Do you have piles of books that need to be organized? Do you need a system that organizes your continuously growing stacks of books? I sure do. After years of trying lots of organizational ideas for my personal library, I have finally hit upon something that works for me. Perhaps my system will give you some ideas that will help you find a way to organize your own books, because I believe that every home should have a library full of really great books!
During my home schooling years, I’ve lived in five different homes. In each home, my books have been spread throughout our house. In two of them, I have had very large school rooms with tons of book shelves. In one of them, I have had an average sized room with several stand alone book shelves in it. In two of them, I have had very little space to store books and no separate school room. So, in each home, I have found ways to be creative in organizing and storing my books. If I have needed more book shelf space, I have used the shelves in the tops of my closets to store categories of books that don’t require frequent access. Regardless of the school room book storage space, I like to put small shelves of books in each of my kids’ rooms so they can have some of their favorite books near their beds. In one house, I have converted a walk-in closet in our game room into a tiny library by arranging floor to ceiling book shelves on all 3 walls, being very pleased with the several hundred books that I managed to store in it. I always keep at least a few books in the public rooms of our home, whether it's on book shelves or in baskets.
Because I like to keep books in most rooms throughout my home regardless of how much shelf space I’ve had in my school room, I must have a good organizational system. For example, in my current home, I have no school room at all and at least 2500 books that I need to be able to easily draw from on a near daily basis. As I’ve tried various organizational methods, I’ve even considered using the Dewey Decimal System. However, that has never seemed to fit my goal of making the books so easy to re-shelve that even young children can consistently replace them.
After years of experimenting, I’ve finally decided that a topical system works for me. Using a labeler, I’ve placed labels on the spine of each book, such as GARDEN, CHILD TRAINING, POETRY, BUDGETING, ORGANIZING, SPELLING. I’ve broken down many of my science books into the days of creation, labeling DAY 1 through DAY 6 on the spine of each book that falls into those categories and placed them on their own shelves. For instance, all books about dinosaurs are labeled DAY 6, while all books about planets are labeled DAY 4. I’ve labeled all fiction literature with the author’s last name and shelved them in labelled alphabetical order on their own shelves. In my current home, these shelves are located in my laundry room. It's an unusual place to put books, but it works well for my family.
History has been a little more complicated. I’ve tried labeling them with their time frames, such as EGYPT, ROME, MIDDLE AGES, WW1, etc.. Though I have used this system in the past, I've found it to be cumbersome because there's too much overlap in civilizations and themes. The more I use my books, the more confusing the system feels. I've finally realized that I can put the date on the spine of the book and shelve them in chronological order. If a book is non-fiction, determining the date is fairly simple. If it is historical fiction, I simply make an educated guess as to where it might fit into the timeline. For example, Within the Palace Gates: The King’s Cupbearer by Anna P Siviter is a fictional account of Nehemiah, so I’ve dated the book at 455-442BC, which is approximately the date that historians date Nehemiah. This date on the spine not only indicates where to shelve the book, it also tells me that the book covers several years of Nehemiah's life. Additionally, I have a section of historical books that are simply resources for all of time. Those are shelved at the beginning of my history section and labeled HISTORY RESOURCES.
This system makes it VERY easy for everyone to re-shelve the books. And I no longer have to make lists of books that I want to use. I can now simply stand in front of the section of bookshelves that is housing the time period that we are currently studying and pull the next book that I want to use. My bookshelves ARE my planning notes!
I’ve been using this method for several years now. The hard part was determining the system that I would use and to continue to tweak it until I felt it was finally perfected. The system that now works so well for me took years to perfect. As a result, I’ve been reaping the rewards of a system that works very well in my home. It has worked in two different homes with two distinctly different storage options, with virtually no changes needed in my labelling system.
How do you organize your personal library? Do you ever use baskets to store books? Do you study history in chronological order in your home school?
