Lesson 3: Notebooking

Let’s recap.

  • You identified your busywork and square pegs.
  • You removed busywork from at least ONE subject.
  •  You practiced ORAL narrations with your children at least one time.
  • Narration and notebooking are tools you can use with or without curriculum.
  • Narration and notebooking are not limited to a particular homeschool methodology.

All good? you are ready for NOTEBOOKING!

Notebooking = Creating and compiling a personalized notebook of learning experiences, new knowledge, insights, sketches, illustrations, creative writing, reflections, and more! This is not a diary, but more like a scrapbook of things learned.

girl with notebook

The notebook takes on the personality of its author (your child).  He decides what content to include, how to present it, how to organize it, … how to shape what he’s learned.

The notebook captures the journey of his learning. His notebook records new knowledge as well as reflects his deepening understanding of the world, his developing writing voice and creative talents.

Components of Notebooking

There are two primary components used to create notebooks.

  1. The written component
  2. The visual component
Notebooking Samples

Instead of filling in the blanks of a worksheet to test what your child has learned (or not learned), give him the opportunity to show and tell what he has learned and what interested him the most. This method requires more than memorizing a few facts in order to later pass a test.

The pages he creates for his notebooks capture the knowledge he has learned using his own words, images, and personality. His notebook reveals his thoughts, feelings, and insights about the topics he studied.

A Typical Day with Narration & Notebooking

The Written Component

Let’s say your child is studying the late Middle Ages and the current topic is Marco Polo. You and/or your child will read (or watch or visit) any variety of sources on Marco Polo.

Next, your child will orally tell back (narrate) what he has learned from these sources. The focused attention needed for oral narration helps him create mental notes of what he’s learning. This begins the creative process needed for writing it down later.

The written component can be expressed in a variety of ways and added to his notebook:

  • a written narration of a topic regarding Marco Polo
  • a list of interesting facts learned about Marco Polo
  • copywork from one of the books read and/or a quote from Marco Polo
  • a poem
  • a list of new words (maybe with brief definitions)
  • an essay about the culture of this time period
  • a fictional story intertwined with events from Marco Polo’s life
marco polo
Marco Polo Notebooking Page created with our Publisher APP

Encourage your child to add his own thoughts about the ideas and events he encounters in his study as he builds pages for his notebook.

The Visual Component

During the study, your child will undoubtedly form mental pictures from what he has studied. We want to capture these as well. This forms the basis of the visual component. Some of my childhood memories solely exist because of photographs. Without the photographs, I would have forgotten.

The visual component is important for this same reason — it makes a different sort of mental connection than the written component. It creates an additional layer of this study in his mind.

The easiest way to express the visual component may be with an inspired drawing or painted picture.  He could also:

  • add a map of Polo’s travels
  • create a timeline of Marco Polo’s life
  • add an image of Marco Polo
  • illuminate his notebook with borders and/or clip art
  • copy the cover of an interesting book he’s read about Marco Polo
  • add a coloring page
  • add a photograph of a completed hands-on activity related to his study
Marco Polo Timeline (with figures from HomeschoolintheWoods.com and map from KnowledgeQuestMaps.com)
marco polo map
Marco Polo map (from BiblioPlan.com)

There are no limits to what you can add to your notebook!

Notebooking Ideas

Priceless Benefits of Notebooking

Some benefits of using notebooking in your child’s education:

  • girl with notebookrelieves the pressure of studying and memorizing facts for the short-term test.
  • removes the confines of a curriculum’s scope and sequence.
  • disciplines your child to soak up important and interesting information as he studies.
  • unlocks a love for learning as your child makes his own connections and sees purpose in what he studies.
eric notebooking

With notebooking, he has the freedom to:

  • study topics deeply and intently based on his interests.
  • choose what visual elements to include in his notebook.
  • decide how he wants to write about it.
  • organize information in his own way.

Unlike many other learning activities, your child won’t quickly forget what he has notebooked. In addition, he has a notebook to remind him if he does need to jog his memory! He will own more knowledge and express it effectively to others.

Through notebooking, your child becomes a storyteller, a teacher, and in some cases an expert after spending so much quality time with his studies. It’s an enriching experience and one that neither of you will likely want to trade for the prior busywork.

Through this journey, your child will use and develop a variety of skills – listening, narration, organization, art, and of course writing skills.

Perfecting his abilities to extract important information, to synthesize this information with his own opinions and former research, and to finally organize it all in such a way that “teaches back” through both written and visual media are PRICELESS skills.

girl writing notebook

Final Thoughts

Your children’s notebooks are a treasure!

