Homeschooling with Excellence no. 16

Making History Notebooks

Many customers comment that creating history notebooks is a fun way to make learning come to life. There are tons of web sites and posts about making history notebooks. We've included a few here to whet your appetite.

We started keeping a history notebook this year and have been sooo pleased. I was really worried that it would be too much for ME to keep up with, but it has been so easy and she LOVES it — we just include the coloring pages, any pictures she drew about what we were studying, some coloring page flags of countries we studied that I printed out and she colored, etc. — simple!).


We use notebooking to make our own sort-of History textbook. We average a page a week or so. For example, today we did a notebook page about Billy Mitchell (who was instrumental in starting the Air Force) and Charles Lindbergh. We used lots of cut out airplane pictures that I printed from my software and a small picture of a globe to mark the New York to Paris flight path. The kids wrote several sentences about each person. We use the notebook pages to re-enforce our Sonlight reading.


We don't do anything elaborate by any means. I let them work on their books while I read. I try to have an idea in my head before I start for the day on what they will work on while I'm reading. For example, in one of our notebooks, my child drew pictures of each character in the book. We try to do the drawing stuff while I'm reading. Then after I've read the chapter or two we have a timeline page and a vocabulary page, etc. and we work on that for 10-15 minutes.


Each week my older kids have to pick a history topic from their weekly reading and make a notebook page. It can be anything they want from pictures, to comic strips, to short reports. They also make one page per week on an Old Testament topic. Next year they'll continue into the New Testament.

Other things we include are maps, all writing assignments relating to history, coloring pages, graphs, charts, interesting pictures from the internet, and anything else we do relating to history. There books are their own and none are alike — I think they're pretty cool! My 5-year-old just has maps and coloring pages, but it really makes her feel like a "big" kid working with her older bro & sister.

Everything is three-hole punched and put into a binder filed chronologically. Whenever possible, the assignments are actually written on or cut out and pasted on heavy card stock paper. I bought lots of different colors and choosing a color adds to the excitement.

Having them make their notebooks is the best thing that's happened in our school. It's given my kids a real sense of "ownership" in their history education and history has gone from least favorite subject to second favorite.


I take pictures of them at field trips or homeschool group outings and take pictures of projects (them working on them, the completed project, activities, etc.). These go into the notebooks in addition to their regular notebooks pages.

For history, I have my daughter write a one paragraph summary of what we've read. If appropriate, she draws a picture or colors in a map. These pics/maps are done on plain white paper, then pasted to her notebook paper.

At the end of this year after finishing history, we will make a timeline. I like saving it for the end because it will be a fun end-of-year project, and will allow us to review everything we've covered in history so far.

When we took a trip, I gave each child a spiral notebook to record thoughts, draw pictures, etc. to remember their trip. Since we saw historic markers, educational tourist stops, etc. on the way this provided record of what they saw/learned while at these places. I'm also trying to keep a list of books read and read to.


We divide up the year into 10-week (sometimes 5-week) periods. For instance, my children are just now finishing up their study of World War 2. They will each put together a project book. Inside it will have a title page, then a page listing all their resources (books read, websites, videos, field trips) for the unit. They will also include a timeline (or a brief synopsis with a few photos of our Sonlight Timeline Book), and any mapping activities (we use the digital camera, take a picture of our large markable maps, type up a little paragraph about what we mapped, and paste the picture into the document). In addition, all the writing activities each child did pertaining to history will go into his/her project booklet. The finished product (we use thin cardboard 3-ring folders) is a great booklet on the unit completed. At the end of the year we have 3-6 booklets, depending on how I broke up the year.


I wanted to make sure they were comprehending what we were reading AND that they would retain it. I bought a blank book with blank hardback covers at the teacher supply store. They decorated their book covers at the beginning of the year. They loved this and did a great job! Then, every Friday, I have them draw a picture of something that they learned in History that week. They draw the picture on the upper half of the page and then write 3-4 sentences to explain what they drew. It's very simple writing, but is an adequate reminder of what we've been learning about. My kids love doing this.


We finished the book Walk the World's Rim. In that book Esteban tells Chakoh about going to Mexico and the bullfights that take place there. One of my sons concentrated on bull fighting and looked up bull fighting. He summarized bull fights on the computer and printed it out on colored paper. He took a different color card stock and added a picture he printed from a google search and added sticky letters from the teachers supplies saying "Bull Fight" across the top.

During Esteban's journey the group spends time in the Buffalo Hunters' village. My other son looked up information on indian tribes that hunted buffalo. He found a picture in a book and photocopied it and colored it of indians hunting buffalo. He summarized his material as well, again printing it on colored paper and glueing it to another color card stock. He also got pictures of buffalo from a google image search. He used sticky letters for the title of the book.

I concentrated my page on a map of the journey taken and the story itself. I copied the map from the front of the book, cut off part and colored it. I copied Esteban from Story of the USA and colored that. I summarized the story itself. I made a list of Esteban's characteristics. I too put it on one color paper and pasted it on a different color stock. I took scrap booking letters for the first letter of each word. I used southwest types of colors for my page. I also copied and colored a mesa, like the city of Cibola.

So there are three different types of pages, a literary type, one that follows a "rabbit trail", and one that takes an aspect of the book and goes a little deeper. We put maps on our pages, you could put timelines on the pages, photocopied or cut out pictures. Google image search is the greatest for finding pictures. Some pages end up being two page spreads (like mine), others, one page. My boys do very little note taking, it is usually a summary of what they learned. In some cases I do give them some direction. Otherwise I ask them what intrigues them and help them to find info about that.


The first day my daughter traces a map using tracing paper, then labels and cuts it out. Glue that to a white backing so it shows up nice & bright. Put it in a folder, envelope, or pocket for safe keeping. If she has no ideas, I ask her leading questions: "What word did you hear repeated? What do you think that means? What kind of artwork did they create?" You can also use Xeroxes or printed scans of pictures from books you've read. You can quote famous quotes. My daughter's favorite last year was "Veni Vidi Vici" so that definitely goes in the notebook! Learning about Phoenicians? Try to copy some of their letters!

Day two while she listens to the reading she draws pictures, writes down key words, names, dates, etc. Afterwards I help her write captions for her pictures, or she dictates to me. Pictures go on white paper, narrations, captions, lists, etc. go on lined paper for ease in writing. Cut each piece out separately and put it in that pocket/folder/envelope for safe keeping.

Day three it's more captions, narrations & pictures, also cut out and stored. Keep this going until you've finished any & all books you might be using. You're done when you think you've covered the time period, civilization, or block of time you think counts as "one unit."

Completing one unit takes anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks, depending on how interesting it is. We may spend 2 weeks on the Vikings but only 2 days on Samurais, or vice-versa. We love library books and usually read at least one or two each week, sometimes more. I tend to put lots on hold, then only use a couple of good ones.

When you think you're done, pull out a page or two of plain white printer paper. Hole punch it. Write the title of the unit across the top of the first page. Add dates if you're using them. Then I let my daughter arrange her cut-outs. She likes to mount them on colored construction paper and cut these out to frame or matte her pictures. She arranges them on the pages and pastes them down. Then she likes to draw shapes, squiggles, etc. to make them look nice. We use the front and back of the pages. This is the fun part, and when she gets to see the fruits of all her narrating, map tracing, drawing and caption-writing labors, so I let her have fun and arrange it her own way and have lots of freedom with this part.

Don't be afraid to include unusual things in the notebooks. Include snapshots of Roman ruins from Aunt Sue's vacation. Cut pictures out of brochures and pamphlets from Jamestown. Glue sand to the edge of the page if it's an island you're studying. Be funky and have fun! But also give yourself permission to just let a map and a 2-sentence narration suffice if you don't have the interest, motivation, time or resources to do more this week.

It takes amazingly little to put together an entire narration page. One small map, one short list (we're talking 4 words listed), one small picture plus a 5-word caption filled up our entire first history notebook page. That was all we did for 2 days of me reading to her, and that's plenty.

I didn't want my kids to get too bogged down on drawing for their notebook pages so I am using some maps, pictures, etc. that I have clipped from the Internet. For example, my daughter was reviewing the 13 colonies and I pasted a map that was not labeled onto a journal page. My son was studying Babylon and we pasted a picture of the Hanging Gardens on the top of one of his pages. We also have a digital camera and I plan to photograph the hands on activities to put in their notebook. They still draw some illustrations when it is something they are willing and able to do but I keep reminding myself that this is a history notebook and not an art class.

If you want to find out more, here are some recommended links on notebooking.