Category Archives: Organization

Book Challenge for a New School Year

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So these are the current state of my main book shelves…

These are my picture book shelves…which, even though my kids are older (12 and 16), I keep a fair amount of because I am a huge fan of picture books…many of these I had long before I ever had kids, as I was a preschool teacher in my pre-mom life and invested a lot in good quality picture books. Also many are my own childhood books…plus many have sweet memories from my kids’ childhoods…

But believe it or not, I’ve actually pared this collection down quite a lot. It used to be much bigger!

Anyway, I still find great value in good quality non-fiction picture books, even for older kids…and I do have little visitors from time to time…so I don’t see much more of these getting purged…

Now these are my educational/homeschooling books…and I REALLY need to go through these and purge a fair bit. I suspect there’s many that are too young for my kids now. And honestly, I’m ashamed to say that usually once a book makes it to this bookshelf, it gets forgotten and rarely looked at or used. Pathetic!! It’s time for a change!!

Any of you also find that you purchase tons of fantastic books for homeschooling, stick them on wonderfully organized shelves where they look so impressive and then NEVER READ THEM OR USE THEM?? What is UP with that?? Why have books if they are never opened??

So this year I am challenging myself…and I invite you to join me…

I’m going to try to force myself to remember to USE these books! There’s some great ones here!

These books are ones I have sifted through over the years for group activities I’ve done…but I could be pulling from them just for stuff to do with my own kids!

This one I got years ago to give me ideas to use all those great picture books! I really need to dig through this this year!!

I’ve got 3 of these Earth Heroes books… Wild Animals, Ocean and Wilderness…great stories to teach my kids about real people! I just need to READ THEM to them!!

Here’s a book I could really use that I totally forgot I had…don’t even remember getting it or where!

This one is fantastic and I don’t think my kids have ever looked at it or even know we have it!!

So, you get the point…there’s tons of great stuff on MY shelves, waiting to be rediscovered and finally read and used…I really don’t need to buy much or even anything new this year I bet, if I just go through all the tons of stuff collecting dust on my shelves already! That’s not even counting the curriculum I got and never used!

So what I’m going to do…and you’re welcome to join me…

STEP ONE: Go through all existing shelves and boxes and purge stuff that is too young and outdated or that I no longer want…narrow it down to just the good stuff, age appropriate.

STEP TWO: Organize everything in a way that makes sense…topic-wise, age-wise, etc…grouping things together to see if I get any new ideas on how to use things…

STEP THREE: Make a plan to use my newly organized books/materials in the new school year. Supplement with library and online materials where necessary, but really focus on USING what’s on my shelves!

I don’t have to get through it all in a year…it will most likely be far too much.

But after organizing, I may have a better idea for some sort of stretched out plan over a number of years…and make a DOABLE plan that can regularly utilize what I already have!

And plan to go through everything every summer and reorganize and replan, depending on how things are going…

I’m horrible at follow through. So I will need the revisit. I will put it into my annual Purge and Clean, or I will forget. And a reminder on my Google calendar now.

Heck, monthly reminders on the calendar to remember to follow the plan, look at the books, aren’t a bad idea…to keep the idea in my head, since it’s common for me to come up with a great idea like this and promptly forget it!!! Heading to my calendar now…DONE!

So what do your book shelves look like? Do you have a lot of unused/unopened books too? Want to join my book challenge?

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Experience-based learning

My new “Experience-based Learning” system

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POST NOTE: Since writing this article, and all the interest it has generated, I created a Facebook group for us to discuss and share ideas on this new idea. Come join us!: Homeschooling with Experience-Based Learning!
Also, click here to see all the posts on this website with the EBL category or here to see all the posts with the EBL tag. (Category for a post that is a topic entirely dedicated to EBL, tag for a post that is related to EBL but not the sole topic of the post.)

Experience-based learning

We’ve made it through the first month of my new homeschool system, and things are still going well!! So I thought it was probably time for me to detail it more, since I’ve had so many people interested in learning more about it.

I go into a lot of the details of where this idea came from in the article linked above, so I won’t go too deeply into that in this post. But the biggest idea that you need to know from that article is that I created a system that is “Experience-based Learning” instead of “Subject-based Learning”.

