How to Homeschool With Composition Books

If you’re looking for a low-cost, low-stress way to homeschool, why not try composition books? I know they aren’t impressive by themselves, but with just a few ideas, tips, and directions they can become the best way to give your children a top-notch education!

You see, these are not like workbooks. Workbooks are pretty much worthless once they are filled out. There really is no value to going back over them.

Composition books are more; they are actually learning keepsakes.

When a child holds a composition book in his hand, he has the feeling he is creating something that will last. The covers are hard and durable. The pages are actually sewn in, meant to stay and become permanent (unlike a spiral notebook where the pages are meant to be torn out).

When a person takes the time to copy, or write, or draw and explain or display thoughts that are her own, it is meaningful. This sort of work should be put on a shelf so that later it can be gone over again. It should be pulled out from time-to-time and shared with friends and loved ones.

It also helps us as moms when we can pull out one of their books and see physical evidence there is real learning going on in our home.

So, how does one go about it?

First of all, we need supplies. Not huge dollar-item supplies. Just about $20 or $30 does just fine for our current group of five children.

I am writing this during the fantabulous back-to-school supply sales, which makes me want to cheer! Really and truly, the supplies I need for my children are so cheap right about now.

I am buying:

Composition books. Of course, but I not only purchase the regular type, but the “other” ones, with a half-page left blank for a drawing and the ones filled with graph-paper.

Pens and pencils. I use mechanical pencils because they are more convenient. I use bulk bags of Bic pens because they write so smoothly. I make sure I purchase black ones because they are so useful for outlining drawings, and blue ones because this is the color I normally use when setting the books up for the younger ones (more on this later).

  • Highlighters. The fat-tipped ones are extremely useful for creating primary pages and pages for penmanship.
  • Coloring pencils and crayons. 
  • Watercolors and watercolor paper. There are times when you want something a little bit more refined.
  • Markers. These would normally be useless because they bleed through, but we have the option of using index cards for our illustrations, so there are no worries!)
  • Index cards. These are essential for eliminating frustration since they can be written or drawn on and then glued on a page (or glued in on top of a mistake). I also like to use them for writing out specific directions for a book and then stapling them inside the cover.
  • Glue sticks. Great for everyday pasting of index cards and other papers.
  • Rubber cement. This is best for making sure anything glued in is also smooth.
  • Scissors. 
  • Manila envelopes. Not a must but nice to have for pasting inside as a “pocket.”
  • Clear tape. The type for packing boxes. The heavier the better.
  • Duct tape. Assorted colors are nice for using on the spines to differentiate one type of book from another, or to identify one child’s books from another’s.
  • Sticky notes. This is great for leaving little love notes or extra instructions for book pages.

After you have the supplies, you can begin to decide just what types of books you will create. Here are some ideas:

“Everything” books.

This is a great idea if you are just starting out and have a lot of children to corral keep track of. Each child is given his/her own book and does all the work you assign, such as dictation and copywork, Bible, math, penmanship, and notebooking, on consecutive pages. Instead of having numerous books that you have to stack and shuffle around, you only have one per child.

Books per subject and/or interest.

This has been typical for us. One book is generally for McGuffey reader and grammar work. Another one is for math. Still another is for “content,” which we do as notebooking projects.

Here is a partial list of the different books you could create:

  • Bible journal
  • Math workbook
  • Nature journal
  • Record-keeping
  • Penmanship
  • Storybook
  • History notebook
  • Timeline
  • Books on one area of interest, such as horses or spaceflight
  • Science notebook
  • Geography notebook
  • Narration journal

Next, you need some guidelines, rules, and regulations.

Even though these books mean a lot of fun, they can also seem intimidating, especially for younger children. First of all, there are so many pages to be filled, without any clue of what to put where, that it makes them seem daunting.

Secondly, the fact that they are so permanent feeling makes one tremble with fear at possible mistakes.

Here are some ways to counter both:

  • Make places for where things must go.

For little children, this often means you are going to be writing before they write. Begin by using a highlighter and creating primary pages. What does that look like? It means you are going to color in every-other line to create “primary pages” like these:

For beginning readers and writers, this means you are going to take a few moments to tell them where to put things:

For older, more independent learners, you could make up some cards like these and staple them to the inside cover of the composition book:


What can they put in their notebooks? Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Math problems
  • Bible verses
  • Narrative drawings
  • Diagrams
  • Maps
  • Copywork
  • Narrative writing
  • Dictations
  • Grammar exercises
  • Graphs and charts
  • Lists of books, chores, favorite movies, etc.
  • A scrapbook of photos from special projects
  • A collection of specimens
  • A timeline
  • A recipe
  • A story
  • Some riddles
  • A planner
  • A song
  • Printouts of important information from the Web
  • Poetry
  • Experiment data
  • Plans for inventions
  • Sports stats

  • Make provision for potential mistakes.

Having a child do their work first in pencil helps, especially for drawing.  I also keep stacks of index cards and bits of plain and lined paper that can be glued in or over something that is amiss.

