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.
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.
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