I received this question from Janna:
“How do I start notebooking with younger children who can barely write?”
Short answer: You don’t.
Longer, but even less helpful answer: It depends on the child.
My firstborn was born with an enthusiasm for school and began reading at age 4. My last born tries to avoid anything involving pencils and crayons and did not begin reading or coloring in the lines at 4 or 5 or 6. He was 7. So, as I’m sure you know or have heard, each child is different. Stop fighting that and embrace it!
If your younger child wants to read, wants to draw, wants to notebook… GREAT! Set them loose.
For all of the rest…
I do not start formal notebooking until my children are proficient with 3 skills. (By “formal notebooking” I mean creating notebooks for specific subjects/studies that include written narrations, reports, summaries, etc.)
So what 3 skills am I looking for specifically?
- Physical writing… meaning they aren’t shedding tears because the pencil hurts their hand. They can write their letters with ease. They can easily copy a paragraph.
- Phonics/spelling… they’ve completed a phonics program and can spell with at least intermediate proficiency. They aren’t afraid to use a dictionary, thesaurus, or parent when needed.
- Oral narrations… they can orally tell back short stories, fables, etc.
Once these 3 skills are established (probably around the 3rd/4th grade for most), then we begin formal notebooking for subjects like Bible, history, and science.
Prior to this point, I keep a notebook (binder) for the younger kids. We add their drawings, coloring pages, samples of handwriting or copywork, photographs from outings, pictures from nature walks, etc.
After a read-aloud, they might draw a picture (or do a coloring page) for their notebook. Sometimes, I write a short caption from their oral narration. Around late 1st grade/2nd grade, I’ll have them copy some or all of the narration from the sample they dictate to me.
After a nature walk, they might draw a picture of something they found or saw along the way. Sometimes we just print a picture or put an actual sample (like a leaf) into the notebook.
Around ages 5/6, my three younger girls did create an A-Z notebook using our Alphabet Copywork Pages (see here), but my boys had no interest (go figure). The boys seemed to especially like the animal sets though from our nature series (here). We find a page with a large coloring image and a few lines. They color, copy the name of the animal, and sometimes give me a short caption to add. When able, they will copy some or all of the caption from a sample I write for them.
Just like the older kids, the younger ones create their own cover for their notebook. They swap it out as they desire with their most recent favorite artwork. And like the older kids, they regularly share the contents of notebook with other family members (or anyone who is willing to listen).
Our formal notebooking begins with mostly written narrations and summaries.
In preparation, we work on these progressive skills:
- learn to write letters (cursive first is a great option… see this article, I’ve used their program with my youngest boy)
- learn to read/spell using a phonics based program (I’ve used both traditional and the Spalding/Orton-Gillingham methods… use what works for your child)
- build up the length of copywork passages starting with one word and working toward one paragraph
- orally narrate a short story/fable with ease.
Once these skills are well established, then we are ready for written narrations and formal notebooking.
I hope this helps Janna and anyone else with this question!