Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Home Education, Mother's Education

    3 Steps to Getting Started with Notebooking

    December 5, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]Y[/dropcap]es, I really do think it can be this simple. Truly. But first, let’s define our terms. We’re talking about getting started with notebooking, but not just any notebooking. We mean keeping the kinds of notebooks used in a classical, Charlotte Mason education — the kind thoroughly explained in Laurie Bestvater’s book, The Living Page. For our purposes, we’re going to focus on the holy trinity of notebooking: the commonplace notebook, the Book of Centuries, and the nature journal.

    Are these notebooks for you? Or for your students? The answer is, of course, yes.

    Because this type of notebooking is for humans.

    Three Steps to Getting Started with Notebooking

    Before I give you the spiel on how this can all be started in “three easy steps” {ha}, I need to mention something. There are generally accepted ages at which these notebooks are begun. We need to be clear on this, or someone might end up frustrated later on.

    The nature journal begins when the child commences formal lessons. {Before this, there can be a family nature journal, of course.} This means age six. I will tell you that once upon a time, because I had an advanced five-year-old, I decided to start a nature journal early. The only thing that really happened was that the child cried because I was “forcing” him to draw something he didn’t want to draw. So my advice is that, unless the child initiates a nature journal earlier than six {because he was born a Keeper, perhaps?}, wait until he begins formal lessons.

    The Book of Centuries begins in Year Four, or around age 10. This is the Official Ambleside Online Book of Centuries age. I actually did not begin one with my oldest until the middle of Year Five and guess what? Nobody died or was otherwise damaged. Isn’t that amazing? I’m telling you these ages not to make you feel late, but to prevent people from starting too early. So don’t beat yourselves up or anything if your child is 12 and doesn’t have a Book of Centuries. That sort of thing can be remedied.

    The commonplace journal begins in Year Seven, at the earliest. Laurie Bestvater says “middle school or high school.” As far as I know, Ambleside Online doesn’t mention it until high school. In my opinion, twelve is generally a good age, but some students may need a little more maturity, and so waiting until fourteen is wise. The commonplace journal replaces copywork.

    For our purposes here, we’re defining “commonplace” in a strict sense: it is a book in which we collect our favorite quotes from the things we’ve read. Sometimes, we may include an explanatory note or a brief character sketch, but generally the commonplace contains other people’s words, and not our own … hence its appropriateness as a replacement for copywork.


    Step One: Buy Supplies

    You may already have things on hand that you can use, but in case you don’t, here are my suggestions.

    Nature Journal:
    I prefer spiral-binding for a nature journal. It is a priority for me that the paper lays flat without having to be held down. Nature journals are usually done using watercolors or pencils. If watercolors intimidate you, please get a sketch book. I’m saying this from experience. When I was first starting out, I thought that nature journals had to be done with watercolors. Period. This completely paralyzed me, and so we did not start doing them until much later in our educational journey.

    Watercolor nature journals are lovely. It is possible that they are superior to pencil sketched journals. But paralysis is Bad, so be realistic when you’re making your purchase.

    So, for watercolors, I suggest this journal:

    For sketched journals, I suggest this journal:

    I really do buy my journals on Amazon. I used to be able to find journals that were spiral bound and had the nice hard cover at our local art supply store, but not lately.

    Even a child’s set of watercolors will work. If you need watercolors, you can try these. A decent set of drawing pencils {with a kneaded white eraser} is good for sketching. You can also check your local art supply store for these things.

    In our family, I have kept pads of sketch paper and watercolor paper in case any younger children wanted to participate, but journals are something each of our children receive when they begin Year One. In my experience, this makes beginning serious study in Year One something special, and receiving a journal a mini rite of passage.

    Book of Centuries:
    If money is no object, Laurie Bestvater has created an heirloom-quality Book of Centuries that is laid out like the ones Charlotte Mason actually used with her students.

    For me, money is a huge object, especially when I consider my conviction that I am supposed to model these notebooks and not just assign them to my children. I adore Laurie’s work, but I can’t afford it.

    So. I designed my own template for Book of Century pages. Mine is not exactly like Charlotte Mason’s, but it’s serving us well. Instead of a century on one page, it covers two pages. Now, the principle is still the same: only one major event for each year. But still. Trying to write so tiny frustrated my son, and I admit that I like to draw lines for wars so that they are in the background of other things.

    Pictures can simply be drawn on the backs of the pages.

    I print out the centuries we need each term, and put them into a simple binder. We both keep one, and we both use Sharpie pens to write in them. My oldest likes the fact that if he really messes up, I can just print him another and he can copy it over. He’s a perfectionist like that.

    This is the easiest one to prepare for, even though it’s the last one to be introduced. All you need is a blank journal and a pen to write with. I prefer spiral binding. My current commonplace is lovely, but it is not easy to keep flat and it causes me no end of frustration. I just have trouble moving on when it isn’t filled!

    If you don’t have a journal and want one that is gorgeous, I adore Paperblanks. Oh! And I use Sharpie pens in my commonplace, too. I like to switch up the colors.

    And, yes, I know that makes some of you Type A’s out there cringe.

    Does it bother you that I also write diagonally sometimes? And I use unlined pages?



    Step 2: Schedule It

    The only way to make notebooking happen is to plan in advance when it will happen. This is true for you as well as for your students. And this is especially true for nature journalling.

    For starting a nature journal, put a nature walk on your calendar. Once a week would be best. If you really feel you cannot do this, plan a time every week to go out in your yard or neighborhood and record something you see. You can collect little things — rocks, leaves, seed pods, etc. — and bring them home to draw if that makes you more comfortable.

    For starting a Book of Centuries, schedule it into your week. I actually keep mine near me whenever I am reading anything non-fiction so that I can make entries whenever something jumps out at me. This is how an adult keeps a BoC. Children will need to build a habit. You can require a certain number of entries per week, and put this on their checklists. We will talk about this more later in the series.

    For starting a commonplace, it’s sort of the same process as the BoC. I keep mine near me when I read, but for my child who is old enough {only one of my children are commonplace age}, he is required a certain number of entries and there are checkboxes on his list.


    Step 3: Just Do It

    Don’t get paralyzed. It doesn’t have to be perfect. There is no “right way.” You bought your supplies, and you put it on your calendar. Don’t chicken out! It’ll be fine.

    Your first commonplace journal might not end up being your favorite. But by the time you’ve filled your first journal, you’ll have gotten your own system. You nature journal might be awful, but your drawing skills will have gotten better.

    Let this become a habit over time.

    But don’t overwhelm yourself. Perhaps it would be best to choose one type of notebook and practice keeping it for a few months before adding another one. Even this way, you’d be keeping all three by the end of a year.

    One of the things I really appreciated about Laurie’s book is that she pointed out many times that Keeping is more about the process than the product. So while we want things to look nice, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have value when they don’t look as nice as we’d like. Don’t let a desire for perfection freeze you up. This is a journey, and you really can figure it out as you go along.

    Click here to return to the series index.

    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit

    1 Comment

  • Reply Christina April 16, 2019 at 7:44 am

    I would love to purchase Laurie Bestvater, but I’m so disappointed that she uses BCE and CE, instead of B.C. and A.D. Riverbend Press offers a beautiful Book of Centuries, that uses B.C. and A.D. I wanted to suggest an alternative Book of Centuries.

  • Leave a Reply