Notebooking: Spiral Bound Notebooks VS. the Binder System {pros/cons and my experiences…}

An entire post comparing Spiral Bound Notebooks to Binders might be a bit homeschool-geek-ish (at best) but, hey, it IS relevant.

If you are going to commit to Notebooking, the style of Notebooking you use will make a huge difference on your year and potentially even on the success of the Notebooking itself.  Often times methods gone wrong can kill the overall philosophy.  (You know what I mean?)

So, for those of you who have asked me what style of Notebooks I think is best – this post is for you.  Well, actually, I don’t think I’ll answer which is best – I just plan to chat about the pros and cons of various options and our experience with each.  Sound good?

And YES – there are other options for Notebooks.  For instance, you could file everything away in a file folder, you could also use a hard cover, bound notebook… um, I’m sure there are other options.  For ease, I’m comparing the two most widely used Notebooking Systems for this post.  *smile*

If you have been following any of my Notebooking posts, you’ll know that this past year, we used pre-made Spiral Bound Notebooks in our homeschool.  I made them myself by taking a stack of new 81/2 by 11 inch regular printer paper to Staples and having the paper spiral bound with a clear front and black back.  Easy as that – $5 a piece and we were ready to go.

They looked like this:

Here are some of the PROS of Spiral Bound Notebooks:

Spiral Bound Notebooks appeal to the senses and make GREAT keepsakes.

These Notebooks feel pretty, look pretty, store away pretty, have pages that turn in a pretty way – they are just nice to touch and feel.  This makes them enjoyable to use and appealing as a special book your family will want to hold onto for years to come.

AND – this is pretty much the biggest part of Notebooking – so this ‘pro’ weighs about a ton in the column of ‘pros’ for Spiral Bound Notebooks.

See, one of the wonderful things about Notebooks is that they do become a child’s own book of what they have learned and experienced.  Once a child fills a Notebook up with all their beautiful pages, you will never (ever) want to throw it away.  Some children will become quite attached and look back at their Notebooks from years past, remembering and enjoying.  (Our daughter does this!) 
These Spiral Bound ones make them so much like a ‘real’ book.  They sit so beautifully on the shelf and are lovely to flip through with double sided sheets and that lovely sound the pages make as they turn…  yep, I’m a geek, I know.

If you purchased more fancy, expensive ones from Michael’s or something – the ones with the hard backs or enforced book-binding, they would be even prettier!

They encourage the kids (and YOU!) to just let go and get creative.

Because you can’t really micromanage how the information gets put into a Spiral Bound Notebook – it’s easier to just let it go and throw the pages in.  This makes for a really eclectic, creative, fun flow to the books.  One page will be a Composer Study page and the next will be a sketch of the Underground Railroad.  It’s fun to just let it flow naturally.
It also captures a chronological movement through the school year, which has its benefits as well.

The pages stay put.

Pages that are bound stay where they are, as apposed to pages in binders which can easily rip.

You’ll want to fill them up.

So… here’s what I’ve found – when I have an open Notebook, filled with loads of lovely empty pages waiting to be filled for the year, I’m much more motivated to do Notebooking with the kids.  We have this Notebook – it can’t be half-full or not used at all!  So, this kind of Spiral Bound Notebook does motivate us to get to work on our Notebooking pages.  And this is another HUGE one for me as I need that motivation, Mamas!

Here are some of the CONS of Spiral Bound Notebooks:

If you are working with an 8 1/2 by 11 Notebook, it just might drive you nutty.

Here’s the thing.  Every single time you print a Notebooking Page, it will be on 81/2 by 11 (standard) size paper.  So, every single time you need to put it into the Notebook, you will need to trim it up so it will actually fit (because the page you a pasting it into is the same size).  This sounds so trivial, but after about 500 pages, it gets kind of annoying, friends.
This could be avoided if you buy a Spiral Bound Notebook with pages bigger than standard printer pager size.  I just wasn’t that quick on the draw at the beginning of last year…

There’s no ability to move things around once they’re in there.

Once we taped or glued our pages into the Notebooks – they were staying.  So, you can’t really shift things around at all which leads to this point…

There is little to no ability to ‘organize’ content.

