By: Lisa G. Coburn
Lisa brings us an amazing story that brought tears to my eyes! But, read through it, say a prayer, dry your eyes, and continue reading for some awesome information on homeschool organization! You may remember that Lisa was my first TOS Crew Guest Poster… here is her first article for me. ~Kelli
Twelve years ago, right before Thanksgiving, our family lost a home in a freak accident that almost killed my husband. We lost a good portion of our possessions. For almost a month, my husband, two toddlers under the age of four, and I camped out on my parents’ living room floor because that was the only place we had to go.
When you lose a home, you lose so much more than a mere structure. We lost a part of our lives, our security, and tangible reminders of memories special to our family. Yet, losing everything turned out to be a good thing, because we realized just how little all the clutter meant. We realized that when God is all you have, He is truly all you need.
We found out too late that our insurance policy didn’t cover the type of accident which claimed our home. We were literally left with the clothing on our back, a few photos, and the task of finding a place to rent while continuing to pay for a home in which we could no longer live.
For three long years, we juggled the expense of two households while trying to get back on our feet financially. When our third child came along nine years ago, we were blessed with the opportunity to buy a mobile home, rebuild our credit, and move to about an acre of land out in the country.
That little trailer has become home. We made the choice not to try to buy a house because we really couldn’t afford it after the hardship of losing our first home and everything we owned. I wanted to stay home with the children and homeschool them, so our sacrifice was living in a cheaper, smaller space. When our fourth child was born prematurely and had continued special needs, my returning to work was no longer an option. So – the mobile home it is.
How do six people live in a 14 by 80 mobile home with a 12 by 16 room addition? How do mom and dad homeschool four children in such a tight space?
With a little creativity, anyone in a small space can turn their home into a homeschool haven without sacrificing attractiveness and functionality. After all, the words “home” and “school” do not have to be exclusive of one another. You can have both, even if you live in one room!
These past nine years have been a learning experience for us in space management. Here are a few things we have done to help us to live together without biting each others’ heads off, and get the lessons done:
1. One mistake I made when I first started homeschooling was thinking I had to exactly copy how the public schools do it. I thought I had to have desks, a separate classroom, a teacher’s desk, and many other “bells and whistles” that would so enrich my children’s educational experience. Then I realized the reason I removed my children from public school was to give them a different educational experience than what the school offered. So why was I trying to copy it? My kitchen table became the classroom. The living room couch is a reading room. What better way to bond with your kids than to snuggle up on the couch on a cold day while reading together? I placed small desks and chairs (found at yard sales) in the kids’ rooms in case they needed quiet time to work on quizzes or study. If you don’t have room for a chalkboard, turn a section of your wall into one! You can find chalkboard paint at many home improvement stores. Have a different color of chalk for each child, so when you write notes and assignments to each other, you’ll know who wrote what.
2. My hallway was pretty much empty space, so when someone gave me a narrow credenza and small, five-shelf bookshelf, they fit nicely in the hall. We still had plenty of room to walk, and that’s a great location for books. I have three baskets on top of the credenza (which we call a media center). Each child’s books and homework goes in their own basket. That way, we aren’t searching for books and papers all the time. Everything is in one central location. Study guides and extra helps are conveniently tucked away behind the drawers in the cabinet below the baskets.
3. My sister gave me a small portable pantry. I promptly set that up beside my kitchen table and designated it the teacher’s cabinet. All my teacher books, aids, and classroom supplies are neatly stored out of sight within reach of where we do many lessons. To make the pantry blend in with the kitchen and look more decorative, I used an old kitchen curtain as a cover for the top, placed a plant on top of it, and put a few pretty little flour and sugar canisters around the plant. But – instead of just storing flour and sugar, I have pencils, crayons, paper clips, and other school supplies in pretty kitchen containers. I found lots of attractive storage canisters very cheaply at yard sales. Everything blends in with the kitchen, but all our school supplies are nearby and neatly stored.
4. Think outside the box. We don’t spend a lot of time indoors when we do school. Nature walks and field trips are excellent ways to get out of cramped spaces and enhance learning. We also have a little freestanding swing in the yard and chairs on the back porch where we can go to read and do lessons when the weather is nice. Some of my most heartwarming moments are when I look out the window as I’m doing lessons with one child and see another child curled up on the swing, or lying in a blanket on the grass, enjoying a book or writing. The best days are when all of us are outside, curled up together on the swing, reading and doing our lessons. The action of the swing also really helps my nine-year-old with ADHD focus on what we’re reading.
5. Consider the wealth of your local library. Instead of buying tons of books you’ll never read again (and have find storage space for), consider checking out books from your local library. We have lots of “must keep” books that we end up buying, but there are many that we really don’t need forever. I have a little canvas tote bag that I keep on a doorknob of a little-used door. When I am finished with a library book, I put it in the tote so I don’t lose it. On Library Day, all my books are in one location, I’m not frantically searching for lost books, and we can head out the door faster (to go check out more books).
6. Boxes with wheels that you can slide under beds and couches are great for storing toys, cards, photos, books that you will need for later grade levels, and memorabilia. I list the contents of each box on the outside with a permanent marker so I don’t waste a lot of time searching through boxes for one thing I need.
7. Consider e-books. They’re economical, you only print what you need, and you can save them to disk. We have the entire collection of G.E. Henty books on one disk. I paid $20 for it through an online auction site. Whenever we want to read one, we just put the disk in the computer, and read to our hearts’ content. Think of the shelf space we’ve saved!
8. For the past few years, we have followed a rule in our home that has helped cut down on the clutter. When it comes to clothing or toys (and sometimes books), for every new thing we bring in, something has to be given away to friends or charity.
9. Think creatively and see potential in ordinary items. My brother once offered me the ugliest computer desk I’ve ever seen. It’s huge, gray, and has L-shaped legs, which leaves massive empty space underneath. I went ahead and took it, because I really couldn’t afford to buy a new one. My youngest son, “T-Rex,” has a form of autism and sensory disorders. Sometimes when he gets overwhelmed he will seek a calm, quiet space to hide for awhile and decompress. After we set up the computer desk in a corner of our living room, we noticed T-Rex crawled under the desk quite a bit. He really seemed to like it there. So I safely bound all the electrical cords behind the lower wall of the desk out of T-Rex’s reach, put a soft rug underneath, spread a few of T-Rex’s favorite toys and therapy items around, and made him a “sensory room” for free. He spends a great deal of time there, especially when the kids or I am working on the computer, which makes life easier for me. While I’m writing or when the other kids are doing school work on the computer, my sweet boy is nearby, safe and content.
10. You don’t have to give up your garden and potential science lessons if you live in small spaces, either. Container gardening is a great way to introduce your children to the joys of watching plants grow and eating something they have grown themselves. A few deep buckets, some good potting soil, and a few plants and seeds are all you need to grow a natural haven of flowers and vegetables right on your back porch or apartment balcony. A website I found that gives really good tips on container gardening is: www.gardenguides.com/how-to/tipstechniques/containerindoor/container.asp. You can also visit their main website at: www.gardenguides.com.
Enjoy the journey!
Lisa Coburn lives in the beautiful hills of West Virginia, with her husband, Dan, her four children; “Rocker,” “Sport,” “Hummingbird,” and “T-Rex.” She blogs about her faith in God, homesteading, homeschooling, homeschooling children who are gifted learners, have ADHD, Autism Spectrum, and sensory needs. You can find her musings and adventures on www.homesteadblogger.com/wyldhousehomestead and www.homeschoolblogger.com/LisaCoburn
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