5 places to store homeschool supplies when you don’t have a schoolroom

Homeschool storage

If you’re anything like me, when you cruise around Pinterest you drool over some of the adorable homeschool rooms people have set up in their house.  Complete with world maps, cute painted desk chairs, and color coded art supply organization, it seems as though these rooms would make any kid love to learn.  The reality for most of us is that our “school room” doubles as the breakfast nook, dining room, or living room.  And while I did have a balloon model of the solar system that the kids created hanging on my breakfast nook window for a couple of weeks once, dedicating the decor of my main living areas to maps and timelines just isn’t going to happen.

For us, the kitchen table is where school takes place.  I tried once to use our spare bedroom as a classroom, but it’s upstairs and just didn’t work for me.  The kitchen table is convenient, large enough for the kids to spread out, and best of all, it’s on the 1st floor. 🙂  The only problem with it is that I hate clutter.  I can’t stand to have things out on my countertops that aren’t making coffee or decorative, and where possible I prefer things to be behind closed doors.  That makes finding a place for all the art supplies, experiment kits, school books, teacher manuals, paper, pens, and pencils a real challenge.  Homeschool supplies can require a lot of storage. However, in my desperation to keep everything put away yet still convenient, I managed to find lots of nooks and crannies to squirrel things away.  I bet if you started looking around, you can find the same types of spaces in your own home.

Here are the five places I keep our homeschool things.  All are right by our kitchen table, and took just a little re-arranging to make them work.  I hope they inspire you to get creative with your space (at least until you can get the color coded art supply organizers and cute little painted desks)/  😉

spare shelf for teacher manuals A spare shelf in a kitchen cabinet

I cleared out some old cake decorating supplies that I wasn’t using anymore and was able to consolidate them down to less than half of the cabinet.  This left me with quite a bit of room to keep all of my teacher’s manuals.



Inexpensive end tables

Our kitchen nook has no room to store any of the kids books.  It is open to our living room, which seemed the next logical place to store them, but we don’t have any bookshelves or tall storage that would work.  I went shopping at our local Sauder and found these end tables that were perfect for holding lots of books.  Target, Walmart, and consignment furniture stores are also great places to look for items like these.  I bought one for each kid and have them in 2 places in the living room.  I love these because they are deep enough to hold their big binders, they have a shelf that’s adjustable to give us storage for laptops and library books, and they have a drawer to hold even more supplies.  We use the drawers to hold notebook paper and art supplies like colored pencils and markers.

Now you see them….

…Now you don’t!










A spare kitchen drawer

I had our serving pieces and knives for our silverware in the drawer closest to the table.  I found that without much trouble I could incorporate those into the other drawers in the kitchen and free this one.  I used the existing silverware organizer I had in there to separate our pens, highlighters, pencils, mechanical pencils, scissors, protractors, compass, and erasers.  The kids can reach this drawer while still sitting at the table so it’s super convenient.

silverware organizer for pen storage

Behind decorative items

I have this copper plate on a stand and a decorative box that I keep on the end of the counter by the table. It’s the perfect place to hide the ugly pencil sharpener and hole punch, and there’s an outlet back there too, so we can keep the sharpener plugged in.  It helps that they are black like the countertop, but even if they weren’t, you can’t see them hiding back there unless you go looking.

Don't see them?

Don’t see them?

Here they are!

Here they are!

In existing furniture

This lovely dresser has been in our kitchen for 10 years holding dish towels, aprons, and my collection of individual salt and pepper shakers.  It has 2 deep drawers in the bottom that were mostly a random collection of junk.  After cleaning and purging, I was able to clear out both drawers and put them to better use.  In the top one we keep our science experiment supplies (I love the ones from Nature’s Workshop that provide almost everything you need for Apologia’s Sciences.)  In the bottom drawer we keep our larger art supplies like construction paper, popsicle sticks, and felt.

Deep drawers work perfect for the science supplies.

Deep drawers work perfect for the science supplies.


What creative ways do you have to hide your homeschool things in plain sight?

Our Curriculum For 7th grade

This year Wild Man is doing 7th grade for homeschool. (How it’s possible that he’s that old I still can’t figure out!) We started our school year in the middle of August, but we are on a short break now due to a co-op field trip and Boy Scout campout. We will be back to the grindstone on Monday.