It’s quite simple really:
IMG_2654.JPGInstead of basing my kids’ education on school subjects (social studies, math, science, language arts) … I base my kids’ learning on the EXPERIENCES I want them to have. To me, their experiences are far more important than the subjects they are studying.

For example, I want them to watch excellent education programming, read good books, create neat projects, etc etc…I want them to have these experiences FAR more than I want them to learn science, history, language arts, etc. Those subjects are WITHIN the experiences, because I still believe they are important, I just don’t base everything around them as they do in traditional education.

So I created a list of “stations” that cover all the high quality experiences I want my children to have:

  • Watch something (these are hand picked, quality learning videos and documentaries on any number of subjects)
  • Listen to something (carefully chosen books I read aloud, audiobooks, and educational podcasts)–I’ve added music from the time periods and parts of the world we are studying to this station now too!
  • Create something (lots of enriching and fun art, science and history projects)
  • Play something (educational and fun board and card games, and occasionally some online games as well)
  • Write something (small writing projects once a week, outside of the daily journaling I have them doing)
  • Read something (hand picked, high quality educational, mostly nonfiction, but some historical fiction as well, books on topics that currently interest them)
  • Math (We use Math Mammoth)*

*Math is the only curriculum we are currently using, and the only subject that is mostly separate. Although there are definitely times when math is involved in some of our activities, such as in the “Play” station, there’s a fair bit of math involved in the games we play.

At the same time, we are also focusing our studies at any given time on a certain time period in history…So, as much as possible, I try to tie our activities into whatever time period we are currently learning about.

Before we started this school year, I showed my kids the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History and asked them which time period they would like to start the new school year with. They decided on prehistoric times, so I try to find prehistoric videos, books, podcasts and projects as much as possible. (I’ve even found this stone age board game, and also this one…I just have to find the money.)

In this way, I guess we’re sort of doing a unit study on prehistory. 

Sticking with the time period (as much as possible) helps narrow down the options for the stations, and can be a lot of fun!

I also plan just random projects that are on topics that interest us as well. Mostly what catches my eye or my kids have expressed an interest in.

The classic baking soda and vinegar volcano…plus pop rocks!

For prehistoric times we are doing “create” projects about volcanoes and plate tectonics and cave paintings. For “read” and “watch” I’m finding books and videos about prehistoric times, volcanoes, plate tectonics, evolution, creation stories from around the world, and prehistoric life. For “listen” I read to them from some of the library books we’ve found at the library and I’ve even found some podcasts about prehistoric topics!


Back to the stations…
I let the kids decide when they want to do what stations, and then at the stations they have further choices of what specific activities they can do.

CHOICE has made such a difference to my kids learning experience.

There are a total of 7 possible stations, and I have them rotating through 5 daily. I decided which of the stations I wanted them to do every day (Reading and Math) and which I only needed them doing once, twice, etc, a week. Then I made a chart…one for the weeks we have our homeschool charter enrichment classes (“ERCLC weeks”), and one for the weeks we don’t:

ERCLC-week-Stations nonERCLC-Stations

 (Months Later Note: I’ve since pitched using these charts…I stopped requiring specific stations on specific days…I now let them pick whatever stations they want to do daily now, they just need to pick 5 per day, with only 2 requirements. I have uploaded new charts to the free printables page. I laminated them and they use a dry erase to keep themselves on track. I check them weekly and remind them to try to hit all the stations at some point during the week.)

Now, what do the stations LOOK like??

Nothing too fancy or formal. It’s really just an area in my house that I use to store the supplies, so the kids know where to look for their options:

IMG_2672.JPGThe “Play” station is typically the station we start our school day with. For obvious reasons, it’s the most fun! Great way to get our day started, and we all usually play a game together, forcing me to get myself involved in playing with the kids…which is one of my main reasons for making this a station.

The Lorax card game!

I think games are a fabulous way to learn, but also a fabulous way to bond and make memories. And since I seem to not be prone to wanting to play games….but yet I WANT to want to play games…I just made it a regular part of our day and it’s finally happening!

