Today's tip to reduce clutter in your homeschool is a simple on, but I know from experience that it has big results!
None of my kids ever really liked coloring books, but they all love to draw. From a young age, they would raid the printer for fresh white paper and get their crayons, markers, and pencils and draw. When it was time to clean up, they would put away their drawing supplies and give me their drawing as a gift. Since I can't just toss a gift the second I get it, a pile of drawings would grow. Eventually, I would toss the pile, but it always reappears.
I love when my kids draw. It's a quiet, creative activity. I love that all three of my kids like to draw together. Drawing is an activity that my 4, 6, and 12 year old do together regularly. But with three kids, the loose papers pile up.
At the beginning of this series, I talked about giving my oldest son a sketchbook. This school year, I gave my other two kids a sketchbook. I got my kids their sketchbooks at Target. They aren't artist quality, of course, but they are just fine for drawing.
My four year old still works on an elaborate, scribbly doodle that ends up being a robot or spaceship. When he's done, he never looks back.
My six year old has already figured out that she can come back to her work. She no longer quickly scribbles in some color when her hands get tired so she can be done and move on to another activity. She takes her time, does a good job, and leaves a little for the next day when she starts to get tired of drawing.
I really like that she is learning to take her time and spread her work out over multiple days so that she can do a good job.
My oldest works out ideas in his sketchbook. He has a large chunk where he drew dragon after dragon. He also draws castles and fortresses and various characters for the stories that he writes in his spare time.
And as for me, my mind has a bit less clutter as a result. I no longer have to decide what art to toss and when to toss it. I don't have to decide what to keep and how to store what I keep.
Wait, But Isn't it More Cost Effective to Let Kids Draw on Printer Paper?
Page by page, printer paper is way cheaper than sketchbook paper but as I mentioned before, my older kids are taking more days to finish their drawings, so they are using less paper. My youngest seems to be going through pages at the same rate, but he is more likely to use both sides of the paper in a sketchbook when he draws with markers. Even with the extra cost, I do think that it is a good trade in the end to have better quality work out of my oldest kids and less mess from my youngest.
Read the Rest of the Homeschool Clutter Buster Series
Tip #1: Reduce Throwaway Projects
Tip #2: Workbook Management 101
Tip #3: Buy Each Child a Cheap Sketchbook
Tip #4: One Notebook to Rule Them All
Tip #5: Corral the Small Stuff
Miscellaneous Tips and Tricks
This week was pretty unremarkable because I just wanted to have a typical week for a 7th and 1st grader with a tag along preschooler in the mix...so I'd know what a good school week looks like before we throw in all of our extracurricular activities.
I have also been organizing our school area, which is a wall in our dining room, and purging clutter. I have resolved to reduce clutter this year byeliminating throwaway projects and managing my workbook purchasing and organization a little better. (Click the links to read about my plans for a clutter free school year!)
So I think that this week, I'll highlight a few things that get me through a typical week.
Favorite Cookbook: Dinnertime by Ree Drummond
The right person to write a cookbook for families is a busy parent who loves food, and that person is Ree Drummond. Her latest cookbook, Dinnertime, is my newest go to cookbook. I love the recipes in this cookbook because they are quick and good! So far, every recipe I have tried has become a new family favorite. I like that she doesn't feel the need to show off by using expensive or hard to find ingredients. When I teach my oldest to cook, I will be giving him this book to use since it has pictures for each step of the cooking process. I already have her upcoming cookbook on my Christmas list! Hopefully, I don't buy it for myself before that.
Favorite Stress Relief: An Evening Walk
I am going to be so sad when daylight savings ends and the sun sets earlier because I love an end of the day walk around our neighborhood. It's so nice to end the day with fresh air, the sunset, and a podcast.
Favorite Everyday Sandals: OluKai
I recently bought a pair of OluKai sandals and Oh My Gosh, they feel so good on my feet! And they are cute, too! I have long narrow feet with high arches, and by the end of summer, my feet are hurting because no sandal really works. But not this summer. I have tried many types of expensive sandals, but these are the ones that have finally worked. My feet feel great!
If You Missed It
This week I wrote two posts on keeping clutter out of my homeschool year. You can read them here:
I write this post as I look at too many barely used workbooks flopped over on our school shelves. (Why can't they stand up straight?) The truth of these underused educational materials reminds me that I chose workbooks in years past unwisely.
This post is the first in a series on reducing homeschool clutter. Read the first post here.
