Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More on the homeschool Filing System

Isn't it fun to get organized?  For me, it's actually MORE fun than doing the work you I carefully organized over the summer ;-)   It's one of the biggest reasons I started filing our school year, because I would have so much fun making these wonderful plans over the summer and then never use them past the first month or so of school.  I needed everything concretely laid out for me.

Here are a few more tips about filing, and some answers to some questions I have received:

1) Add a file for yourself for each week or each month:

-This is a perfect place to store library lists, craft lists, feast day craft ideas, recipe ideas, supply lists for the next week.  Some people have even suggested taking apart the Teacher Manuals for various courses and filing them in your own weekly folder.  To make them last longer, some have put them in page protectors.

-Maybe this is the year you are finally going to get to doing all those wonderful Ambleside Online study ideas:

-You could even include a weekly menu plan if you were super duper organized :-)  (but then, super duper organized people aren't even reading this blog, because they are smart enough to know that reading online is really just a form of procrastination from doing all those things that we like to -talk- about instead of -do-.)

2) What about the preschoolers and toddlers?

One of the things that I did last year with my filing system was to think about the littles as well. I had a 4yr old, and two 3 year olds, as well as my school age monkeys . Often when the big kids had a fun worksheet or coloring page to do, the littles started to demand to do school too.... So I decided to add a folder for them as well.

In the preschool folders I had:

-copies of certain sheets the big kids were doing that week
-watercolor paper for the weeks that the bigs were doing painting in artistic pursuits
-worksheets printed from starfall
-kumon books ripped apart
-rod and staff preschool series ripped apart
-a few file folder games I actually had the time to make once upon a time

Other ideas you could try:

- coloring pages themed to the history or science your big kids are studying
- printables from the
- plans for doing FIAR or BFIAR. (wow, now this is something I would like to try as I always felt like I just didn't have time)
- recipes for play dough or cookies etc... To remind you to have fun with the littles

3)  What happens when you get behind in one subject? Does it mess up your whole system?  Aren't you losing the flexibility of homeschooling by filing everything ahead of time?

. The very fact that you can be flexible with your speed at which you accomplish subjects caused me to fall behind every single year. Not necessarily because the kids needed time on certain tasks before it clicked for them (so we worked at their own pace), but because after things 'clicked' we didn't take the time to catch up so we would reach the finish line at a reasonable time.

Basically what I discovered about myself, is that I was great at being flexible enough to SLOW DOWN our work, but I wasn't so good at being flexible enough to SPEED UP our work when I needed to.  I seemed to be more concerned about doing every. single. page. in the book, rather than getting to the end of the books in a reasonable time.

If you don't have the end in mind when you start, then you will have a harder time getting there.

I still believe a little bit every day is far more beneficial than the spurts and stops that I was doing before. That being said, if the kids do need a bit of time for the material to 'click', or want to work faster, than there is nothing stopping you from pulling out the math from the next week's folder. It's not as though the pages are glued on there right? For me, the inconvenience of having to do that helped me decide if it was really worth it to go off my planned schedule. It was almost like a check and balance.

As well, having all 36 weeks filed helps you see the big picture, so you clearly see that delaying math for a week will delay your end of school date. At which point you can either decide that you are ok with that or try to find some way to skip some easier math down the road so you do end up finishing on time.

In my mind, there is a big sense of discouragement for both teacher and student when you get to the end of the year and see that all other subjects are done except the last 78 pages of math. In our experience, it has led to a viscous cycle, because we get burned out on math and then end up starting the next year already behind.

Remember the Flylady craze? One of the things that really stuck with me, even though I don't follow her system anymore, is that 'housework done poorly still blesses your family'..... I take this to mean that doing a little bit regularly is so much better than not doing ANY because you don't have time to do it perfectly. 

I apply this to our school work: if all we have time for in a week is to do the history readings and have a very good discussion about them, then we just leave it at that and move on. Just like math, it's better to skip a few projects/mapwork or writing here and there than to come to the end of June and still have 1/4 of the year left.

It took me three years to get through ancients before I figured out that I could let go of the idea that it all had to be perfectly done. You don't have to be perfect and you don't have to do it all! Why not give yourself a break and give yourself permission to let stuff go here and there throughout the year, instead of feeling like quitting at the end when you aren't even close to being done.