I try to have primarily educational games at this station, but there are many just regular card (Uno) and board (Clue) games that are fun and still have their own element of education to them without being overtly teaching games. I provide a variety of options so the kids get to go with what they are drawn to on any given day.

We LOVE mancala!

This also gives those games that have been sitting in the games closet for years a chance to see the light of day and actually get some use!

We are lucky because we have access to more games in our homeschool charter library…but I’m also thinking of putting out a call for sharing of games, to see what games are on other people’s shelves that they’d be ok with sharing, and we can share with them.

One round of a game fulfills the daily requirement for this station. That can be quick or last upwards of an hour or more! Depends on the game and our mood…we’ll keep going if that’s what they want to do!


IMG_2670.JPGThe “Create” station is often the second station that we do each day…if one or both of my kids didn’t start their own creative project already.

Fingerpainting is not just for little kids!

Post it notes make it easy to swap out the activity options each week. With 2 units/5 drawers in each of varying sizes, I can have a wide variety of options for the kids to choose from and not have to constantly be refilling the drawers.

I try to fit everything needed for each activity within one drawer. Occasionally I have to put big things (like a mixing bowl or a tray) next to the unit. I also print up an instruction sheet or write instructions on an index card, and put that on top so when they open the drawer the instructions are the first thing they see. If there’s something needed next to the unit, I will write on the sheet where to find it.

Melted bead art while listening to a science podcast
Melted bead art while listening to a science podcast

I don’t require them to do all activities within this station. If I’m unsuccessful at getting them to do a particular activity, after about 2 weeks or so I just break it down and save it to try another time. Not everything is successful and there are some projects one kid does and the other has no interest in. Since there’s unlimited opportunities for cool activities out there, I try not to stress over the unpopular projects.

However, if there’s one project that I really wanted to see done, I just do it myself! Usually they end up joining me…but really, if it’s something *I* want to do, why shouldn’t *I* do it? LOL!

The funny thing is that often the kids just come up with their own creative projects…and I’m ok with that too! The point is that they are using the creative parts of their brain daily…if it’s something they pulled together themselves, that works!

But this station allows me to start to finally do some of the way cool Pinterest projects that I’ve found over the years and always meant to do. In fact, I use my Pinterest boards to organize my plans for this station!Screenshot_1


 IMG_2664.JPGThe “Watch” station can either be our main tv, or any of our computers. Often times they want to watch together on the big tv, and that’s fine. Sometimes one wants to watch alone on my laptop, and that works too.

Watching an educational program on prehistoric NYC
Watching an educational program on prehistoric NYC

I have bookmarked a bunch of relevant videos for them on my Symbaloo account…here’s the Prehistory Webmix I created. As we move into new topics, I will create new webmixes, to enable me to make it easy for them to find videos on the time period and topics we are currently learning about.

I use Symbaloo because I have videos on various sites (like Amazon and Netflix), so it’s easiest to just put all the bookmarks to everything in one place…But I also use YouTube playlists to group together the shorter YouTube videos, then link that playlist on the Symbaloo webmix, keeping everything all together in one place still.

Typically I tell them that one Symbaloo link is the equivalent of one day’s watching. The exceptions are when I link to a series of an educational program, with multiple episodes. For those, I tell them just to watch one episode. So their viewing would be 30-60 minutes usually. Occasionally there is a longer movie.


IMG_2667.JPGThe “Listen” station is a little trickier, because my kids aren’t fond of audiobooks or podcasts, so far. And often the things I have for them as options are on my iPhone. So when we are listening to something on my phone together, I just plug in the little portable speaker that is shown in the basket in the pic above.

I also give them the option to listen with earbuds, but usually neither of them are interested in that. More often than not, they prefer me to just read to them. This works great because they love listening to me and I love reading to them!

In the case of my reading to them, I head over to the “Read” station and pick a book from there! (Or ask them to pick one.) Lately I’ve been reading from the books of short stories, since they almost never read those to themselves.

Eventually I’d like to try to get them to read to each other for this station…at least occasionally. That may take some convincing, though.


IMG_2668.JPGThe “Read” station is one of those face-out book shelves you see at preschools (got mine from the preschool I used to work at), with some extra baskets. Face out works GREAT to draw attention to books!!

