Tips for Keeping Homeschool Records

All moms regardless of where our kids learn we want to keep samples of their school work. As a homeschooler there are a few extra considerations and extra piles of work to think about.  We all want to remember how they wrote as a kindergartner or that special art project they did with the enrichment club.   As a homeschooler we also have every worksheet they ever did, every drawing they ever made and every workbook, text book and scratch paper they wrote on.  It can be overwhelming to contain all the papers as they year progresses.   And even more overwhelming to decide what to keep for official records depending on your states regulation.  Having been at this whole homeschool thing for over five years and lived in two different states with different regulations, I’m here to share a few of the ways we stay organized.

#1 Know Your state Regulations

Each state has its own requirements on record keeping and reporting.  You can find out what your requirements are by checking with your local homeschool groups or searching online.  When we lived in Florida where each homeschool family was required to register with either the local district or a private school covering.  We chose to register with the district.  We also had to choose one of several ways to report growth for each student each year.  The way we chose was to create a portfolio of each child’s work and review it with a certified teacher who would sign off as making adequate progress.  Now we live in Illinois where we are required to teach 6 basic subjects. We have no reporting or registration requirements.  I choose to continue to keep records for myself and for the kids since we have a system already in place that works for us.


#2 Have a plan for daily work

Homeschooling uses a lot of paper!  It easily gets out of control if I let it.  I have discovered the easiest way to contain it is to use “In and Out” boxes.  Each child has one assigned to them and each time they complete a worksheet after I check it. It is turned into their box for their records.  This keeps me from having to separate each child’s papers from their siblings papers later.  I do not put it in the box, it is the child’s job to put the papers worth keeping in the box.  Scratch paper goes to the recycle box.

This year we also started using binders.  Every subject for each child is kept in a single large binder so there aren’t as many loose pages around the room.  At the end of each 6 week term I reset their binders with the new materials and take out the completed work.  I still use the IN and Out boxes to store the completed work until I sort for their long term records.

#3 Sort it all at the end of the year

All year we fill their In and out boxes.  And at the end of the year I take all the papers and sort them by subject.  I keep the best parts and recycling the rest.  I keep each math chapter test but toss the daily worksheets, I keep finished writing papers but toss the rough drafts and outlines.  Usually a few fun drawing or creative non-school papers will get added as well.  I want it to be a snapshot of them.

By sorting only once or twice a year its easier to be objective and keep a sampling of the best parts of the year.  I only keep what will fit in a 1-2 inch binder for the year.  As they  are getting older I have started adding a table of contents or snapshot of the year’s studies in their binder. We can easily see what was covered in their work or when they read a specific novel.

#4 The Non-Book Learning

To record the non-book learning, I make a photo book of each year.  My focus of the book is what field trips and other activities that don’t fit neatly in a binder.  This also means I have to think about taking pictures of that learning all year which comes easy to me.  I also celebrate each workbook or level of a program with a picture.  Its a great reminder to look back and see what each child used in a specific year.  We also include things like what our school space looks like and learning we do at Co-op.  Pictures of large art projects can also be included in the photo records as well.

Making the photo book is a summer project for me. I watch for a discount code from Shutterfly to save on printing.  We are wrapping up our 6th year of homeschooling and will make our 5th photo book soon.  I find them all over the house as the kids enjoy looking at themselves.  They remember all the fun activities we have done over the years. Use THIS LINK to make your own free Memory book with Shutterfly!


Keeping a Field Trip Journal

Keeping a Journal While You Explore

Homeschooling allows us to make the most of the learning moments we encounter in our lives, including our exploration of the world around us, both natural and man made.  We record our adventures in a Field Trip journal each time we do our exploring.  This allows us to reflect and process our experiences, practice our narrative writing and create a memory book we can look back at later.

