by Jessica Leavitt
It has happened to most of us. The end of the school year comes sneaking up behind us. We turn around to meet it head on and we see our three-inch binder (aka a pre-assembled portfolio from HOME) staring us in the face. Empty. Maybe you have a few worksheets saved, or maybe you just forgot to write down every book, hike, and educational game played this past year. Maybe you aren’t sure what “counts” as evidence of learning. If only you had an assistant …
From one procrastinator to another, I can assure you that there is hope. Lots of hope! Your children are the best assistants you could hope for. Your phone (if it has a camera) is a treasure trove of evidence. Your calendar is another.
The notice of intent that you sign at the beginning of the year states that you must cover English, language arts, math, science, social studies, physical education, health education, library skills, fine arts, and in at least one grade from 6 to 12 Maine Studies, and at one grade level from 7 to 12 the student will demonstrate proficiency in use of computers. We will leave Maine Studies and computer proficiency for another blog and just tackle the remaining subjects.
First, start easy. Gather any paper evidence you have from the year. Workbooks, worksheets, printouts, artwork, outlines, writing samples, etc. Sort these into piles for each subject. If your pile is small, or non-existent, we will address that later. Review each pile with your child and date any samples to the month they were completed if a date is missing. This is where your child will be a huge help. “I remember doing this math worksheet the same day we decorated gingerbread houses!” December 2020 for the win. The goal is to have two samples/examples per quarter, per subject for the portfolio. Once you have sorted and dated what you have, you can make a list of what you still need. This is a good time to have your child go through your home library and pull out books for the book lists. Children have a great memory for books! Don’t forget Audible books, podcasts, and books on CD. You can list the same book for multiple subjects: Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry can be on your list for English and Social Studies. Children can also help with field trips. Start with phone pictures and look for any outings you took as a family. Your children will remember what you
saw/observed/learned each trip. A hike can count as a field trip and also count as Science and P.E. and sometimes Social Studies (map use, landforms).
Now, for any missing pieces. I have broken the portfolio down by subject and included examples to help you think outside the box when it comes to evidence. You are the teacher, you are qualified to teach, and you are qualified to write summaries of learning that took place without the use of paper and pen or technology.
· English, aka reading and writing: I’m missing a book report from 3rd quarter. My daughter created clay characters from a fiction podcast we enjoy. I took a picture to show the grandparents. I will print the picture with a short description: Main characters depicted in clay from Purple Rocket Podcast, Camp Dino, March 2021. My son built a LEGO replica of the pirate ship from a podcast: LEGO replica of pirate shop from Purple Rocket Podcast, Grandpa’s Globe, March 2021. Look for connections to literature that your child may have made spontaneously. My children gave daily updates at dinner to my husband on the plot of books we were reading for almost a month: Daily summaries presented orally of Tennis Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, January and February 2021.
· Language Arts, aka grammar and vocabulary, aka English, aka English Language Arts. Did you discuss vocabulary words in any read-aloud or assigned reading? That is evidence: Discussed vocabulary from The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkein, October through December, 2021. Include a short list of vocabulary words with definitions. You can also use the same piece of writing for more than one subject. If your child wrote a story using punctuation that you used for English, use it again for Language Arts and highlight the skills used: correct verb tense, correct use of punctuation.
· Math: Quantity is usually not a problem with math. Choosing 8 samples of work is only a snapshot of your child’s learning for the year. That is okay! Do not feel compelled to include more. The samples should show a progression of skills, but the progression can be slight or major. If you are like me and let your child throw away their dreaded math workbook in celebration, you can also use life examples: My son has a virtual piggy bank that he manages year-round with Spending, Sharing, and Savings categories. He sets spending goals and then tracks his account balance until he has enough money for his desired purchase. This is a year-round activity in economics that can count for any quarter.
