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Homeschooling:  Record Keeping

On this page:

On this site
Useful websites
Record Keeping
   School model
    Life model
Documenting unschooling
Using Advanced Placement on a transcript

On this site

Monthly time grid
This page has additional record-keeping information, and a GIF image of a monthly time grid that can be saved to a user's hard drive.

External Websites

Record keeping: age of compulsory attendance
Keeping Track of Time:  The Carnegie Unit
Using Advanced Placement on a transcript
Homeschool Tracker
Donna Young's Homeschool Printables

Record Keeping

Life flows for each of us regardless of whether or not we keep track of it by writing down these bits or photographing those bits.  Much learning is effective through ‘just living’ and although children retain undocumented learning as well as the learning that is recorded, many homeschoolers prefer to keep records while other homeschoolers are required by state law to do so.  No single essay on record keeping can address the needs of all military homeschoolers because they live around the nation and fall under the laws of fifty different states plus a few assorted territories or commonwealths.   Some basics, though, can be taken into account by most families.

 When you consider record keeping first consider what you want to get out of it.

  • A memento of your children’s childhoods?
  • A growing record of what your children have learned so that you can more gracefully endure those 0200 hrs. insomnia-panics that have you bolt upright in bed wondering, possibly in your mother-in-law's voice, what the heck you think you’re doing with those children?
  • A transcript-basis for your teenage children to use in continuing their lives into their twenties?
  • Just something to keep the authorities happy?

 Keep in mind that while you may not be living in an area that requires records institutions of higher learning that your children may have to deal with will expect to see some kind of bureaucratic-style documentation of how your children passed the years of their lives between fourteen and eighteen.  There are many opinions on why these gatekeepers of these institutions require this historical information when a simple specialized placement exam would give them a good idea of whether or not the applicant is suitable for admission to their organization (read down to the part of where graduate schools originated)  (John Taylor Gatto has many opinions).  The reality of gaining entrance to an organization is that, for the most part, if you want to be a part of it you have to jump through the hoops it sets up.  If your child’s ambition is to join one of these organizations then it will save wear and tear on your life and emotions if you structure your records so that the organization is comfortable with them.

 After you figure out what it is that will satisfy your needs concerning record keeping then consider the legal requirements of where you’re living.  It may be that your idiosyncratic needs or desires concerning your child's 'permanent record' will be greater than that of the state you're living in but usually it is the other way around.  Because of this you may need documentation that ‘demonstrates’ that your children are learning at a suitable rate of speed and in line with the expectations either of the people in charge of 21st century American bureaucracies or with the organizations into which they’ve programmed their parameters of what is acceptable or what is not.  Once you know what they who must be obeyed expect, you can provide them with what they want to see.  This does not mean you have to live your life according to a curriculum, only that you interpret your life on paper through a curricular lens.

 Military families cannot know where they will be stationed but there is no need to think you must prepare for all eventualities.  State school systems do not have any educational say-so concerning standards outside their jurisdictional limits, a situation that has plagued military children moving between school systems for decades.  Concern yourself only with the state in which you are now living and deal with any new regulations when the time comes.

 A thought to keep in mind before you set yourself a record keeping task is to make sure it is needed.  For example, even though your child is now five-years old do the compulsory attendance statutes of the state you are now living in include five-year old children?  If not then the educational statutes do not now apply to you.  This may also apply on the ‘other end’ for older teens so check the compulsory attendance laws of the state in which you are living.

"School model"

 For those parents who find a ‘set curriculum’ the most comfortable homeschooling framework the decision as to what to call their children’s activities is easy. 

  • Doing math problems is math. 
  • Doing chapter reviews in the English book is English.
  •  Doing chapter reviews in the social studies book is Social Studies. 
  • Doing chapter reviews in science book is science.
  • Spelling words is spelling.
  • Reading about perspective is art. 
  • Singing in the church choir is music. 

All you need do is write down the times for the ‘subjects,’ list the titles of activities of incrementally increasing difficulty, append test scores and you’re done.   During the years between ages fourteen and eighteen you may want to keep a running tab of ‘grades’ for the final GPA (I find grading artificial, hence the quotation marks).  For people who love forms and are happiest when life and the results of living are logically laid out in black and white, there are websites that spell it all out for you.  A websearch of ‘homeschool (or home school), records, GPA’ should provide you with more information than you can use.  Scan a few sites whose descriptions appeal to you, pick one and you’re on your way.

"Life" model

 For those parents who find a ‘set curriculum’ a strait jacket, the process doesn’t seem as simple.   A more free-spirited family may find that even the mere process of keeping records is constricting because of the need to track Life. 

When our children were toddlers we didn’t scamper after them noting how many books they ‘read,’ how many blocks they stacked, how far they pedaled their trikes, or whether or not the mudpies were made in accordance with mudpie construction 'best practices.'  But when the children grow older (and presumably have more competence at going about their affairs than do babies) we become concerned with whether or not they are ‘ready to learn.’  Infants are learning sponges but yet older children must be made ‘ready.’  Curious how we came to that conclusion.   At times it’s as if all Big Mother wants to know is, “What did you do today that was educational?”  

Each of us is all learning all the time (today’s lesson for me is that heather plants have chop-resistant and exceedingly thorough root systems – they must be wonderful for erosion control in areas where they are hardy, something that doesn't help with putting petunias into the planter the dead heather was in) but because of the modeling our society gives us we think that Learning must come packaged in books or lectures and that the Learning doesn’t happen unless an allegedly objective third party checks to ensure that we weren’t just sitting there thinking thoughts other than the ones we were supposed to be thinking.  How did homo sapiens make it to the point of space travel, for goodness sake, what with all those millennia without pandemic schools?  But I digress.

