- Claire Novak
- Published Sep 07, 2004
Is there a curriculum that fits every child's learning style, assesses exactly where the children are at, and prepares them for higher education? According to author/speaker Cindy Rushton, the answer is "Yes!" "Notebooks are adaptable to every style of learning," Rushton writes in A Charlotte Mason Primer. "[Everyone] flourishes when studying areas of delight, regardless of their learning style… [and] of all the options available for assessing the child's progress, notebooking can't be beat! Notebooking [also] prepares the child for...study and research that is necessary in the later years of life."
Order out of Chaos: Notebooking Explained
Notebooking seems like an organizer's dream-come-true, but it's also popular with students (and parents) who have a hard time keeping track of schoolwork. The method literally enacts the saying "A place for everything and everything in its place." Simple three-ring binders with page protectors are given to the student for each specific area of study. From cooking to chemistry, the possibilities for creativity are endless.
Notebooking is an excellent way to teach students to reference, outline, categorize, and give appropriate credit to sources. It's also known to work with all ages; high schoolers who love researching are in their element, grade school students are attracted by the hands-on approach, and toddlers like keeping pictures in their very own notebooks. As author/speaker Terri Camp writes in her article Ignite the Fire with Notebooks, "One of the biggest benefits to notebooks is [that] the children learn the joy of finding out information and developing a love of learning."
Biblically Inspired & Historically Proven: The Vital Need for Notebooking
Notebooking is nothing new. In fact, references to the method are made in Malachi 3:16, "…a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name." In the Old Testament, kings were trained through methods similar to modern notebooking. Deuteronomy 17:18-19 says, "…he shall write him a copy of this law in a book… And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them."
Throughout history, thousands of people have used notebooking methods to preserve their legacy. A staggering amount of historical information would have been lost without the work of American journalists, both professional and amateur. Authors are famous for keeping their own writing and collecting the prose of others. Robert Lewis Stevenson carried three books – one for reading, one for copies of inspirational material, and one for his original ideas – and Benjamin Franklin's collected sayings and articles eventually became the content of his popular Poor Richard's Almanack.
Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are remembered for their extensive expedition journals, in which they noted everything from plant specimens to travel details. Their recordings were a goldmine of discovery, introducing Americans to the grizzly bear and a variety of other animals, as well as trees like the Rocky Mountain Maple and flowers like Snow-on-the-Mountain.
The legendary British voyager Captain James Cook authored a detailed log entitled The Endeavor Journal, in which he recorded everything from transactions with natives – "Some of the Natives brought along side in one of their canoes four of the heads of the men they had lately kill'd, both the hairy-scalps and skin of the faces were on: Mr. Banks bought one of the four" – to problems with crew members.
From George Washington's passionate love of farming – "I shall begrudge no reasonable expense that will contribute to the improvement and neatness of my farms, for nothing pleases me better than to see them in good order…" – to Walt Whitman's abrupt but touching entries about soldiers he nursed during the Civil War – "[Soldier in] bed 15 wants an orange, bed 59 wants some liqourice [sic]..." – historic notebooks offer a vivid realism and link to the present that modern technology is hard-pressed to duplicate.
Charlotte Mason's Opinion on Notebooking
Many notebooking experts recommend Charlotte Mason's teaching methods. Her history timelines and art sketchbooks fit in with the ideas presented by the notebooking approach, but her nature notebooks – artist sketchbooks containing pictures of plants and wildlife drawn by the student – are most often imitated by notebookers. "We must assist the child to educate himself on nature's lines," Mason wrote, "…we must take care not to supplant and crowd out nature and her methods with that which we call education…"
According to Teri Brown, author of the book Day Tripping: Your Guide to Educational Family Adventures, nature notebooks left her son with an "insatiable appetite" for science. "We started keeping the nature notebooks when [my son] was about five," she writes. "Several notebooks later I had a full-fledged scientist on my hands… now, as my son prepares himself for a life of biology in the Fish and Wildlife fields, I am thankful for the early science training given to him by nature observation."
Notebooking in Action: The Binder Queen
Cindy Rushton was encouraged to begin notebooking by her husband's grandmother, Alma Lee "Mamaw" Rushton. Mamaw Rushton collected notebooks full of everything from samples of sewing machine stitches to copies of Cindy's first writing endeavors. As Rushton told TOS, "Her habit of keeping notebooks influenced me to begin my life ministry…God was putting something on my heart that needed to be out there and…help other people."
Rushton describes her homeschooling style as "purpose driven," a mixture of delight directed learning and required studies. "It's really a fine line," Rushton told TOS. "With my son Matthew, if I told him to write a poem, he'd have a fit, but if I said 'Let's study poems about history!' he'd go for it. For us, the best notebooks have been delight directed – our children learn so much from them. Everyone needs purpose behind what they do. Deep down inside, we all want to see our work amount to something, and we want a finished product."
Notebooking offers that finished product while preserving records and memories for future generations. It's easily adjustable, fitting each child's learning methods and styles without becoming restrictive. Best of all, it's a solid method with deep historical roots, proving the wisdom found in Jeremiah 6:16a, "…ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls."