Apps to Help a Right-Brained Mum Get Organized

apps to get a right brained mum organized

I am not a naturally organised person. I have great ideas, a huge zest for life, and an insatiable love of learning, but the trade-off for my out-there right-hemisphere-dominant brain is that it’s not always  easy for me to stay focused on the day-to-day jobs involved in running a household.

When my mum takes my children somewhere, I’m in awe at how it takes her at most a quarter of the time it takes me to pack a bag, load the car and get going.  Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that on the way out the door I’ll pause as I pass the printer, to scan a few pieces of my daughter’s artwork; or have to run upstairs three times for a jacket (the first two times coming down empty handed after turning off the bathroom light, putting away a pile of socks, or plucking a few stray eyebrows); or feel the need to hunt for a couple of the books I’m in the middle of (you never know which you might want to read in the five minutes waiting to see the doctor); or reaching for the landline phone in an effort to locate my mobile phone (in my handbag).

People like me shouldn’t try to multi-task – but try telling that to my wandering mind.

Luckily, I’ve always been fascinated by tools that help compensate for scatter-brain tendencies.  I got straight A’s at school thanks to Tony Buzan’s memory systems.  My vacation packing-list procedure is incredibly sophisticated (excessively so, but that helps engage me).  And now – oh glory – there’s an app for everything!


When my friend Sarah told me about the list app Clear, it just sounded too simple to be useful. But once I had figured out the multi-touch swipe gesture system and entered a few lists, I was hooked.  Here’s why Clear is a life-saver for someone like me:

Multiple Lists in One Place

I’ve long since seen the value of lists for recording an idea the moment it pops into my head (before something else pops in and replaces it, three seconds later).  But if I put everything on one list, it soon becomes too long and boring to check, and multiple paper lists quickly get lost.

Being able to have multiple named lists in one place (and on my phone which is always with me) means I always have the appropriate list to hand.

Clear - apps to help a right brained mother get organized

For example, we spend a large part of Tuesdays and Thursdays out of the house doing homeschool activities that require various pieces of clothing, books, food and other supplies. So I have my Tuesday list (“Take to Home Ed Centre” and my Thursday list (“Take to French”). When a puppy joined our family a few months ago, I was easily able to add the unfamiliar dog items onto my lists so that Harvey’s needs were also met during his days out with us.

The lists are great for travel. Most spring and summer weekends we visit our house at the coast, which I love, but keeping track of what food, clothes and toiletries were in which house used to be a challenge.  Now I have “Take to Coast” and “Leaving Coast” lists, plus “Packing up Coast” to remind me to lock the balcony doors, clean the loo, and set the dishwasher before heading inland for the week.

Clear - apps to get a right brained mother organizedOther lists I have right now include; “November birthdays”; “Project supplies” (all those bizarre things you need for homeschooling, like red cabbage, electrical tape and popsicle sticks); “Errands” (for when I’m in town); “Home Ed Ideas”; “Ikea wish list” (to focus me during my occasional visits to the Ikea marketplace and stop me coming home with a dozen more picture frames I won’t use); “House Quick Wins” (5 minute decluttering jobs); and “Boring Stuff” (my Christmas presents list – shhh!).

Crossing Off and Reinstating List Items

One of the reasons Clear works so well for lists you use regularly is because when you swipe an item as completed it remains, greyed out, at the bottom of the list, ready to be reswiped into play the next time you need to refer to the list. Which means I don’t need to start from scratch remembering what I have to take out with us every Tuesday. Meanwhile one-off items can be permanently deleted by swiping in the other direction.

Other Useful Functions

The ability to have multiple lists in one place and to delete and reinstate items are the two most important features of Clear for me, but there are other little touches that make the app a pleasure to use. Lists and list items can be re-ordered, renamed and colour-coded, for example.

User Fallibility

Of course, I still have to remember to check my lists – right up until the last item is swiped off. And while I remembered to take dishwasher tablets, teabags and the kids’ travel clocks to Center Parcs a few weeks ago – I forgot to pack my coat. “I’m surprised you made it to the car without your coat!” remarked my husband (who knows my lack of tolerance for English November weather).  “I thought my coat was in the car!” I replied. (It’s okay, there’ll soon be an app for that.)

I’m loving the new right-brain friendly world order!

