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We often think about at beginning of the school year, “I need to get my ducks in a row and get everything organized,” but there are some things you can do at the end of the school year to help you with that new re-entry the next fall. Here to join me with this discussion is my friend and coworker, Laura Pitney.
Sonya: Laura, the organizing guru.
Laura: Maybe, I’ll go with that.
Sonya: Let’s talk about end of school year, what are some things—rather than just say, “Woo-hoo, we’re done!” and throw everything in a closet and go outside—what are some things we can do now that will help us when it’s time to start up again?
Laura: That’s a great question. There are a couple of ways to approach that. You can say, “You know what, we’re going to put it all away. I don’t want to see it. I’m done. We are over it,” and not even think about it for the summer. That may be what people want to do just because they’re so burnt out; they just don’t even want to look at it. But if you do that, come time to start again, you might feel overwhelmed. So that’s the point of this conversation. But if you want to pack it away and never look at it again, or not look at it for a couple months, that’s okay. I want to give you permission to do that. That may be what you need.
Some of the cleaning out and prepping for your summer break, though, for some people that’s very healthy. They feel like there’s closure there. They see everything they completed. It’s a happy thing to do. For some people it’s, “You know what, we’re just going to pause this. We need to set it aside; we need the break,” and then they’re ready to jump back at it in the fall. So there’s a lot of catering to the type of person you are. You need to acknowledge what’s going to help you be able to detach for a little bit so that you can come back at it maybe with a happier spirit. Sometimes the breaks are good. So you just have to figure out your personality. The backstory of that is, we’ve talked about this before, things should have places or homes. For me, when it comes to the end of the school year, it makes me really happy to put everything back in its home or in its place on the bookshelf. The first thing I do is I sort through things that I know are going to be reused, whether it’s reused during the summer, like free reads or free time, or if it’s going to be reused next school year or reused for another kid in a couple of years. Anything that we’re probably going to touch again at some point, I usually put it back in its home on our bookshelves.
Sonya: So that’d be things like, coming to my mind would be your Book of Centuries. That’s continuous. Your nature notebook, because you’re hoping the kids are going to use those over the summer even. What about living books?
Laura: I categorize my books. I keep them by topic or time period on my bookshelves.
Sonya: Me too.
Laura: So if they want to read those during their summer or free breaks, I let them. I mean, “Go for it.” They don’t usually, but sometimes there’ll be something that’ll trigger a memory or an idea and they’ll want to go find that chapter in a previous book they’ve read.
Sonya: So you’re talking about previously read books, not books that we’re going to be using for the coming-up time period, and you don’t want them to read it now, because then they won’t want to read it again later.
Laura: Yes. Those are on my shelf, but usually they don’t have any interest in the ones that we haven’t gotten to yet, just because they don’t know what they are, or like you said, I want to make sure we have it for our scheduled school time.
Sonya: I had two separate sections, like, “This is Mom’s section; you may not borrow those books without asking,” and so that would be the upcoming books that I didn’t want them to have yet, and then there were other bookcases in the house that were like, “Yes, those are free reads, go for it.” So we could, as you said, have a place for everything.
Laura: Sure. I basically go through any of the supplies that we just finished up with and decide what goes back to the bookshelf or to its home, and then there are a lot of consumables, if you will, maybe copywork books or projects that they’ve done.
Sonya: Written narration?
Sonya: Dictation passages.
Laura: All that kind of stuff that truly is assigned to that school year. It may not be a resource they have to get out again anytime soon, unless they just want to look back at something. I sort through everything, and either it’s going to be kept where we can have access to it or it’s a pile that I’m going to store. I just keep a running tub, a clear tub. You can get them at Walmart or wherever, but a clear tub, and I put a sheet of paper on one of the skinny ends of the rectangle and I label it 2020-2021, whatever the school year is. So all during the school year, if it’s something we’re finished with and don’t need again, it goes in that tub. Then, come the end of the school year when we’re cleaning out our cubbies or our baskets, if it’s things that need to be retired that we’re not going to access again, it’ll all go in that tub, all kids. I have just found that easy for me. In my attic I have however many tubs, but I can see where they’re labeled just in case I ever need to go back to it or pull something out as maybe an example to a younger kid that one of my older kids did; I can have easy access to it. But instead of doing it per kid or per grade, it’s a family tub for all the work we completed for that school year. That’s worked well for me. I have moms that do keep a tub per kid, and so it may be a collection of multiple school years in the tub. But the point is you no longer need that stuff in the center of your home or in the center of your school room. It’s a good thing to clean out and put it away. I think there’s this fear that the homeschool police are going to show up at your door and you’ve got to prove everything you’ve done for all times homeschooling. And that’s a legitimate thing. I mean, I want to show that we were truthful and were credible with what we’re doing in our home, so I don’t necessarily want to get rid of it; but my motivation is more for the keepsakes versus “I might get in trouble if I don’t have it.” Another tip would be to make sure you’re writing your child’s name on things and maybe the month or year that he completed it or said it or created it.
Sonya: How do you remember that at the end of the year?
