This post is more of a journey through homeschool planning over my entire homeschooling career than a review, but in the end, I did come down to two planners to review – and I mentioned a few others and my experiences as well. If you don’t want the details behind my planner journey, you can scroll to the bottom to read a review between two very popular spiral-bound homeschool planners that I have used the past two years. For the rest of you, who don’t mind my chatter, pull up a chair and bring your favorite drink and snack. This could take a chunk of free time to read through!
I have been wanting to review homeschool planners for a long time, but a planner is a very personal thing and you can’t do a review justice unless you’ve really had a relationship with a planner. I have used so many different kinds over the years, that it was only fair I tested them out for a year before telling you what I thought. Before I start, though, I thought I would tell you a little about my history with homeschool planners over the past decade or longer as a homeschool mom (my eldest 2 kids have almost always been homeschooled besides a year in private school, and they are graduating next year).
First, you should know that I am a planner NUT (I love planning) – and often plan WAY more than we can actually accomplish in a day because I’ve always felt that having more on the planner to do in case we have time is better. In recent years, though, my two eldest (not my same personality type) have told me that they want shorter, more doable lists so they could feel accomplished… so this past couple of years we have had less and less on the planner, but seem to have gotten just as much done. Go figure. That’s just to tell you – everyone is different in how they plan, how they feel about lists, and how they follow through in checking things off.
Realizing that my kids were different, yet still needed accountability, I decided to get them their own planners. For the past two years, I’ve given my kids their weekly assignments – starting out on a notebook (last year), making them copy their list to their own binders on 3-hole paper (those got lost). After dealing with missing lists for a while, we migrated to 4-Year Highschool Well Planned Day Teen Planners (much better). I still keep my list of what needs to be done in my teacher planner, but they don’t have to come bother me for it anymore. They can use their planner to work from all week and then check in on Friday with a hopefully completed list to help me check mine off. This has been most helpful and a good habit forming activity for them. I can’t say that they really are great about using their planners self-sufficiently, yet… nor can I say they LIKE using planners (blaming it on the difference in personality type again)… but I make it mandatory, so at least they do write in them weekly. As for transcripts, I enter final grades for the year in Homeschool Tracker and print report cards and transcripts from there.
There’s no telling if they will use lists or a planner when they get older, but at least they are learning HOW while they are in high school. Maybe one day they’ll thank me. Time will tell.
In the beginning, I was pretty “in the box”. I’ve talked a lot about my journey away from that in my “Accidentally Unschooling” series. I’m not an unschooler, but we could sometimes be classified as such, depending on the week. When I first started homeschooling, though, I was very rigid and stuffy. We had the school desks, the flag hung, the white board, and we recited the pledge. You could have guessed from that description I might be using a pre-fab teacher planner from the teacher supply store back then. You’d be right!
I purchased cheap Scholastic or Teacher Created Resources for the first four years or so of homeschooling. Maybe longer, I can’t remember. I saved them all in a file cabinet and can look back on them if I need to (but really haven’t). I will probably dig them out and use them as an inspiration at the end of this school year for the little guys, though, since I have just started over with them. I’m doing Kindergarten this year with my just turned 6 year old and preschooly things with my just turned 4 year old, but mama is nowhere near as uptight and busy as she used to be back when their siblings were young. Those poor big kids. I tortured them with endless reading lists and busy work so much that they hardly had enough time to play. I can admit that now. Back then, I just thought I was making my kids smarter. I didn’t know I was also burning them out on learning. Crazy that now I’m seeing my younger two learning just as fast without me pushing them (hello DELIGHT BASED LEARNING when a child is ready). As my grandpa would say, “There are more than one ways to skin a cat.”
Notice that attendance chart up there? Yes, I know I live in Texas and that was overkill. Like I said, I had to climb out of the box the hard way… and it was a long trip!
I used to put a sticker on every day we completed a full day of school in my planner. How very teacherly.
I liked that these planners were larger than life. Most of them were bigger than an 8 1/2 x 11 and had lots of space for me to write in. It helped that I can write small enough to fit on a grain of rice. I tried doing subjects across the page in different boxes, but then I just felt bad if we didn’t do a particular subject each day. Eventually I began adding grades into the planner also. I highlighted them to make them easy to find at the end of the year when it came time to average them out. I bought a classroom teacher grade book one year and it was MAJOR overkill. Never got used.
