Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Work Journals as Homeschool Proof

The Real Question:
If the only requirements are "equivalent subjects to the local schools" (the state will not define the word "equivalent" - to give homeschoolers more rights) and "attendance of 180 days per school year" (the state, for the same reason above, will not define "attendance" or "school year" - each private school and homeschool can define their own school year, their own attendance, and their own equivalency to local school subjects) starting at age 7 until the child graduates (the state fully supports a parent-issued diploma based on the parent's own graduation requirements) ---- what is the best way to document those requirements while only providing the minimum. Each of these things must be shown upon request.

Solution 1: a list of numbers 1-180 - checked for each day of attendance, noting the "school year" only
(because even a marked calendar actually gives the days/dates of attendance - as the work journal idea presented below --- too much information)
It is pretty obvious if a child can have a generic conversation on the same topics the local kids would study - so that one is a verbal proof.

Solution 2:  same as above, but not even noting the school year other than the child's grade level? Or is that too much too?

How can we document attendance without giving more than "attendance"?

I am seriously looking for ideas here! I appreciate the 3 private e-mails I received, but the question wasn't really addressed, which is why I post this second update ;)

I am pondering my post below. But I am keeping it up - for the sake of conversation - of working out the best plan for those who Montessori homeschool - or even unschool.

Clarification --- Three families in my state that I know of have been visited by DCS in the last 2 months. Each family uses some form of Montessori - and all had a work journal of the basic type that has the date and the name of the work done (not necessarily *what* that work is - such as "bead chain 9" - no description of what it is). With lawyers in place, meetings in their homes with the DCS person, the one thing they each shared with me that they appreciated having (so they didn't have to do anything else) was having that work journal to show *that* schoolwork was done on that day. No way could the DCS person know what the work done even was (and legally couldn't even ask). Apparently one of the lawyers involved also homeschools - and they were ok with the sharing of the basic work journal.

MBT has fantastic comments below - regarding NOT giving more than requested. The trouble in our state is, "what shows what is requested?" Yes, I appreciate the lack of definition of attendance, but how do you show proof of something that has no definition? Each family has to figure out how to do that and NOT provide more than necessary. These families made a particular choice and it worked well for them. Some families just print out a calendar and write the letter "S" on each day school was done. In our family, we school every single day of the week. Pick up any calendar and those are our school days. I wonder if a DCS agent would believe me. But there's my son's attendance record. Every - single - day - of - the - year.

Maybe I am putting this out there so someone else can answer the question for me. What evidence is the bare minimum for showing attendance in a state that doesn't define attendance, but requires 180 days of it - and no other legislation on homeschooling? Is a basic work journal too much? Certainly can be questioned less. How much does this depend on the definition of attendance? A calendar marking school days isn't in the definition either. And that is where the real conundrum lies - for me.

The original post: 

Let's pretend you live in a state that only requires attendance in school for 180 days - but the state won't define attendance for private school (and considers homeschools to be private schools).

Portfolios are great; community testimonial that your child is brilliant is great.

But you know what makes life SO MUCH EASIER when someone knocks on the door to question your child's absence from school (presence at home during school hours) ?

Hand them the child's DATED work journal. The contents (style, lay-out) don't matter, but the dates do.

Let me say - it is SO much easier to SAVE those, keep them in ONE place (not hidden somewhere in the piles of papers and boxes of papers that a certain Lego-loving Fiend likes to collect) - then it is to go back and use a calendar to note that school was done on enough days to count for 180.

Do you realize how questionable that looks!? But a work journal, obviously written in different handwriting styles on different days with different writing utensils - so much more believable.

Reality-check: 180 days is half the calendar year. We have school on some level or another every, single, day. 365 days a year. Even Sundays are music (Traditional Latin Mass choir or Novus Ordo chants); Latin with a bit of Greek thrown in; community service (altar serving); history (personal Bible study looking at the historical development); logic (the games we play together later in the day) and literature (Once Upon a Time lovers in this household - and we are always going back and discussing the original tales included in the series as well as the Disney versions - and many times other versions - compare/contrast, discuss the moral implications, changes through time according to culture, what components are the same in all versions because of universal truths, etc.).

Yeah, even Sundays count as school ;) And that's just what we do every Sunday - let alone what we do on only some Sundays (cooking to take food to others in need; art projects of a wide variety).

So, we have 180 days covered in less than the first 6 months of each year.

