Monday, October 26, 2015

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - A Schoolhouse Crew Review

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The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

What a treat it is for me to wrap up this Schoolhouse Review Crew season with one of my favorite publishers, Apologia Educational Ministries. I got the chance to review The Ultimate Homeschool Planner by Debra Bell.
The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

In my last review of a product from Apologia Educational Ministries, I mentioned what lovely people they are, and I think it bears repeating. This family-owned corporation publishes homeschooling curriculum and other resources that include Creation-based science, worldview curriculum, and books and homeschooling and parenting. 

For this review, members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew received The Ultimate Homeschool Planner, a 52-week homeschool planner designed by best-selling homeschool author Debra Bell. It's a sturdy spiral-bound book with 280 pages of calendars, planning and record-keeping pages, and guidance on how to plan and pray and use the planner. It is organized with pages to help you plan and record things like:
  • academic and character goals for your children
  • family priorities
  • homeschool resources
  • grades, reading lists, and field trips
  • high school courses of study
  • monthly and weekly activities and family calendars
  • prayers and answers to prayer
  • Memorable Moments in your life and homeschool
  • year-end reflections and goals

There are wide margins and plenty of places to jot down your own notes and reminders, and throughout the planner there are Scripture verses and inspirational quotes.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner comes in three cover designs - all three are gorgeous, and I would have had a hard time deciding on which one I liked best, so it was a good thing Apologia randomly selected the colors sent to those of us doing this review! I received the Blue cover version, and other Crew members received Orange or Yellow.

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner  Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

How did I use it? A homeschool planner is only as useful as the plans that are written in it, and my usual tendency is to use paper and pencil for some of my homeschool planning, but not much for record-keeping, since I rely on my computer for that. Since I had done the majority of my curriculum planning during the summer, before I received this planner, I didn't rewrite things like how many pages per week of each textbook my students needed to cover. I focused more on the calendar planning and prayer/devotional aspects of The Ultimate Homeschool Planner.

First, I really appreciated that this planner isn't just calendar pages and record-keeping grids. It starts off with a 12-page user's guide that explains the system and guides you through planning and praying for your homeschool at the beginning of the year, and with planning sessions monthly and weekly. You can see how the system is set up in the sample pages Apologia offers.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

This planner is far more than just a notebook to scribble down which pages of schoolwork you did on a given day and keep track of test scores and semester grades. It offers advice and planning helps to guide you in getting your calendar and homeschool lined up with your family's overall priorities and goals, and it encourages praying through every step of planning. You start by taking a planning retreat before the school year starts and blocking out your calendar and priorities. Like I said, I'd already done some of this stuff when I received the planner, so my planning retreat was rather abbreviated. I blocked out the calendar starting with October 1st, because for this first semester I had to figure out where we had school breaks, family visits, and possible vacation days to work around. I found it helpful to have this concise visual of where the weeks were especially full and what big things I had to work around.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

At the beginning of each month, you'd take some time for a planning session, narrowing the focus a bit by putting the "exceptions" into the monthly calendar and noting the recurring activities and other items. Schedule the necessary schoolwork and other activities in accordance with your family's priorities, and take a look at what could be delegated. Again, a nice concise visual of commitments and even potential trouble spots in the weeks ahead, which gave me a heads-up on where and what I'd need to adjust to make it work.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

At the beginning of each week, you'd take some time to focus on just those coming days, and also to reflect on all the good things God had done throughout the week just past. Some time to meet with each student at the beginning of the week and make sure they know what's coming is recommended, as well as a debrief on Friday afternoon to review how the week went. Those things are kind of built into my routine already, so now I just have a place to jot down our thoughts and keep those organized. 

The weekly planner pages really came in handy as I was headed into this week in particular. Earlier this month, our family had an unexpected interruption to our homeschool and to our lives in general as we traveled to visit my mother-in-law when she became especially ill, and then wound up being out of town even longer when she passed away and we spent that extra time with family and attending to the memorial service. Thankfully, I had some decent plans penciled into my planner ahead of time, so making the adjustments to assignments and due dates wasn't too difficult, and it's easy for me to see what we'll need to focus on to get caught up over the next month. We had last week to work on the catching up, but this week my family is here visiting, and I had planned to keep the school requirements very relaxed. My weekly planner page for this week is already morphed into more of a family activity and menu planner than a school planner, but that's okay! I love that the planner is flexible enough that I could do that easily. And after all, the idea is to get things aligned with our family priorities, and this week especially, the priority is indeed family! As you can see, I used this week's grid to block each family member's commitments during the week, and used the bottom row to start planning the meals and the things we want to do with my parents and aunts and oldest son while they are all here.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

So far, I haven't been keeping test and assignment scores, reading lists, or field trips recorded in the planner, but there is plenty of room to do so if I want to start. I will probably write down the reading lists for each of my kids, because I like the idea of keeping that on paper. I've quickly read through the teaching tips and high school planning guide material at the end of the planner, and there is some seriously good stuff there. The information on Learning Styles and Thinking Skills on pages 272-273 is homeschool/parenting gold, even though it's a brief overview of those subjects.

What I liked best:

  • detailed help on how the planner is intended to be used, with examples . . .
  • but at the same time, it's very flexible so I could use the planning grids in the way that served my situation best.
  • it's big so there's lots of room to write down whatever I need to remember
  • I especially like that it's not just for schoolwork, but is really a FAMILY calendar planner. 
My bottom line: Like everything I've seen from Apologia, this planner is the highest quality, and I love that it encouraged me to filter all my homeschool plans through prayer and through the most important priorities for my family. Planning a student's course of study and keeping track of their grades and progress is definitely important and this planner offers lots of space, tools, and tips for doing that effectively. But as a Christian mom, I also need these reminders that the spiritual growth of my children and my family, and the evidences of grace and God's faithfulness in our lives is the foundation and framework of our homeschool, and The Ultimate Homeschool Planner gives me ample places to keep that record of our progress as well.

(We've previously reviewed the following resources from Apologia: Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal - see it HERE; iWitness books - see it HERE; Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms by Mary Jo Tate - see it HERE; and Journeys of Faithfulness by Sarah Clarkson - see it HERE.)

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Would this be the ultimate planner for your homeschool and family? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website:

Pricing: The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is available in Apologia's online store for $29.00. Sample pages can be downloaded at the website. You may also want to look at the coordinating products: The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students and The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens.

You can follow Apologia on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, and on Google+.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. 
Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review

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