Simple record keeping

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The following is a guest post by Charity Hawkins.

As soon as possible after we finish school in the spring, I like to sort through all the piles of papers and clean up the clutter from the past year. And by “I like to,” I mean, I dread it, but I make myself do it, and feel so much better after it’s done.

But organizing all the paper that comes along with homeschooling doesn’t have to wait until the end of the school year. In fact, implementing a few of these ideas now might save you hours later.

So I thought I’d walk you through what my year-end record keeping looks like. If you find yourself wondering how others deal with the piles of school-related stuff, read on:

Part 1 – My Own Records

This took me about 3 hours on the computer.

1. Any documents required by your state. If you’re not sure what your state requires, look up the information online or contact your state or city homeschool support organizations.

Examples of state-required documents might be: copies of letters of intent to homeschool, lesson plans, paperwork with the state, etc.

My state doesn’t require any documents, so I don’t have these. If I did, I’d probably keep these in a separate 3-ring binder labeled “State Homeschool Documentation.”

Those are really the only essential documents. All the other items that follow are optional.

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2. A high-level yearly wrap-up. (This took me about 2 hours.) This tells what curricula each child used or what main areas we studied. I just set it up as a table in Word.

This is meant to summarize what we studied and provide information for a transcript (and I did need to do that this year).

I might also include pictures of projects my children did. For example, the medieval feast they attended, or the Play-Doh Stonehenge model they made.

Pictures are especially good for preschool activities.

I did a “save as” of last year’s wrap up, then plugged in the new information. Usually in December I start this and include the activities from the summer and fall so I don’t forget them. Of course you could also do it as you go along throughout the year.

If you have only preschoolers, your categories would be more general and age appropriate, such as:

  • Gross Motor Activities (ex. playing outside, helping sweep)
  • Numbers/Pre-Math skills (ex. counting, baking, sorting silverware or socks)
  • Science/Nature study (ex. planting a garden, raising caterpillars)
  • Bible (songs, Sunday school)

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3. A Reading List. ( This took me about 1 hour to type up.) This is a list of the books we actually read. I keep a list on the fridge where I scribble down our read-alouds, what the kids read on their own, audio books, and sometimes what picture books we read.

Books are such a huge part of our education, it really does give a better picture of what we studied and learned this year.

I printed those two documents out, punched holes in them, stapled them together, and added them to my 3-ring binder labeled “Yearly Wrap-Ups.”

After I had the yearly summary in my binder, I was now free to throw away any other planning documents.

Part 2 – The Children’s Work

This took me about 4 hours of UNINTERRUPTED time.

First, set aside a good chunk of kid-free time.

Supplies I use:

  • a couple of plastic tubs
  • 5 ¼” accordion-type “wallet” folders with a stretchy string
  • labels

I did not file papers during the school year. I just had the kids put any loose papers (math worksheets, copywork, etc.) into a basket in the schoolroom. I put their better coloring sheets from Sunday School or the YMCA into another box. Artwork went on the art wall upstairs.

Around Christmas when the baskets were full, I stuffed all the papers into a brown grocery-store bag and then ignored it until spring.

On my organizing day this spring, I gathered up all the new piles of papers, the overflowing grocery store bag, artwork, and every other piece of kid paper I could find from the last year, and dumped it into a huge pile.

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1. Sort papers by child (and toss the junk) (This took me about 1 hour and 45 minutes.)

Now remember, I had the summary in my binder. This was purely sentimental. I just like to save my children’s favorite pieces, remembering their sweet selves at this age.

In order to honor those special items, however, I needed to toss a lot of junk.

I kept things like:

  • most of their writing
  • most of their copywork
  • hardest math worksheets or ones with cute drawings or “I Love You Mom” written on it
  • a few math pages from the beginning of year to show progress
  • most of their artwork

2. File school papers for each child. (Total time – 1 hour)

You’ll see in the pictures on top of each child’s pile of papers something labeled “Main Lesson Book.”

This is a concept I borrowed from Waldorf schools. This was the first year we did it and I loved it. Each child’s main lesson book had the papers they really labored over, ones they worked on for hours, with beautiful art or copywork. I think it really honored their time and effort.

I took that Main Lesson Book (you could use an empty 3-ring-binder), then added tabs. I had tabs for history, copywork, creative work (things they did on their own), math, etc.

I quick-sorted their schoolwork pile into subjects and kept the best.

By the way, it’s shocking to me how much work we (they) do in a year. So many weeks I feel like we’re not accomplishing anything, but we just keep going, gathering one stone at a time, and then we step back and realize we’ve built something beautiful together.

The now-stuffed-full Main Lesson Book fit neatly in the brown accordion file. I added any other random things, labeled it with the child’s name and year, and put it in their plastic tub.

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3. File art/craft papers for each child. (Total time 1 hour.)

This was pretty easy. I basically stuffed all the artwork into an accordion file, labeled it, and put it in the tub.

I did select a few favorites to keep on our Art Wall.

After filing – my two older children had 3 accordion files: one for schoolwork, one for artwork, and a cumulative one for writing that spans years. My four-year-old doesn’t have writing yet, so he just has two files. His “schoolwork” is just little workbooks or coloring books.

Whew! I then put the accordion files into the plastic tubs, labeled them if needed, and put them back in their home in the attic. Each tub holds about 5 years’ worth.

It’s such a great feeling to have that done. It’s one of the jobs I dread doing each year, and I’m so happy when I go in our clean schoolroom, all ready to start fresh next year.

4. Go do something you like. (Total time – at least an hour or two.)

Seriously. You’ve earned it. Celebrate a job (and a year) well done!