Of late, I have NOT been as adamant about the work journal as I should be; he does keep a notebook with study ideas, project ideas, he does have his work plan (his organization of the ideas in his head, the requirements he has to meet to attain the goals he has set for himself, and our family projects) and he works from that to move forward with his own work. He does not track dates these days. He should.

So there you have it. Bad idea on my part to not track anything (I don't even have a calendar printed out with "s" on it for every day). We'd need credible proof of 180 days of schooling this school year and last - and a not-quite-10-year-old reading and holding intellectual conversations on high school level literature, doing typical middle school math, pseudo-expert on Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel, running his own small business on Etsy ---- not proof enough of adequate homeschooling.

Not when it is only attendance that counts.



  1. If someone actually came to your door asking for proof that you have met your state's requirements I wouldn't recommend giving them anything that exceeds the minimum requirements. Neither would our state's homeschooling association or the HSLDA. If an attendance chart is all that is required that is all that you should provide. It doesn't matter if the person at your door thinks that's "suspect." They have no authority to require you to exceed the expectations of the law. The law in our state is required attendance, not required learning, just like at the public schools.

  2. CORRECTING my first reply!!!!!! Totally created too many typos ;)

    Well, there is that step as well - don't let them in, don't show them anything - wait until they schedule an appointment and you have a lawyer with you.

    In our state, they can't even "define" attendance - so it's kind of obnoxious to request an attendance record of any sort. Because how can something without a definition be recorded? At least, that is my argument. ;)

    I am definitely recommending NOT giving them anything that goes above and beyond; but a calendar with an "s" on the days you do school that has an "s" every day of the week - has been described as "suspect" time and again in our state.

    I feel pulled two directions - I LIKE living where the requirements are minimal - SO much more freedom to follow what our family actually needs. But I also see so many families around us who have children who I would define as being academically neglected (children over age 10 who can't read, not because they don't have the ability, not because they don't have the desire - but because their parents WON'T teach them or provide them with the pieces ("keys") they need to master reading on their own ---- I "get" unschooling and following a child's interests entirely - what I don't get is refusing to provide for a child's authentic interest in something that is not opposed to their faith or morals). So I feel like there should be "some" requirement for actual learning ---- but then I'd be unhappy with that for the sake of the children who do learn things on a different timetable.)

    Yep. Definitely issues of duality going on right now ;)

    Interestingly enough, our state has a test in the 3rd grade (public schools only) - pass it or don't move on to 4th grade. Summer school is an option if the test results fall within a certain range. I have entirely mixed feelings about that idea too!

    All schools should just go Montessori and call it good.


    (did I catch all the typos?)

  3. This is said with friendly intentions, but duality aside, it bothers me that you say "Do you know how questionable that looks?" Homeschooler fought hard to regain these freedoms and it probably isn't helpful for a homeschooling blogger to be suggesting that the minimum requirement of an attendance record is "questionable." I don' t want the government to be able to tell me what I should teach my child and when. The only "requirement" that keeps that freedom intact is an attendance record with no definition of attendance. I don't want them defining attendance either. I also don't believe that you can legislate someone into being a better parent or homeschooling family.

    Also, people take your recommendations seriously and it bothers me that your posts states that a dated work journal will make "life so much easier when someone knocks on the door." It might make your life easier for a few moments or it might not. And it might make your life more difficult in the future. The people who work at working with legislatures to maintain these freedoms tell us again and again that overcomplying reduces homeschooling freedoms longterm. So, your easy few minutes have the potential to create some impossible *years* for others. For the same reason, If I were questions I wouldn't argue "oh, I'm a teacher and my husband is a teacher" to get myself out of hot water because it sets a precedent that it's okay to homeschool if you are a teacher but not otherwise.

    One state has eight principles for maintaining homeschooling freedoms:

    1. Know what STATE's homeschooling law does and does not require and how it is interpreted and enforced. The...handbook explains this clearly and accurately.

    2. Do only the minimum required by statute or regulation. Doing more will reduce freedoms you and other homeschoolers enjoy.

    3. Do not ignore violations of your rights, even when they seem too small to matter or it takes time and effort to protest.

    4. Do not seek or accept benefits from the government. Such benefits are likely to be followed by increased regulation, especially since the government is accountable for how tax dollars are spent.

    5. Do not push for new homeschooling legislation. Small minorities generally have difficulty getting legislation passed. Also, legislation can be changed so much through amendments that it may end up working against the minority that introduced it.