  1. Yes, they serve as a fantastic way to review what’s been studied.
  2. More importantly, like a family photo album, they strike an emotional connection for the child.  The notebook is his story about his learning journey.
Alex Creation Notebook

Quick Start Homework

This lesson’s assignment is a bit LONG.  I suggest you take at least 2 days to review the information and complete the tasks with your children.

  1. TODAY = read the whole assignment
  2. TOMORROW = skim over it again and start notebooking! 🙂

Super Easy Materials List

  • Resource(s) you plan to read, watch, or study for this subject.
  • Paper.  This can be regular notebook paper, blank paper, or blank notebooking pages like our “Boxes & Borders NP” in the Free Resource Hub or Member’s Printables library.
  • Writing utensil.
  • Art medium: colored pencils, crayons, markers, paint, etc. Use whatever your kids prefer.
  • 3-ring binder or 3-prong folders (if using loose-leaf paper or notebooking pages).  For a super quick-start, you can use one for the whole family.


Please read this all the way through before beginning with your children. I’ve provided helpful tips to address roadblocks you may encounter along the way.

By now, you should have removed busywork from AT LEAST ONE of your subjects, correct? Notebooking is NOT something to ADD to an already overloaded day. Instead, eliminate the busywork and replace it with notebooking.

With that ONE SUBJECT in mind, let’s get to the homework.


Following our previous narration tutorial, read and have your children orally narrate back to you.

  • If you come across any new names, important dates, or unfamiliar words, you can jot these down on a white board for later.
  • At the end of the reading and narrations, allow time for an optional brief discussion. This is NOT a lecture session and NOT a time for you to provide a summary of the reading.


Ask your children to think about these two questions:

  1. What did you think was most important or interesting about what you studied today?
  2. What kind of image or artwork would best show what was most important or interesting?

Then, give each child their blank paper or notebooking page(s). If using notebooking pages from our Free Resource Hub or Member’s Printables library, allow them to pick what size/# of art frames they want to use and print that page for them.

3. The Written Content

What do we write?

Approach this as lightheartedly as possible because this seems to be the scariest part for most kids … WHAT DO I WRITE?

With their answers to the two questions above (from step 2), they now have a good starting point for the written component of their notebooking page. Remind them of their answers. In fact, ask them for another short oral narration to gently boost their confidence … reminding them what they already “know” about their topic.

I would frame 2 options to make this easier for reluctant writers:
1) Write a narrative that includes their most important/interesting point.
2) Make the important/interesting point the main topic of their page.

Either way, we have encouraged them to choose a focus. It will be up to them to evaluate what info they want to keep and what can be discarded.

Remind them … there are no wrong ways to do this!

Continually encourage them to make this page about what they know and not about what you know or can remember for them. They need to develop their own thinking skills here. Be sure to provide them access to notes, new names, new vocab words, and dates from the reading so they will be inclined to include them.

It may take some time to adjust to this process. After all, it requires higher thinking skills.  Start gently. Be patient. Be overly encouraging. It is so worth it!

After they get the hang of narration/notebooking and become more confident of their writing ability, they can venture off in any direction they want. I find this little bit of focused help, in the beginning, makes things easier especially for your reluctant writers.

How Much Do We Write?

An easy guideline for the length of writing, at least in the beginning, is to require them to write at least one sentence per year that they have been schooling. Example: 1st grader-1 sentence, 2nd grader-2 sentences, 4th grader-1 paragraph, etc. Of course, this is just a starting point for those who aren’t your natural writers. Your natural writers will naturally want to write more. Middle school and high school children should be writing multiple paragraphs.

For younger kids, you may need to be their pencil if their hands cannot keep up with the words in their brains. The creativity and words are there, but they may not have the spelling or handwriting skills needed to keep up with their flow of thoughts.

[Shameless plug here … I created our Notebooking Publisher web-app for situations JUST like this.  When I had a handful of young ones in elementary school, being their pencil was almost impossible.  Now, with the Notebooking Publisher, you can pick their notebooking page and type directly onto it as they dictate.  Print and off they go to add their artwork!]

Don’t stifle their creativity by limiting them to words they know how to spell or write. If you have young ones that need this extra help, plan for it. The extra time is worth it. You will treasure the difference it makes in what they will want to write when they know they are not limited.

What About Grammar, Spelling, Writing Style and Structure?