A Workbook that is Mainly Busywork will Flop on Your Shelf
Workbooks promise ready made, open and go curriculum. However, very few deliver on that promise. Many workbooks contain mundane tasks that don't really do much except leave a paper trail, both literally and figuratively. Many grammar books are mainly busywork. Do you really need the extra practice math book when there are a few apps out there for math practice that your kids won't cry over. Though I love Costco, most of the workbooks they throughout the summer sell are cute, colorful, and worthless.
I have many workbooks that I've started my kids on and realized that they are actually busywork. I've kept them out of guilt, thinking I can use them for another child. But I finally realized a workbook that was worthless for one child will be worthless for the next because it is simply a low quality product. As I write this post I'm am making a pile of the workbooks I don't use so I can dump them. Or I may let my preschooler scribble on them first, then toss them.
Choose Workbooks Wisely
Only buy the workbooks that you will likely use 85% of the pages.
The advice is simple, but it is easier said than done, especially during the first year of homeschooling
I used to buy a workbook for every possible topic, figuring that I could just pick and choose pages to teach and reinforce topics as I needed them. Of course that lead to a lot of waste and a lot of clutter.
I now buy two workbooks for my 7th grader. I've learned that a Math workbook is a necessary, though floppy, evil. I've also learned that Writing and Rhetoric is a valuable curriculum that has workbook sections. It not only covers writing, it also covers reading skills, critical thinking, memory work, a little grammar, and vocabulary. It is the core book for my son's language arts curriculum. In addition to Writing and Rhetoric, we read literature together and work on a few custom spelling lists on the side and language arts is done. I call that a valuable workbook!
Any workbook that is an integral part of a curriculum or that teaches a valuable skill that I cannot teach on my own is worth keeping on my shelf.
There are a few free, online workbooks that I have links to, just in case I need a page or two. I also go to sites like education.com when I just need a workbook page for extra practice.
My daughter has a math workbook,spelling workbook, and a handwriting workbook. Our charter school adds a couple others which I politely keep on my shelf. They do come in handy when she needs just a little extra practice, or when she feels like doing a workbook (she's funny like that!) Her workbooks don't sit nicely on a shelf, which is where the next tip comes in...
Corral Skinny Worbooks in Magazine Holders
Magazine holders are the best solution to floppy workbook syndrome. Go from this:
To this in about 5.2 seconds.
I have used the file boxes pictured for three years and they are in great condition! (Follow this link to the exact magazine holder shown.) I also use the large size to hold art supplies and sketchbooks together.
If you missed the first post in this series, be sure to go back and read how I have been reducing clutter by eliminating throwaway projects.
I wish I could say that I had mastered the clutter, but I haven't. I'm in the clutter filled homeschool trenches alongside you, but I have a plan to reduce the homeschool clutter as the school aged kids in my house increase.
The first thing on my list of cluttery things to eliminate is any project that will soon be thrown away.
What is a Throwaway Project?
A throwaway project is any project that you have no intention of keeping. These include cut and paste worksheets, anything made with Do a Dot Markers, or paper plates, salt dough maps, or most of the cute little things that you found on Pinterest and are loosely related to your history-science-or-literature theme.
Throwaway projects are are done for the process or to achieve vague goals like improving fine motor skills or reinforcing concepts.
Throwaway projects are busywork disguised with construction paper and glitter glue. They entertain your kids and keep them busy, but have little educational value.
Most importantly, throwaway projects increase clutter because as parents, we have to leave them around until the child who created it kind of forgets about it and is also out of the room.
But Don't Fun Projects Make School, Well, Fun?
Of course, it is fun cut, paste, glue, and paint and stuff is leaned along the way...but sometimes it is a bit much to have tambourines, frogs, bats, and fraction pizzas all made out of paper plates scattered around the house and a barely used package of cheap paper plates in the back of your cupboard. Once a project like this is made, its value has already come and gone.
Replace Throwaway Projects with Long-Term, Meaningful Projects
Children need meaningful work, just like we adults need meaningful work. Instead of investing in construction paper, paper plates, glitter glue, and googly eyes, why not invest in a sketch book for each child and a quality set of colored pencils, pastels, and art markers? Or journal with nice paper and pens that just feel good to write with? These books can contain your children's artistic and written responses to what they are learning.
When I switched away from loose worksheets and throwaway projects and focused on helping my kids make quality books, I ended up getting higher quality work from them. Check out this entry in my daughter's science notebook:
I wrote "jellyfish" for her because she was stressed about copying two long words correctly, but she did the rest with her textbook and a nice set of colored pencils, a mechanical pencil, and a crayon. She loves mixing medias. Oh, and did I mention that she's barely six?
