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Keeping records: a few ideas

One of the many characteristics that mark homo sapiens out as different from other animal species is that we think, make, and behave in creative ways. One of those creative memory aids is record keeping.


One thing record keeping appears to do is to assist the human memory and to allow the trust necessary for mass co-operation. So when you keep records about your child’s home education you are following in a long, well established human activity that will help you to hold many pieces of information, across a stretch of time, thus allowing you to reflect on the successes and the progress your child has made. Of course, it’s also useful if you need to write a report as well.


Written records


Every day things happen and it’s easy to lose track of just how much you do and achieve with your children.


You can go old school and keep a diary in a simple exercise book or journal, sheets of paper you staple or file together, or go all out and get something you find truly joyful to engage with. We here at EO love fountain pens for ourselves and the kids (we’re hoping Santa gets us one of these!) and coloured inks– if you’re writing every day then it should be special!


Computers and phones allow you to create anything from a simple daily diary up to more complex recording methods and there is plenty of free software around to help you structure that. At home, you can use a simple sheet to act as a diary and even get the children to make some notes about what they thought was the most important part of the day.

A weekly diary


A daily diary will tell you what you did today, but unless you reread the diary across a period of time, the development and progress aren’t necessarily obvious. You could go through on a monthly basis, or weekly if you find it a joyful thing to do, and extract a few key points that help you to realise just how far you’ve come.


For example, a diary entry might say Tarquin was trying to make an apple crumble, but he didn’t read the recipe or didn’t understand the weights and measures and got it wrong. After eating a very dry crumble Tarquin didn’t want to make it again. Two months later the diary says Fred wanted to make a crumble out of the blackberries you had collected together and Tarquin helped by reading the numbers from the recipe and making sure that he used the right ‘weights’ on the scale- 2g of butter is not a lot, but 2 ounces is. Somewhere in between those two events, Tarquin got to grips with the difference between a number and a weight! Now that is important progress.


Another way to keep written records is in a table. Tables are a great human invention that can work in many ways. You can compare one thing against another, group things under a title or simply organise your thoughts in a way that is logical to you. Using a table in this way can allow you to return time and again as your child does to the same topic, especially useful for child-led approaches.


Long term projects



Visual records


One of the simplest ways to keep records is to use a visual medium, like photographs and videos. The visual of a photo or film stimulates the human mind in ways that words on paper simply don’t.


Most phones have video capabilities as do tablets, but you will need software or apps to edit them. Gathering a series of short videos is a really easy way to keep track of developments such as conversational vocabulary your child uses, their enthusiasm for whatever they are passionate about, an increase in physical capabilities, as well as just remembering how much fun learning is!


Many of us can relive a moment, the sights, smells, textures, feel, emotions, all of the sensations from a single photo image far quicker than we can if we have to read all about it.  The excitement of finding a newt in a pond, the thrill of catching it, and the feel of handling it, that drive and concern for the little, delicate life that is held in the hand.





So, if you are not quite up to editing a lot of videos and want a simpler way to record your education, then collections of photographs might be just what you are looking for.


Organising photo images


The greatest advantage for photo memory collections is the ease with which you can group them, whether that’s a physical print out or on a computer or other device. You can move them around as many times as you like, reshuffling and making different connections between the contents, giving yourself a different perspective on the experiences your child has had.

They weren’t just baking biscuits, they were having a daily experience of how mathematics works in the adult world. That bookshelf you built was an exercise in measuring and angles. Organising the tiles in the bathroom was in fact tesselation. Collect those images as a reminder that most of the ‘maths’ you do has context, is preparation for adulthood and is just plain useful.


You can easily collate memories spanning months or years in one single collection, and if the images are digitised, then copies can be made and added to several collections.


Here you can see these two little wildlife hunters have a dead or alive policy. The images show a sustained interest in finding animals in different environments, wherever they go, and delighting in the discovery. They could be the conservationists of the future- and we need more of them than we need accountants.


Little wildlife hunters



You can create a collection of events based around a specific time, like the day at the science museum; a place that you visit only once for a purpose; a spot you visit at different times of year to experience the change of the seasons; a group of people doing something together like a workshop; gathering regularly for a long term project; a theme such as nature days out, walks in the local environment, visits to museums or galleries. There are no real rights, wrongs, or limits.


Once you go beyond simply time framing what you have done in a day, like a visual diary record, you are moving into a realm of grouping for a purpose. Pictures are a great way to jog your memory, but why stop there?


Combining the best of both


Get creative!



There are many software packages that are free and allow you to collate and curate in any way you choose. EO uses Canva and Visme to produce its social media posts and infographics, but they can equally be used to organise a collection into posters, cards, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook posts.


The fun childhood activity of scrapbooking has also gone digital, so there are no excuses. You either cut and stick in the real world, embellish or not, or have fun on the devices replicating an old scrapbook. Either way, the action of organising and reorganising will allow your mind to gently revisit and consider how far you have come.


You can use some of these packages on your phone too so those great photos you took of the days in the woods and all the exciting things that happened because of it, or the museum visits for the last 10 years, they can be brought together as a record for you, family and friends whilst lying in bed with a cup of coffee and a mince pie!


Of course, if you can get the children on board and they do this too, then that is a life skill, a set of important digital skills for the ever technological world, and let’s face it, those digital natives are much better at it! Win-win.