Laura: Well, I try to do it all along. Sometimes you have these things that your children spent a lot of time and effort on and you’re like, “That’s amazing,” and then you don’t remember what it is. You want to be a good mama and treasure it forever, but you may not know what it is. So if you have them tell you about it, maybe after they leave the room or later you can flip it over, write it down, put a little date on it. That way, if it ever comes up again, or 10 years from now when you’re looking through the box, you can flip over to the back and be like, “Oh yes, this was the narration on the pyramids,” or whatever the drawing or project was. So that’s helpful, too, especially if you have lots of children, to make sure you’re writing the date and maybe what it is, because you won’t remember.
Sonya: Now this sounds like keeping all these boxes, especially if you have one for each child, it sounds like it could take up a lot of room in the house. Do you keep one for each school year, or do you just keep rotating out that one year?
Laura: I think that’s just a preference for the family. I personally keep one per school year. I’m trying to think whatever the year was, 2013-2014, whenever I started that, so I have however many boxes in my attic. I do have an attic, so it’s easy to store them in there. It’s been rare that I’ve had to go back in one of them, but there have been times where the kids want to look back through it just for a trip down memory lane kind of thing. So that’s one reason why I do a box per school year, because otherwise I would have four boxes times however many years we homeschool, so it just would add up. Plus when you really think about the things you’re actually keeping, it’s not a whole lot.
Sonya: You’re not keeping every single thing.
Laura: Correct. So like I said, it’s some of the consumables, some of my favorite projects or art, or I may have them choose, “What are your top five art projects from the year?” and maybe just keep a few of those, not all 30 of them. You know what I’m saying, it’s the selective ones that really mean something to them. I also have a friend who kept a three-ring binder for each kid, and so she had a “homework turn-in box,” if you will, for anything that they were finished with or maybe she needed to look at it. It was just kind of a system she had in her home. So after she looked at it, if the kids said, “This is something I really want to keep,” she kept a three-ring binder for each kid and punched holes in it or put it in a sheet protector. There’s not a whole lot. It just depends on what you’re engrossed in that year. It may be more art heavy one year, but it may be something like a composition notebook for written narrations the next year.
Sonya: It depends on what level the child’s in too. Things would change.
Laura: The point being is What do you do with all the stuff and the things that you feel like you should keep but you don’t necessarily feel like it’s important? It’s just finding that balance of what works best for each family or for you as the mom. I like to know that I kept some things. I don’t necessarily have any sentimental attachment to it, but for my kids’ sake, if they want to remember something or if they asked me about something that they were really connected to, I love to be able to go pull it out. Personally, I could just throw it all away, but I don’t want to do that to them. So having that box per school year really helps clean out my school room or clean out my kitchen or clean out whatever cabinet I’m using. That way I feel like it’s a tidy space, and when I start planning over the summer, maybe start collecting supplies and resources, I have a new cleaned-out place to put those things. So when it comes to August, September, whenever you start back for the next term, you don’t have to clean out and then prep for the new. The cleaning out is already done, and so it’s just a happy place for all the new things.
Sonya: A couple other things came to mind. One is that I am very much about minimal clutter in my house. So rather than keeping the physical object, I would take a picture of it.
Laura: Yeah, that’s a great way.
Sonya: Although it’s not the same for some people. Some people are very tangible. They want to hold it. And if it’s a book or something, of course you can’t just take a picture of it; like if your child writes a whole story, you’ll want to keep the whole thing. But a picture might work for artwork or something like that, depending on the situation, or if you don’t have room in your house. So pictures might be good or keeping a digital portfolio, if you will, something like that. The other thing that came to mind is I school year-round, and so I don’t really have a set “In June I’m going to do the clean-out so that in August I can do the reload.” It almost has to be an ongoing thing. Although even if you go year-round, there are planning times, so when you get to that planning time, you might just do a mini clean-out to set yourself up.
Laura: All along the school year, there might be things that you complete, or maybe you fill up a composition notebook, or maybe you do finish a copywork notebook or a math notebook, and you have to get a new one. What do you do with the old one? It needs to have a place to go versus just taking up room on your shelf. So even if you do school year-round, you’re still having that ebb and flow of, “Oh, we’re going on to the next thing because we finished something else.” The timing, like you said, doesn’t have a distinct start or stop, but you do need a place for those things that you finished.
Sonya: Right, so that tub system works well.
Laura: One thing I will say: during the school year, I might end up with a stack of things that eventually need to go into a tub, and then I may not realize I need the tub until my stack gets too high. It may just be as simple as starting a completion stack somewhere. Sometimes it might be a designated spot on your bookshelf, or I know I had one on the top of my bookshelf, and I didn’t like to see the pile, so therefore it triggered, “Oh, I need to go and get a new tub for the school year.” If you just are conscious of that cleaning out all the time, then you’re going to realize you need a place for that. So it’s naturally what happens anyway, it just needs to eventually get out of the room or go into storage.
Sonya: Good. So decide what’s going to go into storage, decide what you’re going to keep using over the summer, and make room for the incoming stuff that you’re going to be using in the fall.
Laura: Yes, and then troubleshoot. When you pack away stuff and you start thinking, “Oh, this really worked well or we had a trouble area as far as too much clutter in one spot,” once you clean out, it gives you a clearer vision for tweaking some systems or storage uses in your pantry, or the bookshelf, or the cabinet. Getting that stuff physically out of the space kind of helps you reset mentally about how you want the room to flow and function. So even that refreshes you for the next time you start back.
Sonya: Good point. Thanks for these great tips.