homeschool, organizing, reinventing

Staying Organized on the Go: Out Basket

Not long ago, I came across an ingenious solution to forgetting stuff that had to go out the door with us: the out basket. Our main entrance is in the kitchen, and I had already hung a row of hooks for our keys behind the door (I think I’m the only one who actually uses it, though). People were always forgetting the library books that needed to be returned or letters that needed to be mailed. Solution: a discreet basket that sits on the kitchen counter right beside the door. In it, I place items that need to go out the door.

For my next trick, I need to train everyone in the house (including myself) to check that basket every time we walk out the door.

homeschool, organization, organizing

Staying Organized on the Go: Library Books

I have yet to meet a homeschooler who didn’t love the library. And I have yet to meet a homeschooler who hasn’t contributed enough fine money to have a new wing named after her. It’s even happened to us on more than one occasion. So, what’s the solution to this conundrum?
At first, I’m inclined to shrug my shoulders. After all, once my (then) 15-year-old daughter had to pay off her own $40+ fine over time; a few months later, I found another stack of overdue library books in her possession. Notice I even said that she had to pay the fine out of her own money; the Bank of Mom does not cover library fines, no ma’am. One would think that losing an entire month’s worth of babysitting money would be an effective lesson.
Anyway, not having the answer to teenage thought processes, I’ll move onto a few more practical solutions to the library-book dilemma. Some libraries have started printing out a grocery-like receipt for library books. Instead of sticking used gum in it at the bottom of your purse, put it on the fridge next to the family calendar. Then, go the next step and make a notation on the calendar date that the books are due.
Writing the due date on the calendar can happen even if you don’t have a receipt for the books. If you have more than one or two books, you can make your own list. If the kids are old enough, they can help by making their own lists for the books that they checked out, or the books that are specifically for their use. Again, post this list in a visible spot.
Another idea that I employed while my children were younger is to have a central spot for all library books: a basket, a box, a milk crate, or a separate shelf on the bookshelves. Library books had to live in the designated spot unless they were actually being read. Of course, I had to remind my kids many, many times before they caught onto the idea of returning their library books to the right spot when they were finished with them for the day.
When we grew out of the central-location-for-all-library-books idea, we moved onto each girl keeping all of her library books in her own library bag in her room. They each have several bags from summer reading programs, and I figured we may as well get good use out of them. That idea still works pretty well . . . except when it doesn’t (exhibit A from a few paragraphs ago).
Another option is using an online program to track your library books. Some libraries actually have their own computerized system that will email a reminder when your books are due. For the rest of us, a quick Google search netted me a bunch of returns when I typed in “online library books due.” I’m sure similar searches would produce more results for software or online programs to help you keep track of your library books and their due dates.
Of course, a program is only as good as its follow through. The same goes for the other ideas I’ve mentioned for keeping track of library books and due dates: they’re no good if you don’t physically return the books to the library when they are due (or renew them online).

Q4U: How do you keep your library books organized?

homeschool, organizing

Staying Organized on the Go: Car Schooling

Let’s be real. Not too many of us actually do 100 percent of our schooling at home. Even when our family had one car, which my husband drove to work every day, the girls and I rarely spent every day of every week inside of our house. It helped that we lived in walking distance of the park, our church, and a number of other places in town.
            Aside from co-ops, many of us find ourselves dragging younger kids to the older kids’ sports or drama practices. Or, we may find ourselves frequenting doctors’ offices. So, how can we maintain even a semblance of order to our schooling schedules in these circumstances?
            One answer may be to organize the materials we need for schooling on the go. Decide what is absolutely essential and only pack those items. The last thing we need is to be carting around stuff that we won’t actually use. We can utilize the same general principles as we would for co-ops by having a separate bag or container ready to whisk into the car at a moment’s notice. One important addition, though, is a pencil case. It should be stocked with pencils, pens, erasers, a pencil sharpener (or extra lead for mechanical pencils), and whatever else is regularly needed for each child to do his schoolwork. If possible, each child should have his own small pencil case for his things, even if all of the stuff is in one central bag. In addition, be sure to stock extra filler paper, crayons, a coloring book (for the younger set), a fun reading book, and a puzzle book in the bag.
The car-school bag should be used only for taking schoolwork on the go. Leave as many basic supplies in it as possible, so no one is running around looking for a pencil when you’re already ten minutes late for the doctor’s appointment. Before it’s time to walk out the door, have each child collect a reasonable amount of school work to put in the bag(s).
To ward off the claims of not knowing what they’re supposed to do, either make sure they pack their own planners, or make sure that you throw your family homeschool planner in the bag. While I love online planners, they’re not very practical for on-the-go use, unless you have an iPad with 3G access. I suggest printing out the schedule for a week at a time, that way it’s ready to grab on the go.
Q4U: For real, how much time do you spend in the car during school?

