A couple of months back as most of our readers ended their school year… I received a number of emails asking me how do I deal with the end of year homeschool clutter. We have just had a two week “science breather’ and I realised, now as so many folk are thinking about a new school year, that the end of year chaos could easily be resolved at the start of the school year. New books, new plans, new ideas, but there is a problem, there is still a pile of last year’s work lurking on almost surface. There are books, papers, and piles of stuff that got put on the side when guests arrived… popped into closets when family came to stay and who knows where all the important papers, that you really meant to file are… buried all over the place.
I know that end of year overwhelming feeling and you can’t shake it off and start fresh… it sits like a little cloud over your summer and certainly dulls that “new beginning feeling” if you have to start your new year buy burying into piles of chaos before you even begin. I know one always plans to spend the last week of the year tidying and sorting and getting ready for the next year… finishing up those relentless projects and putting anything away… but friends visit from out of town, and family comes to stay… not to mention you are out of energy. And those lofty plans to end your year all sorted… sort of wither away and summer break takes over.
Now to an outsider our school year is pretty much all year round, we have this thing called family school where we sit around the table after breakfast and learn new things together. For the more official part of our school year we use Sonlight, and go pretty much 36 weeks straight and maybe add in an extra week or two for science, here and there. We are about a third of the way through our official school year and we took a breather a science week. It was a chance to stop and think about how we avoid the end of year chaos. I should add as we tend to school throughout the year the fine line between the end of one year and the start of the next has become a little less defined. Also, we school and live in our kitchen… we have nowhere to hide. Our school stuff has to stay more or less under control throughout the year. So we don’t have such a huge end of year problem to solve, and we pretty much have a “tidy as you go” policy…
Se7en + 1 Steps to Finishing Your School Year Without Too Much Chaos
- Start As You Would Like to Finish: Create a vision of what you would like the end of your year to look like. If like us you kind of slide into the end of year then you need to have thought of some sort of system for finishing before you get there. Obviously I would like our students to end their year filled with enthusiasm and eager to learn more, but this post is all about the “stuff of school.” In the world of measurements, I need our kids to have something tangible to show for their year of school, a couple of things just to demonstrate that they learnt something. So each child has a journal, that is a work in progress; a file showing their schedule week by week; and a handful of workbooks.
- A Place for Everything: At this stage we pretty much have a system of “a place for everything.” If we consistently store our journals and papers throughout the year then their isn’t anything to sort at the end of the year. Each child has a crate where they keep their current reading and their Sonlight schedule. They also have a box for their workbooks, when we began homeschooling I used to just store their box of workbooks at the end of the year… but our schooling has tended further and further away from workbooks and we don’t actually do enough to warrant a whole box of workbooks per child per year.
- Leave Lots of Gaps: It is lovely to have the school year begin with your shelves filled and neat but I have found that by leaving gaps on the shelves that I am creating spaces for completed work. As a child finishes a workbook, so it is placed on the “finished work book pile” and their crates of current school reading are never so full as to not have room for a couple of library books on a topic that has peaked their interest. When they finish a section of work those books go back onto the grade shelf… the next student will be reading them in a year or two.
- Know What Records You Need To Keep and Keep Them: I do discard a lot of stuff at the end of a school year… but usually isn’t from the year we have just completed, but from two years previously. I have a storage space in a top closet, out of the way and we only visit it once a year. In it I have saved a box for each child with a growing collection of journals; their Sonlight schedule and their workbooks for the previous two years. At the end of the year I add in their just completed journals – yes I keep them all. These are pretty much their diaries of learning and a record of their art, their stories, their outings and their learning. I think they may enjoy looking back on them in time. By the time they are finished school they should have ten to fifteen journals that they can choose to save or discard themselves. Otherwise, I pop in their just completed Sonlight Schedule and workbooks and toss out the ones from two years previously.
- Consistently Packing Away: School needs to end each day… just because we homeschool doesn’t mean that there is always schoolwork going on, I think it is quite important that our kids know that school is out. If they choose to do projects as part of their play time, and they often do… while that may be learning it is not school and I am not necessarily available to help, I may be working on my own project at that stage. We have a lot of “Educational pharisees” in our house that feel if they take out every single school book and workbook and spread them on the kitchen surfaces then they are doing a LOT of work… this is not necessarily the truth, but the grand show of stuff everywhere appears to them to be a clear indication of a lot of work happening. This may or may not be the case… and even so, everything has to be back in its place before lunch. Often some folk do a little school in the late afternoon and then they tend to take out just what they are working on.
