Creating a Year-End Portfolio

Whether you are required to by law or choose to organize memories of your homeschool journey, creating a year-end portfolio is an excellent habit for homeschool families. In one binder you can see at a glance what books your student used, what subjects they studied, and samples of their work. A year-end portfolio provides value both now and in the future and can quickly be put together at the end of the year when you clean out your school shelves.

I learned the value of a year-end portfolio

When I began homeschooling my kids in Pennsylvania I was required by law to submit a portfolio of my students’ work to the school district each spring. I always felt a little intimidated and, I admit, grumbled about being required to do so. I wondered if anyone actually took the time to look through those portfolios, but someone did. Scattered throughout were little notes and they were always positive: “Love the timeline.” Those comments gave me some encouragement, but I still wished I didn’t have to turn the portfolio into the school district.

Several years later we moved to Arkansas. New state laws set me free from the portfolio. But my first spring in a new state, there I was assembling my portfolio just like I used to. Now it was for our eyes only. We moved again, new state laws, but every spring the kids and I still assemble a year-end portfolio.

Those years of keeping a record of my kids’ work have taught me the value of having a quick overview and summary of the year’s work and achievements. Now that I am doing it for the sake of my family, I change some of the papers I include and leave out a lot of the boring stuff.

Today I have a big box out in the garage full of my kids’ school work. As my older ones have graduated I go back through and trim things down to the most meaningful papers. However, I never plan to get rid of all of it. These are treasured memories.

Creating a year-end portfolio in a high regulation state

You may live in a state where you are required by law to submit a year-end portfolio to the school district. The things you are required to do by law are clearly much more important than anything else I say in this post.

Begin by knowing homeschool laws in your state. I’m often surprised that homeschool moms do not have an accurate understanding of their state laws. There’s no excuse for this. It takes a couple of minutes to read the laws. Check HSLDA for laws in your state. You can also do an internet search and read the law on a site maintained by the state. Be careful about relying on unknown websites for an accurate understanding of state law. You are responsible for following the actual laws, no matter what you read online.

Ask another homeschooler

After you read the law, ask another homeschooler how they comply with the law. For example, we lived in Pennsylvania, a high regulation state. The law required us to submit a “portfolio” with student work samples. I asked a successful homeschool mom, who lived in the same school district (this is important since the law is understood differently by administrators), how she assembled her portfolio. Should it be a one-inch binder, a three-inch binder, or a binder for every subject? How many pages of math constitute a “sample” of a student’s work? She gave me details about every subject. My friend explained how homeschoolers handle the requirement for a “qualified evaluator.” There was an unwritten system which was easy to follow, but I would never have found it on a website listing state laws. I followed my friend’s advice and never had a problem with the school district. Ask around.

This is your responsibility as a homeschool mom: know the laws and comply with them. As you read through my article here, only use the tips that help you to comply with laws in your own state.

Create a year-end portfolio: to see progress

Creating a year-end portfolio that includes a sample of your kids’ work is a valuable practice even if you are not required to by law. First, when you have the year’s work compiled in chronological order you may notice your kids’ have improved over time, though you didn’t notice it day to day. I feel like the grammar corrections I am making in May are the exact same corrections I was suggesting in September. It’s possible I’ve been giving the same corrections to the same child for the last seven years. I feel like I give daily reminders to begin all sentences with capital letters. However, when we see the big picture there may be a glimmer of hope.

Then, as the years pass, you’ll notice more growth and development even in the most difficult subjects. Sometimes all you need to keep going is hope – hope that your kids are actually learning from their time in your homeschool.

Create a year-end portfolio: to compare

Your collection of portfolios will also give you an easy way to compare your children’s work to each other. Not so you can beat them over the head with their sister’s superiority! Rather, because after a year or more has gone by you can’t remember what a fifth grader’s work looks like. You’ll have an easy way to check.

Create a year-end portfolio: to have a record

Creating a year-end portfolio every year will also give you a record of your children’s work, just in case. I hate to motivate myself with fear. Still, this is an easy way to show anyone who asks (and has the right to know) what your kids have been learning in school. And for many of us, moving is a reality and you may end up moving to a state with different regulations. Having a record of the last years’ work may help ease the transition.

