Simplifying (and Enriching) our Homeschool with Notebooking {Part 2}

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

About a month ago, we purchased brand new Notebooking journals for the purpose of truly infusing more Notebooking into our homeschool.  We have been doing Lapbooks and Notebooking pages since I started homeschooling, about 6 years ago... but never in this way.

The way we are using Notebooking now could almost be considered a 'method' of homeschool.

Our Notebooks are a HUGE tool in our day-to-day habits.  Since we've started using Notebooking more intentionally (about 4 months ago),  I've been amazed at the difference in our homeschool.

More peace, more joy, more creativity, more real learning. And this is coming from a Mom who already did quite a bit of notebooking-type-stuff!

Where we got our Notebooks - since so many of you have been asking about where to get good Notebooks, I thought I'd comment.  You can use ANY kind of Notebook.  Many Moms choose to purchase Dollar Store Notebooks and use those.  Whatever fits your need or budget is just fine.

For us, I decided to make a bit of a bigger investment.  Because I could not find what I wanted in a pre-made Notebook, I had ours made.  I wanted thicker paper (but not sketchbook thick) and I didn't want perforated sides!  Almost ALL Notebooks come with those tear away sides and I didn't want our pages to easily rip out.  I also wanted a personalized front and sturdy spiral binding.  I was also keen on plastic 'covers' to give a bit of protection for the zillion times I know the kids will place their notebooks down in a spill...

It was pretty simple to make our own.  I had blank white paper (22lb.) with a clear plastic cover and black vinyl back bound with plastic spiral binding.  Between the paper and the binding, each notebook was about $10.  We just did this at Staples.

The children use one Notebook for all their Notebooking except Nature Notebooking.  They have separate Nature Notebooks which they use weekly and have been adding to for over a year now.

Make sure you ask the person doing the binding to give you a big enough spiral bind.  Ours came back a bit too tight and I had to tear out about 30 pages in each book just to make them workable.   Each book has about 200 pages in it though so they will last a long time.  They become a source of real pride as the children strive to keep them tidy and well kept.

Hope this helps!


When my eldest son told me specifically that he wanted to use reading, narration, and Notebooking for 'homeschool' this year, I had to smile.  This statement came after only a week of reading, narrating and Notebooking through some Canadian History living books he loved (the I AM CANADA series, it is fantastic).

He was asking for a Charlotte Mason education point blank.  What he didn't realize is he's been doing it for years - its just been a bit more hidden.  I haven't been as intentional as I should have been with Narration and our "Notebooks" have been in the form of many (MANY) Lapbooks.

I've realized Notebooking is fairly uncommon (these days) and a bit misunderstood, so I've been contemplating this idea of Notebooking and how it can truly enhance a child's learning experience.

I'll share my thoughts...

Living Books, Narration, and Notebooking - A Winning Combination?

Living Books are the central focus of our homeschool.  We do not use any textbooks at all in our home.   Here is a description of a living book from Simply Charlotte Mason:

Living books are usually written by one person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts. Living books make the subject “come alive.” They can be contrasted to dry writing, like what is found in most encyclopedias or textbooks, which basically lists informational facts in summary form. You might be surprised to find that living books are available for most school subjects — even math, geography, and science! 

 We use living books for every subject and in every aspect of our homeschool.  I believe this is the starting point for inspiring a love of learning, good narrations, and successful Notebooking.

Narration is used by Charlotte Mason home educators to help children practice expressing what they have learned.  In narration, children tell back what they have heard and learned after reading a certain passage or studying a certain topic.  This could be a fictional read-aloud or a non-fiction selection they have read on their own.

It could also be an oral narration of 'everything I've learned about (insert topic or person)' type of activity.  The idea is that children learn to listen, understand, dissect, relate to, and then retell what they have learned and what it means to them.

As they grow, this will evolve into written narration as well.

Notebooking is a form of written and creative narration.  This can be done at various levels for various ages.

Notebooking pages can include anything that helps express the child's understanding and passion for his or her topic of study.  We've included things like: sketches, printed pictures, maps, diagrams, written narrations, copywork, point-form notes, vocabulary, art projects, even pretend newspaper 'articles' and interesting little magazine clippings, etc.  Really, the options are quite endless for what a child can include in a Notebooking page.  It will also vary depending on the personality of the child.

Our son will tend to do less colouring and/or drawing, whereas our daughter loves to draw and colour all over her Notebooking pages!  Having said this, our son will often give much more vocabulary rich narrations, where our daughter chooses to use art to express detail.  This is perfectly fine and encouraged because it shows the gifts God has given each individual child!

The purpose of Notebooking is to allow the individual child to create pages and projects that suit their gifts, talents, abilities, and interests.

What's so great about Notebooking?

As I mentioned above, we've actually been using various forms of Notebooking in our homeschool for several years.  I did a ton of Notebooking instinctively before I even knew about this old-as-the-hills method of self-education.  (Great thinkers have used Notebooking as a way of recording, expressing, and analyzing their learning for longer than we can track!)

We used Lapbooks like crazy when the children were young and have always created our own little 'books' about what we were learning.  I have a daughter who loves traditional Lapbooking, with all the lift-the-flaps and cut outs and mini-books.  I have a son who loathes anything that requires scissors and glue.  So, Lapbooking never clicked for him, but Notebooking, on the other hand, he loves.

Notebooking encourages children to think about and engage with their own education.  

They have to consider what they've read or heard and then consider what is most important or interesting and then express this in written and/or artistic form.  For some children, this will come rather easily.  For others, it will be a stretch and will take a considerable amount of practice and growth to master the art of creating fantastic Notebooking pages.  And that's ok.  Because, hey, we have time!

And I believe the investment in this style of learning is well worth it.

I love that Notebooking gives children the ability to be creative, and express what they do know about a subject or piece of literature.  

Rather than finding out what our children do not know (which is often the goal of traditional fill in the blanks, test, quizes, etc.) - we give them the chance to express what they do know.

No more pages of busy work and fill-in-the-blanks that amount to heaps of throw-away stuff at the end of the year.  Nope.  With Notebooking, children are creating keepsakes.  Their 'homeschool' work becomes cherished and memorable.  And in this process of creating something really worthwhile, I believe they are learning far more than they would with alternative methods.

How we've used Notebooking Recently:

Our eldest son read through the entire I AM CANADA series this Summer.  (By the way, I highly recommend this series as a wonderful 'living' history of Canada for boys!)  Because of his natural interest in this Canadian history, I decided to run with it and have him do a bunch of oral narrations, written narrations, and notebooking pages about the books and topics covered in them (things like WWI and WWII, The Titanic, The War of 1812, etc.)

Our ten-yaer-old truly enjoyed Notebooking through these books, here's a peak:

Our daughter has been Notebooking her History, Geography, Nature Study, Natural Science, Poetry, Copywork... you name it.  Here's a look at just a few of her Notebooking pages:

Our youngest son has been using Notebooking for Five in a Row, Copywork, Paddle to the Sea, and recording what he's learning from various books we are reading together.

This is an example of an oral narration where Alex was prompted with "Alex, what can you tell me about the Titanic?".  I then typed as fast as he talked (almost) and recorded word for word what he said.  This is a classic Charlotte Mason method.  You don't have to record your child's narrations, but sometimes, it is really special to add them to notebooks to show the real learning going on.  Plus, he feels pretty special having Mom act as the secretary to his Notebooking.  *wink*

I want to add, for clarity:  The Notebooking pages you see above were created with help from me.  Our children are still learning how to create their own layouts, designs, and implement ideas for Notebooking.  The art, printing, and narrations are their own, but some of the layout I definitely helped them with!  They will help choose photos, print-outs, fonts, and tell me where to put a picture,etc.  But, as I mentioned in the post, it will take some time for children to develop the skill of laying out a page of Notebooking.  The more we do this together, the more they will learn about what makes a Notebook interesting, effective, and eye-catching!  

I will be sharing more about Notebooking in upcoming posts as well as a full update of our plans for homeschooling this year very, very soon!

I highly recommend checking out  I have been loving my membership there and have already used SO MANY notebooking pages with our children.  Notebooking is freeing, but having to create your own pages can be a bit overwhelming... also, pre-done Notebooking pages make things easier for children to jump right in.   

