Friday, March 25, 2016

Using Evernote with unschooling

I had only vaguely even heard of Evernote, before reading about it from Sue at Stories of an Unschooling Family. Her posts were so convincing, though, that I started using it soon afterwards, and I loved it right from the start. It's been so helpful in keeping track of my kids' projects and interests, and in calming the various niggling worries that crop up from time to time, when I wobble and feel like there might be a little too much "un" in our schooling :)

So, in case you haven't come across it yet either, what exactly is Evernote? Well, it's an app, which works seamlessly across all devices. It works on your phone, your tablet, your computer, and indeed any random computer you happen to be using, since you can always log in via their website, even if the app isn't installed. (When on earth might you need to do that? For example, I've sometimes stumbled across great books while browsing the catalog at the library, for example, and have wanted to add them to the appropriate folder in my Evernote.)

And what do you do with it? Well, you take notes! There are zillions of note-taking apps and programs, of course, but there are two main reasons why Evernote works so well for me. First, that it's so EASY to make a new note, and second, that it's so easy to sort, search, and find your notes later on.

For example, the other day, my kids were working in the project room. My younger daughter solved a harder puzzle than she had ever managed before, while playing with Chocolate Fix - click! I took a quick picture-note with my phone, over her shoulder, without even interrupting her concentration. My older daughter added more to her current story on the computer - click. As a picture, it was no work of art, but that's not the point. I just wanted a quick image to remind myself of what she had been working on. A little later, I noticed both girls helping the baby to build a town out of blocks around his train set. Awwww, sibling harmony... click!

That's all I did, in terms of note-taking, while the events were actually taking place. I don't like to interrupt the flow by trying to take written notes myself, but our days are so busy that I'd never be able to remember if I waited until later. But with Evernote, the note-taking only takes a few seconds.

Later on, usually while I'm waiting for the kids to fall asleep at night, I open Evernote again, and browse through my new notes. For each note, I first add some "tags", including the name of the kid, and the topic or topics that their work related to, if it's an ongoing area of interest. Then, if there's any following-up to be done, seeing the note reminds me to do it. For example, I might order a related book I think they'd like from the library, check prices on art materials I think they'd find helpful, or add an item to a list of possible birthday-present ideas to keep in mind later on.

The beauty of this system, for me, is that it's so easy to look back and see what's been happening. For example, if I want to know what Basbusa has been doing over the past month, I can search for all notes tagged with her name, during that time-period. If I get worried that we're not doing enough science, I can search for all notes tagged with "science," and reassure myself that we've actually been doing way more than I realized.

Tags can be useful for non-academic things, too. Last year, for example, the winter was long and cold, and I felt like we weren't getting enough time outside. So I created a "playing-outside" tag, and then I could easily track our progress by checking that the number of notes with that tag was steadily increasing. Same thing with the "sibling-harmony" tag - I find it so encouraging, after a bad day, to look back and see all the concrete examples of my kids helping each other, teaching each other, being patient with each other.

I also find Evernote very useful when it's time to write the annual progress report for filing with the school district, and for writing the plan for the following year. What math-y things did we cover? How about writing? Science? It just takes a few clicks. And looking back at the trends helps me think about what direction we're likely to head in the future.

There's a paid version of Evernote, with lots of handy features, but my homeschool budget is tiny, and I've only hit my monthly usage-quota once, over the past two years, with the free version. Hope you find it as helpful as I have!