homeschool, organization, organizing, writing

Top Uses for Post-it Flags and Tabs

I can’t believe that I have never written about one of my favorite organization tools. They’re little, but they’re so cute and so versatile. What are they: mini, sticky tabs and flags! A Post-it by any other name is just as sweet (no, this is not a commercial). It usually works just as well, too. Let’s take a look at several different categories in which we can use sticky flags: bookmarks, textbooks, homeschooling, home management, Bible, other stuff.
The most obvious (to me) usage for Post-it flags is as bookmarks. Let’s get a bit more specific, though, then we’ll add to the list.
·         Bookmarks
o   Fiction
o   Non-fiction
o   Citations
o   Sections to reread
·         Textbook markers
o   Start teaching
o   Extra study
o   Instead of highlighting in borrowed books
o   Please help, Mom!
o   Assignment
o   Quick reference
§  Vocab
§  Abbreviations
§  Check lists
·         Bible markers
o   Teaching
o   Studying
o   Memorizing
o   Witnessing
·         Manuals for quick reference
·         Start/stop workbook sections
·         Corrections in homework to be done
·         Instead of tabbed dividers in 3-ring binders
·         Mark information in file folders
·         Sign here designations
·         Mark important information for others (boss) to read/note
·         On calendar/by door for stuff to take out the door
·         To do
o   In a book
o   On a steering wheel
o   On a calendar
o   Beside the door
·         Mark musical selections in a longer piece of music
·         Favorite recipes
·         Grocery lists
·         Wrap around toothpicks for herb/plant markers and cupcakes
Disclaimer: while I love these little guys like nobody’s business, I did a quick poll of some friends, who graciously added to my list.
Q4U: What are your favorite uses for Post-it flags?

homeschool, organization, organizing, writing

How to Prettify Plain, Cardboard Magazine Holders

I’m cheap. (Really, Mum, even though I know you don’t believe it!) So when I needed magazine holders, I went to Ikea and bought the 5-pack of cheap, flat (to assemble), white, cardboard file holders. Sorry I can’t remember how much they cost, but 5 were way cheaper than 1 of the expensive, brand-name ones at an office supply store. 
But plain, white cardboard is so boring. So, I took some contact paper, cut it a few inches wider than the  width of the holder, and voila: a prettified magazine holder! Then I printed labels for the contents onto my pretty Martha Stewart labels so I can tell at a glance what’s in each holder.
Above, you can see what several of them look like next to each other on my bookshelf. Below you can see how I wrapped the contact paper around the edges of the back so as to prevent it from peeling off.
I saved money and completed a DIY project. What could be better?

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?

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The Mom Binder Part 2

So, you’ve snagged a binder and scavenged enough tabs to have one for each child plus at least one for general administration/support-type papers, right? And, you’ve printed out year-at-a-glance calendars as well as monthly calendars, right? If you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about, see The Mom Binder Part 1 article that I posted a few days ago. If you’ve done the above, then let’s finish our totally cool, useful Mom Binders.
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Start by labeling a tab for each child. Mine are alphabetical and from youngest to oldest (yeah, I know, another nerdy organization thing), but they can be in any order you wish. Behind each tab, In put ALL the documents required by your state and/or school district. Check with your state homeschool organization or with the Home School Legal Defense Association if you’re not sure what’s required. If you live in one of the few states that doesn’t require any paperwork, you lucked out, but there are still a few things you’ll probably want to keep handy in your Mom Binder.
In the state of North Carolina, where we currently live, all homeschoolers are required to keep attendance logs for 180 days, immunization records (or the proper exemption paperwork), and test scores for each child, beginning at age 7, every year. I have all of these records from every year that we have homeschooled in NC. I start at the back of each child’s section and every year add in the new stuff on top, closer to the front. That way, if I should ever get audited, I can easily lay my hands on the right paperwork.
In addition, I keep printed schedules or teacher guides for each subject, as appropriate. This is just for information not in a separate teacher’s manual and for things that I need to reference frequently. I also keep a loose plan of what each child is doing for that year, so I can remember that each vocabulary segment takes 4 weeks, each science module takes 2 weeks, and that there are 33 lessons for grammar. This is my cheat sheet so I don’t have to remember everything.
My oldest daughter is graduating this year (in just over a week!! Open-mouthed smile), so in her section, I’ve added a plastic sheet protector with all of her final high school records: official ACT score sheets, final transcript, course descriptions, and reading list. I’ve labeled the sheet protector and put it immediately after her tab, so all of her information is ready to be copied and sent off to colleges. Hhhmmm, just had a thought that maybe I should put those originals in our fire-proof box and put copies into my Mom Binder.
Next, I have an “admin.” tab. I keep the Notice of Intent and other communications from the state in there, along with an official letter from HSLDA when we needed their help a few years ago. I’ve also printed out the basic state requirements just to keep handy.
In the “support group” section, I have my official membership cards from HSLDA and our state homeschool organization, as well as other miscellaneous information from those groups.
The last tab is labeled “Mom,” and in there I’ve kept helpful articles that I want to implement, encouragement from various sources, and notes from homeschool conferences. When I no longer need an article, I either trash it or file it with like documents in my file folder system.
That’s it! Leave me a comment and let me know how you set up your Mom Binder.
Bethany

