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    Keeping Track While Keeping My Sanity

    May 18, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    In my state {California}, I don’t think there’s really much required record-keeping for home education beyond keeping an attendance record. My understanding, though, is that keeping instruction records will help defend us in a court of law {FYI: it isn’t common here to get taken to court over homeschooling}. I have another reason for keeping records, and that is so I have a better starting place with subsequent children. This motivation informs the way I go about keeping track of what we’ve done.

    We use Ambleside, but I regularly squeeze twelve of those weeks into eleven. Or even ten. Or once I tried nine {not highly recommended}. Why reinvent the wheel each year when I can just print out what I did with former students and then improve upon them?

    What I do is so simple, even I can do it.

    I have specific times set aside for school planning throughout the year. I used to plan the entire year in the summer, but I’ve found that it is a better use of my time to plan one term at a time, other than making sure I buy all the books before I begin. I do this because, try as I might, I cannot predetermine the pace of an actual year.

    So, before the beginning of each term, I prepare two things:

    1. Circle Time plans {we usually do CT four days per week}
    2. Other plans in the form of a weekly spreadsheet

    I print the Circle Time plans right away and have them in The Binder ready to go. The weekly spreadsheet includes everything else, from piano practice to copy work to swimming lessons to math to Official Ambleside Readings. I adjust this each Sunday night and print off one week at a time. This allows me to move around what we’ve missed and note other changes, so that what I print off comes darn close to what we actually do. {That’s right. Not just close. Darn close.}

    As we go along in Circle Time, I date everything and check it off. This works well for me because I actually work from my plans. I don’t like dreaming up what we have to do each day. Instead, I have my printed plans in my binder, and I just follow orders.

    The orders from myself.

    Is that weird?


    In the past, I worked with the spreadsheet in the same way. This year, though, Son E. was old enough to work from the spreadsheet in a more independent way. The result is that he checks things off as he goes along, and at the end of the week {or month, which is more typical} I punch holes in them and file them in my binder behind my Circle Time plans.

    At the end of the year, I grab up all these pages. I staple each term together, and then I use a massive clip thingie {yes, that is a technical term} and put them all in a record box.

    The end.

    Well, almost.

    That really is all there is to it. I know that other states have other laws and so the approach might be different, but I really do think that, if you have minimal requirements, this is a simple way to track my own progress and have something to reference in the future.

    Of course, I have everything saved on my computer, so I never reinvent a document, either. But writing down what we actually did instead of just knowing what I planned has been key to teaching myself to create reasonable plans. It also helps me identify if anything truly necessary has fallen through the cracks, either inadvertently, or because I’ve been neglecting it, or because I need to plan it all in a different way.

    On the whole, working from paper works for me…at least until high school when all the credit issues rear their ugly heads.

    What about you? Do you have a trick for keeping track of what you’ve done and what you’re doing?

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  • Reply Silvia May 19, 2011 at 3:34 am

    trails… argh

  • Reply Silvia May 19, 2011 at 3:33 am

    Mystie, I forgot to tell you your idea of sending the plans to your husband is great. I told mine and he loved it.
    See, in Texas the law is not intrusive and lets you do your own thing, I’m older and though I’m first generation and sometimes I worry over little details, I also think everything will work out in the long run.

    I truly have my moments, but most of the time I believe they are forming relationships and caring about what they are learning.

    I’m very holistic, and though we have a main course of study we take many rabbit tails spontaneously because that is what my insight tells me we should be doing at the time. I’m not scared of digressing (if you hadn’t noticed yet πŸ™‚

    I also change my planning and tracking often, but I keep those, and that keeps me sane, which is good. I will plan to my best abilities, and I will feel good about what we do (because I tend to beat myself up hard, it’s a cultural “mea culpa” from being a Spaniard). Ah, and we may not read Parables of Nature. Shhhh, do not tell, please!

  • Reply Silvia May 19, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Kelly, I have the 36 Ambleside print out in my binder since 2008! I look at it every week a couple of times. then I have a part of the shelf with year 1 books, the kindle with a folder with those I couldn’t find or afford on paper, but as you explained so well, I think some books will be cover a bit faster (never rushed, I have pledge!), and other things will happen slower.

    Kansas Mom. I love your idea of writing a course of study. That sounds like me. But there stop the comparisons. I’m not as good as to have the pages numbered.

    Aren’t we all particular and different? I think you can find lots of information about a person by the way she/he plans.

