The words “record keeping” strike panic in the hearts of many homeschool parents. Take a deep breath; I’m here to walk you through this. According to the Washington State law (RCW 28A.200.010 (2)):
You must keep records.
Daily record keeping is the easiest way to track your instructional and educational activities. You can create a chart on Excel, with a column for each subject (Washington has 11 core subjects, but some can be combined) and the day of the week. In each box is recorded the activity done (i.e. book title and the page numbers read,) assignments completed, location of field trip, etc., and the time spent on the lesson. I like record keeping on the computer because you can store it digitally and keep records by year. I recommend Google Drive for saving documents for long-term.
If your child is not enrolled in a private school, there is no minimum time requirement. In high school, if a college or school were to ask for proof of credits earned they may ask for this information. This is not common, but it is always better to be prepared! If your child is enrolled in a private school program (such as Academy Northwest), they need to complete 1000 hours and 180 school days.
All students enrolled in my learning center are required to also maintain a portfolio for each year. I require this because it validates your record keeping, and helps you see what you and your child have accomplished during the school year. I recommend using a three-inch three-ring binder, with tabs for each subject. Finished work gets puts into the binder. Workbooks can be stored in a page-protector; online class grades can be printed and inserted into the appropriate section. I also like to see my students keep a reading list of all the books they have read that year. Another reason the portfolio is really helpful is when it comes to doing year-end assessments. One of Washington State requirements for homeschooling is that your child is tested, or has an assessment done by a certified teacher. The assessment can be easily and accurately done when the teacher has work from throughout the school year to evaluate. Having it all in one place means you don’t have to scramble to collect what you need at the end of the year.
As you can see, record keeping doesn’t have to be a big strain on your day. Find a daily record-keeping system that works for you, create a routine to keep it going, and assemble a yearly portfolio. You’ve got this, you can do it!
The English language is a confusing language to learn at times! How many times, when teaching your child to read or spell, have you had to say, “That word doesn’t follow any of the rules, you just have to memorize it”? I tell my students that English is a mutt language. It comes from many different languages; therefore we have to borrow rules from other languages. One of the most effective ways I have seen to help develop a deeper understanding of the English language is to study Latin and Greek root words.
Latin and Greek are the foundation for many languages world wide, and account for 60% of English words. Studying the roots of the English language builds a strong foundation for growing and using a large vocabulary. I can remember first studying root words in fourth grade, and what I learned has stuck with me even now.
Take “video visum” for example, it means “see.” Can you guess which words we use daily that come from this Latin word? Television, video, evidence, advise, invisible, provide, and visit. When you know the definition of the root, we can quickly assign a meaning to the derivations. Even if we don’t know the exact meaning we get a pretty good idea. I find a lot of connections in the subject of science. Biology, sociology, psychology, astrology….what do these words all share? “– ology” which comes from the Latin word for “word, study.” It makes sense now doesn’t it? Each one of those terms I listed above is the study of something. “Biology” is the “study of life;” it comes from two root words: bio, meaning life, and logos. It’s sort of like putting a puzzle together. Once you fit the pieces together, you can see the big picture.
As I do for many different resources, I look to Cathy Duffy to help me select the right curriculum. There are multiple sources out there for teaching roots words, but one of the most popular (and the one I used when in school) is English from the Roots Up (Volumes I and II) by Joegil K Lundquist. I find that the suggested study method in this book leaves a little to be desired for some students, but the information is great. I like the color-coding system for visually identifying the language. Whatever approach you use to studying the information, I find it well worth the time. Encourage your student to make personal connections to the words, and challenge them to use them in their writing. I find this study appropriate for most students age 9 and up.
You can read Cathy Duffy’s review at http://cathyduffyreviews.com/homeschool-reviews-core-curricula/spelling-and-vocabulary/vocabulary-resources/english-from-the-roots-up
Roots and Fruits: A Comprehensive Vocabulary Curriculum, by Jill Dixon is designed for grades K-12! It has great reviews on the website Cathy Duffy Reviews. To read more about it, go to http://cathyduffyreviews.com/homeschool-reviews-core-curricula/spelling-and-vocabulary/vocabulary-resources/roots-and-fruits-a-comprehensive-vocabulary-curriculum
Word Roots, by Cherie A. Plant takes a more classical approach to teaching the root words. It uses both workbooks and software. See more at
Whether you decide to make it a main course of study, or just do a little here and there, studying the root words can improve your student’s vocabulary, spelling, and reading comprehension. What do you have to lose? Your student might not be the only one to learn something new!
This article ties in with the previous one, “Letting Go and Letting Be,” where I encouraged parents to consider what expectations or assumptions they are holding onto for their children. Once we let go of how we think our child should learn, and what they enjoy doing, then we can move forward with an open mind, allowing our child to direct their own learning process.
