Evernote is my favorite and necessary tool for running my Paperless Home Management System and so this month I want to share how I use Evernote for Homeschooling. Everything in it is searchable and I can toss most papers. Those two reasons should convince you right there, but I have at least seven more posts to make my case and make it easy for you to move toward paperless planning.
Today I want to share how I start with big picture homeschool planning in Evernote.
Make a Homeschool Scope and Sequence in Evernote
I know most people – if they make a scope and sequence at all – make one in a spreadsheet or a table. I’ve made plenty of those before myself. However, I can’t make them look good, and I usually way over-plan.
Now, I have a basic guide scope and sequence in list form within Evernote. Here’s what it looks like:
Simple, not over-done, and principle-driven rather than curriculum-driven. Of course it’s still idealistic, but aren’t all big picture plans?
Make Homeschool Vision and Goals Statements in Evernote
Evernote is a great program for homeschool planning. Anything you would have in a homeschool binder, you can keep in Evernote. You can scan what you currently have in Evernote, or if it is saved as a document on your computer, you can cut and paste it into Evernote or save it into Evernote as a pdf.
Next week we’ll start delving into actually nitty-gritty homeschooling planning and record keeping with Evernote, but first I want to cover a few more random “power user” sort of tips to make sure your Evernote usage is faster and less frustrating.
Evernote has so many features, it can be overwhelming to try to figure out how to use it “right.” Don’t worry so much about that, though. Use it in a way that works for you, without worrying about taking advantage of every feature. The more you use it, the more comfortable you’ll be with it, and the more you’ll gradually pick up as you go.
Do smart searches in Evernote
If you only want to pull up notes that have a word in the title, and not every single note that has the word in the note itself (useful for searches like “book,” especially in my Evernote, where all my blog posts are in there!), you can search
And, if you want to pull up only notes within a single notebook, you can use the drop down menu in the search bar, like this:
Select “search options” then “notebook.”
Then the drop-down menu that appears will list all your notebooks in alphabetical order. Select the one you want. Then you have to click “Add” before that restriction will apply to your search.
There are many more search tips; they become particularly handy as your Evernote collection grows and searches end up pulling up 50 or more notes each. If you want to learn more power search options, here’s the Evernote help guide for search.
Use tags carefully or not at all
Tags are a tempting feature, but one that I’ve found less useful overall. Unless you have a real plan for how they are useful – how they’d help you pull up related notes that you want to keep in different notebooks – then just don’t use them. Using the search feature is a much better, more reliable way, because it doesn’t require you to maintain consistency over time with tagging.
There are two possible use cases I see for tags:
1. Use them to mark which project notes are currently in progress.
When I’m really on the ball – that’s actually not all that often, believe me – I have all the projects I’ll be working on this interval marked with a “current” tag, so during a weekly review I can pull that tag up and see what’s there. However, that system takes a surprising amount of upkeep ensuring the right notes always do have that tag. Mostly, I now just keep a running note in a “Current” notebook of what plates I currently have spinning, and go refer to the specific note if I need to. It’s a lot faster to simply adjust a single list (that’s in the shortcut bar!) than go through and make sure tags are correct across the entire collection.
2. Use them to mark which records or lists apply to which students.
If you’re using Evernote to keep school records (something we’ll talk about more in coming weeks), then you can use tags for each student to mark what they’ve done and have a running transcript of sorts. If the year’s lessons and records are each in their own notebook, then you can tag each note with the student to whom it applies and be able to pull up that student’s tag to see what they’ve done all through the years.
I haven’t done this myself yet, but it’s on my summer to-do list.
Move emails to Evernote
I sometimes receive email newsletters or free pdf books that I want to read, but not right now. Often, they just sit in my inbox for way too long, until I get into “declutter the inbox” mode and just archive them all. Sure, they’ll be there if I search my gmail for them, but how likely is that? Or maybe I save them on my computer – but how many pdfs are sitting on my hard drive that I’ve forgotten about? Lots. How likely am I to search for something like that with the system search? Not much.
Those newsletters or pdfs are really reference material more than “books.” They are probably much more like extended blog posts than anything else, so they best fit in Evernote! I had Brandy’s newsletter all about narration in my inbox (I had read it quickly, but didn’t want to just archive and forget it) and Jennifer Dow’s new Guide to Teaching Classically (I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read it yet, but Sarah Mackenzie told me it was really helpful).
