Your Questions Answered: Organizing Your Home School

My friend and co-worker, Laura Pitney, has joined us today, and we’re going to share some ideas on organizing your Charlotte Mason homeschool. Laura has a real heart to encourage and help other homeschool mamas, plus she’s very organized! So I’m glad that she can join us for this discussion. You’re going to love her ideas!

Sonya: First, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about your family and your home school.

Laura: Okay. I have homeschooled the whole time that my kids have been school aged, so we’re in the middle school years. I have four children that I currently homeschool, and a niece that tags along with us. I love using the Charlotte Mason methods, and I’m excited about the years to come homeschooling.

Sonya: Now, Laura leads a Charlotte Mason group, and recently in that group somebody asked, “Would you please share how you organize all of your books and materials for a day of homeschooling?” The great thing is that there’s so many ways of doing this. Laura and I do them completely different.

Laura: That is true.

Sonya: We have completely different methods, but mine works great for me, and yours works well for you. So we wanted to share both of our ways. Maybe that will give everybody some ideas and help them get organized in their homeschools as well. Shall I start or do you want to start?

Laura: I’m going to give you the baton on this one.

Sonya: All right. I mainly focus on having a weekly chart. I’ll have columns for Monday through Friday, and under each day I have the subjects listed that we’re doing for that day. I post that chart where everybody can see it. Then I keep all of our schoolbooks on shelves in my office (which is my bedroom, but it sounds good to say office, right?).

Laura: It’s a really cute office.

Sonya: Thank you. So I have all the books on the shelf. When I had all of the kids in my home school, we would look at what were the scheduled subjects for the day, then we would go in and pull all the books that we were going to need, carry them into the living room or the dining room, and put the stack down—wherever we were going to be doing our schoolwork. That’s how it worked well for when I had all of my kids at home. Now I have just my youngest, and we actually have for the first time ever a dedicated school space, which we’ve never had before. So I keep the books that we are currently using on a special shelf in that room. I still have my weekly chart with what subjects we’re doing each day. Every morning my youngest gets to the school room ahead of me. She wakes up so early! While I’m still eating breakfast, she runs to the school room. It was a great pleasant surprise when she started doing this a few months ago. I came down to join her, and when I opened the door, I saw that she had laid out everything we needed on the table.

Laura: How beautiful!

Sonya: She knew exactly what books we were doing for what. So she refers to the chart, she pulls everything we need and lays it on the table. I just sit down and we go to it. That’s how it works for us.

Laura: What you just said is so valuable. Hannah now has taken more of a step towards independence, where she can know what’s happening that day, pull out her resources, and help your day get started with her.

Sonya: Yes.

Laura: And that’s a gradual thing that you have worked up to. So when I think about organizing my school materials for the week, that’s ultimately my goal in mind: How do I train them to become independent learners, independent thinkers? “What do I need to get done today? How can I best line up my own resources to get my work done in a timely manner?” So, for my thinking, that is the underlying goal: How can I help them to get independent? In my homeschool it looks a little different because of the variety of ages and skill levels.

Sonya: You’ve got 12 or 13.

Laura: Yes.

Sonya: Down to six?

Laura: Seven.

Sonya: Oh, she turned seven!

Laura: I know, my little baby is growing up. What helps me the most is that each one of my children has what we call a Memory Binder, and in it they have a checklist of their independent work—things that I trust them to do by themselves.

Sonya: What kinds of things are on that checklist?

Laura: It might be reading their Bible; it might be studying some skip counting; or it might be going ahead and doing their copywork. Things that I have entrusted to them; they’ve earned the right to be able to do it by themselves. So, obviously, with the younger ones there are plenty of subjects I still need to oversee; but as they have moved up towards middle school years, there are things that I feel I can trust them to do by themselves, so their checklist has that on there. Each child has a tab that has our current memory work in it, meaning the Bible verse we’re learning, the poem they’re working on, and the hymn that they’re studying. So it helps me keep track of what each child is currently working on memorizing—they all have different poems, but we all have the same hymn and Bible verse—just so they can use that to study independently.

