Homeschool Notebooking: A Peek At Our Pages

I wrote last time about the joy, peace, and freedom I’ve been finding lately in our homeschool journey, and especially how notebooking is becoming a valuable and pleasant part of our learning. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting and am feeling more enthusiastic than ever about this most natural-feeling way of engaging with living books.

Much has already been said on homeschooling blogs about notebooking, so I shall not repeat all of that here. I will say, however, that many of the examples of notebooking one sees online comprise a written narration and illustration of the reading. Of course that’s a wonderfully solid foundation, but I also think there’s room for so much more…

Since my girls are in first and second grade, I want to be careful not to require too much writing yet. I think notebooking is a great way to build writing skills, but I don’t want to push the writing to a level that’s uncomfortable for them. Leaving things too open-ended doesn’t always work well for us, either. The standard “Draw a picture of what we just read” prompt is more likely to end in silly sketches than anything of lasting intellectual worth.

Hence the need for a little structure and a lot of creativity for notebooking happiness in our home. Here’s a peek at a few of our recent pages:

  1. This spring every time a new flower appeared in our yard, we read the corresponding chapter in The Burgess Flower Book for Children. Then we printed a picture found online or photographed the flower ourselves. The girls wrote the name and date we found the flower on the back, then attached a small Velcro circle to affix it in the proper habitat, whether wetlands, forest, or meadow. Thus we created a memory game board – the girls could remove the flowers, scramble them up, then see if they remembered the names, habitat, and order in which they bloomed.
  2. I recently discovered this delightful geography reader, Cross Country, in which the Page family drives from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., taking in the country’s landmarks and geographical wonders along the way. While we read, we’ll trace their travels on a map in our notebooks, drawing and labeling states, mountains, rivers, and other important features. We’ll also keep a “travel diary” as the trip progresses. The girls will draw a picture of one thing the family saw and write 1-2 sentences about it from time to time as we read through the book.
  3. Sometimes, our notebooking has an element of scrapbooking in it. While reading Benjamin Franklin, we gathered pictures of his inventions and pasted them in our scrapbook. Along with the pictures, the girls copied meaningful quotes from the book and wrote 1-2 sentences every couple of chapters about Ben’s struggles, triumphs, and why we still remember him today.

Simple but creative, slightly structured but still open-ended – those are my goals. I’m always keeping in mind the questions I use in my own reading notebook and working toward incorporating those kinds of questions in our homeschool notebooks:

  1. What do I observe? (I find this especially pertinent for nature /science readings). Or simply, what happened in the reading? (This could be a summary or bullet list).
  2. What do I wonder about?
  3. What does it remind me of?
  4. How does this reading change my thinking / worldview / “Godview”?

The first three questions come from John Muir Laws’ nature journal teaching, and I think they are excellent for any kind of reading. When all else fails, we can fall back on these questions truly for any reading we do. Wonderful lists of notebooking prompts and activities abound online, but I find it best to spend time considering the book at hand for awhile before grabbing a generic list. I ask myself:

  1. What possibilities for writing or visual creative expression does this book suggest? Does it naturally lend itself to illustrating, mapping, graphing? Summarizing, listing, creative writing?
  2. What questions does the book itself ask about the meaning of life?
  3. What modes of expression do my children seem most drawn to in this season?

As far as notebook organization and supplies, here’s what I’ve found helpful:

  1. Three-ring binders by far give us the most flexibility. With our perfectionistic tendencies, we appreciate the ability to throw out mistakes without having to rip them out of a bound notebook so that we can go on with our lives as if all were fresh and new. I love the ability to insert dividers, organize, and reorganize as needed.
  2. Along with the binders, massive supplies of sheet protectors and hole reinforcers are an absolute must.
  3. Simple looseleaf lined notebook paper and heavier multi-media paper.
  4. Glue and gluesticks.
  5. A few simple but quality art supplies. Prismacolor colored pencils and marker pens in a ridiculous array of colors seem to provide all the inspiration we need.
  6. Prepared notebooking pages. I’m actually not a huge fan of these. Anything prepared for us seems to immediately squelch creativity and makes me feel relegated to filling the set number of lines and fitting everything into those specific boxes. But a few very open-ended ones do save me time and keep things looking neat and pretty. Definitely not something to spend money on, though, since freebies abound.

And finally, a few notebooking blogs I’ve found helpful:

  1. There’s No Place Like Home
  2. The Unlikely Homeschool
  3. The Notebooking Fairy
  4. Thinking Kids
  5. Notebooking Pages
  6. Elizabeth Foss’s “Could It Be a Storybook Year?”

That’s really it! I’m sure you know by now that I don’t picture myself as an expert in any way; I’m simply a fellow traveler on this journey. If I can offer any inspiration or encouragement, I’m thrilled; if you have any to offer in return, even better! I would love to hear if you’re trying notebooking for the first time or if you’re a veteran notebooker with ideas to share. Look for more peeks inside our notebooks in the days to come!

2 thoughts on “Homeschool Notebooking: A Peek At Our Pages

Add yours

  1. I always find your blogposts so inspiring! It leaves me wishing my adult children would let me “try again” and that we were next door neighbors!


    1. I find myself wishing every year I could try again, knowing things could have been so much better. I heard someone say the other day that they just try to “fail better” every year and I found that strangely comforting and encouraging. At least it’s always a lot of fun experimenting and trying new things! I wish we were next door neighbors too; oh, the fun we would have!


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