Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Record Keeping

Inspired by a conversation I had with a friend (a new homeschooling mom), I thought I'd put in a post about my experience with homeschool planning and record-keeping tools.

First, here're two homeschool record-keeping software I've researched and used:

HomeSchool Tracker
I tried the Basic edition (free) and upgraded to Plus thinking it was the answer to all my woes. However, with the edition I downloaded, I faced a steeper learning curve than I was prepared for. It took me at least three weeks (and many looong nights) to get things working the way I wanted and then one day, I clicked on the wrong tab and poof went all my records! I'll still probably use it some day. Just not now. If you're good with technical stuff, this may be a great choice for you. There's a helpful forum as well. I know many parents swear by this software, especially to prepare high school transcripts.

March 11 update: Hmm...Sheila brought up a very pertinent issue. So sorry, I should have thought of that. HS Tracker is currently only available for PC users but there may be hope, it seems, if you're on the Mac platform. Thanks for pointing that out Sheila!

Another point I failed to mention about HSTracker is the Lesson Planning tool. There is quite a lot of functionality in there if you like planning your lessons ahead and in detail. It's just that in our household, although I'm a planner through and through, all the best laid plans...you know...they just don't get done. You can always leave out the Lesson Planning though and just use the weekly record-keeping tabs.

Home School Inc
This is a free web-based planner that is actually simple to use. Unfortunately, I don't like their report generating format. Doesn't display the sort of complete look I like. Also, I can't always carry my laptop around when we're doing stuff and I still needed a journal-style planner to record things on the fly. Another reason also why HSTracker didn't work too well for me.

Next, the journal-style planners. These are two planners I considered after reading Melissa Wiley's very helpful Planners for Moms post.
Mom Agenda All-in-One is a planner cum folio to store everything from soccer practice info to menus and schedules. School Years is another tidy all-in-one that helps you keep track of Junior's school records (PreK-12), samples of work and milestones. Both are available in a choice of colors. Nice. But too many bells and whistles for simple ol' me.

Small Meadow Press
Let me stress one thing...SMP products are beautiful! Being a fancy-paper-products fan, if I was looking for anything other than a homeschool planner/record-keeper I would have probably busted my annual book budget here. The only SMP product that I felt may fit my homeschool record-keeping requirements though was Home Learning Notes which are actually provided at no charge by the creator as PDF files. But I crave writing space (if you've been following this blog o'mine you might have realized by now that space is very important to me...not only within my home but also in all other aspects). In addition, I wanted something sturdy so this was another choice I dropped.

I've eventually settled on:
The Busy Body Book (buy from Amazon here)
A Whiteboard

To me, The Busy Body Book (BBB) is spiral-bound, sturdy perfection. I read about it on Melissa Wiley's blogpost and felt that the column format would be perfect for organizing book titles/page numbers by subject. This is how I personalize the columns:

The columns on the right read Appointments (playdates, co-op classes, birthdays, etc), Mathematics; Lang Arts/Literature/Latin; History (World & US) and Science/Discovery. There's also space (I use the Saturday and Sunday rows) for notes on Art/Craft/Music and Life Skills/Special Interests/Field Trips.
This is especially useful for me since I have to prepare a monthly 2-3 page parent journal for our charter school. Since my BBB is organized by subject, all I have to do is refer to 4 consecutive pages, and then type everything out by subject for the month. This is a lot easier than a letter-sized 2008 daily planner I used previously. In that planner, I had to list daily activities horizontally:

It was a huge headache sorting everything by subject at the end of the school month. BBB's vertical format rocks!

I also love BBB's To Doodles space on the left. I use it for everything from a more detailed record of our week to groceries needed to writing down Scrabble scores to...well...doodle. (2010 update: not using BBB anymore because I still have to manually type out reports. But if you don't need to submit reports to a charter or don't mind photocopying your BBB pages as a report, I still feel this planner is super flexible and great to bring along.)

With BBB, book titles and page numbers are easy-peasy. But when it comes to experiences and visual records, I've found this blog to serve my needs best. Plus our camera too of course (or in the case of a resourceful friend of mine, the camera phone). A blog probably also has longer-lasting presence. Living in a small apartment like we do, I don't need to worry too much about shelf space either.

I know blogging isn't for everybody but it may be good to know that sites like Blogger and Wordpress have become a lot more user-friendly than when they first began. Plus, you have the option of private settings and are free to remain as reclusive as you want to or switch to public mode at anytime. For highly visual people like me, actually "seeing" details of what we did is very helpful...it gives me better, more creative ideas for review work too. And sometimes when readers like you comment or offer suggestions, it teaches me stuff I wouldn't have thought of myself :)

This blog has also helped me make lots of online friends from all over the world. Pretty cool. But blogging has its disadvantages too...being addictive is just one of them. Let your instincts guide you on this one.

