Life in the twenty-first century insists we wear all sorts of hats, doesn’t it? Homeschooling, in particular, demands that we don not only the many hats required to function in our complex world, but also put on all those that are related to what our culture entitles “school.”
Home educators fulfill responsibilities to love, nurture, and conscientiously care for the well-being of their children, but they also need to become familiar with—and in most cases incarnate—a long list of other requirements: learning about and understanding homeschooling laws; educational standards; teaching methods; curricula options; testing issues; extracurricular opportunities; communities in which families will flourish; space and resources for learning and growth; and the setting of goals and establishing processes through which those goals will be met. And at the end of the process? Homeschoolers need to keep formal records of it all.
For many home educators, this time between school years is the time to think about formalizing records, organizing them, and storing them–awaiting the future fruit they will bear as they testify to our efforts. Record keeping is, as many of us culminate our academic year watching the trees bud and the flowers blossom, a topic that takes a prominent place in our minds: we are completing one season and readying ourselves for the next, aren’t we? Often this is not simply one school year to the next but one stage of life to another (for example, from elementary school to high school, or high school to college). Record keeping therefore encompasses both ends and beginnings, which makes it a rich—but also highly significant—responsibility. It is not merely a material thing, like the iconic high school transcript, that we must bring into shape and form; it is a valuable process that we must navigate. The weight of it can be heavy.
Although fulfilling many of our homeschooling responsibilities flows organically out of personal experiences and community support, some aspects, like record keeping, can be challenging because they haven’t fallen in the realm of our past. For example, like so many other things deemed unnecessary by our educational establishment for a “good life,” we probably never took a class in school about them. Our knowledge is likely limited to passively receiving the records, based upon someone else’s assessment and expertise…something that for most people tends to go on behind the scenes as they move through the process of school. And even if we did receive such experience—perhaps through teaching—when this task is transferred into the context of homeschooling and with respect to our own children, it may pose new and unexpected challenges. As a result, we often find ourselves asking all sort of questions for which answers don’t come easily.
These queries are frequently in the form of WHAT questions, but they are actually WHY inquiries that reach into the core and essence of homeschooling. They are questions such as:
- What is the purpose of these records? (Why keep these records?)
- What kinds of records should we keep and what can we get rid of? (Why keep some and not others? Why do some have one purpose while others have different ones?)
- What age ranges require what sorts of records? (Why keep certain kinds of records for certain ages and other kinds for different ages?)
- What is the best way to store what we keep and to manage important information about our homeschooling? For example, what can we preserve digitally and what should be keep physically in storage? (Why does the form in which we keep records matter?)
- What will our children need to be able to show to others at the end of our homeschooling years? (Why do we need discernment concerning the records we keep?)
- Who are all these records really for? Are they for the student, for the state, for the universities to which they might apply, for prospective employers, or for something else and/or all of the above? (Why does the nature of recipients of these records matter?)
- What guidelines should we follow and how can we arrange our records so that we achieve the ends we desire? (Why does what we record and how we present it make a difference?)
In truth, many of the answers to the above kinds of questions will be highly individualized to each homeschooling family and situation, just as each family and each student is unique. Cookie-cutter responses and factory production style methods will prove insufficient. There are some standard answers which can be given, of course, but ultimately most of these types of questions will be determined by who you and your students are and what best suits your circumstances and your goals. Obviously, one may look to the many how-to websites, blog posts, and books for tips, ideas, and solutions to these questions. Just Google the terms to quickly discover a tide of resources on the Internet from homeschooling websites to Facebook posts to Pinterest pins, all of which can be intimidating in and of themselves as the prospect of sifting through them for the perfect answers looms. It is because of this information tsunami that I can’t stress enough that these questions cannot fully be answered by others for you; the answers will primarily depend upon precisely who you are, who your children are, and what your goals are. Even among like-minded home educators, the answers can be significantly different.
You can begin by following the advice of others, by looking for models to emulate (and there are multitudes upon multitudes of them available), but in the end, these are things you must decide and it is wise to carry them out in the ways that serve you best. From personal experience and having walked alongside many fellow homeschoolers over the years, I am confident in saying that if you ponder and clarify the answers to questions like those listed above (there are more, and I encourage you to add yours to the list)—the WHYs of your own home school and its needs—then the utilitarian HOWs of record-keeping will begin to flow from them in ways that make sense to you and that will work well. One of my favorite maxims to share with other homeschoolers over the years is my conviction, born out of and verified in experience is that from good, true, and beautiful principles will flow successful, practical outcomes.
During these summer months, as we assess, plan, and prepare to store our homeschooling histories, you can take the time to wade through rivers of information and advice, or—and this is what I would advise as not only preferable but ultimately more profoundly effective—you can take the time to dwell with the principles that govern your home education and then design your methods intentionally to carry out those principles.
Live, for a while, with the principles you value, and they will direct you to the path to take. Do this by contemplating the questions, discussing them with your family, friends, and mentors, jotting down notes and ideas, and allowing moments of questioning and uncertainty—moments our culture tends to avoid because of the illusion we cultivate about being in control, but moments which are always necessary to authentic growth and accomplishment—to open doors to good answers and effective solutions.