Albert Einstein said, “I never teach my students; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” The conditions your child needs in which they can learn, might look different than what mine needs. Each of your children might also require something slightly different, but you have great ability as the parent to learn these differences and create a powerful learning environment.
So, what does this look like? A student-directed program simply means that learning is happening at the student’s pace, through independent experiences, on topics of interest to them. There is a time and place for teacher centered learning, where the you (the teacher) presents new information, introduces a new concept, etc. but beyond that the student is enabled to explore, experiment, discover, and work in their own way.
One of the easiest places to start is where your child’s interests lie. If you read my article on goal setting, you will know that I basically separate the eleven core subjects into content-based and skill-based categories. Start with your content-based subjects (history, social studies, science, language, health, art and music appreciation) and figure out what your child is most interested in learning about. Through the elementary grades, there are no specific topics in each subject that you must teach. Therefore, within each of the required subjects, you have complete control over the specific areas you study. Does your child love horses? Beautiful Feet Publishers has a program on the history of the horse. Maybe your child is obsessed with a sport or sports team. They can research the history of the sport, how it has evolved; the health regimen and workout routine of the players for health; health and science be can covered in studying effects of injuries, or drugs on players.
There are an infinite number of possible studies that can be done. Once you have settled on your topic together, figure out how the information will be learned. The more control a student has over their study method, the more effective it will be. Knowing your child’s learning style will help tremendously in this area. Provide access to the materials they need, equip them with the skills they need to utilize them, and then turn them loose to develop their own ideas, experiments; to try things out, take risks (and even fail!). Typically, students who are given this freedom will pursue learning with a passion and dedication. Students should also be able to evaluate their own learning, and identify what the next step is, and where they need to improve. You are there to support, ask guiding questions, and provide encouragement. Sometimes a student will get stuck, or frustrated and in this case you step in to provide some suggestions and assistance, but leave the options open for the student to decide the direction.
Play, creativity, and time are critical components of effective student-directed learning. If students feel hurried, they may not feel safe trying something new. It’s good put deadlines on an assignment, but if your student genuinely needs more time to increase their learning, homeschooling provides that! Not every subject lends itself to this sort of creativity and flexibility, so choosing a curriculum with your child gives them some input and will increase their willingness to work.
Also, learning how to integrate subjects will help ease the burden of teaching each subject individually. Since student-directed learning is very much a continuum between totally teacher directed and totally student directed, with practice you will find the right balance for each subject as you approach it with an open-mind and in collaboration with your child.
My students would all laugh if they knew I was writing about my most favorite teaching tool of all: The Sticky Note. My planner is full of these bright notes, my books are marked with strips of color, and my classroom walls are littered with these magical little papers. I love the vivid neon, the different sizes, and even shapes! An infinite number of uses make these one of my favorite and most used tools of the classroom.
I firmly believe in giving students as much control of their daily schedule as possible. Time management and progress tracking are a valuable skill. So one of the ways that I have utilized sticky notes is to create a chart of daily subjects that need to be covered, and then writing the day’s assignments on sticky notes and putting them on the chart. As the work is completed, the notes come off and are placed in the record book for recording (look for my post on record keeping soon!). Time spent and other information can be easily added to the note.
Subjects such as history, social studies, and science involve reading large amounts of non-fiction. Particularly in the higher grades, reading is often followed by a writing assignment. Sticky notes are a really easy way to take notes along the way as the student is reading. They can write down facts, main ideas, or quotes as they find them. They can also record the book and page number for reference later. Once they are done reading, they can assemble their notes in whatever order they need to for their writing assignment. They can also be rearranged easily for revising. Because of their sticky nature, placing them on the wall or white board make an easy way to copy the notes. If notes need to be saved and turned in, they can simply be taped onto a piece of paper and saved.
Word walls are one of my favorite student-lead activities for writing and language arts. We look for those “million dollar” words in our reading and add them to the wall to use at a later time in their writing. For example, I make different categories for adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. I use a different color for each category so they can learn to identify the different parts of speech and how they work together. This word wall grows throughout the year and is an easy reference while writing.
Writing revision is a challenging process for many students. Sometimes they aren’t sure which sentence to revise or which words need to be changed. One of the exercises I have done with students is to write the entire sentence on sticky notes, one word at a time. Then we place the notes in order on the white board (or wall, or even the table) and can take out words, add different ones, and rearrange the order all without having to erase a single thing! Sometimes the act of writing it out like this helps the student identify run-on sentences or fragments. It’s a great way to practice adding adverbs and adjectives into sentences, and to incorporate grammar by identifying the parts of speech.
I have even used sticky notes, taped onto a manila file folder to create a math reference chart. These are easy to layer to add more examples, and they are just the right size for condensing down to the basics. This could also be used for science notes, history time-lines, and anything else that you want to create a quick reference chart for.