Talking about homeschooling is a bit like learning how to care for an elephant. There are obvious things you need to know about and address, like knowing what to feed the elephant and creating a space for it to live. But the more you learn about elephant care, the more you realize you have a lot to learn! There are many different nuances that come into play. Things like providing friendship and companionship for your elephant, learning how to care for its health needs and so on.
Now, I like elephants but I don’t pretend to be anything close to an expert in elephant care! But one thing I have learned a lot about through the years is homeschooling. (Did you think I forgot about the homeschooling part when I started talking about elephants? Stick with me, I have a point, I promise!)
Just like you cannot know everything there possibly is to know about caring for an elephant until you start working with the elephant, you cannot possibly know everything there is to know about homeschooling until you start homeschooling. Until you start walking this journey, learning and growing as you go.
In fact, it’s this very mindset of learning and growing that makes homeschooling so incredibly unique and adaptable. This opportunity to tailor your homeschooling journey to mesh with your personality and teaching style and your child’s personality and learning style.
And yet, there are some things I’ve learned and techniques I’ve used throughout the years that have really helped streamline our schoolroom and, by extension, our school day. Here are 7 of my biggest tips to set your space up for homeschooling success as well as 5 of my favorite must-have school room tools.
Designate a School Space
This first one is absolutely key: You want to create a specific spot in your home for a school space. Now, I understand you may not be able to set aside an entire room of your home to create a designated school room. If you are able to create an entire school room, fabulous! However, if you don’t have the space for a full room, create a corner or some space for your school area.
The big idea behind this is twofold: First, in having a designated school room or school space, you create a space to keep all the binder, textbooks, and parts and pieces of your school curriculum. A gathering place for your supplies where you know you’ll be able to find all you need to do your schoolwork.
Second, when you move to this space, the space signals to everyone that you’re moving into school mode. It is a physical signal that free play time is on pause while you work through your school curriculum for each day.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of parts and pieces that come with homeschooling! Everything from scissors and glue to pencils and erasers, from flashcards and math blocks to stickers and art supplies. So, where do you keep it all? If you let all these parts and pieces simply go where they will they’ll end up all over the house and you’ll never be able to find them when you need them, right?
This is where the power of utilizing bins comes into play! Now, these bins do not have to be very large, in fact, think shoebox size. But getting some plastic bins and putting all the parts and pieces into these bins is incredibly effective!
Not only will you be able to find the materials you need when you need them, but when you store things in a clear, plastic bin it’s very easy to keep the bin on a shelf in your school space. It actually turns into a multi-win scenario: You can find the materials you need when you need them. You have a method for keeping all the tiny parts and pieces contained. It’s very easy to store all the irregular pieces when they’re in plastic bins. And it makes your school space look neat and tidy when you have things put away like this.
Label Your Bins
This one sounds so incredibly simple, doesn’t it? And yet the simple act of labeling your bins is so vital for making sure everyone knows where things belong. Think about it: It’s so much easier to put things away when you know what container they belong in, right?
So, labeling your bins not only helps keep your school room neat and organized, it also empowers everyone to help put things away where they belong.
It teaches your children responsibility to put things away when they’re done using them.
Labeling the bins clearly communicates to everyone what belongs in each bin.
And it takes the full burden of picking up off you because you’re not the only one who knows where everything goes.
Keep in mind: Your labels do not have to be super fancy. They can be as simple as a white sticker with a label handwritten with a pen or a sharpie. If you want to get fancy, go for it! But remember, the big idea is to label each bin clearly with what belongs inside. If your label gets that job done, you have a success on your hands!
Group Your Curriculum
Let’s face it, when you’ve been homeschooling for a while, you start to collect curriculum! Particularly if you have multiple children and you purchase Level 1 of math for your oldest, then you keep it around until all your other children have gone through it. But you won’t be using every level of every curriculum you have every year! Or perhaps you know a curriculum you want to use in an upcoming year and you purchase it when it goes on sale. You have to keep it somewhere until you’re ready to use it, right?
So where do you store it all? How do you set up your school room or school space to maximize the effectiveness of the space you have?
Start by creating a space for the curriculum you’re using in this school year. Try to group it all together onto one shelf or a couple shelves right next to each other. Include the books you’ll read together, the math and spelling curriculum and even the teacher books you’ll use to check those multiplication and long division problems! Group all of the books and binders for the curriculum you’ll use this year together and find a space for it where it’s easily accessible. Remember, this is the material you’ll be using on a daily basis, so you want it to be within easy reach. In other words, you don’t want to have to break out the ladder to get to it every day!
But what about all that other curriculum? The curriculum you’re not using this year, but you don’t want to get rid of? Well, group all of that curriculum together and create another space for it. But what space? When you’re not currently using a certain curriculum, you can place it out of reach. It could be on a high shelf that you do need that ladder to get to or another out of the way spot in your school room.
