One of the more important habits I have in homeschooling, I think, is a regular workflow around documentation. Even though the state of Virginia does not require me to keep a portfolio or a record of work, I find that a regular journal of what we’re doing every day helps me reflect on our progress, remember past work, and buoy my spirits.
At the very least, I try to jot down a journal entry every morning of the previous day’s goings-on. It can be very terse — sometimes it’s simply a bullet-point list of things that we did. At other times, when I’m feeling more expansive, I reflect on how well things worked, what I’m learning about my kids as learners, what my current state of mind is, and so on.
I type these journal entries into Evernote, which I heartily endorse. Evernote is a very flexible piece of software. I like that I can dump into it text notes, audio files, pictures, and documents. Because everything gets uploaded onto the cloud, I can use Evernote on my desktop, laptop, or smartphone. I can tag things and search for things. I can use it in very basic ways or very sophisticated ways, as my mood and energy surges and wanes.
If I’m a little bit more on the ball, I also scan in the academic work that we do. I use my smartphone to take pictures of things that my kids make. I also use a scanning app to take pictures of written work — I like FineScanner, but there’s a lot of them out there and many of them are free or near-free. You simply take a picture with your phone, crop the picture to the edges of the page, and the app skews and transforms your picture into a workable picture or pdf. I also use FineScanner to take pictures of covers of books that I’ve checked out of the library so that I have a record of books that my kids have read.
When I’m really on top of things, I am taking regular pictures of everyday life, either with my smartphone or my trusty Nikon SLR camera. I’ve got the Chime app on my iPhone, which simply dings out every hour — I had a notion of taking a picture every hour of the day, but I usually forget to do this, and not just because I usually have my phone on silent mode. I do like, however, when I grab some extra photos because it really enriches the documentation that I have.
The real rub to taking all these pictures is to not just let them take up room in your phone or camera. I try every night (although many weeks, it’s just once a week) to dump all the photos out into a photo managing program like Photos. I then export them out as jpeg files, which I first upload onto Flickr and then into Evernote.
I upload them into Flickr so that I make them easy to share with others or on my blog.
I upload them into my journal entries in Evernote to illustrate and fill out my documentation.
I’ve tried more complicated workflows, and this is about all I can handle, and it works out pretty well for us.
There is one thing more I’m seriously considering, though: Recently. This is an iPhone app and subscription service. It takes 50 or 100 recent photos from your phone’s camera roll, uploads them, and turns them into a monthly or quarterly magazine ($9 a month or $13 every three months). I really wish I had the option of uploading the photos from my desktop computer, but this does seem like a cool way to have a physical record of things we’ve done that the whole family can enjoy and indulge in.