Each US state has different homeschool laws & required records. With unschooling we’re likely to touch on most key subjects every week, through organic learning and play. This is how I use Evernote to easily track my kiddo’s learning… and why I would even if our state didn’t make me!
What Learning Records Do I Need?
It depends. Homeschool laws vary by US state. So families must be aware of their state’s requirements. Many state requirements include records, such as: records of learning for specific “subjects”, student work portfolios, testing/assessment intervals, attendance records, etc. Please do your own research for your state & school district!
“Homeschooling is legal throughout the United States. Each state is free to create its own legal structure for home education, so one state’s homeschooling laws may look very different from another’s.” https://hslda.org/laws/
We’re in a “moderate regulation” state. And because we don’t have a steady stream of math worksheets and writing assignments (like families who do traditional homeschool with a curriculum), we have to be creative.
If you can’t get out of it, get into it!
My Approach to Record Keeping
In an average week, we’re likely to have natural learning opportunities in every “subject”. Even though our primary focus is on home-routine, play and social/emotional growth, we still find learning moments in: every day activities & chores, answering her curious questions (and all 50 follow-up questions to sate her insightful mind!), going on little field trips and adventures, having adult dinner table conversations that are broad and interesting, doing art projects together, reading together, cooking together, playing together, and exploring outside.
During the day, I save quick notes in a phone note app about our activities, play and learning. As the weeks and months pass, I have an after-the-fact electronic journal of her learning. None of it was in a lesson or part of a curriculum; but that meaningful learning still happened and is recorded. Sometimes I’ll scroll back through my notes and realize I haven’t recorded anything “math-ish” in a while, and will pull out Uno or the math memory game she loves later that day.
“You nutball! You write down everything your kid does all day?!” HA! No. Not even close. There’s not enough caffeine in the world! Some days I forget or we’re having a hard day or someone is sick. No biggie. No school teacher notices every single learning moment for each child. But most days I do keep a little radar up to notice moments worth capturing. I pull out my phone as my girl is happily weighing produce at the grocery store, tap the “new note” widget on my phone, type “weighed bananas in pounds and calculated cost”, maybe snap a photo, tag it as “math”. Done in 15 seconds.
Why I Chose Evernote
I drool over beautiful bullet journals on Instagram. But in reality, I’m a typer and am visual. So I use an easy, reliable note taking platform: Evernote. It is cloud-based with a web version, desktop version and mobile apps. Evernote can be as simple or highly-organized as suits you! I use it in a simple way mostly on my phone, because I have very little “free time”.
Ways I Capture Learning Moments in Evernote
Text: I capture new vocabulary I hear my daughter try in conversation. Social/emotional development, like at a playdate when the kiddos use a compromise to solve a disagreement. Observations and hunches she shares during a science experiment. I try to recall the flow of a “big juicy conversation” we have while driving. While all of my notes are for individual learning activities, I also keep one “favorite” note with a running list of all of the chapter books / novels I read aloud or we listen to as audiobooks with the number of pages; we got excited when we hit the 1,000 page mark!
- Photos: The cool bubbling science experiment. Using measuring cups while cooking dinner. Trying out watercolors. Using a calculator in the grocery store. Finding Alaska on a map. Snapshots of her writing on a whiteboard or grocery list. Playing a math game with a little friend. The “Kindle Achievement” page when we reached “Super Book Worm” level.
Screenshots: YouTube history showing the Mt. Everest videos we watched. Podcast app episodes we listen to (Wow in the World!). The sleep graph in her “kid fitbit” app that she used to figure out what time she wakes up each night. Google maps when she’s “virtually exploring” somewhere. Snow leopards on Nat Geo Kids. Google image search for Josephine Baker.
- Audio Recording: My precious kiddo’s voice telling a story that she wants to submit to the Story Pirates podcast.
Helpful Features in Evernote
- Time & Date Stamped: Every note has easy to find date metadata. Basically: it shows I didn’t fabricate records at the last minute, but have been creating them all along. Also, my mom brain is full. Sometimes it helps to remember when we did something!
- A Notebook for Each Semester: Because I generally make about 3 notes each day, I needed a way to clump the growing mass together in an easy, meaningful way. Just like on your computer’s file system or paper documents, in Evernote you can make a notebook to hold individual notes. Notebooks could be by child, by week, whatever makes sense for your family. I have a notebook for each “school semester”. For example: “2017 Fall/Winter”, “2018 Winter/Spring”.
Note “Tags” for Subjects: In Evernote, I setup tags (like hashtags or keywords) for each subject I’m required to track plus a few extra topics/subjects that matter to us, like Black History, Native History, Creative Arts, Social/Emotional, Athletics, etc. When I type a quick note about making slime (again) and add a photo of my grinning Sweetpea holding glow-in-the-dark pink slime, I tap the “science” tag. Save. Done. I now have a record of science this week. For those with multiple kiddos, a tag per child might also be an easy way to search for all posts tagged both “Alex” and “Math”.
I’d Track My Child’s Learning Even If I Didn’t Have To
I ask myself: Katie, why are you home-educating your kiddo? Because she’s the most precious child in the world to me and she deserves a happy, unhurried, play-filled childhood where learning can happen naturally. I ask myself: OK, but what does each day actually feel like to me? Happy, busy, tiring, and a messy beautiful blur.
Memories. Am I going to remember and savor all of these beautiful learning moments if they weren’t captured? Nope. Even if I didn’t have to, I would use Evernote in some way to preserve the big and little moments in my kid’s childhood where I see her creative, insightful brain growing.
- My Sweetpea Likes It. She knows I keep notes & photos, and will ask to look back through them to remember what she did. Photos are an especially fun way of recalling details (of all the slime), wanting to do/try something similar, etc. And because I’m raising a kiddo with a complicated history, I have to believe that it adds to her feeling loved and cherished, knowing that I remember all the little things we do together. Her childhood deserves to be cherished and remembered.
- Periodic Unschool Panic. Because about once a month I freak out and think “WE SHOULD BE DOING MORE MATH!” … Then I send my beautiful kiddo to the trampoline while I take a soaking back, and scroll through Evernote (yes I take my phone in the bath, I know it’s a bad idea, hush up). And I’ll scroll and go down memory lane.
Other Unschool Families Who Use Evernote
- Sue Elvis is an unschooling parent and longtime Evernote user who made a wealth of videos and tutorials. Get started here with “How to Make Evernote Unschool Records Look Impressive“.
- Scott Adcox: “Tips on Tracking Unschooling Activities with Evernote”
- Funschooling the Sensational Six: Youtube Video “Child-Led Learning with Evernote” (and six kids!)… This mama also has an active, engaging Instagram account and Facebook group worth following.