Below I’ve listed his curriculum, my reasons for choosing it, and how it’s working so far:

Grammar: Abeka Grammar C
This is our last year for formal grammar. I start literature in 8th grade. I find Abeka’s grammar books to be really great. In true Abeka style they cover a lot of information and give ample opportunity for review of the material. The lessons are printed with lots of colors and illustrations and are broken up into small enough chunks that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. We’ve used Abeka grammar from the very beginning and I’m always pleased with the results. As a side note, since we do a formal writing program I don’t do the chapters on writing in the grammar book.

Science: Apologia’s Exploring Creation with General Science.
Apologia Science is another curriculum that we have used since the beginning and just love. These books are very heavy on scientific facts and on teaching the students how to properly document their scientific experiments. We use the student notebooks to keep things simple and all in one spot. I also HIGHLY recommend the lab kits from Nature’s Workshop. They are a big investment up front, but the time it saves me not having to run around all over trying to find what we need for experiments is worth it to me.

Math: Math Mammoth 6
We found this curriculum late last year based on my BFF’s recommendation and we are continuing it this year. This is a really thorough and intensive math program, and I feel like Wild Man will be really prepared for Algebra next year.

Bible: Wise Up
This is a year long walk through Proverbs and includes weekly tests as well as Scripture Memory. I felt like Middle School was a good time to stop and take an in-depth look at what wisdom means and looks like. So far it has been challenging to him and the lessons have sparked some great discussions.

Logic: The Fallacy Detective
I used this book with Sassy when she was in 7th grade and really enjoyed it. My favorite thing is that it shows real life examples of the different fallacies which makes them so much easier to understand. I also really like the thought provoking questions at the end of each chapter. No simple fill in the blanks here!

Writing: IEW Medieval History
Since we are studying the Middle Ages in history this year, Wild Man decided he wanted to do the corresponding IEW writing unit. This is a particularly good one for boys since many of the writing assignments are about wars and great battles. He loves coming up with quality adjectives and verbs to describe the great kings and their conquests.

Spelling: The Phonetic Zoo
We are continuing through the zoo cards this year. Since it’s a 3 year program we can just pick up right where we left off last year. My son didn’t like listening to the recordings, so I just do the verbal component for him. This spelling program has made a HUGE difference for us!!

History: The Classical Historian Medieval History
I am doing this with both kids. What drew me to the program was the idea of teaching history from a Socratic method perspective. So far we have REALLY enjoyed this program! They love getting to explain their position for why they chose an answer, and I feel they are really learning how to view all media around them. In the beginning you are learning the tools of the historian, so there’s not as much actual history. I have added little projects to their weekly assignments to supplement this.

Geography: Abeka World Geography
This is a high school level curriculum, and both kids are doing it together. It’s only a half credit class, so we will be done right at Christmas break. It’s been a really great class to help them learn how to study for tests and how to determine a good way to manage study time. There are multiple quizzes, map projects, and chapter tests, so this class keeps us busy. I’m learning a lot right along with them, and I am incorporating Windows to the World where I can to bring in a mission focus as well with specific prayer requests for the people groups in the areas we study.

Business: Bluestocking Press Books
For the second half of the year. Wild Man, (who wants to be an entrepreneur of some sort), wanted to study business more in depth. The little books by Bluestocking Press are perfect for this. We are going through the entrepreneur series, and being a business major myself I’m itching to read these!

The year is still very young, but I feel like we are finally getting in our groove. It’s been a jump up for both kids academically this year, but they are doing great and settling in just fine.

Halloween Unit Study Day 1 Monsters

When I pulled my kids out of public school many years ago it just so happened to be the week before Halloween. Since it was a bit unexpected, I hadn’t quite narrowed down the curriculum I wanted to use. For the first few weeks, we just concentrated on doing some unit studies about the upcoming holidays, and the kids really had a blast. We were looking at old pictures the other day and saw some from our Halloween unit back then. The kids begged me to do something like that this year, but since they are much older I decided to take a little different approach.

Last time I focused on the ‘symbols’ of Halloween: bats, pumpkins, spiders, candy, etc. This year I wanted to focus on all of the major celebrations that occur the week of Halloween and discuss them against a Biblical worldview.