    6. Stay out of court if at all possible.

    7. Understand and apply the distinction between compulsory school attendance and compulsory education.

    8. Work with other homeschoolers on the grassroots level. Set aside differences in approaches to education, curriculum choices, religious and philosophical beliefs, etc. Work to maintain the right of each family to make its own decisions...

    These eight principles are the reasons homeschoolers in STATE have been able to maintain their freedoms. STATE ASSOCIATION has had to work hard to maintain them in the face of opposition to homeschooling from the educational establishment, some legislators, and some members of the general public. This work has been made more difficult by the fact that HSLDA has often gotten involved in issues affecting STATE homeschoolers and taken action that undermines what STATE ASSOCIATION has been doing based on these principles.

  4. I updated the first part of my post. I agree with you entirely - just airing my own questions ;)

  5. Oh my - if you are going through this, I am sorry! I am thankful that in our state, the only requirements are a form registered with the state that provides statistics and testing requirement information, basic information about curriculum/hours/days of the school year. We do have required testing from 3rd to 9th grade, which I find ridiculously unnecessary for a homeschool family, seeing as how it in no way reflects upon the state itself. However, if that is what keeps us out of a critical view of what we may/may not be doing, so be it. I make it the easiest I can by trying to prepare my kiddos the best I can, and worry l less about the results as the path to getting there and keeping it easy. We have no requirements as far as compulsory attendance or keeping records of such, and actually - when you read the laws -the state is not allowed to come to your home and request to see anything. To be honest, I believe that a state should have no say in what goes on in a homeschool from year to year. I can understand where you would say that if an up to date journal is kept, it's very easy to prove without question how many school days there have been, and the work being done. That being said, I agree with MBT - giving more than necessary could very well cause it's own set of problems. I would agree with having more than necessary and keeping it for yourself only, for there may be a day and time that the laws may change, and it is helpful in your own flow of school, but not showing any more than necessary in order to protect your rights, and those of others - and the work that others have done to ensure those rights.

    I have seen the case you mentioned, though - families who homeschool and (however lovely and wonderful the people are) don't provide what they should be. I can only speak fully for myself, although I am sure you would agree with this, that homeschooling wasn't a decision made lightly on a whim, but something well thought out and (for me) what I consider to be a great extension of the calling for my life as a mother. I believe that you can be flexible with the differences of each child as they learn, and still ensure that they are reasonably meeting goals. Just as the homeschool rights groups that MBT previously mentioned have worked to give us freedom in homeschooling, there are too many who have NOT worked as they should to cause those freedoms to sometimes be put at risk. I hope that makes sense - and this comes from someone who tries to give all I have to do a good job, and yet still strives for doing more and better for my children!

  6. After reading your second update, and I don't know if this suggestion holds water at all - I just thought of it in light of documenting days, without giving dates - what if you had a weekly attendance, in the light of a four day, five day, six day - however many days you wanted - but didn't actually notate the date itself? I am sure you could make something like that and print it out, just showing Day 1 - Day 4, or Day 5, or whatever applies, and then use any kind of simple method stating that school was held. With our registration system, for example, they ask how many weeks you are doing school. Honestly - I just figure up how many weeks the public schools run, and put that down. So if it were me, I would just make up that many 'weeks' worth, and since we have a four day school week, put Day 1- Day 4, and mark them somehow. For someone with a 180 day requirement, you could make that work however you wish. Then, you can prove that 180 days were met - you can sign/initial each day, along with the child having some part in it - whether it be writing an 's' like mentioned before, putting a sticker there, etc. It sounds very similar to your first solution (I went back and re-read twice to make sure I didn't miss something the first time(s) ). Myself, I would allow for the year to be put in - or the grade level, one or the other, or both. I don't consider that to be too much information. Does that sound crazy, or too simple?

  7. Our state association seems to advocate blending in with the private schools (because in our state homeschools are home-based private schools) as much as possible. We even try to submit our paperwork the same week that the private schools do. The private school attendance records likely give the date, students name, and mark them "present or absent" so it might be common sense to just follow that model. The example in our state's handbook suggests that format. You are telling them what days you homeschooled but not for how many hours or where you've done the work which seems reasonable. I agree that it might be technically more information than required, but there isn't likely another way to keep an attendance record that isn't super kooky. Our handbook does point out that EVERY DAY can be a school day and that none of the work has to look "traditional." I personally mark every day as a school day on our calendar. I'm not altogether concerned about whether they "believe me." The law says that I have to keep an attendance record not that any one random person has to "believe it." I am a member of my state association and HSLDA so that I am confident that I have help if needed. Don't you have a similar organization in your state that you can call about this? Most state homeschool associations have lawyers at their disposal that are familiar with your state homeschool climate. I prefer the state associations to the HSLDA because, imo, HSLDA sometimes doesn't always follow the right path.