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The Mom Binder, Part 1

014I’ve referenced The Mom Binder quite a few times recently, and while I was writing those posts, I looked for the original Mom Binder post to link to. I couldn’t find one—time to write about one of my favorite homeschool organization tools. I’ve seen quite a few references online to household management binders, so why not a homeschool management binder?
Start with a 1 1/2- or 2-inch binder. Any larger than that, and it wouldn’t be workable. Any smaller than that, and there wouldn’t be enough room for everything that needs to be in it. You can repurpose one you find around your house or buy a cheap one just about anywhere. You can choose your favorite color, or choose the kind with a clear plastic cover so you can slide in your own artwork. Obviously, I’m not much of an artist, but at least my binder is properly labeled!
Next, figure out how many dividers you will need. I have one for each child (so that is 2), one for administrative paperwork (such as the notifications our state requires), one for support groups (memberships to HSLDA, our state homeschool group, etc.), and one for other stuff (like interesting articles). If you add those up, it makes 5, which is the exact number in a set of tabs (they also come in sets of 8). Yes, I’m totally neurotic about using matching tabs and using all of the ones in a set! If you’re not, that’s fine. Smile Just make sure you at least have a tab for each child, plus at least one for administrative and/or support-type papers.
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In front of all of the tabs, I have printouts of 2 year-at-a-glance calendars, to cover the whole school year. Behind those pages, I have printouts of each month, one per page. I use the year-at-a-glance calendars as a visual for how many weeks we do school in a particular month, when holidays fall, etc. On the monthly calendar pages, I write in co-op dates, which week number we’re on, and other general school notes. I keep attendance on the same computer program that I use for planning (the free version of Homeschool Tracker), but I’m a visual kind of girl, so I like to see the big picture.
Print these calendars from your computer, or check out some of the great, FREE offerings from Donna Young and The Homeschool Mom.
Now that you’ve got your shopping list ready (binder and tabs) and your memo to print out yearly and monthly calendars, I’ll let you get to it! Tune in on Thursday for exactly what types of papers and records you’ll be storing behind each tab.
Bethany

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Record Keeping for Dummies

Records? What are those? Didn’t they go out of style with eight-track cassettes? Or, records? Are you nuts? Why should I keep them? If I have to keep them, which ones should I be worried about, and how do I do it?  

Let’s start with the why. Why keep records when you don’t have to? On the flip side, why keep records when you can just keep all of the actual papers and workbooks? We’re all aware that every state’s homeschool laws vary as to how much (if any) record keeping we have to do. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but I will say that we need to keep abreast of our own state’s requirements; Homeschool Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org) is a good place to start if you need help.
So, let’s move onto reasons we should keep records if we don’t have to. As a verb, record means “to set down in writing, to furnish written evidence of” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). At one time or another, we’ve all needed to have evidence that we are actually homeschooling our children. We need to remind ourselves sometimes that our children have actually made progress since the beginning of the school year (or from year to year).