Sonya: That’s a great idea.

Laura: The main reason I love the memory binder is that—we’re eight years into it with my oldest, so in the back of her memory binder, she has eight years’ worth of every poem she’s ever memorized and every hymn we’ve ever learned as a family. It’s a great way to review. This may sound super familiar, because it’s kind of a copycat of the Scripture Memory System. You know, sometimes ideas grow and turn into other things.

Sonya: Absolutely, you have to tweak it to fit your family.

Laura: Right. It has turned into the memory binder. It’s not a new idea; it’s just one that I have embraced and changed to fit our family. So that’s just a great way to keep track of everything each kid is doing, and then it’s a great way to be able to review things that we’ve learned five years ago or a poem that they learned last year in school. It’s a way to keep all of those collected into one place. So that’s kind of the main organizational tool I use everyday.

Sonya: Didn’t you also say you had some of their responsibilities—what I would call chores, you call them responsibilities—in there too?

Laura: They are, especially while they’re forming those habits. Gentle reminders of what I expect them to get done chore-wise or whatever else it may look like. It may be practice piano or something like that. It is in there, especially while they’re forming the habit of remembering to do it.

Sonya: Do you have a different page for each day of the week then?

Laura: I try to get it all on one page. So there may be five squares on the page with little bitty check marks, or columns. It’s looked different over the years.

Sonya: Okay. Sure.

Laura: So my younger children have chores listed specifically: brush teeth, get dressed, make your bed, eat breakfast—whatever those morning chores look like are specifically listed. But for my older kids I may just have “Morning Chores,” just so they can check it off and I can know they did it. I may not even have to ask about it, but because I can look and see that they checked it off, we both know what it means.

Sonya: They know what all is included in that.

Laura: Right, which is great. That’s ultimately what you’re going for. You want those habits to no longer have to be listed specifically.

Sonya: Yes.

Laura: Our dining room is our school room, so I have a bookshelf that I keep all our resources on. I find that that works best, versus having everything I own in regards to homeschooling on that bookshelf.

Sonya: Yes.

Laura: Simple is more, honestly. The one bookshelf has everything all five kids need. I keep my own resources completely separate. That helps with confusion and with them getting things that I don’t want them to get yet. I always know where my things are, because I need to be responsible for my things too.

Sonya: That’s true, yes.

Laura: So I keep that separate.

Sonya: Now, you guys are on the go a lot.

Laura: Yes, ma’am.

Sonya: Usually, we do homeschool when I’m home. If I’m traveling, I don’t try to do schoolwork then. I can do that because my youngest is 20, so we don’t have to get a certain number of days in anymore. But you’re on the go a lot, and you have to get those days in.

Laura: Sure.

Sonya: So, how do you do that?

Laura: Well, that’s a great question. I think knowing where all my supplies are for the day’s work is crucial. If I’m having to hunt the house for where I left things, or where the children left things, that’s cutting into time that we could be doing something else or getting out the door. So I think knowing where things are is rule number one. Just like we expect our children to put their things away, that carries over into school things as well. That’s kind of where I start. So if we have to go to my mom’s, or if we’re running out for nature study or ballet or whatever the activity is, if I know where the stuff is I can grab it.

Sonya: Now, let me back up one step. When you say, “Know where it is,” that doesn’t mean, “Remember where I happened to leave it.”

Laura: Correct.

Sonya: That means everything has a place.

Laura: Yes. In the early years, we did workboxes. And how I feel like that is benefiting us now is, if my child goes to their workbox and gets their nature notebook out, then when they’re done it’s going to go back in that workbox. So each workbox has an assigned subject or book that goes in it. We have graduated out of the workboxes and have a shelf. So as long as the kids remember that habit of putting it in its place, then I know where it is.

Sonya: That helped to train them: “This is where it belongs.”

Laura: Yes, correct.

Sonya: “And I put it back there.” Makes sense.

