Friday, October 9, 2015


When I first heard of notebooking, a skeptical friend told me that it was simply an educational fad that would soon pass.  But 9 years later, I'm still using this method with my children, and each year I am more convinced that multitudes of school children would awaken from their boredom if they could trash their fill-in-the-blank sheets and begin to "notebook" instead. Well, they'd also need some interesting "living books" and lots of free time to explore interests...but you get my point.

What exactly is notebooking?  My spell check tells me that it isn't even a word, so if you're new to the term, you're in the majority.  

Notebooking is simply recording what you've learned in a notebook in a fun, interesting way.  We've found that 3-ring binders are great for this, so I buy them in bulk at the beginning of every school year when they are on sale.  

Sometimes the children want to make a "lap book" instead, which is what the boys chose to do today when they were reviewing in their minds what they had read in Rifles for Watie (one of our very favorite books in our study of American history). Lap books are different in look but the same in concept as other "notebooking."  Instead of using a 3-ring binder, a lap book is made from a manilla folder.

Today the boys opted to begin making lap books, and they love the process so much that they continued making them long past the time we usually wrap up our history learning.  Whether it's a lap book or a 3-ring binder style of notebooking, the concept is the same: draw and record what you know from what you read.  This requires them to produce something of their own, and when they do that, they own it.  Fill-in-the-blanks, true-and-false, boring exercises in textbooks all lack the substance and sticking power that notebooking has.

Think of the traditional worksheet/busy work as a small bowl of prepackaged crackers.  It's quick, easy, and gets an immediate result of "filling" a little tummy.  Thirty minutes later, it's forgotten and hunger is not satiated.  Notebooking, in comparison, is more like a Thanksgiving meal.  It takes more time to make and eat, but it's fulfilling and bursting with multiple flavors that are savored.  One child may shun the green beans but may pile on 3 helpings of mashed potatoes, while another wants an equal spread of all foods present.  And everyone leaves the table stuffed and with sweet memories of the experience.  

THAT is notebooking.
Here D is making a picture that includes a home during Civil War era, so he pulls out books to reference

 Lap books are often folded inward toward the center fold, making it open like a door.

Sometimes we pull out our old lap books and notebooks, and it's a lot of fun to remember what we learned in days gone by.  Here are some examples of lap books they made in the past.  (Forgive the photos that are on their sides.  Blogger will not allow me to flip them, and I'm not going to retake them!).  :)

Here was a lap book made during the Bejing Olympics.  

Inside, there are SO many things you can do with lap books and notebooks.  My children always love making pockets and flip-a-flaps, so often they will incorporate things they learned in these fun ways.  

A pocket containing "postcards" made by one child.  Each postcard has a fact or aspect of China.

News stories that they liked were pasted inside.  A medals count was made on a chart on our wall and then photographed for the lap book.  They included information about Eric Liddell, a missionary to China, because they remembered that he had won an Olympic medal in the past.

We found a China prayer request calendar for the entire month, and they included this in their lap book.

They learned a couple of Chinese words and added these to their lap book.

Here is a lap book one child made years ago when we studied Turkey in Ann Voscamp's  A Child's Geography: Explore the Holy Land, which we enjoyed and hope to return to again next year.

These were all parts of the book that our son (age 5 at the time) remembered and drew.

And now for some examples of notebooking in 3-ring binders...

When the blood moon dazzled us a couple of weeks ago, we brought the telescope out onto the back deck and just watched the eclipse in progress.  This was a big hit, and the next day the boys each drew a blood moon for their notebooks.  (Again, sorry for the sideways photos!)

Sometimes at the end of the school year, when we are cleaning out notebooks, I will keep some of their work in these collective notebooks that span the years.  I wish I would remember to keep more of their things, because these are so much fun for all of us to go through and remember things we learned in the past.  I keep these notebooks on my shelf, and they are collections of past notebooking projects.  

In the science notebook, I have dividers for the different areas of science that we have explored. 

Here's HB's record of what she knew about the sun and moon when she was 9 years old.

One year we studied flying creatures...

 And here's a sweet reminder of our trip to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.  The day after our first visit there, they drew and wrote what they remembered.

Some nature walks were also put into notebooks.  This one reminds us of the beautiful fall in the Georgia mountains where we used to live.  This was done back in 2006, when my children were still young; so I made this in my own nature journal and added a fun fall poem.  Seeing their momma take the time to enjoy nature and create this was motivation to do this sort of thing on their own.  Now that they have been notebooking for many years, I no longer have to provide examples to follow.  In fact, they think of things that I would have never thought to do myself.  

Bible also lends itself well to notebooking, and it's precious to me to look back and see the different Scriptures that have been deposited into their hearts.  Many years ago, we learned Psalm 23, and HB and D illustrated what it meant to them.

One thing I love about notebooking is that it inspires creativity.  The sky is the limit (almost!) to what they can do with the information they have learned.  

Here is a page from the science notebook of yesteryear.  One child had used scrapbooking supplies to make a page about comets.

See the pocket on the lower right corner?

Inside the pocket is this clever "broom" intricately cut at the bottom (cute, right?!)

And on the flip side of the broom is this note of how comets leave behind a trail of dust.  Clever!!
This is a notebooking page about Mars.

To illustrate craters on Mars, a crater was drawn onto paper, and then a tab lifted out a large rock with the description of how craters are formed.

We also keep a notebook for "Living U.S. History."  This is for all the at-the-moment things that we study when they are happening...  Presidential races, inaugurations, Presidents' Day, MLK Jr Day, Thanksgiving, etc.  

Here are some pages from a Presidential race...

And, regardless of our personal opinions on which President is elected <smile>, it is still very interesting to watch the inauguration and to see the schedule of events, the map of the parade route, etc.  This is history that our children are actually experiencing in real time.

At Thanksgiving, we often remember back to the first Thanksgiving.  We have studied the colony (we even made a replica one year!), their way of life, their interactions with the Indians, etc.  Whatever we study and make, we include in our Living U.S. History notebook.

And often our road trips are either put into individual notebooks or are included in the Living History notebook.  This makes a fun record of memories from vacations and road trips.  Along the way, they experience different cultures, geography, foods, onsite history, etc.

And let's keep this real...  Notebooking is not always an orderly, neat process!!  If you're looking for a neat (boring!) process, just stick with the fill-in-the-blank sheets.  Creativity is often messy, so a certain amount of grace must accompany the momma who guides her children into the creative process.  And after the mess is cleaned up, the notebook pages become a treasure for many years to come.  

Anyone remember what they learned from fill-in-the-blanks?  Really...try to recall something you learned from those worksheets that you did for 13 years in school.  Anyone have any fond, beautiful memories from those endless exercises at the ends of the chapters in a textbook that are meant to check what we remember?  

We remember what we form an emotional attachment to.  We remember what we create.