Store Lapbooks & Notebooks

We use notebook pages for almost every subject, (except Maths, only because we use Singapore maths workbooks.)

During the year the kids keep their notebook pages, lapbooks (we use duct tape to keep it in the file), art  & projects in their own narrow ring binder files.  I make dividers or cover pages for each subject.

As we progress during the year, we file the term’s or month’s notebook pages in a large arch lever file.

At the end of the year, I bind these into notebooks. Last year I bought a new office item – a binder!

I even bind the lapbooks into the spiral-bound notebooks.

But if there are a lot of lapbooks, I file them all in a folder.

How to store lapbooks (& other books) in a file folder:

(photos on the left side of the collage above)

  1. You need a 3-page cardboard folder, metal filing clips, a sharp craft knife, ring reinforce stickers, string, brad pins (split pins) and duct tape.
  2. Insert the metal clip through slits in the back of the cardboard file folder.
  3. Punch or slit the duct tape binding on the side of the lapbook (read here how we make the duct tape binding) to fit over the filing clip.  I made duct tape binding for the Book of Centuries and Maths workbooks.
  4. Insert the lapbooks and close the file clip.
  5. Fold the folder pages over to close the folder.
  6. Attach 2 cardboard circles to each folder side with a brad pin and secure behind with some tape.
  7. Measure off a short piece of string, tie to one of the cardboard circles on one side of the folder and wrap the string under the circle on the other side and back and forth to close.

    Closed with string and brad circles. Label on the spine.

  8. Label the spine of the folder.
  9. Store on the bookshelf for easy access.
  10. Easy-peasy!

How to store lapbooks in a spiral-bound notebook:

(see the photos on the right side of the collage above)

  1. Bind all the notebooks pages in the binder.
  2. Align the lapbook’s duct tape binding along the plastic spirals.
  3. Using a sharp craft knife, make a small slit in the duct tape binding about every 3 or 4 spirals, just wide enough for the plastic spiral to slide through.
  4. Ease the plastic spiral through all the slits and back into the spine of the spiral binding.

    Some of the spiral binding inserted through slits in the duct tape

  5. Now that the binding is closed, the lapbook is quite secure.
  6. All done!

These spiral notebooks, labelled and stored on the bookshelf, take up much less space than the arch lever files.

Better still, the kids love to take out their notebooks to browse through their past year’s creative work!

What practical tips do you have to store the previous year’s work?


Peep Into Our School Room

This post is part of the January SACH Carnival.

This month’s theme features ~

Where our family learns

Before we start a new school year, I spend a few days and de-clutter, pack away and re-stock the school shelves and rearrange the books for 2012.

Here’s a peep into our school room with some more of my organizational tips 1 and 2.  (I had fun on Picasa and created some collages of our old photos.)

The kids’ side ~

  1. Book shelves – for anyone who enters our school room, it is obvious this is where our learning happens, but we are flexible and do school work elsewhere when we need to, but we store everything  back here.
  2. Round table – 3 of us can sit around it and view the same book or white board and share the same box of markers or pencil crayons in the middle,  and I can squeeze in between who ever needs my help.
  3. Plastic table-cloth – a neat, pretty and practical solution – we wipe paint or glue off in a jiffy.
  4. Chair bags – all textbooks, files, minioffice, readers, etc. on hand so that each child stays in their seat.
  5. Individual pencil bags – each child has their own scissors, pens, pencils, ruler, glue and white board marker
  6. Stationary station – once a year I buy the largest sets of colouring pencils and big set of thin felt-tipped pens (markers), some glitter pens, stamps etc and put them each in their own boxes which tuck neatly into a larger box stored on the shelf.  We just pull out the box we need for the lesson and share the loot.
  7. Paper and card drawers – coloured paper and card, scrapbook papers etc. in plastic shelves for any project or activity.
  8. Clipboards – tucked in on the bookshelf – we grab these to go outside to do nature study or art activities elsewhere.
  9. Large white board – for my “teacher” moments for quick lessons, but it is used more often for a place to hang maps, timelines or pictures.
  10. Small white tiles – these are cheap (loose tiles I picked up after a renovation job), each with a dog-clip and sponge, the kids use these for individual spelling and maths drills and I write vocabulary in a word-bank for young narrators. (Note: not one tile has ever broken, but tiles chip or shatter if they fall.)
  11. Computer desk – I have saved for a new computer since my post here, and at last, we have a neat, new system!  Headphones and educational games in CD disk holder are really handy.
  12. Colour-coded books – thanks to Sonlight, we have their coloured stickers which help us keep readers and read alouds in their relevant groups.
  13. Nature study bags – we each have our own nature study bag with our own waterpaints, water bottle, nature study books and magnifier glass ready, hanging at the door.                                                                         
  14. Notebook files – each child has their own small file with dividers for each subject for current work.  They file completed notebook pages in a large file and bind their notes at the end of the year.
  15. World map and timeline chart – I love to use laminated maps and write and paste pictures, current events, places in our history books, journeys, etc