After they had languished in my inbox for weeks and weeks, to the point where I didn’t even see them anymore, I emailed them into Evernote. I opened them, hit forward, and started typing “eve…” and Gmail automatically pulled up my evernote email address for me, and off they went. They showed up in my Evernote inbox (that is what I named my default notebook), and I moved them to “Homeschool articles.”
Now if I search for narration in Evernote, I’ll get Brandy’s newsletter as well as the other articles I’ve saved or notes I’ve taken. Now if I search for “teaching,” I’ll see Jennifer’s guide as well as other articles I’ve saved or notes I’ve taken. They aren’t going to be lost in my email archives or on my hard drive, but will be pulled up whenever I’m looking for something like that – in Evernote, where all my reference material and saved notes are.
Set up a gmail filter to automatically forward some emails
I have a more detailed explanation with screenshots on how to do this in Paperless Home Organization which I don’t have time to replicate here. But if there are certain emails you know you’ll always want saved and searchable, you can create a filter in gmail to forward them to your evernote email address automatically.
So, I could tell Gmail that any email that comes from Brandy and says “Newbie Tuesday” should be automatically forwarded to Evernote.
I can also tell Gmail to forward any email that has the word receipt in it to Evernote.
Setting up filters like this not only saves time, but also the mental energy of deciding what to do each and every time.
If you want to use Evernote for everything.
I love Evernote, but I also like to use the app that’s designed to the purpose. So I use Evernote in line with it’s main purpose: as a filing cabinet. I also use a dedicated task management app and a separate habit-tracking app.
But other people have figured out ways to use Evernote for everything and if you’d prefer to use one app only and have it hold everything you need, then Evernote is the program that offers enough flexibility for that to be possible.
TheSecretWeapon.org is a free guide to using Evernote for anything and everything, using Evernote somewhat like a bullet journal.
Offline hacks if you don’t upgrade to premium
You do need a premium account if you want to be able to load all your notebooks offline or save new notes offline (to be synced when you connect to wifi again).
So far, I haven’t upgraded. I used to use the SimpleNote app for shopping lists instead of Evernote, making sure to sync it before leaving the house. However, that app started acting up on me and deleting my lists! Now I keep shopping lists in Omnifocus. “Go to WinCo” or “Go to Costco” will be a task, and the shopping list will be in the notes section. I can pull that up anywhere and add to it or shop from it. Evernote on my iPod Touch isn’t very snappy anyway, so this works well for me.
If there’s a reference note (like a book list) or directions or something else I know I’ll want while I’m out, then I just email that note from Evernote to my standard gmail address, and it pops up in my inbox. My inbox is on my iPod Touch, available offline, and there it is. When I don’t need it anymore, I just archive it.
That’s my little hack.
Premium is probably coming soon in my future, however, because the ability to annotate pdfs within Evernote is very tempting, especially as I’ve been brainstorming more school use ideas for this series. :)
It is so easy to slip into thinking that down time or vacation time is time that doesn’t “count” for anything. We say to ourselves: “I have 36 weeks of school and 16 weeks off in a year.” Then think to ourselves that those 16 weeks are not profitable for learning – they don’t “count,” and therefore we rather look down on them and feel guilty about taking them and think that maybe we should use our time better and keep getting stuff done.
So here’s a picture of our break weeks, and why I think they are just as important to our lifestyle of learning as our school weeks.
~ Pretty Crafty ~
My mom gave Ilse a craft bin for Christmas, stocked with tape and construction paper and scissors, and Ilse’s just been a busy little maker in her room, creating all sorts of things out of the basic material. Her walls are now decorated with her own creations, as well:
Break weeks gave her hours to sit by herself and come up with creative uses for her collections of random bits and papers.
~ Happy Digging ~
With good weather coinciding with this February week off the academic plan, there was also much digging and fort-making – hours spent out-of-doors.
A typical school week for 9 & 11 year olds rarely includes hours out of doors every day. But there is time on break weeks to spend a large portion of the day outside.
~ Funny Reading ~
During this break week the children watched zero tv, zero movies, and only played computer after it was dark (the 9 & 11 year-old played some days after the younger set went to bed).
In addition to lots of drawing, digging, and Legos, there was also lots of reading – sometimes in unusual locations. The boys naturally took advantage of the unseasonably sunny days and read out on the patio, up in trees, and spread out on the grass.
Hans read War of the Worlds in one day, and then holed himself up in his room and came down later with this:
If reading and creating based on reading happens of its own accord, self-directed, it is so much more profitable and effective than if it is scheduled and assigned. Break weeks ensure there is plenty of self-directed time for the kids to do their thing – often after a stretch of being “bored” – to which I say, “I can give you work or you can go make yourself interesting.”
~ Real Life ~
And, let’s not forget that break weeks allow us to reign in the entropy that sets in after weeks-on-end of homeschooling.
Turns out cleaning out under couch cushions is a great job for a 4-year-old.
Don’t be afraid of, or feel guilty for, allowing your children a life of leisure growth.
Just because a box isn’t being checked or you can’t put your finger on what’s being learned, does not diminish the value of children learning to live a rich and full life.
Our next post in the Evernote for Homeschooling series is inspired by a question I received by email last week. Candy wrote:
One thing I struggle with is trying to organize and maintain a booklist both for read alouds and for my kids to read. There are so many wonderful websites and it’s difficult to get it all in one place that is accessible when I’m out and about at the library, book sales, etc.
So I’m wondering what you use to keep track of books you want to keep in the pipeline for your family? Something you can access when you are out.
Most of my intense book list days were back in the days of paper printouts and notebooks in my purse. As I transitioned toward digital planning, I was also slowing down book collecting, but even so, I do most of mine online so I haven’t worried too much about offline availability. If I’m at the local library sale, there’s wifi, and most of my other book-buying is through Amazon used or paperbackswap.com. I almost never browse the actual library shelves, either, but search their online catalog, place a hold, and just run in and grab my books the librarians have already pulled off the shelf for me.
Now that we’re further down the road and I have a wider age range, I’m afraid we’ll miss reading an essential story to the middle or younger set as we keep moving forward with the older ones.
But a book list helps with that, too.
So here’s the best way I’ve found to keep book lists in Evernote:
Book Lists for Reference
Create a notebook in your homeschool reference stack that is solely for booklists.
Use web clipper to save online book lists like 1000 Good Books list.
Use the web clipper to save a screenshot of a book you want to add to your booklist.
This reference notebook is like your catch-all bucket for all the book ideas. I’ve saved descriptions of books from Exodus Books, added items to my cart and then taken a screenshot (with web clipper) of those books and saved it to Evernote, saved Well-Trained Mind Forum threads with book lists, and of course saved straight book lists like Christine Miller’s 1000 Good Books list.
In fact, if you’ve already saved some book lists in Evernote, we can even share them with each other by email. My friend who does the kids’ book club emails me her Evernote book list of the books she’s chosen. If you have book lists you’ve created or saved, tell us in the comments and we can send them to each other and not each duplicate work! :) I, for one, would like a simple book list for each year of AO. And to share, I have compiled the Omnibus book lists into a simple book list (with edition and translator noted) so I can keep my eyes peeled for those.
Book Lists for a School Year
You’ll also want a book list note in each School Year notebook, so you have a record of what you read in first grade, so that when you return to first grade with another child, that book list is ready to go. Make sure to note where you got the book: is it from your own collection, from the library, free online, on your kindle – make it easy to find again.
Keep a separate note for a pared down, “I really want to be on the lookout for these” books, apart from your big reference notebook.
Because I don’t pay for Evernote premium, I have – from my laptop at home – emailed notes like this to myself so they’re in my inbox to pull up and reference while I’m out. It’s a quick workaround, and it’s much faster than having my poor little iPod work to index my entire Evernote collection to find what I’m searching for.
Book Lists for Books You Have
You might consider beginning a personal library notebook, also. Especially as your collection grows, it’s nice to be able to quickly search for books by the same author, books tagged as “medieval,” or audio books you have downloaded.
I am currently cataloguing my library with Delicious Library, and have also used LibraryThing previously, but it’s possible to keep a library catalog in Evernote, too.
Make a “Personal Library” stack.
Make a notebook for different categories of books, either based on how you shelve your books or some other way that would make it easier to browse.
Make one note for each book, with the author’s name (Last, First) and the book title as the note’s title.
Take a picture of the book if you’d like so that a cover image is a part of the browsing experience.
I use Delicious Library or LibraryThing so that I can simply enter the ISBN (or even scan it) and have all the information auto-pulled from Amazon. Using Evernote this way means you have to do all the data entry yourself.
