Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bookshelf Organization

Happy 2009! We enjoyed the holidays immensely and have been busy with new baby farm animals and other adventures as well as enjoying the new school term. I've had several requests for me to share how we organize our bookshelves so I will share with you what works for us.

I used to organize our school books by subject area, but soon realized that this wasn't working out so well. My young children rarely remembered what book belonged on what shelf and so we were constantly looking for books and I found myself spending way to much time putting books back in their places.

I decided to divide the bookshelves by year and place all the required reading for that year together on one bookshelf. I put years 1 and 2 of our curriculum are on the lower shelves so the youngest children can reach them, years 3 and 4 are placed a little higher and so on. I write the year on the back bottom right hand corner of each book in small print with a black permanent marker. If I make a mistake, I can wipe it off with a little nail polish remover. This makes if very easy for the children to return books to the proper shelf.

Another thing I do is put a small colored sticky dot on the spine of each book that is considered 'Additional Reading.' This helps the the children know which books they can read whenever they wish as opposed to those that are scheduled. I use a different color dot for each year. Now my children never ask which books are for free reading.

All of our leftover books that are not part of a particular year are organized by subject. Art and music reference books are together. Field guides and general nature books are placed together above a shelf reserved for displaying outdoor discoveries. General reference books (Atlas, Encyclopedia, History timeline books etc... ) are grouped on one shelf. All my personal teaching reference books are together. I reserve the bottom shelves for our yearly notebooks-those big three ring binders. We also have bookshelves scattered throughout the house that hold other books.

We've used this system for several years now and like the simplicity of it. My children rarely need help finding or replacing a book and even the youngest know how to find what he is looking for. It has also been a great help to us whenever we have traveled during a school year and throughout all the many major household moves. Each child has everything she needs in one box. This is just one way to organize schoolbooks.

Here is another idea. Christie wrote me and shared her bookshelf system. It is a little bit like mine. This is what she wrote:

I have finally come up with an easy, realistic solution and
thought I would share just in case it might prove helpful to you as
your site has been so helpful to me. I bought white file folder labels, colored
them with sharpies and cut them into 3rds. Each book category got a
color and I went broad here. Blue - Bible, faith, devotionals, missionary
stories Purple - Picture books Red - The Arts Green - Science and Math Brown -
History, Biography, Geography Orange - Chapter books Silver - Holiday Books Board books - no label because they are unecessary :) I then put a small label on
the spine where the call number label is located.

This has had a TREMENDOUS impact on our reading and schooling. I can find anything now (unless someone's dropped it in a sofa cushion) and even my 4
year old knows where to put things away b/ c of the color coordination. It
is also very easy to tell whether a book is mine or borrowed. After I
completed this monumental task, which took about 3 afternoons with a
friend's help, another friend said that colored library book tape
exists. I'm not familiar with it, but so far my low tech, low expense
option is holding up well. Blessings and thanks again for the fabulous

Christie G.

If you would like to share a system that you are really pleased with, we'd love to hear your ideas in the comments section.

one step at a time...


  1. We have many, many books (as most homeschooling families do) and so over the years, our family has tried several different tactics to organize them. The most recent (and most interesting) is to have each young(ish) child have a "card." This is a square of cardboard about 12 inches by 6 inches with their first initial written on the front. The concept is simple-take out one book at a time. When you remove a book from the shelf, put your card in its place. When you go to return the book to the shelf, look for your card and switch them out again!
    It has worked pretty well. This way, the book always goes back to where it was-no matter what the books are organized by. Unfortunately, remodeling the den as put a kink in that system for a time, but I'm really looking forward to getting the cards out again!

  2. Though the years we have tried many book organizing strategies, and finally struck upon one that works following our housefire (and beginning anew our book collection).

    First, we have 2 XL bookshelves (5 shelves high) in our school room. One is organized by subjects (text-type books mostly) -- Science, Math, Bible, Language Arts (penmanship, grammar, english, early readers, phonics, spelling, vocabulary, etc). The other XL bookcase is for our current Tapestry of Grace books. We are doing Year 1, and so each of those books has a red dot on the spine, along with the letter repreenting which level the book is intended for (LG, UG, D, R). Each level has a shelf, and the bottom shelf are books that can be used for all levels.

    Second, and also in our school room, we have 3 "cubby" style bookcases - each bookcase has 9 cubbies (3 upper, 3 middle, 3 lower). I labeled each of the cubbies with a letter or two of the alphabet (a-b-c-d, etc). And in these cubbies go all of the literature, historical fiction (except for our current TOG year) and anything else that is not a "spine" type book (and books that are not likely to be used this year) -- each in the lettered cubbie of the first letter of the author's last name. Our reference books (dictionaries, thesaurus, etc) have the very last cubby on these shelves, just so that they have a "place" to be when not in use.

    The nice thing is that everything is easy to find, which is important when working with 6 students ranging in age from 14yo to 6yo. Another nice thing is that even if misplaced, a book is likely only to be in one of two places -- either on the correct shelf, or on the "subject" shelf (or vice versa).

    Lastly, our Nature Study Resources, Artist Study Books, Music-related books, Poetry books, Foreign language, and Shakespeare-Plutarch books are on small shelves that surround the arch-way entrances (2 archways, 12 shelves per archway) to our school room. They are accessible, easy to locate for use, but are sepatated which makes them easier to find and use, and also to return.

    The alphabet system for bulk of the books works well, and helps built "alphabet" skills for our youngest. HA ! It also seems to help the children remember the author's names of the books they read. And the subject shelves work well because everything is clearly divided and the system is simple.

    We keep library books in a basket in the family room, adn the books are to be IN THE BASKET unless they are actively being read. This helps us not to lose them.

    Essentially, all of our books are in the school room on the shelves except 1 book that is currently bedtime reading per nighttable. Books that leave the school room get lost easily, so we try ernestly to keep them in the school room.

    I hope this gives more ideas. There is nothing more frustrating to me than knowing I have a book, yet being unable to find it when I want/need it. And through the years, our children have grown to feel the same way about books and their places. So our system works pretty flawlessly (for us).

    Grace & Peace,

  3. Sharron18.1.09

    Thanks for the ideas! I'm glad you are all well. I was beginning to wonder. :)

  4. Thank you for this post - it's just what I needed as I try to organise our school things better! Happy New Year!

  5. Anonymous19.1.09

    So glad to have you back! Lots of love,

  6. Welcome back! I've missed your posts, but have learned a lot pursuing things I had missed in the past!

  7. Hi there. I am a new homeschooler and I have a question about how you handle year 1 literature. When reading something that is beyond the children's direct comprehension, do you explain it to them or just let them ponder it themselves? For Example, Aesop's Fables uses language in a way that is not familiar to my 5&6 year olds. Should I explain what the fable means after it is read? What if they ask or say that they don't understand it? What if they give me their understanding of it and it is completely off base? I am learning much about CM, but I do not desire to be a "purist," I simply want to find the right balance for my girls and our family. I want them to read great literature, but so much of it seems beyond their level of comprehension (with that said, they are both ferocious readers, reading chapter books & tons of year 0 books everyday by their own choice!)Basically, do I explain the stories (whichever we are reading), or not? I appreciate your blog so very much. You cannot know the impact and help that it is to many! This is truly a ministry! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!