When I handed my oldest son a $4 sketchbook and told him, no more typing paper, he began doing drawing that took him multiple days to do. So instead of working quickly on a drawing while he waited for dinner and tossing it, he started making more complex drawings of castles, dragons, and spaceships because he knew that he had multiple days to finish it. My favorite drawing of his are a series of moody dragon scenes inspired bythe illustrations in this book.
With the time that it takes to get out, make, and clean up a cut and paste project, you and your kids can develop lifelong skills. I taught my daughter to sew, even though I didn't really know how with this book. You can read how I did it here. My oldest son works on coding and writes stories in his spare time. I teach all of my kids to cook, drawing inspiration from our history lessons and literature,
I Still Do a Few Throwaway Projects
I have let my kids make maps out of dough...play dough. Then the monsters or pirates destroy the state and we put everything away. My kids make models of architectural masterpieces...out of blocks. We use sticks, rocks, and vines to build castles, fishing poles, and crowns, and then leave them outside until my husband blows out the backyard. Some projects become a part of the landscape, like our resurrection garden. Then we rake them up and toss them in the greens bin.
I do require cut and past projects from my kids, but I limit the size of the completed project to 8-1/2 by 11, and they must lie flat when completed. (History Pockets are great for this type of flat project.) This way, everything goes in a notebook. I wrote a whole post about the project books I use for the Middle Ages, with more details about how I use History Pockets.
Thanks for reading! This is the first in a series of reducing homeschool clutter. Next up, I'll be giving tips on reducing the clutter created by multiple floppy workbooks.
The first real day of school for us happened to coincide with the Great American Solar Eclipse, which made for a very wild first day of school.
We didn't have the special eclipse viewing glasses by choice so we had fun experimenting with various eclipse viewers.
We used NASA's instructions for a cereal box viewer and it worked surprisingly well.
Using a colander as a viewer was also very cool.
We also noticed these cool eclipse shadows in our backyard.
We weren't lucky enough to live in the path of the full eclipse, but we still experienced the eerie light of a partial eclipse and noticed that the birds were silent during most of it and our cat was nowhere to be seen. My kids however were bouncing off the walls and wild with excitement.
I didn't write this week but I'm working on a series for a nearly clutter free homeschool. Stay tuned. Last week I reviewed some of the activity books that I use for studying the middle ages. There's some fun books for all ages if you want to check them out/
During my last two weeks of vacation, I read three books. I usually try to have a more challenging read in the mix, but since I'm trying to attentively read through Leviticus in the morning, I decided to keep my afternoon and evening readings a little lighter to compensate.
Dear Mr. Knightley: I picked this one up because I find that sub-sub-genre about people who love Jane Austen fascinating. However, I did not realize that it would also fall into the sub genre of Christian chick lit, which I usually find a little corny. This book was original and quite good , and I would recommend it.
The Circle: This book totally reinforces the creepy feelings that I get when I think about social media.
Gilead: I read Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping for my women's lit class in college, but I think the wisdom of the book went over my 19-year-old, overloaded-on-lit-classes head. I'm really enjoying Gilead because it gives me plenty to think about and is making me look at the world with fresh eyes.
Books links are Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for reading.
As I mentioned in previous posts, we are using Mystery of History for our history spine this year. I thought that I'd share some of the supplementary resources that I will be using to round out our history studies and to adapt them to my younger kids.
This post contains affiliate links.
History Pockets: Ancient Rome
I bought a couple of History Pockets at a used currriculum sale and they were so easy to use that now I have almost all of the series. Here's a sample spread from the book that shows what the pockets look like and what goes in a typical pocket.
I don't actually make the pockets. I usually just glue the activity to colored paper to stick in their binders. This torch from last year's Ancient Greece unit from History Pockets: Ancient Greece. The bottom part of the torch is a booklet about the history and symbolism of the torch. These are not your usual fluffy cut and paste activities. History Pocket activities actually contribute to kid's knowledge base.
History Pockets:Ancient Civilizations
This book is geared for 1st through 3rd graders and it includes units on Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, and the Aztecs.
Here's a sample project from the Aztec unit. There's another page, not pictured that has the pieces to finish the calendar.
Here's an example of a completed project from The Mesopotamia unit we did last year. The ship sails up and down the river. My kids love the interactivity of some of these projects.
I found this book through our library and it has tons of activities and cultural facts about the ancient Greeks and Romans. It has recipes, dress up ideas, games, and educational activities from each era. We did a handful of the Greek activities last year and we will start the year off with a few of the activities from the Romans section. Some of the activities take planning to do but others are quick and easy like this one that explains Roman measurements:
Days of Knights and Damsels
This is by the same author of Classical Kids and has the same variety of activities, but geared towards the Middle Ages.