I LOVE books! I love to read! I love to research! This love has caused me to collect MANY hundreds upon hundreds of books throughout the years. From the time I was a young girl in early elementary school, my mom gave me a regular allowance to buy books and I've continued the habit of buying and reading books for my entire life. I still have some of my favorite books from my childhood and I've had the pleasure of reading many of them with my own children.
Having always owned lots of books, I haven’t always understood the importance of having a large personal library of books. The importance grew as I noticed that finding books was becoming more and more difficult due in part to the new trend towards ebooks and e-readers. But honestly, my desire to build my own personal library probably started before the availability of digital books.
One day a little more than 20 years ago, I took my children into the large downtown library to find books on making model boats and various ways to power them. We were doing a study on Christopher Columbus with a group of friends and we’d challenged all of the kids to build their own boat that would be able to float from one side of an in-ground pool to the other. Each of my kids took home several titles and busily worked on making their own boat creations, exploring several science concepts as they did so. The project was a great success for both the kids and the parents involved.
A decade later, I once again was teaching a group of kids some science concepts that would best be learned by giving them the project of building a boat. We loaded kids into the car and traveled to the same library that I’d used years ago. I looked in the section that should have been brimming with books on both the topic of boat building and on making simple machines. Finding none, I asked the librarian where they’d all gone. She informed me that, because they were trying to get more funding from the city, they’d emptied many of their shelves and sold them in the annual book sale so that their need for new books would be more apparent to local legislators and to voters. She further informed me that there few good titles on those types of non-fiction subjects being published anymore.
Over the next couple of years, I noticed the same problem in other libraries throughout DFW. Having already set a specific BOOKS budget line item in our personal budget years earlier, I was determined more than ever to build my own personal library. The books in my personal library range from children’s stories to Bibles, from non-fiction to fiction, from biographies to field guides, from cookbooks to how-to books. I have books on science topics such as bird watching, human anatomy, chemistry, nature exploration, and so much more! I have books on economics, finance, house repair and cleaning. I have reference materials such as dictionaries, grammar guides, thesauruses, concordances, biblical commentaries and historical timeline guides. I have instructional books on crafts such as beading, crocheting, sewing, drawing, painting, gardening, book-making and many more. I also have a large library of history books ranging from the beginning of creation to ancient time periods, to current biographies of important people and events.
While I own most of my favorite books in tangible paper format, I also own a small library of both audio and ebooks. The benefit of owning an audio book is that I can have someone read to me as I work with my hands doing mindless tasks like washing dishes or folding laundry. Additionally, the Audible app that I use allows me to bookmark and take notes, which gives me an outline so that I can quickly scan the book again in the future if I want to do so. The benefit of owning ebooks is that I can carry books with me wherever my iPhone, iPad or laptop goes. When I travel, having a small library that can travel with me is invaluable. However, there's nothing that takes the place of actually holding a book in my hands and smelling the aroma of the book as I feel the texture and weight while I read. When I want to study a topic, I not only pull up some trustworthy Internet sites on my laptop or perhaps an ebook or two, I also surround myself with my pile of books on the topic that I'm researching.
To keep from being overrun with books that we no longer need, I periodically go through my books and cull the ones that no longer meet the needs of my family. Culling books is sometimes easy, but often it’s hard. It’s a personal decision. One person’s favorite book might be another person’s next title to be donated. For me, I ask myself some questions similar to these:
At one time I realized that I had 15 different books written on the life of George Washington! I made myself review each book and choose my five favorites. That was a hard cull, but my space limitations required it at the time.
My goals for my library are:
Do you have a library of books in your home? Why or why not? If you do, what are your goals for your library? What are some of your favorite books?
