Our School in a Notebook

Not too long ago, I read a great article from a friend on recognizing and recuperating from homeschool burnout.    I’ve had that season in my life, but what struck me in reading through her post this time was a quote from Miss Charlotte Mason:

The object of children’s literary studies is not to give them precise information as to who wrote what in the reign of whom? – but to give them a sense of the spaciousness of the days, not only of great Elizabeth, but of all those times of which poets, historians and the makers of tales, have left us living pictures…

That small nugget reminded me of a brief conversation that I had with a customer who asked me about posts using my Blessed Heritage curriculum.   It occurred to me that when our older two used the elementary curriculum, it was pre-blogging.   Remember those days–the Stone Ages?   Anyway, I thought to discuss how we ‘give a sense of the spaciousness of the days,’ and to share some general information about how we use notebooks.

I sometimes get e-mails that express a concern about a younger child “getting it,” and I have responded, though not nearly as eloquently, about what to expect of younger students when completing literature-based curriculum.    A classical approach that is more memory-focused than Charlotte Mason’s would emphasize the memorization of dates, events, and people.   Yes, your child might impress a few more relatives with rote memorization, but does he understand conceptually what he is saying?   Can he place visual “pegs” in history based upon the stories of the period?   Does he talk in “offline” conversations about the books he read?    That is the value of a leterature-based curriculum, and it is perfectly acceptable that a little one does not “get” every story.  He’s not ready for the AP exam just yet; by the time high school has arrived, and he’s seen American history at least once more, he will dialogue about this spaciousness of days in ways that will amaze even you.   

When our oldest narrated her way through this same curriculum, we used a big box of perforated computer paper in order for her to create her own version of history based upon what we read.   I still have some of that paper in a box that is now a part of our scrap/ recycled paper bin!   But, I’ve upgraded our notebook work with pre-printed pages for all the children.   The problem with my youngest is she doesn’t like to color!   So her book is nowhere near as illustrated as the oldest’s book was, but every now and then I’ll say, “Draw me a picture, and I want it in color.”   So, here are several of my favorites:

We don’t just notebook about our history studies; I splurged on  Live and Learn’s pre-printed foldables for the Apologia elementary series.   With CurrClick’s sale, these were far more affordable than some of my previous lapbook purchases from the same company.

When it comes to notebooking, we didn’t stop there!    On last year, I shared our wonderful notebook makeover, and how excited the youngest was to spruce up her learning in this way.   So one of these notebooks became her current events notebook, where she summarizes a couple of articles that she reads through kids’ sites (see our 2012/2013 Curriculum page for details).   Nothing fancy here in terms of her capturing the jist of the articles, but she gets more handwriting practice and an indirect lesson in sentence structure and readability.

By the way, notebooks aren’t just for little people in our home.    Our son has become quite creative with his pages as well!

And though I don’t take the time to illustrate my work as much as I once did (I’m getting back to it), even I’ve “gotten into the act” of narration in order to have even more meaningful discussions with the kids!


I’ll confess that I’ve gotten rejuvenated after reading a post from Jimmie Lanley, aka the Notebooking Fairy, lists a number of boards that center on journaling and notebooking.


If you are a fan of notebooking or lapbooking, how are you using these tools in your home?

10 Ways to Customize Your Curriculum and Cut Costs–Part 2

I committed to writing a part 2, or sorts, to suggest ideas for older students.   There are realities of life and new expectations as children grow, whether they attend college or decide upon another route.   They must be able to articulate themselves in written and oral format.   I will boldly state that any curriculum that boasts its appropriateness for older students but does not emphasize writing or more extensive reading is not good preparation for adulthood (I say that with my college instructor hat on).

I will tackle first a basic question: if my child is not going to college, why do I need to worry about reading thicker books and writing papers?   Well, again with my college instructor hat on, I know that there are very few jobs that do not require some type of communication, and there are fewer jobs that do not reward good communication.   Simply put, knowledge is power.   The better command you have of the pen, the better chance you have of being in a position to manage resources rather than you being one of the resources that is managed.   Whether your child desires to be a medical doctor, a missionary, or a mechanic, education is an investment that always pays.   Do not short your child’s education because college is not a part of his/her plan.   I would even venture to say that high school education for a child who is not attending college is even more critical; it may be the last formal education your child will receive.

