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Portfolio Keeping, Unschooling, and a Charlotte Mason Co-op!

By Heather Idoni

Added Friday, November 10, 2006

The Homeschooler's Notebook
Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
Vol. 7 No 51 November 10, 2006
ISSN: 1536-2035
Copyright (c) 2006 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

Welcome to the Homeschooler's Notebook!

If you like this newsletter, please recommend it to a friend!




Notes from Heather
-- A Charlotte Mason Co-op!
Helpful Tips
-- Unschooling Finish Line
Website Winners
-- A Literature Resource
Question of the Week
-- Your Questions
-- Your Answers
Additional Notes
-- Searchable Archive
-- Our Email Group
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information

Notes from Heather

A few weeks ago I invited readers to write in about their local
homeschool co-ops. One reader shared about her Charlotte Mason
based co-op and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it! I thought
you would be as inspired as I was, so here it is for YOUR enjoyment,
as well. Grab a cup of tea and enjoy this issue! -- Heather


A Charlotte Mason Co-op
by Janey Phillips, (a reader in Texas)

"I am part of a co-op this year that was formed to implement the
Charlotte Mason style of learning. The moms all wanted to have the
co-op provide opportunities for some of the things that seemed to get
'skipped' at home. We have eighteen kids who participate and the
age range is from 9 to 16, with the 11 to 13 age being the predominate
group. Moms share the teaching responsibilities. We meet one day
a week, for 3 hours. Almost all of the participants are also involved
in a homeschool string orchestra that is taught by one of our co-op
moms; they meet the same day, from 10:00 to about 11:15. After
orchestra, some of the co-op moms gather at the meeting location
and eat picnic lunches with our families. Lately we've had such
pleasant weather, we've eaten outside the building under shade trees.
This gives moms a chance to visit before classes begin, and the kids
eat, then run off to play together.

Our class time begins at 12. We have an introductory Latin class,
using Latina Christiana; four of the eighteen students had already
passed this point in Latin, so during the Latin class they work on
individual studies brought from home in another room, or a couple
of them might play a game of chess.

Then we have a class that rotates weekly between art skills, picture
study (art appreciation), and nature study. The mom who teaches
the art classes is an art major & a Charlotte Mason adherent, so
she is great for the job. A different mom leads nature study, and
she varies the style of class each time. Sometimes she brings in
nature for them to learn from; one week it was poison ivy plants and
look-alikes, which was important before nature walks. One week
we did a nature walk for just 10 or 15 minutes outside the building,
with everyone picking something to write about in nature journals.
The nature mom has also set up a monthly field trip with a local
state Forest Service employee. The first one was a pond study, and the
kids got to do water sampling, look for insects and other critters that
live in the water, and learn about the conditions necessary for various
species to live. Other nature field trips in the offing include a visit
to the national forest to see the red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, a
nature walk for the purpose of tree identification, and a night at the
nearby college's observatory to see the stars. We asked for and
received a private viewing due to the size of our group, which will give
the kids more time at the telescopes than they would otherwise have had.

After art/nature time we have a short 15 minute break with snacks.
The kids are encouraged to go outside and run around. Sword
play and soccer ball-kicking are popular during this time. We meet
on a church campus, so there is a small playground available also.

Our next class of the day is Shakespeare, and this one is age-divided.
One mom takes the younger group on an enjoyable and fun read of a
slightly abridged version, still in play form. They are having a blast
and have had sword fights, recitations, and scene enactments. The
older group is reading the original work of the same play, Romeo and
Juliet, and has a Shakespeare project to complete for the term.
Options for the project were wide-ranging in style and the students
have already jumped into work on their projects. One is rewriting the
play for a children's illustrated book; one is making a Romeo and
Juliet board game; one is writing a song for Romeo and Juliet, and a
couple of the boys are working on websites.

Our final class is a science lab. One of our moms is a biology lover,
and she is leading the kids through dissection of four animals this
semester. They have a class to discuss the creature and its internal
workings one week, then actually dissect the next. They are doing
an earthworm, grasshopper, frog, etc.

We also have one mom who serves as our events coordinator. She
does the calling and setting up of special field trips, collects funds
for the tickets, etc. She also coordinates the weekly snack time,
which we rotate between moms. Our group will attend a theater
performance of Romeo and Juliet this month, and she arranged this
for us, making sure we got tickets early enough to get good seating.
Again, the size of our group lets us get tickets at half-price and we
all voted to spring for the top price range for the event. Later,
during the spring semester, we plan to visit an art museum in Houston
that will have an exhibit of French painters from the 1800s. These art
works are on tour from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art,
and include Degas, Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Millet, and
others that the students will be familiar with. It is an opportunity we
don't want them to miss.

