Record Keeping Strategies

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Record keeping can certainly seem onerous
to home educators. It does take some effort,
but it’s all entirely doable.
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This article outlines some of the methods of record keeping that I’ve employed over the years, as well as suggesting one approach to devising your own system.
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Why Keep Records?

Quite simply, the legislation requires that home educators keep records. They don’t have to be complicated or done in triplicate, but they do have to exist in some form.

The Authorised Personnel who approve our registration process must be able to justify to those in authority over them that we are indeed educating our children at home. If we can’t show them anything, discuss our processes reasonably, or give them any other indication that we’re doing what we say we’re doing, they cannot reasonably be expected to give assurances to their superiors.

In my most cynical moments I’ve grumbled that it’s all about bureaucratic box ticking and butt covering, and there is certainly some truth in that. According to the law, however, that’s how it has to be, and I can either help NGES staff see that what we personally are doing for our daughter’s education is acceptable, or I can make my own life difficult by being an obstructionist.

As I am quite the little box ticker by nature, this kind of reasoning probably helped me think through this part of the process to some degree, especially in the early stages of our registration experience. The question I ultimately asked myself was, “How can I, as simply as possible, give the authorities a snapshot that truthfully reflects the education that my child is receiving?”
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Some of the methods I’ve employed over the years include:

  • mind-maps as planning tools. Sometimes these were hand-written, but at other times I’ve used proper software (free and paid versions are available). I’d use these to think about where Hayley was (developmentally etc.), and then move to where she’d like to progress to, or where I thought she should be heading, or what resources we might use. This wasn’t often followed closely as the term progressed, but it did show that thought and preparation was taking place. Such labours aren’t essential, but for me, they helped my process and formed part of the paperwork that I was happy to communicate with NGES.
  • keeping a small digital camera in my handbag, to take photographs of where we went and what we did. When it came time to pull paperwork together, these helped jog my memory, and I’d choose a dozen or so pictures to include with our paperwork, that would jog my memory at the registration visit.
  • journal or diary to jot down notes about what we’d done in a day. As we tended more towards natural learning, I kept this on the kitchen bench, as noteworthy things seemed to happen around that area – I’d just jot something down that was more of a memory prompt than a comprehensive record. This never formed part of my submitted paperwork, but I’d have happily showed it at the registration visit, to support the paperwork I’d provided.
  • date stamps on workbooks. During our more formal years, whatever page we did in a workbook got a date stamp on the top outer corner of the page. Again, this was something that could be shown at the time of the visit, if requested.
  • an art box – just a large, contact-covered box where I’d toss whatever masterpieces were done. Sometimes there were sculptures which had to be handled carefully, and other things had to be displayed in order to be properly admired. You can’t keep everything though, especially when your little artiste is particularly prolific – in such cases, photographing large masterpieces is useful space-saving technique. A photograph of a particularly impressive piece might be included with submitted paperwork at registration time, but the entire collection could be shown at the visit, before some judicious culling is done.
  • term overview – for most of the years we’ve been required to be registered, I used a term-to-a-view document that I just created in Word. It evolved over the years, from just recording external classes, to including everything we did outside the home, to being a snapshot of pretty much everything Hayley did. The examples given here are so you can get the idea – please develop your own, so that what you do works for you.
    Anna Attach 1 Term Overviews
(I must point out that while I did sometimes record the first name of an individual or a family name of who we met up with, DET would have no idea who those people were, or how they were relevant to our world, unless of course they already knew them personally. The names of other home educating families are never discussed with DET as a matter of privacy and courtesy.)

The Home Education Manual (provided by NGES) does include a range of suggestions for record-keeping. Below are my suggestions for how you can work out what is most suitable for you. It’s worth mentioning that I modified my record-keeping each year, so that what I was doing worked for me. I was mindful that my memory would need triggering, and that NGES would need to be genuinely satisfied.
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What Will Work for You?

There are so many ways a family can go about keeping records that it’s even an onerous topic of discussion. I’ve historically had a fairly systemised approach to record keeping myself, but when I saw the system of a former teacher, I felt like a complete failure!

First piece of advice:
ignore what anyone else is doing,
unless
you can adapt it to work for you.

Some things to think about when you begin to assess what records you will want to keep:

  • is our approach to home education formal or informal?
  • am I generally an organised person or not?
  • what sort of system will work for me?

I suggest that you look on the internet at some of the vast array of record-keeping systems offered for home educators. This will give you an idea of what’s available, and also help you sift through how you don’t want to do your record-keeping, if nothing else.

If you can do free downloads of software, try out one or two of those if you like. (Personally, I find computerised records far too rigid. Even though I’m quite fond of administrative processes in general, I hate being locked into complicated systems that would make a home office accounting package appear simple.)

Beverley Paine’s South Australian website, Always Learning Books offers a couple fo great options for simple diary-based approaches to record keeping (scroll down to the listings on diaries). One is suitable for a more formal approach, and the other would suit a more natural approach, and both these are (in my opinion) very reasonably priced.

Perhaps the simplest method of record-keeping is just to buy yourself a regular diary, either A5 or A4 sized, and jot down what you do each day. If you have more than one child, you could use a different diary for each child, or you could use the larger size and segment your page in a way that records each child’s progress or activities for each day.

