Organized and Orderly: Home School

This second post in my Organized and Orderly series involves an area that I want to become much more organized and orderly: home school. We have four children ranging from Pre-K to high school Sophomore, so home school can be very overwhelming for me sometimes. I decided that becoming more organized and orderly in lesson planning, record keeping, scheduling, etc. would be my next priority after menu planning.

Let me start by giving you a bit of background … we started home schooling our two oldest children when they were starting 4th and 2nd grades.  At the time, we had 3 kids, the youngest of whom was not yet in Pre-K.  Now, however, six years later … we have a Sophomore(ish)*, a 7th/8th grader*, a 3rd/4th/5th grader* and a Pre-K nugget.

* Why so vague about grade levels??  Well, if you’re a home school family, you need no explanation for the weird grade references.  But in case you’re new to the lingo … here’s the scoop:  Home school kids work at their own pace and most don’t adhere to strict grade level assignations.  In our family, for example, when a child finishes a grade level in a subject, we don’t stop and “wait” for the next “school year” to start – we just start the next level right away.  This often results in students working in multiple grade levels in different subjects.  For instance:  My youngest daughter is 8 and ‘technically’ a 3rd grader according to public school definitions.  However, while she’s working at grade level in Math – she’s doing 4th grade level work in English and Science, and 5th-6th grade level in History.  So you can understand why it’s not easy to put them into a single grade-level ‘box’, right?

So.  With four children, working at 6 or 7 different grade levels, in 6-8 subjects each … it’s quite a task to keep up with all the lesson plans, grading, record-keeping, portfolio organization.

I was keeping up with things pretty well over the summer term.  But when football season started I fell behind – big time.  When the season was over, I was facing a stack of school paperwork fully 6 inches tall.  It all needed to be sorted and filed … some of it even still needed to be graded.  Yikes – that’s embarrassing to admit.  But, honestly, it was a mess.  I was so overwhelmed.

 Now, I already have a binder filing system in place for keeping each student’s subjects organized.  It’s neat and easy to use – it works well for me.  And putting together year-end student portfolios is time consuming, but not difficult, providing I’ve kept current with all the other stuff … which is what has been giving me fits – the administrative side of home school –  record keeping and lesson planning & the like.  It’s so time consuming and I am forever scrambling to keep up.  And I want to make sure I’m ‘doing it right’.  My kids’ entire educational future is on my shoulders … which is fairly terrifying.

So, I’ve identified some of the issues I think are negatively impacting our home school journey.

The Problems:

  • Lack of Self-Motivation Among My Students:  My high school sophomore is quite bright … but his time management skills … well, they’re pretty much non-existent. He’s a teenager and reluctant to do anything I suggest to help him improve on his own in this area.  I want him, and his younger siblings to learn and practice solid time management skills and be efficient and productive people.
  • Grading Records:  I do grade everyone’s papers. The younger students’ grades are only used as a guideline to measure proficiency and retention.  I only keep track (or need to keep track) of grades for my high schooler, as these will go on his transcript.  I need an efficient, simple way to keep track of grades for his daily work, tests, lab reports and special projects.  Emphasis on the simple part … I have to recreate this method 3 more times over the next 15 years.
  • Lesson Plans:  Oh how I hate putting together lesson plans!  When I first started home schooling, I used an all-in-one curriculum that came with a spiral bound lesson plan for each subject.  It was lovely – all I had to do was open the book and do what it said.  As the children grew out of that curriculum and I started piecing together their courses on my own … I had to start planning out what to do and when to do it.  I needed help coralling all my ideas and plans into an orderly plan that wouldn’t give us too much or too little work to accomplish.
  • Transcripts:    When we decided to home school, I knew my children would not have the same ‘graduation’ experience to look forward to as most public school kids.  In fact, I used to think they would have take the GED test in order to ‘graduate’ from home school at all.  But I learned (to my relief) that a home school transcript is just as valid and official as the one public school kids receive upon their graduation.  The only difference is that it’s my responsibility to make sure the transcript is done correctly, and reflects the work and accomplishments my child has completed in their years of high school.  So – no pressure on me, right?  I need to make sure I’m putting together a professional, complete, appropriate transcript for my students so that their education is well-documented to colleges and/or potential employers in the future.