I’m sure there are more ways to use Evernote for book lists and book reference.
How do you use it? Do you have booklists you are willing to share?
~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~
When I was 11, my mom had twins. Already interested in cooking, I eagerly took once-a-week dinner duties. I could make spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (from boxes) with tuna and peas, and hamburger helper. My grandma was an extreme couponer before it was a thing, so she kept our pantry stocked with boxes and mixes, and I appreciated being able to grab something, follow the 3 steps, and put dinner on the table by myself – complete with microwaved frozen mixed vegetables.
I think kids that age want to be useful and contribute in real ways to the family, and what is more useful than feeding people?
Actually, this project first began this summer when an extended-family conversation turned to sending my younger brother off to college and how he was renting an apartment off campus. “You’ll have to send him Simplified Dinners,” commented my mom. I pulled my printed copy off the shelf to let him look through and chatted about how easy the dinners were. He stopped me, “So, saute is like cutting them a certain way?”
Oh. Um. Well. Nevermind. Simplified Dinners is not going to work for you. Simplified Dinners presumes kitchen skills; it is written for busy, harried moms like me who just want to get dinner on the table but don’t want to have to think through everything or read a long discursive recipe. It’s dinner shorthand, but it presumes you know the lingo.
I decided my brother needed a Simplified Simplified Dinners; one that didn’t presume any kitchen experience. I thought I’d get it done to give for Christmas presents, but alas, that was not to be.
Better late than never, though. Now he has his own edition of Simplified Dinners for New Cooks. 12 tools, 12 skills, 10 dinner types that each have three or more variations.
~ Pretty Awesome! ~
And better for me: I plopped a page of my draft in front of my 11 year old and said, “I think you can make dinner all by yourself. Let’s see.” And he did it. And he asked to do it again the next day. So he and his brother tested the clarity of instructions for me, and I refined wording, and our work is nearly complete: Simplified Dinners for New Cooks is nearly ready for publishing.
~ Happy Kids, Happy Mom ~
My 9 & 11 year old boys really are thrilled to be able to be independent in the kitchen, get dinner on the table themselves, and receive all the thanks due to the cook at the table.
Beaming, I would call them.
~ Funny Expressions ~
Hans says he’ll cook dinner as often as I let him. Pretty awesome. How long do you think that enthusiasm will last?
At his age, I cooked Hamburger Helper and Macaroni and Cheese from boxes and zapped frozen vegetables in the microwave. It was a start, but not a start I wanted to have to live through at my own dinner table. We’ve grown up a bit in our taste since that time.
But I think we’ve proven that if you can wield a knife, you can get dinner on the table. Not just any dinner, either, but a real food, from-scratch dinner.
~ Real Dinner ~
They have made pizza from scratch – including the yeast dough, baked bacon with frittata and muffins, salad with homemade salad dressing, creamy chicken pasta, sausage-and-beans, soup, chicken quesadillas, and more. Tonight they are doing homemade pizza again, because that was their favorite.
I am just as excited as my kids. What better way to outsource meals than to the people who need to eat it, too.
They aren’t as excited about outsourcing the mopping or the bathroom-cleaning, but dinner, yes, they’ll take dinner duty anytime.
I am almost done reading The Liberal Arts Tradition, but I know I have at least two more posts in me for this one. I feel like I understand the liberal arts aspect of classical education so much better now, and that foundational understanding makes it easier to make choices come spring curriculum-planning time. I so much appreciate how the authors draw out classical education as a stream with each section. They cover each liberal art (and everything else they cover) starting with what it meant in the classical setting, how it was studied in the medieval period, and what the corresponding studies would mean in a contemporary setting.
What are the Liberal Arts?
[The liberal arts] are the tools of learning.
These are not subjects, not really. These are modes, ways of thinking, practices that teach us how to think and how to learn. They are not seven topics to study, but seven paths that prepare us for thinking, for philosophy, for virtue, for life. They are the prerequisite skills for an understanding of the world.
The seven liberal arts are
Now, let’s deal with each one in turn.
Grammar: Knowing language.
Dionysius Thrax, around 100 BC, [defined “grammar”] as knowledge of what is normally said by poets and prose writers. By the time of Quintilian the study of grammar consisted of everything that was necessary for interpreting a text – geography, history, even what we might call hermeneutics.
