Create Systems

I use a master calendar to manage lessons, doctor appointments, co-op dates, my husband's work schedule, and our birthdays. I used to have a school calendar plus another personal calendar, which led to missed events and overcrowding of our schedules. 

I organize our books and curriculum on shelves like a library does: history, literature, science, Bible, etc. This makes them much easier for me to find. I try to keep fiction, historical fiction, and biographies within easy reach of the kids—I want to encourage them to grab a book for pleasure reading. What a joy to recently find my once-reluctant reader, now 13, upstairs on his bed rereading The Cat of Bubastes by G. A. Henty. He loved it when we read it aloud as a family last year, knew where to find it among the other historical fiction works on the bookshelves in our family room, and was devouring it himself when I caught him in the act—of reading!

Like the library, I keep a list of books I'm currently borrowing and titles I'm currently loaning out to friends, written on a 3x5-inch card taped inside my kitchen cabinet. I write the loan date, the name of who borrowed it, and the title of the book. While I make it clear to friends that I happily loan our school resources, I will want the books back to reuse with subsequent children. Sometimes I must graciously remind a friend that I would like a loaned item returned. My present list includes nine books and three complete curriculums on loan to friends, plus Jonathan Park CDs that I am currently borrowing from a friend. This little list, kept at the ready, saves me frustration if I cannot find a curriculum I know I own, and it frees my mind from needing to remember all the details. Most of all, borrowing books and curriculums saves our family lots of money!

Thanks to Learning at Home, I annually assemble a large three-ring binder for each child with tabbed pocket dividers: Bible, History & Geography, Reading & Writing, Science, Art & Music, and Misc. I use 1½  inch binders (big enough to hold one year's worth of material) with clear plastic sleeves on the front and back covers.

Into these sleeves I can slide photos from school projects and field trips, playbills, ticket stubs, and other memories from each child's year. About once a month I transfer the children's schoolwork and art pieces from displays on our kitchen bulletin board and refrigerator to these School Folders. If the artwork is too large or is 3-D, I take a picture of the child holding his work and put that photo into the binder. I don't tear pages out of math work texts or spiral notebooks; those stay in their original bindings. 

I store the School Folders in our basement, organized by year. My children love to pull them out to reminisce; I take them as proof of our schooling to our annual assessment for legal purposes in our state; and when my fourth child began his formal schooling, I pulled out his siblings' kindergarten notebooks to remember what I'd done with them, which saved me a bunch of time in ordering new materials. These portfolios will also summarize my children's learning down the road when I work on transcripts for college admissions.

As my children mature, I delegate more of their record keeping over to them. My high schooler now manages almost all of her own schedule and syllabuses. Several homeschool companies offer planning tools, but I like the free forms and schedules from www.donnayoung.org. My younger children (ages 7 to 13) also have a schedule onto which I write their assignments for the week ahead. Following their schedule means they can often progress without me, and in theory, I'm not interrupted as often when I'm helping one of their siblings. The written schedule eventually goes into the front of their School Folder, becoming a part of their portfolio for Ohio's required assessment at year's end.

Little by little, my high schooler and I are accumulating data for her transcript. Working off her course titles, we create a Word document each semester, adding grades, outside activities, and volunteer opportunities as they come along. (Using a computer to manage a transcript is a tremendous way for many dads to contribute to their family's homeschooling efforts.) All of this information is reiterated, of course, in her School Folder. I also requested that three adults in her life (piano teacher, co-op mom, and drama director) write a reference letter based on their experiences with her this past year. When college application time rolls around, all the essentials will already be gathered and in print.