The Perfect Homeschooling Planner
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Do you want to know that absolute best thing I did last year to keep myself sane while homeschooling? I scrapped the pre-scheduled lesson plans and I used a reverse lesson planner instead.
A reverse planner is a planner where you write in the lessons that you did — after the fact — instead of the lessons that you’re planning to do in advance. Every night, I looked back over my day and listed the things that we accomplished. Math, English, Latin, baking, and history? Awesome! Oooh … but what about that science lesson that I had hoped to get to? No worries … it’s not like it’s written down anywhere. I’ll just write down the beach — no, even better: nature study! Suddenly it looks like I rocked our homeschool day instead of slacked off.
It is so much better to reflect on every awesome thing that you did rather than worry about the lessons that you missed (not to mention all the subsequent days that will be a lesson off unless you catch up).
Last year, I made fancy-shmancy planner booklets for each month. They were pretty awesome, actually. I had our (ideal) daily schedule on one side and the subjects that I hoped to get to on the other — but no actual lesson plans were written in. The booklets were a lot of fun to make, but by the end of the year, I had too many other things to print off and I didn’t want to waste my ink allowance on planner pages. Instead, I just grabbed my agenda book (when I could find it) and wrote out the lessons in there. It worked. Kind of. My handwriting is really bad. Like, comically bad. I’d show you a picture, but I have no idea where the agenda book is.
This year, I decided that I’d like a proper, full-sized planner. Something customizable. Something colourful, something big. Something that I’ll be able to locate more than once a week.
You know what? There are a lot of homeschool planners to choose from.
I checked out the popular ones, the ones that show up in all the blogger round ups. I really liked the Plan Your Year kit from Pam Barnhill at www.edsnapshots.com — it comes with an interview with a 79-Page Planning Guide and audio workshops with Sarah Mackenzie and Mystie Winckler. Actually, there’s still a good chance that I’ll buy it — seriously, let me know if you see it go on sale this month.
I was also very, very tempted to buy the planner from Morningtide to Eventide. I love that daily Bible readings are included on each day, with your choice of schedule (Revised Common Lectionary, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or no scriptures at all). The planner also includes pages for church feast days, featuring beautiful hand-painted images along with readings. It really is a lovely, well-thought out planner. I decided against it though — it was out of my price range, and besides that, none of the three planner layouts was *just* what I wanted.
Next, I turned to Etsy. Have you ever thought to look for homeschool planners on Etsy? It’s certainly not suggested in many of the “10 Best Homeschool Planners Ever — EVER!!” posts that I read.
Squirrel Planner has a lovely homeschool planner for $5.50 USD — plus a whole bunch of other planners that all match beautifully. Part of me is delighted at the thought of a homeschool planner that matches my essential oil planner that matches my grocery list printable. I mean, if I used those things. I mostly just write grocery lists on the back of envelopes.
Another Etsy planner that I like is the Homeschool Planner by Bloomington Designs ($12.99 USD). The layout is simple but lovely, and it all looks very, very usable.
This one from A Living Education is beautiful — it’s created specifically for Charlotte Mason homeschoolers and it has all sorts of lovely bird prints in it. Birds belong on everything, as far as I’m concerned. Birds make everything better.
If you head over to Etsy, you’ll find a whole bunch more. Some are editable and some aren’t, so that’s something to watch for if your penmanship has deteriorated as much as mine has. Sigh. It used to be so neat.
I hemmed and hawed over planners for weeks and weeks. I couldn’t figure out which planner I wanted. Then, out of the blue, Michaels marked down their Happy Planner by 50% and offered a free cover with purchase. What would have normally cost me $90 + tax was just $26. I grabbed it without any more thought. I also bought the matching hole punch for 55% off, because who can pass that up?
Have you seen the Happy Planner? It’s kind of like a cross between a notebook and a binder. Personally, I don’t love using binders because they’re big and bulky, but given that I’m a typical homeschooling mom who changes her mind 62 times a month, I can’t commit to having a planner with permanently binding. What if we join a coop at the last minute? My planner won’t reflect that! (Please don’t let me join a coop. Stage an intervention if that happens.) The Happy Planner uses plastic discs and a custom punch that allows you to move papers around as needed but feels more like a notebook than a binder. And they’re really, really pretty.
When I took my new planner home, I had every intention of just pulling the pages out and replacing them with my own custom pages. Then I realized that each day of the planner is divided into three sections, which is kind of perfect for scheduling three kids. Or for scheduling two kids and leaving a notes area. Or for scheduling morning lessons, afternoon lessons, and evening activities. SO MANY POSSIBILITIES!
And the best part? I could gently pull the pages out, print my daily lesson guides on them, and then stick them back in. Yay!
I worked for days to get the perfect layout. After a somewhat ridiculous amount of deliberation, I went with the first block for morning subjects, the second block for afternoon subjects, and the third block for notes — notes like “Tamara, take the kids to dance lessons.” I have an amazing ability to forget those.
I had everything perfectly lined up on my computer, and then my printer just rebelled. I don’t know why! I could not get my sample pages to print out right — they’d come out off-centre, or scaled up, or upside down. I tried again and again and again. I’m sure I used up half my monthly allotment of ink. My kids watched an insane amount of TV.
But I just couldn’t nail it. Finally, nearing midnight of the second (third?) night, I settled for “close enough”. I carefully removed some pages from my planner and I carefully put them in my printer. My printer jammed on the first two, leaving me with two crumpled and torn August weeks. The next one printed out on the wrong side. I think the last one was upside down.
I sat down with an oversized bowl of ice cream and admitted to myself that printing directly onto the planner pages wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t a total loss, though — my two-year-old is practically fluent in Spanish now, thanks to all that quality time with Dora.
Also? After struggling for days to make my subject guide fit on top of the Happy Planner pages, I had a really good idea of exactly what I want in a planner.
Basically, I just want something super simple. I’d like a list of subjects that I’d like to cover in the week, and then a column for each day from Monday to Saturday — I include Saturday because it’s a nice day to do our Brave Writer-style Poetry Tea Party, our Kids Cook Real Food online classes, and work on a handicraft. Theoretically, I mean. I usually spend Saturday nagging the kids to help me clean up this disaster of a house.
So I made my dream planner happen. And it turned out great.
Beside each subject is a number in brackets — that’s how I remind myself how many days I want to do the subject. For example, math has a (5) — it’s something I’d like to cover each day. On the other hand, Geography is (3-4), which means that I’ll probably teach it on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and maybe Friday, but if I miss a day, it isn’t critical to our overall plan.
What else makes this my “perfect planner”?
• I put my list of subjects in the middle of the week, which might look weird at first, but now I don’t have to write with my hand pressed up against the bulky discs.
• I also put a graphic at the top that I can colour in. What homeschooling mom has time to colour, you’re asking? Clearly, you’ve never sat patiently through a long oral narration or a tedious page of math questions. Believe me, I have plenty of time to colour.
• I added a list of Charlotte Mason-specific subjects that would apply across a whole week, if not a month. I often skip things like composers, artists, and hymns — mostly because I’m not good at coming up with them on the fly. I’m hoping that having the different artists and habits and handicrafts written on my planner page will help me inject that missing CM dose into our days.
• I added two calendars at the bottom of the right page because a) lots of planners seem to include calendars and b) I like the splash of colour. I’m not sure that I’ll keep it though — mostly because I’ll have to go into a file and change it for every month. What could I put instead? I was thinking a space to write in my favourite moment of the week. Do you have any thoughts?
I figure I should print off a few more pages for my planner to make it truly functional. I’m thinking that I should include a reading log, a wish list, and… what else? Which part of your homeschool planner is indispensable?