A Perfect Method for Keeping Unschooling Records

Last term, this old mother learnt a new trick. After using the same method (my old exercise book) for many years, to record my girls’ learning activities for registration purposes, I actually considered a new method. And I liked it. I discovered Evernote!

I mentioned this program in my last video. I said, “I think Evernote’s the perfect record keeping method for unschooling.” That’s a big claim, I know. You might already have a system you think is pretty good. But if you don’t, read on…

If you do a Google search for Evernote and homeschooling, you’ll discover that a few homeschooling mothers, such as Pam, have already written some great articles about how to use this program. There’s even a couple of ebooks you can buy and download. So I thought I’d just share a few basic details about Evernote, and then concentrate on some specific unschooling uses.
So what is Evernote?

It’s a paperless system for getting organised: for keeping records and making other notes. After signing up, you can download Evernote onto your computer. As long as you keep within the upload limit for each month, using Evernote is free. If you want to increase your uploads, the annual charge is very reasonable. Anyway, it doesn’t cost anything to try it out. Evernote has mobile versions too which can be synced with a PC version.

So I downloaded Evernote and started exploring. I discovered that I can make individual notes which can be tagged.  Notes can be organised into notebooks. Notebooks can be stacked into bundles.

I made a notebook for each week of the school term. I labelled them with a number from 1 -10 and added the date of each week. I stacked 10 notebooks together to represent one term.

Each weekly notebook is full of notes, one for each learning activity. I labelled each note according to the key learning area it belongs to eg English, Maths, Science etc. Some notes have more than one label. I also added tags to each note.

That’s the basic set-up of my records. Now on to what I really love about Evernote.

I can record details of each learning experience within each note. I can copy and paste images of books read, or DVDs watched, or games played.

I can clip screenshots of websites we’ve visited. Here’s a shot of a Brainpop video the girls watched, complete with web address. I have similar notes of Youtube videos too.

I can take a photo of any craft projects in progress or completed and upload them to a note. I can add a description too.

Any learning activity can be photographed and added to a note. I’ve been snapping photos with my tablet which is automatically synced with my PC. (I could use a smart phone if I had one.) These are added to my Dropbox and then I upload them to an Evernote note. I could also add the photos to a note from my Picasa album, or directly from my tablet photo gallery into the mobile version of Evernote. Lots of ways of doing things! The whole process takes only a couple of minutes. Very simple.

I can import whole articles from either the Internet, or my own computer files, into a note. This is a screenshot of a note containing a blog post Sophie wrote. I clipped it directly from her blog. We have imported articles written by other people too.

If an activity is done more than once a week, I use the same note. I add a yellow star icon (from my icon file) on the note for each time the activity occurs. This is a note that records Gemma-Rose’s reading out loud times. I have also recorded, in a similar way, books I’ve read out loud, DVDs we’ve watched together…

I can make a note for regular activities such as piano and singing lessons, practices, sports activities etc. This note can be copied to each of my notebooks. It’s quick and easy and I don’t need to retype notes.

I can import emails into a note. This email is from DIY, telling Sophie she completed the Rainbow Loom jewellery challenge. I have also imported screenshots of her projects directly from the DIY site.

If I haven’t got a photo to add to a note, I usually add an icon to make the note look attractive. I’ve collected a lot of free icons into a file on my computer. Adding one to a note takes only a couple of seconds. I could have added a photo of the scones Gemma-Rose baked but I forgot to take one!

I can reorganise my notes easily by using the tags. For example, I can see all the books we’ve read by clicking onto the tag ‘books’. I can organise all my notes according to a particular key learning area such as English by using the tag ‘English’.

Other ideas:

  • I have imported screenshots of online computer games, activities, quizzes, websites explored…
  • I’ve added photos of outings.
  • I’ve copied and pasted in lists of library books borrowed.
  • I’ve added copies of poems, images of paintings, quotes from Shakespeare, still photos from movies… anything the girls have discovered and found interesting.
  • I have added Word documents from my computer files or the girls’.
  • My notes include images of sheet music and music files.
  • I can add recipes.
  • If something can be scanned, it can also be imported into Evernote.
  • If something can be photographed, in it goes!
There are a few additional products that can be downloaded and used in conjunction with Evernote. I added words and arrows to the images in this post using Skitch. I use Evernote Web Clipper to take screenshots, or clip articles or bookmark web pages. These are automatically uploaded into the notebook of my choice.
Summing up: My homeschool notes are full of photos, screenshots, video and website links, blog posts and articles, Word documents, music files, images, emails, book and DVD covers, book lists, descriptions of activities… They represent the diverse learning experiences my girls are experiencing while unschooling. I think my notebooks look rather impressive. I hope the educational authorities do too! The best thing is that I enjoyed putting together last term’s records. It was all very quick and easy.I should add that unschooling isn’t neatly divided into such subjects as English, Creative Arts etc. We don’t necessarily ‘do’ science for example. But I am recording my children’s learning experiences in my Evernote books in this structured way because that’s what the educational authorities expect. I’ve got used to translating any natural learning into the appropriate educational language. Using the right educational language… that could be the subject of a whole new post!