A wonderful book for organizing and decluttering is Secrets of an Organized Mom by Barbara Reich. I loved it. It’s not specifically for homeschoolers, but as we all know, the state of chaos or organization in our homes certainly does affect our homeschool.

Happy Organizing!

How do you organize your school records and children’s work?

About Charity Hawkins

Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel. She lives, learns, and has adventures of all kinds in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much Jamie, for letting me guest post!
    I have to confess to everyone reading though, fall is not my time for organizing! My eyes glaze over at the thought of it. Basically in the fall, we just do school, focus on it, keep lists of what we read, then I deal with all the papers in the spring when the year is done.
    So, if this all overwhelms you, the one thing to take away from this would be: read with your kids. And keep a list of what you read.
    And enjoy your kiddos as you do it.
    Then revisit this post in the spring or when an organizing mood strikes! 🙂

  2. I have the kids file their finished assignments in a folder in the filing cabinet throughout the school year. I have them put their name (to make sure I don’t mix them up on accident) and date and then it goes in their own file folder. At the end of the year I sort by subject, put in order by date, photograph them (I try for good lighting on a white table top for the background) and then make the photos into a PDF using PDF Architect. I only save the nostalgic assignments or the ones that show a significant learning leap. The rest go in the recycle bin! We back up our digital files on an external hard drive that we keep at the bank, but that keeps me from having tons to keep track of around the house.

  3. My daughter is preschool age so I don’t save a ton of school type things but she is constantly drawing something. I can’t keep anywhere near all the stuff she draws so I take pictures of a lot of it before throwing it away. We get to keep the memories without the clutter.
    Steph’s latest post: 16+ Clutter Free Gift Ideas for Young Kids

  4. Thanks – great ideas. I use the good reads app to keep track of books my kids read. I have a “shelf” for each kid/ year and scan the books that they read in before returning to the library. It’s cool to print out their lists at the end of the year and see how much they read. I should do binders for their work though. I have a small hanging file in my kitchen where I shove their most favorite work to store until the end of the year.

  5. Normally, I’d just pass this type of article by without posting a dissenting comment, but I was minutes away from forwarding it to a new homeshooling mom as a quick answer to a group post. Most of this seems like a lot of unnecessary work and not at all ‘simple record keeping.’ I’m surprised Simple Homeschool is posting this as a suggestion as there isn’t much simple about it.

    I’m curious: who are these records for? The author’s state doesn’t require the vast majority of what she is collecting (nor are her kids high school age where in rare cases they’d need to show some physical work to college recruiters) and she says they go into a bin in her attic. Do she imagine that she or her children will enjoy going through these someday? Have they already been used and looked back upon?

    When I was in high school and college, I was really into scrapbooks. I have at least five big ones and probably 30 photo albums. I’ve been married nearly 11 years and my husband probably looked at one for less than five minutes. He has maybe 15 huge boxes of ‘memories’ that his mom saved. We’ve never gone through them though DH isn’t ready to give them away nor dedicate the time to even look at them for more than a short period. Instead, they are a weight around our neck, filling up space in our garage or storage room, aching our back every time we move them from house to house.

    Now I recognize that with homechooling, sometimes there is that feeling of needing to be able to prove to ‘someone’ that our kids are learning, but especially when they are quite young, couldn’t our ‘interrupted kid free’ time be used better? And maybe we should reconsider what our children really want and need from us. I’d imagine, it’s time, not huge tubs in attic stuffed with paperwork they may never actually look up.

  6. Michele,
    I certainly can appreciate your sentiments. I also had many, many boxes of every paper I ever produced saved for me that I had to go through as an adult and edit down. What I was trying to get across in this, but I admit, didn’t do as well as I’d have liked, is that I edit down to ONE big accordion folder per child for a couple YEARS of work for schoolwork and ONE for crafts for the same period of time. To me, that’s a manageable amount. That’s a couple of boxes tops that would hold all their childhood papers.
    There’s something so precious to me about their first attempts at writing, their sweet little thumbprint crafts, and so on. I don’t save every one, but I do save our favorites. And yes, I’ve sat with my now 10-year-old and looked back at his crooked letters and we’ve enjoyed seeing how much he’s learned and grown.
    So I guess this whole process for me is about saving our treasures.
    I don’t do it to impress anyone. I don’t save it in case I have to prove that we did anything in school.
    The bare bones notes of the high-level wrap up and reading list are so that I can pull together SOME record of what we did, yes, and I do think that’s important. HSLDA (Home Schooling Legal Defense Fund), a big advocate of homeschoolers’ legal rights does encourage everyone to “keep records” so that’s how and why I do that.
    Everyone is certainly free to keep as much or as little as they want for sentimental value and I appreciate you pointing it out.
    If you have a system that works well for you and you can do it with your kids around that’s wonderful. Please continue and I don’t mean to say this is the right way or the only way to keep records. This is just how I do it. I work better if I can focus for a few hours and do it in one big batch.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for encouraging others in your local homeschool group!

  7. Amy Olson says:

    I’ve started digitizing their work. I will scan all of their history into one PDF document for the year for example. I still save a sampling of their best originals, but I find that scanning their work in the computer is much more accessible that putting in boxes or on shelves. I sort and organize using a document organizing program as well as in a school records notebook by year in Evernote (cloud storage.). With Evernote, I have access to everything on my iPad, and if I want to flip through art work, or reference writings from year to year at a glance…it’s all in one place, and my house is less cluttered. It’s still difficult for me to know which originals to keep…and it’s sad to toss their original work. But at least it’s entirety is saved in some sense. (Get a good scanner…ours can scan up to 50 pages at a time)

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