Friday, September 28, 2012

Dipping our Toes into Notebooking

It's no secret.  I despise textbooks.  I don't even like Story of the World much.  Shocking, I know.  I would much rather read subject-specific picture and reference books.  Yes, it's more work to hunt them down and many times the library doesn't have just what we need, but, for me, it's worth it.  

I also would rather participate in meaningful writing, rather than work through exercises that ask my children to write about some arbitrary topic.  For us, that means writing about the subjects we're studying.  (Also lots of freewriting, but that's a different topic for a different post.)  In the past, we've done copywork, and that worked out pretty well.  As my oldest gets . . . well . . . older, however, we need something to grow up with her.  

Enter notebooking.

Since I wasn't quite sure how this would all work out (except for nature study pages & nature journaling, which we already experiment with), I downloaded Jimmie's Notebooking Success ebook for help getting started.  I love her approach.  She emphasizes that the process of notebooking and the associated organizational skills students develop (selecting pages, organizing them in binders, etc.) are just as important as the finished pages.  Speaking my language, perfectly.

How We Use Notebooking
We mostly use the pages for history right now, because we're focusing our studies on Early American history this fall.  I emphasized in the beginning that this is her (my 9 yr old's) collection, and that this is something she can use as a reference for years to come.  It takes a little prodding and reminders to take her time (such a choleric temperament) and do this neatly, but she seems to enjoy it.  At least she doesn't complain about it.  Which is a BIG deal.  Huge.

Our process is pretty simple.  We read books from the library, one unit of time at a time.  For example, we recently read about Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Lewis & Clark Expedition.  As she reads sections of books, I ask her questions and ask her to summarize things.  The verbal processing with me really helps her and serves as her prewriting phase.  She then creates a brief summary and illustration on a page.  I always allow her to draw or write about a learned fact that she found interesting, even if it is somewhat silly (like who kept strange animals in the white house) and not the most important thing to remember.  She still gets the facts, but I think it is more important to keep history as an interesting, living story for her than to emphasize the memorization of stale facts.  Because how well did that work for so many of us?

Then there's the editing.  Once again, it's time for me to disappoint.  Despite being a former English teacher, I really don't place a ton of emphasis on this.  At least, not at this stage.  We're testing out notebooking.  She's writing.  She's interested in history.  I'm not killing her interest by making her edit every single word.  Like I said, not now.   Once in a while, we look over a page together, and I might just mumble "capitals" or something else, if I see she's refusing, once again, to capitalize the first word of sentences or names or something like that.  Because that's annoying and difficult to read and rude to people who have earned capitalized names.  It bugs me when she does it consistently, and we will correct a page if I see that we need to break a bad habit.  But, honestly, a missed capital or comma or the occasional misspelled word is not necessarily cause to rewrite every page.  It's fine.  And she's going to look back at these pages next year or five years from now and catch her own mistakes anyway.  Which is the whole point, right?  We edit for publishing.  End of story.

Notebooking Tools
I bought premade pages this summer, because I really didn't know what the heck I was doing.  Plus, it was summer and hot and my brain was fuzzy and I so didn't want to have to think.  So.  Premade pages.  You could get by with free templates or get snazzy and make your own.  One day, I think it would be fun to let Ella make her own.  Oh, look.  Another skill.  :)

These are the sources I'm using so far:

  • Images from ClipArt Etc - for battles or scenes that prove difficult to illustrate

Organizing It All
We're still working on a system.  So far, it's just chronological, with the presidents' pages in their appropriate time slots.  We threw in a couple of timeline pages so we could see how everything fell during the Revolutionary War.  I had no idea how many years apart some of these major events happened!  Mama's learning a lot here, too.

As she completes pages, she puts them in a filing tray.  Once a week or once a month or whenever we remember (I'm really random about this), I'll remind her that the tray is getting full and she'll punch holes and file them in her binder.  Kids love hole-punching, right?  She likes putting the pages in order, too.  This is not a hair-pulling task.  Not in the least.  It's actually kind of fun.  Especially for a kid who loves to make books.  She's made tons of animal encyclopedias over the years.  Now, she's making history reference books.  She digs that.