A field trip journal is like a Nature Study Notebook but for field trips.  I heard a talk from Holly Giles at a homeschool convention that helped me understand how easy keeping a journal can be.  We use it to write down what we remember and learned when we are doing school out and about in the community.  The directions are simple.  After we return home, or sometimes in the car, I pass out the notebooks and they write about what we did.  They must include the date and location.  Now that everyone is older we write 3 details about what we did, which is a great natural introduction to paragraph writing.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

I took the idea and made it our own.  When we did our learning away from home, I took notebooks.  When we completed our activity or experience, I helped the kids write or draw some thoughts in their notebooks.  While they are writing we are able to talk through and discuss our experience as a family.  The kids can ask questions and I can get ideas for activities at home to continue their interest.  I also get a peek into what they found most important and take away from the experience.

Building Writing Skills

We have been using the journals for a few years now.  Initially they were filled with drawing and dictations they gave me to write down when the kids were emerging writers.  Now that everyone is older I ask each child to write 3 details from the experience.  They are learning to write a paragraph and don’t even know it!  Their opening sentence is where we went or what we did.  They choose their own 3 details, and i don’t tell them what they should be.  Their conclusion is their opinion of the experience.

It was incredibly cold, not my favorite trip.

As you can see from one of their recent journals what they remember isn’t always positive.  Our co-op went to a Maple Tree Grove during sugaring season the day he wrote these honest comments.  We came home and wrote in our journals and did our math for the day.  It’s fun to see what stands out to the kids on each outing.  For the sugaring, it was the cold weather we endured as we hiked through the grove.

Recently we took a big road trip as family and our journals came along for the ride.  3 of our stops included rich, hands-on learning opportunities.  We visited our first foreign country as a family during a cruise.  And on the road trip to the port we visited a National Park and Space Center Houston. Our cruise stop in Mexico was a great cross-cultural experience as we walked to the town square and read the signs and observed the differences from what our town looks like.  The conversations that followed our visit to the Space Center led to a change in our science plans when we returned home.  We turned that study in to a newspaper and quoted the kids journals in our review of the Space Center.

What are you waiting for? Grab a notebook and start keeping a journal.  It can be what you found on your walk around the block or a visit to the local donut shoppe.  It’s up to you and don’t forget to keep it simple.

Keeping a Field Trip Journal - Inside Our Normal

What’s your Homeschool Soundtrack?

Does your homeschool have a soundtrack?

In our homeschool we have music that is part of our daily routine.  I’m not talking about doing a composer study or learning about music.  I’m talking about the ways music and audio are facilitating your learning environment, the soundtrack in our home.  In our house we use audio to gather us to start our school day, to teach some of our subjects and to help us focus while we work.  As teacher/mom I also listen to podcasts to grow as teacher and parent.

A Gathering Song

A new habit we introduced this year was a gathering song.  We set up a custom routine on our Google Mini that plays a specific song when its time to get started.  The routine is set to turn on our smart lights in the school room and play “Good Morning” from Singing In the Rain.  We got stuck on the song after we saw the play last summer and now it’s part of our routine.

By having a gathering song I don’t have to scream all over the house or watch the clock in the morning.  My challenging child can’t get mad at mom for interrupting their activities because it wasn’t Mom’s idea: it was Google who is telling them is time to start school, and we all know it’s no use arguing with Google.

Audiobooks for Morning Time

We start our school day with subjects we can learn together as a family.  Usually this is done with reading aloud from our basket of books.  I enjoy reading together and sharing in the learning.  What I don’t love is pronouncing all the names of the heroes throughout history.  This year we delegated our history reading to an audiobook! This took the pressure off me to know all the proper names of places and people as we study the middle ages.  Sometimes we played it through a computer and sometimes we played the CD in the stereo.

We are using Story of the World volume 2 Audiobook this year.  It was funny when one night as dinner one of the kids started imitating Jim Weiss, the narrator, at the dinner table.  We have the activity pages for the series as well so everyone is able to color a page related to what we are listening to stay focused.

Background Music

One of the kids discovered that music helped them focus on their task.  So they asked if we could play it during our school time as our learning soundtrack.  Turning on our local Classical music and public radio station has been calming to us as we work.  It fills the silence and keeps everyone motivated.  I’d like to think they are gaining some music appreciation as well from listening.  When we are in the car we listen to a different radio station. Lyrics are detracting when we are reading or trying to focus on the math problem at hand.  After school work is done for everyone the radio switches back to our favorite station.  We also use our TuneIn app to stream either station to our Google Home speakers, depending where we are working.

