Course Description Emergency!

Lisa started making a transcript for her high school senior two weeks before it was due. Although it was a struggle, she managed to complete it on time. Suddenly her world came crashing down, and she contacted me in a panic on Sunday night at 9:00 pm. The subject line screamed “Course Description Emergency!”

She confessed her dire situation. “I just found out that I need to write course descriptions for his college application! I didn’t think I would have to do that, and now all of a sudden I find out they are due tomorrow morning!” She begged me to tell her story. “Please encourage moms to START EARLY!”

How can you write a transcript and twenty to thirty course descriptions?


You can’t – unless you have kept high school records! Record keeping is an important skill. It seems so unrelated to homeschooling, and unnatural for some of us. It has nothing to do with teaching or nurturing. After all, record keeping is the role of school administrator? Oh wait! That’s us!

A few months ago, I was working on a transcript for a high school junior. We went over every subject area, and discussed them in detail, from high school algebra to American Sign Language. Everything was complete. As I was leaving, I asked “What are you doing this weekend?” Mom didn’t hesitate for a moment, but explained that they were going to a Latin competition that weekend.

“Latin?” I said. “You never mentioned Latin!” That was how I discovered that her high school junior had already completed four years of high school Latin, and her mother had completely forgotten about it.

Now it’s not like the four years of Latin was a repressed memory of something horribly traumatic. It was obvious that the student enjoyed it – that’s why she was still competing. But this example illustrates why you want to keep high school records. It’s not just so you don’t forget that your child did a two-week unit study on economics. It’s so you don’t forget broad swaths of learning, like four years of Latin.

Keep high school records so that, when the time comes, you can make a transcript that actually reflects the courses that you taught. Keep records so that you don’t short-change your student. This mother is a very gifted home educator, and has done an exceptional job homeschooling her children, and even SHE forgot four years of Latin.

Never underestimate the human ability to forget! It can happen to anyone! Now let’s talk about record keeping, so you can make sure amnesia doesn’t happen to you.

Four Kinds of Homeschoolers

When it comes to record keeping, I have noticed that there are four kinds of homeschoolers. There are people who keep records in big plastic tubs – “tubbies” I call them. They keep all their records from all of their children in that tub, and it’s a perfectly acceptable method of record keeping.

There are parents who keep records in cupboards, cabinets or drawers. Slightly more organized than tubbies, “cubbies” will usually have one drawer for each child and for each year. This is also a fine method of record keeping, and it has the added benefit of organizing information by year.

Still other parents keep a notebook with their high school records, and it’s also a useful method of keeping records. I am one of these “binder queens,” and will go into depth about how to do this in the next section.

The final type of homeschool parents are the ones I affectionately refer to as “question marks.” When this type of parent hears about record keeping, a question mark will appear over their ever-so-slightly-cocked head as they think to themselves, “Records? Were we supposed to keep records?” This is a method that I do NOT recommend! That’s how you can lose things like four years of Latin, or being an Eagle Scout.

Each homeschool parent can decide which method is best for them. Tubbies keep lots of stuff but lack organization, cubbies keep lots of records with minimal organization, and binder queens have information on every class in an organized fashion. I usually recommend that parents try to get more organized each year. If the first year you are a tubby, try to graduate to a cubby the next year. Move up the food chain!

The Binder Method of Record Keeping

When we first started visiting colleges, I asked what records they wanted me to bring. They said, “Bring them all!” I was astonished, but I did what they wanted. I traipsed into the admission office with 6 binders full of homeschool records – one binder for each year of high school for each child. By the look on their faces, I quickly determined that perhaps they weren’t interested in necessarily SEEING my records; they more just wanted to know that I actually HAD records.

Using a binder system was convenient for me, because I had a convenient place to keep something from every class. If they every wanted to see something from Latin or from Macroeconomics, all I had to do was reach into a binder for a work sample.

What do you actually put IN the binder? My binders were 3 inch, 3 ring binders, each with a creative title like “Kevin 2005-2006.” Inside the binder, I had about twenty dividers that I labeled. In the front I had records that I needed to keep for colleges and for our Washington State laws.