I have five children ranging in ages from 29 to 12 years old at the time of this writing. All of my children were home schooled from preschool through graduation. From the beginning, I hoped to teach my children to teach themselves. I didn’t want to succumb to the unrealistic pressure of teaching my children EVERYTHING that they might ever need to know. Instead, I wanted to give them the basic tools that they would need in order to LEARN anything they might need to know. I wanted them to see the world through God’s eyes and to discover the wonder that He created all around them. I wanted them to have a curiosity and a desire to understand people and nature.
With these goals, each year I would make a list of things that I wanted my children to master. For example, learn to tell time to the hour OR learn to tie their shoe laces OR learn to identify the difference between butterflies and moths. I would list these Mastery Skills by “subjects,” like MATH, LANGUAGE ARTS, SCIENCE and HISTORY. I would then make a plan of ways that I could give them opportunities to master these skills. If I had a goal for my child to write a simple sentence, I would give them opportunities to write stories of their discoveries that they made when we placed various objects near magnets. I tried to take care not to let my goals cause pressure on my children for which they weren’t ready, but I recognized that some amount of pressure and discomfort is occasionally important for real learning to occur. I used many resources and lots of prayer when creating these lists. After a few years, I had a quiet confidence in my teaching that made the lists a little less important. Instead, I could focus on evaluating whether my children were growing at a steady pace in important areas like understanding God and His Creation OR feeling more comfortable working with the math skills that they had attained OR reading more books without being prompted OR researching topics of their own design.
Along the way, we captured tadpoles and watched them turn into frogs. We housed crickets in environments that allowed them to breed and we watched the tiny cricket nymphs slowly develop into full-grown crickets. We raised rats and tracked their genetics through generations. We planted seeds and we built flashlights. We explored mathematical functions and made numerical discoveries. We poured over logic puzzles and riddles and poetry. We studied history in light of God’s Word. We learned spelling and grammar through writing letters and papers.
Over time, I fell into a pattern of teaching in our home school. Eventually, history became the backbone of our studies. I spent a year teaching the seven days of God’s Creation of the world. On the first day, we examined the impact of God creating light and much of the scientific and mathematical foundation that this small part of creation entailed. Throughout the year, we explored as much as we could about all of the amazing things that God simply SPOKE into existence. By the time that God rested, we had barely scratched the surface of all of the things that we could have studied, but I made myself move on to the self-imposed deadlines so that we could begin the study of Adam and Eve and their lineage.
Following our year of studying Creation, we studied Adam through Noah. We read of Adam and Even walking with God and of their sad rebellion against God. We read God’s description of the lush tropical environment that had no seasons, no rain and no storms. We read about the first murder and about the growing populations as men and women filled the earth. We read of the brilliant pre-flood men that managed farms and cattle, created musical instruments, and forged tools of brass and iron. We learned that Noah was born a few short years after the death of Seth, which meant that Noah likely had the opportunity to know men that knew Seth! This gave us an understanding of how information could have been accurately passed down from generation to generation of believers. Learning about the weather patterns of the pre-flood world helped us to understand why many people would likely have dismissed Noah as “the crazy man that’s been building a boat for decades.” Hundreds and hundreds of years and thousands, if not millions, of people after Creation, Noah walked with God amidst a culture that ridiculed him for it. We also saw that God told Noah to enter the ark and GOD sealed the door, but it didn’t rain until seven days later. Could this be because Methusaleh had just died and God was allowing Noah those 7 days of mourning before He sent the huge cataclysmic flood that ripped open the heavens and sent rain pouring from above? At the same time, the earth exploded as the fountains of the great deep broke open with volcanic eruptions and earthquakes as a massive amount of water was sent spewing from below the crust of the earth for 40 days! This was no local flood. This shook the entire world. And it’s never happened again! When the ark settled, likely near the top of a mountain side since it was 2.5 months later before the tops of the mountains were seen again, Noah and his family, along with all of the animals that God had called into the ark, were carried safely through the storm!
