Thursday, August 26, 2010

Staying Organized As A Homeschooler

ACK! Another year is upon us and am really excited! I love homeschooling. I love the books, the plans, the supplies, the eager little morning faces still in their pj's with uncombed hair ready to start each day, and I love the soul expansion that we all experience on this journey with our little ones, who are ever growing.

What I don't love is the clutter that will always be my house while I have these little homeschoolers. Most of the people who read this blog are homeschoolers, whether waldorf, montessori, eclectic, unschoolers, or one of the many other *types*. And we all realize that our children are with us 24/7 so we don't get those windows of time to declutter or clean up as we would if we were SAHM's with kiddos in school or even a working mom who could afford a housecleaner! (OK I admit I fantasize about how immaculate my house would be if my girls were in school sometimes - but I wouldn't have it any other way!). Anyway, add to that all the supplies that would normally fit in a large organized classroom - and, well...welcome to my home - and many other homeschooler's homes!

Yes, the girls do have chores, but I want them to experience their childhood to the fullest, so many days our house is full of everything imaginable, being used in their play. Some nights, I'm too tired to insist we all clean up. For our family, that's OK. I'm just not going to have that *perfect*, *not lived-in* house. I have a home.

At the same time, I realize that it can't be completely trashed or we can't function in it, so I do my best to keep us on schedule with our regular chore chart and a meal chart, which I don't always stick to, but I try to. I have found that just having one really helps. I can see what we did this week and what we forgot to do and I'm happy to see that I didn't set my standards too high and we can keep up with it, even if we skip a day here or there.

Daddy works a ton of hours, so he is exempt. But the girls and I each have one cleaning assignment per day. Mine are bigger than the girls, but that's how it should be. We work together to do what we need to.

So once that flows smoothly, it's much easier to add the additional duties of teaching (or learning together, as I prefer).

I am a bit OCD when it comes to organizing. It is my drug of choice - I just love schedules and calendars and plans - though I don't always stick to them. I tend to over communicate - can you tell? LOL!

For me, I need space to write out my thoughts. I create a 12 month calendar and start filling out important dates and things and I keep it handy. The way I broke down our Grade 2 year this summer with this chart was to:

1. Write at the top which block we were doing and which general theme (ie: for Sept, we're doing a 2 week form drawing review and a 2 week math review which will be tied into our studies of the Chumash people that inhabited our area)...That way, I can easily flip to a month and see which block we will be doing that month.

2. Immersing ourselves in classical books is one of the most important things to me so each month, I have chosen one or two books/novels that I will read to the girls that is somehow tied into our studies, the season, or their development. And the books are listed in the upper left corners before the dates begin for each month.

3. I filled in the festivals, birthdays, visitors, and important activities for each month, knowing more will be filled in with field trips and play dates throughout the year.

4. I also decided that this year, I would cover a story listed in the "Five in a Row" curriculum every two weeks for fun. I had purchased a bunch of the books when we first started homeschooling years ago, but found it was way too heady for 4 or 5 year olds (geography and the like), but I do think it can be a wonderful supplement for elementary aged children. I'm not knocking it, by any means, but for the delayed academics we honor in waldorf schooling, I found it conflicting if started at too young of an age. So I picked books and fit them in seasonally. We'll read them for fun and maybe pick some of the activities to do together.

We will add some more activities along the way - I'd like to do a daily meditation (or just quiet time) with the girls, some stretching, a daily evening walk with the dogs and my girls, pick up ice skating again, and things like that. Also, I need to plan out our foreign language and music program (still working on it) as we didn't jump into enough of a routine with it last year. We'll continue with the AMHC music program and I'm excited to start Jodie's Mesler's program, as well. The problem with foreign language for me has been deciding which one! Seriously - Spanish is so prevalent in So Cal that it would be practical, I want to move to Italy some day and my husband is 1/2 Italian, so we have that heritage, and then there's French (sigh) - the language I took in high school which I feel most comfortable with. Charley wants to learn French, so I need to find a way to weave them in without confusing the girls. We had done all three languages on and off together, but Spanish and Italian are so similar, that the girls would confuse if anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears!

Back to the plan...

Enough of the skeleton of Grade 2 is in place for us to begin! I know for some people, they need daily lesson plans and scripted curriculum to be comfortable, but for me, I get stifled if I have too much in place. Just having my skeleton is enough for me to focus on one month at a time, one month in advance to present my materials. So I am ready for Sept and once Sept starts, I will start planning what we will do in Oct. That way, I can change things up if someone gets a long illness or we don't get to everything we wanted to, or if something doesn't work, or we breeze through it, I can punt a bit, etc - and not feel frantic that I'm not "on schedule"...

So, for staying organized, I love my bookshelves...and baskets...easily accessible and not cluttered so that things are easy to put away after school or play...

Since we are starting with the Chumash people, I raided the library this summer to find books and to learn as much about them as I could in advance.

I made a pile of the ones I am going to use and returned the rest.

Realizing that someone else might be in line to check them out after us, I wanted to keep track of what we used and what we liked. This will also help us when we really delve into our Native American studies in a few years. For now, it's a basic understanding and introduction through stories and culture tied into our form drawing and maths review.

So I am a list person and I LOVE lists. There's a wonderful FREE site that has a ton of different styles and things that you can print out and use on your own. They are by Donna Young and can be found here.

This lady has lists to end all lists! There are so many great ones that you are sure to find one that fits with your temperament and organization style - and they are very well organized, I might add! I use many of them - the calendars, attendance records (as we need that in CA when we file independently as a private school), field trip lists, library book lists, reading lists, weekly planning pages, etc, etc, etc...

In fact, after trying out many through the years and even making my own, I have settled upon this one as the one that works for my weekly planning. I print out one per block and on the right hand side, list my resources under the "List" section, and a general plan throughout the month under the "Plans" section. Then, I write Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc down the five small blocks and then I copy it three more times (if we're doing a four week block) and that way, I don't have to rewrite everything each week.

Then I can fill out what we actually did each day under each section and they store easily as a record for our year. I have binders with those page protectors and everything is filed away neatly!

I've got all of our homeschooling things in bins, baskets and cabinets within easy reach. Math baskets, as suggested by Our Little Nature Nest, was a fabulous idea which we've carried over into other subjects, which can be switched out each month, if needed (though we'll be doing math daily now that the girls are in Grade 2).

Our supplies were ordered over the spring and summer in batches to cut down on costs and so that we could try to snag the best prices possible. I have several suggestions which I'll list below which have been helpful and cost effective for us, but I'm always looking for competitors, so if anyone has any places they like to shop, please post it in my comments section - I would appreciate it!

Vendors we've used:

Paper, Scissors, Stone - chalk, boards, pencils, crayons, misc supplies.

Bob & Nancy's - waldorf books (cross check prices with Amazon and other Steiner bookstores first, but usually B & N's has a nice selection and good prices and shipping is set, no matter how many you order, so I usually try to do one big order a year).

Amazon - always check here first as they give free shipping for $25 qualifying orders and have a nice used selection (save trees and money)!

Green Tara Yahoo Group - Michelle runs sales on Mercurius/Art Makes Sense items, so we were able to purchase beeswax, modeling beeswax, and Stockmar watercolor paints very cheaply this year. She also runs sales on Kinderkram, Evi Dolls, Ostheimers, and more which fit into our children's play, along with various natural living clothing and lifestyle products, fair trade/organics, you name it! She is the owner of Green Mountain Organics.

Waldorf Curriculum Supplies Yahoo Group - this is a fantastic, large group of homeschoolers selling their used waldorf curriculum, toys, readers, and sometimes, other homeschooling books from other methods. We have been lucky enough to purchase much of our curriculum for Grade 2 through this group - again saves trees and money.

DickBlick Art Supplies - this is a great place to get things like watercolor paper, pads for your MLB, chalk, etc. You can make your own MLB's using high quality paper at a discount from Dick Blick.

Syrendell - play silks, wool, and fun ebooks.

Note: I was not happy with the quality of silks I ordered through Paper, Scissors, Stone as it was not nearly as silky/soft or as beautiful as the ones I've ordered from Syrendell. I have the rainbow from Sarah's Silks, but even that pales in quality compared to the beautiful, hand dyed ones that Syrendell makes. I highly recommend convo'ing Jennifer if you need her to make up some for you! Her prices are wonderful, too, for the high quality you receive.

I'd also love to give a shout out to my friend, Lynn, who used to blog about her lovely circle time and waldorf lifestyle and has now branched off and has an amazing etsy shop where she and her oldest daughter make the most gorgeous wool and yarns. Her shop is called The Princess Rooms.