The first section was for the transcript, which I actually made once the year was finished.

Then there were sections for the Declaration of Intent to Homeschool, immunization records, and annual testing records – because those things are required by our State Law. I had a section for their reading list and a list of my kids’ activities and awards. Finally, I had a section divider for each class that I intended to do that year: one for math, English, history, science, etc.

In the beginning of the year, that was all it said: “math.” Later in the year, usually in the spring, I would go back over what we had taught and develop a course description for each class.

I notice that by having a PLACE for records, I actually KEEP records.

Like my bank records, they didn’t often get filed like they were supposed to, but once every couple months, I would methodically take all the papers my children produced and gradually fill in that 3 ring binder. I was able to easily see which sections were filling up, and which sections were blank.

What to Keep

How do you know what records to keep? For some classes it’s relatively simple: keep any tests or papers that they have written, and you’re done! For some classes you may keep their lab reports, research papers, or work sheets.

But some classes don’t have paper assignments. Then what do you do? Last spring, a mother was talking to me about record keeping, and she asked what records she should keep for her child who was learning how to cook at home. The answer is BE CREATIVE! Think methodically about what they DO for the class.

In the cooking example, the mother mentioned that her daughter created a menu, did the shopping, and cooked with recipes. Why not use those for records? Save the menu, the shopping list, and photocopy the recipes that she uses – those are your records for “culinary arts.”

My sons play piano, and I was in a similar dilemma. We didn’t have any reports or homework, so we kept a list of songs they learned to play, the piano books they used, and we saved the programs from their recitals.

There are other ways to keep records. Keep a reading list of every book they buy, use, or read for pleasure. You can keep track of how many hours you spend on subjects that aren’t “bookish.” The credit value of courses like PE, fine arts, and electives may be hard to quantify unless you keep track of hours.

You can keep course descriptions from co-op classes. Some people will photocopy the cover and table of contents from textbooks. Both of those methods will really help if you want to make a course description for your classes. If you write assignments for your kids, or have a schedule for them, keep those things.

You can also do it the opposite way, and instead of writing down what you want them to do in the future, you can write down what they DID do after it’s been completed. This method will help parents who are conscientious, but not into planning ahead.

You can also have the student keep a journal of all their school work. That would have never worked with my kids, but I know it works for others. If they do that, make sure they include every book, assignment and experience. Most students will do some of their work on the computer. You can save all of it, either by printing or saving it to a file.

When to Keep Records

Homeschool records become critical once student begins high school, when they become part of a transcript that will be shown to colleges. How do you know when your child is in high school? In general, public school children are considered high school age at about the age of 14, or once they reach 9th grade.

One of the delightful “problems” with homeschooling is that it isn’t always easy to label your child as a particular grade level. I started keeping records in 7th grade, so that I would train myself to keep records and be competent by the time they were in high school. When my youngest son Alex was 14 years old, he took and passed some CLEP exams (which measure college level learning). This was a strong clue for us that it he was probably already through high school in many subjects!

Because I’d been keeping records to “train myself” we were able to collect enough information to make his transcript when we needed it. If your child is in 7th or 8th grade, consider keeping your homeschool records as if they were already in high school, so that you are prepared for anything as you move forward.

As you are training yourself to keep records, strive to keep SOMETHING to document every subject your kids learn. Keep records often! It’s a rare person who will update records every day, but everyone can put “record keeping” on their calendar every month or two.

Right now, why don’t you decide whether this year you will be a Tubby, Cubby or Binder Queen (or King!) Get prepared now, and then throughout your school year spend some concentrated time on collecting records for your homeschooled high schooler.

A little preparation now will help you avoid your own transcript or course description emergency.

Lee Binz is a veteran homeschooling mom of two and the owner of The HomeScholar, “Helping parents homeschool through high school.” She has a new free minicourse called “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make When Homeschooling High School”. You can sign up for her free email homeschool newsletter, The HomeScholar Record and get your daily dose of wisdom via e-mail from her homeschool blog, The HomeScholar Helper.

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2 comments

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  2. I didn’t start home schooling my daughter until 10th grade. I am concerned about how to keep records and this article helped. Thanks

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