Out of all of the things you will purchase for your students — whether you’ve got a classroom-full or your own homeschooled children — materials for creating beautiful main lesson books are the supplies not to skimp on. Colored pencils and main lesson books are daily-use tools — buy the best and make your everyday work enjoyable. Today I’ll cover all the ins and outs of main lesson books and I’ll cover pencils, crayons and everything else in the coming days.
Since writing the post below, I have become a huge fan of having students work on loose paper and then binding the pages together to create a book. One huge benefit here is that students can start over, without fear of running out of main lesson pages in their books.
The other big benefit is that you can choose whatever kind of paper and include whatever you want in the book. Want to work landscape rather than portrait? Want to work on 8 1/2 by 11 paper? Want to include students’ drafts, worksheets, paintings in their final main lesson books? All of this is possible if you bind your own books. And though the purchase of the binding machine is significant, you will save for years to come.
I shopped around quite a bit and decided on the Akiles CoilMac-M Plus Manual Spiral Binding Machine. I prefer the feel and function of a spiral-bound book, rather than the plastic comb style and this machine is really solid. It is not as automatic as some machines, but it functions without a hitch, every time.
Once you’ve settled on the binding machine, you get to choose your paper. I just love really good paper. If you ask me, it’s worth spending a little extra money on. This year I used this 100 lb. Bristol paper from Canson. It is just the right balance of smooth and textured, so it accepts pen and colored pencil really well. The best thing is that when you finally bind your pages together at the end of the block, those pages combine to create a beautifully substantial main lesson book.
If you’d rather work on pre-bound main lesson books, I’ve got some suggestions there, too.
Main Lesson Books
I have always preferred the main lesson books that used to be put out by Adonis Press. A couple years ago the Adonis people quit selling main lesson books and the books are currently sold by a company called RAAND. I find these books far superior to the ones carried by Mercurius. The paper quality on the RAAND book is just as good as the Mercurius (with the exception of the recycled books) and though the cover is simply a heavy cardstock, rather than the more durable textured cover of the Mercurius books, the quality of the spiral binding is far superior. I’ve found it definitely better to get a book with a spiral binding so that you can easily turn the book back on itself while you’re working, but I found that the open wire spiral binding of the Mercurius books would often get caught on things and get bent out of shape. There’s never a problem with the plastic coil binding of the RAAND books. One other benefit, the colors of the RAAND book covers are more subdued and much more pleasant than the bright royal blue and shocking orange of the Mercurius books.
But what size to get? All through my years teaching the upper grades I purchased the smaller 9 by 12 books, thinking it was a bit intimidating and difficult to try to fill a larger page using small colored pencils. Recently, though, I saw some beautiful examples of main lesson book work using the larger 11 by 14 books. I’m not convinced they are the best thing to use for regular everyday main lesson bookwork, though. Some teachers buy the larger books for mapmaking in Geography blocks. I tried this, but I found it tricky to have one book that didn’t fit in with all of the others. It also required that the book follow us for a number of years, because we certainly couldn’t fill it in one block. Looking back, I realize it would have been better to stick with the regular 9 by 14 book. Almost all teachers in the lower grades use 11 by 14 books. Mercurius sells an 18.9 by 12.6 book that I’ve seen used, but my teacher training warned against using a book that was too large with little ones whose block crayons look pretty small when faced with that huge page.
Onion skin or no? Onion skin paper is used between pages to prevent the colored pencil on one page from rubbing off on the page it faces, which is a bit of a dilemma on richly decorated main lesson book pages. I never ordered books with the onion skin bound in the book. Some of our specialty teachers did and many kids accidentally wrote on the onion skin (which is a bit heavy in the Mercurius books). One year I bought loose onion skin, though that ended up being too large for the smaller RAAND books so I trimmed it down, which was a pain, and some students ended up using untrimmed onion skin that stuck out of their books in an untidy way. One year we put loose printer paper between our pages, which was nice and tidy, but felt a bit wasteful. I think there’s no perfect solution here, yet, so make the compromise that works best for you.
Binding books? One year I ditched the whole pre-bound main lesson book idea altogether and the students worked on a “signature” which was a large sheet of paper (I think I used 18 by 12) folded in half to create four (9 by 12) pages. At the end of the year I taught the students bookbinding and we bound all of their work together. This was nice because we didn’t have main lesson books with extra pages leftover and we could put the blocks in the order we studied them. It took a bit of organizing — keeping everyone’s work straight, without having everything neatly bound. I’m not sure I would do it again. The binding at the end of the year was pretty challenging (even though this was 7th grade) and though there were a handful of students who were quite proud to have their work for the year neatly bound together, there were many more who were frustrated by the experience. Recently I have seen some teachers have their students bind together their main lesson book work in a different way. Throughout the year the students work in bound main lesson books. At the end of the year they remove the spiral bindings, stack the work neatly in order and then sew through the holes made for the spiral. I could see this being a nice compromise.