How a Homeschool Schedule Works for Us (Sometimes)

how a homeschool schedule works for us (sometimes) at navigating by joy homeschool blog

We started puppy training classes this week with Harvey, our four month old cavalier spaniel/bischon frise cross. The classes are on a Wednesday morning and take out (for the next few weeks) one of the six half-days we actually spend at home.  Of course all of us, not just Harvey, are learning at the classes, but it is putting a bit of a squeeze on our week!

The solution, it occurred to me, was a schedule! (Colour-coded, naturally.) Don’t you just love the beautiful dance between structure and free-wheeling that is homeschooling?!  At the start of September (all those many – er, weeks – ago) I happily shared with a good homeschooling friend that we were taking a fairly autonomous approach this term.  She said that her family were doing the opposite, and had begun the new school year with a very structured timetable.  At the time we laughed, and said we’d each probably be doing the opposite before too long.  And so here I am, colour-coded schedule proudly in hand. 😀

I wrote a few weeks ago about how we’ve been using the big rocks time management system to prioritise project-based learning around the good maths and English habits we already have in place, and that’s still working well as a guiding principle. But recently my left-brain had begun to get a bit antsy about how weeks were slipping by without Cordie doing any copywork or dictation, and then she decided to try a new approach to learning maths, which was great but required a bit more planning …  and my free-wheeling right-brain decided it was time to take a back seat for a while.

And guess what? Just like when I move around the furniture to the exact same position it was in 6 months earlier and declare joyfully that it looks “So Much Better!” – we’re getting so much done!

On Thursdays we only have until 1130am at home, but by the time we left the house this morning we had done a stack of English and  maths, Cordie had had her project time, the children had enjoyed plenty of time playing in the garden, and we’d even done some history notebooking and had the paints out making Anglo-Saxon coins!


Here’s how a schedule works best for us:

In short bursts. Once it’s helped us find our groove, I’ll happily let the schedule itself  fall by the wayside.  It’s served its purpose.  “Tools, not rules” as my friend Sarah and I say. I can always create a new schedule when the need arises again. (And that colour-coding is so much fun :-D)

A schedule saves time spent arguing about “who goes first” with mummy in the morning. Even though both Cordie and Jasper enjoy their one on one time with me, tearing themselves away from their book/lego/trampoline and  getting around to actually starting is a different matter.

I see a schedule as a set of goals rather than a strict timetable. Although there are times written on our schedule, I rarely look at the clock. The timetable just serves as a rough guide to who does what next.  There’s plenty of leeway for following rabbit-trails and spending a whole afternoon doing  projects or partnership writing a long story if the mood takes us (right brain satisfied), but the timetable helps me remember what else I’d like us to cover in a week (happy left brain).  Win win. 🙂

Where are you at right now in the scheduling/free-wheeling dance?

Big Rocks Homeschooling – How to Prioritize What’s Important

project based homeschooling at navigating by joy

One of the many things I love about project-based learning is that it can fit into any homeschool style. This term I have a much more relaxed approach to curriculum – I’m using it as the tool I always intended it to be, instead of being a slave to it – leaving a bigger space for more natural, child-led learning.

The Call of the Familiar (it’s Easiest to Do What You’ve Always Done)

But starting something new – no, sticking with something new – takes commitment. Now that our intense start-of-term enthusiasm has subsided, cold viruses are doing the rounds, and wet weather has kept us indoors for days at a time, there have been mornings when it’s felt so tempting just to snuggle up with the children for quiet English, maths and read alouds. It’s not that I don’t love seeing the children caught up in a wave of passionate creativity; it’s just that the lure of the familiar, the comfortable path of doing what we know, is sometimes hard to resist.

“Big Rocks” Time Management

you can have what you want at navigating by joy homeschooling blogIn his book You Can Have What You Want, supercoach Michael Neill  tells this story about a seminar leader who placed a large jar on the table.

By the side of the jar he placed a bucket of gravel, a bucket of sand, a bucket of water, and three big rocks. He then challenged his participants to  find a way to fit everything on the table into the jar.

After numerous attempts, it became clear that the only way to fit everything in was to start with the big rocks first.  The gravel filled the space between the big rocks, the sand filled the gaps in the gravel,  and the water filled the gaps between the sand.

When it comes to what we choose to make important, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the daily gravel, ground down by the sand, and swept away by the water. What can be tricky is finding ways to prioritize the ‘big rocks’ – those things in your life that matter most. 

