Notebooking seems to me a rather fancy name for project work. Or maybe project work is just as fancy a name for what is putting-down-on-paper-what-you-have-learnt. It’s really an organic form of unit study, or unit study for autonomous learners. More long words! How about this: A child begins a study of a topic of his or her own choosing, and pursues it for as long, and in as many directions, as they desire. Starting points can be conversations, field trips, acquired or borrowed books, documentary films, anything at all really.
If, for example, one of our child notebooks for half an hour one morning on the topic of some aspect of the human body, maybe 5 minutes is spent reading, 10 minutes discussing it, 10 minutes drawing/colouring/painting, and then 5 minutes writing. After several weeks or months, I will gather together their various pages and worksheets and drawings by broad (or specific) themes, and bind them together simply into booklets. We might have a range of separate studies of various creatures, and then a thousand sketches of a Formula 1 car. They often enjoy designing a cover/title page.
Notebooking works perfectly for us and its function is threefold:
1. It brings a loose structure to what is essentially unstructured learning, without making us slaves to the structure since we remain in control of the direction of learning.
2. It offers an opportunity to practise reading and writing (two out of our 3Rs), as a means to an often more interesting end, as opposed to reading and writing for their own sakes. It’s also a chance to draw and label (although drawing in our house is sort of equivalent to breathing, so more chances are hardly required).
3. It provides a method of preserving some of our studies, which gives satisfaction to the learner both then and in the future, and encourages them to take pride in presentation. It can also be handy if your home education provision is being inspected (although please note in the UK this is not currently required by law).
Our kids have produced work on animals, birds, ocean life, rocks and minerals, the human body, stars and planets, and other geography and history subjects. Pre-printed pages are really not necessary. Blank, coloured or lined paper works just fine, or – get this – an actual notebook. I just find it easier to organise if the pages are loose, and when a child decides to study a topic for a couple of weeks and then moves on, yet returns to the original topic several more times over the course of a year or two. We have one child in particular who works in this way, and it’s almost as if he has a rota system going on, you know, like Ancient Egypt – Gemstones – Football – Ancient Egypt…
Here’s a few of our notebooking pages from our 7 and 9 year-olds (apologies for the lack of colour), to give a flavour. I am sharing some free blank notebooking pages for you to download, which I hope might save you some time. If you’re looking for even plainer pages, Donna Young has a great selection. If you are looking for something more theme-specific, then take a look around Notebooking Nook and The Notebooking Fairy.