Here's hoping we won't need our home school set-ups for very long—but while we do, there's no reason they can't be organized instead of messy and in the way of other activities. Read on for tips and ways to contain the mess.
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Welcome to Your Home Academy, where there are papers, workbooks, art supplies, in-progress crafts, and half of the supplies for that science experiment your friend posted about. And no system for storing any of it, because—well, I think it's safe to say none of us were planning to suddenly homeschool our kids for a couple months.
For the first week, all our supplies (other than books, which already had a home) lived on our kitchen island. Art supplies didn't get put away, because we were just going to use them again. Papers piled up. Workbooks and finished crafts were constantly in the way. It's probably no surprise that someone who organizes homes for a living has a low tolerance for that kind of mess in prime living space. Time to organize.
I knew my girls were most likely to do schoolwork at the kitchen island, but didn't want to store things there—meaning I needed a portable solution. We had a three-tier cart that used to hold art supplies but was just sitting in the basement, making it the perfect storage piece for our supplies. Here's how I set it up.
TIER 1: workbooks and other papers in magazine file holders + books that we use routinely
TIER 3: catchall shelf for craft and science kits; books we'll use just once; etc.; changes often
I realize most people don't have an empty cart sitting around. And I don't suggest that you order a bunch of stuff to create a perfect homeschool setup for what will (hopefully) be a short amount of time. So on the assumption that you are working with minimal supplies, here are my suggestions for setting up a manageable homeschool space:
1. CHOOSE A WORKSPACE
How you organize your supplies depends in part on the work space and what other things happen there. If it's the kitchen table where you eat your meals, your storage should be portable (think tray, caddy, box). If it's the dining room table that you use twice a year, supplies can just stay on the table (but in a contained way).
2. SET UP A PORTABLE SOLUTION or SET UP A WORKSTATION
To make it portable, you need a container: a storage bin, a tray with a rim, even a cardboard box will work. It just needs to hold your most-used supplies and be easy to carry. Making a dedicated workstation is a lot like setting up a desk: keep most-used supplies close at hand and store papers and workbooks close by but out of the way. You can use the supplies to divide the space so kids aren't on top of each other.
3. SUBDIVIDE THE SPACE
Fixed or portable, this is key. Our cart would be a mess if it were just piled with stuff, and so would a table. Here's how: SORT and CONTAIN.
My favorite way to contain workbooks, coloring books, etc. is in magazine file holders. The size is perfect; they're easy to flip through; and vertical storage is neater and easier than a pile. You can organize them by kid (which is what I did) or by contents (workbooks in one, math worksheets in another). Chances are you have a couple floating around your house somewhere, but if not you can't go wrong buying a few. They're versatile, inexpensive, and you can use them for something else later. In light of social distancing, here are a few options from Amazon (clear or color; white) that will delivery quickly with Prime shipping.
I used glass jelly jars to store (most of) our art supplies; easy access and clean up. Plastic cups, small flower pots, or mason jars would work too. Use what you have, and keep it easy—cleaning up should be your kids' responsibility (they do it at school!) Open containers are easier than drawers, the original packaging, or containers with lids.
A whiteboard or chalkboard can organize the day, serve as a checklist, and give choices. For example, if your kids need to spend 20 minutes on math each day but can choose between worksheets or websites, you can list out all the options so they can read it themselves instead of coming to you—the more you can set up in advance, the less they're likely to interrupt your conference call looking for a pencil or asking what they're supposed to read.
I gave each of the girls a spiral notebook for anything they need to write down. It helps cut down on the number of loose papers and keeps them from using all the printer paper. (They were extras in our basement and decorating them with stickers took up almost an hour one morning!) And now that we have our official schoolwork from their schools, I've added a pocket folder. One side holds the current week's outline and the other holds any papers they want to show their teachers when they go back to school—fingers crossed!
Lots of craft/science kits? Put out one or two at a time so not everything gets opened at once. Or make a rule that one kit has to be finished and cleaned up before a new one is opened. Be realistic about leftover supplies: if you won't use it again, get rid of it now.
With varying degrees of success, I try to encourage my kids to see crafts as a fun experience vs. an object that needs to be saved until the end of time. It's hard to part with something you made an hour ago, though, so at the end of a week (or maybe two), they pick a few favorites to keep (and the ones they didn't choose disappear quietly).
Your kids probably take a water bottle to school, so have them use it at home too so there are fewer glasses lying around.
Thanks to teacher recommendations, Facebook posts, and news articles, I have so many ideas for online resources and activities. I can never remember where I saw the link to the aquarium live stream or that fun science experiment, so I started a list with links in Notes (syncs between my phone, iPad, and laptop). Anything that looks interesting gets pasted in and then I only have one place to look.
So that's what we're doing here. Sometimes things go great, sometimes not, but that's reality. Being organized with our materials minimizes little frustrations, and sometimes that goes a long way to maintaining peace.
Are there things you're struggling to organize that I didn't mention here? Leave a comment and I'll answer with a suggestion! Have a great tip to share? I'd love to hear it!