Over the summer (using a fantastic process I’ll share in another post) I identified what are the biggest “rocks” that I want to fit into my life. One “rock” was doing more natural (interest and child-led) learning with my children, and project-based homeschooling has been the perfect way to do this. Of course maths and English are important, but (I’m happy to say) doing them has become a comfortable habit – they get done easily without needing to be prioritized.

How to Prioritize Something

Michael Neill suggests that there are three ways of prioritizing something: (1) Do it first (2) Do it now (3) Do it often. Common sense, but a good reminder nonetheless.

And that is how, as well as practising multi-digit subtraction and discussing the beautiful metaphors in Where the Moon Meets the Mountain, last week Cordie experimented with home made light bulbs, and made kites and tepees from wood and hot glue, and Jasper began to learn computer programming with Scratch in between practising his spelling, handwriting, and learning about the differences between rhombuses and trapeziums. 🙂

What are your big rocks?

Learning How To Start

project based homeschooling at joy homeschooling blog

In her blog this week Lori Pickert has quoted one of my favourite paragraphs from her book, Project-Based Homeschooling:

“Many adults, let alone children, stall in the information-gathering stage of a project.  They keep collecting inspiration and ideas without ever moving forward to the point of making something of their own.  Forget about finishing – they can’t start.”

Lori’s post is actually about the difference between good and bad persistence, and in particular how “you’re not teaching the kids persistence forcing them to complete something *you* want them to do.”  But the quote about not being able to start totally resonated with me (in quite an uncomfortable way!) when I first read it in her book, and one of the many beautiful and unexpected benefits I’m getting out of project-based homeschooling is that my kids – unhampered by years of formal schooling – are showing me how to start!

Since I’ve let go of trying to control every aspect of the learning process, something magical has happened around here. My kids are learning so much more!  Cordie (8) has always been an independent self-starter, so it’s in Jasper (7) that I’m noticing the biggest changes.   We have lots of creating space around our home but it wasn’t until I read Project-Based Homeschooling that it occurred to me that Jasper didn’t have his own desk space in our main living area. We have a large craft desk but that has pretty much been colonised by his prolifically-creative big sister, whereas Jasper had made his own a tiny table housing our desktop computer and – guess what – he wanted to spend all his time on the computer!

As part of our reorganization  he has his own desk and – wow! – is he using it. He’s initiated and completed more creative and science mini-projects this week than I would probably have got round to doing in a month (term??)! All thanks to that little space of his own and the magical power of “project-time”. I think the highlight of my week was when he sighed contentedly in the bath one evening and told me, “when I grow up I want to be a scientist (and a quadrillionaire)” – the millionaire/quadrillionaire bit always comes up, but this was the first time I’d heard Jasper talk about wanting to do anything apart from design/test computer games.  Not that I have anything against him working in games, but it made my heart sing to think that he’s beginning to like science (anything!) as much as he enjoys computer games!

Here’s what my children have taught me this week about “starting”: don’t over-think, over-plan, wait for the perfect moment or worry about the mess – just do it!  And when you do, you learn heaps, have stacks of fun, and – when you’re surfing a wave of  authentic, happy enthusiasm – the preparation and clearing up doesn’t take nearly as long as you thought it would.  🙂

project based homeschooling at navigating by joy

How to Organize Homeschool Supplies to Encourage Project-Based Learning

How to organize homeschool resources at navigatingbyjoy homeschool blog

My last post was about how Lori Pickert’s book Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners inspired me to make changes in the way we homeschool and showed me how to make those changes.  One thing I learned was the importance of creating a physical environment that encourages project-based learning.  For example, how learning materials are organised.

Who Controls the Best Resources?

I’m not naturally the tidiest, most organised person (anyone who’s visited our home will agree!), but I used to pride myself on the fact that our “school supplies” were neatly stored in categorized tubs behind closed cupboard doors – ready to be brought out, “Hey Presto!” style, by me (wearing my magician’s hat), when I had a wonderful about how to use them. (Or, more often, to languish in the cupboard, never to see the light of day, while I browsed Pinterest and the blogosphere for more  wonderful ideas.  Ahem.)

I guess giving the kids access to the best tools only while they were working on what I wanted them to do was a form of bribery.  They had plenty of coloured pencils to make pictures of their own ideas, but the Prismacolors were special – they were reserved for when the children were executing my ideas, for when they were pleasing me.

