Using Note-booking with Unit Studies

using Notebooking in your unit studies

If you’re looking for a method of recording your children’s learning, using note-booking alongside your unit studies might just be perfect! Read on to find out why note booking really is the answer to all your homeschool woes…

What is Note-booking?

Note-booking refers to the recording of a child’s learning in the form of writing, pictures, collages and much much more. A note-book can be anything from a file folder, a scrapbook or a large lever 3-ring binder. I use the 3-ring binder because I have found this to be the most flexible method of recording learning. On the first day of a new unit study, I give each child a thick white 3-ring binder. These have display sleeves on the front outside and on the front and back inside. The outside display means the child can decorate their folder according to the unit study theme. And it can be changed up each unit study. The inside sleeves are just useful for containing items that don’t easily fit into the binders.

I opt to fill the binders with A4 punched pockets. These give protection to the work contained within them. It also prevents pages going missing because of torn holes. Each unit study, I also add some card dividers. This is so the children can organise their work in a way that makes sense to them.

Why is Using Note-booking alongside Unit Studies so Perfect?

Note-booking has been the perfect route for our homeschool. In fact, I believe it is one of the best ways out there for recording homeschool learning. Note-booking is perfect for all ages and is a great prelude into the study skills necessary for GCSEs and A Levels. It allows a younger child to do simple copy work, tracing dotted letters or simply copying the printed sentence above. An older child can narrate their learning straight onto a note-page. Or verbally narrate it to their parent who can type it, print it out and add it to their note-book. A parent can also dictate a paragraph to their child and have them write down the dictation. This allows a parent to check the child’s understanding of grammar and spelling.

Instead of having separate workbooks for each subject, note booking lends itself well to all subjects. A child can record a science experiment alongside a book review, both linking back to the topic of the unit. Dividers can be used to separate out the subjects, if desired. However, I have not found that to be necessary for our history unit studies. This is because a STEM activity designing a shaduf sits nicely beside a note booking page on farming or rivers. History is such an all encompassing topic which lends itself well to the rigours of note-booking.

How Should a Note Book Be Set Up?

Personally, I don’t set it up. Each folder has some coloured card dividers and some hole-punched pockets. How the children use them, and how they decorate them is up to them. I like the differences which represent each child’s personality. This is especially true when it comes to displaying their work at the end of unit presentation. Each child, even the one which hated writing, was always proud of their folders.

Can Using Note-booking with Unit Studies work for a Reluctant Writer?

Absolutely! One of the very best things about note-booking it its flexibility. This is especially true if you have a child who finds writing hard. Note-book pages generally have wider lines which means there are less to fill! They also generally contain places to draw pictures or stick photos. Again, this means less space to fill. With less space comes less resistance because the task of filling up the lines isn’t too overwhelming.

I have never been a fan of lap books because it feels like a lot of parental work for very little child learning. That said, there is definitely a place for lap-booking when note-booking. Lap book pieces can be used very effectively pasted onto a note-page. They are useful in that they offer a reluctant writer a break from the norm. Keeping it interesting and changing things around is a huge help.

Along the same vein, postcards can be used to record learning. I have written about using postcards when teaching geography. Postcards require far less writing than regular note pages do. Once finished, they can be popped into a ready made pocket on a, you guessed it, note page!

If you don’t want to use printable note booking pages, you can simply have the child type the information. If you increase the size of font, the child will feel like they are writing more. Once printed out, the child can draw pictures or decorate it to personalise it as a note page.

Does the Child Write in Pen or Pencil?

When using note-booking with unit studies, the children tended to use pencils. This is because unit studies for us end at around twelve. I find their work is neater and contains better grammar and spelling if there’s an option to erase their work. We use mechanical pencils. This stops the incessant need to sharpen pencils all day long! Using pencils allows me to correct their work without it ruining their note page.

How Much Time Does Using Note-Booking with Unit Studies Take?

How long is a piece of string? Actually, maybe it’s not quite as hit or miss as that. The children wrote in their note books every day, sometimes more than once. If I particularly wanted them to recount their learning but felt it would take too long, or they had already written and one more thing would be one too many, I’d use verbal narration. This would give me extra work in order to create a note page of their narration. However, this didn’t happen too often so it wasn’t a problem. I also found other creative ways to notebook that did not require much writing. Over the years the children have narrated using re-enactment and also dressing up to narrate their learning.

Creating a pamphlet or information brochure is another way to circumnavigate the heaviness of just writing. And all the children loved using their imaginations for activities such as these.

How Do I Decide What Writing to Set my Student?

Note-booking is so flexible that you can set your student all types of writing tasks. If your using note booking with your unit studies, you may have a good idea about topics you want to study. However, writing exercises are usually based more on the type of writing than what it is about. The topic is secondary to the skill.

We always do copy-work, dictation and narration. These to me are parent-easy forms of writing. They require little thought, work or teaching. The child simply does it and they will naturally improve over time with encouragement and pointing out incorrect grammar or spellings. The content, as such, is much less important than the action of doing it.

In addition to these forms of writing, I like to teach the children at least one type of writing per unit study, sometimes more. It may be writing a great paragraph (to start off with). Or a five paragraph essay. Or a report. Eventually the children need to know how to write letters, speeches and articles. In addition to leaflets and essays, a child needs to be able to write comparative essays, essays which critically evaluate something. These types of writing I usually plan for and leave enough time for teaching, writing and editing the children’s work.

You’ll probably want to alternate the more heavier writing above with easier tasks such as writing a post card, journal entry or n acrostic poem.

There are so many options, you can easily be led by your child for the majority of the time, adding in specific writing tasks you want them to learn as and when.

Storing Large and Small Items in the Note Books

Anything that I can fit in a notebook, I do fit in a notebook.

Obviously, not everything can be stored in a note book. Most projects can’t. I mean, you could try to cram a Greek reproduction vase into your note book folder, but I’m thinking a photo would be easier! And that is what I do. I take copious amounts of photographs, print them out and the children pop them into their note books. And it’s often on a themed note page I have made just for such an occasion. For lots more ideas (50 in fact) of what to put in a notebook, take a look at my video below:

At the beginning of each unit study, I create a unit study adventure box. This box contains all the goodies the children will be using over the six weeks of study. I then utilise the box (which is actually a suit case) to place all the children’s projects in. This keeps them safe and sound until they are brought out and put on display for their presentation. After their presentation, the children can choose whether to put them in the time capsule, or to throw them. It’s up to them.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit more about using note-booking with unit studies. For more videos, check out my fledgling YouTube Channel