My side ~

  1. My desk – I’m territorial [smile] and I love my own place to work and plan, blog and pray.  I’ve just made a lovely new quilted mat for under my laptop.  I always feel good when the clutter is under control, so I try clear my desk every day week.
  2. Chair on wheels – I’m a mom on the move!  I whizz to the kids’ table and back to my desk and sit where ever I am needed.
  3. Laptop – I love my laptop!  Need I say anything more?
  4. Printer – is vital to our schooling.  The ink refill guy sees me at least once a month [smile].
  5. Notice board – a place to pin and keep my notes of things to do, calls to make, etc.
  6. Calendar – I print out a nice, large-boxed month calendar each year and keep records of school terms, visits, appointments, trips, farm information such as rainfall, cow’s lactation cycles (yes, really!) vegetable plantings, blog stats and carnival themes and dates etc. – it’s my quick reference.
  7. In/ Out trays – I bought these last year and it has kept the clutter off my desk, which I love.  I file all downloads and printouts on the bottom shelf weekly.
  8. Reference books – Right next to my desk, I can grab my favourite books easily.
  9. Planning files – I have large year files for each main curriculum on the shelf and a monthly file with everyone’s current work that generally lies on my desk.
  10. Laminator – It is one fairly expensive item I bought some years ago that I love and use!  I laminate important charts, pictures and cards that we use often.  Stuff lasts and lasts, and looks good years later!
  11. Binder – my newest office item!  I so wanted a ProClick binder, but Amazon does not post to my part of the world, so I bought a little binder and use this to create neat notebooks for some subjects and to bind the kids’ 2011 notebook pages.
  12. Paper guillotine – we all use this often!  (I bought mine when I was still a public school teacher)

It is lovely to have a dedicated school room, but when we travelled for 18 months some years ago, all that we really needed fitted into a small suitcase ~

  • an atlas
  • laminated world map that folds up
  • light plastic white board and markers
  • a pocket-sized dictionary and thesaurus
  • Bible, concordance
  • punched exam pads and notebook files
  • selected reference books
  • books for our main core studies
  • writing journals
  • maths unifix cubes in Ziploc bag

What works for you and your family and where do you and your family learn?


New Cover Pages

We use notebook files for all our schoolwork.

Each year I create fresh dividers for each subject.

Here are the latest cover pages for 2012 ~

I used a variety of fonts and clipart for each subject.

You are welcome to download these

and use them as is  ~ Cover Pages Variety pdf

or Word doc to make your own changes ~ Cover Pages Variety docx


Back to School Basics

Whether you are beginning school or just getting back into a new year or term, here are some basics that have helped us:


I do this at the end of the term, and a few days before school starts. The more prepared I am, the better my days flow.  There is nothing more stressful than starting off “on the back foot”!

