I have been spending time recently sorting through my basement and, well, my life sure would be a lot less cluttered if I didn’t homeschool! (It would be even tidier if I didn’t have kids!) Seeing all my kids’ old drawings and such from when they were little made me think about how I used to stress about what to do with the chaos of all their materials and projects. I wanted to be organized and to save their things. I wanted to document all of their accomplishments and the interesting activities we did together, and I just didn’t know where to start.
I remember asking a couple of friends how they organized all their homeschool materials and all the projects and papers their kids churned out, but both of them purchased boxed curricula and so they just didn’t seem to have the same difficulties with chaos as I did. The advice from the lady who wrote The Well-Trained Mind is to take photos of your kids’ projects as a permanent record (and then quietly throw the project away when your kid is not looking…). In my basement, I have binders, (many, many binders) of work from my kids’ pre-school and early elementary years. They contain lots of drawings and early attempts at printing. I also have several plastic bins which contain larger art work and projects. These items are not particularly orderly but I seem to have a hard time letting go of them. While I have some photos of their work (especially if it occurred on a dry erase board), I still like to hold on to the real thing.
The law which regulates homeschooling in Wisconsin does not require record keeping beyond basic attendance records. Homeschoolers in Wisconsin are NOT required to keep a school calendar verifying hours of instruction, nor are they required to keep course outlines or any proof of curriculum. (Just to be thorough, I feel compelled to mention here that we ARE required to annually file form PI-1206 to report our intent to homeschool; this needs to be done online at the DPI website – I print and keep a copy of this form in my purse because it gets me the Educator’s Discount at Barnes and Noble stores and also I use it to get the unadvertised and little-known homeschooler’s discount at the Duluth Aquarium.) Any records we keep are for our own purposes. I know that from time to time I enjoy looking back at a record of past activities that my kids and I have participated in, and I sometimes find it encouraging to review documentation of our past studies so I can see how far we have come. Also, some of this might come in handy someday when my kids and I put together their portfolios for use in college applications and/or job applications.
As my kids have gotten older, some of their work has come to look like more typical academics, and I have managed to find a record-keeping system that seems to be working smoothly. I buy a new planner for each child in the fall. Now, keep in mind that I am not a pre-planning kind of gal and I am committed to our unschooled and spontaneous learning! What I use the planner for is actually to record what we do each day AFTER we have done it. In the daily part of the planner, I write down any studies accomplished, lessons attended, field trips and outings taken, that kind of thing. I write down activities like swimming and library trips, cooking and construction projects, play times with friends, and titles and authors of books that the kids have read or that we have read together. In the front of the planner I write down things of a more ongoing nature, like the name of a tutor and when we started working with her, what date music lessons began and ended, names of classes taken through our school cooperative, and titles of any textbook-type materials. That way I can just write daily notes that say, for example, Math: Chapter 5, Review, Set II and not have to write down Harold Jacobs Algebra Book over and over. That information is ongoing and is there, recorded in the front of the planner instead of in the daily notes.
I also keep a few binders. My daughter can write out her spelling words and then we can just date the paper and file it in her binder. On her planner for that day I can simply write “Spelling”. If we want to see the specifics, we can look in the binder and find the appropriate paper.
Some things don’t fit well into categories (or binders for that matter!!). For these things, I am fortunate to have an old dresser with two good-sized drawers, one for each child’s work. It is wonderful to just be able to have a place to ‘drop’ things. Newspaper clippings, photographs, handouts from plays or musical events we attend, etc. all go in there.
At the end of each year, I purchase a small-to-medium plastic bin for each child and on it I write his or her name and grade. I empty their binders (I like to reuse them to save money and space) into their bin, along with any items in their drawer and any completed workbooks. I put the lid on and, Voila! To the basement and onto the shelf it goes. The planners are kept separate and get lined up next to past years’ planners. I keep these in a place that is easy to access because they are great fun to look back at and have come in handy multiple times. It is much easier to look for information in a small, concise planner than it is to go through a bin containing a pile of papers.
The one other record-keeping activity I do is to write occasional progress notes for my kids (or have them write their own). I think I’ll save that topic for another post. But what about you? Do you keep records? If so, what methods have you found to help organize your homeschool records? Please share them here if you’d like!