4) On that note: Don't be a perfectionist!

The All-or Nothing attitude is what caused me to always fall behind in the past.  It had to be PERFECT or we wouldn't do it at all.  Don't let that attidtude creep into filing your homeschooling. Get what you can get done now and know that whatever you do, even if it's just one subject, you will be further ahead than you were last fall.

You don't have to have the PERFECT folders (oh, and there are so many beautiful ones out there), or the PERFECT case to hold them in.  You don't even have to have history or science filed if you are running out of time, or it is causing you stress.

In the end, any system you use should be tweaked to work for you. Don't feel like you are doing it 'wrong' or anything. There IS no wrong. It's simply a tool for you as a teacher to help you get to the end of your school year and feel like you accomplished what you set out to do!

When trying out any new system, always ask yourself if it is something that is going to make your life EASIER or MORE DIFFICULT, because if it's the latter, you will likely not be following ANY system by the time Feb rolls around and it's a struggle to keep going even with the BEST system.

5) What about courses that you don't have concrete things to put in the files like All about Spelling or SL read-alouds?

For our non consumable subjects like All About Spelling, I am still trying to plan how to work that in. We didn't include it in the system last year because we ditched spelling workout halfway through the fall in favor of AAS, so it was too late in my one track mind to work it in. As a result, we got really behind in it. I think what we will do this year, is include blank templates for his written seeking practice each week so I have something tangible that reminds me to pull out the tiles and white board.   Here's a link to a very rough sheet I made for that purpose next year.  I will also be moving the AAS progress sheet from file to file each week.(level 2 and 3 ... see thechatterbee for more)

6) What do you do about long weekends and other short weeks (i.e. dr appts, sick days, 'I just don't want to do any schoolwork today' days)?

Yes, this can be a problem, but it is easy to solve.   For us, we decided it was worth keeping the simplicity of the system to squeeze 4 days of work into 5, which usually meant that we picked the work that was the most important and tossed the rest LOL. It sounds awful, but it was so freeing to be able to keep moving forward each week.... (And this was our best school year yet).  The other way to do it, is to fit one week of school work across two weeks of real life.  We did this a few times too.  Just keep in mind that every time you do it, you are pushing back your finish date.  In my yearly schedule, I left a bit of wiggle room for that (meaning we started a few weeks before the school kids so we could have that flexibility.

Any more questions? Give me a shout and I'll do my best to help you out!

Feast of saint george

I took quite a break from blogging as I seem to do every year, (especially since i was fasting from the computer for all of lent)but since my husband bought me my new iPad, it's easy to quickly type out a post here and there, and I miss having this online record of family life.

Of course I've shill been enjoying many of the wonderful mom blogs out here that tempt me daily with ideas for meals, crafts and whatnot, and this is why at 3pm on the feast of st. George, I was phoning my husband at work to ask him to bring home a few things for supper.

"honey, could you please stop at the store on your way home from work to pick up a few things for me?"

"Sure, what do you need?". (I often request things like salmon or eggs or milk)

"oh, just a few things... Fruit rollups, a toblereone bar and some Hershey kisses"

"uh.. What are you up to???"

" oh nothing.... Just reading those inspiring catholic mommy blogs again. How could I let the feast of st. George go by without making a fantasticDragon cake for the kids?"

And we ate at close to 8pm that night... But boy did we ever have fun stabbing the dragon with our knives and eating the sweet cake.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

My Homeschool Filing System

Wouldn't it be nice to have a personal assistant in your homeschool?  How about an administrative assistant who would hand you everything you needed for the week pre-photocopied and organized by child... including lists for shopping and the library.  Maybe she would even hand you a pile of fun coloring pages and games for your littles to do.

Perhaps she could help you get all the things you wanted to do in your homeschooling but never get to because you didn't have time to get it ready.  Like what about that FIAR study that you always meant to do with your littles, or the fun lapbook units that pass by your email box.