We started with Halloween in America. For the first day I had them read a basic synopsis of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as a brief history of the Salem Witch Trials. We talked about the ideas behind a Frankenstein monster and witchcraft as the people of Salem described it, and I asked them to tell me why they thought these ‘monsters’ could or could not ever exist. We then discussed that the Bible says there are only 2 kinds of spirits, one from God and the other from Satan, and that the spiritual world is very real.

My main goal for this lesson was to make sure they understand that God is the only one with the power to give life to dead things, and that people who claim to talk to the dead or have special powers are either lying or messing with a spirit that is not of God. I think some of the recent success of certain television shows has presented psychics and mediums in a way that is not in accordance with scripture, and I want to make sure my kids are aware of the seriousness of making light of that which God says to stay away from.

We also talked a little about the ‘real’ stories behind most of our other Halloween monsters, like Vlad the Impaler for Dracula, and of course the mummies from Egypt. I also found it interesting that these monster stories have originated from all over, but it seems America was the culture that brought them all together. Maybe because we love a good fairy tale, even if it’s a scary one? 🙂

Halloween monsters

Our experience with The Phonetic Zoo

One of my best friends is also a homeschool mom, and she and I love to bounce ideas and educational theories off each other whenever we can. (We are both nerds, yes). Over the summer we got together every night for a week and watched the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s teacher course. 9 hours of writing instruction, yes, but since we did it together it was not only educational but a great time!

During one of the lessons, Andrew Peduwa discussed why some kids (especially boys) have trouble with spelling. He said that often times a child will have all of the letters in a word, but will not write them in the correct order. Since this is exactly what we’ve experienced with our son, I was intrigued. Andrew went on to say that we see the word on the page as a unit, which is how we store it. However, we then have to recall the word to spell it one letter at a time. HIs theory is that words need to be stored letter by letter into our brains in order for us to recall them that way for spelling. The best way to do this? He suggests listening to words being spelled one letter at a time.

I have to admit, I was extremely hopeful that this could be the answer to my son’s spelling issues, but at the same time I was afraid that he would find this tedious. The Phonetic Zoo program operates from a mastery standpoint, which means that the child doesn’t progress to the next level until they can spell all the words in the lesson right 2 times in a row. The student moves at their own pace, but that pace might be maddeningly slow on some lessons.

I loaded the CDs onto his iPod so that he could listen to the tracks anywhere. While the repetitiveness of the lessons does get on his nerves a bit, each lesson only takes about 10 minutes, so he’s able to deal with it. I love that this is completely student led and self-motivating. While our previous attempts at spelling seemed to discourage him and tempted him to label himself as a ‘bad speller,’ quite the opposite has been true with PZ. Even though it took him 3 weeks to get through Lesson 2, he was so proud of himself when he finally made it that we all did a big high five. He’s really encouraged by the idea that we just had to find the way to get his brain to store the words in a way it could remember them – especially now that he’s seeing the results.

If you have a child who is struggling with spelling, I would recommend giving All About Spelling (early grades) or the Phonetic Zoo (older elementary thru middle school) a try. It’s quite expensive to get the CDs, but you can read the words aloud to your child yourself and not purchase them. Either way, it’s always nice to find a program or idea that changes your child’s motivation. This might be something that can help your child too!

The Phonetic Zoo

Semester 1 Review

As I mentioned in my post on homeschool planning for this year, we are trying a new schedule of 6 semesters that are 6 weeks long each. This past Friday we completed semester 1, and are taking the coming week off. As I am fine tuning the plan for semester 2, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at what worked and what didn’t.


What’s not working so well:
1. History fun activities. I have pulled together a list of fun Konos and Pinterest inspired activities to go along with our history lessons. I even planned out ahead of time what activities we would do each week for the whole semester. Where things fell apart was that I didn’t make a master list of items we would need to complete these activities, so we had to skip many of them. This semester I am going to make a master list and gather up all of the non=perishable supplies now. Then I am going to add a list for the week in my planner for the perishables that I need to get at the store. Hopefully this will keep me on track.

2. Schedule consistency. Since both of my kiddos are in middle school this year, I have been giving them a little more leeway in their schedules and assignments. For example, in my daughter’s planner, I have 2 subjects where I give her weekly assignments, and it’s up to her to determine how much to do each day. That’s been working out great, but we have not been consistent with our morning schedules, and that has led to problems. For this next semester, I am going to have them do their daily chore in the morning (previously they did it in the afternoons), and then I am going to spend focused time with each of them on their more challenging subjects. I am setting up a message on my phone to alert people who call me for work that I am unavailable during this time, so that work won’t distract from our focus.