As you can see, we just have the two binders for now.  We aren't doing any formal nature studies at the moment, but we had some old pages that needed a home.  We'll take a history break soon and pick up with the nature again when it's cooler.  And less buggy.

I'm thinking about making the third one a language arts binder, just for storage purposes.  A place to keep favorite poems, Ella's stories, and spelling lists.  Normally, we would compile all of this into one end-of-year book, but it looks like things will be a little different around here, and I'll have to get used to the idea of an on-going system.

And then I could change my mind completely next month.  Who knows.  For now, the notebooking test-run is working pretty well for us.

Anyone else notebooking?  Have any tips to share?


  1. We have done notebooking for a variety of different subjects.

    I have a 50 states binder that we work on when the mood strikes, and I pre-printed all the pages for that. One thing my kids like is when I buy colored printer paper and print on that.

    I also started to do some book report-ish notebooking, where the kids would write a small summary of the book and draw a picture, but it hasn't taken off. Maybe when they are a bit older.

    What they REALLY love is nature/science notebooking. This is the most time consuming for me, because it generally means I have to be willing to drop everything and spend hours searching for Octupus printables. But they really like it, and they retain a lot more.

    Some things I am planning on doing in the future is to do a Project Life inspired notebook(are you familiar with that? It's a scrapbooking method - very unique), so we can slip small journaling cards, photos, and other things into the pockets without having to fill out a whole page. It's less overwhelming.

    I mostly use notebooking as an avenue for them to document their interest-led studies. They have a lot of freedom and are more devoted to those notebooks than the ones I dictate should be made (ie the book reports).

    I love the results of notebooking (the larnin'), but the process is still kind of a hassle for me. Hopefully it will get smoother as time goes on.

    My favorite pages come from The Amazing Jimmie and from Notebooking Pages.

    I didn't mean to hijack your comments! I've been thinking about this lately...

    1. Our states book started with all the NFL teams the Saints play. Surprised? :)

      Oh, I can't wait to watch my big girl take off with science/nature stuff. She loves writing about and drawing animals and plants. We'll put the history aside very soon and shift to science next month. I kind of push everything aside in October, because it's the best weather month down here.

      I saw you pinning Project Life stuff, but I thought it was strictly scrapbooking. Hmm, I might look into that later. My oldest really didn't like lapbooks, so I don't know if she'd enjoy that. She's such a minimalist. Hmm . . . wonder where she got that from . . .

      I can see I'm going to need more binders!

  2. Oh my goodness! What a delightful post. I so enjoyed reading how you are implementing notebooking. And I have to say that it is exactly how I would recommend. (Well, you did read my book. grin)
    It can take a lot of self control not to critique those mechanics errors, but I applaud you for holding back. Fostering the love of learning and the passion for the subject matter is essential. You are doing a great job.

    1. Thanks so much, Jimmie! I have to admit, at first I wanted to correct more of the mechanics, but it just isn't realistic. Or worthwhile, even. And takin everything to final draft quality is truly exhausting! As a writer, I don't even work that way, so why would I ask her to perfect everything?

      Thanks again for the guidance and comment!

  3. I like how it's working for you. I'm not sure it would work here, and when I looked at some notebooking pages my first reaction was how limited they seemed, versus just an entirely blank sheet of paper. I suspect my 8yo would have the same reaction. I don't know, there's a fine line between "structure" and "constraint" and I think I am avoiding the line altogether at the moment. I tread gently, but then, mine is still deschooling.

    1. I still feel like we're deschooling. Like, sometimes the blank page is too intimidating for her? I really like the idea of showing her how to make her own templates on the computer, and also just going for it with the blank pages and art supplies. We're still babystepping, and our deschooling has been such a slow process. I think we'll be moving toward less structure in the coming months and losing some of the crutches.


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