Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tips & Tricks for Organizing Your Materials!

Hope that everyone who reads this and lives in the U.S.A. had a great Labor Day Weekend with friends and family!
Generally after Labor Day, all American schools have headed back for the new school year.
Most schools around us in the Sunshine State have been back for at least two weeks.
This year, we started the week before Labor Day, but not quite as early as we have started back in previous years.
Why the delay?
Well, part of the reason was that we ended our 2012-2013 school year later than we usually do...but the other reason is that we spent extra time organizing and fine tuning what we have as far as learning materials for the boys and for our homeschooling community as a whole.
So now, onto the Tips & Tricks to help you to Organize Your Homeschooling or Traditional Schooling Materials...
Please Note:
These tips will be more ideally suited for a homeschooling family, but if your children attend a traditional brick and mortar school and your have a variety of educational materials on hand at your home, you might benefit from these Tips & Tricks too. Also, if you are a classroom teacher in a traditional brick and mortar school, you might find that some of these Tips & Tricks will be helpful to you, too.

1. Set up a Lending Library.
A few of our lending library bins: one is on dogs, the other is about the human body.

When you set up a Lending Library, it:
  • Enhances the learning for another homeschooling family within your community.
  • Reduces the clutter in your own home, as lending out bins keeps the number of materials out to a limited number.
  • Forces you to organize your materials. We have chosen to organize our bins by theme, but you could also organize by approximate grade level, age, subject, month of the year, or whatever works for you.
  • Makes it easier to go through each bin to see what is still relevant and fresh and what may need to be updated or replaced.
  • When people see that your family is generous, they will, in many cases, be generous to you! Many times, when families have borrowed our family's themed bins, if they do a neat activity or make a great project, they share what they have made or the materials they have created. So the bins grow, kind of in a Stone Soup sort of way, where everyone throws in a little something and the bins get better and better!
  • Plus, each time that you lend a bin out, it creates more space for something that you could potentially borrow from another family!

2. Borrow Before You Buy:
We first borrowed and loved Moving Beyond the Page, so now, we have purchased many units!

So you wanna try some new manipulative or learning program?
Well, why not borrow it from someone first before you invest in buying it?
In some cases, various publishers have sample lessons that you can try before you buy, but in many cases, you will find fellow homeschool families in your area who have already purchased a program and they might be very willing to let you try out what they have purchased to see if it will work for your family.
This works well with such things as:
  • math manipulatives
  • language objects
  • Montessori materials (not talking about paper copyrighted things, but about actual Montessori materials, such as the trinomial cube or the decimal works...)
  • educational board games, etc.
  • Our good friends let us have a sneak peek at their materials from Moving Beyond the Page. We looked over the spiral bound materials that they had purchased and we borrowed the children's picture books that coordinated with their themes. We then downloaded the free samples from the MBTP website. We love that they are challenging and address higher order thinking. They give ideas for hands on projects, and there is plenty of room to do discovery based, child led learning within their framework. After seeing the coordinating children's literature and doing some of the sample units, we decided that they were a great fit for our family, so now, we have purchased many of their units, based on our sons' interests. We love Moving Beyond the Page and are so thankful that our friends, the Gickings, introduced us to this great company and its materials!
Of course, you can also read online reviews, but sometimes seeing it up close and personal will help to seal the deal for you and your family. If you see that your children love something that you borrow, then that might be exactly the best money ever spent to go ahead and make the purchase! But if it just doesn't seem to work with the flow of your family's homeschooling, then you will have saved your money and you can move onto finding something that better suits the learning styles of your children.
This works well for families who want to enrich their child's brick and mortar school learning too...if you are interested in trying out some gifted materials or possibly some remedial materials, or perhaps you would like to see how your child likes an educational toy or game, it helps to try before you buy by borrowing from a friend who owns the materials. If you are a classroom teacher and you get limited funds from your school system, you may wish to borrow something to review it that belongs either to one of your students' families, or else from a colleague.  Your co-workers might love the materials, but you need to get a feel for how it will work for you and your students.