We walked through HIStory as we learned about how Noah and his family left the ark and began to set up camps nearby. We saw sin quickly corrupt men so that, as a result, God confused the languages and all of the people of the world spread out by language groups. We began reading secular historians and evaluating what they said against the Truth that we read in Scripture. We read as secular historians also pointed out that the population of the earth descended from this same region and were all related to one man. We discovered the fact that Noah was still alive when Abraham was born! We saw God’s Truth shine through as men tried to deny Him. We read about the pagan culture of Egypt and how God’s people encountered these Egyptians again and again, throughout the lives of Abraham, Joseph, and Solomon. We studied archaeologists and their discoveries. We read as these archaeologists and historians ridiculed the Biblical teachings of the existence of biblical cities, only to see the later discovery of many of these cities make the incorrect historians look ridiculous instead.
As we read through these civilizations and met the people that lived during these times, we saw God intervening in the lives of ordinary men to spread His story of love and redemption along the way. We constantly asked ourselves, “What is God doing in the lives of these men and in the cultures of this time period?” As we read about these people, we looked at their art and architecture, as well as their advances in math, science and medicine.
After the flood, many technologies would have been lost and man wasn’t living as many years as before. However, that didn’t stop man from starting over and rebuilding their world. Once again, man corrupted much of what God created that was good, but God had a Savior poised and ready. We studied the people groups with whom Jesus would have walked. By the time we were studying Paul while he was speaking to the Romans, we’d already studied the Roman culture and many of its people.
As we studied these historical time periods, we wrote papers while learning grammar and spelling. We learned to research and to draw sound conclusions. We learned reason and logic. We learned life skills like creating gardens and sewing. We wrapped most areas of study around our history, fully immersing ourselves in the character of God and His plan for His Creation! We are still in this season of learning and exploring. I don’t expect to ever stop. I’ll keep learning and keep teaching, Lord willing, for all the days of my life! There’s so much Truth to discover!
I began to home school during the summer of 1992. Each day I set out to make learning so much fun that my two kids, ages 5 & 3 at the time, wouldn’t even know that we were ‘doing school’. I wished to give my children a love of learning. I hoped to help them to discover an amazing world that was created by a truly awesome God. I wished to show them that God had plans for mankind from the beginning of Creation and still has one today. Imagine my surprise and embarrassment when skeptical family or critical strangers would query my children at the end of a weekday, “What did you do in school today?”
“We didn’t do school today,” they’d innocently answer while I wished to disappear in a crack in the floor. Lacking confidence in my legal right to home school and, most importantly, in my personal ability to do a good job, I’d sometimes plead with the concerned adult, “Ask them what we did today.” Upon answering that question, my children would describe a game we played or some books we read or the leaves we collected and sorted or the animals that we’d captured at nearby ponds or creeks and had safely nestled into our school house in the back yard where we could observe them for a few days or longer as we chose. These young children had absolutely no idea that the fun things that we did throughout each day had any educational value, but I could explain to these sometimes well-intentioned inquisitors a lengthy purpose I had for these activities if they cared to inquire. Knowing that the truancy officer or CPS worker could show up at our door if too much alarm was created, I trembled each time this scenario played out. You might think that these occurrences were rare, but, on the contrary, they happened often. Sometimes it was relatives, but even strangers seem compelled to become inquisitors when they learn that some young mom has dared to take up the task of home educating their children.
Over the years, as I saw my kids learning and growing and maturing, I developed a confidence that the same God that had called me to educate my kids would also equip me to do so. Though I knew that I was far from doing a perfect job, I began to trust that God would take my feeble efforts and redeem them. As some family members or strangers would try to tear us down or attack us for not following the conventional method of sending our kids to be educated by strangers and trained by their peers, I learned to let their attacks roll off of my shoulders…as often as I could. As I watched my kids interact with their peer-dependent, spoon-fed, public-schooled relatives and neighbors, I grew stronger in my conviction that we were doing the right thing for our family.