Laura: And, again, it helped them be independent.

Sonya: Yes.

Laura: If they can go get what they need, use it, and put it back, that’s an amazing accomplishment, versus “Who did that?” or “Where did they leave it?” or “What did they do?”

Sonya: So on nature study days—I know you’ve got some great ideas for how to organize the nature study stuff. Do you want to go ahead and share those?

Laura: I will be glad to. First of all, nature study is beautifully scheduled in our week, but it’s really hard to make it happen a lot of the weeks.

Sonya: Yep.

Laura: And half the battle on nature study day is “Where are our notebooks,” “Where’s our pen” or “Where’s our pencils,” or “Who’s got the backpack.” You know, it’s this mad rush of “Where is it all at? What do I need to gather?” So a simple thing I have implemented is that I keep it ready to go at my back door. That way, yes, nature study is in our schedule, but if it doesn’t happen on that day, maybe it happens on a different day, it’s home in its spot. We can grab and go. I have a little nature tackle box. It’s great because it has bottled water and cups for water coloring. It has our magnifying glass, our tape measure. It has pencils, a pencil sharpener, first-aid, it has some Band-Aids.

Sonya: Oh, smart lady.

Laura: Some spray disinfectant, wipes—we’ve got it all. I keep it kind of small, and I have a quilt that I keep in a bag, too. That way I can grab my tackle box and my quilt, throw it in the car, and we’re out the door, versus spending 45 minutes gathering up supplies, and by then I’m over it—no nature study today.

Sonya: Yes, it’s so easy to throw up that resistance. You have to make it easy on yourself, or you’re going to take the easy route out.

Laura: Set yourself up for success by having everything in order that you can. It’s really hard to get in that habit for a mom-teacher, but when our children see those habits in us it encourages them to be responsible for their things as well.

Sonya: Yes, that’s very helpful.

Well, what about you? It’s your turn. We’d love to hear how you organize your books and materials for your homeschool day. Leave a comment and let us know. And if you have a question you’d like us to discuss, feel free to put that in the comments too. Let’s get your questions answered.

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    • Hi Jessica,
      We don’t have a post of the memory binder system. You can see a glimpse of it in the video. Thanks for letting us know you’d like to know more about Laura’s system!

  1. Here is a question I have: With more than one child in the phase of doing oral narration, how do I have them each do a narration on what we read together without them just copying the child that goes first? At what point do you transition into written narration and how does that work?

    • Narrating with multiple children can seem daunting at times can’t it? I have one child that is an extrovert and tends to want to jump on the chance to narrate and a quiet child who is happy to allow her to narrate. This post offers suggestions on how to narrate with multiple children. I like to mix up the suggestions. If I don’t, my kids quickly catch on to Mom’s pattern.

      Written narrations often begin around 4th grade, providing the child is ready. You can read more about the signs to look for in order to know they are ready and what early written narrations will look like here:

      Thanks for the questions! These are frequent concern for Charlotte Mason educators.

  2. This is so incredibly helpful. We’re in the middle of our 22nd year of homeschooling & after several years of family trials, I feel in many ways like I’m starting over! Our youngest just turned 3, and the oldest one I’m responsible for overseeing school is a senior, so we have a long way yet to go. One of the major things I’m attempting to focus on right now is reorganizing and I think you’ve both sparked a great big list of ideas for me to work through and THANK YOU!!! So I’ll be most interested to hear what other ideas come in on this topic. Currently our main spot for school supplies is in the dining room, but each of the kids also has their own wooden crate, stacked under the windows of a bay window in our kitchen area, next to the computer. The crates are always a wreck. Each kid knows their crate and what goes in it but we do NOT have a system for putting everything away, and the tops of the crates end up being piled high w/ things that don’t belong. The shelves in the dining room have resources we look at periodically, but aren’t using every day, but there are more resources in an under-the-stairs closet (mostly crafts, puzzles, microscope & dissection supplies, manipulatives, etc) and ANOTHER bookshelf upstairs of things we definitely are not using this year, but intend to use in coming years. I cull and give away and sell fairly regularly, but it feels so spread out. It’s just not working well anymore. So I may move the kids out of their crates onto the dining room shelves, and get what’s left on those shelves into the crates & upstairs near the other bookshelf. I’ll keep thinking on it… But I needed some better ideas! I wish I could have y’all come over and look at all my spaces and HELP me think. The thinking is only the second hardest part to actually DOING the plan. Thanks again for this post!