For Moms or kids who have a strong need for content to be organized into categories – Spiral Bound Notebooks might be a real challenge.  It is nearly impossible to organized your Notebooking Pages effectively in a Spiral Bound Notebook.  By this, I mean – by subject.  You could try, but it might be a disaster.  You would have to guess where you might end up at the end of each ‘subject’ section – which is nearly impossible.

You will be wasting paper if you are adding printed Notebooking Pages to the book.

It actually started to upset me that for every page, we were using 2 pages.  It just is such a waste of resources.  Because we almost always used printed pages, we would print it, cut it to size, then tape it into the page that was already there.  Just time intensive and resource intensive… but yes, pretty.  *wink*

It’s hard to know how many pages you will need at the beginning of the year.

We ended up with like 100 pages too many in our books.  Our kids didn’t care too much and we are just going to remove them extra pages and use them for scrap paper.  BUT, I think some children would mind and might feel they didn’t ‘finish’.  It is also a bit of a waste of paper since they sheets are beat up from months of use in the book and can’t really be used to anything worthwhile.

So, after a year of using Spiral Bound Notebooks, I’m in love with Notebooking but a little iffy on how to move forward.

We are considering using the Binder System, though, I still have a strong pull towards the beauty of the bound Notebooks… *sigh*  A Homeschool Mother’s problems, eh?  

I’ve seen that Debra Reed often uses binders – so I figure they must have some major benefits.  *wink*

Neither method is right or wrong, they are just different.

Alright, so, “The Binder System” is just a really fancy way to say we’re going to put all our Notebooking Pages into a Binder.   I know, it’s super advanced.  

Our Binders would look like this:

We’ve used the Binder System for Notebooking in the past several times for Five in a Row studies and it always worked well.  As I mentioned above, the binders never look as pretty as the Lapbooks or Spiral Bound Books but they are efficient.  They do the job they are meant to do quite well.

For our Five in a Row Binders, we actually put every Notebooking Page in a clear page protector and stored them that way – it looks pretty at the end of the year but is pricey in page protectors!

Here are some PROS of the Binder System:

They are super easy to acquire and can be cheap if you want them to be!

I’ve seen binders for 50 cents at Thrift Stores that are brand new.  I’ve also seen super fancy ones at the office store for like $25.  But they are everywhere – easy to find and easy to gear to your price-point.

You can organize information quite efficiently and easily.

This is kind of obvious.  I mean, it’s a binder.  You can open and close the rings as much as your heart desires.  So, you can easily organize things any which way you choose.  We are planning to use dividers and have all our Notebooking pages together and then separate things like Writing, Dictation and Spelling, etc. by dividers.

You can move pages around as much as you desire.

Notebooking Pages can easily be shifted when you have use of an open and close ring.  I know my kids will enjoy the ability to move things around as they choose.  You can also take one out or stick one in wherever is needed.

There is no pre-set number of pages to fill.

I recognize that for some children – seeing a pre-bound book filled with 200 pages could be very overwhelming.  That’s a LOT of pages to think about having to fill with writing, creativity, you name it.  Especially for the reluctant Notebooker – just the sight of that thick book is enough to overwhelm.
The nice thing about Binders is that you can choose how much you put in up front. You can add only a few pages or none at all and just put them in as you complete them.  This might work better for certain personality types.  *smile*

You can add other ‘subjects’ in the binder along with Notebooking pages to keep everything together in one place once the year is done.

Alright, so now that I’m at the end of this year, each child has a little pile of random cheap notebooks they’ve used for various language arts subjects that I have no idea how to store.  
It kind of looks like this –
They can’t be bound into their yearly Notebooks and they are just so easy to lose if left loose. So,  I shove them into the back of the Spiral Bounds, which looks sloppy and is sure to come apart once we simple move them.
Binders would natrually allow you to just plop all those additional lined-paper notebooks in with the Notebooking pages, thus, keeping everything neatly together and reducing the chances of losing anything!

Mind you, my heart is telling me that we don’t NEED all those extra spiral bounds if we are just efficient with Notebooking and add everything in there!  Hmmmm….

You can slide in page protectors for Lapbooks, Art Projects, etc.

Binders are just easier for ‘storage’ than Spiral Bound Notebooks.  If you do a lot of art projects with paint or pastels that you want to save a binder will be an easier place to store them in page protectors.  Also, if you add Lapbooks to your year, they can by stored in page protectors within the the binder as well.  *sigh*  I just love the idea of having somewhere to keep EVERYTHING together, which was a challenge this past year.

