Homeschool Organization: Books and Supplies

Listen: if you showed up at my house right now asking for help with homeschool organization, I’d probably close the door and chat with you on my front porch.

I have four kids; one has diagnosed ADHD, but more than half of us would probably qualify for a formal diagnosis. I feel like I’m cleaning all the time, but every time I turn around there’s a new trail of things dragged and left through the house: right now, it’s dress up clothes, craft supplies, and a few plates of orange slices.

Clearly, (1) organization does not come naturally to me and (2) I really believe homeschool organization is important for a successful school day.

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A desk drawer of organized school supplies

It is likely that I am never going to wake up to a clean house (despite vast improvement I credit to following A Slob Comes Clean for the last decade!). But I have found fewer roadblocks in my way at school time allows us to succeed in our plans more often.

Executive Functioning Struggles

If you, like me, struggle with home maintenance and executive functioning, it’s likely you’ve also experienced this scenario: it’s time to start on dinner, but when you go to begin cooking, you find the counters have dishes on them. You can’t clear the counters till you wash the dishes in the sink. You can’t take care of the dishes in the sink until you’ve unloaded the dishwasher. And if your cupboards are cluttered inside, unloading the dishwasher may also feel overwhelming. If you make it through those steps and go to pull out the meat, only to discover that you forgot to defrost it–then you might as well forget it, right? Pizza night, anyone?

I’m worn out just considering it! 

Requiring too many steps of yourself at school time leads to the same feelings of overwhelm.

Executive Functioning Affects Homeschooling, Too.

Maybe you’ve experienced it during the school day, too. You start table time and make it through your family Scripture reading. Then you want to do your hymn together, only you can’t find the speaker. Once you move everyone over to the computer and listen to the hymn, you return to the table to read your nature reader–but you forgot you finished the nature reader last week. It’s time to start the second one on your list. Your bookcases are in the other room, so you send the kids outside to the trampoline while you find the book. Once you find the book, you bring it outside and read the chapter. Next, it’s time to transition back into handwriting practice, but your kids took the short golf-sized pencils outside with them, so you’re scrambling to find new ones… 

You get the picture, right?

If you haven’t been there before, then this post isn’t for you–but we sure would love for you master organizers to come share your wisdom in our Facebook group.

A pile of notebooks and homeschool supplies sit on a desk.

For the rest of us, for whom organizing doesn’t come naturally, this type of disruption to our flow can really throw off our day. In fact, I’m tired just reading the list!

What does organization mean?

You don’t need to ensure sure your shelves are pristine, that your nature display is perfect, or that you have a plan for each minute of your day. Instead, when you think about homeschool organization, think about the big picture and make things easy, even when the rest of your life and even house are a bit chaotic and messy.

Big Picture Thinking

Many people who struggle with ADHD or executive functioning issues actually do quite well with big picture thinking. If you identify with this, then lean into big picture thinking as a strength! 

Each summer, I try to look at the whole school year at once. I gather every single book (and if something isn’t in the budget yet, I have one “to buy” list organized by term) and I put the books in one place. Last year, I placed colored dots on the books to indicate who was reading them (yellow for my son, pink for my daughter and green for family read-alouds). This year, I’ve added a third student, and instead of dots each child has a tub for books they aren’t yet reading and a smaller magazine file for books in progress. 

To achieving functional homeschool organization, look at the whole year at once–or at least as much of the year as you can manage. I recognize that each time I have to stop and plan and sort, we will likely need a week or so off of school.

Looking at the year as a whole can feel daunting, but it will allow you to more easily “do the next thing” as the year progresses.

Do you need help with planning your year? Our Homeschool Refresh Workbook is a great place to start! We hold your hand through big picture planning and weed through some of these nitty gritty details, too!

Make It Easy

We use a literature-based approach in our homeschool (I’ve loosely followed A Gentle Feast for the last five years), so we have So. Many. Books. Organizing what books come next is most important for our homeschool organization success.

When I worked as a homeschool coach, I saw some families dedicate a small bookcase or cupboard to their supplies. Others used something like a locker (sometimes literal lockers) for each child. Students who didn’t use many books had success keeping their supplies in a single crate or backpack.

A desk full of art and organized homeschool supplies. It is messy but sorted.

I have every single math manipulative we will use this year in one space–no hunting for the clock manipulative when it’s needed in March, because I’ve already found it and added it to our supplies. Our art supplies, including those we use for our Art Cards and Notebooks of Centuries, are right by the table where we do school. My son’s math notebook is stored by the computer he uses for math. 

If you use a traditional worksheet or textbook curriculum, Kristy Clover has an awesome course on homeschool organization that streamlines paperwork.

The key is, in advance, to eliminate every possible roadblock. When it’s time to do your school activities–whatever that means in your home–there should be no searching, no hunting, no hoping you have the supplies needed, at least most of the time. When you can automate the tasks and the preparation, you can think about the parts of your schedule that do change and adapt without struggle.