So, how might we add these components and prepare our students for more advanced studies?   Well for starters, don’t forget about great online sites like PBS (http://www.pbs.org/teachers/ ), Wall Street Journal’s The Learning Network (http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/) and Lesson Planet (http://www.lessonplanet.com/), where great lesson plans are housed and available by age and subject categorization.   The latter site will cost you, although there are a number of plans that you can download without cost.   As an example, I was able to develop a high school economics course using Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, and rounding out the reading materials with lesson plans from PBS, the WSJ Learning Network, and John Stossel’s free-to-classroom DVDs.   I should state for the Christian educator that these sites offer secular lesson plans, but since there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), we can always use the lesson for its value and build in the opportunity to shine God’s light on the learning.

 Other ideas, especially if your child is a reluctant writer?

Venn Diagrams.   Venn diagrams are simple graphic displays of the similarities and differences between two concepts.   With two overlapping ellipses, your child can quickly demonstrate what he understands about each concepts.

One-Minute Paper.   This is, again, an ideal assignment for a child who does not like to write, but it is also a fantastic tool for any child who needs to develop proficiency with organizing his thoughts.   A timed paper forces a student to quickly determine the main ideas that he wants to articulate, and then capture them succinctly on paper.    For a child pursuing college, this skill is invaluable.   It will help with note taking, with memorization, and with discussion.   Also, be flexible; one minute can be expanded to two, five, or ten, dependent upon your child’s plan, needs, and comfort level with writing.

Another idea for a timed paper (or not) is the Double Entry Journal.   If your child folds a sheet of notebook paper lengthwise—what Dinah Zike calls a “hot dog” fold—you can provide a famous quote or single thought on the left-hand side of the paper.   Have your child explain the quote or answer a question on the right-hand side.  This is an excellent means of testing comprehension, or of helping your child realize the significance of certain passages within a book.   Equally importantly, it is a way to build those oh, so essential writing skills.

 Admirable Individuals Paper.   What characters are meaningful in your child’s life?   Who does he admire?   Who are his role models?   Writing about that person or group of people might be the spark that lights a fire underneath a child that otherwise does not care to write.   You might also build in the historical component by comparing qualities of a historical character to a present-day character in order to help a student make connections.   ‘Abraham Lincoln was famous for his honesty; what person do you know that impresses you because of his/her passion for the truth?’

 Everyday Ethical Dilemmas Paper.  All three of our children enjoy current events, and often dialogue about what is happening “out there in the world” (LOL).   I know that this is, in part, because we have been able to learn about the world in fun ways.   There are a number of free sites out there for kids of all ages to read and write about the world:

 Student News Daily(middle and high school)

World on the Web (middle and high school—World also has an inexpensively priced newsletter entitled “God’s World News” available for kids of all ages)

Time for Kids (elementary school level)

Scholastic  (elementary school level)

My one rule when writing about a current event?   If it will not be important five years from now, it is not important today.   This rule keeps the kids from summarizing frivolous stories and instead allows them to think about and write about real, “meaty,” problems that they may have to address as adults.   We are producing world changers, yes?

Commonplace Book.  A commonplace book is a fantastic extension of notebooking that allows students to own their learning.   Many of our country’s founding fathers used commonplace books to record thoughts, poems, illustrations, speeches, etc.  Commonplace books add depth to the reading, and most importantly, the child owns the learning.   Commonplace books can be completed on purchased paper just like notebooks (see part 1), but our kids are enjoying creating memories on plain notebook paper.










 Learning Matrix.   Rather than cover the learning matrix here, for the sake of post length, I will direct any interested readers here to a Heart of the Matter Online article I wrote a few months back.   I also covered a couple of other ideas there that are fleshed out in more detail in this post.

Well, I think I actually came in at around 12-13 ideas between two posts—that’s your bonus for hanging in there and reading the whole both posts!    Happy learning while saving!

10 Ways to Customize Curriculum and Cut Costs–Part 1

I shared much of this information below during my presentations at conferences during the month of April.   It occurred to me that people are always looking to save money; why not post some thoughts here?   Also, though I find myself jaded with two teens in the house, I forget how many homeschoolers are just beginning with little angels, and looking for simple options that don’t overwhelm them with textbooks.

 To cover my entire presentation content would make this post rival a Hemingway novel, so for this portion, I will cover only those ideas that might be feasible for younger children.


Notebooking is a staple in our home.   The beauty of creating these hand-written pages is that they help children to own their own learning.   Notebooking pages are an excellent way to help a child retain his learning; when children “translate” reading materials into their own “language,” they have to process information and then think about what to write.    And, notebooking can be as inexpensive as the paper that you choose to purchase.   Over the years, we’ve used everything from that “old school” computer paper with the perforations, to purchased notebook paper, to college-ruled notebook paper that eventually lands in a 3-ring binder.   The children have had different preferences as they grow older, and as long as the work is quality, I follow their interests.   Personally, I prefer purchased pages.   With boxes for diagrams and special quotes pages/ bio pages, etc., the kids are forced to think more creatively about how they capture their work.   Here are some of my favoerite sites for purchased pages, and more elaborate “how-tos” on notebooking:



Lapbooks are excellent, especially for hands that learn even more when the kinesthetic (hands-on) component is involved.   Like notebooks, a lapbook can create a lasting keepsake of a child’s work on any subject.    Also like notebooks, a lapbook can be used for just about any subject.   My only caution, based upon my experiences, is that lapbooks take significant preparation time.   The scrapbooker in me loves developing the books and putting them together, but I enter into the prep work knowing that I need to carve out a block of time.    If you choose to indulge, however, here are a couple of sites that I enjoy:
There is also a Lapbooking Yahoo loop (try lapbookinglessons@yahoo.com).   Jimmie Lanley, the Notebooking Fairy, is a tremendous resource within the homeschooling community, and her Squidoo lens on lapbooking does not disappoint.  Lynn over at Eclectic Education is also very skilled in this area.     Finally, Dinah Zike’s Big Book of Books (costs about $20 at Amazon, new) is an excellent resource for creative ways to use various book folds.
One question people often ask is, what is the difference between lapbooking and notebooking, and what is the best suggestion for when to do either?    Jimmie does a good job addressing this in her post on lapbooking versus notebooking.
I will confess that I have not made good use of games; my husband tends to lead the kids in that effort.   However, I get the point.    Uno teaches number recognition and colors.   Twister also teaches colors.   You have to spell to play Scrabble; Monopoly helps kids learn the value of a dollar.   Mastering Clue requires analytical skills and critical thinking.   How much of a teacher could Milton Bradley be in your home?   Also, games can be repurposed to teach even more skill sets.
There isn’t much to say here; what is a homeschool without a field trip?    All I can suggest is that field trips don’t have to be to a designated attraction in order to be fun and educational.   Opportunities that are off the beaten path offer a dual benefit.   Because they are not the main attraction, they often are accessible for far less money, and as a rare tourist, the attention is more personalized.
How do you use the Internet in your homeschool?   Do you find it overwhelming?    Do you spend more time than you need on the wrong searches, or on “bunny trails” that take you everywhere but the place you need to go?    Two toolbars exist that take on much of the work of educational searches for you.   Karen and Tiany , respectfully, have done their homework and they’ve covered you, too.    The toolbars feature drop-down menus that contain links to educational video sites, the best of homeschool tools–you can even listen to the radio from the drop-down box!
Homeschool Resource Toolbar
Homeschool Lounge Toolbar
Before this post becomes horrendously long, I’ll stop and begin on the next post with thoughts for customizing curriculum for older students.   I’d love to hear from you, though: in what ways do you customize curriculum and cut your costs?