History Through the Ages
My middle school aged son is using this for his current cycle of History and is very proud of what a nice looking timeline he has.
Geography Through Art
This book has art projects from around the world and helps fill in some of the gaps. For example, I can't find an activity book for ancient Australia, but this book has a lesson for Aboriginal art. It also has lessons for African, South American, and Japanese art from the time periods we are studying, too.
I just showed you a lot of supplemental activity books, so be sure to read how I organize all of these materials inHow I Plan Mystery of History for the Year.
Recent Posts from Freely Learned
When school ended May, I didn't want to think about next school year at all. That attitude lasted for a full six weeks. Earlier this week, sometime between coming home from a lovely week in Tahoe and putting the last of the laundry away, my mind shifted to all-homeschool-all-the-time mode.
So in the mornings, I worked around the house and in the afternoons, I planned our history curriculum for the year, made a back to school shopping list, and ordered the last of our curriculum (CBD finally had an Apologia sale! Yay!) And I wrote posts
Besides homeschool and housework, I also took the kids to see Despicable Me 3 and made a few jars of refrigerator dill pickles.
I love summer, because I finally have time to read. (Gotta be by the pool in case of an emergency!)
Last month, I finished readinga collection of essays by CS Lewis on fantasy and sci fi and that made me want to read a few good fantasy novels. While on vacation, I read Seraphina which is a young adult novel. Unlike a lot of young adult novels, I would actually recommend this one to a young adult! It's a smart book, but not overly mature, if you know what I mean...
The Little Paris Bookshop appealed to me because I love to read books about people who love to read books. It was a good summer read.
Another book about people who like to read books was the Jane Austen Book Club. This was a fun, light read for me after reading all of Jane Austen's novels earlier this year.
Mystery of History is a BIG program to sort through. I have found that it is easier on me if I do the majority of my planning and preparing before I read the first page to my kids.
This Post Contains Affiliate Links.
Step 1: Make a Lesson Planning Grid and Fill it Out
For me, the first step to planning is to print up a simple grid to use as a planner. I used Google Docs to make a four column grid and included enough rows for two weeks worth of lessons per page.
As I glanced over the lessons, I took notes for each lesson. In the first column, I wrote the title of each chapter, lesson number, and page numbers. The second column is for writing additional readings. I also used it to jot down map activities and quizzes I planned on doing. The third and fourth columns are to jot down notes on narrations and activities I want my kids to do. Most of the activities come straight from Mystery of History, but a few come from Story of the World Activity Book 2.
After going through the book and filling out the grid, I jotted down the titles of relevant library books at the top of each page so I can quickly go to our library's website and reserve the books I need. I found most of these books by browsing through the literature recommendations at the back of the book and in the Story of the World Activity Book 2. I also checked to see if our library had the books I wanted before writing the titles down.
I used the bottom margin to jot down notes on lessons that I want to include. I plan on doing a lesson on William Tell, because he is part of my heritage. I also plan on adding lessons on ancient Mexico, because that is a part of my husband's heritage.
I still have to write in my son's additional readings, which will be from books like Adam of the Road and the Adventures of Robin Hood, but I don't have all of those books in my hands yet.
Step 2: Make Copies and File Them Behind the Relevant Planning Page
I hate making copies. Since I hate making them as much on busy school days as on lazy summer days I decided to put on a podcast and make all the copies that I would need for history for the year.
It actually took a few podcasts to get the job done.
After making copies, I filed them behind the relevant lesson planning page.
Not all of my copies were from the Mystery of History book. Some I found online and some of the other supplement books I drew from were:
Amy Pak's History Through the Ages Timeline Figures
History Pockets: Ancient Civilizations
History Pockets: Ancient Rome
History Pockets: Native Americans
Story of the World Activity Book 2
Days of Knights and Damsels
I reviewed some of these supplemental activity books in this post and discussed how I used them.
Step 3: Pick a Storage System and Put Everything Away
I store my copies and plans in colorful folders and a file box. I include 12 lessons per folder. This is what my finished folders and file look like:
You could just as easily store everything in a binder and pull out pages as you need them.
Whenever I pull out a set of copies, I usually just put them in my Mystery of History book at the relevant chapter, so I have them ready to go the minute I open the book.
That's it! Since I'm already familiar with Mystery of History, once I got started, it only took a few hours to plan my year and a couple more hours to make copies and file them.
If this is your first year using Mystery of History, you will probably want to take a couple more hours to read the introductory chapters and familiarize yourself with the book.
