April 14, 2014

How To Enjoy Homechool Recording & Reporting

Have you been following my series { Frame * Relate * Connect * Evolve } - this post is meant to help those of you who are obligated to report.  Record-keeping and reporting does not have to feel like a burden. Nor should you provide anything more to your school district than the law specifically requires.


I live in Pennsylvania, which in most circles, is considered one of the strictest homeschooling states.  Although we home educate under PA's Private Tutor Law, and I do not have to report to my school district...I still keep records of our home education adventure.  I would like to show you how I do it -- to inspire you to think outside the mundane suggestions of your state government, your local school district or your evaluators.

Storage Bins

If you have only one or two kids, you might want to do what I began doing back in 2007.  I bought a 16-quart storage box.  Why?  Originally I was looking for a tote in which to store the dozens of crafts Benjamin brought home from Story Time (at the public library).  I just couldn't throw them away.  Soon, the tote was filled with not only crafts, but his first attempts at writing.  Then, paintings and drawings.  And, small sculptures.  Soon I began adding brochures from our various trips to museums, or tickets from the theater or the symphony.  And by the end of PreK3, I had a tote filled to the top!

I don't necessarily advise buying a tote for each child, from toddler-hood through high school. I do advise buying one tote...that you can fill all year-long.  Then, in the springtime, your whole family can sit down and look through a year's worth of memories...selecting 7-10 examples of your best work (what your school district deems work) to include in your portfolio.  Keep the rest or toss it - it's your call!

Homeschool Tracker

If you have multiple children and you live in a relatively 'strict' homeschool state, you might wish to keep your records all in one place -- with the option of printing out reports and/or transcripts.  Although I only have Benjamin, a couple of years ago I bought the original version of Homeschool Tracker Plus.  However, a FREE version was also available.  A few years ago Homeschool Tracker launched an entirely cloud-based recordkeeping system -- HSTOnline.

As an unschooler, I never used the software to 'plan' lessons.  Instead, I logged in every evening and 'reported' what we did during the day; each item appeared as a completed assignment.  By the end of the school year I was able to print a detailed report listing everything we did -- organized by subject/discipline plus a concise attendance report for the entire year and a book log.

If you prefer to plan your lessons, this software is designed with you in mind.  It's filled with dozens of features -- an agenda option, chore lists, lesson plans, unit plans, attendance reporting, library lists, etc.  So, if you are one of those moms who squeals, "I love to plan!" you will have a lot of fun with this program.

A Blurb Book

Do you blog?  Have you been blogging since your children were small?  Do you highlight your homeschooling on your blog?  Well then maybe you can use your blog as a portfolio? Depending on your state's laws regarding portfolios, turning your blog into a book might just satisfy your requirement.

I have been blogging since 2007.  Last year I began transferring my blog posts to the online publishing site, Blurb.  Since then I have printed two books, PreK3 and PreK4.  I have created PreK5 (but have not yet uploaded and printed it - as each book is a bit costly.  I blog a lot. And take a lot of photographs.  My Blurb books are over 100 pages.  But, when I order a yearbook, I receive a beautiful softcover keepsake highlighting our homeschool year.  For an example of a Blurb book, you can take a peek at the one I made for Benjamin last Christmas, it's a collection of his preschool through Grade One artwork.

Of course you know you don't have to blog to create a Blurb book.  If you wish to simply design, upload and print a Blurb book highlighting your school year, you could do it the whole year through -- order it from Blurb in late-Spring and have it printed in time for 'portfolio time.'  Think of it as a journaling project you do each year, for each child - it's a keepsake for you and a keepsake for him/her!

Lesson Books

This year I was inspired by the method used in Waldorf schools, of making one's own textbook.  For every lesson block I'd scheduled, and in coordinating colors, I ordered what are referred to as Main Lesson Books.

We have used every book.  Here are a few examples of how Benjamin used his own imagination to record what he's learned this year...