One far right column was for my weekly list or reminders, teacher notes, etc. I also used one column for books we read; which made it very easy to compile a book list at the end of the year (I have tons of those from our early years here on the blog – those were the days). It would have been great to have a perfect little list of every book my kids have read through their homeschool career… and while I might be able to come close up through Junior High, they parted ways with my ultra-organized methods and started to check out books on their own, not list them, and turn them back in before I even knew the titles. Hey – I was busy reverting to Dr. Seuss and board books with their little siblings. Now the teens pretty much just read their own stuff and begrudgingly tackle my mandatory history and devotional books with much prodding and pulling of teeth. I’ve come to a place where I’ve had to let go of perfectionism and start counting silver linings, but it wasn’t an easy journey. I’ve come to that same place with how the towels are folded and dishes are put away in the kitchen. They get an E for effort… and MOST of the time, I don’t re-fold. Shhh…
Junior high was my brick wall. I added two extra children to our family (including three pregnancies, one miscarriage, nursing, and my daughter’s teen life-change at the same time – read: enough estrogen to fill the Gulf of Mexico). My planner system during late elementary and early junior high had been pretty planning-intensive for me. I’ll admit, I was proud of it. You know that bible verse about pride coming before a fall? Keep that in mind…
During what I like to call my “peak” homeschooling years (when enthusiasm, energy, creativity, and organization were maximum and level of distractions were minimal)… I created daily computer print-out assignment forms on my own with my computer. EVERY SINGLE DAY, I printed these – which means I was totally up to date with planning DAILY. I kept them in a binder and the kids checked them off. I felt like I was finally on top of things right before my big dose of humble pie (Lord knows I needed it); babies tend to throw you off your high horse, though, don’t they?!
Back when I was using the daily computer generated planners and was on top of my game, I also had a separate dayplanner for myself. I created it in Excel to fit my needs at the time. This is sort of what it looked like:
Downfall: they were expensive and tedious to print. Plus, I had to hand feed the printer to make them double sided, then hole punch them to fit in my binder – and it took FOR.EVER. Yuck. I gave up on those after only a year or two. The hassle plus having my extra bambinos forced me to consider paring down and putting all my planner needs in one spot. It became “just another thing” to do having two planners. I needed something that would include my homeschool lists, my to-do lists, my calendars and events, my teacher notes, my grocery lists, and my menus. I needed to simplify. Well, either that, or a lobotomy.
I was writing lists all over the place again… and I needed a planner that would help me stop the madness. Some of you may never understand the level of brain dysfunction that goes along with trying to raise tweens and/or teens along with babies and/or toddlers. Those that do, bless you. You aren’t alone in the abyss… and it really does get better… I hear. I’ll let you know when that is after I get there.
All those early years I also kept track of chores in various ways. I know that’s not part of most planners, but it was something I needed daily, so I printed my own sheets. I actually tried a bunch of things – white board checklists, sticker charts, chore systems with pegs and laminated cards, ringed flip charts with laminated cards, apps on the iPhone – you name it. The longest stint of any chore program that worked was the above chart I made. I kind of figured by now my teens would be helping with chores without reminders, but I do make them lists now and then. I’m about to start again with the little guys, and since they can’t read, I think we’ll be using an app system on the iPad first… and then a sticker chart after that… and once they are reading well, we’ll move to the print-outs again.
The school year at a glance up there which has circled dates and a list of field trips is a print out I use all the time and keep in my “Brain” (dayplanner binder) so I can fill it out at the beginning of every school year. This year I was the field trip planner for our local co-op, so I planned the trips for the teens and the tots and included hunting trips and camp outs and all sorts of fun things on our school year at a glance calendar. I use those same calendars to map out curriculum, unit plans (I used to do KONOS overall planning on there), etc. I have one of those sheets for MOH this year, for kindergarten, for preschool, and for field trips. I get them out and look at them on Sunday when I do my weekly planning session before each week.