Wow, have my eyes been opened to these subtle but insidious ways we exert control over our children’s learning process!  What message was I giving them about the value of their own ideas in comparison with mine?  (Don’t think I’m being too hard on myself, by the way – I’m laughing as I write this – partially in relief at having had this epiphany sooner rather than later!)

Direct Access to Materials

In Project-Based Homeschooling, Lori talks about the importance of children having sight of and easy access to all the materials they might be inspired to create with.  Cordie (8) and I had great fun one weekend liberating our resources from their cupboard “prisons”. Prismacolor pencils, Caran D’Ache watercolour crayons, fancy papers, Crayola Model Magic, paintbrushes, canvases, film canisters, a collection of corks and balsa wood, charcoals, dozens of different kinds of paper, glues and tapes… all my “secret supplies”… were  merrily piled up in the middle of the room (“go free, bronze acrylic paint! Go free, watercolours!”) before being re-homed  in transparent (Ikea) storage containers in full view and easy reach around the room. (OH it felt good! :-D)

how to organize resources for project based homeschooling at navigatingbyjoy homeschool blog

Clean Up Time

Another suggestion Lori makes is that, as well as being able to get materials out, children should know how to put them away and clean up after themselves afterwards. As well as honouring and supporting children’s independence, this also makes it more likely – in the long run – that I’ll let them go ahead with messy projects. Yes, it means taking the time to show them how to wash out the paint palettes and brushes, and maybe putting up with less than perfect cleaning up for a while, but it’s just too tempting to put off teaching these important skills in favour of the easier (in the short term) “Oh I’ll just do it myself!”  (This is one I’m going to have to practise!)

I’m loving watching the children exploring our newly re-organised project space. 🙂

How To Make That “First Week Of (Homeschool) Term” Feeling Last All Term

There’s something about the beginning of a new term that brings out the best in everyone.  In our house we all enjoyed the holidays enormously and although none of us was especially looking forward to getting back to “work”, we  had a wonderful first week of term.  And I know we’re not the only ones.  Homeschooling families across the world have begun 2012 learning lots, enjoying each other’s company, and basking in that “fresh start” feeling.

I’m tempted to jump straight into talking about some of the fun things we’ve been doing and the positive changes we’ve made to our schedule, room arrangements and curriculum, but before I do, I want to have a closer look at where that “fresh new term” feeling comes from to see if I can make it last another week – maybe even a whole term…!


Many people, me included, crave routine and yet thrive on change.  The trick is to find a balance between the two and to set things up so that change is built into the routine. This is maybe why some homeschoolers take frequent weeks off and make up the time with shorter summer breaks. It works best for us not to do schoolwork public school holidays as we use the holidays to catch up with friends and do sports courses.  But there are other ways to build change into the routine.

Building change into the school term

1.      Switch around subjects

I aim to organise our schedule so that we do a balanced variety of subjects within each school day and over a week.  No two days or weeks are exactly the same, but once I find a schedule that works I can be reluctant to to give it up – I never want to stop for the holidays, for example! But this term I’m going to try taking a few days or even a week out every now and then to change the pace completely. This could be a great opportunity to try some projects or unit studies you’ve been wanting to try.  On my list, for example, there’s:

    • “Virtual travel” (geography) – geography isn’t a regular part of our curriculum right now (except where overlaps with history), so I’d love for us to spend a few days taking a virtual journey around the world (map work, computer research, living books, cooking, languages, lapbooking etc)
    • Art & crafts – bigger projects, or learning new skills like sewing or knitting
    • Field trips – field trips we can’t easily make in one day, maybe including an overnight stay with friends or relatives
    • Sports – having an ice skating lesson, booking a family climbing wall session or just taking rackets and balls to the local tennis courts.  Making time for those sports that aren’t in our regular (busy) weekly schedule and so tend to get overlooked.

2.      Take vacations

If money allows, take off for a week in the middle of term.  As homeschoolers we can take advantage of cheaper travel and accommodation while other families are bound by school dates.  The prices at Centerparcs in the UK, for example, go down from thousands to a couple of hundred pounds at this time of year.  Before we head off, I sometimes feel slightly anxious about the prospect of missing a whole week of schoolwork, but once we’re back, not only do we all enjoy that renewed “fresh start” feeling, but I realise how much the children benefitted from our time away – from the fresh air, physical exercise and skills, family bonding, meeting new people, and all the other learning that naturally happens in unfamiliar environments.