Grammar teaches the skill of “grasping concepts”; it includes not only formal language grammar (English and Latin), but also the material that informs our understanding, our grasping, of language: literature and history. Grammar was taught so Latin could be read, and Latin was read so that literature and history could be read.
Consider, for example, what a reader should know in order properly to interpret the Aeneid, and one will intuitively grasp the nature of grammar in its classical sense.
So Grammar encompasses the subjects of language-learning (including grammar), literature, history, geography, and reading skills.
Logic: Using language.
Dialectic, however, is more than mere logic; for, as its etymology suggests, the study of dialectic involved dialogue.
Logic, or Dialectic, teaches the skill of reasoning, questioning, and thinking. It includes research and of dialog as dialectic modes. Logic is taught so reasonable, stimulating, edifying conversation may be had.
Reading Plato’s dialogues, we find that the key to success in reasoning is the ability to ask the right questions.
Rhetoric: Being persuasive with language.
Cicero is famous both for his inimitable style as well as for providing the classic statement of the purpose of rhetoric: movere, docere, delectare – “to move, to instruct, to delight.”
Whereas logic is more about expressing oneself correctly, rhetoric is about expressing oneself winsomely and beautifully. The persuasive essay more than the book report is part of rhetoric. Rhetoric could include the subjects of debate or media studies as well as composition.
Students studied rhetoric to learn how to be persuasive in their use of language by appealing to the reason, will, and affections of their audience.
Arithmetic: Using discrete numbers. Math ability.
Thus a rigorous foundation including extensive practice and drilling would have provided a foundation for the skill of arithmetic. […] On the other hand, rote memory and reproduction would not have qualified as an art, liberal or otherwise. For Nicomachus, deeply understanding the necessary connections and relationships among the numbers would have been an essential element of the liberal art of arithmetic.
The first of the four number-centric quadrivium studies, arithmetic comprises what we would know as elementary mathematics: knowing the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, as well as how to figure all the long forms. However, classically this was studied more than as rote facts, but as concepts to be able to imagine, understand, see. It’s not enough to get the right answer; we must also seek an understanding of the relationships between numbers that these operations can teach us if we spend more than a required 10 minutes doing drills.
That is, arithmetic studies should include playing with numbers.
Students who encounter mathematics in wonder are far more likely to commit to the rigors of its work.
Geometry: Using spatial numbers. Math in space.
If we consider not just the content of geometry but its form throughout the ancient, medieval, and early modern milieus, it was almost universally identified with Euclid’s Elements.
The Quadrivium section of the book evidences that the authors are math and science teachers, which is actually quite refreshing in the genre of classical education books. I understand the Quadrivium so much better now – what it means and why it’s important – and partly that is simply because the authors’ affection for the topic is evident.
Euclid is the epitome of deductive proof. While the Trivium has the syllogism of dialectic, in the Quadrivium Euclid’s Elements provides the paradigm of certain and airtight reasoning.
Geometry studies is the study of geometry, but deductive reasoning is part and parcel of that study.
Thus a traditional approach to geometry is an excellent help for Christian classical educators seeking to teach students how to think and not just what to think.
Astronomy: Using arrays of number. Math in time and space.
Astronomy was the best example of a mathematical system devised to contain a vast amount of observational data.
Historically and definitely classically, it has been astronomy that has been the area of study requiring the scientific method and abstract mathematics. It is about creating mathematical theories and systems that fit the observed data best.
So, today, subjects included under the heading of Astronomy would include physics and mechanics.
Music: Using number harmonies and proportions. Math in time.
Moreover the search for metaphysical harmony has continued to drive researchers in the twenties and twenty-first centuries.
Music as a liberal art is not primarily about playing an instrument, but about seeking and seeing harmonies of all sorts.
As Leibniz, the cofounder of calculus said, “music is the joy that a soul takes in counting without realizing it.”
So subjects included under Music would include not only music theory, but also calculus, theoretic economics, and cosmology: What if these subjects were considered under the domain of seeking harmony?
All of reality is laden with mathematically proportional relationships.
Next week, what a liberal arts homeschool might look like.
Science: Atoms, Molecules, and Quarks by Melvin Berger (read-aloud at Elementary Lessons – I learned how nuclear energy is generated this week! Though a plant is practically in my backyard, I never knew until this week how it worked.)