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Record Keeping for Homeschoolers

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on June 27, 2010

 It is summertime, and summertime for homeschoolers means planning your next year’s curriculum and record keeping methods.  I’ve tried using everything imaginable for keeping records over the years:  Expensive computer programs, generic teacher plan-books, plan books designed especially for homeschoolers, various types of homemade forms (hand-made or computer-made and kept in binders), and journaling in spiral-bound notebooks.

      Over the years I’ve come to realize several things about myself:  

1.) I hate those “empty boxes.”  Whenever I’ve used a “teacher plan book”, I would have empty boxes!  For one thing, as children get older, there are certain subjects that are only done two or three times a week…thus, empty boxes (even if they are planned for.)  It makes the lesson sheet look “incomplete” to me.     See those horrid empty spaces?!  I put lines through them to show that we weren’t supposed to do that subject that day.  Even though we’d done plenty that week (probably too much–) those empty spaces made me feel like a failure.   

     2.)  I hate making lesson plans before the fact.  A couple of times I made the mistake of spending hours laying out what we should do each day…how far to read and what to read by date….invaritably life interfered.   Life doesn’t always go as planned!  One day there might be tomato hornworms  on my plants, so we’d skip our planned science lesson in favor of a real-life lesson.  Another day, someone is sick—and now my dates or days are off.  The next week, a field trip I didn’t plan for would be offered by our support group.  Often, in spite of my careful planning, I’d find a better book to use or a better supplement to add, etc.  Sometimes  I’d have a child who got fired up about school and did 5 pages of math in one day.    (Above:  another very old lesson plan sheet, made with a Sharpie Pen and photocopied.  I sure used way more textbooks then than I do now, that’s for sure!   Below is another form, computer generated; one page=one day.)  


     Finally, after years and years  of trial and error, I’m back to the simplest method there is:  Journaling, after the fact.  All I do is write down what we did each day, in a journal.  

        The advantages:  Less feeling of failure; the ability to be flexible; more space to get descriptive, if you so desire (space to write down the cute things your kids did/said, etc).  All this equals less stress and easier use for me. 

      Don’t get me wrong—writing things down after the fact doesn’t mean I don’t plan ahead.  Believe me, I do!  In fact, I spend hours every summer doing so.  Most subjects are easy to plan.  Take math, for instance…how much planning do you need?  Everyday we do the next lesson.  How easy is that?  If the children need extra practice, we add games or hands-on activities to the lesson.  Sometimes we nix the formal lesson altogether in favor of games and drills for a while. 

     Unit studies/literature approaches (history, science, geography, etc) take a little more planning time.  At the very least, I like to start the year with my list of topics (including approximately how much time I’ll spend on each), list of books we’ll read, movies and activities I plan to use, and so on.  

     Using Your Planner:  You could use a standard binder so that you can add pages and work samples, or a spiral bound notebook (depending on how much writing you want to do).  To continue my simplicity theme this year, each double-sided page in my journal will include one week’s work.  I’ll just write down my subject (math, for instance), and then record the lessons done like this:  p. 12-13/p.14-15/p.16-18/p.19 +Sum Swamp game/Casino card game and facts drill.   My boys do everything together except for math and phonics/reading; for those subjects, they will each have a row to record their work, preceded by their initial, like this:

LA (Language arts)  J:  SSRW (Sing, Spell, Read and Write) step 19, song plus 5 words per day; EC (Explode the Code) p. 17-18/19-21/22-23/23-34/35-36; practiced reading in book 9….then the same for my other son.

           Here’s the planner we’re going to use (I found it at Target for under $10 dollars.)  It’s just a simple spiral planner that includes a calendar and “journal” like pages.  I added my own stick-on tabs for ease of use.  I made tabs for Weeks 1-20, weeks 21-40; a tab to record the books we’ve read, and so on (I write down the title, author, date completed, and number of pages for each book).  Here is what the planner looks like with the tabs added:   

     I just love stick-on tabs, don’t you?  I use them for everything!   I’ll use the calendar for attendance and to write down field trips, nature walks, piano lessons, co-op days, and other events. 

      To make recording your work easier, it’s a good idea to come up with some abbreviations or codes, like I did above.  You can number your subjects (1 is Bible, 2 is math), or use lettering (B is Bible, M is math, LA is language arts, which includes handwriting {HW}, spelling {SP}, phonics {PH} etc the early years), and unit study =U.  

     So that I can remember my codes and my yearly plan, I write them down on the first page of my planner.  Other suggestions/ideas: 

-Before you decide what type of planner to use, find out what records your state requires.  You can find out about your state laws by finding your state’s support group  at www.hslda.org .  Even if your state doesn’t require record keeping, it’s still a good idea to keep records for many reasons:  You can prove what you’ve completed if there is ever any type of legal challenge; you can look up what you did with your oldest children when planning for your youngest; you’ll have a book of memories to cherish. 

-Even if you use a spiral bound journal/notebook of some kind, be sure to put work samples in a separate binder or keep them in a file, organized by child, grade, and year.

