When I first started homeschooling, I decided I would write monthly progress notes for each of my kids. Wow, was I ambitious! The monthly notes lasted about three months; I switched to quarterly notes. That didn’t last long, either. Nowadays I usually write my kids’ progress notes in the form of a single end-of-year summary for each child, although some years I manage to also write a mid-year progress note.
Just to be complete, I’d like to say that I do write daily notes throughout the school year. While useful, those notes are short and not very descriptive. A daily note might say something like, “Math, Chpt 6 lesson 4; French homework; hammered dulcimer lesson … etc.” In those daily notes, I also write down new tasks learned (recently we butchered some roosters and I taught my daughter how to clean the gizzards – you BET that went down in her daily notes!) and books read, along with other things like nature walks and other outside activities and extracurriculars (we have a LOT of extracurriculars!) I look back at those shorter notes occasionally as they can be useful for various purposes, but I find that my progress notes give me a much better picture of how my children are growing, learning and changing.
Since I am finally writing their progress notes from this past school year and summer, I’ve spent time in the past week looking back over some of my kids’ notes from past years. I love reading them — they bring back so many memories and they show me how far my children have come. Often they are several pages long, and nearly all are hand-written. I write them in the form of a letter to my child, making the notes feel so special and personal. While of course I comment on their progress in various academic pursuits, I also reflect on other things that have happened in their lives. I may write about some of the challenges of the past year and how they have faced those challenges and grown emotionally. I record things about our family life together. I mention their quirks, their interests. Perhaps I might write down something about them that drives me nuts. (Maybe I should let them write progress notes on me! One year my son was frequently feeling frustrated with me and he came up with a graph showing my daily approval rating!) I also always write down some of the special things that I appreciate about each of my kids.
I don’t know what first prompted me to write notes like this, but I do know that I am so grateful to have started. At the end of most days I find myself wondering, “Why do they call it homeschooling? We’re never home!” And I often wonder if my kids are learning anything. But our progress notes help me see the Big Picture. Reading them helps me appreciate not only where we have been (not just geographically but also emotionally) and how much we have accomplished, but I can also see the varied experiences that my kids have had that are helping them grow into confident and capable people.
Even though I have taken on some new responsibilities in my life and am feeling busier than usual, I have been working diligently on this year’s notes. I honestly don’t feel I can go into the new year with a clear head unless I have spent time reflecting and have written certain things down.
I love watching my kids’ expressions as they read their progress notes, and I welcome their input, corrections, and additions. They form the perfect springboard for discussing the new school year to come, giving us a starting point to talk about their short- and long-term goals, and to make decisions together about what they want and need to learn and how to go about learning it. There was one busy year when I had my son write one of his own progress notes (he was in fifth grade). It’s pretty good, and I think having children evaluate their own strengths and progress in a formal manner is a good and useful idea. I might do more of that as my kids get older, but I’m not going to give up my own writing. Why should my kids have all the fun??!
What about you? I would love to hear ideas about this topic from other homeschoolers.