  • prepare my files and notes
  • fill in my planning pages
  • organize all the books and downloads
  • photocopy notebook pages and lapbooks
  • rearrange the whiteboard and displays with new themes
  • clear out and re-stock stationary and art and  craft supplies
  • sort and purge/ pack away the books and educational games we no longer use

I like to prepare my children and …

  • mark off the start date on the calendar
  • count down sleeps (for young children)
  • have a “final fantastic fun holiday” day/ picnic/outing
  • re-arrange their school desk and supplies
  • write a welcome note and/or place a gift at each place
  • have a “practice run” wake up, chores and breakfast the day before school

Start Simple

I like to start school on time and keep the basic schedule,  but I prefer to start a new year with a “sampler day“:

  • keep lessons to 10 minutes and no longer than 20 minutes each.
  • do just a little really well
  • do only the basics – Bible reading, song and prayer, followed by maths, dictation or copywork, language arts, spelling and reading
  • have a nice tea time treat and a quick physical exercise or count & clap game
  • do a core read aloud with a short narration (usually oral if children are young)
  • I tell them that the next day/ week we may do 1 more subject or activity each day, but stop when it is lunchtime.  
  • It really doesn’t matter if you have not “done everything”.  Within a short while, everyone will master the basics and have enough time to tackle longer assignments or activities and cover all the subjects for the week.

Most children are tired and a little discouraged after they complete their first day.  They have forgotten maths skills or “lost” their neat handwriting muscles during the break!  This is when a read aloud really helps.  We go to a comfy spot and snuggle up to listen to a story.

Have realistic expectations, but keep your hope and compassion high!  Homeschoolers are so blessed – moms can give lots of cuddles, hugs and loving touches during difficult times.

When I try to establish new routine,  I avoid all unnecessary outings, extra-murals and visits for a week.  We stay home, keep things simple and focused and calm.  I cook simple, nutritious meals and snacks, and we try to have early bedtime.  When children go to bed happy, confident and calm, I find that they generally are more enthusiastic about new challenges. Starting school after a long break (or for the first time) is very stressful. 

May you have happy new beginnings!


Calendars for Monthly Activities

It’s 2011 and time for new calendars!

Each year I create my birthday and anniversary calendars on MS Calendar Works.  I pencil in activities, exams and test dates, rainfall (we’re farmers), visitor’s dates and our outings in the blocks.

You could download and print your own blank calendar like the one below from

Read at Confessions of An Organized Homeschool Mom how Bethany and others (read the comments) use technology, cell phones and calendars for homeschool!

The past few months, I’ve come across several calendars with teachable moments or themes or activities for each day of that month.

Here are just a few Activity Calendars:

  • emails your their monthly teachable moments if you subscribe.  They email the stacks of downloads and resources and free products each month.
  • have a wonderful educational online calendar with links to free board games, activities, videos and downloads for each theme or topic. (You do need to sign in to become a member, but it is free.)
  • have the most delightful pre-school “An Activity A Day” pdf. calendars.  There are several for each month – Literacy, Maths & Play and although it is aimed for pre-schoolers, it would be fun for most children!
  • Growing Up Creative has a creative calendar download where the children add creative details to each calendar page.

For other calendars check out:

I am  thinking of putting together an activity calendar for middle schoolers with …


a few …

writing prompts,

speech topics,

art, needlework & crafts,

nature study observation topics …

Would you help me with some ideas?

Do you ever use an activity calendar?

What would you enjoy on your calendar?

Do you know of other web sites with ideas?


Report and Evaluation Pages

Previously I described how we ended our school year and filed our work.  While we put our files in order,  I ask some questions and jot down my children’s answers. I use these answers when I compile my end of year report.

Here are our Report and Assessment Pages ~

First, we had fun filling in our “Character Report” forms together!

The child choses their own scores and then I give my scores.  The scores are 1= rarely/never; 2 = fairly/ seldom; 3 = mostly/ very much; and 4 = always/ Yes!  I am!

(Hint: Whenever you ask someone to give a score of 1,2, or 3, most will inevitably choose 2; the middle or average score, but with 4 scores, they have to choose which side of the middle they prefer.  This 4-score-method forces them to make a more correct assessment.)

We chatted about their personal scores and mine and I asked them which character traits they were strong in and which areas they felt they should work on.  My kids really enjoyed this!

