10 June 2014

Year Five In the Books and Why I Think You Should Make One

Yesterday my blog-turned-portfolio-assessment book arrived via Fed Ex.  Isn't it grand?

I love the feeling I get each year when this book arrives.  I feel finished.  Accomplished.  Fulfilled.  And, so do my children.

Honestly, my lousy photos do not do it justice.
For the five years I've homeschooled, I've always lived in a state that requires an annual test or a portfolio assessment submitted to the district superintendent.  Naturally, I have chosen the portfolio option.  To be honest, I think everyone should.  Test scores definitely have their merit, but I think there is great value in my children needing to meet annually with a licensed educator and discuss their previous academic year.  Firmly, I believe there is more merit in this 108-page scrapbook than any test my children could ever take.  This is the story of their year.  Our year.  It shows what they've learned.  It affirms what we've experienced.  It exposes their creativity.  Their persistence.  Their enthusiasm.  It shows success.  It reveals areas of growth and development.  It unfolds who my children are becoming.  This story is to be celebrated.

As a homeschooler, you have invested every single hour of every single day to educate and develop your children.  At the end of the year, you have a story to share of your child's learning and adventures.  It is meant to be appreciated.  A test can give you a score, but a portfolio (or just a simple photo book) can tell you a story.  Your year has been anything but average and results in more than being labeled in the 52nd percentile.  You and your children have learned, grown, developed, discovered, experienced, laughed, cried, and lived.  Document that.

In fact, I feel so strongly that you should document it (even if your state doesn't require it), that I wanted to give you a few ways to get the ball rolling for next year ....

1.  Do This
Exactly what I've done.  My (not-so-secret-anymore) goal has been to document 10 enrichment activities/events/learning experiences a month.  My blog has always been a variety of accomplishments and day-to-day learning.  Sometimes there's not much more to report on than the day-to-day, but even that is always worth documenting.  I write up a brief description of the activity, usually take a picture or two, upload it all, and hit publish.  At the end of the year, I format it all into a book using free software from Blurb.com.  Let me assure you, it is all quite simple.  If I can do it, you can do it.  I know how to do like six things on a computer, this being one of them.

If 10 write-ups a month seem overwhelming, start with 5 - 7.  Or one a week.

For my Classical Conversations friends, simply highlight a different subject or two per week and rotate them monthly.  Week One - a sketched map and a picture of a book they read corresponding with the History sentence.  Week Two - their presentation and their fine arts project.  Week Three - their IEW assignment for that week, etc.  If you keep with the same subjects on a weekly cycle throughout the academic year, you will see growth and development as the year progresses.

2.  Have a Picture Day
Pick a day of the week and take pictures on that particular day each week to document your day.  Continue with that throughout the year.  Know that every Tuesday you will take five photos (I'm definitely not one who thinks you need 500 pictures from each event -- less is more!) and write down a brief sentence or two as a caption.  These pictures should be a variety -- doing chores, piano practice, art work, etc.  Or, develop a day of the week theme.  Like Mondays - Math,  Wednesday - Words, Friday - Fun.  Then on those days take a picture representing those themes throughout your school year.  The key is to keep the pictures organized as the year progresses.

For our family scrapbook(s), I've been taking one photo a day for the past two years.  I've discovered if I take a few minutes to organize them at the end of each month, the task does not become overwhelming.  Plus, I've also realized that the 100 pictures of your day-to-day tell more of a story, than 100 pictures from the same dance recital or 100 selfies that your children took with your phone.  This year, I've even stepped up my game by making at least one photo monthly a family shot.  Before this year, I would often hide behind the camera.

Instagram users always post Photo-of-the-Day Challenges.  I like this one for homeschooling ideas, but personally I would modify it some, so that I could see photos of my children's progress throughout the school year. I've made photo books using Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Blurb and been happy with all of them.  I know there are countless more sites available.

3.  Use Your Calendar
If you swear by a planner, or a lesson plan book, or a wall-mounted-family-activity-calendar that displays all your sticky notes of events, activities, chores and school work -- at the end of each week, or month, take a picture of it.  Print it out as an 8 x 10 and slide it into a page protector.  Also, print out a few pictures or make a collage from that week/month.  Slide those into a page protector.  Voila!  There's your story.

I've been using the binder and page protector approach to organize past mementos.  My goal has been to get them all out of shoe boxes and into binders by our next major move.  Once you have the binders and the page protectors, the task moves rather quickly.  There are also some great tips on this site.
4.  Make Lists

I like this idea so much, that it makes me want to change what I'm doing.

Create a list of questions that you would like your child to answer weekly.  Type it up and immediately print out at least 30 per child.  Have a spot where you can write in the date.  Each week give them the paper to fill out, maybe on Fridays.  Take a picture of something they've done that week.  Print that out, and glue stick it to the page.  Slide it in a page protector and fill a binder. 

For example:
Tell me something you've learned.
What have you created and/or built?
List books that you've read.
What was the most fun you had this week?
What was challenging?
How did you use Math this week?

Here's another example of a list-making activity for adults, but it could be easily modified for your homeschooling adventures.

5.  Use Your Children

If you have a budding historian in your family, give them this task with some tracks to run on.  My children already know how to do more with a camera, and slide shows, and YouTube videos than I can ever hope to.  I could easily say to them, "This week, take a picture of your science project, your Geography map, and your math work.  Make a collage and show me where you saved it on the computer."  Or, if they're younger, print out pictures, hand them a glue stick and several sheets of card stock, and let them enjoy making a creation.  It's their learning and experiences that you are documenting.  I'm convinced the more they have a part in it, the more they will remember.

Using technology, there are probably one hundred easier ways to document and organize your memories.  Like I mentioned earlier, I'm usually behind the times when it comes to anything using a computer.  Consistency is the key!!  Weekly, biweekly, or monthly updates will help you stay organized.  Any good educator will admit that we learn through experience and our memories.  Help your children remember all they've learned and discovered throughout the year by documenting it for them.  Your story is to be celebrated !!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks.
      Kids love to look back and read about what they've experienced.

  2. Anne - Thank you for sharing this. We do one every year and it is a blessing and terrific record of where they have been! Blessings - Colleen

  3. What style and size book did you do from blurb?

    1. Hi Jennifer ...

      For my portfolio, I use the standard portrait size. I splurge for the hard cover. I've tried the soft cover books, and I just prefer the look of the hard cover ones.