Monday, April 14, 2008

Homeschool Record Keeping

As I said in Confessions of a Semi-Unschooler, I'm not a naturally organized person. I'm more apt to "go with the flow,' changing and adapting as the moment arrives. I'm almost too flexible sometimes, or at least it can appear that way.

So in twenty-plus years of homeschooling, I've tried all sorts of record keeping systems, sometimes even in one year. In the beginning, it was mainly so that we would have some kind of proof of actual education taking place in case we were hauled into court (that was happening in parts of our state), but later on it became more a matter of being a family record - a diary of sorts.

Things to Consider

  • Why are you keeping the records? Is is a formal matter, in case your someone reports you for educational neglect, a record of achievement for your child, or a personal log that lets you keep you general direction in mind?
  • What kind of legal requirements does your nation or state have? In some places, the only legal necessity is attendance, while in others, a full record of materials used and activities completed is advisable.
  • How likely are you to keep it up? If you're not blessed with the Record-Keeping gene, a simpler, more easily completed method is best, along with a bit of self-discipline. If you get a sense of accomplishment from neatly filled in charts and have the time to put into them, then they might help you feel like you're progressing. If you're unsure, it may be best to start with a simple program, like using index cards or notebook paper, and move on from there.
  • Would this be useful in the future? Would having a record of what you did with Dear Child #1 help down the road with DC#2? It might, but, then again, what are the odds on you being able to find and use it?
  • How many kids are you teaching? Do you want a separate log for each, or would it be easier to keep them together? How many subjects do you teach more than one child together?


The easy way to do attendance is to use a calendar - printed out from the internet, hanging on the wall, or from inside a homeschool planner, and just circle the days that you have school. Simple. Don't forget to include half days, and remember that sports, library trips, religious activities, clubs, and even vacation can count as school. Even what's thought of as 'Christmas vacation' can be school, if the kids put on a Bill Nye video, make a skyscraper out of Legos, or build a tent and have a book club in the backyard.

That leaves about four days a year of 'no school.'

Door Folder

It is always wise to keep a copy of your correspondence with your school board (if any) and a copy of your nation or state's laws on homeschooling in a folder by your door. That way, you can prove your legality to relatives, passing tradesmen, police officers, truancy officials, or child welfare employees.

What You Intend to Do vs. What You Do

This is what I always fought battles with myself over. My husband would say, 'Plan your work and work your plan", and I'd try to fit my school into that mold...but it never seemed to work well. So I'd end up sliding to the opposite extreme, that of having no plan at all, which works well when your kids are in a highly motivated phase, but not so well when all they want to do is sleep and watch silly videos on YouTube. There has to be a happy medium, and it's an individual matter for you and your child to find it at that time.

The system I came up with is based on the idea that I have things that the kids and I have talked over and agreed to study, and a few that I'm adamant on, but sometimes life in the present demands answers now, not in three weeks when we finish our unit on the body structures of Protists. Alanna wants to know why cats get hairballs and what to do about them; Neal wants to know what happens to satellites that are hit by space debris; Ken wonders how to make a photo of his sister's face stretch out ridiculously with Photoshop...these questions demand mini-studies now! That is a very good thing, too, because kids retain more of information they seek themselves than they do information that we plow into their heads.

So flexibility is key here. Below I have several possibilities for various forms of record keeping. Try one out, and let me know how it goes for you!

A Homeschool Planner

There are several of these on the market, and they work best for those who are pretty organized already, or for those who have the time and want to develop the self-discipline to fill them in. Remember to take your own personality into account, as well as your children's learning styles. Be sure that you rule it, and don't let the occasional blank space make you feel pressured or guilty.

Regular teacher's Log work well, also, if you adapt them a bit. I'm using one now. I write what I intend to do on one page, circle what gets done as we do it, then write our diversions and alternate projects on the facing page. That provides a clear record with a minimum of fuss.


This is a good option for the motivated teen, or for the early teen who seems to be causing a bit of conflict over his schoolwork. Sometimes, removing face-to-face contact over assignments for a while can be a good thing for both parties.

Simply put the young person's assignments in an email, and send them the night before each school day. Give choices of how to do the assignment (photo essay? written report? web page?), if possible, and then give them a bit of room.

When my one son was thirteen, we had a deal that, if he completed his schoolwork the night before, he could stay in bed as late as he liked the next day. He often took me up on that, and the system worked very well for a long while.

Computer Program

Several of these are available from homeschool suppliers also. These work well if you love using the computer and learning new programs, and you have the time, computer access and self-discipline to do it daily or weekly. My failure with this method always came about because of not having time on the computer in which to do it! Many people, though, find it very convenient, since you can make a record of the assignments, then print them out easily.

Let Them Do It!

For an older child, especially one who has an organizational bent anyway, this can be wonderful. It gives them a sense of having some control over their day and their learning experience.

Let them choose their system, though they should be encouraged to keep it simple, then check with them often.

Index Cards / Notebook Paper

This is my usual choice. It's inexpensive, doesn't require lots of printer ink, and I can make it as detailed or as skimpy as I like, without leaving forlorn-looking white spaces on the premade pages.

I use index cards in a box with dividers, or notebook paper in a binder. On one side, I write what I intend to have Child A do that weekand I circle or check off the items as they are done. On the other, I make notes of our activities as the week actually proceeds. If two or three kids are doing the same thing, I note that on the card and make only one copy.

Again, the important thing is to let the cards be guidelines, not masters.

I also try to write in special things that happen, like parties, lost teeth and visits to Grandma's, as well as cute or wise sayings by the kids. This way the log becomes a sort of family diary. Adding a list of what the kids are reading, to themselves for fun as well as bedtime books and such, is a good thing to look back on also.

I've also used index cards to write out a child's daily assignments, usually the night before, to be given to the child at the beginning of the day. This can work well for an organized child, but they are easily lost amidst the piles of books, so pinning them to a bulletin board may be a better choice.

A Typical Week's Pages


Begin growing bacterial cultures
My First Lab Ultimate Microscope Study:
Adventures with a Microscope
A World in a Drop of Water
Microscope diagram:
Zoology Coloring Book


Ken: Real World Algebra, Chapters 11 and 12
The Standard Deviants - Algebra

Neal: Pages 124-128, 133-136, 138-142,
Multiplication games

Allie: Pages 12-14, 18-21, 23-27, 30-33


Ken: Website daily
Allie and Neal: Turkey paragraph Organizers, The Creative Teacher
Craft into final paragraphs
Mad Libs

Kids Learn America!
National Geographic Our Fifty States
Scrambled States

Page 2

Allie: Brownies
Ken: Indoor Soccer
Neal: Basketball

All: Library, Homeschool Gym and Swimming, biking at park, trip to Grandparents in Hocking Hills

Growing Triops again!!!

Ken made fudge, Allie made lemonade from scratch.

Neal painted his chair.

Allie drew 6 house plans.

Neal drew Spongebob characters.

Ken Photoshopped Christmas pictures .

Boys photographed at Grandparents.

Ken did computer maintenance.

Neal built working computer out of spare parts - by himself! Ken got him Puppydog Linux, and now it's great! Have to get monitor, though...

Allie knows Girl Scout Law and Pledge.
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