Secondly I filled in a “Homeschool Assessment” form ~

I use this form to summarize the work , books, materials and skills covered and describe my children’s strengths, weaknesses and joys and highlights of the year.

I do not award marks or give any scores. (You may be required to assess your children’s work differently for your country or state.)

During the year I usually only mark my children’s Spelling and Maths.  I oversee all the other written work and usually don’t check/ tick or mark it.  We correct handwriting immediately in our copywork and dictation lessons and discuss grammar in Language Arts lessons.

In junior and middle school, a parent sees that the child completes the work correctly and with a good attitude. I believe we are evaluating daily.  We know the moment our child struggles or does not grasp concepts and we can repeat that lesson/ present the work in another way/ or remediate immediately.  This is the joy of homeschooling!  We can work at a pace and with the most appropriate methods to make sure that our children love what they learn.  Tests and scores are helpful to make sure our children meet external standards, however they are stressful to everyone!

My high schooler’s curriculum requires that I evaluate her work and send them quarterly marks and exam results.

To be completely honest, I have NEVER written any formal evaluations for my children.  I create a portfolio of all their work, include their book lists and the year plan.  I believe that their work speaks for them!

This year however, I will include their assessment forms in their year files.

(Please, I would like to reassure you that this kind of evaluation is not necessary.  I believe that we use what works for us and we try to do what is required of us by our government.  If you have not evaluated your children before, perhaps you could include the character form.  I believe that, “Information can always be learnt at any time, but character formation takes a lifetime!” )

You are welcome to download these forms for your own use ~

I have included MS Word versions of each document  for you to tweak them to suit your needs.

Homeschool Showcase

This post is featured on

Homeschool Showcase #63

at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Pop over to find other exciting homeschooling posts.


Organizing Puzzles and Patterns

Do your puzzles fall out of their boxes?

Are your boxes falling apart?

Have your puzzle pieces gone missing?

Do your children forget about the puzzle collection?

When we moved house some years ago, I needed store our large puzzle collection.

I had to do away with the puzzle boxes to save space.

Here are some tips I have found work brilliantly  from my all-time-favourite organization book ~

Confessions of an Organized Homemaker

by Deniece Schofield

(You can read my review here.)

How to organize your puzzle collection:

  1. Make up the puzzle on a tray or board.
  2. Turn it over as a complete unit.
  3. Number each puzzle piece with a number or symbol, (easy for small to medium-sized puzzles), or colour across the back of the puzzle pieces making a pattern using a bright coloured, broad,  felt-tipped pen. (This is good for 100 piece plus puzzles.) It really does not take long!  I organized all my puzzles in one afternoon!
  4. Now place all those puzzle pieces in a small or medium-sized Ziplock bag.
  5. Cut out the picture on the top of the box.  (This seems sacrilegious, but I have never missed the boxes, nor ever needed to repair them every few months!)
  6. Place this picture in a large Ziploc bag and place the smaller Ziplock bag with all the puzzle pieces inside the large bag.
  7. Use masking tape and write how large the puzzle size is e.g.: 36 piece/ 100 piece puzzle.  This is helpful for young children.  They can choose the smaller size puzzles until they are mature enough to try build a large puzzle.
  8. Stack the packets of puzzles vertically, like files,  in a cardboard box/ kitty liter box, so that the children can browse through the bags, looking at the pictures, and select the puzzle they would like to build.  (You could even place cardboard dividers in the box and arrange your puzzles by size/ theme/ wood/ type.)
  9. I have trained my children to build their large puzzles on a wide tray so that they can move it if they need to.
  10. Also, they must pack all the pieces back in the Ziplock bag, ZIP it closed so that pieces cannot fall out and place this in the large ziplock bag with the picture, back in the tray.

Now, this really works for us, but  Deniece Schofield suggests a slightly different method ~

  1. Number each bag of puzzle pieces with some masking tape and places these ziplock bags in numerical order standing up in a cardboard tray.
  2. Cut the picture from the box and write how many pieces in that puzzle and file these pictures in a ring binder.  Label the picture with the matching puzzle number on the ziplock bag of pieces.  These pages are her puzzle catalogue.
  3. Children browse through the file and choose a picture, look and see what number that puzzle is and go find that number packet in the tray.

