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

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 NotebookingPages.com.  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


  • Ivy Mae

    Thanks for updating about your experience with notebooking! We are transitioning out of a slightly more curriculum-based Charlotte Mason style to no textbooks and all notebooking. My big question is: for your younger child, do you decide the format the page will have? Do you have elements available already printed out, or do you search for them together? For instance, does he decide he wants a map and a printed picture, or do you offer those along with other options? My son is 6, and I feel like I am doing most of the guiding for what the page will include, but maybe that is completely normal at this age. Thanks!
    –Ivy Mae

    • Cassandra

      Hi! Thanks for reading! 🙂 We have made a very similar transition, so I totally know what you're going through! I decide on layout and format, yes… especially for the youngest, as he wouldn't know where to start! The guidance is completely normal at this age and well beyond. I honestly don't think kids will get the hang of Notebooking to its full extent until at least middle school. Until then, they need the 'tools' to make the pages work. So, I will say, "We are going to make a map to show the information in the book Tree in the Trail", then provide a printed map. The kids can use creativity in what colors they use, how they show things in the legend, etc… but I'm still providing the skeleton (so to speak)…. make sense? I added the following text to the post, to clear things up… 😉 (hugs)

      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!

  • Alisha

    Thanks for sharing! Your notebooks are beautiful. My eldest is four, so we are just beginning our Charlotte Mason homeschooling journey, and I am loving it 🙂 Could you write a post sometime about how you do math without textbooks? I know you share how you do some with FIAR, but how do you go about it with your older children? Thanks!

    • Cassandra

      Hi! That's an exciting time… 🙂 Well, we do use textbooks for math, actually… 😉 We use Teaching Textbooks for the older kids and we use Singapore with our youngest… 😉 I will definitely write more about using FIAR with older kids. 🙂

  • Unknown

    So, each child has one notebook and every subject is added? do the children add the narration/mapwork/notepage after each reading or at the end of the day? does every reading get an entry?

    • Amy

      I would also love to know the answers to the above questions. The notebooks are beautiful! I would love to hear more logistics on the actual process, however 🙂 We currently do oral narrations in our homeschool and I love the idea of adding notebooking, I just wonder how much more time it would take to get it all done or how it would fit into our school day.

    • Unknown

      Hi, I would also like to hear more about this please :). Also, do all of the topics just merge together, or do you separate them out? My children are 7 and 4 and I would like to start note-booking with them as a way of keeping hold of the things they are learning/thinking about, but not sure how to organise it Currently we have scraps of paper everywhere!!

    • Cassandra

      Hi ladies. 🙂 Ok, so I am going to launching a whole series on Notebooking in a few days… but for quick answers – yes, each child has their own notebook. We add pages as we feel. Not every reading gets a notebooking assignment though (for instance, we spend 2 weeks reading about Queen Elizabeth and didn't really notebook about her yet…) They are added daily as we go along. Amy – this is exactly what the series will talk about … the 'how to' of notebooking and how we're walking through this. 😉

      C Wool – yes, all the topics do merge together… I just keep putting pages in and they just add up as a book of our year, really. I would say, just put all those scraps of paper together in a scrap book! 🙂 THat's what the notebook ends up looking a bit like – a giant scrap/notebook filled with learning! It's neat.

  • Hannah

    Thank you for sharing! This is our first official year of homeschooling. The last two years we have followed CM's ideas for the 'early years' and are just now tipping our toes into the world of narration since my oldest is five, almost six. I was wondering, do you try to keep like subjects together in their notebooks or do they just start on the next page no matter what subject they are notebooking?
    Thank you!

    • Cassandra

      Hi Hannah, Hooray and welcome to the world of homeschooling! 🙂 We have no real structure to our notebooks… just add to them as we go. This does go against my natural want to organize but I have to let it go. Since we are using spiral bound notebooks – it just does't make sense to try to section them off. If you really wanted to section them off and keep things more together, I'd suggest using a binder with dividers. 🙂

  • Leggio

    We also just transitioned to CM this year and I also joined notebooking pages. I was just curious how often you notebook a week. Would this be after each reading. Oh, and I read your CM post too and totally agree about Ambleside it is way to much.

    • Cassandra

      THanks for reading! 🙂 We notebook every day… it is a huge part of how we 'do' school… so the kids are adding to it through copywork, geography, history, etc. all the time. 🙂

  • serenity

    Yes, please tell us what you do for Math. I believe in notebooking, but Math is really the only subject where I feel like more than that is needed. I have this voice in the back of my mind saying start with a good base in math…
    I'm looking into Singapore Math, MathuSee, and others, however I'm especially interested in Lego Math and Jr. Circuits.
    Thanks for your detailed post. Can you please tell us what your daily schedule looks like. As usual you're very inspiring.

    • Cassandra

      I don't actually do Math in a notebooking format. To me, Math is Math. We use typical math curriculum (Teaching Textbooks and Singapore). I will be posting more about schedules and what our days look like in the upcoming Notebooking series. 🙂 Hope it is helpful. Thanks !!!

  • serenity

    Thanks for the swift reply, as usual. I know this may seem obvious, but I was wondering what material do you use to stick your notebook printout (from notebookingpages.com) to the actual notebook page ? Glue stick? Sticky tabs?
    Also do you place them prior to your child working on it or after they've finished? Thanks again.

    • Cassandra

      Hi! Well.. to be honest, I don't have a really good system for glueing. I use tape and glue sticks mostly. I usually put them in the child's notebook the night before we work on them. I'm already strongly considering a different method to this though – I think next year we will likely just use a binder system to cut down on so much glue/tape/etc… then if we really want to, we can always have the pages bound at the end of the year (rather than wasting 2 time the paper). 🙂

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