You could still potentially bind your work in a Spiral Bound Notebook at the end of the year.

If you really wanted to, you could store your Notebooking Pages in your binder in page protectors and then take them all out and bind them together along with special writing projects, etc. at the end of the year.  I don’t think I will do this – but you could!

Here are some CONS of the Binder System:

They are kind of ugly, especially on a shelf as a ‘keepsake’.

I don’t know. They’re binders.  Even if they are pretty binders – they still scream ‘school’ to me.  So, they definitely don’t appeal to the senses the way the nice Spiral Bound books do.  Annnnd, as I mentioned above, this is kind of HUGE.  Because the whole heart of Notebooking is to encourage kids to create something beautiful.  Something they are insanely proud of – something they want to store on their bedroom shelf for years to come.  Binders don’t quite fit that category, in my opinion… and this is a big deal for me.

You may not be as motivated to ‘fill up’ your Notebook.

As I mentioned in the ‘pros’, this is also a BIG point (especially for me!).  I don’t know about you, but there is something about a blank book full of pages that motivates me to fill them up.  Without the pages before me, I might not have quite as much motivation to really spend time doing lots of Notebooking Pages to fill up their Notebooks.  I might fall into the trap of having them do more worksheets or busy work instead of utilizing Notebooking to its fullest…

The pages are most likely to rip/fall out.

They are binders.  They are notorious for having pages tear or fall out over time.  So, this could be a problem with a lot of use and/or over time.

When it comes to the ‘how’ of Notebooking – it really is up to you as a homeschooler. You decide what works best for your family and, hey, you can always switch it up if you don’t like it!

The most important thing is this – you are engaging with learning in a way that awakens the mind, heart, and soul and brings your family closer together.

Peace and Love!

Don’t forget to check out my other Notebooking Posts –

How we Implemented Notebooking into our Homeschool Year

Simplifying and Enriching our Homeschool with Notebooking -Part 1

Simplifying and Enriching our Homeschool with Notebooking -Part 2

Spiral-bound Notebooks for Planning

And also, my Notebooking/Lapbooking Board on Pinterest!

Notebooking Pages Free Membership

(This post contains Affiliate Links)


  • Anonymous

    Hey, thank you so much for this post. I am very encouraged this homeschool year just reading this. Can you tell me more about lapbooks? Also what do you use for a nature journal? Thank you so much!!

    • Cassandra

      Hey! I actually have a post coming up about getting started with Notebooking through Lapbooks! 🙂 Lapbooks are basically a unit study style record of what you are learning. They are often in a small format (say one file folder folded to look like a book or maybe a few sheets of cardstock bound together) and usually cover 1 topic or book or theme. I did TONS of them with our Five in a Row and Cultural Studies. 🙂 http://www.homeschoolshare.com has loads of them for free.

  • Tracy

    Hello, Cassandra! I just stumbled across your blog… I am loving your posts here about morning time and notebooking. It struck me as I was reading this that one of your biggest 'cons' to using a binder is that it doesn't look pretty as a keepsake. But is there anything stopping you from taking your notebook to be spiral-bound at the *end* of the year? Then you would have the flexibility of the binder during the year while you are populating your notebook, but the pretty keepsake for years to come! <3

    • Cassandra

      Hi Tracy! 🙂 YES! I think this is actually a great option and I'm strongly considering it. Mainly, because I am so indecisive too… we can just do Notebooking pages and put them in page protectors IN our binders until Mama can decide what to do with them… haha. 🙂

  • serenity

    I was just thinking about this topic! I'm definitely leaning towards binders. IT allows me to skip the gluing or taping aspect. Also, I can't stand waiting for something to dry, just to be able to do something on the next page…I suppose you can wait it out layer but it definitely would be a waste of paper for us.

    • Cassandra

      I hear ya on taping and glueing. It sounds trivial but it isn't! Not when you are doing several of these pages every week for each child. The amount of cutting, pasting, taping, etc. is a bit annoying after a while. 😛

    • Cassandra

      THIS is a great idea. So simple, yet so useful. We use plastic sheet covers but you know what happens? The pages fall out… 😉 I love the reference to Macgyver – ha.

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