Even if we manage to graduate our children from high school without keeping a single record, we won’t get them into college that way. ALL colleges, no matter how homeschool friendly they are, require some sort of documentation that our children learned a few basics while they were under our care. What if we move to another school district or state mid-year that requires us to have more documentation than a coloring picture on the fridge? What if we need to transfer our children to a private or public school? Practically speaking, these are all excellent reasons for keeping some records.
Looking back at the progress our children have made since the beginning of the school year shows me physical evidence that they have, indeed, learned something. Quite a few somethings, in fact. It also provides physical evidence that we homeschool parents have been busy as well. Looking back gives us fresh hope and perspective in looking ahead to the rest of the school year (or the coming year).
Now that we’ve established that we should be keeping some records, what type of records should we be keeping? Many state laws require a variety of records to be sent in somewhere or at least kept on file in our homes. Again, I refer you to HSLDA for an accurate listing. Some of the items asked for include vaccination (or exemption) records, attendance, testing scores, curricula listings, field trips, daily logs, and evaluations. Some states expect grades, and even when they aren’t required by law, we need to keep track of grades once our children reach the high school years. Even if your state does not demand any (or all) of these items, I would strongly recommend that you hang onto as many of them as possible.
So, how do we keep track of all of these things? In as little space and in as organized a manner as possible. A mom binder works best for all administration-type documents, although a folder in a filing cabinet works, too. Have a tab for each child, and then file from the back forwards so that the most recent material is in the front. You may also subdivide each tab by year.
Much documentation can be kept on the computer. A number of free programs exist; my favorite is Homeschool Tracker. That program will print out any number of custom reports that can be mailed in or shown to an evaluator as needed. You can also print out reports at the end of each academic year to file in your mom binder.
What about keeping track of grades from curricula such as A.C.E., Alpha Omega, and similar programs? I have seen twelve years’ worth of piles and boxes of Paces/LIFEPACs. For real. There’s no need to keep all that paper. Simply make a spreadsheet for each child, then a new page for each year. It should have ten or twelve (as appropriate) columns, one for each Pace/LIFEPAC. Then it should have a row for each subject. Record each final grade, keeping a few sample tests and papers from each subject from each year to add to a portfolio, and then trash the rest. Yes, it’s really that easy. If you’ve got some catching up to do, no worries. Teen can be trained quickly to go through and systematically do the recording for you. If you don’t have teens in the house, just take it a little bit at a time.
What about all those 3-D projects, art papers, A+ essays, and stellar math tests? You’ve worked hard and are proud of it. Your kids have worked hard and are proud of their accomplishments. So save some of it in a portfolio. Look for a whole column on portfolios in the next issue.
We’ve covered the why, the what, and the how. Now all we need is the motivation. While I can’t help you with that, I can encourage you to get started and to take it one little step at a time.

This post appeared in my “Organized Homeschool” column of the Home School Enrichment magazine’s May/June 2011 issue.

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To Keep or to Toss?

Most articles I’ve read about putting paper in its place start with storing your most important documents (whatever they may be) in a safety deposit or fireproof box. I’m going to start at the opposite end of the spectrum. Let’s take a look at the plethora of papers that come into your house daily.

The first thing you need to do is to sort your mail standing over a trashcan. That way, all the junk mail and fliers for stuff in which you are not interested doesn’t even get set on a counter. Then, take the rest of the mail and put your bills in a to-be-paid file, tray, or slot on your desk. Put invitations, surveys, and anything else that requires a response in a to-do file or bin. Post other necessary information near your family calendar.


Take a similar approach with papers your kids bring home from outside classes, sports, church, or party and event invitations. If you need to fill out papers, put them in your to-do file. Make a note on your family calendar of important dates. Read the other information, then toss the papers or file them (temporarily) in the appropriate folder or binder section. Important note: flip through your to-do file daily.

Before we can get to organizing files or binders, you need to take some time to clean out the dead wood that you’ve already got cluttering up your desk, floor, and filing cabinet. Get a large trash bag and make sure your shredder is plugged in. If you have any old invitations, fliers, newspapers, magazines, or letters, throw them away. If you cancelled checks, keep ONLY those you need for tax purposes (more on that shortly) and shred the rest. If you have any banking records from more than seven years ago, shred them. Seriously. Shred the deed to the clunker car you bought when you were sixteen. Please. Shred ALL of the utility bills that are more than a year old.

Now that you’ve cleaned out all the unnecessary papers, look at how much room you have to organize the papers you really do need to keep! In my research, I found that the general rule of thumb is to keep financial papers pertaining to taxes and investments for seven years. Period. It is suggested, though, that you keep a copy of your tax returns (but not all the other papers) permanently. Since I’m not an accountant, I will add this disclaimer and tell you to check with yours to make sure that you’re keeping the right papers for the right length of time.

So, what about bank statements, utility bills, and the fifty-zillion receipts littering the top of your desk right now? Bank statements should be saved for no longer than a year, so as you put this month’s statements in your file, throw out any statements that are from last April or earlier. It’s a good idea to save utility bills for several months for proof of residency or other issues, but it’s unnecessary to save them for longer than that unless you use them as tax deductions for a home business. Again, ask your accountant for his recommendations. Make a file for each utility bill, and as you put the new ones in each month, throw out ones that are older than three months or a year or whatever your accountant suggests. Receipts only need to be saved if they are tax deductible (in their own file), for a warranty (staple it to the warranty and file it with the owner’s manual), or for something that may need to be returned (clothes or tools, for instance, but weed these out regularly). The rest should be entered into your computer budgeting program weekly and then thrown out. I promise it won’t hurt!

Personal papers that need to be kept permanently (birth, death, and marriage certificates, citizenship and naturalization papers, separation and divorce papers, military records, social security cards, etc.) should be kept in a safety deposit box or in a fireproof box. Only a limited number of other items should be kept on a long-term basis and updated regularly. These include medical histories, employment, insurance, real estate and tax return records, insurance policies, and things like advance directives. These papers should be kept in a fireproof box in your home so you can readily update them and have access to them. Some papers need to be kept in a safe place only for as long as they are in effect: wills, car deeds, records of car repairs and service, passports, and owner’s manuals. If you keep these things in a filing cabinet, make one file for each type of record. Label it clearly and file it in alphabetical order.

