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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

This is the final entry in the How To Start Homeschooling series. In the first post, we talked about Exploring your options. Second, we Investigated the possibilities. Next we did Planning and in part 4 we talked about Purchasing. Now, we will talk about setting up your work area and paper management.

Space Management

You have a wide range of options for work area, and there is no one perfect solution that works for all families. Take a few minutes and think about your chosen homeschooling method. If you’re an unschooler, then chances are you’re not going to want to have a special room in the house dedicated to lessons with a blackboard in front and desks for each child. You may be more comfortable working at the dining room table, or in a different room of your house, or perhaps even outside in the fresh air. 🙂

For the past several years I have done lessons on our dining room table because there wasn’t any other space to use. Our basement will be finished this year, and I plan to move down into the family room/library area for lessons. There may be times when the boys are separated into the office to work privately when they need it. I do have a couple of the old fashioned school desks for them to try. If they work out, we’ll use them. If not, then I’ll try something else.

Since I lean more toward the traditional schooling, I use a dry erase marker board to help illustrate whatever subject I’m talking about. I also find that the boys really enjoy writing on the board when they get a chance. They’re only allowed to write on it for school, so they haven’t gotten bored with it yet.

Last year, the boys each had a shelf on a bookcase for their books. I kept teacher books in a plastic magazine holder that I picked up at WalMart. It’s twice as wide as regular magazine racks and very handy. A larger bookcase holds all the extra supplies and materials that I might need throughout the year. I have also learned that it’s incredibly helpful to have all these supplies close at hand each day. Stopping what you’re doing to go dig through a shelf for an item tends to interrupt the flow of learning, especially when you return to find a pro wrestling match has broken out in the living room.

Paper Management

Pretty much all schooling methods are going to produce paper, and a lot of it. Having a plan in place to deal with finished assignments is crucial, or else you’re going to drown in piles of paper very quickly. I have a large 3 ring binder for each subject. As soon as a paper is corrected and reviewed, I have the boys clip it into the binder. I’ve tried just doing the filing once a week, but found that we all hated the process of sorting things out by subject, putting them in order, and then clipping them in. Just saying “put your paper in your binder” and expecting them to clip it into the back of the book has worked very well. Papers aren’t lost or piling up everywhere and they’re in order in the books. At the end of their schooling I’m going to have way too many pieces of paper in those binders, so there may come a time when we pare down considerably. For now, though, it’s very manageable and the boys really enjoy looking through their old work.

Another option is to go ahead and pile everything together, and then periodically go through and pick out a few choice items to keep in a portfolio or scrapbook and toss the rest. Yes, you could just keep everything, but I really don’t recommend that. Clutter causes stress, and we’re all about stress reduction here at Earnest Parenting. The process of going through and picking out a few favorites to keep is a really good one to have children go through. Decluttering is a valuable life skill.

What about all those projects?

Yes. What do you do with all the art projects and creations that won’t fit in a portfolio or binder? I let the boys display their creations for as long as we can, then try to get rid of them. I do take pictures of them, of course. When I’ve let them take things into their room for safekeeping, well….nothing has really survived that experience yet. The first time I wanted to throw out a project was difficult for both me and the boys but we tried it and discovered that our hearts were still beating. So we’ve gotten pretty good at project removal. I’m very careful to try and get the individual boy’s approval before items go into the trash. If it’s something he’s really attached to, efforts are made to keep it. A few times I have put a deadline on things like “this is on display for a week, then it’s going”. So far, we’ve managed quite well. A few treasured items are still around, and the clutter is being kept to a minimum while we have a nice photo album of old projects to look at.

Book Management

Since I have kids at different ages, and since I plan to use the same or similar books for the younger boys I just take all the books at the end of the year and put them into a plastic tote, label it with the appropriate grade and set it downstairs. The younger boys are in kindergarten this year, so I simply opened up that box and got out the old stuff before I did my book ordering. Most of what I needed was already in the box. At the end of this year, I’ll look into selling or giving away books that won’t be used anymore.

Grade Management and Transcripts

Up until this year, I have not done any grading as I don’t believe it’s necessary for early elementary students. I have kept records of their progress through the math program as that was built-in to the system, and all the work done in other subjects is in the binders for review should I need to show what we’ve been working on and what progress has been made.

Now that the older boys are in 4th grade, I do plan to start giving them grades and report cards. I’m not completely convinced that this is the best thing, and if I see that they’re getting too anxious over it, or are getting down on themselves if they don’t do as well as they like (The Mercenary in particular is a hyper-perfectionist) then I may abandon grades for another year or two. I am planning to use a grade software program to keep track of assignments and scores.

Transcripts are a high school necessity. Colleges want to see what high school students have learned. To do a transcript, you’ll need to know how many hours of a subject are required for public school children in your geographic region. From there, you simply keep track of how much time is spent on each subject and mark it accordingly. If you do an online search for homeschool transcripts, you’ll find plenty of articles explaining what is required along with forms and software to help.

Well, this is by no means everything you need to know to be a homeschooler, but it is a good foundation on which to start. I hope that this article series has been helpful, and I welcome comments from folks who’ve used it to help start their homeschooling journey.

Earnest Parenting: tips for creating a successful homeschool.