But I bet you are wondering how I ended up with a spiral planner that someone else made instead of doing my own thing still. Right? Well, I knew I needed a planner for my teens so they could learn how to organize themselves and I could work myself out of a job. I knew that if I never made them make lists, they wouldn’t do it for themselves later in life, either. So a couple years ago, I met up with the wonderful people from The Well Planned Day at a homeschool convention in Houston and I was standing there, flipping through their high school planners, and they asked me if I would be interested reviewing it for them. I bought a high school planner, but they offered me another one to review and told me it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t use the mom’s/teacher planner along with it. They stuffed one in the bag before I could say no. Just kidding – I nearly did a cartwheel… or at least I would have if I knew how to do one without breaking bones.
As you can see from above…. the pages are situated for a subject delineated week-at-a-glance format. It has a handy calendar for this and next month at the top. I love that I took a photo of a blank planner page with the words “*dark chocolate” on it. Because, what planner isn’t better with dark chocolate; am I right?! If they could only find a way to make the pages edible dark chocolate… there would be no more discussion about which planner was the best!
Around the same time, Apologia gave me their Debra Bell planner to try out. I had to roll dice to figure out which one to try first… but because my teens were using the 4-year planner for the Well Planned Day, I went with that one. I used the planner for an ENTIRE school year. I wanted to get it dirty, inky, stickery, and well worn around the edges. It has coffee stains, artwork from my toddlers, happy memories, school records I’m going to keep forever. Then the school year ended abruptly and I was reminded of my Ultimate Homeschool Planner during a feverish bookcase purge before the local homeschool used curriculm sale, patiently waiting on the shelf for me to crack open. The cool thing was, it didn’t have dates assigned to it, so it didn’t matter that a year had passed. Thank you, Jesus.
It took some getting used to, but I’ve used it for half a school year now, and we became fast friends. Now I feel I have worked with both of these fantastic planners long enough to do a review justice. Not only that, but since I’m such a planner NUT and have tried so many different ways to keep track of things, I feel I’ve got a unique perspective. I took copious notes about my experiences with both of these planners (and now that I’ve tried using a “spiral bound ‘created for homeschool moms’ planner”, there’s no going back to doing it all myself and wasting a printer cartridge and 6 hours printing it at my house). Honestly, your time is worth money – and I was losing money reinventing the wheel.
Want to know the pros and cons about both of these wonderful planners? Here are my notes… for what they are worth…
Comparison of Well Planned Day Homeschool Planner and Debra Bell’s Ultimate Homeschool Planner by Apologia:
Here’s a list of what you get inside the Well Planned Day —
- Owner Info Page
- Family Memories Page w/ Photo placement & quiz of favorite things
- Staying in Touch rolodex page
- Household finances budget page (I wasn’t really ever able to use these because I have a system that works for me on Excel)
- Household Duties page / special projects per month
- Staying connected emergency contacts and important contact page
- Teacher schedule (weekly with time slots)
- Class Plan pages – for each student (They only have 4 of these, so it is limited to 4 kids) – includes subjects, curriculum, literature, expenses, & schedule with time slots
- Year at a glance (including major holiday list)
- Semester Goals – semester one page. I’m missing this on the Apologia Planner, because it doesn’t have one – this year we are using a printout I made.
- Calender by month at a glance with tabbed indentions and notes column. I loved the way the months moved along with the planner pages… in the Apologia one, all the months are at the beginning and I have to use a colored sticker tab to flip back to it when I need to glance at it.
- Perforated shopping list (6 per month, and I REALLY loved these… still am using the ones I didn’t use up last year)
- Each month there is a page that includes book list (separated by student – again, only 4), field trips and activities, room for notes, and a tiny ledger for monthly bills
- Homeschool articles (one each month – but you have to follow link to read rest of article, which I never did)
- Week at a glance calendar set up as if to include assignments by subject (Bible/Math/History/Science/English)… and I have to be honest here, I used a spiral notebook for assignments for my teens because I had too much to write on there and this planner became more of my personal planner than a schooly planner. I am pretty sure that defeated the purpose, but … well, I couldn’t find a spot for my to-do list, so I took it over. I didn’t like the way it was laid out with subjects and since I have 4 kids, I wasn’t sure how to place their assignments. That’s ultimately why I ended up using a spiral for their assignments (as pictured below with the mug of coffee and unicorn sticker…).
A close up of the Well Planned Day weekly page view is as follows…
- Each weekly at a glance fold-out includes a column on the right that has a catechism question or quote with an answer box for you to jot things in, a weekly priority section, and … wait for it… a menu section. Loved this feature, but I plan ALL day’s meals – so this was not enough room. See above how I altered this — just scribbling my menu down where there was room – across the weekly grid or on the sidebar column.
