Tips from a Professional Organizer on Using "The Family School" Curriculum
People have asked me how I've streamlined and organized our experience using LDS-based Family School Curriculum. Here are some ways I simplify, organize, and save money using this curriculum. And some other ways to organize and simplify your life as a home school mom.
Mom and children use one 3" binder each, not six 1" binders. For me, I don't use those six cute binders they sent, although I'll use them to store the used lesson plans when each shipment of plans arrives. A 3" binder seems just right for mine. For now, a 3" one is too big for the kids, but maybe they'll be filled by the end of the year. We've had fun decorating the tab page for each subject.
We placed tabs in the binder for the six subjects: history, geography, science, literature, music, art. Our tabs are the self-stick kind that we placed on the edge of a page protector with card stock in it. These pages are decorated as title pages for each subject. For the subtitle pages within certain subjects, we just used paper rather than card stock in the page protectors. I think it would be just as effective to use colored paper as subtitle pages, saving money on plastic page protectors. The reason we didn't use regular tab dividers is because they don't stick out far enough past the plastic protectors to be seen.
3) Schedule, job charts, memorizing page at the front.
We also placed a tab at the front for the schedule. This is a conducting agenda, and charts that shows which days they conduct school and do other chores like dishes, cooking dinner, and chores that rotates weekly. We also put a one-page chart of the year’s family school schedule in here.
Another tab at the front is labeled "memorize." This is where we write down something we're memorizing as part of our morning school. Our youth group has us memorize something every two weeks (a scripture then a poem or quote) so I've used the same ones for my younger children. Sometimes we'll add something of our own. We could have written in our new continent song that we learned in Family School here! So far we've memorized:
Ezra Taft Benson: "When you choose to follow Christ you choose to be changed..."
A song to memorize the Twelve Apostles (our children's primary teachers taught them this, and then they taught me!)
The Star Spangled Banner
2 Nephi 2:27
At the back of my binder I keep a stock of extra lined paper, printer paper, and page protectors. My Mom binder has two more tabs at the front for "intro" and "how to" pages.
4) Here is our schedule for morning school:
Devotional: songs, family prayer, pledge of allegiance, announcements of today's plan, memorization (review what we've memorized before and work on something new). We start something new every two weeks, alternating a scripture and a quote or poem. We are part of a Vanguard youth group, which has us memorize these, so we just use the same ones as the Vanguard youth use. Devotional takes 15 minutes or so. I’ve noticed when there’s a lot of contention, we often need to sing a handful of hymns or primary songs to invite the Spirit back into our home.
Personal scriptures: I set a timer for 15 minutes and everyone finds a quiet, comfy place to study and write in their scripture journal. It’s a vibrating timer on my watch, so if everyone is really “into” their scripture reading, I extend the time accordingly. If I had younger pre-readers, I’d use this time to read together scriptures or children’s picture scripture books in a room separate from the older kids. (We do family scriptures at bedtime.)
Family School lesson: it takes around 90 minutes for us.
Read aloud: while the kids are making and eating lunch I read to them...I want to get more consistent with this part.
5) Miracle Music.
To help us simplify morning chores and be ready for school on time, we use Miracle Music, which is awesome! It's a CD of peppy, upbeat music put to different chores. It takes about 45 minutes and it walks the whole family from waking up to being 100% ready for the day, including dressed, hair, breakfast, rinsing your dish, a daily chore, and so on. It's great! We replay a couple of the songs so we have more time for chores and breakfast. I wanted my kids to get fuller at breakfast so they're not getting up and snacking during our morning school. http://chorestomusic.com/ We use it mostly as directed, but changed a couple of the songs to meet our family's chores better. If you want specifics on this, feel free to email me.
6) Afternoon schedule.
After our morning school we have a loose structure that looks something like this:
11-12 Lunch break (Make food, eat, dishes, recess/free time. This gives me time to quickly check email, process the mail, rotate a batch of laundry, return a phone call -- we don't answer the phone during morning school.)
12-4-ish Personal study: math (my kids use Teaching Textbooks on computer), language arts (my kids use Switched on Schoolhouse on computer), reading whatever book they're into, and time for personal learning interests. I do a lot of personal study with the youth group I'm helping to teach, and I do my best to protect afternoons for study time.
4-6 Free time to play with friends or whatever.
5 Cook dinner (We're doing "cooking lessons" where one child cooks each day, getting mom's help if necessary, or doing it on their own if they can.)