Science Block - Biomes - Tundra
Science Block - Main Lesson Book - Biomes Study
Science Block - Biomes - Forest
Science Block - Main Lesson Book - Biomes Study
Science Block - Biomes Flip Book - Tabs
Science Block - Flip Book - Biomes Study
Music Block - Guitar - Anatomy of a Guitar
Music Block - Instruments - Anatomy of a Guitar
Music Block - Guitar - Guitar Chords
Music Block - Instruments - Guitar Chords
History Block - Creation - Adam, Eve and God
History Block - Prehistory - Creation (According to the Holy Bible)
History Block - Prehistory - The Big Bang
History Block - Prehistory - The Big Bang

[Psst! Don't you just love his imagining of The Creation - too cute! ]

So, do you get the idea?  Aren't Main Lesson Books a lot more fun than boring old worksheets or workbook pages?  Let your child's imagination soar...your portfolio process could be memorable and exciting, rather than arduous and scary.

Photographs

We take a lot of 'field trips' and we do a lot of hands-on learning, so photographs are my main source of recording what we do -- and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  I would share some photos with you, but isn't that pretty much what my blog is all about?

Videos

Do you prefer recording videos rather than taking photographs?  Recording your visits to museums, historical sites, musical performances...anything that you might think you should include in a portfolio, record it!  I'm not suggesting you record a full one hour homeschool orchestra performance, but if your son memorized the Gettysburg Address, record it & include it in your portfolio.  Why not?

Benjamin once invited me to his very own Fire Prevention Open House.  It lasted the entire day.  He talked and talked and talked.  I recorded a portion of his talk on fire fighting equipment.  Here in PA, homeschoolers must teach fire prevention in the elementary grades. If I had to present a portfolio to an evaluator, I'd seriously consider including Benjamin's video -- it's creative and fun!

Interviews

Have you ever interviewed your own child?  I do.  In fact, I do it at least once a year -- sometimes casually, while other times it's more official.

Here in Pennsylvania, families must hire a third party evaluator to not only review each child's portfolio (and standardized test scores!) but also, interview the child.

Some evaluators take this part of their job a bit too seriously -- and unfortunately, overstep their position.  But, the idea of interviewing your own child isn't that odd. You find out all sorts of things!   Stephanie at Ordinary Life Magic interviews her kids regularly.  Her interviews are always very laid back, but you can craft yours however you'd like -- and, either record it or type it up.

Do it for you -- for you to learn more about your children.  Or, design questions to meet your reporting requirements.  It's unique.  And way more fun than filling up a binder with samples of work..either way, it will be fun talking with your kids.

Remember each child is unique. When you consider recording your homeschooling experiences, don't think of it as a task you must do strictly to please your district, but instead treat each new year as a record of firsts.  Recalling your school year should be just as exciting as when he cut his first tooth or she said her first word.  No law should dictate how you choose to commemorate your son's or daughter's years in elementary school or secondary school!  The devil is in the details.

You might live in a state like Pennsylvania, where they require test scores and attendance sheets.  You may be forced to list every book you used throughout the year.  It doesn't have to be monotonous.  Do you have to record/prove attendance?  Create a fun "sign-in" sheet and have your kids use rubber stamps to represent themselves!  Must you keep a book list?  Did you know most public libraries have the option of recording your activity -- every book we check out is listed on our online account -- automatically.  Do you use Shelfari?  Good Reads? Library Thing?  There are many ways to catalog your homeschool-related reading!

Begin thinking about the process differently.  It will feel less like a chore and more like a scrapbook you're creating, filled with fond memories.  I keep a book log for our own records - not because someone else needs me to prove what we've been doing.  I still fill a 16-quart box each year - with ticket stubs, programs, artwork, stories, drawings, small scuptures/inventions...I have SEVEN totes in my attic!  I would never show a school district even half of it!  Read your homeschool law and pull out only what is required.  Stop worrying and begin to enjoy having your kids at home!  Does your state require you to hire an evaluator?  Above all else, find one who is homeschool-friendly - some retired public school teachers will balk at anyone who educates at home.  Consider distance evaluations - you might be able to work with an evaluator in another city via Skype or Google Hangouts! Ask around your homeschooling community - I am sure there are evaluators who understand there are infinite ways to home educate...every child's portfolio should be unique (and exciting!).  Now...go have fun!!