Keeping Track of What We Study

With most public and private schools starting back up in the next two weeks, the homeschooling forums are abuzz as parents put the finishing touches on their plans for the upcoming school year. Many homeschoolers follow the same or similar schedule as regular schools partly so their kids have something to do when their neighborhood buddies suddenly disappear during the day (yes, homeschooling kids do have friends) and partly so they don’t have to worry about annoying neighbors reporting them to DCF because their kids aren’t in school. At the same time, many homeschoolers have their own back-to-school rituals like “Not Back to School” parties, special field trips to now empty zoos and museums, or waving to the passing school buses while still in their pajamas.

Now when we tell other people that we homeschool usually we get questions about accountability. (This is after the questions about legality and the “s” word.) I happen to live in a very homeschooling-friendly state, Illinois. “Homeschooling-friendly” basically means that no documentation, oversight, or testing is required. I know a lot of people find that shocking, but when you are the one homeschooling you are very grateful.

Many homeschoolers in Illinois do keep some form of documentation even if it is just for themselves. Pictures of field trips, various projects, and learning experiences are stored just like any other memories in photo albums and scrap books. And if the local truancy officers ever did come knocking, they would often find a wealth of evidence of things being done and learned although they may not be in the form of text books and worksheets.

Now when oldest DD was three I experimented with how I wanted to document our learning adventure. I decided that I would write down what we did at the end of each day in a little notebook. There were a few problems with this method, though. First of all, learning happens all day everyday whether you are watching a television show, playing a card game, or just listening to your parents talk. This is a big joke amongst unschoolers because they never get a “day off” from learning. After debating how much to document, I started just writing down the formal schooling things we did each day, but it soon became very tedious writing “2 pages of Uppercase Letters workbook” in the notebook every day. And inevitably there were many days where I was busy doing this thing called living life and forgot all about the little notebook.

Then I settled on the method that I’ve been using for about two years now. Basically, throughout each month I make little notes in a Word document of the highlights for that month. This includes workbooks or learning projects begun or finished, out-of-town visitors, play-dates, field trips, formal classes and activities, doctor visits, and other family or individual milestones. At the end of each month, I flesh these notes out into paragraph form. Some months the narrative may only be one paragraph, and other months it may be a page and a half long. I try to write a little bit about each child from what their favorite activity was that month (playing computer games, drawing pictures, pretend play, etc), to funny things they said or something they achieved. It’s nice sometimes just to go back and look at the previous year and remember little things that might have otherwise been forgotten. And I really wish that I had started doing this from the time my first daughter was born. Someday I want to print it all out and put it in a binder, especially since I am way behind on putting together our photo albums.

Now I figure that once my oldest gets around thirteen or fourteen, we’ll have to start doing some more in-depth documentation so that we can put together a transcript for college. This will probably include a list of all books read for each school year. We will probably also switch to the method recommended in Cafi Cohen’s wonderful book And What about College? for keeping track. Basically, you have your child write down everything they did that day and for how long, rounding to the closest quarter of an hour. Then each activity is coded by school subject.

At the end of each month, you go through and total up how much time was spent for each subject. Traditionally 120 hours of study equals one high school credit. For instance, reading a book for two hours counts towards a Literature credit. Cooking dinner for the family counts as 30 minutes towards a Home Economics credit. Most high schools require between 20 and 24 credits for graduation. It’s very possible that a homeschooled student could attain 20 credits in less than four years. (Of course, it’s too bad for schooled students that those mountains of homework they are given don’t count as hours of study.)

I figure it will probably be a team effort for us to keep track of everything at that point. And, in case you’re wondering, the reason you start documenting during Junior High is that many homeschoolers are often a year or two ahead in some subjects than they would be in regular school. So they might be doing highschool level work at thirteen or fourteen that you don’t want to miss. Plus, if we start out at age thirteen and this method doesn’t work for us, it buys us a little time to develop a different method that does.

Note: If you notice, I titled this post “Keeping Track of What We Study” instead of “Keeping Track of What We Learn“. In the words of Nannie McPhee:”I have five lessons to teach. What lessons they learn is entirely up to them.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Homeschooling/Education

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