Also, I love how open and honest Debra is about her own homeschooling journey (10 children!) and how notebooking revolutionized their homeschool.  (You need to listen to her story...)

Read Part 1 of my Notebooking series and see more of our Notebooking pages, right here.

Also, if you are looking for free Notebooking resources and downloads, check out my Notebooking board on Pinterest:

Follow Cassandra's board Notebooking and Lapbooking on Pinterest.

Thanks for reading, hope this gave some food for thought!

Free Notebooking Pages Sampler

Ideas for Celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Psst... This is only our second year celebrating the Biblical Feasts, so if you're new to this, so am I and we're in this together, sister!

It is all very new and exciting (and somewhat mysterious in parts!) to us.  We are, by no means, experts in embracing these Biblical Holidays.  It is simply my heart to humbly share our journey and hope and pray that our journey may inspire yours...

I want to quickly add that I don't plan to do a post about all the reasons you should celebrate this and not celebrate that (insert mainstream holiday of your choice).  I don't consider myself at all qualified to make such statements, nor do I feel it to be my place.  What I can do, however, is encourage you to pray earnestly for the Lord to reveal truth to you.

Also, consider reading trust-worthy literature about the origins of many of our common holidays and contrast that with what you see in scripture and what you read about the Biblical Holidays from a Christ-centered perspective.  Then - move where you feel led.


So, if you are interested in embracing The Feast of Tabernacles in your home, you may be like me and wonder where on earth to start!  This Biblical Holiday is one of the most joyous, exciting ones you can embrace and it will bless your family so richly!

Here are some ideas for celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles (also known as Sukkot):

Read scripture related to the theme of Tabernacles for every day of the Feast

Tabernacles has many themes that are incredibly powerful and worthy of serious discussion around the kitchen table or at circle time with your children.  Drawing inspiration from A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays, I came up with these 7 days of readings for our family.  We have first a daily theme or statement of truth related to Sukkot, then a corresponding scripture reading.

Day 1 - Jesus is the Living Water: John 4- the story of the woman at the well (we use a children's story bible and read from there), John 7:37-38

Day 2 - God is our Shelter and Refuge: Isaiah 25:4, Psalm 27:5, Psalm 46:1-3, Deut. 33:27

Day 3 - Jesus washes away our sins: Hebrews 9:13-14

Day 4 - Jesus is the Light of the world: John 1:1-9, 8:12, 9:5 

Day 5 - All good gifts (harvest!) come from God: James 1:17

Day 6 - Jesus is preparing our forever home (earth is temporary, like the Sukkah): John 14:2-3

Day 7 - Jesus is Immanuel, God with us:  Isaiah 7:14, Ephesians 3:16-19

Day 8 - Review the themes and verses together

Make and Decorate a Sukkah as a family

This is, by far, the most exciting and fun part of The Feast of Tabernacles!  Our children already see this as a 'tradition', in the sense that they look forward to it and cherish it!  A Sukkah is basically an outdoor dwelling place.  This reminds us of a few key ideas:
-our life here on earth is temporary (just like a tent is temporary)
-God is our ultimate shelter and refuge
-Jesus is the Living Tabernacle, through Him and His sacrifice for us, we can have fellowship with the Living God!  God dwells with us always (not just in one specific place, like the tent in the desert of the Old Testament)

You can be as simple or elaborate as you choose with your Sukkah, of course.   We enjoy using our dining tent which is already on our back deck.  We just decorate it in harvest themed decor and add lights, candles, wild flowers - you name it!  

We have chosen not to celebrate Christmas in our home.   When we made this decision (after much prayer and reflection) we realized we had about 300 'Christmas Tree' decorations to figure out what to do with.  There were many that I did give away or donate.  Some though, I kept.  These were snowflakes, stars, and sparkly lights (which work well for Hanukkah), and several earth toned ornaments and balls which we have used in our Sukkah!  We have also used our old lights to light up our home during Biblical Feasts.  This is a wonderful way to take those things that do have memories tied to them and repurpose them in another way.

Once our Sukkah is complete, we try to eat as many meals in it as possible for the week of Sukkot.   We have one very purposefully 'special' meal on the first night of Sukkot, which is pretty exciting.

Go on a Nature Walk to Look for (and collect!) the Beauty of God's Creation

This year we didn't have a ton of money to buy all kinds of fancy decor and flowers, pumpkins, gourds, etc. for our Sukkah.  What we did instead was head out to the woods to collect God's beauty right from where He planted it!  It was beautiful!  

We cut fresh wild flowers (some would say weeds, I say flowers!), and then we brought them home and arranged them in jugs and jars.  This is a lovely fall Nature Study idea or just a fun family activity to enjoy together during Sukkot.

Make Traditional Challah

My dear friend, Faith, taught me how to make traditional Challah bread a couple years ago.  This is a special Jewish egg bread which is braided.  For us, we make this bread to especially remember Christ's body.  It is braided with three strands which also reminds us of the Trinity - Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Challah is a pretty special treat in our home!   For some reason, I thought I had done a post sharing my Challah recipe - but I can't find one. For now, I would encourage you to search Pinterest and the like for a highly rated recipe... they're everywhere.

Make and enjoy a Harvest Soup

I love soup so much some of our friends call us the 'Soup Family'.  In my opinion, nothing says harvest like a steaming bowl of nutritious soup full of root vegetables, lentils, peas, beans, herbs... YUM.   On a practical note, having a big pot of soup boiling is a really easy way to have dinner ready when you are busy decorating a Sukkah, making Challah, and baking pie... which brings me to the next Sukkot idea...

Bake Apple or Pumpkin Pie (or another harvest-type pie)!

What screams Autumn Harvest louder than apples and pumpkins?!  We enjoy baking together and Apple Pie is probably our favourite.  We follow the recipe from the back of How to Make and Apple Pie and See the World and it has never failed us!

Sing Hymns and/or Carols together

Along with our monthly hymn study, we will be studying and singing a hymn by Martin Luther called, A Mighty Fortress in our God.  There are tons of hymns and carols that speak of the themes of Tabernacles.  Since many Biblical scholars believe the actual biblical time of Christ's birth is during the Feast of Tabernacles - you could even sing traditional 'Christmas' Carols.  We really love the album Glory in the Highest by Chris Tomlin.

Give Thanks

Did you know that many historians suggest that the first "thanksgiving" could really have been a Feast of Tabernacles celebration?  The first Pilgrims were puritans.  They very well could have celebrated the biblical feasts!  Either way, this is a wonderful time to find ways to give thanks to God for His abundant blessings.

Light Candles to Remember that Jesus is the Light

We love the flicker of candlelight.  There is something magical about it for children too.  So, during most Biblical Holidays, we will have candles for meal times.  We also talk about how these candles remind us that Jesus is the Light and we are also to be lights in this world.

I hope this offers some ideas for those seeking to embrace this beautiful celebration.

Doubt (A note of encouragement for the homeschool Mom who is doubting her journey...)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Us homeschool Moms know that creeping, sneaking and then looming fear that we aren't doing enough.  

And sometimes, its not just the fear that we aren't DOING enough... its the overwhelming feeling that WE aren't enough in general.  I mean, who do we really think we are?  Educating our own kids?!  And AT HOME to boot.  The nerve...

Because when you get one too many people who question you with a raised eyebrow and a look of disapproval - you start to question yourself with the same raised eyebrows deep in your soul.  Or how about when you hear of your child's friend (who's in grade two) doing an hour of 'homework' at night?  Or when your child doesn't read as quickly or efficiently as you thought they would?  Or when your son refuses to write?  Or when you wonder if it really is true that they are 'missing so many opportunities'.

Or maybe it is the nagging feeling that every other homeschool Mom is doing things bigger and better than you are.

Maybe you've never had these doubts.  I wish I could say I haven't, but I definitely have.  Especially in the first few years of homeschooling.  I remember thinking, "Wow... if only all my nay-sayers know how much I actually doubt myself - maybe they wouldn't harp on me so much..."

I remember agonizing over the thought, 'Maybe my unconventional philosophies are just bogus.  I mean, after all didn't Charlotte Mason live more than 100 years ago?'

But you know what I've learned?

I've learned how to shake doubt and send it packing.

For the most part.  *smile*

And if you are plagued with doubt these days, I want to offer some encouragement.  Whether you are thinking about homeschooling or in the first days, month, years or a decade in...

There will be wonderful days.

And there will be some pretty hard days.

There may be whole SEASONS when you wonder if you are making the right choice.

There will be HUGE learning curves and hours and hours of praying and researching and wondering what to do next.  Then you'll figure out exactly what to do next - and you'll need to change everything within a month's time.

Nope, your homeschool will not look like the public school down the street - because it isn't supposed to.

(And do you WANT it to?)

Nope, your kids won't likely learn what their neighbour is learning, but isn't that part of the freedom and joy of home education?

And nope, your children will not all learn to read at exactly the same age, because they are individuals - that's how God made them.  Unique, beautiful, with their own gifts and talents.

Some days you'll feel on top of the world and other days you'll wonder what on earth you're thinking and if anyone is learning anything at all.

But, you know what?

I'm convinced that all the doubts we homeschool parents feel are rooted in fear.  And fear is not from God.  He calls us not to worry about anything or be anxious, but instead to pray and trust in Him.  So, if you are lost in a sea of doubt and worry about homeschooling - pray.

Prayer is the only thing that has helped me fight those feelings of doubt and insecurity.  Prayer and seeking truth in God's Word.

We can fight fear with the wonderful power of the Holy Spirit on our side.  We can pray and the Lord will answer.  He is our Shelter and our Shield - on bad days and on good and at 1am when you feel like you just can't do another day.

You can stand firm in your decision to homeschool because you can stand firm in the faith that if our God is for you, than who can ever stop you?

And you know what happens?  When I get a renewed vision of why we are homeschooling and what really matters - the doubt vanishes pretty quickly.  When I see our children as souls- as beautiful, God-breathed people who have eternal purpose - all of a sudden Math and Phonics fade to the background.  Sure, academics are important - but they aren't the primary focus in our home.  (I know, crazy right?)

At the end of our lives, how well our child did in grade 5 Math or when they started to read will not matter a stitch.  What will matter is if they know and love the Lord and if we built a deep-rooted relationship of unconditional love with them - you know, the kind of relationship spelled, T.I.M.E.  What I believe will matter is whether we surrendered all to raise our children whole heartedly and disciple them with everything God gave us to give.  Did we win their hearts and did their hearts turn towards Jesus?

That is what will truly matter.

I know this deep down... so many of us do... but we need to be reminded.  And that's what prayer does.  It gives us time to reflect, to get into God's word, to fill ourselves up with truth, and to be filled with His Spirit and His purpose for our family and our children.

Fear and Faith cannot dwell in the same house.

Tell those creeping fears and doubts to take a good long hike and watch freedom and faith take over.  Then praise God for His unending grace and the joy we have in educating our children in His truth and in His everlasting love.

So... I looked up "DOUBT" in the thesaurus and I studied the list of Antonyms.  I've done my best to include as many of them as possible in the love note below.  (hug)

Dear Homeschool Mama,

When doubt creeps in, calm yourself right down and take a deep breath.  Look around you, I mean, really, really look at those precious faces.  These are the people God has entrusted to your care.  You are making people, don't break them.

When unbelief takes over, pray... and replace uncertainty with confidence in the knowledge that greater things are yet to come.  Homeschooling is the road less travelled, expect opposition.  And when it comes, choose to depend on what you already know in your heart and seek clarity through God's unbending Truth.

Trust in the journey.  Trust in the Lord.  Trust in yourself and your children too.  Rely on God's wisdom to guide you and His strength to hold you up when you're not sure where to go or if you have the ability to get there.

Most importantly, keep the faith.  Don't be afraid to admit your faults and surrender your will to His.  Anything you can do, I promise - He can do it much better. (Ask me how I know...)

Fight lies with Truth.  

Fight Doubt with Faith.

Rest assured that you will be okay and the big stuff today might not seem so big tomorrow.  Love always wins.  Gentle words are always the best choice.  And children behave the way they are treated.  You can do this thing called homeschool, because if you are called, and He will equip.

His promises are a sure thing.

Pray.  Trust.  Obey.

And the Lord will do the rest.

