Skip to main content

As your students walked through the doors of RHG this week, the anticipation of the new school year filled the halls. When asked if they were excited about starting classes at our orientations, annual picnic, or on the first day of classes, your honest students provided a mix of responses – excitement, nervousness, and anticipation, along with sadness of seeing summer days fade away.

When I was in the throws of homeschooling with my two now-grown children, I had all of the same emotions your students. It was a little sad to see the carefree days of summer fade, but the new year brought about excitement and nervousness of what the year was to bring. Each September I often had some new academic year resolutions. Almost always on my list was to be more organized.

Some people are naturally organized. Some – not so much. Over the years I’ve had some grand organizational plans that ended up as in as much disarray at the fall leaves scattered all over our yard by October. However, there have also been some successes. While each family is different and what works for one doesn’t always work for the other, I will share some general steps that have worked for our family to some organization and calm to the chaos of new beginnings.

Prep the night before. Whether it is finding those shoes that are guaranteed to be hiding the next morning just as you need to walk out the door or discovering you need purple cabbage for the next day’s science experiment, taking five to ten minutes the night before to prepare and check your calendar is almost guaranteed to make your day go smoother. Even if you don’t have time to run to the store to buy cabbage that evening, you can come up with an alternative plan prior to mid-experiment.

If you are heading out for classes the next morning, have your kids pack their backpacks and lunches and set everything by the front door ready to go. Set out cereal bowls and prep the coffee maker. Make a list of things that can’t be set out (like lunches) that evening.

Create an organized homeschool space. I was fortunate to have a dedicated room for homeschooling. Before you groan that you don’t possibly have the space and skip to the next point, hear me out. My students rarely did school in that space. More often than not, they would take their books from that organized space and work in their bedrooms, a comfy chair, or sprawled out on the family room floor. Did you catch that? They took their books – which all had a place on organized shelves or bins and were easy to find- and did their work. It is difficult to complete your math if you can’t find the math book. Dare I admit in our early years of homeschooling we didn’t do grammar lessons for a couple of weeks because I didn’t know where the book was located? Lesson learned (and it had nothing to do with parts of speech).

Until my kids were more independent,  I utilized magazine holders for each subject with all the supplies my kids needed and the open side facing out. When they finished the work for that subject, they turned the holder around. It cut down a lot on searching for a workbook, pencil, or calculator.

You could do something similar with a dedicated rolling cart like this one.

Regardless if your space is a designated room, a bookshelf, or a bin for each subject, make sure your materials are organized and your kids have the perfect space (for them) to work.

Don’t overschedule. With so many awesome opportunities, classes, and activities available to homeschoolers, this was the biggest challenge for me. If you try to fit 30 hours worth of activities into 24 hours in a day, things will unravel quickly. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!

When deciding on activities, I consider opportunity cost and the “wow” factor. Opportunity cost is simply what you give up in order to participate. (Just a hint – if math or reading are one of the things being pushed aside on a regular basis, you might be overscheduled.) The “wow” factor, a term coined by a friend of mine, is about activity value. The Wow Factor is the amount of Wow (as in “Wow, Mom! This is awesome!”) you get in proportion to what you give up. Your kids may enjoy that 3-hour program 50 miles away that leaves your wallet $25 less, but perhaps you’d get more “Wow” from an hour of free play at the local park or a playdate with a friend. Which one is time best spent?

Use a planner and encourage time management skills. I highly encourage the use of a planner (for both parent and student!) to organize and breakdown work that needs to be done. There are a variety of planners available and finding the right one may take some trial and error. Cozi is a popular digital planner I’ve heard many recommended, but I personally always preferred paper and pencil. Even young elementary students can have simple planners or daily checklists.

This doesn’t mean you just throw a planner at your student and expect them to know what to do. Students need to be taught how to plan. Our middle school Flex students were provided planners this year as part of a pilot program, but any planner will work – as long as it used!

Here are the steps I used with my students:

  • In early to mid elementary, I provided my kids with a simple daily checklist. They loved checking off each task when it was completed!
  • Late elementary through middle school, I provided them a completed weekly planner of their daily assignments like this one, which each box filled in with a specific assignment, and I would check it daily to make sure they completed their work.
  • Late middle school through early high school, I provided the same as above, but they were free to move the assignments around or break them down as they liked if they didn’t prefer my suggestions. I didn’t check that everything was completed until the end of the week. If there were tasks not finished, they worked over the weekend.
  • Mid to late high school, they were in charge of their deciding how to plan their work. I kept tabs on making sure work was completed and handed in if I saw they were struggling.

Notice I gave age ranges? That’s because one of my students required a bit more support. For some students, providing a week’s worth of assignments may be overwhelming and a daily checklist may be needed a bit longer. Other students may not like not knowing what is ahead the next day and want the week in advance. Work with your student where they are at until they are ready for the next step.

I can guarantee that finding the time to come up with a planner system for managing time will be well worth the investment (and often struggles) in the long run. Keep plugging away at it. Some kids take a longer time to develop time management skills, but it will pay off greatly as they more toward high school and beyond.

Set and model expectations. Your kids are watching closely and more than just academic lessons happen in your homeschool. If you are a hot mess every morning, your kids will likely be as well. If you are up and ready, waiting for lessons to begin by a certain time, it sets the expectation that they should be as well.

After watching me routinely make a list of things for the morning, I noticed my son started doing this on his own and discovered it was effective. While he can be organizationally challenged in other areas, after discovering the stress that is lifted with being prepared in the morning, he is rarely late walking out the door. My daughter had her own way of doing things. I didn’t require her to do things “my way,” but I did set the expectation that she be responsible and prepared. This is one of the greatest lessons you can teach your student to prepare for adulthood.

If you are organizationally challenged, you may look at the above and quickly become overwhelmed at where to start and get discouraged before you begin. Start with small areas and see what works for you. Don’t simply declare, “This school year I’m going to be organized!” and expect to wake up a newly formed type-A wonder only to resign yourself to not being capable when you don’t. Trial and error and baby steps!

Here’s wishing you an exciting – and organized – start of the school year for you and your students.