Podcast for Professional Development for teacher/mom

The last part of our homeschool soundtrack is what I listen to away from our school time.  Homeschool related podcasts and audiobooks to listen to help me be a better teacher and encourage myself.  I have learned many new strategies to try for our family. Podcast teach me about the learning disabilities and disabilities we have in our family.  I may not have gone to school to be an expert, but I am expert on my children because I am their parent. I have shared before about what books I have read to learn about my kids’ challenges and how they are wired.

Some of my favorite podcasts are:

What's Your Homeschool Soundtrack? Inside Our Normal

Our Homeschool Day: 5th, 4th and 1st grade

Google says Good Morning

Our homeschool day officially starts at 9 am, when the Google Home plays our gathering song, “Good Morning” (from Singing in the Rain) and turns the classroom lights on.  Gotta love customized Google Routines.  Before Google tells us to gather, everyone is on their own to get dressed and eat breakfast.  I am often the last one to come downstairs and usually eat while everyone plays LEGOs.  Sometimes if the weather is suitable at least one child will go play outside before we start as well.

This year we are in our 6th year of homeschooling.  Each year looks a little different as each child grows and we try new activities.  Take a look inside what one day of learning looks like at our house with three students in First, Fourth, and Fifth grades.  Somethings that make our homeschool unique is that each of our kids has a different learning disability and one has autism.

Learning Together

After we gather in our school room we start our day with our together subjects.  I do my best to teach as much as I can as a group, since that makes my life easier and less subjects to keep track of.  This year we are reading Aesop’s Fables and our devotional daily, Vincent’s Starry Night  weekly, and we listen to Story of the World Volume 2 on audiobook a few times a week.  We have activity pages we use to help us stay focused during our history readings. We are visiting a different country each week for our geography this year, and use our together time to do this work, as well. See our plans for the year over HERE


After these activities, each child begins their independent work.  Mostly this is Math and Language Arts topics.  Each child uses a different math program based on their learning style and strengths.  Each child does writing, and independent reading activities.  I float between each child to answer questions and be available and check assignments as they are finished.

Lynn is an independent learner so she has two online classes she attends each week for writing and grammar.  Her online classes give her deadlines each week for assignments, so we have made a weekly routine to meet her deadlines.  Once a week, I take one child to Speech therapy for his stuttering.  We are using the therapy appointment as an opportunity for the oldest to learn to babysit the younger.  Everyone knows the routine and knows what work they have to complete each day.  On a good day we wrap up all our schoolwork before we eat lunch.


Our afternoons are spent with independent activities and play and other scheduled activities. Once a week we carpool to First LEGO League practice.  It’s a STEM oriented program where the teams program a LEGO robot to complete missions.  They also complete a research project to develop solutions to a given problem.  For the competition they develop presentations to present their information and solution.

Dad’s turn to teach

We eat dinner as a family most nights between activities.  When everyone is home in the evening we end our homeschool day with dad teaching, and mom escapes to her own interests. Dad is the story reader.  He does read alouds and prayer with the kids before bed each night.  He is great at reading novels with many voices and it’s a relief to share the work load with him.  I give him the reading list for the year and he decides when to read each one and sometimes throws in a few of his own choosing.  The kids get to read in their bed for a while before the lights go out. And we all get up the next day and do it again.


Our Typical HOmeschool Day with 1st, 4th, 5th grades

Following My Kids Deep into Space, a Unit Study Adventure

Road Trip Learning

I’ve heard it said of gifted kids that while they learn faster than typical kids, what they crave more than just rushing through the material is to go deeper in their learning.  They want to know the “why” of everything, which can lead the family to some interesting discussions.  Recently, it led us down a brand new trail for our science after a trip to Space Center Houston.

I’m a type A mom and a planner by heart.  I like to map out the whole year in the summer and know where we are going.  So then when my kids have their own interests, MY ideas get pushed aside in favor of their excitement.  I gave up on a traditional science program a couple years ago in favor of following their interests and the opportunities around us.  We have done a couple of unit studies like this nutrition one and used a Lego Education curriculum.  We recently made a Coral Reef lapbook in preparation for a cruise excursion on our vacation.  But when we got home they had a new idea to study and I was forced to chase after them instead of leading the way.