3. Writing. I thought our lessons were going to yield more writing than they have, and I’m not happy with the way that has gone. For this next semester, I am going to add in additional writing assignments that reinforce what we are learning in our IEW program. Note: I don’t believe in writing just for writing’s sake, but I do think practice is important, so I’d like to give them more opportunities to do so – a paragraph at a time.

What’s going well:
1. Auditory spelling. I can’t be more happy with the results I’m seeing with our new spelling program. I plan on writing a full review later this week.

2. Our new book cabinets. I purchased inexpensive cabinets to store our homeschool books and binders in this year, and they are working great. The kids are able to easily access what they need, and I don’t have homeschool flotsam spread all over my kitchen and table.

3. Our history ‘text.’ You can read more about how we are doing American History in this post. The kids have enjoyed The History of Us more than I expected, and they are really learning the material. It’s been exciting to see them truly starting to put events together and understand how this great nation began. I’m looking forward to starting the next book!

For those of you who are a couple weeks in to the new year, what things are working for you?

Throwback Thursday: Spartan Helmets

Every now and then I like to look back on things we did in past homeschool years. First, I always enjoy a good trip down memory lane, and second, when I take a moment to remember all that we have done, it encourages me. Sometimes I get a panicked feeling that the kids aren’t learning all they should be or that I’m not teaching them anything. (I know, my mind runs rampant and is quite dramatic. Fortunately, it doesn’t do this to me often). Looking back helps me to calm down and feel confident in what we’re doing here.

ANYWAY, this fun little project was a favorite of ours when we studied the ancients last year. We took cereal boxes and used the templates they gave us to cut out the parts of our Spartan helmets. Next, we used duct tape (never in short supply around this house) to cover the pieces and assemble the helmets.

Our decorations were completely historically inaccurate, but I’m okay with the occasional artistic license. My son chose the route of a crusader with a white helmet emblazoned with a large cross in red. My daughter, on the other hand went for the Sassy Spartan look with this kaleidoscope of colors. I say we can count this as art and history at the same time!


Colonial Housing on the Computer

As I mentioned in this post, I am using both Konos and a workbook on Colonial Life for our homeschool American History activities this year. One of the reasons I love Konos so much is that the activities they have fall right in line with one of my top goals for our homeschool – what I call ‘3D’ learning. I try to relate the topic we are learning to the world around us as much as possible – to make it ‘3D’ if you will. When we do real life activities or incorporate all our senses into what we’re doing, I feel like the kids not only have a better understanding of a topic, but also retain the information better.

We have been concentration on colonial life leading up to the revolution this semester, and lately we’ve been looking at the different cultures that came to the Americas to colonize. One of the Konos activities is to write a paper on the differences between Dutch and English colonial architecture. I took this idea and modified it a bit to have the kids learn while doing one of their favorite things – playing on Minecraft.

Rather than write a paper, I had them research pictures of both kinds of colonial homes. We looked at characteristics of each, and then settled on one particular house from each kind that they liked. I then had them ‘construct’ one on Minecraft. Since this is time consuming, I had them split the work and my daughter built the English house while my son built the Dutch one. We have Minecraft on our Xbox, so it allows them to split the TV screen in half and work at the same time, making it easier for them to collaborate.

They also ‘furnished’ the interiors of their homes being careful to be historically accurate. (Well, as accurate as you can be with the blocks available). They used only stone and wood for finishes, all centered around large fireplaces.

There are many ways you can expand this activity to incorporate other subjects. You can assign them to create a home of a certain size, and maybe sneak in some perimeter and/or area work. For science you can have them create a ‘farm’ for the house with crops and animals specific to a certain area. After they create the houses, you could have them write a story about the imaginary colonist family that lives there. You can also use this as an ongoing project and have them add more houses and change the architecture as you learn more about American History and how the cities grew.

Imagination is your only limit, and my kids love to play and learn together. I laugh when their friends come over and they start explaining the features of what they’ve built for school. That’s when I know real learning has taken place. I also find that in order to build these houses on the game, they have to pay close attention to the little details of the real thing. This helps them to notice them easier when we see other pictures from that time or visit places with historic homes. They’re still quick to point out Classical Greek architecture in buildings in our town after building a Greek temple on Minecraft last year.