homeschool, organizing, planning

Staying Organized on the Go: Co-ops

            Homeschool co-ops can be a wonderful enhancement to our home studies. But it always seems to be a hassle to remember all of the books and materials we need each week/day, not to mention the times when we’ve had to turn the car around because little Susie left her essay in the printer tray at home.
            One solution is to have a designated co-op bag or container. Place everything that you need for co-op each week in that bag and only in that bag. Make sure that everything that gets taken out during the week to be worked on is returned promptly to the bag or container. If you’ve made yourself a note to add something to the bag or container for the following week, put it in there as soon as you get home—before you have a chance to forget.
            Another solution is to make sure each kid has all of his co-op belongings together the night before. Perhaps each of them needs his own backpack or book bag, and as he works on things throughout the week, he puts them right back in said bag as soon as he is finished. As soon as papers get printed, they’re retrieved and placed in the appropriate folder, ready to go out the door.
            Yes, just like all of the other solutions mentioned in this book, this one will also take some training and some reminders. It would be wonderful if children remembered such things after the first introduction, but then again, you probably wouldn’t be reading this book if they did!

Come see me over at Heart of the Matter Online today! I’m speaking at their fall conference at 3 p.m. (EST), and you can still get tickets!

homeschool, organizing, portfolios

What’s in a Portfolio?

I’m over at Heart of the Matter Online today talking about homeschool portfolios. Go take a look!

What does a hard-working homeschooling mom do with all those 3-D projects, art papers, grammar workbooks, and math tests? Keep everything? Yikes! Throw them all away? Horrors! Of course, Grandma’s refrigerator makes a wonderful display area, but when Grandma’s fridge is full, there is an alternative that can make both the savers and the throwers happy, believe it or not. The solution is to make a portfolio to showcase a selection of each student’s best work throughout the school year. Portfolios are required by law in some states, but they are a good idea for everyone for several reasons: preserving hard work, providing evidence for skeptical grandparents or other family members and friends, planning purposes for younger siblings, and recording grades and/or levels earned.
I’ve made portfolios for each of my children for each of the twelve years that we’ve been homeschooling. Since I know that the word portfolio strikes fear into the hearts of many homeschooling moms, I’ve broken down the process for you in order to make it not so scary. I also wanted to provide you with some motives behind the idea for creating portfolios for your children if you are not required to do so by your state law
The word portfoliobuzzes around the homeschooling community faster than a case of chicken pox. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a selection of a student’s work compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress.” Notice that the definition contains the word selection. A portfolio does NOT contain every single piece of paper ever touched by your children’s pencils.
It includes a representation of completed work, which has the best writing samples, the best test scores, the best artwork, the best note booking pages, and the best worksheet pages. It also entails pictures of 3-D projects, field trips, and other activities that can’t be condensed to a single written document. I traditionally keep most tests for our yearly portfolios. For subjects with a lot of papers (such as math worksheets), I keep one out of every twenty or thirty worksheets. For subjects with fewer papers, I keep one in every ten or twenty pages.
What about dioramas, full-sized body outlines, and salt-dough maps? What about all the learning games we play instead of doing boring worksheets? How are those activities documented in a two-dimensional portfolio? Take pictures! For a while, these projects occupy a place of honor on the dining room table or on the window seat. Then they graduate to living under the guest room bed. When the next project is ready to reside under the guest room bed, the first one moves to the circular file. But first, I take a picture of it. We set the little people up again and the kids pose as I flash the pictures I forgot to take when they originally made the project. You can make professional scrapbook pages to go in your portfolios, or you can slap the pictures onto cardstock, write up a few labels, and call it good.
Field trips can also be documented with pictures. If you usually sling a camera around your neck and annoy even the most photogenic of your children with the flash, this will be a breeze. In addition to documenting trips with photographs, you can incorporate ticket stubs, programs, and maps, either hand drawn or removed from an old atlas with your route highlighted. If it’s relatively flat and can be taped or glued to paper or cardstock, then it can go in a portfolio. Another idea is to place smaller items in an envelope and then attach the envelope to a piece of cardstock. Remember to label the envelope.
If you’re a journaler, or if your children enjoy journal writing, you (or they) can include weekly or monthly journal pages documenting the highlights of your school year. This might also be a good, nonthreatening exercise for the reluctant writer. It’s interesting to look back through the years and see how your priorities have changed. Children will oftentimes be amazed that their favorite subject in second grade turned into their worst subject by seventh grade, or the reverse. They’ll enjoy remembering friends who have moved away and their favorite co-op classes.
Finally, what would a portfolio be without lists? You can include lists of goals for the year, books read, resources used, and more. These can be located at the front of the binder so they don’t get mixed in with the math papers or the science lab reports.
If you give your children report cards each year or graduation certificates, these may be included in your portfolios as well. I prefer to put these kinds of documents at the very front so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. If you don’t want to punch holes in special items (or can’t due to size or format), place them in clear sheet protectors.
Happy portfolio-ing!