6 Eat dinner, then do dishes according to our chore chart.
After dinner I want to get better at using the Miracle Music evening routine, which takes us through the chores of efficiently getting ready for bed.
At bedtime we do family scripture study, and when we get ready on time, we have Daddy read-aloud time, which is another thing we want to improve! This is a tricky time of year, with soccer several nights a week. I'm hoping evenings will soon calm down a little!
7) Home School Bins.
We created school bins for each child and Mom. They are a plastic Rubbermaid bin (without lid) about 11 L x 16 W x 6 H". In there we have our school binder, a pencil box with necessary supplies (like pencils, pens, colored pencils, stick glue, sharpener), scriptures, journal, whatever book they're currently reading, and a spiral notebook for their afternoon personal studies. This is what each person brings to the table in the morning. We've learned that we do better when the bins are placed on a chair next to each child, so it gives everyone some elbow room, and keeps the table free to work on. We also want the kids to bring a water bottle to school (anything to help us stay put!) :) Here is a child's bin and my bin.
8) It's okay to skip a day.
Trying to stay with the Family School recommended schedule was stressing me out, but I didn't want to let go of it either. Here's my solution: we still plan to do the lessons 4 days a week (besides the one day we're gone at Vanguard). However on the days where a field trip or a service or other important thing seems worth it, we skip a day of morning school. Recently my oldest daughter had her first doctor appt. with her first pregnancy, and I discovered her husband couldn't be there for that magical moment of hearing the baby's heartbeat for the first time. I was stressed out because I wanted to be part of my daughter's special event, but I didn't want to skip a full day of home school. Then I realized how ridiculous that was, and decided that I'd rather finish the school year later, or do school over UEA break, or whatever, than to skip these special opportunities along the way.
9) Simplifying prep time.
Prep time for Family School was frustrating to me. So now I try to print out a whole week of handouts on the weekend if I can. This morning I tried putting my binder on the bathroom counter and read through the lesson while I blow dried my hair. That worked out well. I love multi-tasking!
10) Recess or no recess?
I gave my kids the choice of whether they want a recess in the middle of Family School, but they and I would rather get it done so we go straight through. (I don't have any really young ones though.) Maybe my kiddos would have better endurance for the longer lessons if we did take a recess in the middle. Hmmm....
11) Simplifying handouts.
For giving out handouts for each lesson, when I gave loose papers sometimes it was a distracting mess, and kids were distracted from the lesson by trying to insert the papers into their big binders. Recently I switched to stapling the packet of handouts together for each person, with a blank lined page on top of the stack. That way we can write our notes and principles on the blank page, read through the stories or work the worksheets, all with a tidy table. At the end of the lesson we put the packet in the binder.
We invested in an inexpensive, tall, thin bookcase for our kitchen. Each person has a shelf on it, which holds their home school bin and such. On the bottom shelf I have a bin that holds hymn books and a primary song book that we sometimes use for our devotional songs. Another bin holds dictionaries and thesauruses. In kitchen drawers we keep little thin plastic bins that hold markers, crayons, those little magnifying glass things we use in science, watercolors, and other school supplies. Having everything really close to the place we do school (the kitchen table) makes it really handy. On the top of the bookcase, we keep a flag and a globe.
I don't always use every single part of the Family School lessons, although usually I do. If my kids were younger, I’d probably try to cut the lessons to 30 minutes so the kids don’t get restless. If I had preschoolers or kindergartners, I’d place certain toy or manipulative bins on the school bookcase, and only allow those to be played with during morning school time, to encourage them to play close by and absorb some of the lessons while they play. I do my best to make it fun and keep it going, but I also try to stop for the great questions and discussions the kids have along the way. Here is a post on Family School's blog about adapting lessons for younger children:
We framed a pretty world map (the antique looking kind) and hung it on the kitchen wall. Sometimes we put a sticky note to signify what area we’re studying about. We’re also starting to mark the map with areas where our missionary family and friends are serving.
15) Dry erase board.
We keep a dry erase board hiding next to a nearby sofa, and pull it out for Family School lessons. We prop ours on the kitchen counter during use.
16) Multi-tasking list.
This might seem unrelated to home school, but it's helped me manage my time better as a home school mom. I wrote up a list of multi-tasking tasks I can do when someone calls me and needs to talk (unless it's during morning school then I let voice mail get it), or if a child wants to tell me a long version of what they're reading, or wants to ask a bunch of questions or discuss stuff. Questions and discussion are important aspects of learning, so rather than letting myself feel frustrated by this, I say "Can you come with me and tell me about it?" Then I go rotate a batch of laundry, fold some towels, clean a toilet, wash a window, clean out the van, etc. This list has helped me feel happier about having those longer conversations that my loved ones need, and still feel like I'm being productive in other ways too.
