Why keep homeschool records?
Good homeschool record keeping needs to be founded on knowing why you are keeping records. At first parents might think they only have to do it because of government requirements or potential threats, but, as usual, government meddling tends to obscure what is really going on. Think instead of what the goals of real education and learning are. They are not to fulfill some government check list. They are to help children grow into their place in the world by being primed for adult life and ready for the further learning that is necessary in any endeavor.
To set the stage for helpful record keeping, let’s consider how it can facilitate this real education. Good record keeping does this by:
- making planning easy
- being an easy reference
- inspiring coordination of learning
- not taking too much time
- being easy to make notations on
- being easy to mark completion
- being easy to adjust
- accommodating spontaneity
- being easy to personalize for each student/child
- being easy for students to learn how to use
When I first started homeschooling (about 30 years ago!), I tried journal record keeping. This is just writing down what happened each day. I did this for a few weeks, but as much as I like to write, to took way too much energy. There was too much to try to remember and it was not an efficient use of my time.
Instead, I began to develop my open chart system. I went ahead and divided it into subjects, but not because we were trying to do everything every day and not because education needs to be compartmentalized. However, having the visual reminder of these general categories helped me make use of blended and overlapping learning and discovery. It not only provided a framework that any government busybody might recognize, but it helped inspire me in guiding my children to consider different angles of a given topic.
Making the most of non-compartmentalized learning
My style of teaching my children (7 of them were taught at home from birth through high school levels), might best be described as semi-organized eclectic. I did not use a boxed curriculum. I searched out any resources that I thought would help my children both learn and enjoy learning. Sometimes this meant just leaving books laying around the house. Sometimes it meant having a supply of scientific or art materials to play with. Sometimes it meant adapting a particular textbook to a child’s learning needs.
While we did end up using formal math and science textbooks in the upper grade levels, I was not afraid to adjust the approach or the time frame for completion. Any curriculum or resource was treated as a tool, not the master to be placated.
We spent a lot of time reading together and then discussing everything from fiction to current affairs. I also spent time doing this with them on an individual basis, often as I was doing my chores around the house or yard. Just like children’s hands sometimes need to by busy while they listen or talk, I also frequently listened better when I was busy.
Approaching learning in a less rigid way not only got a better response from the children, but it meant there could be an “English paper” written on a math discovery or a physical activity to ponder a biology lesson. There was no need to make extra activities just to say a certain subject was being studied. This made learning more cohesive and allowed more time for other learning and exploration.
From the time when they were little, I tried to incorporate real life into learning. Thus, helping to sort laundry was a “pre-school” activity. Understanding the germ theory made cleaning the bathroom more meaningful. Playing with Legos was an ongoing discovery of physics. Having a real bank account made teaching personal finances more straightforward. Writing letters to grandparents made learning writing skills more fun.
Features of my lesson planning/recording keeping charts.
- re-printable, double-sided forms with places to fill in information
- color coded for each child
- using abbreviations for long term reading or textbooks (i.e. The Tale of Two Cities spelled out once, then referred to as TTOTC)
- simple check-off with a colored pen, to differentiate that mark from other notes
- pre-sets of regular weekly items, such as foreign language tutoring, music lessons, or soccer practice
- pre-sets of a resource or approach that would likely last a year or more (For instance, younger children would have the phonics program printed in place, while older children’s charts would refer to “study guide” under the reading section.)
- use of medical and other shortcuts (see photo)
- developing my own abbreviations for common things (like RD for “rough draft” or LV for a math drill cheerfully called a Learning Vitamin.)
- circling things that still need to be done that day
- astericks to connect assignments across subjects
As you look at the photos or the charts that I made, remember what I said about not necessarily covering every subject every day, as well as covering some of them by overlapping. Also, some weeks the charts got more filled in than other weeks. As long as there was a general flow of learning and a record that could be followed well enough, we were okay. As the children got older they could fill in their own charts more. After they were done with high school level work, I was able to use these records for crafting their transcripts for college application.
Using the charts for lesson planning
There are a couple of reasons to use the charts for lesson planning. If you want to set any kind of goals, it really helps you to keep track of whether or not things are getting done. It also helps the kids a lot to know what is expected or what they get recognition for. The older they get, the more important it is for them to learn how to plan to accomplish goals.
I learned to plan no more than a week or two ahead in most cases. There were just too many times when more or less was accomplished. One of the advantages of homeschooling is to both provide personal tutoring and to be flexible for unanticipated learning. Planning too far ahead tends to make a me feel more bound to the schedule or it creates more work for adjusting to changes.
One example of an adjustment was that if they passed a certain math drill, they didn’t have to do one the next day. This could not be scheduled. Another example is that we would not always know how much of the science material (reading or experiment) would engage us on a particular day. Sometimes we needed to stop earlier for more discussion of a particular topic. Other times we might find ourselves digging into something to complete it.
Supplemental records to file
One file folder was also kept for each child per year. In this, I would save representative or special work. We would file award certificates, a couple of math lessons that showed mastery, favorite essays, letters (we kept copies), or major research projects. The files were typically kept to a thickness of 1/2 to 1 inch by the end of the year. Sometimes I ended up substituting out a previous save for something else. If there had been such cheap digital photography then, I would probably have kept a few photos of activities; and maybe a USB thumb drive of recordings of music or narration. I actually did keep audiotapes of them reading whole books. These have been shared with listeners in various ways.
Some basic lesson planning/record keeping charts for you
I used Google spreadsheets to make some charts that I can share with you. All I ask is that you sign up for my email newsletter: The Happy Libertarian Journal. If you know how to use Google spreadsheets, you can make a copy of the template, then modify it as desired. I will keep a copy of the master chart, so you should be able to access it for the longterm.
I recommend double sided printing, then hole-punching to put the charts in a notebook. I had one notebook each year for a child, although at one point I got a couple of larger notebooks to put past year’s charts in. The basic plastic notebooks (I found 1.5 inches to be a good size) with clear plastic overlays can make labeling the outside of the notebook easier, plus make it possible for the kids to decorate a piece of paper to slip in the front.
Using the records for evaluation
The charts were an easy reference for quick evaluation. Whether it just be a matter of checking our bearings for the day, planning the rest of the week, or considering the number of outside activities to attempt in a month, a glance could remind us of priorities and conflicts. They also made yearly evaluation of our educational journey much easier.
Once a year, my husband and I would go over the charts of each child, discussing strengths and weaknesses. While we encouraged each child in their own areas of interest, we also agreed that there were a few things we needed to teach them regardless of student inclination. Some of these had to do with potential college (or any upper level education) and others had to do with basic life knowledge.
We would make a list according to all of these factors and put it in the front of next year’s record keeping/lesson planning notebook. We would go over each child’s list with them. Explaining our goals and reasons seemed to have a very positive effect on how the children approached their own education. They saw it wasn’t about just filling in blanks or passing tests, but that there were clearly thought out reasons for the choices.
The running joke with my adult kids
Every job my kids go to they get told how well they plan things and how organized they are. They love to come tell me, because a few of them were notoriously messy and unorganized at home. Some of their record keeping notebooks have interesting stacks of tic-tac-toe games in the margins. But in the end, they all picked up the ability to plan and organize when it mattered most.
They look back at their charted records fondly and we laugh at some of the mispellings when they were first helping with them. The charts may have started out simply being an administrative record, but they ended up being a fun story outline of all our years of learning together at home. Hopefully your record keeping will be the same one day.