13 Days Until Portfolio Review: Make a List

Okay, so if you’ve followed the previous posts, you’ve learned the lawgone through your pictures and maybe even tagged them, and gathered all the things that you and your kids did that remotely related to homeschooling. Now you’re sitting around surrounded by book lists, workbooks, glass sculptures, a cello, albums full of pictures, and random scraps of paper… or maybe you just have a computer full of pictures and three pamphlets.

Now what?

Well, if you’re me (actually that would be weird, please just be yourself), you make lists. I love lists. Lists are great for organizing things.

So either on paper or on the computer (my current method is just using Google Drive) I just make a chart that looks something like this:

Class All kids Kid 1 Kid 2
English / reading

It’s the eight required subjects in MD, plus columns for each kid plus a column for the things the kids all did together. Even if you have very different kids, some things (like field trips!) will often be the same for all of them.

Then I go through the stuff I’ve gathered — the pictures, workbooks, puzzle books, worksheets, notes, lesson plans, ephemera, and so forth — and I make bullet lists of the topics we covered, organized by subject.

For example:

English / reading

  • freewrite haikus
  • suction cup
  • handwriting sample?
  • suction cup
  • handwriting lower case
  • alien helmet freewrite
  • reading kids post and stuff
  • Wee Free Men
  • Oral spelling,
  • spelling in games,
  • email to family
  • read popular science
  • read minecraft and terraria wikis
  • handwriting, caps, punctuation, better formation
  • Hunger games
  • druiddawn
  • read fairy books
  • wrote stories
  • 8 parts of speech (MCT)
  • parts of sentence (MCT)
  • types of verbs 
  • handwriting — finish caps, do some lower case

As I go through all of their work, I write down any samples that might work well to take to the portfolio review. I don’t do it in any sort of systematic way yet, just if it strikes me that something is a good choice, I’ll make a note of it in the left column. (You could make an additional column to hold those, or put them at the end of each kid’s list, but I find this makes the whole chart smaller and the efficiency of it all pleases me.)

I’ll write another post about what sorts of samples work best and how I choose which ones to bring, in a few days.

At first, the list will be sort of random. I grab topics from the books we read — for example in social studies I might just say “read OUP ancient greeks, chap 2-14, covers years 1000 BC – 500 BC”. Or I might mention a project – “made a series of shoebox dioramas of life in spring, ancient nubia, etc.”.

In subjects where you go pretty strictly by the book, you’ll probably have fewer entries:


  • C&O canal
  • WWI telegram
  • FDR & stuff
  • greek chariot
  • C&O canal
  • FDR and stuff
  • SOTW 4: thru 4-22
  • finished adaptation of the odyssey
  • indep. rading on WWII, civil war.
  • Greeks, etc

In subjects where you do more scattered passion-following, unit studies, or unschooling, you’ll end up with a lot more entries:


  • rocket center GPS
  • visited okeanos
  • reading sample
  • visited okeanos, etc
  • ph stuff
  • crystalradio
  • distillation
  • nature walks — tree, bird, etc identification
  • county fair
  • achaeology, history techniques
  • ocean science! — watching nautilus. okeanos
  • habitats: beach, md, al
  • wild horses
  • hominid evolution
  • history of life on earth
  • chemistry — stoichiometry
  • mushroom identification
  • aquarium! twice
  • raptor festival
  • NASA Wallops, rockets
  • astronomy
  • rock and mineral show
  • radio stuff
  • electronics and
  • programming minecraft!
  • velvet worms
  • rocket museum
  • tech museum
  • hiller air museum
  • heart, organs, veins
  • cabbage juice indicator
  • forces
  • concentration
  • diffusion


Here’s some quick tips.

Tip #1: Don’t worry about grammar or spelling.

These notes are just for you, not for your reviewer to look at, so don’t worry about it making sense to anyone but you. Don’t fiddle with caps, spelling… or logic. It’s just quick notes. Don’t let it take forever.

If you look at my examples above, they’re chock full of errors, sentence fragments, and I no longer know what “FDR and stuff” as a work sample could have meant.

Tip #2: Write lots of topics down.

Don’t discount things that you thought you could have done a better job of, or things you’re still working on, or things your kids might not have learned.

Write it all down. It all counts — it’s instruction you provided, even if your kids didn’t necessarily learn as much as you expected.

Also, you might be wrong. Maybe they learned more than you know they did. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have seemed to just glide through a topic and I figured only a little of it actually stuck but months or even years later they just pulled that information out of the dark recesses of their brains.

(Of course, sometimes I was sure they learned something and a conversation with a grandparent or a friend or a stranger shows that I was totally fooling myself and they know absolutely nothing about it. Oops.)

Tip #3: Give yourself a pat on the back.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in anxiety about what our kids have learned that we forget how far we’ve come. So make sure you write down everything you did this semester (or year, or whatever time period you’re tackling). Let the list get really long and just bask in it. Roll around in all the luxurious learning you planned and provided. Feel happy and content and amazing.

Tip #4: Use this to plan your next semester.

Okay, now that you feel awesome, look at the list again. The list can help you see where you need more content. We’ll talk about this more in a few posts when I talk about picking samples, but if you can’t find more than one or two bullet points or you can’t even find two or three samples… maybe it’s time to give that subject a little more time or find a way to document it just a little more thoroughly.

This is one way to find any giant gaping holes in their education.

Next Steps

In the next post, I’ll show you how to summarize the topics your children studied and re-write them in educationese.

Other posts in this series:

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