the girls right now, simply because their curriculum is designed ahead of time, and the girls, who are still learning in a more self-directed manner appropriate to their ages are not. We will add activities or reading to their year more naturally as we go, instead of planning the entire course on the front end (which in past years has been too cumbersome for our home).

As for the way these two paths intersect in our home, I spend more time with the girls in their learning, whereas the boys are working far more independently. I am available to answer questions and help both the boys during the day, and I work with each of them on one seminar of their choice each day. All four children are still using Saxon math, and I will say, these teaching videos are life-saving for me!


Liam / Ninth Grade

Liam will began Classical Conversations Challenge 1 program this year. It’s a 30 week, one day/week program with seminar style classes, classical pedagogy, and a Christian worldview. There are six seminars covered each year in Logic, Grammar, Science, Rhetoric, Exposition/Composition, and Debate, although the specific content changes at each level. This year, the content will build around American government, economics, and literature. He will study (and memorize selection from) several American documents, the history and foundations of the US government and economy, read 20+ American novels, short stories, and essays exploring the relationship between government and freedom, which will also be the fodder for his writing of persuasive papers with the help of this writing curriculum. He will continue with Latin studies and also study drama and music theory, reading his first full-text Shakespearean play, The Taming of the Shrew, three different times over the year with his class, and separately studying the connection between math and music. For math, we’ll continue with Algebra 1 and will use these teaching videos to help him with greater understanding, self-teaching, and review. Math is still his most challenging subject, but he’s committed to learning how to do it, which I love! He will also study Physical Science, learning to study from a textbook for the first time and also how to keep a formal lab notebook and write lab reports. Although some parts of the class divert from my own style (and pace!), this will be Liam’s third year in the Challenge program, and he absolutely loves it. His academic workdays are as full as they sound, and although it’s a lot to manage, he is rising to the occasion. The structure has been so good for the both of us in different ways. Plus, at almost fourteen, I’m grateful for him to have a peer class experience without other family members. He is also playing basketball this year, which has been good for so many reasons, and will be wrapping up his summer lawn business with Burke very soon.

Burke / Seventh Grade

Burke is beginning his first year in the CC Challenge program in Challenge A, at his choice, and he is also loving it! The seminar style learning and six classical blocks are the same in his level, although the content serves more as an introduction to several skills that carry through the program. He will begin Latin studies this year and will begin learning the structure of persuasive writing and rhetorical argumentation using the Lost Tools of Writing. The content for these papers derive from the 10 novels he reads for the course, many of which are favorites he’s already read and loves (i.e. The Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, The Door in the Wall; Amos Fortune, Free Man; Number the Stars, to name a few). Science will be similar to what he has been doing already at home, studying the natural world and anatomy, researching, writing a weekly paper with illustrations, and presenting to the class. He is learning how to study texts and use a highlighting system for retention and review. He is also studying cartography, one of his favorite seminars, slowly learning to trace the entire globe, labeling all of the countries, provinces, and major features by memory. Burke wasn’t interested to play a sport this year, but he is interested in music. We’re not able to do music lessons for him quite yet, but I’m wanting to help him learn the keyboard or a string instrument on his own, maybe? If anyone has thoughts, I’d appreciate to hear them.


We have so many books and curriculums accumulated over the years, so this year, instead of purchasing new ones for the girls, I decided to simply go through our bookshelves together, asking them about their own interests. It’s been a refreshing way to approach the year, and I’ve been happily surprised by some of their choices. I have restocked supplies (paper, quad notebooks for math, art supplies and materials) and will seek out small things we may need as go, but for the most part, we’re using what we have already.

Blythe / Fifth Grade

Blythe will continue with the same pattern of notebooking this year––writing and illustrating her learning for this year. We’re still building her reading list for the fall, but there will be an assortment of literature in classics, science, history for her to choose from and copy/narrate passages. I plan to adapt some lessons in descriptive or analytical writing for her from this book, and she will begin studying grammar more formally this year, too, which she is excited about, preparing her for Latin in the upcoming years. I’m using an old edition of this guide from the class I used to tutor, but if you don’t have access, I highly recommend English Lessons Through Literature, as it’s a structured and gentle introduction. Spelling instruction is a must, although I’m not positive which curriculum/method I’ll use with her yet, we have a few and I’m sampling out to find the right one. Blythe loves drawing, painting, and hand-lettering and has been begging for art lessons the last two years. I’m so happy both girls will be taking a weekly art class this year, and I also purchased two new illustration books for her (this one and this one) to practice design and pattern. She will continue with Saxon Math 7/6 and she’s interested to go through this History of Science study she and the boys and I read through and loved a couple of years ago. I’m happy to enjoy it with her and Olive this year again!

Olive / Third Grade

Olive is still a busy bee and loves working with her hands, so all of her learning takes on a natural kinesthetic vibe. She will also be notebooking a couple of times a week from readings in literature, history, and science, and I imagine doing a lot of self-initiated crafts and forts. Wink. She is still growing in her confidence as a reader, so we’re pulling abridged classics from the shelf for her to practice reading aloud or independently. We are using this book for spelling and for reading practice with me. If you’re interested in hearing more about our family’s long journey in teaching reading, you may find this webinar helpful. She finished Saxon Math 3 over the summer, but I didn’t feel confident about her speed and confidence with multiplication facts to move onto 5/4, so we borrowed this math book from a friend (which we both love), and are spending this semester reviewing concepts and strengthening her fact skills. We’ll re-evaluate in January whether to begin 5/4 or do something else. We’re not doing any formal grammar this year. She’s not interested, and I honestly don’t find it necessary right now. It’s more important to me that she’s confidently reading (and enjoying it!) and practicing skills she’s interested in right now. I think having older children has made me appreciate how simple these years can be. She’s listening and enjoying the History of Science study with Blythe, and she decided she also wants to listen to this history on Ancient History (MP3 audiobook here) and trace maps. She refers to this as “her history.”  Like Burke, she has a general interest in music, but we havne’t been able to do formal lessons yet. I’m hopeful we can work something up here at home sometime this fall, but I’m open to feedback and ideas for any of you who may have them!

GENERAL SUPPLY + RESOURCE FAVORITES

Check out both of my Homeschool Gift Guides here and here. Or follow the bunny trail of past years here, here, and here.

Other helpful resources from friends: Wild+Free bundles. Jodi Mockabee’s “Schoolhouse Curiosities” guides. At Home podcast. Jennifer Naraki’s main lessons. The Peaceful Preschool and Playful Pioneers both here. Salty Tribe homeschool videos. And Pinterest.