- Be Realistic About Your Time: I know this is a hard lesson to learn… and I pretty much fail at it each year. But you will not have more time for school in the coming year than you did in the past year. I used to pile up about a million ideas of things we would do in the new school year… so much stuff. All the stuff that we never got round to the previous year and then a few more things that could be added into the mix. Unless you open up and schedule time for new things, you will not miraculously have more time to do new things… if you plan to spend an hour doing art every morning for the first time ever, then you are going to have to shuffle your schedule to fit it in. You have to leave gaps in your schedule as well as on your shelves. What has helped for us this year it to have a shelf with all our current reads for family school on it. A pile for each day of the week… all the art books in a pile – that’s Tuesday and Thursday; all the Mapwork books, that’s Wednesday; and so on… having the books readily available, we pick up the pile and head for the table… and return them to the shelf when we are done. Nothing else gets stored on top of those books or around them… easy access is key.
Otherwise… and this will happen, there are somethings that you didn’t tackle last year… you just never ever got to it, be it a spelling program or math manipulatives, or even a series of fantastic dvd’s… chances are you are never going to get to it… give them to someone who wants to use them and forget about them. Just move on… they take up unnecessary space and energy as you constantly think we must get round to that – experience says you won’t get round to them – ditch it and make space for the stuff you really want to be learning.
- Lingering Projects: We have a lot of those… and I doubt that we are alone. You have no idea how bad we are at growing things – well mould, we grow a lot of that. Every time we are assigned to plant a couple of beans we carefully grow some fresh mould. These mouldy projects can linger a lot longer than necessary. Other natural factual finds have been placed on a museum shelf… it is working so far and we are gathering a collection of jars and petri dishes of things to examine, not only mould. Otherwise, because we do school in the kitchen we clear most of our surfaces every day… we have one large surface for drying paint and glue-related projects… but that is usually cleared by the weekend and we start our week with fresh school surfaces. Some projects do take weeks… and that’s fine. But abandoned or completed projects need to find a home that is not the kitchen counter. Generally the owner of the project is pretty quick to figure out the importance of keeping a project going when they realise it is going to be kept going in their own space. If it is something they are passionate about then they find the space and if it is something they enjoyed but they are finished with then out it goes.
- I Don’t Waste Time on Papers: My kids create papers… a large portion of them go straight into the recycling. If is schoolwork and it can be glued into their journal and demonstrates something that they have learnt, then it is their responsibility to stick it into their journal on the day. Work not stuck in is considered incomplete, or unimportant and heads for the recycling and yes I should invest shares in a glue stick company. Then there are more important papers, certificates from extra-murals or on-line courses they have done, outside classes they have taken part in… basically anything that they could one day use to create a school-leaving portfolio… goes into an in-tray. That’s it, I pop it into the tray and forget about it. Every now and then, like once a year when the in tray looks full-ish, I take an hour or so and while I am listening to a podcast and I sort those papers into each “childs’ portfolio folder.” The papers are already in chronological order because they get stacked in the in-tray as we go. That’s it… I cannot at this stage predict what sort of portfolio my children will need and so as long as they papers are in order and saved all together in one place they should be fine.
And se7en + 1th thing…
Basically curbing the homeschooling chaos is pretty much like any other project, even cooking dinner: Start as you wold like to finish, clean as you go and ditch what isn’t working. Schedule in heaps of space for unexpected and delightful surprises and don’t stress too much… the pile of papers that gets jammed in a drawer because guests are coming is probably not going to make the difference to whether your child is going to get into college or not, and if it is such a vital document then put it somewhere safe already. I have a feeling that it is far more important to be spending time learning and exploring new things than organising and taming the accumulated stuff… you don’t actually need a whole room, or walls of carefully mounted storage systems… dive in and learn with what you have and if you just can’t face cleaning as you go, then schedule in “work days” every couple of weeks, for clearing out and cleaning up and starting fresh.