OCTOBER 13, 2014 UPDATE – COLUMBUS DAY SALE: Home Educating Family is taking 50% OFF all products in its homeschool planner, calendar, software and publishing store TODAY ONLY! Pick up any Well Planned Day planners (reviewed below), a Well Planned Day Wall Calendar (link to review), and more for half price!
Earlier this summer my sister-in-law Rosanna shared a review of Mardel Homeschool’s new A Simple Plan Homeschool Planner. One of the main reasons she chose it was because she likes to keep her homeschool plans in their own place — separate from household plans, shopping lists, etc. — because that works best for her.
However, I don’t work that way: I prefer to have a “master” planner that gives me both the big picture and the details for all the roles I play, all in one place. And the smaller and more portable, the better!
Let me back up a second: At the suggestion of both of my homeschooling sisters-in-law, I purchased a Well Planned Day planner back in 2010 when we first began to homeschool. I absolutely loved it — and the curriculum we were using fit perfectly into the weekly planning pages as designed. However, the next year we switched to a unit study approach, and I found myself struggling with using the pages as designed, so I stopped using it at some point.
Since that time, The Well Planned Day has undergone some changes, including the availability of a new online version. And although we’re still using a unit study approach in our homeschool, the curriculum we’re using now (Trail Guide to Learning) does divide assignments into subjects that can be tracked with the planner pages as designed. Plus, I found that I missed the master planner approach — I really like to see everything I have to do in one place.
I was ready to give The Well Planned Day another try. I received a complimentary review copy of the 2013-2014 Well Planned Day Family Planner at the end of June, and I used it for the month of July through now. Although we weren’t doing full days of school, we did do schoolwork and school-related activities on a modified schedule, and we had lots of fun summer activities as well. In other words, there was plenty to keep track of in the planner to test it out!
Here’s what I love about it:
- New 2-page monthly planner pages with tabs: More room to make notes in the monthly view and easy to tab through from month to month. I like to plan out my month in one sitting and merge all of our “tracks” (such as my husband’s travel schedule) in one place. Then I transfer this info onto our month-at-a-glance erasable calendar on the refrigerator and set appointments and alarms in my iPhone.
- Organizational variety — lots of different pages to use: I like the fact that someone else took the time to think about what I should be keeping track of and provided me with beautiful pages to do so! For example, in the past I used the holiday planner pages and nothing important was missed. There are semester goal pages, progress report pages, attendance report pages, budgeting pages — if you’ve thought about “it,” you will probably find a page for it! Yes, there are a few pages that I probably won’t use because I’m just not that organized, but the majority are very practical and well designed.
- “Master” Weekly Planner: The weekly view provides room for tracking schoolwork alongside other activities and daily to-do’s, including meal planning and noting weekly priorities. The provided spaces are somewhat flexible to use, giving you four entry spaces per school subject (so there’s room to write one assignment for four children, per subject) and some blank spaces along the bottom for each day.
- Pull-out tracking and recording tools: The planner includes “My Responsibilities” and “My Education” cards, which we laminated to be reused each week. These are fabulous — we keep ours on clipboards with a dry-erase marker tucked in. There are cardstock quality report cards included (for four children), and every month contains a page of preforated shopping lists that you can tear off as needed. These extras are very useful and nicely designed!
- Not too bulky: Last year I made the mistake of trying to move to a binder method for my master planner. I should have realized that although the binder was more flexible in terms of what it included and it was easy to pull pages in and out, it was too bulky to carry around outside the home — and that is a big issue for me if I’m going to be consistent in using it. Although this particular version of the planner isn’t purse-sized, it’s still light enough to stick in a tote bag and take with me. There is an On The Go Planner version — and it seems to have a lot of the “meat” of what the full-size planner offers. I think I might give that one a try this year as well and see what size fits me best in daily practice.
- Inspiring articles, quotes and Bible verses: I love the inspiration sprinkled throughout this planner, especially because it’s designed to encourage a Christian homeschooling family. Every month there is also an article “starter” provided on a relevant homeschooling family topic. What I mean by starter is that it’s only one page, and you’re given a pointer to the rest of the article online. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but I get it: If the article doesn’t grab you by that first page, then there’s no need to bog down the planner with additional pages you won’t read. Plus drawing you online gives you a chance to interact and comment with other homeschooling families on the topics that do matter to you. August’s article was by one of my favorite authors, Heidi St. John. I appreciate the quality of the articles provided and the chance to interact online as well if I would like to.
Here’s what I would “tweak” if I could:
- More flexibility in the weekly master planner: I’m still a bit stuck on the majority of the daily entries on the weekly planner pages being broken up by subjects. Because we use a unit study approach, we don’t cover every subject every day and slots stay empty. What I find is that I end up filling up all the unlabeled spots along the bottom every day, and even scratching some more notes below the lines, because I have more non-subject related things to track. Also, one assignment slot per child per subject might not be enough space for you depending on how you like to track your children’s work. For example, math that day might include a few steps (watching a Math-U-See DVD, demonstrating with manipulatives, and a worksheet), and if you want to track the steps separately, there isn’t room for that. I think I would personally prefer to have segments of the day broken up by child or designed in such a way that I can customize sections myself without ending up with just one long to-do list.
- A daily “priorities” space: Some time ago I used a planner that had a daily priorities space, and I find that it really helps me to plan that way. Usually the night before, I would make sure to list those priorities for the next day, and then as the day goes on and things spin off the plan, I can refocus on the priorities I had established. I do appreciate and use the weekly priorities space on the right-side of the weekly two-page spread, and I think having one little area at the top or bottom of each day would also be nice.
- More “pull-out” style pages: This is really just a wish list item! I love what Well Planned Day includes already, and I just want more! For example, the front of the planner includes a two-page spread per child to track things such as their curriculum by subject, additional literature, and weekly school schedule (in an hourly format). This would also be a great pull-out piece, because if I pull out the pages now as is two will not have the right “side” on the back (since they are designed as a spread).
The Well Planned Day Family Planner that I reviewed is $26.95, and I think that it is a fair price for such a comprehensive and well-designed planner, especially since it is customized to cover so many areas of a homeschooling family’s life.
Overall, I have really enjoyed using The Well Planned Day Family Planner again: The master planner approach works for me, it’s portable enough for our on-the-go school days, and the variety of what I can track and organize fits the needs of my family. Although I may not use every single page provided, the ones I do use are very practical and useful for my planning needs.
I have experimented with the online version of the planner, but that’s a topic for another day. Stay tuned!
What do you use to keep your homeschooling plans organized? Do you use a specially designed homeschool planner? Is it online, on the computer, in print — or a combination? Have you found the perfect homeschool planner yet? If so, tell us what you love about it!