  • Reply Kansas Mom May 19, 2011 at 3:03 am

    Last year (or this year?) I wrote out our “course of study” which was awesome. For every subject, I wrote what we’d be working on for the year, mostly a long list that I didn’t necessarily anticipate finishing (like lists of books we could potentially read during reading lessons in relative order of difficulty). What I didn’t do, which I will next year, is work out 11 week plans for the three terms for subjects I want to “finish.” That way, I can do some “catch up” during the 12th week (or another time) during the terms rather than all at the end when I realize I really do want to finish something and have a summer break. πŸ˜‰

    In the past I printed out blank forms for our weeks with spaces to fill in what we would do for each subject, which I’d check when we finished. I had spaces to write start and end times, since that’s about all I have to track in Kansas. I’m contemplating the weekly spreadsheet for next year, though, rather than a Word course of study document to copy from every day.

    I do update the course of study. I think I’m going to save it in a binder or big folder under first grade (and the preschool stuff in preschool) so the next time I have a first grader, I can just read through what we did before. I have everything in there – the books we read, the poems we memorized, the pages numbers. Everything.

    I’m a tracking fiend. I love planning and documenting.

  • Reply Kelly May 19, 2011 at 2:55 am

    I’ll take Ambleside’s 36-week schedule, print it out, then spend a week or two looking over it, making substitutions and other necessary adjustments, then print out my modified document.

    Each week is simply labelled “Week 1,” “Week 2,” and so forth. I put those pages into a binder with my other necessary stuff (poetry selections, info on artists and composers, the Anne White Plutarch study notes, if we’re doing one), then I’ll check off each item on the weekly schedule as we complete it.

    I also keep this daily planner. Each two-page spread is a week, and I fill it in as we go, so I have a record of what we’ve actually done.

    The reason I don’t bother dating the 36-week schedule as we do it is that it takes me a lot longer than a week to get everything done, and sometimes I finish a book “ahead of schedule.” I just blogged about this!

    So, basically, the 36-week schedule gives me a list of options of what to do next on any given day in order to cover everything I want to, and the plan book has a record of everything we’ve actually done, and when we did it.

    If that makes sense.

  • Reply Silvia May 19, 2011 at 2:47 am

    I should have said “in my kitchen basket”, shouldn’t I?

    And yes, the planning that works is the perfect plan because it’s the one that gets to be actualized and realized. As this world is the best possible world because any ideal world better than this will lack the quality of being real and thus be inferior. My version Leibniz in a cookie fortune style.

  • Reply Silvia May 19, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Brandy, I don’t have a cell phone either. I explain. I have one with fifteen minutes time, that is off on my kitchen basket where we keep the keys etc. and it happens I never carry it or make phone calls or receive them on it.

    I think I’d write a post on planning. When I said I plan the year, that planning wasn’t at all the detailed by the week planning but an outline. And by the week I sometimes fill the plans retrospectively.

    I don’t know if I’m lazy or poetic. Seriously, up until now my plans have been written loosely on paper, and for the last 21 consecutive weeks, more consistently on paper. Our Bible study, math and readings stay consistent, and then I gravitate lots of more readings, outdoors time, painting and drawing, and I write down our planned activities for the week as well.
    But now we are about to start with AO1, should I be worried? Because I have had some crisis last week, ha ha ha. Seriously, I have shivers some days, and others I believe it’s going to be a wonderful year.
    We will travel for a month and a half, so I know they will learn many things from that trip, and I’ll try to keep up a light diet of our homeschool routines, but I hope to “cover” what is mostly indicated by the advisory with our tweaks and changes.

    Ah, Mystie, the book How They Learn was not in my library, so I put it in the PBS’s wish list, and I got it. It’s been accepted, so I’ll get it soon.

    Like Mystie I have recently started the Good Reads lists too, and I find them great for records, but like Brandy I’m a paper old fashioned person. Digital is great, but I need a binder with something written to start off the day! I too obey my orders, but I’m constantly changing roles, ha ha ha.

  • Reply Mystie May 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Well, partly the all-at-once planning should work because I’m not actually dating anything or putting exact page numbers on, and when we get “behind” — whether or not it’s written down — my usual tactic is to cut, not cram or go longer. So, if we don’t read our poetry one day, it just won’t be checked off, but we’re not “behind” and we won’t “catch up.” I am not tied to checking off every box in order to move on. I’ll check off what actually gets done and what doesn’t get done is also on the list. πŸ™‚ As my history is all lined out now, we will finish it with 6 weeks to spare. But, I doubt we’ll actually read 3 chapters as planned every week, so (“read 1 ch CHOW”) is still on the last 6 weeks, and so we’ll “catch up” in that time or, if we actually have finished, I might read some of SOTW vol 4.