In the end, you’ll have a whole collection of great memories. Every Spring when we put away the portfolios from the current year, we end up with piles of binders spread out on the living room floor. The kids sit with me – by choice –  and we page through our homeschool journey. Joy.

What to save in your year-end portfolio

If there are no specific legal requirements focus on saving papers with lasting value. The first squiggly lined letters. Favorite drawings. Elementary history projects. Or maybe that high school essay in which your son extolled the sacrificial love of his mother. (No – I don’t have one! Smile.) You get the idea, papers that will have sentimental value five years from now.

In the short term, you may save a few other papers that prove your child completed a book or course. Then, after a couple of years, you can go back through and cull the things that don’t matter anymore. I have never teared up over an old math lesson.

Save papers all year for the year-end portfolio

Each school year I keep all the papers my kids’ have completed in binders (or spiral notebooks) for each subject. We rarely complete an assignment and toss it. I love to see the stack of papers representing my kids’ work over the year. We can also go through and compile grades if we need them for a high school transcript. At the end of the school year, each child has three or four binders filled with completed work.

Keep each year’s work in a single binder

At the end of each school year, we sort through our binders. We work student by student, subject by subject. We save all meaningful or important papers. If you think you need to keep every page of work, scanning papers and storing them digitally is a good option. However, unless you’re really short on space, a digital copy of a favorite drawing won’t be the same as holding it in your hand.

After we have saved the meaningful work, we trash and recycle the rest. Another fun option is to use all that paper for a backyard bonfire complete with s’mores. Apparently, there is nothing more fun than watching a year’s worth of work go up in flames.

As we sort each subject we move the papers we want to keep into a single binder. I like to put divider tabs between subjects. Now you have condensed all those stacks into one organized binder.

Now, let me start at the front of the binder and work through each section:

Type up the complete course of study

At the front of our portfolios I like to list the complete course of study, or in every-mom’s English – I list all of the books we used that year. I keep it very simple whenever possible: “Completed Saxon 5/4.” When it comes to Language Arts, I list Language Arts as a subject then list everything we used: All About Spelling, Fix-It Grammar, copywork selections, poetry, and literature. Similarly, I list history as a subject and here I only list the time period we studied. This way I have a brief summary of the year all in one place.

However, because I don’t use complete curricula for history or literature I type up a list of each title my kids read that year. There is often overlap between literature and history readings. In my mind, it makes sense to list every history title together. Then I have a shorter list of literature selections my kids read that were unrelated to history. I also type up a list of all the books we read aloud. I keep these on a separate page so I can tuck one copy in each child’s portfolio.

All of these book lists come in handy as I give my recommendations here on this blog! I have lists of all the assigned books my kids read every year for the last 16 years.

Keep a copy of test scores

Behind my year-end summary, I keep a copy of any test scores my kids’ received that year. Whether it’s elementary standardized testing or a copy of the ACT results, this enables you to know exactly where those test scores are and find them fast.

Include certificates and awards in the year-end portfolio

Whether your kids do swimming lessons or compete in an academic competition like the Spelling Bee or Geography Bee, save the participation awards and put them in the portfolio. These will provide a big picture view of what your kids do, and prove they are well rounded and accomplished young people.

List field trips, outside activities, or volunteer hours

My final typed page is a list of things we did outside the home. I type up a list of all the field trips we went on that year. I include outside activities like sports, music, or drama. This is also a good place to keep a record of volunteer hours or ministry opportunities your family had. Someday you’ll enjoy remembering ways you served together.

Samples of student work

Next, include all those papers you decided to save for the year-end portfolio. Divide them by subject matter. Within each subject, I organize the papers by date.

Include pictures in the year-end portfolio

If you can print off a few 8.5×11 pages of pictures, you can include a visual record of field trips, timelines, history projects, etc. If your kids enjoy writing, let them label the pictures themselves. Don’t get carried away and create an enormous photo album, just make a small record of school-related activities.

Whew! You’ve made a great portfolio!

Now that you’ve completed your portfolio, celebrate it! Share it with Dad or Grandparents. Your kids will enjoy a sense of satisfaction for a job, and a year, well done. And guess what, mom? This is a record of your hard work and diligence as well. You all deserve a “class party” – take the family out for ice cream or light that bonfire in the back yard.


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