3.      Change your physical environment

Before Christmas we were doing almost all our schoolwork in our family room:  bookwork at the kitchen table, reading aloud on the sofa, hands-on activities on the rug.  This term we are working in a different part of the house entirely – bookwork in my office and reading aloud on our lazy-boy sofa.  Of course I’m convinced this new arrangement is the best possible way of doing things … which reminds me of a joke my mother and I share, that whenever we move furniture around it always “looks so much better” – even if we’re moving it right back to how it was six months ago!  So even though our new room arrangements seem to be working well, I might try making another move midway through term just for the fun of it

Depending on how much space you have, you don’t have to move into a different room entirely.  Inspired by Denise at Let’s Play Math’s idea of buddy math, we’ve recently being doing maths on the sofa rather than at the table, which brings a different mood entirely to maths lessons.  If you always work at the table, try the sofa; if you always do read-alouds on the sofa, trying all lying together on the biggest bed in the house! It might just bring some fresh energy into your school day.


What do all these changes have in common? They all make you feel different.  But what if you could feel different without having to make any practical changes at all? In the week since I’ve been mulling this subject over, I’ve realised that the main reason we’ve had a good week is because of the positive attitudes we brought to the new term. In part this is because we’re naturally feeling a bit more goodwill towards each other after the holidays.  But more than that, I think it’s because I began the new term with my parenting and educational intentions very clear in my mind.

When we’re caught up in the many daily tasks that running a homeschooling household involves, it’s easy to lose touch with our underlying educational philosophy.  Writing about our curriculum recently (here, for example) was a timely reminder that my children are still young (aren’t they all?) and that my most important homeschooling goal right now is to foster in them a lifelong love of learning and to help them acquire skills to pursue that learning.  With this intention fresh in my mind, I’ve found it much easier to recognise any imaginary external pressure for what it is (imaginary!) and I’ve been able instead to respond lovingly to my children’s needs, moment by moment.

For me, then, the key to having that first-week-of-term feeling last all term is twofold:

1. Be very clear what your intentions are, as a parent and homeschooler.

2. Set up your life  in a way that you are frequently reminded of those goals.

How do you do to keep your homeschool fresh?

[Image by nongpimmy at]

In Balance

This is our fourth week of the homeschooling year and we seem to be settling nicely into a routine that strikes just the right balance between structure and flexibility.

I had fun over the summer playing with various homeschool planning systems but when it comes to real life simplicity works best for me, so my weekly planning at the moment consists of fifteen minutes on a Sunday night, writing what I want to cover on a big whiteboard.  I include the subjects I want us to do, craft activities I’ve got planned and books I want us to read.  This acts as a focusing checklist for me and means the children know what to expect (and, in many cases I hope, look forward to!)  Thanks to the maths, history and science curricula we’re following, I don’t feel like I’ve got to reinvent the wheel every week – unless I want to of course 😉

Up until now I’ve been strewing books on the kitchen table, and I’ll continue to do this – C reads almost everything she finds there – but the table’s been getting rather cluttered! – so after hunting around for another surface to colonise for our homeschool – I’ve started laying out books on the lid of the dressing up box!

We start each day at about 830am with a “Morning Meeting” which usually includes a fun activity like drawing for Sketch Tuesday or watching a YouTube clip related to our current composer.  Today we celebrated the beginning of October by making acrostic poems on autumnal paper.

After the Morning Meeting we take a look at the whiteboard and decide together what we want to focus on each day – which one day might be a little bit of everything, another mostly history, mostly science (or mostly swimming!). Maths I try to do every day.  Thanks to the whiteboard checklist, I know everything will get covered by the end of the week 🙂

Another balance that seems to be working pretty well is that between curricula and autonomy.  So while today we did maths, spelling, history and science from the whiteboard, C and J also spent time with a Klutz magnets book they pulled off the shelf (following which C made an “invention” out of one of the magnets, a piece of string, a paper fastener and a cardboard box), they spent fifteen minutes together playing Stack the Countries geography-quiz on the iPad, created  characters, scenes and a story using another iPad app, PlayTime, and made dozens of play-doh pyramids!

C spent some time online researching how to make a quill after one of the kittens brought in a particularly unusual feather.  And of course, there was time to make the most of the 25 C and sunshine and have a paddle  … surely the last time this year?!!

My Library Thing

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