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Why Keeping Homeschool Records is Valuable: more than a tedious chore

by Beverley Paine

I'm a writer and love to write – I write every day – so it's only natural I embrace the idea of recording and keeping records as a home educating parent. But recording makes sense for so many different reasons: the main one that stands out most in my mind after three decades of supporting and encouraging homeschooling and unschooling families is the sure and steadfast confidence the act of recording what and how our children are learning builds in us. It's sustains our home education practice.

If you, like many other home educating parents, see recording as a tedious chore imposed upon you by an authoritarian registration body, perhaps I can change your mind and convince you of the innate merits of embracing recording as a natural part of living?

For starters, we are already adept at record keeping and practice it every day. Most of us would be lost without our calendars on the wall or smart phones and computers reminding us of appointments, excursions and other commitments. These help us to plan and organise our time. As do our daily scribbled ‘to do' lists and other reminders that we leave in prominent positions around the house. Our children observe us organising our lives in this way and, although it's not overtly obvious, are actually learning this time management skill. This ‘informal' learning is described brilliantly in the book How Children Learn at Home by Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison.

Using records is a feature of modern life, a cornerstone of our civilization. It allows us to preserve and pass on useful information. Every day we make use of the information collected and stored by others: we look up a recipe for dinner, check the weather forecast on our phone, review the nutritional information on the side of a packet, follow the directions on a map, etc. Someone somewhere is meticulously recording data that will later be synthesized into information that others will use. It is essential to scientific advancement. Businesses wouldn't prosper without keeping records. Knowing what and how to record efficiently is a skill that enhances not only our lives but the lives of others. And it is a skill that is easily embedded into our home educating lives.

We can encourage our children to start recording as soon as they are able to hold a crayon or push a button on a digital device: for example, crossing off a task on the list of daily chores; drawing a picture of what they did today (on which we scribe a sentence or two); keeping score in a game; counting down the days before a special event. As they grow we help them chart their growth by marking their height on the door post, jot their weight and perhaps even head circumference (useful when buying hats!) on the calendar. We encourage them to jot down notes or create posters about things that are important to them, take photos of things they've made or what they are doing. We fill our homes with educational posters and charts and other tools that help them collect, collate and interpret and talk about data and information they come across in daily life. We show them how to observe, notice and compare differences and similarities and talk about what this may mean to them and the task they are currently doing. We help them learn how to use recording as an aid when calculating and solving problems that require them to think mathematically.

We do all of these things because we want our children to become capable problem solvers and confident and efficient communicators of their ideas. In the same way, keeping records of our home educating lives and experiences helps us become better at identifying and working to find ways to meet our children's current and emerging needs. Our memories are fallible, easily ambushed by changing moods. Little but significant things and important insights noticed in the moment quickly fade, overrun by the endless busyness of the day. Jotting a quick ‘reminder' on a spiral notepad kept on the kitchen bench, our phone, or a whiteboard on the wall is a simple but effective record keeping habit that can turn a passing thought into a plan of action or a springboard for further explorations along a topic of interest. In this way our recording becomes planning as well as a way of continuously celebrating our children's learning.

Most of us have ‘baby books', photo albums where we record those early milestones and fondly notice how baby has his father's eyes or the same shape nose as his grandmother. It's a way we celebrate getting to know this new little person in our lives. We might record his growth, his first foods, any allergic reactions or sensitivities. It is important information that guides our parenting practice. Following how our children learn, what kind of activities, materials and experiences motivate them, as well as what interests them, or what switches them off or causes stress and blocks learning, also informs and guides us. It helps us tune into their individual needs and become better at helping them learn. It helps us personalise their educational experiences; keep them meaningful and relevant in their lives.

Every child is different. They each learn differently with different learning styles and preferences. Keeping track of their learning in our heads is a trick we're very good at most of the time but life has a habit of throwing disruptions and stressful moments at us. We don't know what is in our future: we might fall ill and depend on someone else to care for our children. Circumstances change, parents separate, new families form and we might one day suddenly find ourselves needing to defend our home educating choice to an unconvinced step-parent. It's not just the registering authorities that we need to satisfy we are competent home educators: first and foremost we are accountable to our children, now and into the future. Our collected samples of our children's learning activities and home educating records will amply demonstrate to anyone our commitment to our children's education. And the daily habit of compiling them will encourage a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning, as well as a focus on progress and achievement, within our children.

Being involved in the evaluation and recording of their learning activities helps the children to formulate realistic goals and analyse their strengths and weaknesses. These skills will be invaluable throughout their entire lives, and are worth encouraging early. As well as fostering co-operation and responsibility, the children will build skills in critical and reflective thinking, and become more aware of their own learning styles, interests and needs. In time, the children will be able to plan and direct their own learning programs. Independent learning skills are the cornerstone of success in higher educational institutions, and are very easily achieved in the home learning environment.

There are many ways our children can be involved in evaluating their learning. If they have helped in planning an activity, they will already have determined what they hope to achieve. We can encourage them to think about how they will know they are successful, and what indicators could be used to judge the effectiveness of the activity. Daily journal writing is an excellent self-evaluation record keeping habit for all members of the family to develop and practice. Checklists can serve as prompts to initiate activities as well as marking completion of them; oral and written reviews and critiques can be shared with home educating friends; reflective comments can be added to pages of work or projects, scrapbooks and albums. Children can comment on what they felt about an activity, materials used, timing and usefulness of the activity, what they'd do different next time, etc. This kind of feedback enhances our ability to help our children identify and meet their needs.

Over time our home educating records morph into ‘portfolios': carefully chosen collections of reflections and samples of work that represent our children's experiences, abilities, knowledge, skills, beliefs, and talents. Portfolios provide a timeline and record of how and what our children have accomplished as home educating students. In the teenage years portfolios increasingly become important as aides for providing information for applications for tertiary education and employment. By this age, if recording has been a valued and important aspect of daily home educating life, the children will feel competent and confident at compiling their own portfolios, ready to tackle the transition to adult life. And that's exactly what we, as home educating parents, want to achieve.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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