One of the best things about our co-op is the richness of the experi-
ences we are being able to provide the students. I love walking into
the room where the kids are engaged in drawing or dissection and
hearing the hum from them. It says they are really involved in the
present activity. When the minds are engaged that way, learning is

Some things just work better in a group setting (drama for one), and
a small co-op is the best of the good things about a 'classroom'
situation while still retaining the style and benefits of home educa-
tion. The eight moms involved were not all a closely knit group of
friends to begin with, but were brought together for their mutual
interest in Charlotte Mason education and the ages of their children.
We are working together well, and though it's only about six weeks into
our first semester, the general consensus is that we all want to
continue. At the end of each semester we are having a 'performance'
night, with the kids doing scenes from Shakespeare, showing off their
Latin chants and recitation, and displaying nature journals, art work,
and Shakespeare projects from the older class. We'll invite dads,
grandparents, friends, and have finger foods. The kids are really
looking forward to this as well."


Wow! What a neat co-op. Did you like that? Do you have your own
experience to share with our readers about homeschooling? Please do!

Send your emails to: heather@familyclassroom.net



Helpful Tip

Unschooling to the Finish Line

[Editor's note: I rarely get to hear from a mom who has grown
children who unschooled 'all the way'. Even if you don't fully
understand or agree with this method, I think you will enjoy
reading what Elizabeth has to say!]

"I can tell everyone from experience that un-schooling works.
I have adult children who graduated with honors from leading
Universities. The interesting thing is they found college level
work very simple!

When I started homeschooling with them, there were no web-
sites, and very little information available. I did not like public
school curriculum, so I decided to let them learn at their own
pace. We wore the library out. We went to every museum
within 500 miles and they developed a love of leaning. We built
rockets, dug wishing wells, built a playhouse, and pretty much
anything they decided they were interested in.

They learned their multiplication facts through working out plans
for things they wanted to build. They learned algebraic functions
by rocket and aircraft building. I found if they could find a need
for something, they learned with total enthusiasm.

I still have one ten year old at home and he is also an un-schooler.
He might be my brightest of all of the kids. He is completely self-
motivated and if something interests him, he will wear out the
books and computer until he has all the information.

He had NO interest in reading until age 8. Then he wanted to learn
to read words on the computer and in 6 months he was reading on
a 7th grade level. If I had tried to make him learn earlier, he might
have not developed his love of reading. We could have fought from
age 4 to learn words but I doubt he would have progressed to the
level he is if we had been trying all those years. It might have made
him have a dislike of reading which could never be overcome.

I believe children are natural learners. I don't care if mine stand on
their heads to watch a National Geographic video, just that they
absorb what they watch. I don't care if he sits at a desk or on his
bed to learn his chemistry elements, just so he learns them.

I guess what I am trying to say is let your children be kids. Don't
try to make them Einsteins or child prodigies. Just let them play.
If you give them the opportunities to explore, they will learn and
exceed all your expectations." -- Elizabeth


Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share? Please write!
Send to: HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

Website Winners

Database of Award Winning Children’s Literature

A searchable database of over 3900 children’s books -- all award
winners! Looking for a children’s book set in Australia or a book
covering a specific historical period? You can search for these and
many other specific criteria at this site! There are books listed for
every age from preschool through high school. After you enter the
site, click on "Search DAWCL" near the top of the page.

[Our website winners are selected each Friday for us by Cindy
Prechtel of Homeschooling From the Heart! You can visit her
VERY helpful website at http://www.HomeschoolingFromTheHeart.com
Thanks, Cindy -- this one looks fantastic! -- Heather]

Last Issue's Reader Question

"We started homeschooling this year and I am wondering if there
is a general rule to follow regarding keeping any of my children's
elementary age work? I don't have a lot of storage space, and we
are not required by our state to keep a portfolio of our child's work.
Is there anything that I should keep just for the sake of keeping a
record or is it better to just keep 'scores' in subject areas? I
only do oral testing at the moment, and even that is really relaxed."
-- Jennifer in NC

Our Readers' Responses

[Wonderful responses from our readers!! Thanks to all who wrote.]


"I also live in NC, but I keep some of their best work every year.
I am blessed with a large 5 drawer file cabinet and have a drawer
for each child, with a file folder for each year, divided by grade.
As the children produce work that I think is worth keeping or earn an
award certificate, I just put it in their folder. I keep things like
handwriting samples, history notebooks, stories, artwork, and things
I think they will be interested in seeing in the future. I do not
keep things like spelling tests, math workbooks etc. My 3rd grader
already thinks her kindergarten handwriting book is a hoot and loves to
go look through her stuff... and my 10th grader has almost filled the
drawer! Good thing we only have two more years!" -- Cheryl in NC


"You might want to consider keeping a sample of your child's work
from the beginning, middle, and end of the year, stubs and pictures
from field trips and co-op activities, and pictures of your child's
projects (kinda' difficult to save science experiments!). Put these
in a scrapbook, if for no other reason than it will bring you and
your family years of pleasure... and may also answer the question,
'What do you do all day?'