The Whiteboard
Nothing beats seeing the work your kids have completed listed proudly in black marker on a whiteboard...everything as plain as day. But this requires discipline and you still need a place to transfer the notes to so that you can wipe it off for the next day (you could of course take a photo of the list and store it digitally). However, a spare whiteboard makes a wonderful weekly/ monthly planner. DS rarely uses the 1.5x1 foot whiteboard I got him. So now, it helps me remember the books we plan to use in a given week. I've placed it strategically where my eye is bound to see it, next to our coffee-table (where we do most of our lessons and read alouds), like so:

Well...these are some of the ideas that have worked for me. Thought I'd just throw it out there in the hope it will help someone :)

If you're still stumped about homeschool planning/record-keeping, here are more ideas:
Donna Young's Homeschool Planner (like most things by this incredible lady, free)
CM Organizer Online Planner from SimplyCharlotteMason.com ($99/year)

Good luck! Do let me know if anything mentioned here works for you or if you've found something better!

March 11 update: By sheer coincidence, this site was introduced today on the Secular CM Yahoo Group: Homeschool Day Book.

I downloaded their free trial (good for 30 unlicensed uses) and true to their promise, the interface was really easy to use. In about 10 minutes, I was able to install the program (depends on your www connection) enter DS's name and subjects and write 2 reports, one for this week's SOTW audiobook session in the car and another for a math activity. Since I teach one child it was pretty easy but by the examples given on the site, it looks like you can easily input 2-3 kids' workload without staying up too late every night. I may not switch to it yet since BBB is working so well for me but I'd say this is a promising development.

The Early Bird Special is $29, otherwise it's $49 for the Homeschool Day Book license.

2010 update: Updating this article with latest tools I've heard about.

Homeschool Skedtrack -- still experimenting with this one. It seems a lot more functional to me than Homeschool Day Book and Tracker although I am still encountering a reporting format that isn't as flexible as I'd like it to be.

The Well-Planned Day -- pen and paper style planner. Comes in different versions for elementary, middle and high school with very pretty designs but again, report generation needs to be done manually on another program.

Microsoft One Note (preinstalled on my newer laptop) is quite flexible in both functionality and design. Think of it as a virtual pen and paper notebook. If you'd like to generate a report though you would probably need to copy and paste your records manually onto another page or program.


  1. Thanks for this post, Suji. I was thinking of ordering the homeschool tracker software, but was unsure. Your review helped me a lot (it's not for me, either :). I loved the free pages from Small Meadow Press. This was a very helpful post. :)

  2. Glad to hear that Michelle :) You know, it could just be me and not the software...despite enjoying blogging and certain technical things, I'm a little traditional in many ways.

  3. Oh, so am I. I much prefer 'hard' copies of things. I don't want to have to fire up the computer to make changes to my plans; I like it at my finger tips. I checked out the free web-based planner, and quickly got frustrated with it- far too time-consuming. I'm all for saving the trees, but let me just squeeze out a few more sheets of paper first, (and I promise to recycle them) lol! :D

  4. Suji, is Homeschool Tracker still only for the PC? I know everyone loves that program but last I looked there wasn't a version available for Mac.

  5. (Guilty face) Michelle, I DO feel bad about the trees and all the paper we've been using...that's why I tried so hard to make HSTracker work for me. But I hope to eventually get to a point where DS is more independent and perhaps use HSTracker to do the record-keeping for me LOL.

    Sheila, I should have thought of that! Here's a blurb from the HSTracker site (I included the link in the blog post today):

    "Homeschool Tracker is developed using the latest and most advanced Microsoft software development tools. As such, it requires the use of the Microsoft .NET Framework which is only available for the Windows operating system. However, we have had some VERY positive feedback from Macintosh users with the newer Intel-based computers running Parallels or VMWare Fusion software."

  6. We don't have strict recordkeeping rules here, we just have to show a portfolio. To record what we've done, I use a calendar that sits next to my computer, and just scribble down what we do. Then I blog about that each week to tie it together and flesh it out.

    My planning is in a couple of word documents and my head - which isn't the safest place to be! lol

  7. Thanks for sharing Kez! I love *how* you blog about it too :)

  8. Thanks :) I haven't had a chance to reply to your comment on my blog about finding a kindred spirit on the other side of the world - ditto!!

  9. I know this an old post, but you might also want to check out ourlearningfolio.com that was created by the people who made projectfoundry.com used in schools. We haven't gotten very deep into it yet so not sure if we'll keep using it, but it does have an area for them to develop and track projects... There are a bunch of schools using projectfoundry for that in cool ways.

    LOVE your site btw and I recommend it often to friends!

  10. This is a great post! Glad I came across it again as I need to revisit the issue. Thanks!!


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