3. Reduce, Reuse, Re-Purpose...
These are our re-purposed plastic containers in one of our craft drawers.

 Go through and see what containers your family uses on a fairly regular basis.
Reduce what you spend on storage containers...Reuse the containers that your family uses regularly, and re-purpose the containers you already have to serve your homeschooling needs.
Ask yourself: What containers do we already use as a family that could work for us, within the scope of our homeschooling?
Whether the container is made out of paper, plastic, glass, or metal, if it looks appealing for your storage needs, then consider using it and start to save and organize with these containers you have on hand.
We use Lemi-Fresh as we have hard water. We use Tide Pods for our laundry. We use Kid Wipes in plastic containers in our bathrooms. We also use a variety of beads for art projects that come in nice bead storage containers. All of these containers have been re-purposed to fit our homeschooling needs, mainly for craft supplies, but also to store educational card games, spelling and vocabulary words.
You will save money by reducing what you have to spend on storage containers.

If you have old parts from games, or if your have broken parts from small kitchen appliances, those can work for multi-media art projects, as well as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) projects, so save what you have for these projects as well. You can also use old parts and random game pieces for other homeschooling related activities...will give you some ideas for other uses for random things in my next post...

4. Donate What is Too Far of a Stretch...
We donated the playhouse that the boys had outgrown. We had been blessed by neighbors who had let us borrow this playhouse so then, when we donated it to The Salvation Army, we gave them the donation receipt, as they had actually purchased the playhouse to begin with...we are thankful to have this family for neighbors, as they pass things that their boys outgrow onto us.

Just as it is a good idea to freshen up clothing and to only keep a small range of sizes of clothes in your closet, it is a good idea to update homeschooling materials and to only keep what is pertinent to the age range that you are homeschooling, as well as possibly the age range in your family's homeschool co-op.
We have friends with tiny tots but our youngest, Little Bro, is seven. Big Bro is nine. The ages for friends we have playdates, camps, co-op activities, and field trips ranges from about six up to about eleven.
So we have one or two things for the littles who might come for a visit and then, a couple of challenging things for the teens, but most everything is for the 6-11 range. Anything below age six or above age twelve is too far of a stretch for us, so we keep things as much as possible related to ages 6-11.
If you are in a traditional brick and mortar school, and if you loop with your classes up and down grades, you may wish to keep materials appropriate to the grades that you will loop with, or the other option is to swap some of your materials with whomever is teaching that higher or lower grade for that particular year until you are back to that grade level. If you have a multi-age classroom, you may want to save things a year above and a year below the age range of your children, so in a six to nine classroom, suggest you keep materials for ages five to ten, although the bulk should be for six to nine.

5. Ask Your Children for Their Input with Respect to Organization & Storage
The boys wanted all kinds of duct tape, including this crazy bacon one!

Who would have thought that our bins would have a special container dedicated to spare cardboard and tin foil? But when you have two boys who love to make costumes, it makes sense!

The boys also created a bin just for their Origami Yoda themed projects!
Your children may have different perceptions of what is a valuable homeschooling material. They will place more importance on having easy access to some things than you would see fit for them to have.
One example of this is duct tape! Big Bro and Little Bro love using duct tape! I bought them a few rolls but they asked for more. They also wanted a special container to hold various types of tape. 
When I asked them what else they felt should have a special place, they also wanted to have a special bin to hold their cardboard and tin foil scraps, as they love to make costumes out of cardboard, tin foil, and duct tape. The boys are also very into reading and creating origami characters inspired by the Origami Yoda Series, so they decided to create an origami bin too!
In addition to asking them for their input with physical goods within your homeschool setting, ask them for their input regarding organization of their educational apps and online programs they will be using during the homeschool year. My sons were more than happy to not only give their input but they also went and set it up according to what works for them as far as groupings, bookmarks, and icons.
Let me clarify, this does not mean that we let our sons download apps without our permission or that we let them go surf the Internet without some parental guidance...but what it does mean for our boys is that they have the freedom to organize their educational apps on their iPad mini as they see fit...
Both Big Bro and Little Bro have their own icons for their most frequently used Educational iPad apps. they also went and clustered various apps into categories, such as French Apps and Math Apps.