So what do you think? Have you used Evernote? Or perhaps you’d like to give it a try. If you have some more ideas about how to use Evernote please share. I’m sure I still have lots to discover.

I was considering making a screen capture tutorial on Evernote. I wonder if I could manage to do that or if anyone would be interested. (Sometimes it’s easier to explain a procedure while actually doing it.)  It might be a nice challenge even if I’m the only person who views it.Speaking of challenges, I’ve been setting myself a few recently… But that’s a whole new story!

Update: I did make a screencast video of my Evernote notebooks:

A Look Inside Our Evernote Unschooling Records Notebooks

And here’s a second video which follows on from the first one:

Creating Evernote Unschooling Notebooks

PS If you find my post rather confusing, I’m quite happy to try again if you have a specific question!



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  1. Sue – this is so clear and beautifully laid out – thank you! We don't have to keep homeschooling records here in England, but I use Evernote to make a quick running note of our activities mainly because it's interesting to look back on. I do find Evernote invaluable for planning, though. I am forever using the clipper or emailing interesting snippets to my Evernote account.

    I have seen two very different approaches to using Evernote, and I'm still not sure which suits me best. One eBook suggested having lots of notebooks and using tags sparingly eg for future dates. Another author said they didn't use notebooks at all but simply tagged everything and relied on Evernote's sophisticated search facility to find items. I fear that I am using a rather haphazard mixture of the two – but when does one get the time to go back and rearrange the entire taxonomy?! Perhaps I am getting a bit perfectionist here 😉

    I am in completely awe that you have found the time to write a post like this in the middle of your blogging challenge!

    1. Reply


      You don't have to keep homeschooling records? Oh I am so envious!

      I imagine there are many ways of using Evernote. It's just finding something that suits. I like to have an individual notebook for each week because the educational authorities like to see either a daily record of learning activities or a weekly one. I don't want to have a notebook for each day so I've chosen to arrange everything by weeks.

      I've been wanting to write this post ever since I talked about it in my video. I managed to get a bit ahead with my A -Z posts so I had time yesterday to write this post. Actually, I was getting a bit fed up of writing challenge posts and it was a nice change to come to this blog and write something entirely different!

      Thank you so much for sharing your own Evernote experiences!

  2. Reply

    Hi Sue! Would the moderator just look at your Evernote stuff, or would you be able to print stuff. I normally make a proposed yearly sort of two page document for her to take, as well as a yearly progress report. I have downloaded Evernote, and haven't really had time to go and "play" with it yet, but you have done an awesome job…

    1. Reply


      I haven't yet presented a moderator with these electronic records. Every two years we are visited by an authorised person who looks at our records and plans for the coming registration period. Our last visit was a year ago and I put together a paper document which included a summary of all my girls' learning experiences. I used my exercise book notes to write this document. I imagine I will use these Evernote notes, in a similar way, to write a summary of what my daughters have been doing. I might write the summary in an Evernote notebook. I don't see why I couldn't print it if it wasn't too long. It's easy to print individual notes but there are so many of them, I'd need lots of paper and ink!

      When you get time, I'm sure you will enjoy playing with Evernote and discovering all the possibilities!

  3. Reply

    SUE!!! This is fabulous! I love the way you are using Evernote to keep your records. Mystie Winckler and I will be doing a Google Plus Hangout next month on electronic homeschool portfolios. Can we talk about your method and link to your post in the show notes? Love this!

    1. Reply


      Thank you for your encouraging comment! Yes! Please link to my post. I'd appreciate that very much. Actually, I'm in the middle of making a screencast tutorial to complement this post. I worked out how to do it and was almost finished, when my computer started whining away. Maybe I have overused it today and it needs cooling down. Very frustrating! I will get back to the recording when the computer starts to behave itself! Thank you so much for all your help and suggestions with video making. I am enjoying learning some new computer skills.

  4. PS I've just spent the morning playing with Skitch, which I'd overlooked until now. It's FABULOUS! Lots of fun, and it's going to save me so much blogging time annotating photo collages. I've just emailed my children an annotated photo showing everything Skitch can do. I'm sure they'll have lots of fun playing with it too. Thank you!

