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From Chaos To Calm: Getting Organized For Homeschooling

One of the biggest challenges for a new homeschooling family is learning to live and work with each other, day in and day out. Rather than trying to imitate a school’s structure, I think it’s important for families to find a schedule and organizational structure that works for them. Some parents like to-do lists and detailed schedules; others prefer a more laid-back approach. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I like the Moore’s approach of breaking up the day into short periods of academic learning, followed by longer periods of manual work and service. I find this flexible formula a sensible approach to maintaining a balanced life.

Speaking of staying balanced—managing homes and meals is one of the challenges most homeschooling parents face. I know that an organized home is a happy one, yet getting there isn’t always easy. Over the years, I’ve learned tips on organization from many seasoned parents. Read on to learn a few of their secrets.

Home Organization

Having kids home all day, every day, means more fun, more memories, and more messes. I’ve learned to relax and accept some chaos as a part of family life, but my tolerance has its limits. Below are a few ideas for keeping the dust bunnies and laundry monsters at bay:

  • Institute the ten-minute tidy. Every evening before dinner, everyone runs around, putting away shoes, books, and toys. The kids are hungry, so they’re motivated to hurry and do a good job. If you go to bed with a (relatively) clean house, the next day seems so much easier.
  • Get organized. Use labeled bins, boxes, and shelves for storing everything. When everything has a place, kids are much more likely to help clean up and keep things cleaned up. There’s also a certain amount of accountability when everyone knows where things should go.
  • Use rolling bins for storing homeschooling supplies. Give each child a drawer for individual materials and label a few drawers for community supplies, such as markers, staplers, and paper clips.
  • Keep up with laundry. I do four loads of laundry twice a week for my family. I start the laundry early in the morning, and I’m done by noon. If you have a large family, you may have to do two or three loads every day. By age four, kids can put folded clothes away. By age eight, kids can fold clothing. By age twelve, kids can do laundry from start to finish, including ironing. Use wooden clothespins to keep socks together or throw them in zippered lingerie bags before laundering.
  • Train kids to do specific jobs. This tip may seem obvious, but we often expect kids to know how to load a dishwasher or clean a toilet with little instruction. Show your kids how to do each task, breaking the task down into steps. Make up laminated cards that show the steps so your kids can review. Once kids have been trained, they’re more likely to do a good job.

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Meal Planning

As a homeschooling parent, meals are likely a bigger part of your life than they would be if your children were schooled. No cold cereal and toast as you dash out the door to catch the bus; no hot lunches at school, either. As homeschoolers, you get to enjoy three square meals at home every day.

Trying to prepare meals, manage a household, and keep up with homeschooling can be taxing, but a few organizational strategies can help you make simple, memorable meals. Read on to learn a few cooking tips from veteran homeschoolers:

  • Decide the night before what you’ll make for dinner the next day. I plan two week’s worth of meals at a time and keep a list posted on the fridge. I choose a meal from the list and defrost the meat, put beans to soak, whip up a salad dressing, or start a salad the night before. This takes ten minutes, but it saves me a lot of time later.
  • Freeze meals or, better yet, meal starters. For a while, I tried freezing meals, a technique many of my friends still use. I had limited freezer space, though, and a whole meal takes up a lot of room. Another problem I found was that many foods don’t freeze very well. Pasta dishes were sometimes dry or soggy; anything with eggs gets watery. Then I found a new technique that’s made mealtimes a lot easier—frozen meal starters. I buy meat in bulk and cook it the same day I buy it. I add onions, peppers, garlic, and seasonings. Then I divide the meat into one- or two-cup portions and place the portions in quart-size freezer bags. I lay the bags flat in the freezer, one on top of the other. They take up almost no room and they defrost quickly at room temperature. With these meal starters, I simply add a few vegetables or pasta and I have a meal in minutes. From frozen hamburger, onions, pepper, and garlic, I can make minestrone, sloppy joes, tamale pie, chili, or spaghetti. From frozen, seasoned chicken, I make soups, chicken enchiladas, chicken wraps, chicken salads, or chicken pasta dishes.
  • Make double batches of breakfast foods. Anytime you make pancakes, muffins, waffles, or breakfast burritos, double the batch and freeze the leftovers. A few minutes in the microwave or toaster, and breakfast is ready.
  • Soak oatmeal for a few minutes. I place old-fashioned oats and water in a saucepan before I jump in the shower in the morning. The oatmeal absorbs some of the water and reduces cooking time by about half.
  • Keep lunches and snacks simple. Leftovers, sandwiches, or soup are satisfying yet quick.
  • Enlist kids. One of the great things about homeschooling is that every aspect of life is educational. Young children can set the table or unload the silverware from the dishwasher. Older kids can open cans, mix up cookies, and wash vegetables. By the time your kids are teens, they can make full meals.

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