- Saturday and Sunday were included, but with smaller boxes without times (see above for image).
- Each page included a bible verse and a quote (I love this feature, too… and Apologia also has this)
- Holiday Organization Page for Christmas Cards
- Events & Celebrations List with notes to bring things, budget, etc
- Gift giving/shopping list pages
- Holiday Notes page
- Semester One accomplishment page
- Semester 1 attendance page per student (4), weekly grades and progress/accomplishments on back
- Semester goal sheet (semester 2)
- Semester 2 Accomplishments
- Semester 2 Attendance & Grades (for those who keep track for their state, this is most handy)
- Blank Notes Page
- Next Year at a Glance page
- Future Plans Page
- 2 more blank note pages in the back for you to jot very important things to transfer over to next year (or at least that’s what I used it for)
- 4 heavy duty crease-fold cardboard-stock report cards (we didn’t use them, but I loved that they were included – plan to use them for my younger kids this year and just blot out the dates on the front)
- Soft glassy plastic spiral (sturdy)
- System includes high school 4 year planners for teens (which was the whole reason I got in to pre-made planners)
Here’s a list of what you get inside the Ultimate Homeschool Planner by Deborah Bell & Apologia —
- A nice, easy to wipe off, flexible plastic cover
- Pockets on inside cover for you to stick a few important papers
- A similar plastic spiral to the one that Well Planned Day Uses, give or take the color
- 4 years worth of annual planners – meaning that you can buy one and not use it for up to 4 school years and it is still relevant (great because I needed it!)
- Owner information page for teacher
- Their system was also supposed to include the student planner and weekly planner for teens to helps them learn to manage time better – but I only used the teacher planner, so I can’t tell you anything about those
- I really enjoyed the introduction section giving tips on how to use the planner (a user’s guide) – it began with the “Rocks in the Jar” story and had awesome suggestions to help the homeschool mom plan: 1. yearly planning retreat 4-8 hours, 2. monthly 2 hour planning sessions, 3. weekly planning breaks, 4. monday 20 minute tutorials per child, 5. Friday afternoon weekly reviews per child; including detailed instructions on how to go about setting these sessions up, what to do during them, and how to correlate the planner pages to fit the information you gather and plan together for your best use. It was like a little homeschool planning seminar in a few pages – very helpful, biblically focused, and showed examples of the planner pages already filled out with information a homeschool mom like you or I might have written (OK, maybe a homeschool mom who is cooler than me).
- Order related quotes – I really liked the quotes.
- I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Because there were no set labels or dates, the weekly planner pages can be used in a few different ways (two that they have examples of, and then there’s the way I use it).
If the Lego Movie has shown me anything, it’s that there are a million different ways to put things together and all of them are OK. Fill your planner out YOUR way!
- Basically what you have for a week at a glance planner grid is a BLANK SLATE GRID for you to adjust to your needs. They have suggestions at the beginning of the book to list the names of your students down the left side and the subjects across the top, not using dates anywhere but in the very top left corner in the “Week of” box. Their other suggestion is to put the days of the week down the left side and the names of the students across the top. You could ultimately fit 6 kids in either direction, left or top. However, being the #plannerREBEL that I am, I forged my own path.
I fill my blank slate out like this:
I have six boxes on the left to fill out – Kaden, Morgan, Preschool and K, Mom’s To-do List, Menu, Blog! Then I use the other 6 across the top to add dates and days of the week. I create my own Sunday spot on the right side column under “Appointments”. Some weeks, I combine my teens into one box if they are working on the same thing and I use the extra box going down the left for “Events & Appointments”. Call me crazy, but I like to switch it up. I draw in the boxes. I use Washi Tape sometimes.
Need an up-close view? Here you go…
In the menu section I created for myself, I just jot down B (breakfast), L (lunch), and D (dinner) and commence adding a menu each week. This saves me so much time looking for extra papers – and is so HANDY! It has more space than the one on Well Planned Day, but it isn’t something Apologia thought up – it’s my own addition just because of how I use it. If I had more than 4 kids (or even some kids who were not on the same school levels and really needed their own column), all bets would be off!
