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Welcome to the #TechieHomeschool IRL blog series. In this post, my guest Pat tackles the topic of digital organization while homeschooling high school students.
Pat Fenner is a veteran homeschooler who feeds her passion for encouraging and inspiring homeschooling moms by writing at her blog Breakthrough Homeschooling. Catch her excitement about parenting and homeschooling middle- and high-schoolers when you subscribe to her site. You’ll get periodic practical and creative support for homeschooling today, as well as subscribers-only freebies and tools.
There's no escaping it: homeschooling high school is getting more complicated every day! There are a plethora of resources (a ton of them digital) available to us as we prepare our kids for college and beyond. I'm sure I'm not the only one that has been known to spend hours sifting through downloads and links while putting together a lesson plan or, even worse, assembling a high school transcript for a teen's college application! Because, “Yes, Virginia, it IS possible to have “too many” resources” – or at least for it to feel that way…
Digital organization for homeschoolers today is a must!
I've been homeschooling for over 20 years, and while that might make me an “old timer”, it also gives me tons of experience in learning how to go with the flow as tools have come and gone over time. When I started homeschooling my two oldest, the only digital content I received was in the form of newsletters – and that was before there were any useful tools for organizing them online. The best way I found was to print out and file ideas according to the subject. (Yeah, I know, not efficient or practical by any standard these days.) Today, with our younger ones (two high schoolers and a rising 9th-grader), I manage newsletters, online courses (free and paid), resources from social media, downloads, and templates that would have boggled the mind of my “new homeschooler” self!
While I understand that there are both pros and cons related to this digital growth, the biggest result of it is the creation of sheer overwhelm for many homeschoolin' mamas of high schoolers. The number of resources available these days in the form of, but not limited to, online courses or digital planning tools or specific subject matter reference tools are liable to lead many of us to a state of brain-freeze (but not the fun kind that comes from eating ice cream too fast): either we don't purchase quality curriculum because we don't know how to discern whether it's a good fit for our brood, or we're left with a mess of materials and resources jumbled on our computer with no effective means of organizing them.
Before I get into sharing some of my tips, let me preface this by saying there is NO “one right way” of organizing your digital resources. People differ in their approach and process and what might work for some may seem like a mess to others (like my husband's desk which looks like a heap of stuff, but he can find ANYthing he needs at his fingertips!). The important thing is to find something that works for YOU. Give yourself time to adjust to any new system you try. And if it doesn't work after awhile, look for something else. Also, be aware that as your homeschooling situation changes or as you discover new tools (software or hardware), you might want to tweak or improve a system you already have in place.
Digital organization: using what you have
There's no need to buy any expensive software to get started getting your digital act together. The first thing you have to do, however, is to decide what you want/need to keep track of.
Here are a few easy ways that I've used to get started:
|Got printables or templates?||Create folders in the “Bookmarks” on your computer and keep track of them filed by subject matter or grade level. Become familiar with Google Docs, too – a wonderful tool that I continue to make great use of!|
|Are you a fan of certain websites?||Get on their mailing list so you get consistent and fresh ideas from them! Create filters and files in your email to keep them all in one place and easy to find.|
|Looking for ideas for electives?||Use the search feature and stay organized on Pinterest by creating boards for your specific needs. Consider using similar board names as your Bookmark titles, above.|
With high schoolers, learning becomes more focused and intentional, even with a relaxed homeschooling approach. As your student develops their own ability to use the internet for learning, it's increasingly important that they learn how to organize both their research and results in the process.
Teaching tip: Encourage your teen, at the minimum, to make use of basic folders in their email. Keep it simple, of course, but having a few well-defined folders will help them get in the habit of self-organizing.
This is also the time where they (and you!) can begin to use a little more advanced tools. Don't confuse this, however, with taking a hands-off approach to your student's online activity! Accountability and oversight are important ways of protecting and guiding your kiddos, teaching them how to make good choices in the future.
They are (hopefully) taking on more responsibility for their education, and therefore taking on responsibility for their own organization. If they're taking a course or two online they'll have digital projects and research projects that they'll need to keep track of, and these learning products offer great opportunities for creating their own digital organization system.
This is important whether or not they are college-bound! For one thing, many non-tech jobs have a tech component these days, and even for those that don't, developing the skill of organization will be transferable to almost every aspect of their life!
When you're homeschooling high school, digital organization is vital for both mom and teen.
Tips for digital organization
1. Decide what you need to organize.
Digital planners today can serve many purposes. They can help you segment and “serve up” daily assignments, keep track of grades, and send up reminders to both you and your student for upcoming deadlines. A planner like Homeschool Planet also integrates with an online family calendar, allowing you to seamlessly keep track of home and school.
Project tools such as Trello, Taskworld, and Asana are akin to online index cards on steroids. They're great for organizing everything from research for a school paper to the kids' school assignments for the year. Also a neat tool for keeping track of links as an alternative to bookmarks on your laptop or home computer.
What you need to keep organized when you homeschool high school:
- Classes at home: textbook/program info, schedules, assignments, grades, GPA,
- Outsourced classes: location, teacher, textbook/program info, grades
- Volunteer hours
- Work hours
- Standardized test deadlines: applications and test dates
- College-related deadlines: applications, interviews, scholarship deadlines
- Apprenticeship/internship hours and activities
- Reference contact info
2. Ask friends and other homeschoolers what they use
Chances are, if other homeschoolers you know have kids in a similar age bracket to yours, they may be using tools that can help you, too. Of course, I guess you'd first have to check that they are using some sort of system. If you don't have friends that you can ask, hop on to a Facebook group like Techin' Your Homeschool and ask around there. You'll find quite a bit of experience there and can easily filter out ideas that won't or don't interest you without hurting anyone's feelings.
And of course (and this may be obvious), but Beth has a course that is open periodically through the year that teaches homeschoolers specifically how to organize their digital resources. (When the course isn't available, grab the template she uses in her own home to keep track of digital files.)
3. Look at it as a challenge!
Definitely take advantage of trial offers if a system or software product looks like a possibility. A trial offer helps you take some time to dig around and see if it's a good fit without making a long-term commitment. Your budget will also thank you for it.
Homeschooling high school certainly brings on its own organizational challenges. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing! With a little help and perseverance, you and your student can get – and keep – your digital act together!
Tell me – what techie methods do you use to homeschooling high school?
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