This past year I was determined to be organized in our homeschool.  I had 2 toddlers, a preschooler, a baby due in October, and two school age kids to teach.  If there was any hope of us finishing the year at all, I knew I HAD to do something to keep me sane... so when I cam across a few ideas for organizing  (thank you By Sun and Candlelight,  Sunflower Faith, and Trivium Academy), I started tweaking it to fit my own life, and got busy filing.

It was the best thing I have done yet to keep myself on the ball.
I was tired of always finishing math in august instead of may, and it dawned on me one day that we always fAll behind because of all of the extra unexpected things in life that take over like sick days, etc...

In the school system, if one person gets sick, the teacher doesn't stop teaching while that child is missing. They keep on going and the child either skips the work, or does only the important parts (even if just orally).

So, I decided to split up all of our work into 36 weeks, and told myself that if the week got away from me, we would just keep on going the next week, by either throwing out the work we missed or doing it quickly out loud. It's ok to miss a math sheet here and there throughout the year. There's enough review etc, that it's not a big deal... But it IS a big deal if you miss the last big chunk of your book. This way of doing things helped me to finish the whole year by may with lots of breaks throughout. 

Here's is what I did
I've been meaning to write the post for a whole year, because I LOVE homeschooling this way, and want to share the benefits with everyone, but I haven't had the time to blog.  Finally, due to the crazy long thread on the Welll Trained Mind Forums, I have decided to have a go at trying to explain our system.  If you want other people's ideas read through these threads:

I hope this can help someone else out there who is tired of feeling overwhelmed with homeschooling.


Deicde how many weeks you will do school.  The average is between 30-36.  We chose 36 weeks because some of our books had 36 lessons and it was the easiest way to schedule those ones in.


Now get yourself a yearly calendar and mark off approx which weeks you will be doing school and which weeks you will be taking breaks.  Decide on when you want your last day to be. YAHOO!!  HAving it scheduled out on one page like this really helps with your sanity.  When xmas comes along, you can look at this calendar and evaluate where you are at and peacefully take a week or two off, without guilt, knowing you have the rest of the year under control.  Same goes for easter, thanksgiving, and whatever other breaks you want to take.

I used this calendar from Donna Young.  On the lines beside each week, I would write 'week 1', 'week 2', 'spring break', 'xmas break', etc...  


Plan out how often you are going to do each subject, and exactly what you need to accomplish each week in order to be done by the end of the year.  I found Simply Charlotte Masons planning guide to be super helpful the first time I did this.  Donna Young has some free forms that work well for this too. Let me know if you  need more help with this step.  I made some master sheets for each subject that roughly laid out what needed to be done each week. This is the working list you will use when you start filing the work into each folder.

The sheet on the Left here is donna young's Quarter Planner. It has five columns across the top (one for each day of the week), and 36 rows to fill in for each day.  You use one of these forms per subject.  If you only do that subject 3x /week or once a week, just fill in the appropriate columns and cross the other ones off or leave them blank.


Shopping Time:

You need to get

  • File crate/ filing cabinet etc.. (anything to store your 36 hanging folders in).
  • box of at least 36 hanging folders (i used letter size)
  • big box of file folders. (pretty ones, boring ones, whatever you want)
  • bin or basket for each child to store their un-fileable stuff like Teacher Manuals, pencil cases, sketch books etc...
  • binder, or pocket folder, or whatever you want for storing their current week's work. One for each child.
I used one crate for all 36 weeks last year.  This year, I think I will use two crates. One for the first semester, one for the second semester.


Putting it all together:

  • Hang your 36 hanging folders. (you can label them if you want but it's not necessary because I labelled my files that go in them).
  • Place one file per child in each hanging folder.  Label them 1-36 (or whatever number you are going up to).  I color coded the numbers. Green for grade 2 boy, Red for grade 3 girl, purple for PreK girl.

  • Working from your weekly plans you laid out in step #3, start filing anything you will need to accomplish each week. I did one child at a time to make it easy on myself (except when they were doing something together like geography).  See below: In each hanging folder, I had 3 file folders. One for my PreK, one for my grade 2 and one for my grade 4.  

  • Anything that would make our school pick-up-and-go I included in the folders. This means I ripped out the pages in all workbooks, photocopied anything that needed photocopying, including paintings off the internet, templates for notebooking, tests, nature study sheets, math fact quizzes, etc..