The Plan:

  • Lesson Plans:  I found a wonderful (and free!) set of lesson planners and other home school forms and documents here.  I’ve been using the Weekly Lesson Plan form for my 3rd/4th and my 7th/8th grade students for a little while and I love it.  It’s in spreadsheet form so I can customize it for each of them and I can print out 6 weeks’ worth (or more) of planning sheets at once.  I 3-hole-punch these and keep them in my master binder along with attendance sheets.  Every day, I fill out the appropriate subject with what the student completed and at the end of the ‘school year’ I put all the lesson plan pages into their Portfolio.

Organized and Orderly: Home School

For my high schooler, these plans weren’t working.  I wanted to address his lack of self-motivation and encourage independent study habits by giving him an entire week’s worth of assignments on Monday, give him a due date for the work and allowing him to set his own pace.  So I found a template here.  I slightly modified the ‘Task List’ so that each box listed his daily assignments, which gave him the option of working on only those assignments each day, or working ahead … or waiting until right before the due date to cram all his work into one or two days.  Which he does alarmingly often … Still, it’s his time to manage as he sees fit.

Organized and Orderly: Home School

  • Lack of Self-Motivation:  Addressing this problem in my younger children really starts with the oldest – he’s the one setting the example right now, unfortunately.  I’ve given him a schedule of tasks and assignments (see above) and am allowing him to set his own pace … or hang himself with his own rope, whichever the case may be.  All the kids are rewarded or penalized through the giving or taking away of electronics privileges, so they are somewhat motivated to keep their chores done and school work up to date.  I’m not a tyrant over this, but I am pushing them to challenge themselves and see how efficient they can be.  It’s a process ...
  • Grading Records:  Once again, the wonderful came to my rescue with this simple, straightforward one-subject grade sheet.  It’s broken into 2 semesters and allows me to set my own grade scale, average grades weekly, bi-weekly or quarterly, and record daily grades as well as tests, labs and special projects.  I keep a grade record in each subject binder for my high schooler and record the grades as I file his work.  This eliminates the pileup of work waiting to be filed because I haven’t recorded grades yet, and lets both of us know at a glance how he’s faring in each course.  It’s a simple job to average the grades at the semester and then enter the information on his transcript.  Whew!!Organized and Orderly: Home School
  • Transcripts:  I’ll admit that I had several moments of panic when I realized I would be solely responsible for my children’s high school transcripts.  That’s, like, a permanent record, y’all! But after joining an online home school support group and talking to other home schooling mamas who had graduated many students … I felt so much more confident.  There are tons of free transcript templates available online, as well as services you can pay to keep up with your student’s academic career and make up a transcript.  You can guess, I’m sure, which route I’m going to be taking … 😉   One very helpful mama suggested keeping a transcript from year to year and then putting it all together at the end of the student’s high school career.  So this is the path I’m taking right now.  I have my son’s Freshman transcript saved and will be creating his Sophomore transcript later this summer.  It’s pretty amazing how simple these things really are once I stopped freaking out over them.  I perused various transcript templates on several different home school websites and ended up designing my own using their suggested information.
  • General Scheduling:  In this area, I wasn’t exactly failing, but I felt there was definite room for improvement.  So instead of waiting until the day assignments were made to prepare worksheets, discussion questions, etc. (which was never particularly efficient and I’m not sure why I was doing it), I made time on Saturday or Sunday to do all my printing, copying and general prepping for the coming week.  I found that it only took an hour at most to get everyone’s lesson plans ready, print any tests or answer sheets needed, and organize it all by putting in their textbooks or subject binders.  Again, not sure why I wasn’t doing this before, but it has made a huge difference in both our efficiency and the overall mood of the household.

I’ve been working with my ‘new and improved’ system for about a month now, and I have to say that it’s going better than I hoped.  The changes I made in record-keeping and lesson planning have kept us all on schedule, even when I was sick for a week.  Combined with the menu planner I implemented, they have lessened my stress levels tremendously.

It’s such a relief to have the day’s tasks organized and prepared so I can focus more on them than on the preparations.  I can’t tell you how happy this has made me!  And not only am I happier and less stressed … I’m also motivated to keep going – finding more ways to make other aspects of my life more organized and orderly.

Come back to see what project I’m tackling next!!

Love & Blessings,

That Farm Mama


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