The Importance of Homeschool Record Keeping
The specific rules and regulations on homeschool record keeping for your homeschool will vary by state. Some states require vigorous record keeping while other states are very lax in their demands. Finding out exactly what your home state requires is your first matter of business. From there, you can tailor your record keeping plans as you wish. So long as you are compliant, you will have no problems, especially as you’re just getting started, but they become much more important as high school nears, and as your child gets ready to graduate. We’ll talk more about that a little later. Just know that homeschool laws are usually very different from laws that public and private schools have to follow, so be sure that you are looking at homeschool laws.
Why Homeschool Record Keeping is Important
First and foremost, homeschool record keeping even if unnecessary in your specific home state – is a great way to provide proof of education, if it’s ever needed. It shows that you're serious about your child’s education. Even in the “Unschooling” education method, records are easier to keep than you think and can be compiled in a way that’s easy to read and easy to present.
Homeschooling records are very important as you move towards middle and high school levels, as a high school transcript will be necessary for your child to start the college admission process or, even earlier than that, to earn dual credits while still in high school. You’ll need to record credits so that you can tally them up to see when certain subjects are complete.
An adequate record keeping system will be extremely important should you ever decide to re-enroll your child in public school. For instance, grade or progress reports and portfolios can help keep your child from having to go through placement testing to determine grade level should the need arise.
Which Homeschool Records Should be Kept
As I mentioned above, state requirements need to be looked at when you begin to homeschool. Regardless of your geographic location, with the exception of a few states, you could be required to send a “Letter of Intent” (LOI), or a “Notice of Intent to Homeschool”. Some states might have another name for it, which you can find out when you research the specific compliance requirements for your home state. Whatever it’s called, make sure you keep a copy of this form in your records in your homeschool planner at all times.
Even though you already have copies of your child’s birth certificate, social security number, vaccination records (or an exemption, if you choose not to vaccinate), and other medical records, you might want to keep these in your homeschool records as well, simply to have everything in one centralized location, should the need ever arise to present them. It’s far easier to have them all in one place and just pull a set of records out than it is to start compiling and making copies if the time comes that someone is asking to see them.
Many states require that you keep an attendance record on file for all your homeschooled children. Find out exactly how many days are required in your state to be compliant and plan out or document those days in your records. Some states, instead of requiring attendance, require a certain number of hours that need to be completed. Be sure to check closely.
One way of doing this that works well for a variety of families is to simply print out a chart that allows you to check off each completed day. You can easily tally these up any time it’s necessary, to see where you are and how much farther you have to go. Others might simply check off days on a wall calendar or use each page of a daily lesson plan book, or homeschool tracker, as a working attendance record or hours keeper, in and of itself. As you get closer to high school, you will want to keep track of hours spent on each class (possibly in addition to keeping attendance records) in order to properly fill out a homeschool transcript, more about that below.
It doesn’t matter the manner in which you keep these records, only that you do have some form of proof that the days and hours were accounted for.
Keeping records on the specific subjects you cover is a great way, in the early years, to get started working on a transcript record keeping style. In high school, credits matter, and you’ll want to keep a record of every credit your child gains by maintaining these subject records.
In earlier grades, this could be as simple as keeping a daily lesson planner in which you record the subjects covered each day. Some families simply place a checkmark next to the subjects covered, in order to show that they’ve met the required time necessary for compliance. Others might choose to record exactly how long each subject was taught or how long the child worked on that subject.
It can be a very good idea to keep a homeschool portfolio of your child’s work in these subjects. Keep tests, quizzes, book reports, daily lessons, or anything you deem fit for the portfolio. It’s a great way to show proof of work if your homeschooling efforts are ever questioned, but it’s also nice for end-of-semester, or end-of- homeschool year evaluations as well. Tracking your child’s progress via portfolio review can often give you an excellent assessment of exactly what they’ve mastered and what they’ve yet to learn.
Lesson Plan Records
Some homeschool parents were born to organize and plan, and it shows in their well-kept lesson plans. Others struggle with planning, which means the format can vary wildly. For instance, in Unschooling, it’s common to use a journal for the course of study in place of lesson plans, to document what the child learned or worked on over a specific amount of time. Still, others used preformatted digital applications to keep track of their lesson plans, with reports available for printing so that a hard copy is always available. Still, others might keep free printable homeschool trackers using a three-ring binder as a way of lesson plan tracking. There are loads of options available.
