Make a notebook from life experiences - great for hobbies, travel, field trips

How do you keep track of what you are learning? Do you keep records, and how do you report in states that require a yearly portfolio?

These are some common questions that are asked in the relaxed homeschooling and unschooling circles that I am a a part of online. Without a schedule, curriculum, or grades – it is easy to wonder how we track and measure our kids’ learning progress.

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The how and why of keeping homeschool records

There are a lot of great ways to keep track of what your kids are learning. Some families keep personal blogs, a journal, reading lists, or examples of projects.

I don’t think any one way of keeping track is the best, and most people I know that must keep track for their state do so in a variety of ways. For us, a combination of a reading list, this blog, and our notebooks usually works. I am fortunate in that we have never lived in a state that required detailed records. However, there are a couple of reasons why I keep them anyway:

  1. To record the history of our journey. I believe we will look back at our notebooking projects with fondness. And since homeschooling is a natural part of our life, it is also a record of our family.
  2. To be safe just in case we ever need them. If the education of our children ever comes into question, we have documented proof. And our records are far more interesting than a list of grades. 🙂
  3. To share with others who are starting out homeschooling. I can not only explain, but physically show how we live and learn in harmony.
A page protector holds crafts and art projects

A page protector holds crafts and art projects

Keeping a life experience notebook

This past year, in addition to sharing our experiences here on this blog, we also started keeping a life experience notebook. I started with a 1-inch binder for each of the girls and let them decorate a cover. Since this notebook would be about our experiences while living in Korea, they decorated in that theme.

Any photos that we took that were relevant, I uploaded to snapfish and ordered prints. I saved ticket stubs, maps, pamphlets, and other fun memorabilia that could be laid flat into a pocket or pasted on cardstock.

I even saved our practice worksheets from when we were learning to write and read in Korean!

We included photos from various trips

We included photos from various trips

Our notebooks are all about living in Korea – experiencing the country and culture. But, I can imagine keeping a life experience notebook every year from now on.

You could make a notebook based on a theme, or just make a yearly notebook.

What to record in a life experience notebook

  • field trips
  • hobbies – take pictures of them working and of finished projects!
  • major life events – birthdays, holidays, family reunions
  • coop classes
  • small business ventures
  • their favorite games, movies, books
  • science experiments
  • history projects
  • performances – music, theater, speeches, demonstrations, etc.
  • accomplishments
  • service projects
  • vacations
  • moving into a new house
A simple pocket for storing pamphlets and maps

A simple pocket for storing pamphlets and maps

How to start and what to include in your notebook

Basically, we just started with taking lots of photos. I take a lot of pictures anyway for the blog, so that was easy. Making a life experience notebook doesn’t need to be a whole lot more work than what you would normally do.

And get your kids involved! They can help collect things to fill up your notebook. Did you go to the zoo? Have them grab a free map and pic out some stickers from the gift shop to decorate the page.

To make the notebook, we used cardstock as our base for photos and other glue-able items. A simple three hole punch makes adding pages to the binder easy – or you can use page protectors for anything you don’t want to put holes in. For smaller items that need to stay intact, we make 1/2 page pockets from cardstock or use a manila envelope.

Ticket stubs from different museums and attractions

Ticket stubs from different museums and attractions

You can put just about anything in your life experience notebook. If it won’t physically fit, then you can record it somehow – via a photo, drawing, or written word.

Things you can put in your notebook:

  • photos
  • coloring pages
  • worksheets
  • printed articles, stories, web pages, etc.
  • ticket stubs
  • plastic cards
  • maps
  • pamphlets
  • greeting cards
  • postcards
  • drawings, paintings, crafts
  • minibooks (like those you use for lapbooks)
  • stickers
  • paper dolls
Add in coloring pages and info sheets

Add in coloring pages and info sheets

Keeping a Minecraft learning notebook

I’ll give you another example. My kids love playing Minecraft, but there isn’t really any way for me to “record” what they are learning. Pictures of them playing could work, but something way better to add to a notebook just naturally happened.

The girls are always asking for the crafting recipe for an item they want to make in the game, and they also participate in monthly creative builds on their group server. One day, Denna asked for a file folder where she could keep track of all the Minecraft information she would need while playing the game – her password, usernames of her friends, crafting recipes, inspiration for building, etc.

And so, I started printing off tons of Minecraft-related information. The personal stuff (passwords, usernames) I keep in a separate file folder. But we started putting the info sheets and building ideas in a notebook. I also started adding screenshots that I printed off of what they had created in the game. Now we have a physical record of all the awesome learning that goes on when they play!

All kinds of Minecraft learning

All kinds of Minecraft learning

Fitting your records to your lifestyle, not the other way around

As unschoolers, we know that learning happens as a natural part of life. Yet, it is sometimes hard to explain and document that natural learning in a physical way – because our brains are so used to connecting education with schoolish methods.

Keeping a notebook allows you to create a personalized, professional-looking portfolio of your kids’ learning adventures.

If you have to keep records, you don’t have to fit unschooling into some form of record keeping. Instead, you can make your notebook work in sync with whatever you happen to be doing!

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6 Responses to How to Make a Life Experience Notebook

  1. Tessa W says:

    I love this idea and have been wanting to do it with my kids too. Thanks for laying it out so simply. It might be that my coffee just kicked in but I feel like getting started right away! In fact, I’m getting out the binders (that I bought a couple months ago for this very purpose) and getting the kids started with decorating their covers. Thanks for the motivation 🙂

  2. Lisa Alexander says:

    I’m inspired! Just what I need about now. 🙂
    Thank you.

  3. This is a fabulous idea! My kids enjoy notebooking and sharing with their experiences with others. This notebook would be a great merge of the two. I’m thinking of notebooking their sports and my daughter’s arts/crafts. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Cindi Soutter says:

    Any ideas on keeping a World of Warcraft notebook? My son is 14 and this is just what he does. He has learned problem-solving, spelling, keyboarding, story writing, making avatars, social networking, math,history. I would love to make one with him!

    • World of Warcraft is an amazing source of learning! You could make it simple and write down any projects, tutorials, achievements, and research he does for the game. Screenshots are great also. You could also encourage him to create a blog (Blogger is free and easy) and write about the game. Add in screenshots, videos he created (Screencast-o-matic) and the blog can serve as a digital portfolio.

      When it comes to recording academic credit for what he has been doing – I have a post with some resource links:

  5. Andrea Davis says:

    Oh My!! I am in love with this idea!! We are slowly making our way into the unschooling family and I was a bit afraid of how I was going to document their year. This is especially true because we are not using any set workbook curriculum!! This is just perfect!! Thanks for sharing.

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