I love having religious picture books, but sometimes, our children’s books become so disorganized that they don’t get utilized as much as I want them to. So I set out to put a new system in place for our children’s books- a system that has worked in our home for almost 6 months now with 4 kids (ages 7, 5, 3, and 1). It was a little time consuming to set up in the beginning, but has been easy to maintain.
The problem with all the awesome religious children’s books at my house is… they weren’t being utilized. Seriously. We buy almost all of our books second hand, and get a lot of use out of them… but it’s hard to find awesome Catholic books at thrift stores, so all of my Catholic children’s books were acquired at a much higher price. Like… sticker price. *Shutter*. Out of fear of these new, shiny, expensive books being lost or damaged, they were reserved in the hutch in our dining room rather than living with the other children’s books. The problem is, no one was getting any use out of them in there.
I wanted a system for the kid’s books where…
- kids could actually maintain the books themselves,
- they can always find something they are capable of reading,
- and a system where my religious children’s books were actually being utilized.
I decided to sort them by reading level, and color code them with label stickers.
- Yellow- Beginner Books. These are truly for emergent readers, so The Bob Books, Dick and Jane, Level A from the Little Angel Readers, Books with labeled pictures, The Pre-Primer from Seton, our readers from All About Reading, some random Abeka readers we have, easy I Spy Books, and books with songs or prayers that the kids already know and therefore can just “follow along”.
- Green- Level 1 Books. I used this book wizard site to determine what a “level 1″ book is. For my sanity’s sake, I didn’t question what a “level 1″ book is. If it said 1.9, it was a 1. If it said 2.0, it was a 2. The line has to be drawn somewhere.
- Light Blue- Level 2 and 3 Books. Again, I used the same site to determine the level, and for simplicity’s sake, I combined this category. They didn’t seem that different to me.
- Dark Blue- Level 4 and 5 Books. I don’t have many of these yet because my oldest is only 7, but I did find that several of my books were at a higher reading level than I thought.
- Orange- Read Alouds. We do read chapter books aloud, but there are a lot of amazing picture books that are lengthier with beautiful pictures that I want to get more into reading, and also some homeschool books with great stories in them that I don’t always think to read out loud. This way, I can tell my kids to bring me something with an orange sticker, and I’m good to go.
- Red- Religious/Seasonal. As I was sorting, I quickly figured out that I don’t actually own books about pumpkins or the Easter Bunny, and so pretty much all of my seasonal books actually are religious.
- Black- Children’s Reference. I had my kids color some of my labels black with a sharpie (since our pack didn’t come with black) and used them for reference books. I tried to distinguish between reference, and non-fiction, because Lydia actually adores the Usborne Beginners Books, etc. For this category, I put only books that kids would never actually sit down and read. For instance, a really lengthy, wordy book about space, our children’s encyclopedia of animals, children’s dictionary, etc.
- No Sticker- Picture Books. I left these mostly without stickers to go on a shelf as the “others”. Some of them got stickers according to reading level- it just depended on the book. But I didn’t force myself to label them all if I didn’t want to.
I used labels like these for the books, but they weren’t very sticky, so I put a piece of clear tape over each colored label that wrapped around the book binding on each side a little bit. After all, I don’t want to have to repeat all my work.
Sorting Your Religious Books
I started feeling overwhelmed when sorting the religious books quickly. Here’s what I came up with for them.
Religious Picture Books (no label)
After much himming and hawing, I decided (for the most part) to mix them right into the regular picture books. That’s the point, right? To bring religion into ever aspect of our lives, and mix it in? I was tempted to hoard them in my hutch, thinking I’ll pull them out on each matching feast day, but the truth is I would rather my kids had access to them all the time. So all of our gorgeous picture books about St. Francis, St. Valentine, St. George, etc. went on the shelf.
Seasonal Religious Books (red label)
For the Christmas and Easter books, I labeled them with red stickers, and actually put them in the attic with our Christmas and Easter decorations. That way, they will be special, and come out just at the right time, without cluttering my book shelves year round. Now I know what you’re thinking- pretty much any Catholic book can be considered seasonal. For instance, Angel in the Waters can be brought out for month for life in October, or the St. Valentine picture book could just be reserved for February… but I didn’t do this. I left those with the picture books to be enjoyed year round. We will still bring them out on their feast days.
Religious Books By Reading Level (sticker indicating reading level, no red label)
If I could flip through them and easily identify them by an easy reading level, I labeled them with the coordinating colored sticker. That way, they’ll be read often.
Religious Learning Books (red label)
These are books that I don’t expect the kids to read to themselves, and I would really only read in the context of teaching them religious stuff, such as the small Fr. Lovasik books. I also grouped the Treasure Box books in with these because they are a little confusing for kids the way that different parts of stories are in different books, but such an amazing teaching tool!
Rosary Books (red label)
I realized that my books with pictures of the mysteries of the rosary and such also weren’t being used. I labeled them with red stickers so that if they are floating around, they find the religious book section again, but these are now staying in our rosary basket. This way, when we pray the rosary, we can pass out rosaries but also have easy access to these books for little hands, or even non-Catholics.
Grown Up Religious Books (no label)
We have tons of non-children’s books as well, and I keep all the Catholic ones grouped together on the same shelf so that they are easy to find (amongst my husband’s endless sea of books which sometimes seem to threaten to take over the house.) See that shelf with the Mary statue on it? That’s where I keep my most-referred-to religious books. (By the way, none of the grown-up books get colored stickers on them.)
Once you have all of your books organized and labeled, it’s time to put them away on the shelves in a way that your children can maintain themselves. This is really important, because trust me, you don’t have time to do it for them. They must be trained well!
I got some of those cube shelves with 9 squares for our children’s books. I’ve had the kid books on “regular” bookshelves in the past, but the problem is, the kid books are so small, and it takes so many books to fill them up, that often all the books would be stacked on the shelves every-which-wrong-way in a massive unorganized pile. Since moving to the cubed shelves, they stay standing up a lot better.
Each cube gets a colored sticker label, just like the books. That way, kids will know how to put them away. What’s best is to have the lower-level books on the lower shelves. This way, the age appropriate books will be found where the littlest readers can find them.
This system has been working unbelievable well for my family for almost 6 months now! The books have stayed organized, and we’re getting a lot more use out of them. I wanted to make sure this worked before blog-posting about it, and I’d say a 6 month trial in a home with a 7, 5, 3, and 1 year old is a pretty good test run.
I put the “Children’s Reference Books” with the black stickers on a different shelf in our school room. These are not accessed on a daily basis like our other books, so it seemed like a good idea to separate them.
Remember to leave a few unlabeled shelves for your unlabeled books. Teach your kids that only books without the colored stickers go here- it’s not a free-for-all shelf.
I also think that no matter how many times you tell a child not a judge a book by its cover, well… they’re going to anyway. For this reason, I absolutely adore shelves like these that display books from the front for children. I was lucky enough to find ours at Goodwill for $10. I use it to display books that are currently useful to our family, such as books that go along with what we’re studying in school, or seasonal books for the month. That way, I can kind of “feature” whatever books I currently want them to read.
Here are my children in our school room, enjoying all of our children’s books (that they can actually find)!
How We Have Encouraged More Reading
We’ve also been encouraging reading this school year with reading list pages. I tape them on the wall- one for each kid. They write in the title, Author’s last name, and the number of pages in each book they read. When their page gets full, they get to choose candy from a giant cupcake shaped cookie jar in our kitchen. (It has full sized candy bars in it.) Each kid has a different level of book they have to read for it to “count” on the list. For instance, Lydia is welcome to read a book with a yellow sticker on it, but only books with blue stickers or higher can count for her chart.
Now I can mix in our religious books with appropriate reading level stickers, and Lydia is actually reading them. I love this!
I have found my 3 year old (who can’t read at all) is extremely disappointed not to get a chance at a candy bar. As a result, we let her put a check on her paper for each puzzle she completes, and if she lets an older sibling read her a book and she sits all the way through it, the older sibling can write it on her chart. Also, if an older sibling is reading to a younger sibling, they may put that book on their chart as well, even if it’s “below” their reading level.
I hope this was helpful for you guys! It’s been super helpful to us. For anyone who made a new year’s resolution to be more organized, it’s time to get crackin’!
*A Few Random Updates* (there were some questions that came up on my facebook page I wanted to answer here)
- When I buy paper back books that I want to last long term with this many kids, I absolutely cover them in contact paper before putting them on the shelves. (This is a trick I learned from my veteran mother-in-law, homeschooler of 7 children.)
- My library books never get mixed in with the “regular” books. They live in a rolling crate in my dining room so they are always separate, and easy to return to the library.
- I don’t worry about the stickers “ruining” our books because there’s no point in owning them if you don’t utilize them.
- Definitely you need to declutter your books before beginning- get rid of books that are badly damaged, are junk, aren’t worth reading, whatever. You have permission to get rid of any book you don’t want in your home for any reason. Don’t hold onto stuff out of fear.
- Also, I am linking this post up over at my friend Dana’s site- A Slob Comes Clean .com. She is totally inspirational, hilarious, and she’s been basically holding my hand through all the decluttering I accomplish in our home. She’s also hosting decluttering parties throughout January.