Making a scrapbook could be incorporated into your homeschool
planning -- get your child involved and teach art, writing (captions,
journalling), timelines. One or two pages for each month with extra
pages for special trips or projects would make a wonderful keepsake.
It would be your child's 'yearbook'.

Welcome to homeschooling!" -- Tricia in NH


"We are not required to keep any sort of a portfolio, either, but it
is wise for several reasons - so you and your children can look back
on what you've done, in case anyone questions what you have done,
and in case you become incapacitated and someone else needs to
step in.

I do it in two steps:

1) I keep a notebook of what we do so that I will be able to check
easily what we have accomplished.

2) I keep a file with samples of work - art, occasional worksheets,
drawings, etc. I also try to take pictures on field trips.

Even if you are not doing testing, there are still writing projects
and such that can easily be included in a folder." -- Elouise in BC


"There are great programs out there for keeping track of scores
and such on the computer. Unfortunately, I don't have one to
share right now, but I bet you could do a search online and find a
number of great choices. In terms of a hard copies, I think I might
hold on to the tests or graded papers and keep a grade book, too.
There are a number of free forms that you can use online - or you
can go to your teacher supply store and get a grade recording book.
Also - not sure this is a part of what you are looking for in terms
of 'keeping papers and things', but it is a great tip someone gave me
...and I'm so glad I use it. Each year at the end of the school year
I pick maybe a 'dozen' keepsake papers for each child - along with
all their test papers - and I put them in a folder to have for record
keeping or just for our family to have and look back upon. These
are the only ones I keep. If there are more papers, crafts, and
treasures I had hoped to keep, then I put all the ones that I think
about keeping and organize them on my bed or wherever and take
a picture of them. That way we don't have all that clutter and we
can still look back and remember the MEMORY which is really
what we are holding on to." -- Charity in NY


"I keep a manila folder of assessments and anything special that
shows progress. For this year I have my son's kindergarten assess-
ment, a picture he drew that showed a huge leap in the art process,
a letter he wrote me (where love is spelled 'wof') and a couple math

A friend takes pictures of her children's art projects and work and
makes them into a scrapbook with all important information such as
when it was created, what unit it was for, and anything her boys had
to say about the topic." -- Mia in MD


"What I am doing this year is making a digital portfolio of my kids'
work. I'm scanning or taking digital pictures of their work and
assignments and saving them on a disk. This will save a ton of
storage space and is easy to share with friends and family." -- Pam


"I've always kept grades and samples of their work in every subject
as well as any testing scores, transcripts etc. I have a big thick
binder and put each year in it. Several years can fit in one. I
do not think it is necessary to keep all their work." -- Penny P.


"I live in Indiana and we are not required to save papers or keep a
portfolio... BUT, the representative for the state suggested that we
keep the previous year's papers till we have another year completed.
For example: My daughter is in 5th grade. In our file cabinet I have
all her 4th grade papers and I have started keeping her 5th grade
papers in another file. When we are completed with the 5th grade
year, I will throw out the 4th grade papers. This is not a state
regulation. The representative just strongly suggested it in case we
were ever questioned by the state, so we would have some 'proof' of
our school year." -- Martha D.

Answer our NEW Question

"I'm sure you all experience burn-out from time to time. I am in my
14th year of homeschooling. I homeschooled my first born from
beginning to graduation last year and I have three more kids to go.
They are 9th grade, 6th grade, and 2nd grade. So, as you can see,
I have a long way to go. What I'm experiencing now is more than
burn-out. I love my kids and totally enjoy having them home with me
everyday, I just wish I didn't have to homeschool them. We have
changed our curriculum and that has helped a bit. We have lessened
the amount of running around with activities so that we're not so
hurried and stressed. I know that God has called me to homeschool
my kids, so what else can I do?" -- Noreen


Do you have some encouragement or direction for Noreen?

Please send your answer to: HN-answers@familyclassroom.net


Do you have a question you would like our readers to answer?

Send it to HN-questions@familyclassroom.net and we'll see
if we can help you out in a future issue!

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Tags:  homeschool portfolio, unschooling, charlotte mason education, charlotte mason homeschooling, charlotte mason homeschool, homeschool lesson plans, homeschool high school, homeschool highschool,  language arts, homeschool support groups, field trips, homeschool co op

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