Here's everything, shelved and ready to go! Here is a link to my exact small file box and large file box. Both are super sturdy and I've used them for years.
Be sure to read my next post in this series: Activity Books to Use With Mystery of History, Vol. 2
Back to school shopping is a little different for us homeschoolers, but not that much different. Here are my must buys at this year's back to school sales.
This post contains affiliate links
Besides buying packs of cheap Crayolas, packs of paper, and pens, some of the things I always get at back to school sales are:
Mechanical Pencils--I used to hate mechanical pencils, but we recently tried out these Paper Mate Clearpoint Mechanical Pencils and converted from our beloved Ticonderoga Pencils. The leads are sturdy and hard to break. With an always-sharp-point, my dysgraphic son's handwriting is a bit easier to read. And I'm less likely to have to clean up pencil shavings when someone drops the sharpener on the floor.
Graph Paper Notebooks--These are for my oldest son. Read why they are a must for his handwriting issues here and here. He currently uses one for math and one for science. I am adding one for his history narrations this year, too. These notebooks are pricey and don't go on sale outside of back to school season.
Composition Notebooks--The bindings never come apart, they are super portable, the smaller page size not intimidating at all, and some even have a sturdy cover. I get this one with room to draw for my first grader's journal. I get stacks of the plain college rule ones for myself and wide rule ones for my oldest son who likes to compose stories in his. I prefer the Mead 100 page composition books and will pay an extra quarter for them over the off brands any day of the week.
Permanent Glue Sticks--If you don't want anything your kids glued into their notebooks to fall out after a few weeks, get the permanent glue sticks. These are my favorite. Oh and be sure to put them away, unless you want a permanent collage on your daughter's door. Ahem.
Back to School clothes shopping is a lot more relaxed for us homeschoolers because we don't need quite as much to start the school year. It's easier on my budget to spread out clothes shopping throughout the year. That doesn't mean that I don't take advantage of the sales. A few things that I always buy at the back to school sales are:
Jean Sales--Jeans never go cheaper than at back to school time and my kids manage to get holes in the knees of their jeans before they outgrow them, so I stock up.
BOGO Shoe Sales--Usually the sales are buy one get one half off. I always try to hold out for BOGO shoe sales.
Packages of Socks--The only clothing item to get holes quicker than jeans. I stock up on the cute packs for kids when they go on sale at Costco.
A Few Fresh New Shirts and a Couple Pairs of Shorts--Where I live, we have HOT weather through October. I don't even look at jackets and sweatshirts until they move to clearance.
How About You?
What are your must buys for this year's back to school sales? Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear how you approach back to school shopping!
More to Read
After a few weeks off from school and blogging it's time to start thinking about next school year. I just ordered the last of our curriculum and thought I'd share what my 7th grader will be doing next year.
This post contains affiliate links!
For math, we are departing from Singapore Math to do a year of Saxon Math before starting Algebra in 8th grade. I wrote about my options on what to do after Singapore 6 in this post if you want to read about other 7th grade math choices.
The core of my son's language arts program will be Writing and Rhetoric books 7 & 8. He will also be doing a formal spelling program this year just because I am noticing some spelling errors in longer, vowel heavy words. Read my review of Writing and Rhetoric.
For literature, he will be reading historical fiction, biographies, stories, and legends that go along with our history studies of the middle ages. So far he have King Arthur, Robin Hood, Beowulf, Arabian Nights, selected Viking legends, and Adam of the Road on his reading list. I am also looking for a couple of biographies to round out his reading list. I also plan of listening to The Chronicles of Narnia on audiobook in the car as a family.
This year, we are studying the Middle Ages as a family. My son will be going through Mystery of History 2 as his spine. Last year, we started with MOH 1 as a family, but it just didn't work for us and our age spread. The second book in the series seems to be a lot stronger, and I think my son will enjoy it.
I'm sad that this year I need to have my son do his own science curriculum, independent of the rest of the family. However, I am excited to start Apologia's General Science along with him. We will only be using the textbook and tests. Even though it looks like a fabulous supplement, I have opted out of ordering the Notebooking Journal because my son is dysgraphic and there seems to be a lot of unlined writing space. I will be using graph paper notebook pages like these in lieu of the notebooking journal.
He will continue to make entries in his nature journal.
This year, my son will continue working on Spanish via Duolingo. A lesson takes about 15 minutes a day, which is just right. Once a week, he will do a lesson in Artisitic Pursuits. He will also be taking golf lessons 1-2 times per week with a few boys from his school.
As a family, we will be reading the book of Acts and selections from Paul's letters together and memorizing the Apostle's Creed.