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Unschooling & Recording - Some Ideas for Collecting Samples of Children's Writing

by Beverley Paine, Oct 2018

Susan mentioned to me on The Educating Parent FB page that the "biggest problem [she has] is working out how to report without any physical 'written' samples."

This is something that comes up frequently. It is definitely something that many home education registration review officers seem to want to see. After all, it is the only way the majority of teachers know how to mark and check students' educational progress. Sometimes it is easier to simply provide a few dated and annotated 'samples' than explain the legitimacy and efficacy of natural learning within the context of unschooling.

I found an easy way to collect samples of writing was to contrive some. These were always still in context with everyday life. The writing activity I chose depended on the age and ability of the child.

For example, 0ne way was 'needing' to add something to my shopping list while I had my hands covered in flour... when my youngest was still learning to write I'd spell the word aloud, when he was more able he'd had a go at spelling himself. I'd contrive to do this 3 or 4 times in a year - make sure I kept a copy of the shopping lists and dated them.

Birthday and other celebratory cards provided other samples.

Lists were probably my standby for checking how my children's handwriting and spelling were progressing. What the kids wanted for Christmas or their birthdays. Camping lists, what to take. Itineraries, what to do.

One year we had one of those calendars where you can fit a few words onto each day, and the kids would write (or draw) what they did that day. This made a fantastic record of a busy year filled with a huge variety of activities.

Another time I drew up a calendar (one month's duration) and we recorded the weather, with the children writing temperatures, humidity and drawing clouds, rain, lightning or a sun to denote the type of day.

I found science experiments often gave rise to opportunities to record, particularly change over time. Recording our expectations and then later revisiting them in light of what actually happened was often interesting!

I'd wish I'd kept up my gardening diary - I'd be a much better gardener by now if I had!

We also made lots of posters. We had a New Year family poster happening four years in a row where we'd sit down and reflect on last year's 'resolutions' and write down new ones. We made affirmation posters, signs (eg 'Please Don't Smoke'), labels on preserves and jams. We even made labels for different objects around the house (door, window, fridge, cupboard, drawer, etc) to help the children identify words when learning to read.

The kids would make maps, complete with legends. We'd create our own wordsearches, make board and card games. My youngest created a marble 'bulls eye' game and wrote out the rules. Later, as a teen, he'd photograph work he did on his motorbike and write it up on his website as tutorials for others to follow.

I've even taken photos of my grandson writing in the sand at the beach - some of his first attempts at writing were done in the sand.

I asked what other home educating parents do in my The Educating Parents Homeschooling and Unschooling group. Here are some of the ideas people use:

  • Simone uses a chalk or whiteboard to write random things on and her child will often copy it. Setting aside some time to write in her journal models regular writing practice.
  • Liz's children like to make their own books, exploring different ways to bind and illustrate them.
  • One mum, Denese, pointed out that "writing is also using the skills of planning & telling a story, be this through written text, or images, or spoken word." She said there are many ways to show developing writing skills without creating lots of written text, such as creating storyboards and making movies, using mindmapping skills, and keeping video diaries.
  • Powerpoint presentations came up a lot as a way for children to record activities while following their passions or pursuing their interests. Most children love to tinker about on the tablet or laptop computer, finding and incorporating different images or photos they've taken. My son, in his teens, designed and built a website with its own forum and would write 'how to' articles about what he was doing.
  • And although it's a bit old-fashioned, apparently pen-pals is still a thing: there are homeschool pen-pal groups that connect kids up around the world.
  • If you have a child that spends most of her time online, perhaps ask her to screenshot some of her online conversations. This may be text between different players in an online game. You will need to blank out names to protect other children's privacy. Although it isn't handwriting, dated examples of these conversations will demonstrate grammatical and structural writing development over time.
  • Writing notes to each other, such as "Outside in the garden watering the plants" or "Popped down the shops, back by 1pm", "Don't forget to feed the cat!", etc! You can blutac them to doors or the fridge...

And finally, something I'd do when pushed for time and starting to panic because there really wasn't anything we could zip out and use to reassure the registration officer that home education was happening, I'd ask the kids if they wouldn't mind penning a story or something to satisfy the registration requirements. I'd let them know it wasn't necessary but would make the process flow more smoothly, and that they'd get another year of freedom to learn however they wanted... And I found that because the kids didn't have to write every day to prove they could they'd usually say yes, and we'd sit and brainstorm ideas.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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