Designing a Homeschool Yearbook with Book Designer Karen Dahlquist

We are thrilled to have homeschool mom and professional book designer Karen Dahlquist share her inspiration behind the homeschool yearbook design for Branches Biltmore Homeschool Community in Arizona.

branchesBranches is a Christian homeschool co-op which offers weekly academic and enrichment classes, sports activities, clubs, special events and so much more to over 100+ families within the Phoenix Metro area. Parents share their expertise in various areas like administration, teaching, event coordination, facility logistics, leading clubs . . . and of course, the yearbook.

This was the second year that I worked with Picaboo Yearbooks.  When I first got involved I was a little bit apprehensive on the entire process. Would it be a clunky interface? Hard to set up a store? Would the ordering be a nightmare to manage? Would the books arrive safely?

I was pleasantly surprised that everything, from setting up the book and online store, to designing, proofing, ordering and ultimately receiving our books, was painless and enjoyable! I look forward to many years of memories being captured for our community with Picaboo Yearbooks.

Branches Yearbook

Cover Inspiration

At any given week, we have over 50+ different classes throughout the day that are incredibly unique and change from Fall to Spring semester.  I wanted to represent the ‘fruit’ of this community through collected items found as I walked the campus each week – things that embodied the Branches experience as well as the ‘tree logo’ theme.

As I found items that were leaf, bird, tree, and flower-type elements I would take a photo of it to then bring home to mask out in Photoshop and bring together into a cohesive collage. Elements included drawings of the children, icing creations from their cupcake decorating classes, scrapbooking items, Legos and more. The Branches color theme is green, so the overall background coloration had a green base. For added whimsy, I drew little sketches on top in white like musical notes from a bird, along with a snail crawling along a leaf.

I carried the design over to the back cover and added a large group photo with a verse from John 15:5.  Some of our families enjoy the customizing opportunity that Picaboo generously offers so I made sure that the same large group photo was also inside of the book.

Design Elements

themeThough I didn’t re-use any of the cover elements inside of the book, I did continue to use found elements to add interest to certain classes instead of solely using Picaboo’s stickers

For example, one day in the hall I found a sticky-note outside of the ‘Coffee Shop Performance’ class that said “You already have your biggest fan! Her name is: MOM.” Naturally I snapped a photo of it to mask out (in Photoshop) and add to a page. Another sweet find was a letter that a little girl wrote about why she loved being at Branches so much.

Other fun elements used included textbook and book study covers, science experiments, Spanish flashcards, artwork, sculpture, stickers or craft items from different parties, sweet wall mural painting details from the nursery, cupcake creations, and many more fun finds. To retain a sense of order and time, I included a fun leaf or flower graphic on each page to mark it as a Fall or Spring Semester class. The mix of random found items throughout the layouts gave the yearbook a lighthearted and handcrafted feeling.


I had a couple parent helpers take photos for me throughout the year. I would browse our private Branches Biltmore Facebook page to download photos that parents posted for various special events, field trips and such to help round out the coverage.

I chose not to use the Skipple app because I needed to have access to all of the photos for the end of semester showcase video. However, if you didn’t need to use the images for a separate project, Skipple would be a great way to crowdsource your images! You can even send app notifications to users to request photos of specific activities and events.

My husband is a professional photographer, so we were fortunate to get him to spend a day photographing our 200+ students. Our student photo section had consistent quality portraits instead of snapshots with varied backgrounds.


Taking on a project this large does take one person time in abundance. I photographed all day, every week throughout each semester and then at home did all the importing and design production. Since this was a rather time intensive job all year long, I recommend that you get additional volunteer help.

This coming year I’m planning to have students who have shown responsibility and creativity in their photography classes to sign up to photograph certain events both within and outside of our co-op day. Picaboo Yearbooks offers a great Team feature that allows you to invite specific individuals by email to work on the project and assign them varying degrees of editing access.