Here are a few more hints:

Use different-colored duct tape, washi tape, or labels to help quickly identify the composition books, either according to subject or person. I created labels on this stack by printing out a sheet of multi-colored flowers, cutting each out, and then using clear tape to put them on the spines of our books:

Some really unorganized creative children don’t necessarily know they need to fill notebook pages in sequence. It may be good to write the page numbers in the corners and create a table of contents at the beginning of the book.

We use our composition books as an extension for:

  • Math texts and concepts
  • McGuffey’s readers
  • Gentle grammar
  • Science books and all the rabbit trails they take us on
  • History novels and all the rabbit trails they take us on
  • Literature being read independently
  • Foreign language
  • Art studies

Now, I know you are looking for more photos to help clear things up even further (I know I would be), so we have created a gallery of photos for you to enjoy. Just click on the picture below:

I hope this gives you a place to start. There is so much more that I could write, maybe in the next post? I was thinking I need to talk about how to organize all of the information I have been sharing lately.

What do you think would be best?


31 thoughts on “How to Homeschool With Composition Books”

  1. Perfect post. Your index card ideas alone made this post golden. Thank you for showing actual examples. Visuals are helpful.
    Blessings on your week!

  2. Thank you! I love this! It is exactly what I needed to hear. I am anxious to get some composition notebooks and go with it. Another post would be great.

  3. I just have to tell you how much I enjoy your posts. They are full of useful, helpful information. I surely appreciate the time and effort you put into sharing your experiences and resources. I take notes while reading them and am enjoying going back through some of your older posts. This one was no exception. Thank you, thank you!

  4. Composition books are our favorite! We use them for McGuffeys, science, “notebooking” (I think it’s similar to your “content”) handwriting & grammar. Another thing we use them for are Geography. No curriculum needed. We choose a country of our own interest, check out the books from the library & each page has it’s own “thing” for the country. Ex: first page we write the name, sketch the country & label the capital. Page 2 we sketch the flag. Page 3 we list famous places there & choose one to illustrate. Page 4 is listing natural resources & illustration. Page 5 is a note booking page on an animal native to that country. Etc… We realized by the end of the year we have a whole little encyclopedia of their own making! Much more entertaining that way 🙂

    • Love it! I think I am going to use your ideas for geography–how very fun, and you are right, they are creating their own mini-encyclopedias 🙂

  5. Forgot to add how much I love the index cards idea to glue in and plan on using those for sure-thanks for the inspiration as always!!

  6. Thank you sooo much for sharing this! It was exactly what I needed for this year and put the wind back in my sail today!

  7. I love these posts! I spent so many years spending big bucks on curriculum, a lot of which was consumable. This year, I went a completely different direction, using composition notebooks and things like McGuffey readers, Long’s Language Lessons, the library, and materials we already own. Many thanks to you for sharing your wisdom and all the practical things that have worked for your family.

    • Wonderful! You can use the money you have saved to have fun together on some great adventures! This year we spent ours on a summer pool pass for the entire family 🙂

  8. Sherry, wow. This is my new favorite post. I have been wanting to use notebooking for years now, but have only gotten some pathetic flopping done – no real take-off, and no sustainable progress. This is such a help to me, and I’m going to be using tomorrow – not to mentioning bookmarking to come back to. Thank you!!

    • I’m so glad! We really love using composition books. They are so easy to store and get out, too. I am actually working on a major post that will include even more details, hopefully even a video tour, so stay tuned 🙂

      • I can’t wait to read/watch your new posts on using composition books! That will be great! I would LOVE to see as many pictures as possible – thank you so much for the gallery of examples that accompanies this post! 🙂

      • Can you point me to this part 2 post? We do composition books, too, and I am always open to new options with them! Thank you!

        • I’m so sorry, Kimberly, but I never wrote a second one–although I probably should! I’m greatly creative, and mostly disciplined, but there are times when my creativity gets ahead of my self-discipline (and sense).

  9. Have you seen the k-2 notebooks at Walmart this year??!! They have a box for a picture and large lines for learning to write. This item has made my homeschool year!

  10. We have two kids. You have fifteen kids. How do you find the time to write out that mich prepatory work for notebooks for fifteen students?! Even if they are not all doing the same thing at the same time? How do you find the time? Love the ideas!

    • Excellent question! First of all, I am only teaching 5 of our children, since the others have “graduated.” Secondly, I do not write out the notebooks for the older three, they are skilled enough to keep themselves on track. That leaves only two that I help with, and then lessons are so short I usually only put a few numbers on the side of the page for each lesson.

      I have actually created some free printable lesson sheets that one could use in lieu of composition books if you have lots of littles and don’t have the time to do all that prep work. You can find the link on the sidebar of my blog 🙂

  11. Wow, this is such a great idea! I had fleetingly thought of this, but had never seen it done, so I promptly forgot it. But reading this has inspired me to try this. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this all out and photograph it. Your experience is such a wealth, such a blessing. Thank you. -Emily

  12. I’ll start homeschooling soon and I am so very grateful to our Father for you and all that you have provided. I have no income, but I feel like God has definitely made way by placing wonderful people as yourself to help other mommas get the work done. God bless you!

    • I am honored to be part of God’s provision for you and your children 🙂 I know what it is like to live on faith, and then to witness God’s faithfulness. It’s a wonderful journey with Jesus!


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