Family at Houston Space Center

We didn’t get to the Coral Reef due to weather delays on our vacation which was disappointing.  After a stop at Space Center Houston, they had an appetite to learn more about the history of Space Exploration and the Space Race.

  • “What did the Russians think when we landed on the moon?”
  • “What about the women?”
  • “Are those astronauts still alive?”

These were just a few of the questions they started asking the moment we left Space Center Houston.  I knew my plans to resume the Weather unit we interrupted for the Coral Reef study would be abandoned again as they wanted to answer all these questions and more. We would be home in 3 days and I started to make a plan for this exciting interest!

First Stop is a visit to the library!

I knew our first stop was the library.  I checked the shelves of our home library and found a few books to get us started but not ones that would answer all the questions they had.  Before we went, I listened to all the questions and topics they wanted to learn about to guide my book selections.  I enlisted the help of the children’s librarian to know where to look for the best books for our topics of interest and then I set about choosing from the shelf.

I have a list in mind of which books my kids are more likely to open once we are home.  We like DK encyclopedias and similar graphics-heavy, fact-rich, non-fiction.  When selecting books for our Coral Reef study, I discovered the Science Comics series, which has been a hit.  We also like to choose “Living books” to help the historical events come alive.

One of my favorite books we checked out was called Countdown 2979 Days to the Moon it tells the story of the NASA Space Program from President Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon through the 11 Apollo missions it took to get there.  It’s written in almost poetry and has beautiful illustrations.  Each mission includes quotes from those involved and astronaut snapshots of those on the the mission.  The vivid imagery used in the telling made it easy for us to imagine the moments when they first happened.  We added it as a read aloud part way through our study, and  I looked forward to reading it each day just as much as the kids.

Add Family Movie Night

Even as we were on the road we started thinking about what we could do once we got home to feed their interest.  My husband and I immediately thought of several movies that would add to our learning and placed holds through our library app before we got home.  Our movie list included October Sky, Hidden Figures, Apollo 13, and the Martian.  Typically we spend our time doing other things so it was a big deal to schedule the movie nights as a family, including dinner and popcorn on the couch!  We only ended up watching two of the four on our list but they left lasting impressions on all of us.

One of our children is more sensitive to intense or emotional films, and so we are very careful what we offer at home and are unable visit the move theater as a family. Often our sensitive child will go in and out of the room during a film.  Everyone made it through Apollo 13 because, in part, they knew the ending.  We could remind them that they knew what the history books said and that (spoiler alert!) the story had a happy ending.  The Apollo 13 mission was official designated a “Successful Failure”. It failed to complete it’s mission but succeeded at returning home safely.  The term Successful Failure has now entered the family vocabulary, one point for the growth mindset!

Sharing what we learned

They want to learn all the things and they are excited about the large pile of books we brought home. Without some structure I know my kids won’t make use of the feast of learning in front of them.  I realized we could use this as an undercover introduction to report writing.  One child was reading Science Comics: Rockets and sharing the cool facts he was reading with us so I had him write them down. He didn’t know he was practicing taking notes.  These notes would turn into writing assignments as they turned their notes into paragraphs.  As the number of topics increased we started collecting them to form a newspaper and “The Heren Herald” was born!

Download your copy: Heren Herald Space Edition.


HerenHerald Newspaper

Deciding to present what we were all learning in a newspaper gave us some other ways to share what we were learning and doing.  We included a column of the timeline we created as we read.  Using an idea I saw online, we made a timeline in the hallway of sticky notes.  Whatever events in the books they read or we discussed was fair game to add.  We added movie reviews of the ones we watched as a family and I even wrote my own article about the field trip that inspired it all.  Dad reminded the kids the best part of the newspaper is the comics. He assigned each of them to draw one for the paper as well.  I was able to be a perfectionist as I arranged it all on the computer using Microsoft Publisher as the kids submitted their articles to me by sharing them on Google Docs.  The best part was that we had something really fun to share with others about all we learned in the last month.


Space Exploration Unit Study @InsideOurNormal

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