    I again hesitate to say "it's obvious my kids are learning because of what they can do." The law is compulsory attendance not compulsory learning. I could interview many of my husband's students or my own and easily find that they are unable to have an intelligent conversation about general things that they have been taught again and again. We taught it, doesn't mean they learned it, you can't make someone learn, they might know it and aren't mature enough to talk about it... One student at my husband's school thinks he is a train. That child can't demonstrate any of the things you are talking about and the law doesn't really require it. Sure, his test scores will reflect that, maybe. If needed there are different test rules, different test procedures, and if really necessary *completely different tests.* I am not confident that very many students are held back under the 3rd grade retention/reading proficiency laws you mentioned. In addition to the test modifications allowed there are also exemptions:

    The idea behind these exemptions is that they can promote students whose
    test score for some reason is not an accurate indicator of their proficiency or who would for some reason benefit from promotion despite their low proficiency level.

    More info on those exemptions here:

    I am curious whether your acquaintances' lawyers were homeschool lawyers (lawyers who have special knowledge of homeschool law, not lawyers who homeschool) or just random lawyers. I wonder if say an Homeschool-specialist lawyer would have stooped to presenting a work journal or if they would have first fought for the families' proof of attendance as being adequate. I have no idea.

  8. Our local private schools follow whatever the public schools do - even though they don't have to (they also share bussing systems, so that might have something to do with it - need to have schedules aligned and share student names for the busses...). Legally, we do not have to provide names or grades of our children - just the number of children homeschooled by grade level - there is a voluntary enrollment form and that is all it requests (my name, address, # children in each grade). So I can see providing an attendance record by grade level. I guess thinking this through some more, I don't really want "them" knowing the actual dates/patterns we school or don't school, and partially that is because we school every day - "well, if this family can do it, then so can other families" - so maybe that would make it harder on the families who want to do 3 or 4 day school weeks.

    I am definitely getting hyper-paranoid about this! I also have a child-hood history of balking authority (and yes, I will freely admit that was because of my public school education --- it is only through Montessori I have come to embrace legitimate authority, governmentally-speaking) - but that's a blog post not for this blog ;)
    So I would not want to give them anything at all, myself. Let them prove that my child isn't educated --- but apparently in our state they do all they can to not reveal what the issue is until they are actually in your home for an "appointment."

    Good question about the type of lawyer - I'll have to ask them :) I do know 2 of the families didn't have an attendance record other than the work journals - they figured it did double-duty.

  9. Not sure if this should be an update or a comment, so I'll start with comment and go from there ;)

    There is a difference in "homeschool law" versus "child safety law" --- thus a difference between child protective services (who can request and expect cooperation for much more and may not care about attendance itself) and the local or state superintendent of schools (who can only request and expect cooperation for the bare minimum the law requires).

    It's all so on a different plane than I am on - I am happy I am not a lawyer! But I wish I could do more for families in a situation of being falsely accused of anything.

  10. It is my understanding that someone has to report you to child services for them to come out and check. Not stirring the pot at all, just stating that. So, if someone has reported you (or whoever) and child services wants homeschool records, then the said person (whoever it was) must have complained about that very thing, I would guess. I would think they would want good reason why they thought there was a problem, although from experiences that I have seen others have, sometimes child services comes in without good reason. In that case, how do you protect yourself? A homeschool lawyer, or a different one that can specialize in something more specific? It may not be every homeschoolers fear that the state will interfere with their teaching at home, but I can attest for myself that, that is the last thing I would ever want to have to deal with. When you compare the two - the state coming in and wanting proof of attendance, and DCS coming in and wanting more - even if you have more, do you think it is legally fair for them to ask more than the state would ask? That less of a 'welfare of the child' question, and more to piggyback on what has already come up - if more is provided, even in that circumstance, will it cause a problem down the road? Just curious... I don't necessarily want to say I have 'enjoyed' the comments conversation, in the light of imagining the difficulty of such a situation, but it has been very insightful.