· Science: Did you know that knowing how to dress for different weather is an early elementary science skill? Rocket science is definitely science, but science does not have to include rocket science. Have you ever identified a plant/tree/rock/mushroom/insect on a nature hike? Include it! Hiked Beech Hill in Rockport, identified blueberry plants and milkweed, observed flies waking up, April 2021. Science has MANY branches: veterinary science (does your child help care for pets?), physics (how does wind speed affect nerf bullets in flight), anatomy (did anyone break a bone last year?), medicine (did you discuss viruses in 2020-21?), chemistry (did you bake this past year?), electric circuits (Snap Circuits? Potato battery?), botany (did you plant a garden?), biology (did you discuss ecosystems near you?), zoology (did you learn about any animals? did you watch Wild Kratts or Animal Planet?), and the list goes on.
· Social Studies, aka History, Government, Civics, Culture, Religion, Geography, Cartography. It may be possible that you haven’t read a living history book this past year. It may be possible that no historical fiction was read, either. If this is the case, I highly recommend (only because I cannot insist!) that you include living history books and historical fiction novels in your homeschool. Possible overlooked evidence includes: learning about holidays during the year, teaching your child the Pledge of Allegiance, studying church history, learning patriotic songs (also counts as Fine Arts/Music), discussing the election with your child, letting your child navigate in the car using Google Maps. My daughter drew several maps of her bedroom and our house this year and last year. It wasn’t part of our “curriculum,” but it still counts as evidence of map drawing skills.
· Physical Education and Health Education: I have combined these, since they are interconnected. A log of physical activity showing gross motor skills is simple enough for P.E. (bike riding, 30 minutes, September 2020 … hiking, 1:30, October 2020). Include any outside sports classes, Wii sports, virtual exercise classes, workout DVDs, etc. Health Education: Did your child visit the doctor, dentist, therapist for any reason? Log it in the portfolio (if you want to). Did you discuss viruses, personal hygiene, puberty? Did you read any books about health? (We read Timmy Has a Toothache, but we also read several historical fiction books that touched on the polio outbreak in NYC, measles, and scarlet fever, all involving quarantines, and none of which I had planned!)
· Library Skills: I know, I know. The libraries were almost all closed. This section focuses on teaching Library skills when you couldn’t get to the library. Internet safety comes to mind – document lessons and house rules you have taught your children. Online research skills include finding the date of your source (kiddle.co has kid-safe sites to use as examples for the internet) and plagiarism (2nd grade and up). Research skills in general fall under library skills. Even a non-writing 6yo can draw and try to label a picture about a non-fiction topic and you can record the source(s) used. There are other activities you can do at home to support library skills. Your child can sort fiction books by author’s last name. You can also sort fiction books into different genres. Discuss the spine, front cover, back cover, title page and illustrations in a book. Your child can also sort non-fiction books, but sort by topic. Have discussions of whether a book about pandas should be in the China pile or the animal pile (for example). If you don’t have enough non-fiction books, you can use clip art for book topics and sort that way. Older children can assign Dewey Decimal numbers to the topics. Show your child how to use the online library catalog if you have a library card and library with that capability.
· Which brings us to Fine Arts! Fine Arts is possibly the most fun of all, and the one subject that gets pushed aside each year. Fine Arts includes music, art, and theater for the purpose of the portfolio. Even with my lack of focus, I can gather plenty of evidence for Fine Arts all year. We sing Christmas carols, church hymns and prayers, and a variety of songs each night at bedtime. We practice rounds (unsuccessfully), keep a beat, a play on my phone’s mini piano. We watch Little Einsteins! We have an amazing set of CDs which narrate the life and music of famous composers and musicians throughout history ($8 at a HOME used curriculum sale!). My daughter sculpts with clay, my son sculpts with LEGOs. Both children have drawing pads and various drawing utensils for free drawing. We use puppets and act out short stories through play.
Spending time with your children is the real key to homeschool success. Everything we do together involves a type of learning, simply through our conversations and observations. We learn from each other! Your child’s portfolio will be a wonderful reflection of their learning throughout the year. Include your child when putting the portfolio together and pay attention to favorite subjects and activities. This can help you plan for next year and will give your child confidence by getting to contribute to their educational plan. It can give you confidence, too, by seeing how much progress your child has made when you weren’t looking!
Jessica Leavitt is a former elementary teacher who now homeschools her two children. She enjoys camping and hiking with her family, loves children’s literature, and works from home part-time. Jessica supports the Early Learners group for Homeschoolers of Maine and believes in the importance of play for children of all ages.