It's October, and you're a brand new homeschooling family. By now you might be settling into some routine. You've already discarded things that aren't working and still agonizing over others. What's the most important piece of this homeschool puzzle?
It's record keeping.
If your child is in the K-8 range, your record keeping task is pretty simple. Toss everything that's been done on paper into a box. This includes workbooks, posters, homework, projects, book reports, and art work that isn't suitable for framing. For the latter, take and print photos, even if black-and-white. This is the record box, not the display case. If necessary, everything in that box can be sorted later.
If your child is working a course online then get periodic printouts of grade reports. You could also take screen shots or photos of those screens that display grades. Print, and toss in the box.
Take photos of the art work, family activities, pies baked, sports activities, field trips, and outings, and put those on a well-labeled flash drive for that year, one for each child. The flash drive will go in a zip-lock bag (so you can find it) in the box while it's accumulating, and will either stay there at the end of the year or follow the child into the next year. If you have multiple children then you'll want to transfer those family photos to a flash drive for each child.
Keep a list of books read and movies watched. If the list is in electronic form it can go on the flash drive. If it's on paper, then it goes in the box. Don't forget the 4H record book.
If your child returns to a classroom setting somewhere, then what's in the box becomes your evidence of what was accomplished. If there is ever a legal question about your homeschooling, then the box is your evidence of your diligence.
Consider selecting items from the box and the flash drive to use to make a memory book of that child's year. You can make one book each year, or you can continue a book from one year to the next.
When can you toss what's in those K-8 boxes? When the child has accomplished a year in a classroom setting, or after a year of high school, whether it was in a classroom, online, or homeschooled. When that year is done you can rummage the K-8 boxes for the treasures you want to keep, and recycle the rest. If you're uncertain about keeping something or throwing it away, consider taking a scan or photo of it and then tossing it out. The photo goes on that flash drive.
If your child is doing high school level coursework, no matter what age, then you'll need a little more diligence. Coursework for each class should be accumulated in its own file folder or envelope. Keep these on a designated shelf or a filing cabinet. Label them so they can be easily identified on the shelf or in the drawer. Put daily homework in the back of the folder or envelope. The order does not matter. Copies of tests or projects go in front of the homework. It should not be difficult to order these sequentially. Grade reports go in the very front. If the student is working through a book with specific content then add a copy of the table of contents from the book. If not all content was accomplished, indicate on that copy where you stopped.
When a course is finished put the letter grade on the outside of the envelope or the front of the file folder. Your goal is to handle this paperwork as little as possible. In the same place include the dates when the course was begun and finished, and if the student was tutored through the course then include the name of that person. Writing a transcript from this data will be simple.
If the child returns to a classroom during high school then your accumulated file folders or envelopes can help a guidance counselor properly place that student.
The extra-curricular record of books read, club memberships (4H, scouting), sports, teen conferences and seminars, work and volunteer experience, etc. will be a separate file, and these are important if the child is applying for college. If there's a calendar kept that shows the busy schedule of the student then include that calendar in this file. What you need to do with this file will depend on what you choose to do following high school. A college application may ask about those activities, and the file will jog your memory.
You can make a memory book, but you WILL transcript those high school classes, even if the child doesn't proceed to higher education. A transcript is sometimes requested when applying for jobs or other educational opportunities and is required for the military. It doesn't have to be elaborate. Dates, course titles, instructors, credits earned, and grades are all that needs to be on that transcript.
A 'credit' is defined as 150 hours of classroom time in the study of a subject. That homework folder can often easily justify that more than 150 hours was spent on the class. If you're not accumulating the minutes spent on homework (who does that?) then the evidence is your homework folder.
While some classes can be somewhat undefined about what was accomplished (art), some are pretty clearly defined from a textbook table of contents. If you worked at developing some proficiency at an art or craft for four or five months, then count that as a half-credit. If you ate, slept, and dreamt that animal-raising project for four or five months, then perhaps it's worth several credits. If you proceeded at your own pace through algebra and took 18 months to do it, then that's one credit. Actual course content matters most when the student is applying for higher education or to be admitted to military service. Record keeping is crucial.
When can you throw away all that homework? When the student has accomplished the next class up in a setting that will be transcripted. For example, if the student successfully completes a math class at a college, then that's when all the math work from high school can be discarded. Keep a copy of that transcript, however.
If you're new to homeschooling then perhaps take a day and get that filing system set up. By now you'll have an accumulation of paperwork lying around to sort into your new system, and it won't be overwhelming.