This is officially our fourth year of home schooling, and I have tried a little bit of everything when it comes to planning our lessons.
When we first started, I purchased a boxed set of curriculum and tried to use the lesson plans that accompanied it. I soon discovered, that while the curriculum was good and the lesson plans might have been good ones, too, they just weren’t good for us. I spent hours that year creating new and complicated lesson plans in Excel, since it’s a program that I’m familiar with, and then discovered something that I probably should have realized: Life rarely goes according to plan. Kids get sick. Parents get sick. Some days, we’re less productive than others. Some days, we just want to take advantage of being homeschoolers and do something different. Or, we (desperately) need a mental health day. Excel is not terribly flexible when it comes to changing a schedule. Moving things around became a nightmare. Eventually, I stopped using my plans and flew by the seat of my pants. We got things done, but we were probably not as focused or as productive as we could have been. This was not a crisis because my oldest child was 4 at the time and our first “official” year was really just a practice run before we really registered her. So we granted ourselves grace (which I believe ALL homeschoolers should grant themselves plenty of during the first year!) and moved on.
The following year, I tried a physical paper planner. I have a little obsession with office supplies. I like to make lists. I like to write things down. I’m okay with planning only a week or two in advance (I thought). It seemed like a good fit. It actually wasn’t a complete disaster, but since a paper planner is even less flexible than an electronic one, and it’s not as easy to find time to really plan a week or two at a time, it turned into an exercise in my writing down what we’d DONE that week rather that what we planned to DO. I’m actually not required to keep detailed records in our state, so while it gave me peace of mind to see that we’d actually accomplished some things, I still didn’t think we were as productive as we could have been.
Last year, I investigated a few different possibilities and settled on trying an app – Homeschool Helper (I tried the iOS version. This link is to the Android version).
It was VERY reasonably priced! It was BEAUTIFUL! It had so many features that I really appreciated (being able to set up repeating lessons, for example). But, for whatever reason, it just did not work well for me. I just couldn’t look at our schedule the way that I wanted to, and I couldn’t make changes as easily as I wanted or needed to. This may be entirely operator error. Maybe I just did not spend enough time really getting to know the ins-and-outs of the app, but as much as I loved that it was a really attractive interface and that it worked on my iPad, I just didn’t love it and never really managed to set it up to work for us. By last year, I was pretty good at flying by the seat of my pants with this homeschooling thing and I just didn’t sweat it. We accomplished plenty. The kids are doing great. I’m not worried about where we are. BUT, I also KNOW that we’d be more productive if we had a plan that we were shooting for.
So, this year I decided to go back to Excel. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but it did give me the chance to see our full year laid out in front of us. After spending several hours here and there getting it set up, I started to worry that all that time I was investing was going to be for naught on the first occasion where things didn’t happen according to my plan. I started thinking that I needed to investigate planning software again, but I didn’t have very much time on my hands to do that. On several homeschool email discussion groups I’m on, other people were raising the planner question (it was that time of year) and several responses recommended Scholaric. I’d had a free trial of Scholaric earlier, but it was so bare bones basic looking that I never really put much time into even trying it out. I decided just to cross my fingers and give it a try. I signed us up. For my two children, I pay $4/month. The most anyone would pay would be $7/month. I realize that isn’t super cheap. It’s more than paper planner. It’s more than the Homeschool Helper App. But for me, it’s absolutely been worth it. We’re entering our second month of using it, and I am just as enamored as I was when I first got it set up. It’s not 100% perfect, but it is the BEST planner that I’ve managed to find.
Here are the things I really love about it:
- In one swift move, you can set up fairly complicated lesson sequences, so you can schedule out a series of lessons with just a little (and I mean a LITTLE . . .like a bracket or two) coding. For example, we’re doing a Bible Study this year. The way the book lays it out, there are 6 weeks of lessons and 5 days each week. I love the study (I mean, we have REALLY loved the study!), but it’s a little intense to ask my 7 and 5 year-old (especially my wiggly 5 year-old) to sit through quite that much every day. So, I told Scholaric, which I was setting up that my lesson plan for the study that I wanted to do those 6 chapters with 5 lessons in each chapter, except that I wanted to take 2 days to do each lesson. Some very simple coding based on the guidance on the Scholaric Blog and BAM! my lessons for the entire book were planned out and dropped onto appropriate days.
- I can easily share lessons between my children. We all do Bible Study together, along with a few other topics. I can very easily tell Scholaric to put the lesson I’m planning on both children’s lesson plans.
- Moving things around is pretty much a breeze. I have just drag and drop lessons that didn’t get completed today to another day, or I can tell Scholaric to “Bump” the lesson forward (you can bump backward, too). If the subjects are presenting in the order I’d like to see them, I can just drag them around and put them in the order I want them to be in.
- I can print off a daily checklist for each child. This has been HUGE in helping my children see what needs to be done each day!
Here are a few of the things that I’m not so crazy about:
- It’s not beautiful. Did I mention that the Homeschool Helper App is beautiful? It is. I do take pleasure in spending time in attractive software. BUT, this basic web based app is SO functional and well thought out that I really don’t mind too much. Maybe one day, if enough people realize that it’s out there and what a pleasure it is to use, the developer will have some time to invest in making it pretty. In the meantime, I’m just thrilled that it works so well!
- The drag and drop feature for moving lessons around doesn’t work between weeks. The “bump” feature does, but there are times when I’d like to be able to just drag one single lesson to a day during the next week. There are ways to make it work, but it’s a feature that I would enjoy.
- It’s a web-based program. I actually like this part. I can access is from any computer. I can even pull it up on my phone and my iPad. No syncing is required, since you’re always working within the same web-based program. But some things just don’t work quite as well in my iPad as they do on my computer. It’s not major, but if you plan to ONLY use a mobile device, this might not be the program for you.
On the whole, I think Scholaric is fantastic, and while I’m sure you’re convinced at this point that I was paid to write this review or compensated with some sort of use of the program, that is not the case. This is really and truly just a review of an online planning program that was designed with Homeschoolers in mind that I really love. We have accomplished SO much more this past month using Scholaric than we ever would have without it. I just hope that it will be as helpful for someone else as it has been for me!
Note: There are affiliate links in this post. None of those links are to Scholaric. I received no commensuration for this entirely unsolicited review.