The mere subject of homeschool record keeping is enough to make me cringe. Record keeping is not nearly as much fun as purchasing curriculum or going to co-op, so it can feel like just one more thing to do, lifeless and obligatory. Surely I'd rather go to the dentist or clean out my closet than sort papers, lists, and files! But when I weigh the value, and even necessity, of keeping good records of our homeschooling efforts, it suddenly becomes a personal challenge to find better, simpler, and cheaper ways to keep it all organized.

So why should any of us parents keep good school records? For some, it's required to meet the laws of their home state. But there are plenty of other worthwhile reasons, some with immediate reward and others with long-term merit:

  • Simplifying your life.
  • Easily repeating curriculum with younger children years from now without replicating all your efforts.
  • Saving money.
  • Being on time and not missing outings.
  • Modeling self-discipline to your children.
  • Establishing a system to gradually turn responsibility for education over to your own children as they mature.
  • Making it possible to delegate a day's—or even a month's—worth of homeschooling over to someone else (your husband, another family member, or a friend) in the event that you're out of town or slowed by an illness.
  • Documenting courses taken and grades attained for the all-important high school transcript so that a future employer or college admissions officer will know what your child has studied and how well he has learned it.

When should you create and update your school records? Some records can be noted daily (for example, what math pages your oldest child completed today), others weekly (music lessons taken or books read), and still others monthly or even annually (list of volunteer commitments). Especially if you are new to homeschooling, start good habits now, at the beginning of this school year. Sowing good patterns will lead to a harvest of all eight benefits in the future.

For me, the hardest part of record keeping is how to manage the paperwork. Years ago, I was blessed to find a kindergarten curriculum (Learning at Home by Ann Ward) that suggested habits and created systems that have worked for me. I have also adopted other record keeping methods modeled by friends. In that same spirit of sharing, let me describe some of the best means of keeping records in our family, a homeschool of five children, ages 5 to almost 15.

Work With What You've Been Given

You know all those printed receipts the library sends home? Keep them, in chronological order of due date, on the side of the refrigerator. Return or renew books (online is easiest) prior to the due dates—think of the money that saves!—then check the books off the lists as they are returned.

Once all items on a receipt have been returned and checked off, place the receipts chronologically in a large manila envelope in a kitchen cabinet or nearby bookshelf. These receipts come in handy years later for reteaching a curriculum, reminding me which books correlated with it; plus, they provide documentation of reading for the year-end assessments required in some states.

My friends have spent hundreds on overdue, damaged, and lost library books, but using the receipt system ensures that won't happen. We also don't often lose books under beds or between sofa cushions, thanks to some early training of my children to always return borrowed books to the "library basket" in our living room.

Another way my children have kept records of books they have read is to record title, author's name, genre, and date read on a reading log. (Our habit started courtesy of Pizza Hut's Book-It program, www.bookitprogram.com.) Whether we are using pizza as a reading incentive or replacing that with our library's Summer Reading program log or a simple form I provide, my kids know to document each book they have read.