Monday, June 15, 2009

How much plan does a mom need? (review of the Old Schoolhouse 2009 Planner)

I've been homeschooling since 1996, and I've never yet used an official, bought, homeschool-and-the-rest-of-your-life planner. I think I've been afraid I'd empty my brains into it and then leave it on a bus.

I have printed out free online forms, and tried various scheduling methods for both homeschool and housework. I've tried file cards, a folder system (found at a yard sale) and various bins and binders for school. I've tried Anne Ortlund's notebook system. I've tried scribbling out lists in a dollar-store notebook. Every system works, some of the time, for some things. Then it stops working, or I keep forgetting to check the book or the bin, and I have to come up with something else.

Recently I was sent a review copy of The Old Schoolhouse's 2009-2010 Schoolhouse Planner.

My suggestion: get a Big Binder, or two, if you want to make the most of this.

It doesn't come with a binder. You buy the downloadable e-book (for US$39), and print out just the pages you want. Which is a good thing, because the file is 375 pages long: 375 mostly-different pages. So if you're planning on printing the whole thing, you're going to have to allow even more room for multiple copies of menu sheets, daily schedules, notes to the babysitter, and whatnot. There are forms for everything from school, to garden plans, to when your library books are due back, which of your bills are being automatically deducted, and what you need at the grocery store. You may decide that homeschool and household forms should be in different binders, especially if you're keeping daily assignment sheets; homeschool papers can take up a lot of room, even for just a couple of students.

But you don't have to print it out all at once. Take your time and play around with the writable pages. To start with, the six-page table of contents is all clickable--handy if you're trying to decide between My Daily Chores, Family Chore Chart, Chores I Can Do, My Special Day, and the second version of My Daily Chores (I'm not sure what the difference is). Then you can either print them out as-is, or you can fill in the blanks on the computer and then print them out--or save them and print them later--or save them and come back and change them--or fill it out for child A, print it, fill it out for child B, print it, fill it out for child C, print it...lots of ways to play. Apparently there's also a way to fill out a page and save it separately (I think), but I haven't figured that one out yet.

(I usually avoid printing out fancy planner sheets, because our printer does only black and white, and a lot of the lovely coloured freebies out there just waste our ink. But these sheets aren't heavily decorated, so I think they'd work fine no matter what your printing situation.)

This really is an organizing-your-life compendium. In addition to all the planner forms, there are monthly homeschool topics, each with an article to read and a sheet of resources available through the Schoolhouse Store. (July's "Thirteen Colonies" theme suggests items such as the Benjamin Franklin Project Pack and Colonial America Unit Study.) There are almanac-type lists of famous artists, capital cities, and kitchen conversions, the periodic table, and the wonders of the world. There are tips on how to get into college, prayer lists and journal pages. And there are recipes contributed by members of the previous Review Crew.

I like the planner, but I'm not sure yet how I'm going to use it myself. I tried plugging in some of my handwritten school plans for next year on the Course of Study sheet, but found it frustrating: I couldn't figure out where some of our subjects (like Bible Study) fit into the headings given, and when the font size automatically adjusted for a couple of the longer entries, it made the whole thing look a little awkward. I looked at the alphabetical book inventory sheets, but there isn't room for more than a dozen or so books under each letter: which makes sense if you're cataloguing just a few for-homeschool books, but not a whole home library. (Unless you want to have an A,B,C page and another A,B,C page and so on.)

And to be honest, I don't need organizing sheets for all those different household things: I prefer just glancing at what's on the pantry shelf to having our inventory all written down. (In fact, for some of us it's just as well if we don't think of more ways of record-keeping, because then we might feel we need to spend a whole afternoon alphabetizing the pantry.) My husband has his own money-and-bills system, so we don't need financial pages; I'm not at a stage of life where I need either preschool plans or high school transcripts, and the hamster doesn't require any record-keeping other than changing his shavings. The pages I would use would probably be the grocery/menu sheets, different "wish lists," medical contact info, records of the homeschool year such as field trips and books read, things loaned, calendars, and possibly the daily/weekly assignment sheets.

The other part of my life that does need lots of writing down is that third realm of activities outside of Household and Homeschool (Homeschool meaning my own children's school time). The Rest of My Life includes things like homeschool support group library helpers listed by month, plans for next year's speakers for our adult Sunday School class, writing and blog ideas, ideas for the online curriculum I'm involved with, and, starting this month, keeping the Homeschool Review Crew deadlines straight. But there aren't any planner sheets called "Homeschool Support Group Library Helpers." Because this is, after all, My Own Life, which is not exactly like Your Own Life, and not even two Typical Homeschool Families' lives and planners are going to look exactly the same.

For those things that don't fit, I guess I'd just use the calendar pages (the boxes are nice and big), the Daily Schedule lists, or my own typed-out (or lined-paper) lists. (One possibility for future editions, though, might be to include some untitled or otherwise flexible boxed-and-lined pages for those idiosyncratic parts of our lives.)

So how generally useful is the Schoolhouse Planner? If your lifestyle tends toward the weird and out-of-the-way, if you already have enough chili recipes, if you have a full staff of servants, and/or you just enjoy flying by the seat of your pants (or the tail of your jumper), you may not find that enough of the pages apply to your life to justify the cost. If you live more of a typical family lifestyle, with things to keep track of like dentists' phone numbers and co-op projects and rhubarb buried in the freezer, and remembering which vendor sells which middle school science curriculum, you will probably enjoy having an easy way to keep it all in one place.

[And don't forget the bonus articles and themes. AND...the supplementary monthly modules. Upcoming monthly topics include July 2009--Summer fun kit; August 2009--Favorite childhood books; September 2009--Weather, clouds, and related experiments. You can get the basic planner combined with module membership here.]

More details and more reviews of the 2009 Planner are here.


Kelli said...

good job - it was very nice reading a different prospective than mine!

Birdie said...

Sounds good. I have developed a fear of planners due to my lack of ability to stick with one. Sigh.

Tonia said...

Good review! It's fun reading everyone's different take on the same planner.

TOSHeidi said...

Great review. I like the personal tone - you made it fun! If you have suggestions for pages that we could add to the 2010 planner, please e-mail me at We've already got the 2010 Planner in the works!

Chris Worthy said...

Great review! Your insights are very practical and personal.

Hidden Jewel said...

I like how you included a few of the upcoming Module topics. Great idea!

zimbousa said...

I like how you applied this to all walks of life, different homeschooling styles will be attracted to your review. Well done.
Julie K

Katie said...

That is a great question.

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