Organizing your dress-making patterns ~

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  1. Cut the original pattern envelope open.
  2. Press pattern pieces flat and fold it wide enough fill the envelope and stay flat.  Ensure the pattern number is on the top so you can easily find the correct pieces.
  3. Place all the pattern pieces, instructions and illustrations in the envelopes.  (Some dressmakers place a photo of the finished garment, extra buttons and some material samples with their patterns.)
  4. Label every envelope on the top right/ left corner.  Paste the original pattern envelope on the front.  (I sketched a picture of the garment for the envelopes where there was no original envelope.)
  5. Close the envelopes.  (Mine are easy-seal and stay closed when pressed shut.)
  6. Arrange all the patterns in similar groups/ sizes.
  7. Make index separators with sturdy cardboard strips a bit wider than the manilla envelope.  Label each strip.  I covered my labels with clear packaging tape for durability.
  8. Place the strips in between the envelopes.  All arranged!
  9. You can arrange cross stitch patterns/ knitting and crocheting patterns in the same way.

Hope this encourages you to spend the next rainy afternoon and put your puzzles in order!

You can read more practical organization tips 1 and organization tips 2.


What Art Supplies For Your Child?

One of my readers asked for an art supply list for the new school year and here are my recommendations:

But, before I even begin my stock list, please let me state this Golden Rule:

Quality Counts!

I have learnt that quality products…

  • last longer
  • are much more economical in the long run
  • work better
  • make true and brilliant colours
  • give a really dramatic results
  • crayons don’t break as easily
  • use less for an excellent result
  • brushes hold shape and move better
  • paints are not diluted
  • keep sharp, clean, pure
  • is wonderful to work with …

Now, allow me to reassure you that your art supplies do not need to break the bank!  Just start with a few basics and add something new when you next can afford it.  I buy my art supplies throughout the year and even plan my art activities with that in mind.

Of course, you can buy any art supplies and do art rather than wait for the next budget.  Young children MUST enjoy messing with paints, use large paper and be creative!  They are not worried about the tone or shade of red, or if the brush has real hair bristles!

So, before you shop, pop in to a specialized stationery store and browse around.  Take note of the quality name brands and prices and then check if your local supply stores stocks those brands.  If you have already bought cheap back-to-school supplies, don’t despair!  Use them!  Do ART!  Just plan to replace them with better quality products as they are used up.

Your Basic Art Supplies

  • HB and B pencils. (Softer B2 also for shading darker)
  • A good soft art rubber/ eraser (Don’t buy ordinary plastic rubbers as they tend to just smudge)
  • Sharpener (A good quality metal one with extra blades and maybe both large and small holes.  This should last forever!)
  • Best/good quality pencil crayons with at least 24 colours. (This helps with contour shading)
  • Best/good quality water-colour set. (Only need a basic set with about 12 colours)
  • Some good paint brushes ~ thin, medium and thicker pointed watercolour brushes.  Perhaps some poster brushes.  (Toss those plastic bristle brushes that come with your paint set in a holder for glue projects!)
  • You don’t need to buy a palette (mixing tray), although I found they are cheap. We often just reuse our plastic trays from store-bought vegetables.  If  you buy a mixing tray, try find those with rounded contours for easier cleaning.  The square cornered mixing trays are difficult to clean.
  • Build up a supply of paper ~ Start with a sketch book for each child and buy new books during the year, use plain white paper and add these as you go – sugar paper and coloured paper, newsprint, coloured gum paper and textured paper.  Try obtain some large paper.  A3 is double the size of the normal printer paper.