I could say so much more about putting paper in its place, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Besides, until I started writing this post, I didn’t realize how much information was out there. Whatever you do, do NOT print this article out—you’ll just create more papers for which you would have to find a place!


If you need more help with your paper piles, be sure to check out my e-book, Taming the Paper Monster.

This post appears today over at Heart of the Matter Online. It also appeared here on my blog in October of 2009, but hey, who actually remembers that?

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Taming the Paper Monster on Sale!



I’m happy to announce that throughout the entire month of March, my e-book Taming the Paper Monster will be on sale for 20% off of the regular price! Start your spring cleaning by getting those pesky paper piles under control once and for all! Click here to go to my business website, then click on the “E-Books” link at the top.


Have papers taken over your desk? Do you have to throw magazines, newspapers, and old invitations on the floor to find your couch? How often have you forgotten to make brownies for youth group or to sign a permission slip for a field trip? Learn how to Tame the Paper Monster once and for all. 


In Taming the Paper Monster, you’ll discover what papers need to be saved and which ones can be tossed; you’ll learn the secrets of setting up an effective binder or filing system that you’ll actually use. Organizing guru Bethany LeBedz lets you in on all these secrets and more.

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Tame the Paper Monster E-Book Available

Some of the most popular posts on my blog are from the Put Paper in Its Place 5-part series. I’ve taken the best of the best, added a few extras, and turned it into an e-book! Get all of my helpful paper organization tips together in one easy, print-ready format. Of course, you’ll have to file it appropriately after you print it out to read!


Have papers taken over your desk? Do you have to throw magazines, newspapers, and old invitations on the floor to find your couch? How often have you forgotten to make brownies for youth group or to sign a permission slip for a field trip? Learn how to Tame the Paper Monster once and for all. In Tame the Paper Monster, you’ll discover what papers need to be saved and which ones can be tossed; you’ll learn the secrets of setting up an effective binder or filing system that you’ll actually use. Organizing guru Bethany LeBedz lets you in on all these secrets and more. Download it now!

It’s available to purchase from my website and from CurrClick. Download it now!

Q4U: Would you be interested in a book (yes, the printed kind with a cover that you hold in your hand!) that covers many of the homeschool organization topics, plus a few extra subjects, I’ve covered here on my blog? I’m seriously considering writing one, but there’s no point if there’s no market. So please, cast your vote!

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The 411 on PAPERS

Last week, I synthesized my 5-part paper series into a 45-minute talk for a Bible study group at my church. These lovely ladies are going through Karen Ehman’s The Complete Guide to Getting & Staying Organized book. When Becky first asked me to talk on “Putting Paper in Its Place,” I was worried that I would have trouble speaking for 10 minutes. I wasted perfectly good worry time over that! Turns out I could probably have talked for an hour at least.

As I was working on my notes and putting them into speaking order, I came up with a nifty acronym for the handout. Yes, I am well aware that giving a paper handout at a seminar on eliminating paper clutter is oxymoronish. But I just couldn’t help myself! After all, how else would they become my blog followers? So, here are the notes I handed out last week to the Bible study ladies. Drop me a line to let me know what you think.

P—PLAN. Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Papers do not organize themselves. You’ve got to make a plan and commit to keeping it.

A—ARRANGE. 1 Corinthians 14:40, “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Decide whether you want to set up a filing system or a binder system, and then do it in a systematic fashion.

P—PERSEVERE. Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The bigger the paper piles, the longer it will take to get them in order. Don’t give up! Don’t expect that you’ll be able to finish the job in a single evening, or even a single weekend. Give yourself permission to tackle it in manageable chunks of time.

E—ESSENTIAL. Isaiah 58:11, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Do you REALLY need to keep it? Be brutally honest with yourself and keep only what is totally necessary.

R—REGULAR. Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Once a day, go through your to-do bin and take care of business. Once a week, file papers from your to-file bin and pay bills in the to-be-paid bin. Once a month, weed out the papers in your temporary files and put magazine articles, etc., in a file or in a binder. Once a year, collect all the papers you need for tax purposes and weed out other papers that need to be saved for only a year.

S—SELF-DISCIPLINE for a SANE SYSTEM. Galatians 5:22–23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Determine that you will gain control over your paper piles. Decide now that you will do whatever it takes to maintain that control. Ask the Lord for help to sustain your resolve to keep your paper system sane.

Helpful Web sites:
Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom (my blog!)
The Fly Lady
Get Organized Now!
The Binder Queen
Simplify Your Filing System