Bear in mind that when someone from the department comes to do a registration visit, they’re looking for ‘evidence’ that learning is taking place. An impressive system doesn’t necessarily convey that.
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CASH Records

No, this has nothing to do with money! 😉 Regardless of your approach to home education, I suggest keeping the following in mind so that when the time rolls around for your registration visit, you’ll have all you need on hand. Keep your records:

  • Combination
  • All Together
  • Simple
  • Happening
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Combination

A combination of record types, but nothing complicated and certainly not copious. Use a variety of records. You could jot down the day’s activities in some form of diary, take photographs of projects or organised excursions, and keep a portfolio of the best examples of work. You could keep a folder for test scores or other aspects of the home education experience that you deem significant.

Some approaches to home education lend themselves to record keeping, others don’t.

  • If you’re using a variety of workbooks, it’s easy enough to date-stamp the top of each page as it’s completed, and make notes in a journal or on a record sheet of some sort.
  • If you’re using observed free-play, however, taking photographs would be a more relevant option, with perhaps a paragraph written weekly or monthly, giving an overview of what learning has transpired.
  • Having records in a variety of formats helps break up the monotony for you, too.

Use tape recorders, video cameras, screen shots of computerised test scores, blogs. Get creative, think outside the box. Ask yourself, ‘How can I record what’s going on here?’

You don’t have to record every little thing, because that would intrude into the learning that’s taking place. But every now and then you think, “Wow! I should record that somehow.” Those are the moments to grab. Get into the habit of jotting things down.

It might be as simple as jotting a sentence or two in your journal about a conversation you shared with your child, or as complicated as re-enacting a scenario for the video camera. Every now and then, some children have even been known to enjoy doing their own record keeping!

Just remember that every child’s education is more than workbooks, so even if your approach is more formal, do keep some sort of record of input from other sources, too.

A combination of records help reveal the
diversity in your home education experience.

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All Together

This is just a practicality. If you allow your records to get lost in the clutter of your desk, or spread all over the house, when you come to need them, you’ll be in a panic.

I’ve always had what I called my Master Folder. This was just the prettiest, most unusual looking 20-page display book I could find. Something with stripes or swirls differentiated my folder from the plain-coloured folders we used for some of Hayley’s work. In this Master Folder, I kept the current ‘run sheet’, a one-page overview of all the activities that were planned for the term, any tests (if and when we did them), ideas for future lessons, photographs or pamphlets from excursions we’d done, and anything else I felt was relevant to my record of what we were up to. Sometimes I’d even used flow-charts (mind maps) to help me figure out how we were going to approach the different subjects for the term, so those would be in the Master Folder too, to help keep me on track during the term.

Anybody from a truly natural learning perspective has either just died laughing or had an apoplectic fit by now! It’s about doing what works for you, and at the time, that worked well for me.

These days, we are far more on the natural learning side of things. Now, I rely on the heavily notated fridge calendar, photographs and periodic jottings to help my fragile memory.

The main point here is to keep all your records in one, easily accessible place – whether that’s a folder, a file, a cardboard box or a computer.

Whatever works, use that, in one place.
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Simple

If the system isn’t simple, you won’t keep it up to date. What’s simple for someone else might look like a nightmare to you! One lady said to me once, “What you do terrifies me!” I wasn’t suggesting she use my system, just chatting about what I did. Fortunately, she was smart enough to do what didn’t terrify her. Make sure that whatever you opt to do is you-friendly.

Each year, I’ve modified my system somewhat, just to keep it as something I’d use. Sometimes, each week of first term brought a little adjustment to what I was doing, but when second term commenced, I had something I was flowing with nicely.

If the system isn’t working, change it.
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Happening

Whatever record keeping approach you choose, I encourage you to maintain it regularly. I’m told it takes only three weeks to develop a habit – personally, I found that it takes pretty constant vigilance on my part, as I’m far too easily distracted!

In years past, I sat beside Hayley and updated the bulk of our records as work was completed. A more recent approach sat on the end of our kitchen bench and was updated either daily or weekly, depending on what was happening.

I’ve heard of families where one parent sets aside a certain time each day for marking work and record keeping. Providing you don’t find that onerous, that can be a good idea. These days, I’d hate it.

I’ve heard of other families who either jot down rough notes of what they’ve been up to every month or so, and others who just make notes from memory when an inspection is looming. Personally, my memory is not that good! I just find that doing a little record-keeping, often, is less stressful for me than trying to rely on my possibly unreliable memory at a later date.

There are families where the children love recording their own activities and progress to such an extent that they are in charge of their own diaries. If that works in your family, do that. Just make sure that it is happening, rather than being ignored in favour of the X-box or other current favourite diversion.

Remember: good habits help. That’s what this is about: you finding habits that help you prepare your registration submission with ease, and being able to access memory triggers that, when the registration visit happens, reveal the richness of your home education environment.

If it isn’t being done, it isn’t helping.
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Keep your records simply and often – it won’t inconvenience you much, and in due course it will save you mountains of stress because all the information you need is at your fingertips.
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“… was very uncomfortable with no paperwork to support the
mission request. He wasn’t going to ‘do nothin’, as he said,
without seeing some[thing]. …’no tickey, no laundry.’”
~ Christopher Simpson

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