In lesson plan records, it’s always important to be as specific as possible, especially regarding your child’s progress. For day-to-day recording, it’s fine to use whatever format you feel most comfortable with, be it precise documentation or shorthand that you later turn into viable records, perhaps on a weekly basis. Be sure to tidy up your records at the end of the year each year if you haven't kept up weekly. These records can get away from you quickly and, especially in high school, you'll need to stay on top of them for the homeschool transcript.
For more information about what makes a good homeschool planner, you can read this post about what makes up the anatomy of a good homeschool planner.
Some parents opt for actual report cards in the younger grades, with letter or percent grades, whereas other parents do not abide by these rules. Some prefer a checklist of progress that their child has made towards a set of prearranged goals for the school year.
Whichever method you choose for keeping track of progress or grades, you must also decide how often you’re going to review the results. For example, in January, if you see that your child is not making ample progress towards the intended year-end goal, it might be time to reassess the methods used to reach that goal. Is your curriculum lacking? Are you missing schoolwork or test results? Is there something hampering your child’s progress that could be addressed at some point during the school day to allow for better results?
Assessment is often the key to reaching those goals you set your sights on, especially when you know ahead of time that a goal is going to be harder to reach. You might even realize that you set the bar too high in a certain subject, and you may have to back off a bit. Of all the things necessary for learning, it’s important to remember that each child learns differently, and at their own pace. The more in-tune you are with that, and the better able you are at meeting them there, the better your results will be. Remember, you know your child best.
Field Trip Records
Field trips are often a regular occurrence for homeschooling families. Keeping good records pertaining to these outings can show great academic achievements. Many subjects and goals can be targeted on field trips, especially opportunities for “socialization”. Record the location, what subjects were covered, events attended, and anything else you deem record worthy.
Some parents don’t feel the need to keep detailed records about their field trips, and that’s fine, too. Even if you simply want to state where you went and how long it lasted, this still counts as a record. However, keeping records of field trips can be a lesson in and of itself. For instance, sitting down with your child to create a scrapbook of the event can not only be a great way to retain memories of the special event, but it can also serve as a “record” as well. Often, in homeschool planners, there is a place for keeping track of field trips and extracurricular activities.
Materials and Curriculum Records
If you are using a prepackaged curriculum, you’ll most likely have a great record in your packing slip, or the documentation that comes with it. Still, you can jot down texts, workbooks, labs, or anything else of relevance to keep tabs on the specific materials you used for each subject in each grade level. You can do the same even if you piece together the curriculum in the relaxed homeschooling style. You might love a specific subject offered by Classical Conversations, for instance, while another subject by Abeka might also be a favorite.
Some homeschoolers use alternate means of putting a curriculum together, especially if the budget is extremely tight, and this is a great time to make sure to keep good records. When I homeschooled my daughter, I was able to procure every McGuffey’s Reader from Amazon’s Kindle store, absolutely free. I found that these worked much better for our Relaxed/Unschooling style than any of the texts I had previously purchased. I then did the same with our math text. When regular textbooks failed us, I was able to find several texts that taught by explanation rather than extensive lists of problems, and it not only served her well in the grade she was in, but also took care of some very severe gaps that had been created as she slipped through the cracks in first, second, and third grade in public school.
There are tons of other free resources that you can find through Amazon and Kindle, and from simply doing a Google search for “free textbooks”, “free worksheets”, or even “free homeschool curriculum”. With so many different options, homeschool record keeping is a “no brainer” so that if the need ever arises to present proof of compliance, you can do so.
This is certainly not an extensive list of the types of records you could keep for your own homeschool. You could easily include records such as volunteer and community service records (these become important in high school), music, dance, or gymnastic class records, theater records, sporting event records, and so much more. Really, anything that your child does over the course of their educational journey can be included in their permanent record file for future reference.
One last piece of advice is to utilize HSLDA. If your homeschool records are ever brought into question, they are a great resource in helping you figure out the best source for a solution.
If you’d like to dive deeper into certain aspects of record-keeping, you might want to consider attending a Great Homeschool Convention. With seven regional conventions, you’re sure to find one near you, so be sure to check it out at the Great Homeschool Conventions website. There, you’ll find extensive information regarding location, workshops, speakers, special events, and vendors. Additionally, you’ll be able to purchase hotel packages at discounted rates, especially for convention attendees. But you’ll have to hurry. These don’t last long!