Record Keeping: Time-Waster or Lifesaver?
- 2009 25 Nov
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.
I use a master calendar to manage lessons, doctor appointments, co-op dates, my husband's work schedule, and our birthdays. I used to have a school calendar plus another personal calendar, which led to missed events and overcrowding of our schedules.
I organize our books and curriculum on shelves like a library does: history, literature, science, Bible, etc. This makes them much easier for me to find. I try to keep fiction, historical fiction, and biographies within easy reach of the kids—I want to encourage them to grab a book for pleasure reading. What a joy to recently find my once-reluctant reader, now 13, upstairs on his bed rereading The Cat of Bubastes by G. A. Henty. He loved it when we read it aloud as a family last year, knew where to find it among the other historical fiction works on the bookshelves in our family room, and was devouring it himself when I caught him in the act—of reading!
Like the library, I keep a list of books I'm currently borrowing and titles I'm currently loaning out to friends, written on a 3x5-inch card taped inside my kitchen cabinet. I write the loan date, the name of who borrowed it, and the title of the book. While I make it clear to friends that I happily loan our school resources, I will want the books back to reuse with subsequent children. Sometimes I must graciously remind a friend that I would like a loaned item returned. My present list includes nine books and three complete curriculums on loan to friends, plus Jonathan Park CDs that I am currently borrowing from a friend. This little list, kept at the ready, saves me frustration if I cannot find a curriculum I know I own, and it frees my mind from needing to remember all the details. Most of all, borrowing books and curriculums saves our family lots of money!
Thanks to Learning at Home, I annually assemble a large three-ring binder for each child with tabbed pocket dividers: Bible, History & Geography, Reading & Writing, Science, Art & Music, and Misc. I use 1½ inch binders (big enough to hold one year's worth of material) with clear plastic sleeves on the front and back covers.
Into these sleeves I can slide photos from school projects and field trips, playbills, ticket stubs, and other memories from each child's year. About once a month I transfer the children's schoolwork and art pieces from displays on our kitchen bulletin board and refrigerator to these School Folders. If the artwork is too large or is 3-D, I take a picture of the child holding his work and put that photo into the binder. I don't tear pages out of math work texts or spiral notebooks; those stay in their original bindings.
I store the School Folders in our basement, organized by year. My children love to pull them out to reminisce; I take them as proof of our schooling to our annual assessment for legal purposes in our state; and when my fourth child began his formal schooling, I pulled out his siblings' kindergarten notebooks to remember what I'd done with them, which saved me a bunch of time in ordering new materials. These portfolios will also summarize my children's learning down the road when I work on transcripts for college admissions.
As my children mature, I delegate more of their record keeping over to them. My high schooler now manages almost all of her own schedule and syllabuses. Several homeschool companies offer planning tools, but I like the free forms and schedules from www.donnayoung.org. My younger children (ages 7 to 13) also have a schedule onto which I write their assignments for the week ahead. Following their schedule means they can often progress without me, and in theory, I'm not interrupted as often when I'm helping one of their siblings. The written schedule eventually goes into the front of their School Folder, becoming a part of their portfolio for Ohio's required assessment at year's end.
Little by little, my high schooler and I are accumulating data for her transcript. Working off her course titles, we create a Word document each semester, adding grades, outside activities, and volunteer opportunities as they come along. (Using a computer to manage a transcript is a tremendous way for many dads to contribute to their family's homeschooling efforts.) All of this information is reiterated, of course, in her School Folder. I also requested that three adults in her life (piano teacher, co-op mom, and drama director) write a reference letter based on their experiences with her this past year. When college application time rolls around, all the essentials will already be gathered and in print.
Although it's still not my favorite part of homeschooling, accurate record keeping is a must. Never will it surpass the fun of a mom's night out, the sense of accomplishment I get from watching my children learn to read, or the joy of a Christ-filled moment when one of my children chooses to seek forgiveness from his sibling—but having order in my homeschool and a plan for the future makes keeping good records worthwhile.
*This article published November 25, 2009
Melanie Hexter has been married to Matthew for 19 years, and together they've homeschooled their five children 11 of those years. Each summer they offer Home School 101, a workshop to help parents who are considering homeschooling their children. They live in central Ohio where they enjoy music, being outdoors, and the company of friends.
Originally published in Home School Enrichment Magazine. Now, get a FREE subscription to HSE Digital by visiting www.HSEmagazine.com/digital Every issue is packed with homeschool encouragement, help, and information. Get immediate access to the current issue when you start your FREE subscription today!