Have a Plan. As simplistic as this sounds, developing goals is the first step towards organizing anything. A good rule of thumb is to have an overall, generalized idea of the end result (what you want your child to have mastered by graduation) that easily lends itself to being broken up into year-by-year stepping stones. Once the "stepping stones" are clear, then you're simply looking for tools that help you accomplish those goals, rather than frantically comparing each individual curriculum's claims against all others, and leaving it up to them to guide you.
Give Everything a (Convenient) Home. "A place for everything, and everything in its place." We've all heard this wise phrase at some point in our lives, and we probably all agree that it makes a great deal of sense. But Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out, takes this a step further by encouraging those seeking order to put things where they're easily retrievable. Morgenstern maintains that structuring storage so that it's easier to put things away means that…they're more likely to be put away. Homeschooling can involve a lot of stuff, so it will save everyone a lot of time (and angst) if all of the accoutrements have homes that are easily accessible.
Your personal preferences will dictate a lot of your storage and organizational methods. I know many homeschoolers who bristle at the idea of leaving maps on the wall, or having desks in common living areas, and just as many who embrace home learning as a decorating style. As long as it works for you--and works well--there's no right answer in this area. If it helps to clear it all away at the end of the day, then by all means, find a way to do that. If it's easier to house your supplies close at hand (crayons and colored pencils in cups on top of the piano, current read alouds in a basket by the couch), then look around, and find creative ways to blend form with function.
After sorting out a schedule…Try the Rhythm of Routine. Some of us operate well when we have a clear, hour-by-hour timetable by which to run our day. The reality is that much of life (especially life with kids) simply refuses to be contained in neat little increments.
There are programs that offer a format for scheduling your day, each day, or you can simply make up your own, and for many families, this works well. But if you find yourself wilting at the prospect of following an agenda daily, or realize after weeks of trying to follow one that you're actually more stressed than when you were simply "winging it", you might consider what I call The Rhythm of Routine.
I can be counted upon, faithfully, every year, to sit down and write out a detailed schedule of how our home schooling day will run. I can also be counted upon, after about two weeks, to give up on the idea of following it, religiously. The idea is simply to get a feel for how much we can accomplish, and (the bottom line for everyone under 18 in my house) when we can expect to be done with academics for the day. After seeing that a certain format can work, we relax, and rely on routine to ensure that it will.
Routines differ from schedules in that you know roughly when you do what, rather than exactly, and a routine doesn‘t necessarily depend on set times. In our house, Johnny Cochran-esque one liners serve as reminders of some of the more basic routine rhythms that we've established over the years. "Chores must be done before we have fun" (Don't even ask to go outside unless your schoolwork and your chores have been completed). It's still helpful to have set times for doing things, but in the event that something derails the itinerary, the format is still present, and it's not dependent on a specific hour.
Be a Student of Your Students. If you're beginning the home school journey with more than one child, you'll need to learn the best way to divide your time with them. Their strengths can dictate areas where some independent work is useful, and individual predilections can actually serve to provide some natural balance (my teens prefer to do their independent work in the bedrooms, which are empty while I'm helping their elementary-aged siblings at the kitchen table; the high schoolers can then have me to themselves when the little ones finish, and go out back to play).
Embrace the Chaos. Organization is a noble pursuit, and generally makes everything easier, but no plan is going to be perfect, and any system will benefit from realizing it won't work seamlessly, all the time. In fact, one of the best tools in any home schooling parent's organizational arsenal is the realization that life, learning, and other worthwhile things are sometimes just time consuming and, yes…messy. The task of the homeschooler--to paraphrase and co-opt Samuel Beckett--is simply to find a form that accommodates that mess.
Originally published in Home Educating Family Magazine, 2009 Issue 3 reprinted with permission. For extra organizational help check out WellPlannedDay.com.
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