If you don’t have enough space in your school room or school space, get a little creative. You could place the curriculum in a bin or a box and store it under your bed or in the back of the closet until you need to access it again. Just remember where you put it for when you do need it!
Individual Shelves for Individual Stuff
One of the best things we created in our school room was an individual shelf for each of our children. Now, I realize this may not be possible for you depending on the space you have available, but hear me out on this one: When you create a space for your child to keep their school stuff, it gives them a space to call their own.
So many times in homeschooling, particularly in larger families, so many of the supplies are shared with everyone. In giving your child a shelf or a cubby or some space to keep their binders and school books, you give them a space of their own.
Not only does this create a convenient space for your child to keep their school books and binders, but it teaches them responsibility as they are now the one who must keep that shelf or space neat. They’re responsible for putting their school books on the shelf so they can find what they’re looking for when they need it.
Keep Your School Room Tidy
Now, notice that I didn’t say to keep your school room spotless. You want your school space to be an inviting place where creativity and fun can happen. When you’re so focused on making sure that everything is completely spotless all the time in your school space, that creativity starts to get stifled. Plus, trying to keep any space that’s consistently used by everyone completely spotless is an impossible task!
Yet, when a room is kept tidy, there is a draw, an invitation to walk into that space and start working. It’s so inviting to walk into a space, sit down and begin working right away knowing you don’t have to clear a space so you can start working.
Do you remember the 10-Minute Tidy technique? (If you don’t remember, check out this post on how to go from scattered to organized.) Picking up your school space is a perfect place to use this technique so everyone takes responsibility for keeping your school space picked up together.
Set Up the Night Before
Did you know that a few minutes of prep work the night before can save you double the amount of time the next day? It’s true! This is one habit I cannot do without in homeschooling. The simple act of taking a few minutes to write out the school tasks we’ll work through together the next day on the white board and having my children write out their individual school tasks has saved us hours of time and frustration.
You see, when you’re able to start your day knowing where you’re going even before the day beings, it gives a sense of purpose to the day. You’re able to start you day not with trying to figure out what you’re doing or where you’re going on the fly, but you start your day with purpose, jumping right in to knowing what you need to accomplish first.
This is the big idea behind setting up your school tasks the night before. It lends direction and purpose to your school day. You don’t have to worry about going through your morning routine and trying to figure out what you need to accomplish for school. You already know where you’re headed.
Some of my Favorite Tools
No homeschool space would be complete without a few tools. Now, I’m not a fan of clutter. I’m not a fan of getting things just to have them sit and collect dust. But, if there is a tool that will help me teach my children better. If there is a tool that will help my children understand the lessons better. If there is a tool I can purchase that will save me money in the long run, I’m all for it!
These tools are all ones you can find in my school room. Tools I use consistently and that we have had great success using. I highly encourage you to check these out and consider adding them to your school space.
Never underestimate the power of a good pencil sharpener! We went through a few pencil sharpeners before realizing that we needed a classroom-size electric pencil sharpener!
Now, don’t let the thought of this one scare you! Laminating games and flashcards is extremely helpful when you have little ones or you know something will be used a great deal. On top of that, laminated sheets are easy to use over and over for handwriting practice or daily school lists when you pair them with a dry erase marker.
Maps and globes are essential as you teach your children. I believe you should have a map of your country as well as a globe and a large map of the world incorporated into your school space. Not only are these maps useful for teaching geography, but history and even science. You can find where different animals live, find where events in history took place, and more all using the maps.
A white board is incredibly useful for writing your school plan on. It creates that central space where everyone knows to look for the daily plan. Or, if you’re more of a chalk board person, go for the chalkboard in your school space.
One of the most effective and useful tools I have found in homeschooling is to use binders. These can be used for everything from creating a daily school binder for your children to holding printed out curriculum to holding completed worksheets. The uses are innumerable and binders are such an easy way to bring organization to your school space.
You’ve heard this question before: How do you eat an elephant? But I propose a twist on the question: How do you learn to care for an elephant?
You learn by doing. You learn by starting. You learn by listening to the advice and expertise of others, getting to know your elephant, and figuring out what works best for you and your elephant.
The same is true in setting up your homeschool space. You can create the perfect space filled with the perfect tools, but if you never use that space you won’t know if it works or not. And while you should set up your homeschool space in the best way you know how, you also need to remember something very important:
If something isn’t working in your space, change it! Adjust it! This is your family, your homeschool, and your homeschooling space. The most important thing is that it works for you and your family.
And the only way you’ll know whether it will work? By using it! So glean the advice you can, set your space up in a way you believe will work, but don’t be afraid to change things or adjust things as your year goes on. Remember, this is your space to use in the more effective and successful way possible.
- How to Intentionally Create a Pattern for Your Day
- How to Get Started Homeschooling: 10 Important Tips
- My Quick, Low-Maintenance School Paper System
- Learning: The Ultimate Goal
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.