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    Home Education

    Record Keeping for Encouragement

    September 2, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking back and seeing all the negative. When I sit down on my prep day and look back on our week, I’ve got two options. On the one hand, I can immediately notice anything that didn’t get done, or was badly done. (And there’s a place for that, don’t get me wrong.) But still, I have two hands, and on the other one, there is the idea that I can look and see the Good. I can see what did happen. And I can be encouraged. There is a big difference between plans and records. Plans show us what we hope will happen. Records show us what actually happened. Homeschool record keeping does not have to be entirely about fulfilling state requirements or proving ourselves to others. They can also serve to encourage us along the way.

    How to keep homeschool records that will bring you joy and encouragement -- that will help you see how far you've all come in a year.

    What Are Our Goals?

    We Scholé Sisters believe that education’s ultimate goal is virtue. We care more about who our children become than what they know. But we also have short-term goals. This year, for example, I want to see one of my sons learn to read. I want to see one of my daughters gain confidence in writing. And so on. I think that the ideal system of record-keeping, if we are going to use it for encouragement, will keep in mind both our ultimate as well as our short-term goals.

    Towards a Philosophy of Record Keeping

    I want my record keeping to help me take a long view. I want it to help me get out of the day-to-day and see year-to-year. I suppose, if I had to say it in only one sentence, I am looking for progress. And ultimately, I’m looking for the hand of God. I’ve got my head down most of the year, and I’m trying to do my duty as well as I can with the best attitude I can muster. I’m trying to love the work that God has given me, and I’m trying to be diligent in my stewardship. At the end of the year, I want to be able to step back and see what He has done.

    Your Homeschool Needs a Baby Book

    Remember when your first child was born, and you diligently filled in the blanks in his baby book? You recorded his first bath and his first tooth and his first tantrum. At the end of the year, you flipped through the pages and marveled that the little sleepy and decidedly squishy bundle you had brought home had transformed into an active, bright-eyed child. These records weren’t berating you over all your failures. They were helping you delight in a year of mothering — in a year in which God had done a million small miracles. What if? What if our homeschools had the baby book equivalent to that of a first-born child? What if we scribbled little bits and pieces in the margins and at the end of the year, a story had unfolded?

    Ideas for Record Keeping

    Here’s where I share a list to get your creative juices flowing. Some of these are things I actually do, and some are things I’ve heard of. There’s no “right” way to do this (unless, of course, we are talking about state requirements), and it can and should look different for all of us…but sometimes ideas are helpful.

    • Attendance Record: This is one of the few records required by my state. I use a simple, one-page form found online somewhere. I look back and marvel at how many days we studied together over the course of a year. As I file one year after another into my school files, I’m reminded that we were consistent.
    • Binders: I have a binder for Circle Time. I have a binder full of memory work. The latter is probably the most amazing: one little poem and one little song at a time has added up to 2 inches thick of memories over the years!
    • Lists: Children can keep these themselves. For example, a couple years ago, one of my sons began keeping a running list of the books he read on his own time.
    • Notebooks:
      • Poetry journal: collect one favorite poem per week (if reading one per day)
      • Nature journal
      • Commonplace book: filling up with favorite quotes from school reading
      • Book of Centuries: filling with the events from history that stick out
      • Science notebook
      • Math notebook
      • Written narrations: by keeping these in a spiral-bound notebook, I have a record of everything my writers have written and I can trace the progress of their writing.
      • Note that all of these are kept by the children themselves — effortless records!
    • Calendar/Planner: I think this can serve in the easy, baby book way I mentioned. I used to buy small paper planners, but I’ve enlarged over the years so that I have room to jot things down. I don’t keep them forever, but I do take the time to look through one at the end of the calendar year before I start my new one. I can see where we went and what we did. I remember that field trip I forgot about. If I wanted to, I could easily note important moments, things I see developing in my children’s character, and so on.
    • Blogging: Off and on over the years, I have definitely used this blog to keep track. I write notes about things so that I can look back and remind myself what I did and why I did it. I also occasionally write about the children, and what I see happening educationally. Sometimes, when I look back through my own archives, I discover progress I hadn’t realized was happening.
    • Photo albums/year books: I don’t do this. I will likely never do this. We are lucky if I occasionally muster a family photo album. Back before Sarah was blessed with so many babies, she made end-of-the-year folders that were super creative and a great source of delight.

    One thing to ask yourself is what will actually encourage you? I get a kick out of viewing my child’s personal reading list, but that might not do it for you. If you’re going to keep encouraging records, you need to think about what will matter to you in the end. Another important thing is to make sure you are noting starting points. For example, if you schedule 30 minutes of Latin four days per week, you aren’t going to know your progress unless you know where you started.

    One Last Bit of Encouragement

    We’re often discouraged when we see gaps. And we ought to deal with any serious gaps we discover along the way. But there is a sense in which our recovery of education is generational work. Most of us were given poor educations — at least when we compare them to the rich offerings of a traditional classical education. Learning to teach Latin and literature and all the rest of it is a huge learning curve. So give yourself a break. We will not do it all. Our children will stand on our shoulders and do more than we have done because they will have a better starting place. And so on and so forth.

    This isn’t our work; this is generational work.

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  • Reply Christy March 9, 2015 at 3:02 am

    I am interested in learning more about your childrens’ science and math notebooks. I searched to see if you had already blogged about those notebooks, but couldn’t find further explanation. I did really appreciate your series on notebooks about the “big three.” If I missed the post about science and math notebooks, can you point me in the right direction, please?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 9, 2015 at 7:04 am

      I haven’t blogged specifically about the math and science notebooks…I will try to do that soon! For now, there are really great science notebook posts over at A Peaceful Day here and here and at Sage Parnassus here. Maybe that will help?

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