Here is some examples of what I included:
-5 math worksheets
-math fact quizes from teacher's guide
-spelling unit
-5 Writing With Ease pages
-watercolor paper for an art lesson
-scrap paper for doing math work
-All About Spelling checklist and forms to fill out each day
-First Language Lessons Checklist
-vanGogh artwork for picture study
-latin game
-bird seed and instructions on how to make pinecone birdfeeder
-writing tales worksheets, story and editing checklists

Basically, think of anything you would need to get ready for each subject that week and put it in the file if you can.  SOTW activity guide sheets, maps, timeline figures, stories printed off Project Gutenberg or the Baldwin Project.
  • Now in YOUR file (if you want to keep one), you can store library lists for the upcoming month/weeks, supply lists for art projects and science experiments, webpage addresses, ideas for celebrating the various feast days and holidays that are coming up, chore lists etc...  I didn't do this last year, but I'm adding it to my system this year.Some moms on the Well trained Mind Message boards have talked about affixing a library pocket card thingy to the front of the folder and writing your lists on index cards to keep in the library card folder.  
  • Anything that couldn't be filed easily, was put in their very own student basket.  Each child has their own basket/bin.  I bought pretty ones, but you could make do with a cardboard box, or those white rubbermaid dishbins as well. 

I wanted to make school as EASY as possible.  Every time I have to get up and run to find something, the kids get distracted and lost in our house LOL, and we have to start all over again. 

So each child has:

  • pencil case with
    • pencils
    • sharpeners
    • glue
    • scissors
    • erasor
    • pencil crayons
    • ruler
  • Teacher Manuals that I use weekly that go with their subjects. 
  • sketch book, nature journal (if you use one)
  • Notebooks for poetry and anything else i wanted to keep together
  • binder or pocket folder for keeping their current week's work in.

This is what the child works from every week. The big filing crate is in my office and they never see it or touch it.  I don't want all my hard work to become a playground for curious fingers and exploring toddlers LOL.


When you start your school year:

There are many options as to how to pull out the work each week.

1) give the folder to the child. All work must be completed by friday. (this is what we often did because i was lazy LOL).

2) sort the contents of the current folder into a binder with tabs divided by day of week or maybe by subject

3) sort the contents of the current weekly folder into a pocket folder by day of week. (I labeled each folder with the day.   You can get those file folder ones (black one below), or the spiral ones (colored one).  It was fun to include a book list sheet to keep track of what they had read. This just stayed in the folder each week.  I also stuck our daily and yearly schedule into the front pocket so it was easily viewed.

Each week the children knew that they had to complete all the work in their folders by Friday. This helped them to have more responsibility with their work, as well as giving them the opportunity to work ahead if they wanted to.

I was very happy with this approach. It held me accountable to getting enough work done each week, while still being able to be flexible and extend one week over two if I really needed to. Mostly though, if we missed a day or two, we would quickly review what we missed orally and then keep going. 

Before, if we missed a day, we would wait and start where we left off, but this had led to the school year dragging on and on, and me always feeling guilty about not doing enough. Now I fee, though I am the one managing things, not the curriculum. It is there to serve me, not the other way around.

I was also able to get a lot more of the fun subjects done because it was already photocopied and easy for me to pull out each week, and i was finally able to finish a year of Latin and stay on top of the daily review that is so important on learning a second language. 

I am definitely doing it again next year.

At the end of each week, I filed the empty folder back into the numbered folders, and took a small sampLe from each subject every few weeks and kept those in a binder for each child as a portfolio to show our school board. 

For things that I want to keep for the kids to review and look back on like science and history, I will file in a separate binder and keep it in their school bins each week. 

I'm just starting to clean out last year's work and it's mostly just going in the recycling bin. I'll reuse most of the file folders.  

The amount of effort required to set up the system isn't really that much if you have a few days to sit on the floor in a pile of papers. It's fun to organize everything, and very helpful to get your hands on the materials and get a quick preview of what is coming up through the year.

For example, instead of just knowing we will do SOTW and read it with the kids one day at a time, I actually had a sense of what topics were coming up because I had already done the photocopying.