Q4U: How do you keep samples of your kids’ work from overtaking the dining room table?

anxiety, homeschool, lessons learned, organizing, planning

One Thing

I am the queen of multitasking. Just ask anyone who knows me well. Some people would even say I’m the queen of efficiency. But I wouldn’t go that far, and neither would the people who live in my house with me. When I start juggling too many balls, they start falling, one by one.

The more I do, the less I get done. Huh? Here’s a paraphrase: the more things I try to do at the same time, the longer each one takes. Make sense? I’ve been hearing from multiple sources recently that I should cut back on all the different things I’m doing, and I’m inclined to agree. And I’ve been hearing from my agent that I need to finish my book.

So, that’s what I’m doing this week. (Well, mostly! I’m still getting the hang of this one-thing-at-a-time process!) I’m sequestered at a hotel (not near enough to the shore) in Charleston to finish my book. No kids. No hubby (thanks, honey!). No (other) blog posts. Not much email. Not much school work. No planning for my new high schooler’s four-year plan. No lesson plans for college classes. No laundry. Just writing the book. This morning I had 17,000 words to write, plus a major revision of several chapters. I’ve written nearly 2,000 words already and revised those chapters, so I would say that my one thing is working.

While I can’t expect to go off and complete every project on my own in general, I can open only 1 browser tab at a time; I can complete 1 writing project at a time; I can work on planning 1 class at a time.

Q4U: What ONE THING do you need to focus on right now?

Oops, I lied. This post is about 2 things: Please remember to vote for this blog on the Circle of Moms’ Top 25 Homeschool Blogs for 2012! I’m in the top 25; help keep me there! There are only 10 more days left to vote (and you can vote once a day, for all your favorite homeschool blogs). Vote here:

Thank you, thank you for voting and following!!

college, high school, homeschool, organizing, planning

Process the Visits: College Search Part 6

Now that you’ve visited a bunch of colleges, it’s time to process all of the information. I know even visiting one college can put you on overload–at least it did for me!

We used a blackboard and made 3 columns: college name, date of visit, current rank. I intentionally my daughter to be able to change her mind about which college was in first place–or last place. Here’s another confession: this list is out of date. Oops.

Anyway, using the college visit score cards created at each visit (see the previous post), kids can rank the colleges currently on their lists. It will probably fluctuate, depending on their moods and what they’ve just seen. That’s not only okay, it’s also expected. Don’t rush the process; kids need time to process all of these possibilities.

One other side note that I should have put earlier in this series is that the junior year of high school is the perfect time to start going college shopping. Don’t wait until your senior year!

Q4U: What are your best college-shopping tricks?

homeschool, learning styles, organizing

Learning Styles: Orderliness (Part 5)

So, what does orderliness have to do with learning styles? Quite a bit, actually! For instance, I personally can’t focus on learning anything if my environment is a mess. What about you? What about your kids?

We all know about the messies and the neatniks, but let’s put these into an academic context. On the one hand, we have the sequential/concrete learners (mostly the neatniks). On the other hand, we have the global/random learners (usually the messies). Sequential learners need to learn things one at a time in an orderly fashion. They’re building their foundations one brick at a time. The concrete part means that they need to see, hear, feel, or touch it. Abstract concepts are usually difficult for the concrete learner to grasp.
            Global learners prefer to see/know the whole picture all at once. While they may still get from point A to point B, they usually don’t take the most conventional route. Their minds jump randomly from one thought to another. Abstract concepts are much more easily grasped for this type of learner.

homeschool, learning styles, organizing

Learning Styles: Setting (Part 4)

Are your children loners or groupies? The setting can make all the difference. Some kids need to absorb the energy of a group and need to bounce their ideas off others in order to learn. Unless you live in Timbuktu, co-ops, library groups, scouts, church groups, and other opportunities abound. The more your little groupies are involved, the better.
            Other kids are too distracted in a group setting and prefer to process information on their own (or with just you). They prefer to compare their new experiences with their own prior knowledge and perceptions. While a few social gatherings are a good thing for your loners, don’t expect them to be enthusiastic with a different co-op meeting every day.

homeschool, learning styles, organizing, study skills

Learning Styles: Output (Part 3)

What about output? Most output is either oral or written, but movement output can’t be discounted. Oral learners hate written tests and essays with a passion. They do, however, usually perform much better by answering questions out loud, or by talking through their paragraphs or essays while someone else types them. Learning how to use a computer can be a big help to oral learners, but they may still need to be encouraged to practice out loud before typing it. Discussions are the way to go for this type of learner; forget about workbooks with many empty lines. Of course, oral learners will have to be taught gradually how to write effectively as they get older. Standardized college entrance tests can’t be done orally, neither can the boss’s written report.
            Learners who prefer to write will thrive with those empty workbook pages and essays. If you ask for a paragraph, you’re likely to get several. Discussions and speeches are much harder for this type of learner, but should still be encouraged.
            The wigglers will still have to give some answers verbally (orally or written), but should also be allowed to act out scenes from books and move while reciting, as appropriate.