If your children attend a traditional brick and mortar school, they still will have their own ideas for organizing their materials. Let them have input as to where they keep their homework and their important papers.

If you are a classroom teacher in a traditional brick and mortar school, then asking for your students' input with respect to organization and storage will give them a sense of autonomy and responsibility. You could go ahead and have your room all ready to go, but then, after holding a class meeting asking for input with respect to the organization of the room, your students might give you an earful and you might want to tweak things to what will work best for them and for you. 

As for Online programs, we have been subscribers of BrainPop and BrainPop Jr. and we love both of these programs! As far as a tip regarding BrainPop and BrainPop Jr. see if your local co-op offers a group membership to these programs. Ours does and that is how we get it for a great price! Would still be well worth paying full price for it, but getting it for a group discount is a bonus!

We recently discovered Khan Academy and are very happy with that as well! Khan Academy has an amazing video library full of short educational videos, but then, they also have lessons and other interactive features. What the boys have really enjoyed is watching the video clips about their Discovery Programs and the robotics video clips. Math has also become that much more interesting to listen and watch a video and then, take a little quiz afterwards. Cannot say enough nice things about Khan Academy...plus, it is free to boot!!! Yay!

 6. Consider Organizing Your Snacks and Meals in a Way that Works for Your Family
Adding a cookie jar with healthy snacks helps with transition times in our home. The boys preselect their snacks and add them the night before to the cookie jar.

We as a general rule don't do big home style breakfasts on school days, unless we make that part of the learning that morning.
Making homemade biscuits, waffles, and pancakes is something that we generally save for the weekends, or for a day when Daddy is off from work. Little Bro and Big Bro love to help cook, but if we get into cooking a big meal first thing in the morning, it kind of becomes the lesson for that morning instead of whatever else the boys had set out to do.
We stick to yogurt, smoothies, cereal, and some frozen waffles that Daddy may have made over the weekend and that we saved.
The boys and our dog get easily distracted when it comes to preparing food, especially when it comes to stopping for a snack break. He especially loves the smell of waffles! So it is just easier to hold off and have waffles on the weekends most of the time than to get him all excited and begging for a bit of a waffle while the boys are trying to do their homeschooling.

What we have found that works for us is for them to have their snacks in a cookie jar that we keep on the kitchen table. The snack is pre-selected so that Big Bro, Little Bro, and Dear Pup aren't hanging out gazing at the pantry shelves.
It keeps things moving smoothly in the morning.

Classroom teachers, you probably cannot do this in your room, due to potential cross contamination of foods with potential allergens.

But in the home environment, this works beautifully! So parents who have to wake your kids to get them out the door in the morning, if they have things all set to go as far as lunches and snacks the night before, it will make for a smoother transition for you as well! 

7. Utilize Pinterest to Organize Your Homeschooling

I LOVE using Pinterest! It is such a fabulous way to organize ideas for your family.
Plus, you can glean what other people are doing with respect to projects, recipes, and travel plans.
You can create your own categories that work for what you and your family.Hope that you will please check out my Pinterest boards. I have already categorized many learning ideas into boards, so if you are new to Pinterest, you could save yourself time by re-pinning from my pin boards.

Well, if you have any tips or tricks related to getting organized for homeschooling, hope that you will share. If you include a link to your post, I would love to check out your blog or your Pinterest boards to see your ideas! 

Hope that you and your families have a great year!


Heidi said...

Aidan is using almost exclusively Khan academy for Math. It is working out amazing!

Heidi said...

Aidan is using almost exclusively Khan academy for Math. It is working out amazing!

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