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Ready to start building your homeschool portfolio? Check out these expert tips from our contributing author, Hillary Swetz, a certified teacher who performs year-end portfolio reviews for homeschool families.
Maybe you just found out your state requires a homeschool portfolio as part of its homeschooling laws. Maybe you’ve been homeschooling forever, but have never found a homeschooling record keeping system that works for your family. Or maybe you still don’t know what a portfolio even is.
Regardless of where you’re at, let me reassure you (as a certified teacher who reviews these things): don’t worry.
That’s right, I said it. Compiling a homeschooling portfolio doesn’t have to be something you stress over. You shouldn’t be up late at night, worrying that one wrong laminated sheet will mean your kid is kicked back to public school.
I’m going to take you through what a decent portfolio looks like and what I look for as a portfolio reviewer. I’ll also share a few insider tips to make portfolio-making an actually fun part of your homeschool year.
What should my homeschool portfolio look like?
One of the worst portfolios I ever received for review was a garbage bag full of loose worksheets and a string of emailed photos. Please, Lord, never do your portfolios that way!
We can learn from that family’s mistakes, however. For instance, the best portfolios are…
- Organized (usually either by subject, date, or both)
- Full of examples
Every state is different, and yours might not even require you to ever show another soul your child’s portfolio. But even if that’s your case, take pride in making your homeschool portfolio! Think of it as a keepsake you can show your child when they’re older, if nothing else.
Two of the most common kinds of portfolios I view involve physical binders or electronic folders. Binders, notebooks, and accordion folders are very handy when your child(ren) works in a physical medium frequently. If your son uses a math workbook where pages are meant to be ripped out, it’s easy to just snag examples to show his progress and stuff them in the portfolio.
Digital portfolios are nice if your child does a lot of online work, or if you take a TON of pictures and don’t want to print them all out. Taking a snapshot of your daughter’s graphic design project and storing the screenshot in your digital portfolio is a breeze! Digital portfolios are also great if you have a ton of kids, or plan on homeschooling for a while, and don’t want your school space cluttered with dozens of binder portfolios.
I personally love seeing a mix of both. Print out some pictures, if just for your own reminiscing decades down the line. Also, keep copies of some examples digitally, since it can be insurance against precious work getting lost.
What should I include in my homeschool portfolio?
Again, you really, REALLY need to double check your state’s bylaws on this. (Check out the Home School Legal Defense Association’s website for a really handy guide on state-by-state laws regarding homeschooling.)
Even if your state has no requirements on homeschool record keeping, however, I generally suggest parents keep most of the following on file:
- Copies of correspondence with state and local education officials. This includes letters you might send the superintendent about your intent to homeschool. It also could mean emails forwarding test scores to the state department of education.
- Titles of textbooks and other curriculum. It’ll be so much easier if you write down that your daughter used Textbook A as a second grader. Better yet, include a reflection or review of that book at the end of the year. That way, when your next child comes up the ranks, you can double check whether or not you want to use that book.
- Attendance records. Maybe you have a little calendar you mark “school days” on. Maybe you’ve got a complete homeschool portfolio like this one that has a handy attendance marking page. Or maybe you use another system! Regardless, it’s good to have a visual reminder of how many days you’ve done in a chunk of time as you go along.
- STUDENT WORK SAMPLES! This is, obviously, my favorite part. I love receiving a child’s homeschool portfolio to review and seeing just how far they came in a single year. I always suggest parents take work samples from the beginning, middle and end of the year.
If you’re required to have someone review your portfolio to prove your child made progress, consider using some pieces that don’t show your child’s best work. Then, also include examples where your child knocked it out of the academic park. This will highlight their improvement by comparison.
- Logs of field trips, extra curricular activities, and co-op classes. After all, homeschooling isn’t just about sitting at the kitchen table in your PJs. One of the beautiful parts of homeschooling is how much you can expose them to that they wouldn’t get in a public school. Keep notes about all the little extra things you do that improve their educational experience.
Homeschool record keeping- my best tips and tricks.
I come from a local community that was very supportive of homeschooling and perfected the art over the last few decades. The best part is how every family does it slightly differently, all raising and educating great kids in their own way. But let me break down a few things that almost every successful family does:
Check in with other families you know who are homeschooling (either online or in person). Get involved with your local area’s homeschooling network. Talk to other parents you meet who know your state’s laws and see how they’re handling portfolios this year. Ask what kind of systems they use, and offer any solutions you’ve found as well.
Get an “all in one” homeschool portfolio system
Especially when you’re just starting out, the idea of storing worksheets here, digital photos there, and curriculum lists in that bin can just be overwhelming. (Heck, it’s overwhelming every year. Things change!)
I’ve found homeschool record keeping systems made for both flexibility and simplicity work best for the majority of homeschooling families. Whether you like the idea of unschooling, Charlotte Mason, Classical education, or some unique mix, you can keep track of everything with an “all in one” portfolio. The Homeschool Resource Room has some awesome “all-in-one” portfolios that tick all of these boxes, if you were wondering. You can get them directly on Amazon here.
Set time aside to update
One of the biggest mistakes that every homeschool parent will probably make at some point is waiting until the end of the year to do your portfolio. If you’re there now, it’s ok! But think about doing things this way next year.
Make a date with your portfolio once a quarter, month, or week to update it. Stash any awesome project pictures in there now, so you don’t have to dig for them come July. Make photocopies or take pictures of important documents. If there’s nothing you really feel the need to include at the time, take ten minutes and reflect on how things are going. What’s going well? What’s challenging you and your family about homeschooling now? These reflections can be goldmines when you’re looking back and trying to see trends in your year.
As a bonus, updating regularly will mean your portfolio is already organized by date when it comes time to finish!
In the end, remember that you have complete control over what your portfolio looks like and what you include in it. Take a deep breath and know that even trash bag lady’s kids all got a passing grade on their portfolios and moved on to the next academic year. You can do this!
Remember that we’re always here to help at the Homeschool Resource Room. If you have any follow up questions or concerns, email us or join our community to get fast, reliable answers to your homeschooling questions.
For more reading on this topic:
- How to Create a Homeschool IEP- 5 Easy Steps
- Independent Work: 5 Strategies for Encouraging Independence at Home
- Should I make a homeschool report card?
- Homeschool Unit Studies: WHY & HOW this Method Works!
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.