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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.

unravel your photosuyp

I’ve been quietly working through the photography boot camp, Unravel Your Photos, with Life:Captured and Artifact Uprising the past few weeks. These lessons are a sort of retreat for myself–efforts I know will pay enormous dividends in my own workflow, but also as my own children begin taking and editing their own photos, too. For those of you unfamiliar, the online course is designed to help organize photos in Adobe Lightroom, a photo software I’ve used for over two years now (and highly recommend). You can read more about why I’m taking it and what I learned after lesson one here. Unsurprisingly, I am shocked by how little I knew about Lightroom and am so impressed with how direct and clear Ronnie’s lessons are. (I also adore hearing her Australian accent on the videos.)

The second lesson of the course is entitled “See the Big Picture,” which tackles the more confusing topics surrounding the Lightroom catalogue, such as how to label and organize folders in one system. Do you remember how I likened my computer’s photo storage to a closet? Well, this class turned on the lights so I could see exactly how messy and disorganized my hard drive “closet” really is. My phone images were separate of my DSLR camera photos. I had photos in multiple places, labeled by date but also by writing topic. Basically, I had photos everywhere. Ugh.

In “The Big Picture,” Ronnie demystifies the Lightroom catalogue by showing exactly how to find where the master files are stored on the computer’s hard drive and what happens to the photos when you edit in Lightroom. She uses step-by-step video tutorials to teach how to create a new master folder for all of your images, clearly labeled by date down to the second. This is SO helpful! Still, perhaps the best new habit I’m establishing as a result of this class is the weekly or bi-weekly importing and backing up of my photos. Clearing my phone and camera of photo clutter and keeping all the images in one place makes the task of sorting and processing feel far less daunting. As with any area of my life, bringing order to this mess is bringing a new simplicity to my work flow and time. If this class might be helpful for you, Ronnie and Trish have opened registration for the same class beginning in January. I’ll be back with lesson three sooner this time. Wink.

 

 

tidy_family_home-3the tidy family home

Perhaps most parents want to know the secret behind keeping tidy homes and teaching children to clean up after themselves. It feels nearly impossible at times, doesn’t it? Abandoned blocks on the rug, a random sock on the sofa, books on the table, dishes in the sink, clothes on the bathroom floor. If I turned a corner in my home, I might find any one of these right now. “These are the indicators of family life,” my mother often gently reminds me. “Mess happens because life is happening. Be patient. You’ll have time for a neat house again.” I’ve always appreciated this perspective as a mother, the grace to allow the mess. In different seasons of motherhood–such as newborn stages or when life feels more frenetic–I have lived by these words. But mess is not peaceful for me. I work better, think clearer, feel happier in clean, tidy spaces. Honestly, I imagine most people do, including children. While it is impossible for our home to be both comfortable for play/work and tidy all the time, here are a few ways we have tried to keep things neater in our home over the years. Like most things in life, it is mostly a balance in effort and letting go.

Purchase less. Have you ever counted how many outfits you could assemble from your child’s closet? Or counted how many toys or dress up are in the bin? I love children’s clothing. I love purchasing new things. But honestly, children do not require much. My children tend to find their favorite shirt or dress and wear it over and over. Take notice of the clothing they gravitate toward and purchase a couple of those. I keep something special for dressier occasions, and unless one of them is really longing for a special toy or book for their birthday, we tend to give experiences. Owning less means managing less. It also means they own things that really matter to them.

Clean out. My children and I clean out the toys–less necessary as they get older–and their closets twice a year. This often happens with seasonal change. I fold up clothes that are in good enough shape to pass on to someone else. We might cut up the clothing that is overly stained or hole-y to use for an art project or as cleaning rags.

Use baskets (within reason). I love a good basket. They’re functional and beautiful at once, but they also can be overused and feel clutter-y in a space. Each of the children’s rooms have a couple of baskets for tidying toys or their soft throw blankets they insist on sleeping with at night. I keep two more in the living and dining, with extra blankets and floor pillows since we only have one sofa in our small living area.  This makes clean up super quick at the end of the day. I also use woven baskets for laundry, as one doesn’t fit in our closet and it is prettier than a plastic alternative.

Set a regular clean-up time. Each day, around 3:30/4:00pm we stop what we’re doing and clean up. Since we homeschool and often use our dining table, it’s a great way to make sure our work is put in the right spot and our materials are cleaned-up before dinner. Books go on the bookshelf.  Pencils are returned to the jars. Chalk pieces are collected. Unfinished projects are tucked in a safe place. Laundry is folded and put away. Beds are cleared of art projects, books, or toys. Shoes are collected and returned to the closet. Everything is put back in its home. This is not a deep cleaning time or organizing time. This daily clean-up is simply a returning things to their place for use the next day. We try to do it within 30 minutes, so we’re not bogged down in details. If something doesn’t have a home, I make mental note to find a home or re-organize something over the weekend when there’s more time. This little time allows us to be a mess during the day, to freely focus on our play and work, but also to reset to do the same tomorrow.

Begin with small children. If your children are little, they will of course be able to do far less, but they can still help! Give them single tasks that they can accomplish on their own while you’re nearby. “I need you to put all of these blocks in the basket while I pick up the books.” If they’re easily distracted, as most littles are, work on the same clean-up together. You may also consider having more than one clean-up time in a day, for instance, one at the end of the morning playtime and one at the end of the afternoon. On days that seem overwhelming or particularly exhausting, remember a messy home is a sign of a well-loved home. Take a deep breath and return a bit later.

Point out the rewards to your children. When our home is neatly ordered, I point out to my children how it inspires them to create and play and build. “Isn’t it nice knowing exactly where your things are? Look at how nice it is to build Legos on a clear desk.” These words are not badgering in tone, but simply a way for me to show them the gift of their hard work, the reward for cleaning up when they don’t feel like it.

My home isn’t perfect. If you stopped by at any given moment, you might find toys and books and projects spread across the floor or table top. Although my bed is often made, you might find a load of towels or clothes atop it waiting to be folded and put away. For us, tidying is about reaching homeostasis, a place where we can live and enjoy the life in our home, but also take care of it.  If you follow my Instagram, you already know I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpShe offers inspiring and more detailed helps in this area and probably has a tidy home all the time. For us, it is certainly a process and journey.

How do you or your family handle mess? Do you have helpful tips and tricks for tidiness to share?

 

unravel your photos: lesson oneunravel your photos: lesson one

Although I have spent much time during the last 18 months discovering ways to simplify, de-clutter, and organize our daily living and home, I admit I am a complete mess in terms of digital photo archives. The hard drive on my computer is currently full, as is the memory on my phone. I know. Don’t judge me. Although everything is already backed up, I have yet to empty my hard drive for fear of losing something, and that mostly because my files are chaos. My hard drive is much like staring at a closet heaped with disorder–a large shoe pile, clothes on hangers, clothes not on hangers, shoeboxes, piles, and so on. I know I need things in the closet, now or at some point in the future, but the disorder keeps me from using it properly or at all. A back-up drive gives me the luxury of copying it, so technically I know every file is there. Only now I have TWO messy closets–and, honestly, am I likely to go fishing through the back-up drive for those files either? Honesty is the most important part in de-cluttering any aspect of our lives, and truthfully I am a digital hoarder. 

As some of you remember, I took an inspiring online class last year with life:captured–a school for modern memory keeping which I entirely adore. Through that class, I previewed a bit of Ronnie’s very organized files and was utterly inspired by her. If my online files are like a hoarder’s closet, hers are like a dream with clothing and accessories neatly aligned by color, style, and season. It is the sort of closet I enjoy in reality, where I knows exactly what I need, when I need it, and also when it’s time to get rid of it. Sigh. In terms of finding and creating files on a computer, doesn’t that sound peaceful? While I’ve made several adjustments to my file labels since that class last year, I am really needing a larger tutorial on file organization. In short, it is time for me to learn how NOT to be a digital hoarder.

unravel your photos: lesson one

When Ronnie asked me to join a group of bloggers working with life:captured and artifact uprising for the project “Unravel Your Photos”, how could I refuse? These are the exact lessons I need–and an opportunity to put this more abstract part of my life in order, too! Over the weekend, I completed my first lesson, “No File Left Behind,” an overview of the benefits and basic principles of file organization in Lightroom (my favorite photo editing software–bonus). Again, Ronnie has such a gentle manner of organizing her class materials that makes large, intimidating endeavors feel manageable. Still this could get messy, folks, and you know I’m going to take you along for the ride. Wink.

Since I have a full hard drive, I needed to clear space to work. Now thanks to my sexy date night purchase, I have two fresh external hard drives and am currently emptying my cluttered hard drive onto the first. At my brother-in-law’s encouragement, I’ll tuck that aside in a safe place for the peace of knowing I DO actually have all of my files. This week, I will be clearing my computer hard-drive and starting fresh. In short, I am emptying contents, so that I can clean and create fresh order. As I learn to organize my files in a new way, I won’t feel distracted by what already exists, by the filing mistakes I’ve made in the past. The second hard-drive will be used to back-up files from this point on and as I have time or need to retrieve old, disorganized files, I will catalogue them according to the new system. I’m expecting I’ll learn some tricks over the following weeks concerning that, too. As Ronnie encouraged us in the lesson this week, “start with your current photos.” The best way NOT to become a digital hoarder begins with what I do right now. I like that.

 

 

peace-1cleaning_out_closets-2

In the South, we really have two seasons: hot and cold. Since our family has always lived in an older home with small (and shared) closet space, typically, we only have enough room for what we can wear right now. This means every fall and spring season, we clean out each of our closets (the kids, with my help) and transition them for the new season. We also use this time, to actually clean our closets and dressers, to inventory what we have outgrown or outworn, and to list what we need for the upcoming season. Over the years, I have found this process to be almost therapeutic. It helps us to discover what we really love, our style, our needs. For the kids, it gives them opportunity to remember their favorite shirt or dress and to choose a friend/family member who  might enjoy it as much. When I had babies, it also served as a time of closure for me, a time to tuck away what has passed and prepare for where and who they are now. Cleaning out our closets is another tangible way we prepare for the changing seasons and simplify our home.

Since cleaning out closets can be dreadful for so many, I thought I might share a few ways we move through this bi-annual process in our own home.

PART ONE: CLEANING OUT YOUR CLOSET/DRESSER

  1. Set aside an entire afternoon per closet and only move through one bedroom at a time. If your children share a closet, allow for more time. You will want to work through each room until completion.
  2. Create four piles: KEEP, STORE FOR NEXT SEASON, REPAIR/ALTER, and GIVE AWAY
  3. Observe the way you currently use and organize your closet and dresser. Is it ordered well for how you use it? Do you feel overwhelmed looking at it or have trouble finding what you need or want? Are some drawers bulging or over-stuffed? Do you have heaps of shoes on the floor? Are your hanging clothes lying around? What about bags, ties, hats, scarves? Make organizational notes. What do you need to allot more space? Do you need something to contain smaller items like socks or undergarments?
  4. Empty each drawer and section of your closet, one at a time, placing each garment/shoe in one of the four piles. Be ruthless. Did you wear it this season? Does it fit you well or work well with your style (what you’re comfortable or enjoy wearing)? Do your children’s clothes have holes or unremovable stains on them?
  5. Vacuum and wipe down each drawer and closet shelf. Throw away or recycle broken hangers, empty shoeboxes, and clothing tags/paper you’re not using. Add a fresh lavender sachet to each drawer.
  6. Neatly fold and organize the garments or shoes you’re “KEEPING” and place them in the drawer or shelf.
  7. Place the “GIVE AWAY” pile in a bag and place them in your car. If you are giving select pieces to certain people, place them in separate bags now also, and move the bags near the front door or into your car. This part is important to do quickly with children, since they are likely to begin pulling pieces back out of bags.
  8. Move the garments needing “REPAIR/ALTERATIONS” to the room where you might do it. If you send them away, place this pile in a marked bag and place in the front seat of your car. This way you’ll remember to take them next time you’re running errands or heading to work. Make a note in your planner or agenda to set time aside to do it this week.
  9. Temporarily set aside the “STORE FOR NEXT SEASON” pile in a clear corner or shelf in your room. You will put them away in a bit.