Some days my job felt harder than I wanted it to be. Some days I wanted to quit. Some days the kitchen sink clogged up on the same day that the toddler cut the cat’s ear off at the same time that little brother clobbered an older sibling, all while I was too tired from staying up late the night before planning school lessons and cleaning the house. On those long days, I reminded myself that “some days are like that, even in Australia.” If I’d packed off my precious children so that I could go to work each day either at home or at a job away from home, or even if I'd stayed in my empty, wonderfully clean home while said children were in an institutional school program, I knew that I would still have some days like that — maybe even more of them. When I’d cry out to God and ask Him if I could quit home educating my children, I knew the answer was no. How can you quit doing what you know is the right thing to do? When I finished having my pity party, I’d tell myself to just breathe, pray, stand up, and find joy. It might take me a while to get those seemingly simple things done, but I’d eventually find my joy again and press on. I pray that you will, also.
I recently read an article that concerned me greatly. In case you want to read it first, here's the link: A Few Words For Parents Who Home Schooled
My problem with the article is the statement that, "First, the problems you see in the life of your grown children are your fault." As I read that statement, my mind spun. The article does a fair job explaining why the author feels this way, but I believe that he is completely incorrect. Just as I can't take credit for my grown kids' successes, I cannot take the blame for their mistakes. Raising children is part of the sanctification of parents. Absolutely no parent begins the journey of parenting totally prepared. Every one of us will make mistakes along the way. As we seek to lay down our lives in our own individual, imperfect life journey, raising children is much less about raising perfect children than it is about Christ working His perfect power in our lives to shape each of us individually into the person that He wants us to become. As our children grow older, we slowly transfer the responsibility of us making their decisions on to them to make their decisions on their own. They will stumble. They will fall. God will pick them up. We are responsible to continue to pray for them and to be available for counsel if they will listen, but we are not responsible, nor are we able, to walk their own personal journey of life. If they grow up in a Christian home, they will likely make a profession of faith during their childhood. However, they will ultimately need to decide if they are going to walk that profession out as God gives them opportunity to grow in Him. As a parent, we will each stand before God and answer to Him for how we raised our kids, for whether we told them about Jesus, for whether we walked out His commandments while raising our kids, but we will not be in any way responsible for whether our children walked with God as adults or for their faults. God will be glorified in their weaknesses and in their strengths, as well as in our own. We are only individually responsible for our own walk. Let the burden of being judged on the basis of the faults of your children slide from your shoulders. And, likewise, let the pride of being praised on the basis of the strengths of your children slide away. Let it all bring glory to God.
A child recently said to me, "My dad used to take me fishing. But he doesn't anymore. Now he just plays Pokemon Go." Wow! Really? I was crushed for her. As I pondered her sad story, I wondered how many times I've let social media or work or some other unimportant thing crowd my day instead of spending time with my kids and/or my husband. I hope that I will remember that disappointed little face every time that I choose to do something unimportant instead of spending time with my kids. I've only got two daughters left at home. My other three kids have moved on to begin building their own lives. I want to make the most of my time before the days of my kids living at home are only a distant memory. I hope you will do so, too.
I'm always looking for opportunities to show my children how God is working in their life. Sometimes these moments happen while walking across a field, riding in a car, or scrubbing the dishes after dinner. These teachable moments that happen about 1,000 times a day are perfect times to open up lines of communication with my kids. Sometimes, I get too busy and put on my "I need to finish this work" hat and I forget to look for those teachable moments.
As I was driving the car with my two daughters and two of their friends as passengers, we were talking about how God works in our lives. I heard one of my girls lean over to her friend and say with a smile, "We have talks like this every day in my home. It's awesome!" I was so glad that she felt that way. I truly feel that everything we do is a waste of time if we aren't seeking Christ in the midst of it. Though I miss some of my opportunities, perhaps her statement shows me that I'm catching many of them for the glory of God and for the benefit of my sweet kiddos and their friends, as well as for myself.