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Portfolios- Recordkeeping for all ages

By Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist


What records do I need to keep? How do I track all that we have done?


These are questions that homeschoolers often ask. One solution can be "Portfolios." For younger children these can be on the order of an educational scrapbook. In the upper grades a portfolio can serve as a work sampling collection or an expanded resume. Chances are you have already collected enough "stuff" to make a portfolio today.


To get started you'll need a 3-ring binder with a 1.5" to 2" thickness (the clear view pocket covers are great for letting the kids design their own covers each year) and a box of clear page protectors. These are available at any office supply store. We also like to pick up a ream of paper (8.5"X11") in assorted colors.


Designate an "in" box where the kids can put all completed work, photos, ticket stubs, brochures and the like. You will be amazed how fast it fills to overflowing. To create your portfolio, simply gather the contents of the "in" box, along with your 3-ring binder, page protectors, some markers, glue sticks and a couple fancy edged scissors, and go to work. We create each page with its own theme or collection of items, and we add captions and comments about each activity. For those experiences with no photo or saved memento, let the kids draw and/or write about it.


With younger children, you might want to take on the task of sorting the pages by topic or area of study. But older children will certainly be able to handle it themselves.  In the early years, we divided things into: Myself & Others, People & Places, The Arts, Communication Skills, The Sciences, Math & Logic, Activities, and My Faith. These subject headings are on tabbed dividers in each portfolio. Once the pages are put together and slipped into a page protector, we clip it in behind its appropriate heading. There is no "required" set of subject headings. Just use whatever works for you. Possible headings could include: Life Skills, My Community, The World Around Me, Health & Nutrition, Clubs & Activities, Physical Education, Home Economics, Social Studies, Literature, Civics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Algebra, Creative Writing, Foreign Language, History ... the list goes on and on.


It can be helpful to save lesson plans, calendar pages or journal entries where you track your family's experiences. The challenge of portfolios is in trying not to miss anything. Invariably, something slips through the cracks and goes undocumented. You might also keep track of software used, educational TV shows, videos, movies and such. You can simply list text and reference books by title and author, or photocopy the table of contents for a more comprehensive record of what was covered. Calendars can be a good source of regularly occurring activities like lessons, practices, classes, workshops, sports, volunteer work, jobs, club meetings and such.


For large projects and oversized artwork, snap a couple pictures to include in the portfolio. Be sure to include your child standing next to, or holding their work. And if a project received a ribbon or award, be sure to include that in your photo, too. Pictures of trips, recitals or of a work in progress can also be included.


Assembling our portfolio pages is something we do on icky weather days. We take over the dining room table and glue to our heart's content. You can let your "in" box be your guide, or set aside one day each month to assemble things.


For older children you can pull from the main portfolio to create a specialty portfolio for some specific purpose (internship, job interview, college admission interview, etc.). You can build the portfolio for its intended audience. You might consider including:


  • A listing of courses completed (with description and any credits or transcript)

  • Samples of work (written, research or creative),

  • Awards or recognition

  • Descriptions of jobs (paid or volunteer, accompanied by a letter of reference)

  • Letters of recommendations from other adults who have worked with your child

  • Listing of texts and resources studied,

  • Clubs & organizations (any offices held or special skills used like fundraising, public speaking, leadership, writing for newsletters, etc.)

  • Travel experiences

  • Certifications (life guard, CPR, babysitting safety...)

  • Relevant test scores (ACT, SAT, PSAT)

  • PSEO coursework

  • Competitions, contests, science fairs, etc.


Having a portfolio of this kind with you when you interview with people who have had little experience with homeschooling can give you the edge you need. They not only see your work, but they get to know you through the style of your portfolio, as well. These specialty portfolios should have a more formal appearance than the general collection in a basic portfolio. Just put your best foot forward.


Each child made their own portfolio each year of homeschooling. I have found the following benefits to this style of recording:


  1. It’s fun -- and the kids handle most of it.

  2. The kids are tremendously proud of their work and it’s fun to watch them show people through their portfolios.

  3. Portfolios are a great review tool. Each time we look through the pages, the kids vividly recall each experience. This happened as we created each page, and then with each viewing or showing of the portfolio with family and friends.

  4. Portfolios are a wonderful visual aid when explaining how we homeschool, and they are a powerful ally when dealing with skeptics.


In the hands of the creative child, a portfolio can become a work of art. And any parent into the hobby of scrapbooking will take to this like a fish to water. As I said, you probably have a folder or envelope of your child's work tucked somewhere (or a drawer full... a box full...). Pull it out and assemble a portfolio. Then share it with your homeschool support group, grandparents and anyone else who is interested in homeschooling. It can be quite validating to see the thickness of a portfolio grow, and to affirm the experiences that go on under your nose each day.


Idea list

Here is a list of everything we could think of that might be added to a portfolio:



* Work samples from assignments or workbooks

* Photos of large projects

* Special events attended

* Listing of texts and resources (table of contents page)

* Classes or workshops taken

* Music recital programs

* Listing of movies and videos viewed (with short synopsis)

* TV programs, software and other media utilized

* Evaluations or summaries from instructors, mentors, coaches and others

* Jobs and volunteer work (include date started, how often worked, number of hours and skills used or duties performed)

* Clubs and organizations (offices held, duties performed)

* Summer camp experiences

* Travel experiences

* Civic events

* Conferences, rallies, competitions and contests

* Samples of written or artistic work

* Athletic activities

* Clippings from newspapers or newsletters

* Special certifications

* Programs, brochures, tour books and ticket stubs from field trips

* Awards and ribbons

* Plays and exhibits attended

* Projects, inventions and kits & models completed

* Creations of all kinds

* Historic sites

* Nature centers

* Hobbies

* Science Fair participation

* Community Service Projects

* Lessons (musical, skating, karate, horsebackriding)

* Youth Group Trips

* Magazines read regularly

* Listing of books read from library

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