 How does one quantify everyday life?  How does a parent who is more freely spirited translate what, at times, appears to be ‘doing nothing’ into a record that is understandable not only by a third-party but by a third-party whose paradigm is bureaucratic?  As with other endeavors, practice. Break the mold of your school-model and watch what the kids are doing, invariably it's something that can be educationally quantified.  Think back to classic books.  What did Huck Finn learn?  Wilbur the pig Scout FinchCaddie Woodlawn?  Marly from Miracles on Maple Hill Gerry Durrell?

A quickie example of Watching Living might be:

  • Social Studies: Current Events via reading the newspaper or watching the news

  • PE: swimming at the pool or beach

  • PE again: riding bikes

  • PE again: roller skating

  • PE again: playing tag

  • Reading: not being able to get a child out of Harry Potter

  • Reading again: not being able to get a child out of one of the Redwall books

  • English/Language Arts: listening to a favorite book being read aloud (child may hear words that he didn't understand while reading the book, child will hear words properly pronounced, child will hear proper grammar)

  • Reading: sitting and reading anything equals Sustained Silent Reading

  • English/Language Arts: listening to poetry for children by A. A. Milne, Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, William Steig (who wrote the book Shrek, and yes, it was before the movie) or Judith Viorst

  • Math: playing cards (sets, patterns, addition, subtraction, sorting)

  • Math again: Monopoly (calculating turns, counting moves, using money, calculating rents, mortgages, calculating the worth of the non-regulation pot of money in the center of the board if you land on Free Parking)

  • Math again: Legos (sorting, matching, counting to even out, counting to follow a pattern) Math again: following a recipe

  • Science: building a magnetic chaos experiment using blocks, string, tape and magnets

  • Science again: tracking birds at the feeder

  • Science again: wondering why the fish tank went green again

  • Technology: taking apart a gizmo

  • Technology again: putting it back together

  • Writing: emailing a friend

  • Writing again: emailing Grandpa

  • Writing again: penning a rude Haiku about the bully down the street (it's therapeutic)

  • but I'm getting carried away again


(given the increasingly high price of this out-of-print book, check with your library about borrowing the book on an inter-library loan until it is again in print)

Documenting unschooling

Some tips for documenting 'unschooling' might be:

  • Keep library checkout 'receipts' chronologically sorted in a booklist folder, or noted on a calendar.  Do not try to account for every single book read -- you'll spook the children and interfere with their reading (see The Reader's Bill of Rights).

  • Maintain an undated attendance log, numbered 1 - 180.  Cross off each day on which learning takes place.  (in many bureaucratic models, 180 days = 1 school year)

  • Summarize the year's learning annually, after the fact, for inclusion in a portfolio.

  • Make a photo-album portfolio either with film/print photos, or with digital prints, selecting representative images for each area of learning.  Don't try recording each and every 'instance of learning, ' as you may interfere with the process.


 The following websites have examples of how to translate your everyday life into educationally understandable categories.  


 As for 'grades,' just parent the kids

  • A – Kids decided to build a pond in the backyard.  I drove them to the library and they researched pond-making.  Their dad helped them draw up the plans, dig it, line it, fill it with water (and made sure the water aged) and that the water plants were installed before the fish were put in. We couldn’t get the boys to come to supper on time for two weeks because they were outside lying on their stomachs watching the fish.  Herbie has been drawing fish pictures in his sketch book and Arnie planted some sunflower seeds from the birdfeeder on the south side of the pond to give the fish some shade.  The sunflowers will look funny next to the pond but he was so concerned about the fish.
  • B – Kids decided to build a pond in the backyard.  I drove them to the library and they researched pond-making.  Their dad helped them drew up the plans, dig it, line it and fill it.  He left them to come in to watch a baseball game but we only lost a few of the plants because the boys got into a wrestling match and Herbie crowned Arnie with one of the water lilies.  Still, they got the fish in OK and now we’ve got a working water feature in the backyard.
  • C – Kids decided to build a pond in the backyard.  I dropped them off at the library to get the books. Six weeks later Ms. Murcheson, the librarian reminded me the books were overdue.  Where did I put that notice?  Their dad got them the shovels and plastic liner but it was the weekend for the pre-season games so the pond looks a little lop-sided.  I took them to the pet store and we got five fish.  They all died.  I wish the boys would have told me we needed plants first.
  •  D – Kids decided to build a pond in the backyard.  I only wish they’d have researched it before they started.  Now we have a mudhole that the dog keeps sliding into and those red clay stains will never come out of the carpet.
  • F – Kids decided to build a pond in the backyard.  I came home to find that they’d dug the hole by Mr. Fitzwilliams’s driveway and the old guy backed right into it.  Why doesn’t someone take his license away?  He must be half blind.  Anyhow I made the kids put the dirt back in the hole but now there is nothing but weeds growing there.  The landlord says we have to fix it or he’ll charge us the cost of landscaping.  Why can’t those kids behave?  (note:  Citizenship evaluation is 'Needs Improvement')

 You can see from this parody of grading that I consider parental involvement to be a main factor in the children's 'grades.'  Children are growing beings and without support and guidance their projects and undertakings may not be the success they or their parents (or perhaps the neighbors) envisioned.

Using Advanced Placement on a transcript

AP listings on high school transcripts: discussion
The abbreviation "AP" for advanced placement, is a registered trademark.  If you haven't participated in an "AP" event, don't use the registered abbreviation.  





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This site was last updated:  Wednesday, 10 March 2010