Sometimes it's the small homeschool frustrations that have the largest potential to derail the school day. Take the matter of sharpened pencils...
Can you relate to the frustration of not being able to find a pencil when it is time to start written work? Where in the world do all the pencils go?!
Thankfully, there are simple practices we can put into place to create a more organized homeschool environment—starting with those pesky pencils.
1. Designate a Central Location for All Pencils
The task of quickly tidying up the house—you know, walking through the house, tossing the socks in the laundry basket and clearing mugs from the living room—is a lot easier if you know where everything is supposed to go. But if no one really knows where the pencils go, or if the place where pencils are stored is constantly changing, then spotting a rogue pencil between the cushions becomes a task of figuring out where to put it next. (In that case, it’s easier to just ignore the pencil, isn’t it?)
But once you designate a central location for your pens and pencils, you’re able to automate the task, removing the decision-making process. Spy a pencil—or ten—on your tidying walk-through? Pick them up, and stick them in the pencil jar on your way to the laundry basket. When everything you encounter has place of its own, tidying doesn’t require much extra brain-power at all. (Although it does still requires effort.)
2. Organize Pencils, Pens, and Erasers into Divided Containers
Creating space for pencils is a good start, but what about the markers, highlighters, mechanical pencils, crayons, highlighters, and colored pencils? By using an organizer with separate compartments, you’ll be able to easily group each type of writing instrument together, keeping each category physically separate from the others. It might seem like overkill at first, but it will save so much time in the long run.
Stuck on what to use? Think about
- a basket with several built-in interior dividers,
- a metal or wooden milk bottle holder, or
- a half dozen or so glass jars.
Whatever type of organizer you use, don’t forget to keep a section open for smaller items, too, like pencil toppers, erasers, and pencil grips.
3. Use Pencil Eraser Toppers to Replace Worn Erasers
The ratio of eraser to pencil is always woefully inadequate, as pencil-top erasers wear down much faster than the graphite does. There are few things more frustrating than accidentally gouging paper with the scratchy metal top of an eraser-less pencil. Argh! But by adding good-quality eraser toppers to older pencils, you can restore your pencils to working order once again. Now all your pencils will be equally functional—no more wasting time during school sifting through castaway pencils.
4. Keep School Pencils at Your Own Desk (Not Your Kids’)
Flip the script. Rather than expecting your young students to come to the table with a sharpened pencil, simply designate yourself the pencil treasurer for certain subjects. Sure, kids can still keep their own stash of pencils, but for the parent-intensive times when you sit down one-on-one to teach math or language arts, you supply the sharpened pencil.
When the lesson is over, your students will need to hand the pencils back to you—before they leave the table. (But be sure to sharpen the pencils and put them away in a designated spot separate from the communal pencils, so you’ll be prepared for tomorrow.)
5. Throw Away Broken Pencils
You know those poorly-made pencils with faulty leads? The ones which repeatedly break within seconds or minutes of sharpening—over and over again? Throw them away. Toss them in the garbage. Drop them into the trash can...now. (Don’t put them back in the pencil jar.)
No matter how cute and seasonal they look, if the graphite was inserted askew into the wooden casing, they’ll never work correctly. Life is too short to waste time on broken pencils.
6. Invest in a Quality Automatic Sharpener
An automatic sharpener saves so much time! I prefer the type you can insert the pencil in top-down, rather than from the side. Why? It’s much easier for kids to keep the pencil straight, which cuts down on broken lead.
I was a little concerned my daughter might absentmindedly allow the sharpener to eat the entire pencil, so I added googly eye stickers just above the pencil hole. Our sharpener now looks like a greedy pencil monster, ready to gobble up our pencils if we’re not careful. You can do this too, and make a game of it—try to feed the pencil monster quickly before he eats too much!
7. Purchase Premium Pencils
This may seem like a counter-intuitive solution to the problem of pencils missing en masse, but premium pencils are a delight—and presumably more likely to be taken care of—compared to mass-produced sticks of crooked, broken graphite. Each fall, we restock on our favorite pencil brand. I am always sure to place an emphasis on how special and important the school pencils are; I ration them sparingly, then store the packs at my own desk rather than with the shared supplies. I even make a game to see who can use the exact same pencil for the longest length of time, without interrupting the streak by using a different writing instrument.
8. Sharpen and Sort Pencils Once a Month
Once your pencils are sorted, sharpened, and fitted with new eraser tops, you’ll want to maintain the order, right? About once a month, have your kids go through pencil command central—that divided organizer you set up earlier—and
- sharpen dull pencils,
- discard broken or too-short pencils,
- add eraser tops to worn pencils, and
- separate regular pencils out from among the colored pencils, pens, and markers.
We often do this task after lunch, with fun music or a riveting audiobook. This is also a good time to put away other items which invariably find their way into the pencil jars—like coins, hair ties, bouncy balls, and paperclips.
9. Offer a Bounty for Found Pencils
If the pencil collection looks suspiciously thin even after sorting, consider offering a bounty. Every missing pencil brought back to you during the week equals a few coins of reward. Double the bounty for premium-brand pencils!
10. Charge a Fine for Missing Pencils
If you need a more aggressive solution to the ongoing case of the missing pencils, charge each child a fine whenever they can't locate a pencil. Money talks! Sonlighter Berenice uses this method and says she never had to collect a fine. It’s been two years since her youngest graduated from college, and she’s still finding original homeschool pencils. (I’d say her system worked!)
Less time spent on wrangling unruly pencils or looking for erasers means more time available to read the next chapter of your favorite Sonlight read-aloud—and that’s a win for everyone!
Join Sonlight Connections, a group where parents gather to talk about all things homeschooling—from sharpened pencils to curriculum selections.