    1. Reply


      Skitch is good! I only mentioned the arrows and addition of words in my post. I'm sure you worked out the other features. I used the pixelating function too, to eliminate my email address from the screenshot notes. Is pixelating a word? My computer doesn't seem to like it!

  5. Reply

    Thanks for linking up with us on the Hip Homeschool Hop! This was a great article!

    ~Wendy (with Hip Homeschool Moms (http://www.HipHomeschoolMoms.com)

    1. Reply


      It's always great linking up with the Hip Homeschool Hop. Thank you for the opportunity to network with other homeschoolers. Thank you also for reading my post and stopping by to say hello!

  6. Reply

    I have used Evernote to keep track of websites that I wanted to use for schooling. However I need to go back in and revamp since I'm so excited about unschooling but hesitant about jumping head first into the refreshing waters. Usually I stick in a toe, then stand there shivering a bit, step out, step back in, go a little deeper, get out, go back in, talk myself into relaxing, go a little farther…until finally I've let go and thrown myself into the deep waters. I'm also a slow learner and slower changer. I'm very excited to use it to keep track of our discoveries. Do you usually use your cell phone to update to your evernote or do you carry your iPad or computer around?

    1. Reply


      It is hard to jump head first into the unschooling waters. Sometimes it's good just to plunge right in. It's not that bad when you get wet all over! Evernote is such a great tool to track discoveries as you said. Maybe all those notes you're gathering will give you the confidence to trust that your children are actually learning despite the lack of formal methods.

      I don't have a smart phone so can't carry one around with me to update Evernote. I do use my tablet, and I have a laptop which I keep on all day. I open it at odd moments in the day and add notes. I've heard other people use their phones to update quickly and easily as each learning experience happens. Photos can be sent to Evernote from a phone. It's a great system!

  7. Reply

    Is there a place to click so I can sign up for evernote from your site so you can get an affiliate fee? The ideas are so helpful for unschooling and for the blog I am developing.

    1. Reply


      Unfortunately I don't have a place to click to sign up for Evernote. I hadn't considered affiliate links. I suppose I should because quite a few people have heard about Evernote due to my posts! I shall look into it. Thanks for the idea! Thank you also for reading my post. I'm glad it was helpful.

    • SueB
    • October 7, 2015

    Hi Sue,

    I am a home-schooling mum of 3 in the UK. I have been reading you blog most of the day. I love it, we do a mix at the mo of structure and unschool. But I am seriously considering fully unschooled. Anyway I love ever-note and the system you use. I have set mine up now. Do you separate between which child has learn't what? so when you add a note do you tag it for that child?

    Thank you so much for this fantastic site 🙂

    Sue x

    1. Reply


      Thank you so much for reading my blog. I hope my posts are helpful as you consider unschooling. Of course I would encourage you to unschool! It's a very joyful way of life.

      I'm planning to make some more videos and write another blog post about Evernote. Since I first wrote this post, I have had more ideas about how it can be used for homeschool record keeping. It's a wonderful system! An easy way to separate each child's learning experiences is to add name tags. Notes can be sorted easily using one or more tags at a time. You can see each child's complete notes or just their notes for one subject. It's much easier to use tags than to create separate notebooks for everyone.

      Sue, thank you so much for stopping by my blog and writing such a kind comment. Sometimes I wonder if I have run out of useful things to say and should move on to new adventures. Your words are very encouraging!

    2. Reply


      I'm so glad you don't find my voice irritating. It doesn't matter how interesting a person is, if their voice grates on my ear, I find it hard to listen to their podcasts.

      I love sharing our experiences of unschooling and hope other people will be introduced to its joys through my stories. It's a real pleasure chatting with people who stop by my blog. I don't have all the answers and still make plenty of mistakes, but I am happy to help you if I can. When we share we feel encouraged and we all learn from each other.

      I really do appreciate your kind comments. Thank you! I feel so encouraged I want to rush off and write a blog post. Maybe tomorrow!

    3. Reply

      Why tomorrow? It's evening here and just about time to close down for the day!

      • SueB
      • October 8, 2015

      That is great Sue, yes name tags are the way to go :D. Your site is truly amazing. When I listen to your podcasts and watch your video's they are so relaxing as you have a amazing relaxing voice. Makes me want to do everything you say 😀

      No way have you run out of useful things to say!!! You are a wealth of amazing knowledge. I have only done home-schooling for 6 years and am still learning and finding my path. With your wonderful help and guidance I think I can find the right one for us. Have a Wonderful Day, and again a massive thank you for this wonderful site, Sue x

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