I am a very organized disorganized person. Just ask my family. I may not have a particular piece of paper in a file, but I can tell you what stack it is in on my desk! Can you relate to that?
When we were deciding to homeschool, my lack of self-discipline was one of my husband’s greatest concerns. What he did not know was that as a classroom teacher I had a method for overcoming my disorganization, and I thought it would also work at home. I believe time has proven me correct.
My organization method takes several hours of a week about three times a year. I begin by deciding on the curricula we are going to use for all the different areas we want to cover in approximately a semester’s time. (I have one great secret for making that decision—prayer.) After that most difficult decision is over, I sit down with each textbook, workbook, and other materials for each subject. I briefly look over each one, just to get a good feel for what the materials cover; then I group the materials that belong together. Here is where the fun starts.
For example, I want to organize Bowie’s Guide to Texas, Stephen’s Texas History, and Sam’s Fun History Activities for the State of Texas. I get out notebook paper, pencil, and the textbook, workbook, and test book for Bowie’s Guide to Texas. I title the notebook paper, Bowie’s Guide to Texas, skip a line, and write “1.”
Now I try to decide about how much material we can cover in one class period. In looking at chapter one in Bowie’s Guide to Texas, I think we can cover pages 2-8, so I write “read pp. 2-8.” Now I look at the workbook and test book and see that there are no activities in those items which correlate to pages 2-8, so I go to the next line and write “2.” Again I try to decide about how much material we can cover in one class period, and this time I think it is pages 9-12 and Activity 1, page 3 in the activity book. I write “read pp. 9-12; act.1, p. 3.” Going to the third line, I write “3.” I see that for the third day, we need to read pages 13-17, do Activities 2 and 3, and take a quiz over the previous material. So I write, “read pp. 13-17, act 2-3, p. 4-7, quiz 1, p. 3.” Then I continue, breaking each segment of all the related materials into daily bites of information. For some days I may choose enough material to take only twenty minutes, but other days I think will be more challenging or interesting, so I will select enough material for an hour or two. Never is this intended to be exhaustive in everything I want to do with the material, but this is my skeleton on which I will later put meat.
Once I have finished Bowie’s Guide to Texas, I will proceed and do Stephen’s Texas History in the same way; when finished, I will organize Sam’s Fun History Activities for the State of Texas. After I finish organizing each individual component that I will use to teach Texas history, I sit down with all of the materials, my lists, and a traditional teacher’s plan book. I label each row with the different subjects we are going to cover during the year, but I leave the column headings open. The row for this will be labeled, obviously, Texas History. In the first grid space, I begin to tie all of the notebook pages for each of the resources together. If I think that we should read pages 2-8 in Bowie’s Guide to Texas (BG), read pages 1-3 in Stephen’s Texas History (STH), and do Activity 1 in Sam’s Fun History Activities for the State of Texas (Sam’s), I only have to write in my planner, “BG#1, STH#1, Sam’s #1.” For the next day, I think we only need to do the next work in Sam’s, so I write in my planner, “Sam’s #2.” When we get to the next day, I think we can do work from BG and Sam’s only, so I will write, “BG#2, Sam’s#3.” Looking at the fourth day, it may be “BG#3, STH #2.” I will keep on doing this until my planner is full of my abbreviations from my notebook pages.
Once Texas history is done, I proceed to plan math, science, reading, grammar, spelling, and everything else in the same way. I always do all of this in pencil and never go too far ahead. I always leave time for creativity by not putting dates or days at the top of the columns. I may put notes to myself on a teaching strategy that I want to use, but the bare bones are my main concern. When we begin school, we are always on the first page and in the first few columns, and I expect my children to look at the planner and the notebook pages daily to get their assignments. As the days and weeks go by, we naturally go faster in some subjects than in others so that we may be on page ten in the planner for science but only on page eight for reading. As time passes, I check off both on my lists and in the bottom right corner of my planner grid as we complete each section. Sometimes I use color-coded checks for each child because one moves faster than the other when they are using the same materials. This keeps me in touch with how we are faring time-wise and lets me know if I need to consider speeding up or slowing down.
We have never stuck with my plans exactly because there is always something I did not expect that happens, whether it is a child loving the subject and wanting to delve deeper or a family member getting sick who requires weeks of care. When the latter happens (sometimes it is Mom–I once had pneumonia for four weeks), my system can be a lifesaver. No, the teaching and enrichment that I wanted to do and would have done if I had not been sick did not get done, but my sons knew just how much they were expected to do each day without Mom there. My planner was my substitute teacher. The system worked because the boys had become accustomed to looking in the planner and then to the notebook sheets each day to see what their requirements were for that day.
When I am really, really organized, I even leave a spot for housework, piano lessons, baseball games and practices, family time, and whatever else we have going on in our lives at the time! One of the great things about this system is that I can use it for traditional textbooks and workbooks, for unit studies, or for a combination. I also use the planner to designate which material I want my child to do on his own, and which material we will get together to do either one-on-one or in a group. I have used this system for different age levels using the same materials by giving more challenging assignments to my more advanced students while allowing younger students to learn at their own paces. My system also prevents me from losing a great supplemental activity, because I make sure that idea is written down in the planner for the appropriate lesson so that I will not forget it.
The penultimate step in this process is to take all the activities I need to copy to the photocopier and to secure all the note cards, construction paper, folders, and whatever else I think we will need. I try to put this into a folder, box, or tub labeled either by child or by subject. I try very hard to anticipate everything I could possibly need and have it on hand so that when we reach Sam’s #72 three months later, I already have all we need available.
Finally, I complete one of my three organizing weeks for the year, and we start doing the schooling. There were about two years when I did not use this method, and I feel like those were lost years; because I am not sure what we did. I know we schooled and worked, but I do not have a planner to reassure me. We moved recently, and I got to see how much we had really accomplished using this plan.
When we began home schooling, I was always afraid that someone was going to knock on my door and want to see proof of our schooling, so I kept every paper and every workbook in boxes with my planners on top. As each box was stuffed full, I put them away in the attic. When we were packing to move, I sent my two nearly grown sons into the attic to get “those few boxes of school work” out of the attic. After what seemed to all of us to be hours, they finally came out of the sweltering attic after having retrieved twenty-five or so boxes of schoolwork. There it was–years of planning and working and schooling–all coordinated by a disorganized mom!