What are ways you’ve used video games to teach?

Our Homeschool US Geography Curriculum Plan

Since we are studying American History this year, I thought it was only appropriate to study the 50 states as well. I looked for a homeschool US geography curriculum that was already done, but most of what I found was either for young children or concentrated on North American topography rather than the states themselves. So….I decided to piece together my own.

Studying geography isn’t the most exciting thing in the world if you just stare at maps and memorize capitals, and I we’ve done enough map work in previous years that I didn’t feel it needed to be a huge focus of our efforts. Instead, my goal is to give them an appreciation for each state’s uniqueness, how it fits into our American story, and how richly God has blessed this land with natural resources. Of course I want them to be able to place the states on a map and know the 50 capitals, but I think an understanding of our nation’s geography and resources is just as important.

I have divided the states into 6 major regions, and we will study 1 region per semester, which equates to 1-2 states per week. For our texts we check out books from the library on the individual states. Each week we will fill out these 2 awesome free journal pages I found on Pinterest and make a recipe that represents that state. Imagine my excitement when The Dating Divas posted this super cute Big Bite Passport! It’s supposed to be used for date night where you and your hubby can rate new restaurants you go to, but we are using it to rate each state’s recipe. The kids really love this, and I think it’s another fun way to make what we’re studying come to life.

I have found several recipes that we can use on AllRecipes.com. They have a category system of state recipes – who knew?

For our first semester we are studying the Northeast. This past week we were learning about Pennsylvania, so we made a Dutch pancake dessert. Both kids rated it 3 forks! Any time dessert can be part of learning, I’m all for it! 😉


Colonial Life: Home Sweet Home

As I was cleaning out my bookcase for a big homeschool book sale over the summer, I came upon a little booklet I had picked up several years ago that was filled with worksheets and projects related to Colonial Life. Although a lot of the worksheets are for kids younger than mine, the project ideas are fantastic, so I am sprinkling them in where I can.

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For this semester, our history focus is on the founding of the colonies, so most of what I use from Life in the Colonies will be during our first 6 weeks.

We’ve been reading and talking about the harsh life the Jamestown colonists faced when they arrived here. I wanted to make sure the kids understand that when we read that they built houses for themselves that we aren’t talking 3,000 square foot suburbian homes. So I took them out to the cul-de-sac armed with a tape measure and sidewalk chalk.

One of the projects in the book is to have the kids draw out an 8″x10″ rectangle on graph paper and try to fit in beds, tables, and a fireplace to see how efficient their houses had to be. I decided it would be more fun to draw out the real thing, so we drew a 16’x20′ rectangle out in the street.

Yes, he's in his pjs. It's how we roll. :)

Yes, he’s in his pjs. It’s how we roll. :)

Our colonial home was ahead of its time since it was equipped with a sewer cover

Our colonial home was ahead of its time since it was equipped with a sewer cover

The three of us stood inside it and talked about how the beds would be arranged, and it became obvious very quickly about how cramped just the 4 of us would be – much less if we had a bigger family like was common in those days.

I asked them some of the questions from the Life in the Colonies book about what disadvantages they could see these little homes would have, how it would be different from the way we live in now. All of which my daughter (the pioneer girl) brushed aside with a cheerful “I think living in a tiny house would be fun!” Yeah, okay. 😉

Jumping In!

Today is day one of our homeschool year for 2013-2014. My whole family was gone all last week at church camp, and we are all dragging from no sleep. Friday was our anniversary, so my husband and I went out for that Saturday evening, and my best friend came into town so yesterday afternoon and evening we all got together. You should know that when my 3 best friends and I get together, it’s always to the wee hours of the morning. I got home at 12:30 this morning, but I had a very fitful night of sleep because I drank too much coffee after dinner.

Needless to say, today is NOT the ideal day to start our year. I am trying to write their work for today in their planners in a few minutes before they get up, they are going to be rather unpleasant since they will be tired, the list of things goes on. However, if we don’t start today it will affect our schedule during the holidays, so a grumpy few days is worth suffering through to have our time at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still, it’s hard to keep that in mind when I’m falling into my coffee mug this morning.

I know that no matter what day I chose to start there would be reasons to wait and grumpiness to deal with, so I might as well stick with my plan. Here goes nothing!