17) Earn-back box.
Here’s another thing that may seem unrelated to home school. But it helps us keep a tidy home, which invites the Spirit, helps mom be happy, and thus have a better home school! :) I have a bin (the same 11 x 16" size) that has a label "earn back box." Some days when we're finishing up with morning chores or night chores and I still see a lot of mess around the house, I'll call out, "In three minutes I'm taking away everything I see and you'll have to earn it back with a chore!" Other times that would be helpful to use this would be before lunch or dinner, or before heading out to play in the afternoon. I don't use it everyday. It works awesome!
18) Index card to-do list.
This is another thing that helps me manage time better. I use a 4x6" index card each week as a master to-do list for the week (I write small). I draw several columns on it, and label each column as needed, like: Calls, Desk to-do's, Errands, Discuss with Family Members, My Study, Goals and Habits I'm working on, etc. I often want a daily list too, so I use a 3 inch sticky note stuck to my weekly list. It's a simple system but it's working well for me. I punch holes in it once the week is over so I can store it in my planner as personal history.
I've been coaching our youth group through an exercise of using an index card to list their studies each week, and pace themselves by placing check boxes for placing assignments on different study days during the week. Here is my blog page for our Vanguard Youth group. I am one of four teachers and we meet weekly, so this is an example of what our group would study for one week. Then we meet to discuss and share what we've learned.
19) Weekly planning time, alone and with family.
Once a week I invest time into planning my week. We also have a weekly planning session as part of our Family Home Evening on Sundays, where we write the family's plans on a kitchen calendar and make arrangements as necessary like babysitting, car pooling, etc. Once a week (Saturday ideally) I do my best to clear off my desk paper pile and clean out my email inbox. This is incredibly freeing to get “caught up” on a regular basis. If I have a bunch of unread, unnecessary emails like yahoo home school groups or such, I do my best to either quickly scan and then de-junk them or just de-junk them. I have already invested time to get off of, or automatically de-junk any emails I don't want to receive in the first place. I also cleaned out my facebook notifications. I still have the same "friends" but I requested not to receive notifications when most of my "friends" post stuff. I am way too busy to care when someone posted that they're off to do another load of laundry.
20) Delegate quick errands.
I have started delegating small errands to my nice husband, who does a lot of driving around for his work. It's not a big deal for him to stop quickly and pick up something, but it's a lot bigger deal for me to take a bunch of kids (which always takes longer) and interrupt a precious school day. Protecting our study days at home is the name of the game for me.
21) Save money using Electronic Family School.
My friend has been using The Family School using only her ipad. She prints no handouts. Instead she gave each child a spiral notebook and they write their stuff in there. For the literature lesson using a fairy tale graph, she thought it would be a good lesson to teach her kids how to draw a graph, so they drew their own. This option would save a lot of paper and ink. It is $105 less money than the paper version, and you still get all six subjects: history, geography, science, literature, art, music. You'd still want to find age-appropriate curriculum for math and language arts, as those two subjects aren't suited for a one-room-schoolhouse approach.
To save money on the geography flash cards, I loved the idea someone else posted who printed them on card stock in black and white, and then colored them. This would be a fun activity for kids to do as a parent reads aloud.
22) Invite another family over.
I heard the two main curriculum writers speak at an LDS home school conference in August. They shared how they use Family School as a co-op, where the moms splitting up which subjects they teach. Although I’m not using it as a co-op, we have had a couple families join us who wanted some mentoring on how Family School is working for us. This was a lot of fun! If you know another mom using Family School, even getting together for a lesson once in a while spices things up.
23) Ask a few review questions at the beginning of each lesson.
I've decided I want to start a new habit. At the end of each Family School lesson, I want to jot down a few questions I can ask the kids at the beginning of the next lesson in that subject. That way even if it's two weeks before we study that subject again I can help us remember the main things we've learned with questions like:
"What does blue and yellow make?"
"What is an invertebrate?"
"What are some ways pride showed up in the Snow White story? How about in our own lives?"
"Let's sing the continent song a few times and point to each continent as we sing it."
"When we talked about literature archetypes, do you remember who the hero that saves the people represents?"
"Who composed The Messiah, and how did you feel when we listened to it?"
"Does anyone remember what a crustacean is?"
I hope that helps! If you have any questions, please let me know!