    • Hi Stephanie, I thought I’d share a bit of what I do in our home. We have a small home and so things are a bit spread out but the items I need are readily available. I keep the resources I don’t need this year (Spelling Wisdom, math books that are different years than I need, history guides, etc) in my room on shelves. I keep the resources I am using this year on a 3-shelf rolling cart at the end of the couch. This cart includes my planning book (where I record what we do daily along with my daily ‘ideal’ routine), any teachers guides (ULW, SW, etc), and any resources we complete as a family (family history book, missionary character development book, picture study, Shakespeare, etc). I also keep my cup of pens and the resources we will need for the rest of the year on this cart. My older students have baskets, similar to your crates. I’ve found baskets or small wood crates/baskets prevent them from stuffing them with non school related items. It did take time to work on the habit of order to make sure they put things back into the basket/crate after using the item but they are good at it now (not perfect). Our dining room and living room are open to each other and this is where we school. Items the younger children can play with while I am working with the “bigs” are kept in the dining room in baskets on a shelf and in drawers of a dresser that is in our dining room. I recently moved the supplies I use for my almost 6 yr old to the top of the dresser. This includes Delightful Reading, kit 1, Charlotte Mason Arithmetic, book 1, My Book House book 1, a treasury book, and his Bible story book. I found that when I kept his items on the rolling cart it was easy to brush aside as somehow less important than the students who were formal school age. Basically, I keep everything that I will need during our school year within the confines of the living and dining rooms. It makes for smoother days in our home. You’ll come up with some great ideas that will work for your family and your personality!

  3. I wish I could see an example of each of the documents you are referring to…it would be helpful to springboard off of to create or make changes to my own process.

    • Hi Wendy, You can see a glimpse of Laura’s memory binder in the video at the end of the post.

  4. Question: what to do about individual resources that are shared? For example, 2 kids in the same math book. They each have their own notebooks, but where should the shared textbook go? Should I keep the texts & manipulatives & videos all together?

    • I keep the shared items on the rolling cart with our “together” resources. We have to do this with our literature book for geography and Spelling Wisdom.

  5. I have an open kitchen/living room where we do school. I got a five by five cube shelves from Ikea. The bottom row has doors. We keep toys in there. The next row up is for the pre schoolers- 1 for books, 1 for a sensory box (dry black beans, measuring cups and spoons), and 3 with small cookie sheet trays for activities for learning colors and numbers. The middle row of cubes has one for the 4 year old and then one each for Reading/phonics, math, history, science. I keep the books we are currently using and a box for smaller items ( counting blocks, flash cards, letter tiles, a bucket of pencils, craft supplies for a project planned, games, etc). The other two rows of cubes have poetry books, composer biographies, my planner and notebooks, a basket of extra craft supplies, math and phonics books we’re not currently using, etc. The rest of our school stuff is scattered all over the house – book shelves in the living room, drawers in the kitchen, even a few things in the laundry room closet! I love my cube shelves! It has made it so easy for the kids to get what they need. Hopefully I can get the rest better organized this summer.

    • Yes, Karen, she’s 20 now. Will turn 21 next month. (Wow!) With her special needs, she is doing early elementary work, but I’m thrilled that she has progressed that far! I’m proud of her, and we still do school every day because she wants to. 🙂

  6. I’m looking forward to organizing our books for the upcoming school year. I was planning to use the one-shelf system, but I also think I might like the idea of the rolling cart (comment from Tamara). Decisions, decisions! 🙂

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