Word from the Wise

First and foremost — you CAN do this, too! The Picaboo Yearbook interface is very well thought out and has exceptionally responsive customer service for you every step of the way. You’ll get the hang of it in no time at all.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you embark on your first yearbook project.


  • index locked_1Use your co-op schedule and calendar to set up the outline of your yearbook.  This will help you guess how many pages that you will likely need (which will help you figure out what price you need to set when you’re ready to open up your online store).
  • In ‘Sections’ you can move your page categories around easily. Be specific and think about how many images you might have in any given category. Many smaller sections will be easier to manage with other volunteers uploading images, etc.
  • Add extra blank pages for unexpected events. They will come up and you don’t want to blow your set price budget. We had a TON of unexpected events — like camping trips! — so I was happy I had added a few pages as a buffer.
  • If you don’t use your buffer pages, use them as autograph pages in the back of the book.
  • Keep in mind how much people will be willing to pay for a yearbook. Homeschool families are often one income families. One feature unique to Picaboo is they let you offer softcover as well as hardcover which provides two price points. We typically sell about 50/50 per cover format.
  • Consider if you will be able to sell at least 50 copies (the minimum order for FREE shipping). If not, include the shipping cost by adding a dollar or two to the price…. if you end up selling 50 or more copies, your organization gets to keep the extra profit!!
  • Perhaps controversial, I did not opt into the free eYearbook option. If we had, there is a high chance that we would not meet our minimum order. It’s important to try to get that free shipping – it helps a lot and ultimately benefits your organization when the profit check is calculated. 


  • Yearbook layouts can get very busy and full of small images. It’s nice to have a ctitle page_1lean, uncluttered title page and table of contents page to balance the book out.
  • We love having a FAMILIES section where we can show whole families together.
  • Use the QR code feature to add videos to your yearbook! Sign up for a free VIMEO account and upload small video clips. Password the videos for privacy.
  • Set up a layout that works – and keep using it as a template for other similar pages. This is a HUGE time saver.  For example, due to our large number of classes, I needed to put three classes on one page side. I would simply reuse that page side as a template for the new page and then make minor edits where needed to vary it up a bit for interest sake.
  • Try to personalize your OWN book before you’re, let’s say, tired and out of creative energy. Picaboo’s offer of four free personalized pages is my favorite feature of this company. Encourage your families to take advantage of it.
  • Set a deadline for the families to personalize their books by and remind them all year long. Pretty much everyone will wait until the last week to do it unless you stay on them. Include the deadline on a yearbook sale flyer to send home to parents and promote via social media.

table of contents_1

Lastly – here’s my most favorite tip.  After your bulk order is complete and you have received your books, log back in and make a duplicate of the yearbook that you just ordered to save as a template for next year’s book. Click to ‘edit’ to open the project and rename it in the Details tab. Go into IMAGES to select all and delete all of your previously used. Now you have a yearbook template with which to start afresh in the Fall!


With our post-production business, one of our services is designing high-end books for photographers. Our other business is photography.  I’ve told our clients for over a decade ‘you don’t want your wedding or portraiture album to look like a yearbook!’ Busy layouts, lots of small images, kitschy added graphics – anything that will date a design in a negative way. 

memories_1It’s a bit ironic that I’ve secretly had fun breaking my own rules when designing the Branches
To add extra humor – I used quick snaps with my iPhone to take the bulk of the photos in the yearbook (because it’s light and the trunk of our vehicle is already piled high with co-op day kids stuff and lunches), and they turned out great!

Now that we’re homeschooling our kids I have a fresh appreciation for capturing the fun activities and milestones that they and their friends in our community experience as the years go by. Yes, yearbooks are busy, vibrant, full, lighthearted, often messy and not at all perfect…. just like real life.

Jump in, let go of perfection and HAVE FUN capturing all the incredible memories you’ll be experiencing this year!!

Learn more about Picaboo Yearbooks’ options for homeschool groups, co-ops and communities at


Posted in: Homeschool Yearbooks, Ideas & TIps, Planning