    The thing that appeals to me about using something online (I still might try a Google Doc form), is that I can set it to email Matt, so he can keep up with where we are. We found out this year that when he isn’t hearing how things are going, he assumes it’s all going swimmingly, when actually if he’s not hearing about it it’s probably because it’s not really happening at all. πŸ™‚

    So I’m still puzzling out the best way to get some accountability easily built in. However, actually keeping up with whatever I set up will be my problem no matter what I end up doing.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts May 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I *did* plan a year at a time until this year. I think if I was doing 6 weeks at a time like Mystie, I might be able to print 6 weeks at a time without too much concern.

    What I found was that though planning a year at a time had definite perks (such as being ALL DONE), I panicked when I got behind. And it felt like I was falling further and further behind. And I was irritated when unknown things popped up. Etc.

    Now, even though I don’t plan a whole year at a time in stone, I really do spend the summer making a gentle outline for the whole year. My term planning and weekly planning are far less intense than what I do in the summer.

    I found that this year I was glad I was planning mainly one term at a time, and then tweaking by the week. First, this meant that I could shorten a term without ruining my annual plan. Second, I could easily adjust each week for doctor appointments or swimming lessons, co-op, etc. And more.

    I am more and more convinced that the best planning/recording system is simply the one you can actually do, the one that works *with* your personality/nature rather than against it. I tried Homeschool Tracker for a while, and as cool as it was, I just couldn’t keep up because it wasn’t me. Sure, I had little irritations about the program, but the real problem was that I am not naturally inclined to using computers to keep track of things. I know men who seem to have their whole lives on their digital planner or iPhone or whatever, and I just couldn’t do that…I don’t even own a cell phone! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Mystie May 18, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Oh, but I do keep track of books we read and all the books the boys read on, so we do have “records” in that regard. It’s a fun way to keep a book list. πŸ™‚ This year I’ve added “update your Goodreads account” onto Hans’ weekly checklist.

  • Reply Mystie May 18, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Oy! I am not committed enough to dedicate that weekly time into making sure the week’s things get put together. It just doesn’t happen. And then we’re really off. So last year I did it all per 6-week term during the break week, and even with that we got so busy the break week between 2 terms that I was scrambling to get the stuff together the whole first week. This year I’m in the middle of trying Kendra’s whole-year-at-a-go method, but keeping it simple (i.e. it just says “fairy tale” — so whether or not that half or one page or a whole doesn’t really matter).

    I played around this last year with non-paper record-keeping ideas, but I had the same problem that I do with paper: I don’t update them.

    Drat. I haven’t yet found a system or plan that will work even if I ignore it.

    I wonder if it’s the down-side to being second-generation homeschool. I’m not scared enough. πŸ™‚ I know how loosey goosey one can be and get away with it. I had and have zero from my own schooling, and we made stuff up (it was accurate, but it wasn’t “records”) for my HS transcript. I didn’t technically graduate HS, so we didn’t have to do too much there.

    But, when it comes right down to it, I need self-discipline, and I don’t have enough. I need to be able to obey my reasonable self in the unreasonable moment. Bottom line: I like planning, but being dedicated enough to make sure it happens on time every week means it often just won’t happen.

    But this time next year I’ll be able to tell you if planning the whole year out works at all. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Silvia May 18, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    I´m still refining my planning system. I have been planning mostly weekly, with yearly goals in mind. I have a simple one page schedule that says Bible-Hymns, Reading-Spelling, Handwriting, Read Alouds, Nature-Trips, Math, Notes… and more categories and not in this order, and I first write what I intend to cover in a week.
    I pull it out too, follow what is there and write if something did not get done or something extra was accomplished.
    I have our ten weekly readings (a pre ambleside thing), from which I get some narrations and that we read slowly. I then add other books we read impromptu, and I have the general plans on the blog and website too.
    After the fact, I write about things, and that is my reflection, but like you say, I like the paper.

    Since my oldest is in Kinder and my youngest only 4, and I have innumerable pictures, writings, and post entries with plans, books being read, and at home I have “proof” that we’ve worked, and since she is reading and doing her math, and Texas is so flexible, I do not sweat, but I’m polishing and perfecting my schedule, specially now we will start keeping up with Ambleside too.

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