-Put your records in a binder:  You can make your own pages like the ones above, use pre-made pages (links below) or journal.  Use tabs to divide your pages…buy monthy tabs, or numbered tabs for each month.  When you use a binder, you can add work samples every month, too.  We chose 2-4 pages per subject per month to save, so that we can show our progress.  Before you choose what to keep, however, be sure to check and see what your state requires.  Additionally, you should know that if your children are enrolled in an “umbrella” school/private school satellite program, they may have additional record keeping requirements.

-Add a vocabulary section to your binder, or have a separate composition book or spiral notebook for the vocabulary you’ve learned.  Besides the words learned during school time, we add any words my boys ask me about anytime–and review them regularly.

-Add a goals section, books read section, and curriculum section for each child.  Write down the curriculum/books etc that you use with each child, and be sure to write down all the books you read to your children as well as all the books your children read independently, even if they are not school related.

-Write down anything educational your children do:  Did you watch Jack Hannah’s Animal Adventures show on television?  Write that down under science. Teach your kids how to do a load of laundry?  That’s life skills.  Did you bake bread together?  That’s home ec.  Did your kids staple pages of paper together to make a book?  That’s art and language arts.  Did you watch birds outside, and name them?  That’s science and/or nature.  Did your children play outside?  That’s PE.  You’ll be surprised how many educational activities your children do in a day when you start to write them down.

-Be consistent:  Record what you do everyday.  There’s nothing harder than re-creating your lessons from a week or month ago.

-Other record keeping ideas: We keep lots of other binders for course- planning, ideas/articles to keep, master forms, and so on.  My favorite is the “red alert” binder (I don’t know where I heard this idea, but I just love it.)  We have only ONE red binder.  Since it is red, it is always easy to find.  The ONLY records I keep in it are the records that state officials could ask to see (BTW, we’ve homeschooled for 17 years now, and have never had any problems.)  Since we live in Cali, we keep our affidavit forms (alternately, proof of enrollment in a Private school satellite Program) and current attendance sheets in the binder–that’s it.  That’s all CPS or the school district could ask to see in our state.  (I transfer the attendance from my journal to the binder once a week.)

     For additional resources see Donna Young’s site or Oklahoma’s Homeschool Site  for free printables.  Also check out these articles:

Easy Record Keeping

21 Sites Offering free Homeschool Planning and Organizing Printable Forms

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.


5 Responses to “Record Keeping for Homeschoolers”

  1. Nikki said

    Hi Susan, been following your site for a while now-not sure if I’ve posted before-We’re a South African family with 2 young children (girl 5.6 and boy 3.6). We’ve never used a curriculum. In my previous life 😉 I too was a teacher and I’ve just enjoyed seeing my children learn through life experiences and books. However, we are nearing Grade R stage (K) and are feeling it may be time to start a few lessons.
    I’m in the process of deciding just how I’d like to plan-so this was great timing! I like Charlotte Mason method and would really love to be relaxed as possible, but being a planner I’ve realised that I’d like something to follow! So that’s what I’m praying and thinking about.
    It’s been great to read through many of your posts-I look forward to learning more from you in the future.
    Blessings, Nikki Olivier

    • Nikki,
      Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad my blog has been a help to you. As to planning your year: You might want to see if you can purchase my book where you are (I’d love to know, btw…it can be your guide through third grade or so.) I’d start with your simple daily routine, a year of topics to read about, and some simple “academic” goals for your 5 year old (just the old-school, traditional basics which your daughter might already have down, such as learning her letters and their sounds, beginning to learn to write letters/her name, playing counting games, learning to identify numbers, etc.) It’s easy to “teach” these things through games, manipulatives, and conversation. Add lots of music and art (great for pre-writing/writing skills), some cooking/baking fun from time to time, nature walks, real life experiences, and lots of PLAY, and you’ll have a wonderful and educational Kindergarten year that your son will enjoy, too!
      I’m thinking about posting some more ideas about preschool planning, so stay tuned. For now, you might want to go through the archives on “getting started” and “unit studies”.

  2. Nikki said

    Doesn’t seem like I can get your book here-looked through my online bookshops. It’s also out of stock on Amazon! Will have to wait a while 😉
    Thanks for the ideas. My daughter is one of those advanced learner’s who has pretty much taught herself phonics,number recognition and how to read (which is basically our Grade 1 equivalent). I know others think this is wonderful as they say I wouldn’t have to teach her much (I do think it’s great, but for other reasons) but actually I struggle with the debate about which level to start her at. Our lives have been pretty much what you suggested so far. Making the transition to schooling means I need to start where she is at-which seems to mean making a jump from relaxed to more structure. I’m basically struggling with how to do this in a fun, relaxed way still that won’t mean my son is having to be kept busy with school like activities when I think it is so important for him to just continue playing.
    Thanks for listening to my concerns-looking forward to your planning posts!

  3. Sheri said

    Great post! I love hearing others process to planning! It is a fine balance, don’t ya think, lol.


  4. Bobbi said

    Thank you for commenting on my site. I appreciate your help. Your site is wonderful and I’m in awe. I will be sitting here awhile and reading through everything!

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