So you have decided to give notebooking a try, but do not know where to start?
First, you will want to notch out a time in your day for notebooking. This is where I goofed when starting notebooking. I tried to ADD it to everything else we were already doing. You do not want to make this mistake. You will end up overwhelming yourself and your kids and that will just lead to burnout. How do you make more time? First, you need to cut out the busywork.
Cut Out the Busywork
What kind of busywork can you cut from your child's day? How do you decide what is busywork? I decide by looking at the end product of whatever it is that they are doing. Does the project or activity create a lasting effect on them? Is it enjoyable? Now I realize that not everything about learning has to be fun, but some activities we subject our kids to can definitely be replaced with more enjoyable ones! Will their work end up in the trash can, on a shelf or in a tote never to be seen again? When asked "What did you learn?", do they have an answer or a blank look? That is probably the best way to determine if what you are doing is busywork. Busywork summed up about half of what I was doing with my kids in every subject before I started notebooking. When creating a notebook, they are actively working with the studied material and are showing you what they learned. So they will always have an answer to the question, "What did you learn?". Their notebooks will become filled with all these morsels of their learning! They will treasure these notebooks, as will you, for years to come. So, what can you cut to make time for notebooking?
I think the easiest way to start is to choose 1 subject to notebook. You will eventually notebook lots of subjects and interests, but for now let's just focus on one. Choose a subject that you and your children already enjoy and cut the busywork from that subject for at least 2 weeks while you give notebooking a try. Focus your time on reading good books and having discussions with your children. Have them give you verbal narrations from their readings and read alouds. If you have a chalk board or white board, record for them some of the key words, dates, important names and places, and new vocabulary they encountered during your reading time.
Choosing a Topic for their First Page
After you finish reading, discussing, and narrating, ask this question:
What did you find to be most important or interesting about what you studied today?
Whatever they answer to this, make this the topic of their first notebooking pages. I find this to be the easiest way to help them get started. Later, you can add more variety and topics to their pages, but let's help them focus on just one idea for now. The next step is to put their thoughts onto their paper. Choose whether you will use a template page (like the kind we offer here at the site) or your own papers and set the kids to writing about their chosen topics.
Choosing a Notebooking Page
Choose one of the options below to make your first notebooking experience super simple.
- Use a plain piece of notebooking paper or notebook/composition journal.
- Use a page from our Free Resource Hub
- Use a page from our ProSchool Membership
Putting Their Thoughts on Paper - the Written Work
They should write everything they can remember about their topic. Okay, not EVERYTHING, but most of what they can remember. I think an easy guideline for their writing, at least in the beginning, is to require them to write at least one sentence per year that they have been schooling. (Example: 1st grader-1 sentence, 2nd grader-2 sentences, 4th grader-1 paragraph, etc.) Let them use the key words you wrote down on the board if they need them.
I try not to make this a highly structured writing lesson time. We want their thoughts onto the paper without worries of a red pen making more work for them later. I save most of the grammar, spelling, writing structure lessons for when we are studying those specific subjects in their own lesson times. Notebooking writing time will truly show you how their skills are coming along. So go easy on the technical aspects of their writing and be their editor, their dictionary, and their thesaurus when needed.
Also, continue to encourage them to make this page about what they know, not about what you can remind them about they learned. They need to develop their own thinking skills here. This may take some time for your kids to get used to, so be patient and be overly encouraging! It is so worth it!
You may need to be their pencil for a while if they are too young to write their own sentences or if their hands cannot keep up with the words in their brains. I do most of the writing for my kids until they are in about the 3rd grade. It seems to stifle their creativity (and shorten their output) if they are limited by the amount of language skills and physical writing skills they have developed to this point.
The creativity and words are there, but they have not developed the abilities to put it all on paper yet in such a way that will allow their thoughts to continue to flow. If you have young ones, plan for this when planning your time for notebooking. It is so helpful and you will treasure the difference it makes in what your kids will want to write for their notebooks. I am always amazed!
All the Rest - the Graphic Work
Now that they have chosen their topic and have written about it, ask them how they would like to "show" what they learned or how they can complement their writing by adding any of the following: an illustration, a diagram, a map, a colored picture, a photograph, or maybe just some decorations to the page. Again, try not to structure this too much for them. In the beginning, they may need some suggestions to help them get started, but try to let them pick their own artwork as much as possible. This is their notebook and we want it to be an extension of their creativity. Now sometimes, actually a lot of the times, I help plan the layout of our more detailed pages. As the kids get older though, they should take more responsibility in this and be able to decide what they want to include in their notebooking pages.
Now What Do We Do with their Finished Pages?
When they have completed their page, it goes into their notebook. I think it is easier when first starting to keep all of your notebooking pages regardless of content in the same binder. Fill the binder with sheet protectors, if you prefer, to protect their pages and then just file the pages in as they complete them. Once you have developed your own plan for how you will continue to implement notebooking, you may decide to use different binders for different subjects. You could also continue to use one binder until it becomes full or until it contains enough of a certain topic/subject to move some pages to their own binder. There are no rules here. I have done it both ways and both make complete sense.
If you are done with that topic, then move on to the next. If not, make more pages throughout the study. You might decide to do a more detailed page together the next day so that you can include some of the facts or details that you feel are most important. Just be sure to leave some room for their own creativity and their own thoughts. Structure is fine as long as it does not make notebooking turn into the busywork that we are trying to eliminate.
Are You Ready?
Please do not wait until you think you have everything figured out and you think you have all the right supplies to start implementing notebooking. Make the time and dig in with your kids! You may want to even try making your own notebooking pages alongside them. As I look back on all the years I wasted in a variety of methods, curricula, & busywork, I can tell you that notebooking has been the most effective tool for our homeschooling. It was the start of a whole new way of learning for us. I hope you find the same blessings with your children.