So that's a wrap for now! I'll share a secret - I'm in the process of making a one-of-a-kind surprise to give away in celebration of this next school year! Stay tuned!


  1. I'm going to share this post on Facebook! Jen, your ideas and pictures are so inspiring to homeschoolers who are trying to get it all organized. I love all of the baskets (especially the handwork one!), the chore schedule, and your list of resources. Thank you for mentioning us on your list! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing your ideas, Jen. I've used the same form for my main lesson plannings from Donna Young! :) I've also stopped planning every detail way in advance. I never get it done that way anyway. Now I do a rough outline for the year and plan the individual months only one month ahead.

    For vendors we've been very pleased with
    "A Toy Garden" for main lesson books. "Meadowsweet Naturals" is also supposed to be a good supplier.

  3. Thanks, Eva! I know A Toy Garden has the choroi flutes for a great price, but I've never used them for MLB's - will have to check it out, as well as Meadowsweet Naturals. Thanks for sharing and isn't it funny how we all find our rhythm and what works for us - you & I sound a lot alike on the planning end - lol!

    And Jennifer - I LOVE your silks :D I am going to surprise the girls with the orangish one I just got from you guys for our fall nature table - can't wait. And that's neat you're sharing this on FB :D

    Hugs to you both!

  4. I love it all too! (Only feeling slightly tired of the planning at the moment, as I am in my last days before beginning lessons next week.)

    We had Jennifer make us some silks as birthday gifts for our girls this summer. They are so beautiful and so loved!

    I really like A Child's Dream Come True for handwork and fiber supplies.

    And I could spend hours and hours searching through wonderful books at Bob and Nancy's!

  5. thanks for your take on keeping organized, the constant quest of every homeschooling mom!

  6. Wow! What an amazing post, Jen! Can I say one more time that I feel so blessed to have come accross your blog!! We are not only two moms of twins, but we are so similar in many ways! I am such a list lover and I cannot wait to visit the list site you mention!! I totally relate to everything that you write, especially this: I'm just not going to have that *perfect*, *not lived-in* house. I have a home.

    But like you, I like order. I cannot function in chaos (imagine children!).

    As far as langages go (I speak French, Italian and some Spanish), I highly recommend you stick to one until the girls master it properly. Latin langages are pretty similar and it can get pretty confusing... Let me know if I can be of any help...

    Thanks again for this wonderful post,



  7. Hi Jen, such a wonderful post with so many great ideas. I still have a lot of planning and organising to do but goodness I am so excited by Grade 2! My mother and brother are visiting from Zimbabwe first two weeks of September so we'll start 2nd part of September. I tend to make a very basic yearly plan and then focus more on monthly and weekly plans which tend to change depending on interests and how things are going. I find with having four children now, I need to be more organised to meet all needs. As for keeping the home organised, it sure can get messy around here so I have spent more time over this summer seriously decluttering and simplifying. I have been brutal!
    Happy planning and I am sure you guys are going to totally love that fantastic Chumash block!
    Best wishes

  8. Jen,

    I have been waiting for your "plan". I, too did FIAR when we first started and thought the same.. Can't wait to see which books you choose. I am going to check out your weekly plan sheets, as I have been using my own, but these look interesting. :)
    Love the pics!

  9. What a fun post, Jen! Looks like you're going to have a great time with the Chumash! :)

  10. My daughter is in grade 1, and this is our 1st yr using MLBs. How many do you need for a school year? I'm getting the 32 page Mercurius 32x38cm.

  11. Hi Erika - how FUN to be starting 1st grade - it's such a magical year :D Ya know, most teachers would recommend getting 10-12 of that size in a variety of colors to make it really fun for your daughter. I didn't use nearly that many, but I didn't have one book per subject. To save trees and $, we just used one book and moved from block to block in it until we ran out and then took out the next book. I think each girl went through 3 or 4 of them and we did a decent amount of MLB work, but we also drew on other paper that we bound together (a seasonal book, nature journals, etc). I figured we could always take apart the books at a later date if we wanted to separate them into blocks, but I'm happy I don't have too many books to save that will take up a ton more space in my house.

    If you are going to have one for each block, then 10 would be enough, but if your child is going to use them for copy work and best work only, and you are combining blocks in the book, then maybe 4 - 6 would be enough (and don't forget to purchase some for yourself if you are working along side of her - or to show her your drawing so she doesn't sit there and stare at a blank page, not knowing just *how* to capture her drawing). HTH! And have fun!