Teach grammar, spelling, and writing skills separate from your notebooking time. Do expect your children to correctly use the skills they’ve learned thus far. However, do not graffiti their hard, creative work with your red pen. If the temptation is too much to bear, have them read aloud their narration to you (oftentimes, they’ll catch their own mistakes this way).

If they incorrectly spell a word they should know, you can lightly circle it with a pencil (and put a dot/star out in the margin of the same line so you can easily recheck their correction). If they make poor use of grammar or writing structure/style, I make note of it and we work on this during our grammar/writing lesson time. Of course, if a child is being lazy and making poor use of the skills he does possess, then you may need to have him redo his work.

I use the child’s notebooking to show me how their skills are coming along. Their notebook will display the journey of their growing writing and artistic talents. It’s so much fun to watch kids read through their notebooks from previous years, pointing out the ways they wrote certain words, sentences, the way they drew, etc. They see the journey for themselves.

So, I advise you to go easy on the technical aspects of their writing (for now). Be their editor when asked. Encourage them to write BIG thoughts, with enthusiasm and passion.

4. The Visual Component

Now that they’ve chosen their topic and written about it, ask them how they would like to show what they learned or how they can complement their writing by adding any of the following:

  • an illustration
  • a diagram
  • a map
  • a colored picture
  • a photograph
  • some decorations

Try not to structure this too much for them. In the beginning, they may need some suggestions to help them get started, but for the most part, encourage them to pick their own artwork. This is their notebook and we want it to be an extension of their creativity.

5. The Finished Page

When they complete their page, be sure to put a date on it somewhere (bottom corner maybe).  If it is loose-leaf, add it to their binder. You may find it easier (at least in the beginning) to keep all of your notebooking pages in the same binder. Fill a binder with sheet protectors, if you prefer, to protect their pages and then slip the pages in as they complete them.

If you continue with notebooking, you may choose to use different binders for different subjects/studies. Or, you can use one binder until it becomes full or until it contains enough of a certain topic/subject to move some pages to their own binder. There are no rules here. I do it both ways and both make complete sense.

If you are done with that topic, then move on to the next. If not, make more pages throughout the study.

You might decide to do a more detailed page together the next day that includes some of the facts or details that you feel are most important. This is okay too!  Maybe you want them to do a particular type of task/writing activity … like writing a poem, copywork, or creating a timeline or map.

Notebooking can be as guided as you want it or as free as you want it.  For me, I like a relaxed balance of both.  Here’s the key: Providing some structure is beneficial, and at times necessary, as long as we do not turn notebooking into the busywork we set out to eliminate.

6. Do Not Skip This: Share The Notebook

I will be the first to admit that sometimes I forget to read my kids’ notebooks. Not reading your child’s notebooks is like not grading their math book. First, you are communicating that their work must not be too important otherwise you wouldn’t be neglecting it. Second, it sets the bar low for what you expect from their notebooks. Without feedback, it’s unlikely they will grow their skills and, in fact, they will likely become lazy and uncaring about their work. This is NOT what we want!

Set aside time for your kids to share their notebooks with you and/or the family. For my own reference, I like to mark somehow that I read their page (just a little check at the bottom or a sticker/stamp).

Provide specific, verbal, positive feedback. Say something more than “Good job!” Pay attention to their details so that they will be encouraged to keep adding more details! You could say something like:

  • I like the way you described this part of the story. It helps me ‘see’ it.
  • Your illustration really fits your narration topic.
  • Great job using that new punctuation!  You nailed it.

7. Share the Experience with Us

Please share your photos and stories!  I would love to hear about your experiences and to see photos of your kids’ notebooking pages.

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Basic Lined Notebooking Pages

100 unique notebooking layouts using a variety of borders and clip-art. Also includes 25 color border pages.

  • 100 different notebooking layouts/designs
  • 25 color border pages
  • primary-dashed and regular line options
Boxes & Borders Notebooking Pages

Notebooking pages with over 150 different border options and a wide variety of portrait and landscape layouts plus 3 line options for each lined page.

  • over 150 different bordered notebooking sets
  • portrait and landscape options for each set
  • portrait has 26 page options; landscape has 19 page options
  • standard, standard-dashed, and wide-dashed line options for each set
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All-Purpose Notebooking Pages

All Purpose Notebooking Pages
Our All-Purpose notebooking pages are your go-to notebooking pages for ANY topic your child wants to study.

These sets include over 100 page layouts, 150 border styles, and varying line options to accommodate all students.

Titles include: