How We Organize School

Everyone I’ve ever met or talked with about homeschooling has their own idea about how things should be organized. And honestly, there are undoubtedly as many ways to keep things straight as there are homeschooling families and moms. But last year I found a way to keep things organized that has really worked for us, and so I thought I’d go ahead and share what we do, in hopes that it might help someone else!

There are several aspects to organizing a home school operation– lesson planning, keeping the kids’ work straight, and record-keeping. Of course there’s other things, like organizing your physical supplies, but if I ever get around to blogging about my new school room, I’ll cover that there, such as it is. That’s one of the areas I struggle with, and with a new room I’m still figuring it out. But I do feel like we figured out a good way to organize the other stuff last year, so that’s what I’m going to share.

Lesson Planning

The Binder of Wonders, complete with my nicely filled-in lesson plan form for our first week!

Some homeschoolers don’t do lesson planning, preferring to just go through the curriculum systematically. Some do some planning, but not as much as I do. Some plan their year out in advance, while others record what they’ve done after they’ve done it! I prefer to set aside time for planning once a week, using it to fill out my planning form and make sure I have everything I’m going to need for the following week. Usually I do this on Thursday.

I prefer to use lesson plans for a couple of reasons. First, I need to have some record of what the kids are doing– proof of their work. Having a lesson plan form all filled out makes that really easy. Second, it is a huge help to me. It forces me to think things through and make sure I’m giving my sons the best education I know how to give. Because I choose not to use very much traditional curriculum, this is really important. Most of our subjects are not simply “do lesson 4” type subjects. Even those that are– like math– I like to supplement with other things, and that requires extra planning.

I make my own lesson plan forms in Word. Originally I used one by Donna Young, but I have learned that I’m a control freak and like everything just so. Most of the time free printables don’t cut it for me, and I end up making my own things. My lesson plan form has both boys on it and covers all our subjects each week. I don’t know what I’m going to do when Squeezy starts school, because it’s not all going to fit on one page, which will be sad. 🙂 Anyway, once I fill the form out, I put it in my Binder of Wonders. At the beginning of each week, I put that week’s lesson plans in the front transparent pocket of the Binder of Wonders so that it’s easily viewable each day. I refer to it a lot.

Speaking of the Binder of Wonders, I suppose I should introduce you to it. It’s still in a state of rearranging right now, but it contains papers I need, stuff that we’ll use in future weeks, templates of printables I use a lot (lesson plan forms, maps, etc.), and records. I also keep a pencil bag in it for storing red pens, stickers, and scissors. This year I bought a new Binder of Wonders that is pink and that I love. It was the Binder of Wonders that inspired the way we organize the boys’ daily work.

Organizing Daily Work

The boys’ everyday binders. I’m going to make fun covers for them. The crucial thing is that these are heavy duty binders, not the kind you can get on sale for $.97 at Wal-Mart. My boys are VERY rough on them and it’s worth the investment. We’ve never had these pop open when dropped, and the ones I bought for last year are still in excellent shape, although of course we got new ones for a new year!

Last year at the beginning of the year I decided I needed a new way to organize the stuff the boys need each day to do their work, and in the end it was the Binder of Wonders that helped me out. Each of them gets a heavy duty binder, a three-ring pencil bag, and five page dividers. The pencil bag holds their pencils and erasers (obviously), and the dividers are organized by day of the week. At the end of the week I tear out all the following week’s work (or print it), 3-hole punch it, and put it in their binders. Then I put the binders on the shelf for the weekend and forget about them. 🙂

Each day, the boys have all their worksheets ready and available to them. This means they can get started without me. The binders also make it possible for them to do their work wherever, and keep track of things. This is important because they like to do their work on their bed, for example, or at the kitchen table while I’m cooking. The binders haven’t completely fixed the problem of lost math papers, but it has certainly helped.

A divider for each day of the week– this week we’re schooling Tuesdays through Saturdays, to accommodate our Family Adventure Days on Mondays.

When the boys’ work is done, we do corrections. I check their work and they fix everything until it is correct. Sometimes this takes a couple of minutes, other times it takes a painfully long time. Extra good papers go on the wall for admiration by the masses. I don’t keep grades. At the end of the week, I pull all the papers out and save some . . .

Record-Keeping

Because I don’t keep a grade book, record-keeping for me is fairly simple. There are three parts of it– keeping track of our days of school (Iowa requires 148), keeping track of what we’re doing each week (my lesson plans take care of this), and keeping track of the boys’ progress.

Fresh attendance forms, all ready for a brand new year!

Keeping track of our school days is very simple. I use the 2-page dated attendance form by Donna Young, found here. I print out one for each boy, although we almost never do school unless both boys are able to participate. I put these in my Binder of Wonders and mark them each week. Sometimes if there’s a check mark on an unusual day (like Saturday) I’ll write in the margin what we did– make-up day, or field trip, or whatever. At the end of the year, each boys’ attendance pages go in his section in my yearly record binder.

For my record binder, I just use a basic 3″ binder, divided into three sections: one for lesson plans and one for each boy. At the end of the week I move my lesson plans out of the Binder of Wonders into the lesson plan section. Then I go through each boy’s papers from the week and take out a sampling. Usually I use Monday’s papers, although sometimes I will use papers from another day. The important thing is that I’m taking a true sampling, not just including their best work. This helps me and my supervising teacher when we look back to see the progress the kids have made.

Last year’s record binder, nice and full!

If I keep up with transferring papers each week, at the end of the school year all I have to do is move the attendance forms and I have a complete record of our year. I’m not perfect by a long shot, but I have learned that this is MUCH easier than trying to do several weeks at once!

I imagine that as the boys get older I will have to keep actual grades. At that point we’ll revisit the system. Of course, who knows what we’ll be doing by then!

So, these are some of the organization tools that I use. I am naturally a very disorganized person, but this kept us pretty well-organized all through last year and never felt like a lot of work to me. I hope it can provide you with a little inspiration! 🙂

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2 thoughts on “How We Organize School

  1. look at your attention to detail! envy.

    i have a lesson planner. i try to fill in 4-6weeks at a time (leaving room for adjustments). it’s pretty easy to that now because the girls (minus noah. sniff sniff) just move forward in each of their books so i just document that. one thing i do is have the girls use a highlighter to fill in what is complete in their lesson plan. this helps with accountability.

    i don’t have to keep records (phew) because i am with a home school charter. i just turn in samples. we correct their work till they get it right. so the grades are always good (ah, home school).

    all in all, being organized is a great help! structure keeps me sane.

    here’s to another year!… God help us all. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the attendance chart! I have to log hours for Katie this year and that will be perfect! I too have a Binder of Wonders; mine is purple! I have a nifty lesson plan sheet like yours that has space for three students on one page but it doesn’t have quite as many clots as yours but if you ever want a page when it’s Gracie’s turn I’d be happy to send you a copy! Congrats on being so organized; doesn’t it feel good to be OCD?! ;o)

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