Do papers, books, scissors, and glue litter your dining room table? How often have you
searched in vain for a needed article—only to find it in a pile of papers three months later?
When you return from answering the phone, does your son tell you, “I went out to play
because I didn’t know what to do next?”

While homeschooling our five sons, we encountered all of these challenges (and more!). As
a former public school teacher, I had struggled at first with being too rigid in our schedules
and routines. Gradually, we became so casual that we developed sloppy habits. It became
apparent that we needed to approach our homeschool in a more professional manner,
without losing the spontaneity so precious to home education.

We discovered that homeschooling is much like operating a small business. Establishing a
suitable workplace, organizing paperwork, and assigning jobs efficiently are essential to the
success of both.

Setting Up a Classroom

Through the years we’ve had school in a variety of locations: in a spare bedroom, around
the dining room table, in a camper trailer, and from the living room couch during a difficult
pregnancy. Each location worked, but as our family grew and we acquired more materials,
we felt the need to establish a permanent schoolroom.

We selected a room in our unfinished basement for our classroom. Since six separate desks
would have monopolized the room, my husband installed pre-cut laminated countertop
along two walls. This desktop was supported by four legal-size, two-drawer filing cabinets.
The laminated surface was ideal for art and science projects, and great for laying out my
sewing projects during after-school hours.

Each child was assigned one filing drawer for his school materials, and I used the remaining
drawers for my teaching files. Textbooks were placed at the front of each drawer, along
with a lunch box for markers, scissors, and small supplies. A jar held the child’s pencils
within easy reach. Hanging file folders in the drawers held school papers, coloring books,
artwork, and flat memorabilia. An added benefit: the boys learned how to use a simple filing

Each boy had a bulletin board hung on the wall by his “desk” to display his work and to
post reminders, memory verses, etc. When we did group activities, the boys could easily
turn their chairs toward me. Until all of the boys were tall enough to sit well in full-size
chairs, we used some small school desks along one wall. The pre-school age children could
play quietly (sometimes!) on the floor while the older boys worked. A floor-to-ceiling
bookshelf stood on the opposite wall and a time line raced along the ceiling. Hand-me-down
carpet covered the floor and a U.S. flag disguised the entrance to the crawl space under the

As my class got smaller (my how fast they do grow!), we eventually abandoned the
schoolroom and began using the living room for our “together times.” The boys took turns
sitting on either side of me as we snuggled under an afghan in the big recliner while I read
aloud. The former classroom was useful for other projects and eventually became a “dorm”
for our college-aged sons when they spent the weekend at home.

You may not have a room to devote to school alone, but ask God to give you creative and
resourceful ideas for maximizing the space you do have in your home for teaching. If you
use a kitchen table, give each child a box in which to store his materials so you don’t have
school materials out all of the time. Everyone needs a break from school to just be a family.

Organizing Paperwork

Over the years I’ve collected lots of magazine articles, pictures, and other teaching
materials. My files were chaotic until I started filing by school subjects. I have several files
in each subject area, for example, Science—Meteorology, Science—Zoology, and Science—
Human Body. History files are in chronological order, for example, History—Greeks and
Romans or History—U.S. Colonial. Other file headings include Holidays—Fall; Language
Arts—Spelling; Music—Composers; Homeschooling—Catalogs; and Homeschooling—
Legal Issues. When first starting, you may not need such detailed file names, but it is
helpful to have a plan for expanding when you need to. Start with just a subject heading,
such as Music; then detail it as needed.

Get the best quality filing cabinets you can afford. Drawers are heavy when full; suspension
rollers save you lots of aggravation and are easier for students to handle. Legal-size drawers
are nice. You have a few extra inches along the sides for extra-long items, notebooks, or
flashcards. If hanging files are not built into the drawers, purchase a metal frame set.
Hanging files hold more than traditional manila folders, they don’t slide down in the drawer,
and they glide easily along on the side rails, making filing a pleasure—almost! If you are
schooling in the family room, a nice filing cabinet could hold all of your textbooks and
teaching materials when you finish for the day.

It doesn’t take any longer to file an item immediately than to file it later. You’ll save time by
not having to guess how many inches down in the “To Be Filed” box you might find a
missing resource. Self-discipline pays for teachers as well as students. Trust me on this.
Periodically, leaf through your files. Not only will you find items to dispose of, but also you’
ll find resources you forgot that you had. These newly found treasures will spark creative
ideas for future units.

Use index cards for short ideas, quotations, games, field trip ideas, etc. Use a small recipe
box for these cards. One card may list items loaned to others. Another may list locations of
seldom-used materials. This card saves much searching. Use it for household items, as well
as school stuff.

Assigning Individual Work

If I had tried to teach seven different subjects to each of my five boys individually, I would
have had thirty-five lessons to prepare each day. Since my name isn’t Supermom, I had to
come up with a better way of covering the material.  I didn’t want to lock them into
workbooks all day, so we did much of our Bible, science, history, music, literature, and art
together as a class, sometimes as unit studies. The sequential subjects (reading, math, and
spelling) were taught individually.

Each week I wrote assignments in each boy’s stenographer’s notebook, a 5” x 7” tablet
with spiral wire at the top, available at office supply stores. The page was headed with
Monday’s date; assignments and reminders for the week were listed below. Sometimes I
would slip in a surprise such as “Give Mom a kiss” or “Make popcorn for everyone on
Wednesday at 2:00.” Reminders to work on memory verses, practice piano lessons, etc.,
were also included. The younger children needed day-by-day assignments. I could write
weekly assignments for the older boys, allowing them to learn to plan how they would use
their time.

The boys checked off assignments as they were completed. When I had an individual
conference with each boy, it was easy to spot his progress. He could note any questions
about his work in the notebook, also. If I was called away from the schoolroom, the boys
knew what to work on until I returned. At the end of the school year, I filed the used
assignment books with samples of the boys’ work.

Homeschooling, especially with a “quiverful” of students, can be complicated. Using the
sound business principles of establishing an optimal work environment, organizing
paperwork, and assigning individual jobs efficiently can help your school to run more
smoothly. If you approach your tasks with prayer and imagination, you will find the
organization tools that will most benefit your family. Blessings!

© 2001 by Marcia K. Washburn. For permission to reprint this article, please write to
The Business of Homeschooling
Setting Up a Classroom •  Organizing Paperwork  
Assigning Individual Work
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"By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established."   Proverbs 24:3 (NIV)