Our Commonplace Books

One of the big three of Laurie Bestvater’s “The Living Page” is the Commonplace Book. (The other two are the Book of Centuries and the Nature Journal, in case you are wondering.)

What is a Commonplace Book?

It is, simply, a collection of favorite quotes from reading. Occasionally the keeper adds their own thoughts or a quote, or reviews a book they have read, but in general it contains other people’s words, selected by the keeper. (Does anyone else just love that term? Keeper?)

Before Commonplacing

My 8 year old son is too young for a commonplace book, which was started in the later school years. At this stage he is working on neat copying with Italics: Beautiful Handwriting for Children – he is on part 1, basic (non-joined) italics.

Saddle-stitched booklet, made by folding letter sized paper in half.

I found a wonderful lady on Youtube who goes under the handle of SeaLemon. For the book above I followed her saddle stitching video. After you’ve made a book or two this is very easy, especially if you have a duplexing printer.

Early Commonplacing

It became obvious that my older boys (my 11yo and 12yo) needed a bit of practice in “neat” handwriting. So I printed and bound (as above) the alphabet section of part 2 (joined or cursive) of Italics: Beautiful Handwriting for Children. They have made good progress, and my older son especially has been trying to be neat in his writing (unless it’s math).

Red is DS11's color, green is DS12's color. I bought these at Walmart.

A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure. — Home Education

For the future, they each have a “book of poetry”, as Miss Mason alludes to. I won’t insist on poetry of course, they may copy from any book, but poetry is going to be the I-don’t-know-what-to-write default. They use a hard-cover composition book for this. I think of these books as their practice books, something to use while their handwriting becomes more consistent and fluid. One thing I do not like about these books is the paper: it is very thin and I’ve advised the boys to only write on one side of the page. I plan to buy them a moleskin like mine, or something similar, when they start year 8. (My daughter may be ready before then, time will tell. And as my oldest in year 7, I might be way off base in my expectations here.)

My Commonplacing

One thing I’ve noticed about my commonplace book: it is an uncannily accurate thermometer of my life. Plentiful entries? I’m calm and balanced. Few or no entries? I’m not reading enough, I’m rushed. I’m probably tired.

My moleskine. I'm thanking Heather at Bent Leather for my newly found Sara Teasdale love.

I use, and love, my moleskine. I have a very simple setup. The first sheet (both sides) is left pristinely blank. The third sheet from the back contains my list of books read (started in 2015). The rest is for quotes. For each quote I write the full date. Then the quote. Then the attribute. No color coding or anything fancy. Most of the time I note only the book title, and don’t even put a chapter or page reference. I probably should do this, but I blame my ereader for this habit of, um, brevity. Perfectionism is my enemy: the simpler, the better for me.

Want More?

Visit the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival for more, or the monthly Keeping Company Link-up at Joyous Lessons.

What’s Next for Us?

Commonplacing has a solid start here. My older boys are almost done with their handwriting refresher and I’m so excited about that. I’ve thought about different ways to encourage commonplacing and I think I’m looking at a few ideas:

  • In sight, in mind: Make the commonplace book a reading companion and keeping it nearby whenever a book is opened. I will both model this (which I’ve been trying to do) and gently remind them to grab it either at the start of the schoolday or as they move into a ‘reading’ subject.
  • Sharing time: We have been having afternoon tea time more often, and I think I’ll invite them to use that time for a ‘keeping’ show and tell. This would include all keeping, so my younger son won’t be left out. OR I may specifically have them share during our round table (big kids) time, if a general end-of-day time proves to boisterous.

I’m hoping these organic approaches work to strengthen the commonplacing habit.

For our next “keeping” focus, I’m torn between the Book of Centuries (I just purchased one for my eldest son – better late than never!) and our Nature Journals. I’d like to have my eldest son start a habit of using his BOC, and middle son his century chart, so that will probably be next. I will also try to get my nature journal out more, and model. (As much as my kids like to draw, this may be all it takes.)


  1. dawn

    Thanks, I love seeing everyone’s Commonplace books. I love that you bound some of your own books, too!

    The new design looks *fantastic* love it!

  2. Pingback: On Keeping a Commonplace Book - Karen Ann McArthur

  3. Karen

    Amy, loved reading about this earlier this morning. In fact, I kept thinking about it…and you inspired me to write about Keeping on my blog. Thanks! I can so identify with your sense of how your commonplace book is an accurate gauge of your life. That’s so true for me, and I’m sure for others who are inclined to reading and writing.

    1. Amy Hines (Post author)

      Thank you! I am still lost in pondering the verse on your sidebar “..make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands…” – wonderful!

  4. Celeste

    We have those exact same composition notebooks–my 8yos use them for their “copybooks.” (Side note, but I’ve been wondering this: like you, I don’t have my kids keep “commonplace books” yet, even though that’s basically what they’re doing. I call them copybooks instead, but it’s really a false distinction. I know CM suggested having them choose their own copywork at this age, but I also know she didn’t start “commonplace books” until later on…so what’s the difference? Is this something you’ve thought about too? I should probably just ask on the forums, but since you mentioned that you do the same as I do, I was wondering if you had a reason for it. Because I don’t. LOL)

    And by the way, I love your Keeping sharing time idea! That is something I have wanted to do for a while: a weekly meeting, where we share our Keeping and discuss the scheduled-but-unnarrated (independently read, but at the same pace) free reads. Maybe I will try to institute that this summer, because I think it could be really fun. And the more independent my kids get in their work, the more that time to touch base and really discuss what they’re working on (rather than just “inspecting”) is important. Thank you for the encouragement!

    1. Amy Hines (Post author)

      I’m not sure on official ages. For some reason I thought they were From III, but I can’t remember where I saw that. I am mainly watching my sons, and I don’t think they are ready for a thick (ish) book with small lines. We start term 2B in just over a week, so I want to put my theories into practice then. (And I’ll be sure to update with what works.)

  5. Lisa

    I love this post, especially the “plentiful entries = calm and balanced” and few or no entries = not reading enough, rushed and tired”. This describes me exactly. For me, it’s no about finding the time to do it, but making the time to do it. 🙂
    Love your idea of having a keeping sharing time. I want to integrate that into our day.
    Thanks for the inspiration, friend. 🙂

    1. Lisa

      And speaking of being rushed, pardon all my misspellings. 😉

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