Extra Supplies ~ (Add these as you go along)

  • Oil pastels ~ a good, quality basic set is fine.  Buy chubby (thick) crayons for young children as they do tend to break.
  • Crayons.  If your children like these, buy a set with lots of colours, but here QUALITY counts.  Cheap brands do not leave a dark, thick, strong colour and often colours seem muted or not true.
  • Poster paints ~ just buy 1 bottle of each primary colour (red, blue and yellow) and a small bottle of black and a LARGE bottle of white paint.  (We always need more white it seems!)  I like any ready-mix paint.  You could buy powder paints and mix it, but I find most moms don’t use their paints and they can start to smell.  I have found that the craft paints that come in a pouring bottles with a small opening although initially seem expensive, are very economical and the paints last forever because you can control just a tiny drop of paint and very little is wasted and the paints in the bottle don’t dry out.
  • glitter/gel/glow pens
  • felt-tipped pens – we get the biggest set and share the set.
  • shaped blade scissors
  • chalk, pastels
  • ink pens and fine liner pens
  • permanent markers/ sharpies

We do a lot of art!  We use paper, paper, paper.  It is on my monthly shopping list, (unless I receive an end roll of newsprint!)

My children mostly use felt-tipped pens, pencil crayons and water paints.

Organizing stationary in boxes

Most our stationary and craft supplies all fit in a large plastic box, with smaller boxes packed in this box. I posted some photos and our plan here.  It is on our bookshelf within reach.

I store our paints, sponges and brushes and palettes in a plastic storage box on the shelf.

If your budget is tight, just stick to the basics and add something each month in your shopping.

I hope this helps. 🙂

Some help with planning

This is the time of the year when most non-South Africans plan or complete their planning for the next year.

(In South Africa our school year begins in January so we do most our planning towards the end of the calendar year.)

Last year I wrote about how I did my planning.

I have summarized these pages and created a new page  ~ Planning Pages

You are most welcome to click over there and take a look.  I hope you will find something useful and practical!

My Favourite Homeschool Gadgets!

I could not imagine homeschooling without these amazing gizmos ~

  • My laptop ~ I do all my research, planning, creating, corresponding and blogging here!  I love downloading information, photos and ideas.  I enjoy creating newsletters, designing worksheets, creating collages and making my own cards.  I get a thrill finding information I need.  I love to find free homeschool resources and online activities for the children.

My laptop

  • Printer/ scanner ~ I try to save paper, but I just love to print out our copywork and handwriting pages with the correct lines and fonts, and all the minibooks for our next lapbook,  I spend the evening cutting and folding the minibooks.  I love having everything ready for class time and my children have everything they need at hand.  I am so grateful for the ink refill company who refills my cartridges at half the cost of new ink cartridges.

Printer & scanner

  • Guillotine ~ I’ve had this since I was a public school teacher and I think we use it at least 3x a week!

Heavy-duty guillotine

  • Laminater ~ This is my absolute luxury!  It makes everything last longer and is excellent for things that the children handle daily.

I laminate charts, cards and manipulatives

  • Camera ~ I take photos as often as I can.  It keeps our memories alive!

Photos on our Footprints Map captured an 18 month journey around South Africa using our Footprints On Our Land Curriculum

  • Stationary ~ I love some scrapbook hardware to make lapbooks and journals really spiffy! We have collected a few odds and ends over the years, and these are our favourites – shaped punches, “corner round edge” (sorry, I’m NOT a scrapbooker and don’t know the proper names!), eyelet punch, scissors with different edge blades.

Eyelet punch

I know that this list looks excessively expensive, but I have saved a whole year for some of these gadgets, and received the others as birthday gifts over the years. (Don’t all homeschool moms ask for printer/scanners for their birthdays?)

Also, I need to say that we don’t NEED these gadgets … I just love using them.  I can homeschool in simplicity, without electricity, with the least cost … we just need some living books

So, what’s on my homeschool gadget wish list?

  • Labeller ~ I love to label things … especially books where spines have no titles. I would love the professional finish of a labeller … oh, and I’d also label all the things in my pantry …
  • Heavy-duty stapler ~ I would be able to compile books and pamphlets …
  • Spiral binder ~ to make gorgeous notebooks of my children’s work at the end of each theme/ term/ school year …

What do you all love to use for homeschool?