  12. p.s. remember it's just her *very best work* that goes into an MLB. You can use cheaper drawing paper for her to practice her forms, letters, numbers and pictures before she puts her best work in her MLB. And if she is a child who gets easily frustrated if she makes a mistake, you might want to order closer to 12 - or if she likes to draw and write a lot (for most 6 y/o's too much is too much on their beginning muscles and eyes)...Just MHO...

  13. p.p.s. what ever is left over from Grade 1 can be used for Grade 2, though you'll eventually move onto the smaller sizes as she ages...


  14. I will try to post some thoughts about language tomorrow. I have studied: Latin 1 year, Spanish - many many years :-) lol, German - 1 year in Germany, 2 years prior, Italian - 6 years, and French - 1 year. (its all just made me very confused he he) Seriously though, I found a wonderful article about multilingual children and am in the process of stating a language group locally. I could share some thoughts and resources.

    Thanks for sharing the schedule pages. btw. they are very helpful, especially since I will have to send quarterly reports to the state this year. I just quickly jot down each day, what we accomplished.

  15. I totally agree with the paper scissor stone issue with the quality of silks. It is a much thinner silk. We have found some better ones, now, we even dyed a few and put them on etsy.

  16. How fun, MAMA - I'd love to see your etsy shop, but couldn't find it via your blog!

  17. OH and yes, that would be AWESOME to hear your thoughts and things about langauages. I just admire multilingualism so much and always wanted to give that to my girls, but we've just done bits here and there - mainly b/c I don't speak any other language fluently, so I'm always excited to try new resources! Thanks so much for sharing in advance, Mama!

  18. Oh gosh, you are right! I don't even have a link on my blog! It is so new, and I have been sooo busy! I will try to do that today. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    For language, I found this wonderful website:

    It really encourages parents who are not fluent. From personal experience, I saw a Jewish couple in the children's museum a few years ago, speaking to their daughter solely in Spanish. From their accent, et cetera, it was totally obvious that this was not their native language. Yet their commitment to teaching their child was admirable and they did a very good job at it. One of the nice things pointed out in some of the articles is that children will eventually learn the correct pronunciation and syntax and all, if they have at least some other exposure to the language. I think one can really start small. A very large part of what you are doing is simply training their ear to pick up different sounds and words, even if you yourself don't say them perfectly.

    While I don't follow their curriculum per se, Enki has a wonderful page on foreign language. Its

    I also look at schools for ideas at times, so here are a bunch

    hmmmn. As an additional little point. While I know that following waldorf principles, you probably would not think to include, lets say, tv, recorded music, videos etc... one thing that I found to be tolerable, though not purist in any sense, so I don't know how you would feel about these, but I must say, my children really know the songs now, are the Putamayo World Kids CD's. We don't have a television, though every once in a blue moon, I will put a video on the computer for them - I found a website in spain that has some and you can even get german ones and things on you tube or maybe deutsche welle. This is a rare thing (although when dh watches them it is a bit more frequent it seems) :-) If you like, YOU could always listen to the CD to learn the songs (rather than the kids) and then sing it with them.

    One last thing - I read a wonderful thing about storytelling, this you might be able to find more in line with a holistic approach to learning: you take a very well known story, like a fairytale , and morphing into the other language slowly (even if it is a few words at first), and because they know the story already, they will pick up on the meaning of the new language.

    EEBOO has a few games in french and spanish too, as a starting point.

    gotta run,
    hope that helps.

  19. Oh this helps so, so much - Mama - thank you! I would love to put some quotes up in a new post from you with a link to your blog, if that would be OK with you?!? :D

    Very helpful stuff here!!!!

  20. p.s. can't wait to see your etsy shop!!!

  21. Sure, no problem. Thank you actually. :-) I had written a whole longer message and it got erased. bah humbug! lol

    We made a little blue pond today for our nature display, thanks for the idea.

  22. Hey Jen! How is it going now that school is under way? Looks like you have a great plan. I would love to know how music is going, thanks for linking me. Head over to my blog and you can enter in the next giveaway.

  23. Hey Jodie! School is going a bit slowly, but it's coming along - kinda hard to get back into a serious routine after summer play! Thanks for LMK about the giveaway - will have to enter! Hope all is well with you & thanks for leaving a comment :D

  24. Thanks! I was looking for somethig like this! Thanks so much for sharing! Kristy from a crafty healthy blog