Love your sister in Christ, 



Five in a Row Volume 3 ~ The Salamander Room

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Salamander Room was a great row.  We loved the topics that went along with this whimsical storybook about a boy who imagines his room turns into the perfect Salamander habitat.  We really embraced LOTS and LOTS of Nature Study for the two weeks we did this unit.

Here are just some of the topics we covered with our row of The Salamander Room:

  • Language Arts - list making, story setting, parallel construction (see the activity at the bottom of the post), Reading for Knowledge (ie: how to research), copywork, narration
  • Art - a review of various concepts (shadows, viewpoint, color palette, personification, etc.), creating Salt-dough Salamanders and decorating/painting our own Salamander Room, we also discussed the use of space and practiced drawing dew drops
  • Science - We infused tons of Nature Study to inspire a deeper love of nature (as part of the theme).  We looked at butterflies, amphibians, turtles, and did a Nature Scavenger Hunt.  We took a nature walk at dusk to search for Salamanders, and enjoyed a sunset canoe trip.  We also discussed Animal Classification (see the game posted below), anatomy and life cycles of Salamanders, Crickets, Butterflies, among other things!

Some of the books we enjoyed along with our row of The Salamander Room

Studying and Seeking Butterflies!

A trip to a local Butterfly Garden was the perfect late afternoon outing to go along with our study of butterflies.  This also gave us an opportunity to discuss what kinds of flowers and plants attracted various species of butterflies.

Classification Game

This game is pretty fun and really drives home the idea of simple Animal Classification.

 Here's what you do:

-Collect every single stuffed animal or plastic-type animal you have
-Try really hard to find animals in each of the following categories: fish, amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles.
-Now create a label for each classification using cardstock or basic paper
-Put your stuffies/animals in a pile and have the children take one at a time and place it in under the correct label.
-Once they are done, check to be sure all the animals are in the correct place and discuss the difference between the various categories!

Making Salt-dough Salamanders and Creating a Salamander Room:

We used a simple recipe I found through another FIAR blogger to create easy (and super fun!) Salt-dough Salamanders.  This was a challenging craft as Salamanders aren't the easiest little creatures to mimic in shape and proportion.  It took some time and patience, but we did it!

The entire project of making the Salt-dough Salamanders, baking them, painting them, and then creating our own Salamander Room out of a cardboard box took about 3 days total.  It was worth it though!

Nature Walk - looking for Salamanders at Dusk

We had such a wonderful memory-making time one evening during our row.  We set out at dusk in search of Salamanders.  We didn't find any Salamanders, but we did find toads and a big old TURTLE!  What a gift!  It was so fun.

Loving Nature - Canoe Trip!

We set out one evening on a sun-set canoe ride as part of the theme of inspiring a deeper love of nature.  It was such a perfect night and we were blessed with many breath-taking wild life sightings!

These beautiful Swans came and swam along side our canoe!

And... a rare selfie of my husband and I... *smile*

Amphibians - Toads!

The study of amphibians in nothing new in our house.  Our kids have been playing with toads and frogs for a long time.  But, this was still another opportunity to take a closer look at these amazing creatures!  

We set up a habitat for this guy and observed him for a while before setting him free.

Other Activities:

A fun and easy Nature Scavenger Hunt - 

1. Create a guide showing different colors with numbers beside the colors. If there is a dark green squiggle with a number 3 beside it, this means, "Find 3 dark green items", and so on.
2.  Give each child a paper bag with their Scavenger Hunt Guide on the front and explain what the colors and numbers mean.
3.  Head out somewhere beautiful and start hunting!  When children find the object, they can collect them in the bags to bring home to their Nature Table(s).

An activity to go with the Language Arts discussion of Parallel Construction:

The story of The Salamander Room uses a sort of parallel construction in the conversation between mother and son.  We used a scale and pebbles to show the parallel construction as they spoke to one another.

Each time the boy asked a question, we put a pebble on the scale.  Every time the Mom answered, we did the same on the other side of the scale.

Notebooking and Lapbooking:

A Few Links:

For notebooking, I used several pages from my membership at

Free Lapbook from Homeschool Share

Free Cricket page

Free Animal Classification print-outs

Recipe and more examples of awesome clay Salamanders

As always, thanks for reading!

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