Reading a book on evolution
Reading a book on evolution

This one is a favorite of mine because I’m a serious bookworm, and trying to encourage bookworminess in my children. 🙂  Usually it’s packed with library books which are a combination of books I chose and books they chose.

Most prevalent are nonfiction picture books, since I am absolutely obsessed with high quality nonfiction picture books right now! We really enjoy reading these because they usually have great artwork and are short and easily read in 1 or 2 sittings.

Reading Magic School Bus book "Inside the Earth"
Reading Magic School Bus book “Inside the Earth”

But I also try to find historical fiction and anthologies of shorter stories on related topics where possible. There’s also often some of those great encyclopedia type books like Usborne and DK are so known for.

In addition to library books, this station allows me to also dig through our own shelves to find relevant reads whenever I can. Dust off those long forgotten titles that I bought at book sales long ago and never got around to reading!

I require my kids to read for at least 20min or one book to fulfill this station. (They usually read much longer than this, as the books draw them in!)




IMG_2665.JPGThe “Write” station is a hanging pocket thing that I’ve had for years and only just finally found a use for! Got it at a teacher supply store.  I find ideas on Pinterest and from writing prompt books and print up/copy pages and insert into the pockets.

They only have a formal writing assignment on Fridays, and the choices are many, as you can see. Each copied page probably has about 4-5 ideas on it. They only need pick one.



IMG_2666.JPGThe Math station is just their clipboard with their Math Mammoth worktext packet for the week. I keep these in wooden magazine boxes on our art table. The kids know to go and grab their clipboards when they are ready to get math done. I also keep their notebooks that serve as their journals in here, (for journaling about the assignments and activities they did for the day…getting them more used to writing regularly,) as well as their clipboards with their checklists and various other notebooks and folders.

Math is just one page (front and back) per day.


So that’s the gist of how our new system works! So far the kids and I are really enjoying it! It doesn’t take a lot of work on my part to get things set up every day, just occasional rebooting of activity areas…I do prep work every other weekend or so. I prepare a chunk of stuff at once, so that I don’t have to do a lot of prep work weekly. It works quite well!

I’ll detail my prep work and planning process in more detail in the next post, this one got super long!

For now, here’s some more pics of our new system in action!!

In addition to what we do at home, we also have enrichment classes we take weekly and field trips and play dates too, of course!

There’s a whole lotta fun learnin’ happenin’ over here with the Smith’s!  🙂

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What a cool idea!

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So I never did finish blogging about my summer purge…but I did keep doing it! I’ll see if I can find time to post more pics when I get a chance…but right now I’m working on prep for the new school year and researching the work box system. Found this neat video that shows a really creative way to use a dish rack! LOVE IT!!!

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Get ready, get set…

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Spent a lot of time recently researching ideas for making homeschooling fun, since it was a topic we decided to discuss in the latest episode of our Savvy Homeschool Moms podcast…which has got me thinking a lot on this topic of “fun” in homeschooling.


It’s always been my intention to homeschool in a fun way. I just have lost sight of that in recent months as I continue to try to find a routine that will work for both myself and my quirks, my kids and their quirks, and the requirements of our homeschool charter.


I am feeling frequently overwhelmed by all that I need to do. In my home, with my businesses, with my kids, with my husband…and when I’m overwhelmed I do one one of 2 things: I shut down or I put the pedal to the metal and dive in. I tend to vacillate between the 2, causing many starts and stops. Such is my life. Sigh.


I don’t know that I’ll ever be good at this…this life stuff…lol! But really, is anyone? I guess the important part is that I keep trying and never truly give up.


So I’m determined to make the coming school year more fun for my kids. And in order to be able to do that I need to get better organized to enable me to keep sight of my goals. I’ve found some great resources for that. I will post them as I try them out, in case any of you might benefit from them as well.


First thing I’m going to attack today…with the long-term goal of making homeschooling more fun, starting with getting organized so I can focus more on planning fun…is our school/art area. I’m feeling inspired to attack it today. I may even take before and after pictures. If I’m feeling brave (only if I get somewhere in there), I may even post them! 🙂

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