If you’re reading this post, you might be wondering what jars have to do with homeschooling. Am I going to use them for science experiments? Maybe! As paint pots for art? Definitely. But this post is not about either of those things. This post is about using jars to help me schedule and plan our homeschool.
I’ve previously written about using loop scheduling and using jars in our homeschool is sort of like a different version of loop schedules. But it’s added a bit of fun into our homeschool as well and it’s worked really great!
Why use jars?
I want to start off by saying that I can’t take 100 percent credit for this idea. It all started when I saw a comment in a Facebook group (I don’t even remember which one!) about a family that used one of those virtual prize wheels to organize their homeschool. They put the things they wanted to learn in the spaces of the wheel and then spun it.
Now I have to admit, the moment I read this idea I was intrigued. You see, I have been creating systems to randomize things for as long as I can remember. Books, activities, and so much more, I have put into numbered lists so I can use a random number generator to pick for me. Seriously.
So, I wanted to adapt this for our school, but I didn’t want to make a numbered list and I didn’t want it to rely on a device. But, then I began to think about chore jars I had seen, where they put the chores that need to be done on popsicle sticks. My brain started ticking and I wondered – is there a way I can make this work for our family?
It could be there are already others out there using jars – I am not intending to say this is my wholly original idea! I was inspired.
I wasn’t planning on starting this idea until the new school year, but I offhandedly mentioned to the kids that I had some new ideas for our school year and, of course, they wanted to know the new ideas. They were excited about these jars and wanted to start them right away. I considered and then decided it was a great idea to do a trial run with them before the new school year actually started.
The best reasons so far we have found for using the jars are:
- Gives us the excitement of not knowing what’s next
- Still have some structure to draw from – not just totally winging it wondering what’s next
- Helps us to focus on the things we want to make sure we do
- Gives space to include fun extras
How to Make Your Jars
Your first step is to obtain your jars. You can buy jars or you can use jars you already have. We chose to use jars (and containers) we already had. In fact, ours are mainly salsa jars that we washed out. I tried to pick jars that were roughly the same size. Lids are not necessary. We do keep the lids around just in case we need to use them, but we have never used them.
You also don’t have to use jar – you could use any container that you have around. Small bags or tin cans (clean and make sure there are no sharp edges first) or boxes or any other fun container you have around. You could even take a trip to the thrift store and let your kids treasure hunt for fun containers!
Then, we decorated the jars. We used paper that we drew on and then taped over the jar. Since our jars were clear, this helps us not to peak at what we are drawing. My kids each decorated their own jars and put their name on them.
What do you put into the jars?
To tell what we are putting in the jars, I find it most helpful to start with how many jars we have. We have six jars. Each of my kids has one jar and I have a jar that is labeled together.
Then we have three done jars, one for each of the kids and one for the together jars. We used to have just one done jar that we shared, but separating the sticks back out was not something we found as a worthwhile use of our time. Another way around this would be to color-code your sticks as well, then a quick glance would tell you where the stick belongs.
Each of these jars contains a number of popsicle sticks. When I am preparing for the new year and I’ve picked out all the curriculum and things we want to do for the new year, I start mentally sorting things into two categories. These categories are things they can do alone – which goes on their independent work checklist – and things that require adult assistance and active teaching – which used to go on our loop schedule but now goes in the jar. Things that we do all together – art projects, life skills, etc, go into my together jar.
An example of something that goes on their independent work checklist is ChessKid. This is a self-guided, self-contained, self-teaching website – so they can use this independently. On the other hand, you have history. History we do together, not only because I read their history out loud to them, but also because history can be a heavy topic and doing it together allows space for discussion and to make sure they understand what I’m talking about. So this makes it something that would go in the jar. But my kids do not work at history on the same level, so they get history sticks in each of their jars individually. But we often work on life skills all of us together, so that goes in my together jar.
Once I have my list of everything I want to put into the jar, I start thinking about how many times a week I would have them doing that activity ideally. For example, in my ideal week, I might want to do history twice and spelling five times. So then into the jar, I would put the corresponding number of sticks – two history sticks and five spelling sticks.
Another option is to just put one stick for every activity in the jar and reset it when the jar runs out. This is what I do with my together jar.
How to Use the Jars
Once your jars are set up, then all that’s left is to start using them! How we do this in our family is that we have certain times when we draw from the jar. You might call these our “school times” but really they are more flexible. For example, if we are going to co-op, we aren’t really drawing sticks then. Or in the evening, because we have other things that we do in the evening (we call it family fun time). But we have a general understanding of when we will draw sticks and when we won’t. This will be different for every family.
When we are drawing sticks, we generally have an order that we go in. We always start the day with a devotional. Then I draw a together stick. After our together activity, my youngest will draw his first stick. When he is finished with whatever was on the stick, then my oldest will draw one. Then we start back over in the loop with a together stick.
What if not everything in the jars gets done?
The beauty of homeschooling is that we don’t need to be racing to the finish line. We are working at our own pace. This means that finishing for finishing’s sake is not something we have to do.
But we still want to be making forward progress. At the end of the week you can look in the jar at the done sticks and see what has been finished and what has been unfinished. Then you can choose if and how you want to prioritize working on these things. Maybe it will be hardly anything and you’ll have known you covered enough. Or maybe it will be a lot and you’ll realize it’s because you spent the majority of your week out of the house. Whatever sticks are left, those sticks just give you information – then it’s up to you to decide what you want to do with that information.
Alternatively, as mentioned above, you could also just put one stick in for everything you want to do and then reset the jar when you’ve been through everything, whether that takes you a day or a week!
What do you think about using jars for your homeschool? Would you ever try this? If you have any extra questions – feel free to comment below!