- Something I don’t like is the yearly planning retreat page in the front of the planner has SET months on top and only gives you July through June. We often go August to August. What about year long schoolers?
- Student goal pages – includes charachter and academic – room for 6, which is nice!
- Family Priority Page (which has a note at the bottom – “remember, this is your prayer list for the coming school year”)
- Resource list per student – room for 6 (probably a good spot for curriculum you want to muddle through)
- 12 month at a glance planners minus the month’s name and numbered dates (think blank grids again – VERY handy if you like to pick off months to begin and end your school year like me (also has a notes sidebar column)
- Here’s one area the Apologia planner is very different than the Well Planned Day… each week at a glance planner page has a pre-week starting goals page that also includes a teacher’s notes/journal area where they suggest you include a “Bible Plan” (where I list my spiritual goals and those I want to encourage for the kids), a “Battle Plan” (where I list my top 5 things I want to accomplish), a “Fighter Verse” (great to help encourage memorizing your own scripture verses each week), a “Prayers” section, and a “Hospitality/Outreach” section (where I list our social activities, service projects, and any other reminders to serve others or connect with them). I’m sorry that I can’t include photos of this for you — because it really has been awesome for me this year… but these are really personal pages with names of people I’m praying for.
- On the adjoining page (this section is a two-page spread), you’ll find an this week’s “Memorable Moments” (I use this as a teacher/mom journal, but they tell you to list “funnies, victories, promising signs, small beginnings, or finished projects”). Next up is an “Achievements” section (to pat yourself on the back and remember to pat your kids on the back). Love this idea. A built in cheering section. Heaven knows we need to celebrate more as homeschool moms!), and my favorite part: “Evidences of Grace” – where they suggest you list evidences of His grace, His mercy, His faithfulness, His protection, and His provision. I have begun adding to my 1000 Gifts list here. It does my heart good to list blessings in the middle of a hectic week. God knew that I’d need this section pretty desperately this year!
- The main week-at-a-glance calendar pages include a small section for notes/supplies/appointments on the right (I hack this for whatever else I want to write… currently I’m using “Notes” for next week and upcoming events, “Supplies” is my note section, and I already mentioned that I morphed the “Appointments into an extra day of the week so I could include Sundays.
- There are no inset tabs, so you would need to add your own colored sticky tabs (like me)
After the weekly planning pages, there are these sections:
- Student Scores (grades?) – very generic and only room for 8 total grades and 6 total subjects per student (6 students) – if you had 3 students, you could double that
- Reading list (for 6 students) with up to 25 entries
- Field Trip list (for 6 students)
- Resources in back include a checklist for raising independent learners, motivating reluctant learners, learning styles & thinking skills, 20 power tools of learning from the study smart student toolkit
- It includes a NICE planning page to map out high school for your teen from 8th grade through 12th with 2 semesters per year and boxes for course names under each. She has listed by subject and a sample page filled in for a random student to give you ideas.
- End of year review notes page (2 pages)
- Blank notes page
- I mentioned this before, but there’s another pocket in the back cover
Now that I’ve found a way to SQUISH all the lists I need on one planner page, I’m not using my binder for much more than hole punching important papers like our long MOH book list, library calendars, driver’s ed logs, etc. I only pull the binder out once a week or so.
I’m not sure what planner I’ll be using next year (maybe there’s one out there I haven’t tried yet), but I have thoroughly enjoyed each planner I have used on this wild ride called homeschooling. I’ve tossed what didn’t work for us or just changed things up as needed because I had to.
The moral of this story is that planners are like people. They each have their strengths, their weaknesses – and it will all be subjective depending on the person using them. You have to decide if you can have a relationship that works with them by meeting them in person and seeing how you work together. The cool thing is, you will grow and change as you homeschool. So will your kids. What works today may not work tomorrow (as frustrating as that sounds, it’s SO VERY TRUE).
Be gentle with yourself and HARD on your planners. Do what works and ditch what doesn’t. God isn’t looking for perfectionism. He’s wanting you to keep searching and seeking and growing and learning!
I hope you find a perfect homeschool planner for your very individual needs! I hope my review and images have helped you make a decision if you were on the fence.
If you have some planners to suggest to me that I haven’t tried before and would like to link your review in my comments section to help other homeschool moms, please feel free to do so! You know me, I’m a planner NUT!