PART TWO: UNPACKING YOUR PREVIOUSLY STORED SEASONAL GARMENTS

  1. Pull out your stored seasonal clothing. We keep ours in long flat containers under our bed.
  2. Inspect your clothing for holes and stains to make sure they stored well.
  3. Wash all stored seasonal clothing before putting them away. This will freshen any of the musty odors or dust that has collected while they were stored.
  4. Vacuum and wipe down storage containers.
  5. Place your “STORE FOR NEXT SEASON” pile neatly in the storage containers. Add a lavender sachet to help keep moths away and put the containers away. Since I store the clothes Blythe has outgrown for Olive, I label the clothing size and season on the outside of the container (i.e. WINTER 4T). This helps me easily know what container I need in future closet transitions. This was particularly helpful when all of my children were babies/toddlers and regularly changing sizes.
  6. Once your clothes are finished washing, fold or hang them neatly in your closet/drawers. 
  7. Create a list of what you need and want this season. Do you need to replace a well-worn basic? Is there a piece you want to tie together or mix up a few things you already own? Do your children have all they need for the upcoming season? Write it down or add it to your holiday gift list.

I hope this helps. Enjoy your freshly cleaned and organized closet!

 

Q+A-homeschooling

How do you manage four different children’s educations when they are all at different levels?

Truly? Tons of grace and flexibility. Since I wasn’t homeschooled myself, much of this I’m learning by trial and error as I go. I ask tons of questions of friends, especially those who homeschool older children and I plan ahead as much as possible. However, to be more specific, much of how I order our day’s plans has evolved with the ages of my kids. When my kids were young, I planned most of our formal lesson time (math and reading mostly) during baby/toddler nap times and used the majority of our day for playing and reading and creating. As my kids have grown, the amount and complexity of the skills they’re learning have as well. I found myself getting overwhelmed keeping track of what each was suppose to be doing, or how to distribute the morning so that I could work alone with one while the others worked independently. It always seemed to swirl together in the midst of our mornings–mostly due to how young and close together they are in age. As a result, a couple of years ago I implemented a clipboard system–terribly unromantic, I know. But it works.

The first clipboard is for me.

clipboardsAt the beginning of each school year, my husband and I plan out our goals for our family and children. Then I create a plan, usually in table-form (pictured above) and print 100+ copies to keep on hand. Each weekend, I pull out 4 sheets (one per weekday) and write the day, date, and what lessons each of the kids will be doing for that week. I like being able to have a birds-eye view of the day and what each child needs to do. As we work through each morning, I cross off a box as they are completed, usually with a colored pen or marker. That way, I can easily see what we didn’t get to (and if there are parts of our days we are consistently missing and need to adapt). At the end of the week, I hole-punch the sheets and stick them in a binder as a record for myself. (Note: I tried writing in times this year to help pace me through the morning–we are rarely “on schedule.” I’ll omit that part next round.) 

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The second group of clipboards are for the kids. In the past, I have used clip art for any of my non-readers (who wanted to have their own). I didn’t this year.

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Because I don’t need to keep each of their checklists, I laminated their pages to reuse. I created a page per work day: Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday (Wednesday is our homeschool group day). I formatted their pages as a checklist, a simple question: have you done this yet? Their clipboards give them a sense of responsibility in their own education and time management. They can freely move on to another job when they’re ready because they know what’s expected of them. During my weekend planning time, as I fill in my own clipboard, I write notes or fill in specifics for each of them for the upcoming week. This weekly prep time takes about an hour, but saves so much more time in the long run.

clipboards-7 clipboards-8

I store our clipboards on the wall near the door to our school/playroom using this magazine rack. When it’s time to begin our school morning, each person grabs their chart to work through the day. Although we take periodic breaks to play throughout our morning, the older kids cannot have free time (doing whatever they want) until they’ve finished their checklist (including chores). This keeps them motivated (and accountable) as well,  as they often remind me, “hey, I need you to finish this lesson” or “we haven’t done ___ yet.” (wink.)

clipboards-9

Is this the only way to manage a homeschool? Of course not. Do we always finish everything like I planned? Of course not. Like parenting in general, homeschooling adapts to your own family’s needs, routines, and style–it’s what makes this education route especially unique. But I find in general that intuition, forethought, and tons of patience go a long way in any home (although a troubleshooting guide would be fantastic, too). I also want to note: I have hard days–weeks even–when nothing seems to go as planned, when I don’t have time to plan before the week begins, when chaos and noise seems relentless, and I feel I am chasing the day rather than ordering it. So it goes. Sometimes we scratch it altogether and enjoy the outdoors or creative time or an event out of the house. But overall, this system truly helps me to track my own consistency and the kids’ work.

Do you have other questions about how we homeschool? I’m sure you’re not the only one. Post it in the comments or send me an email.