Homeschool Helper Review (for homeschool planning & record keeping)

homeschool record keeping | homeschool planning | homeschool reviews

Though I do not plan online or on my iPad, I have an iPad app that I love to use for my homeschool grades and records. Attendance, grades, and reports I’d much rather have that automated; numbers just aren’t my thing. So for recording grades and creating reports, I love Homeschool Helper on my iPad. It’s beautiful, user-friendly, and I actually look forward to opening it up and using it.

Set-up took a little time but wasn’t complicated. I set up each child with the subjects they would be covering for the year. For each subject, you can assign a grading system—A, B, C, or Excellent, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory. You can adjust the grading scale and set up weighted grading (10% of the grade is for daily, 20% is for quizzes, 50% is for tests, 20% is for projects). Once set-up is complete, using the reports is simple, too.

Attendance is as easy as touching a date on the calendar. If I forget to do it daily, I can simply touch all the dates I know we did school. If we did a half day of school, I touch the date twice. It automatically records the total number of days we’ve done school and includes this info on the report card and other reports.

homeschool attendance | homeschool record keeping | homeschool helper review

Entering grades is just as easy. It even has a calculator. Enter the number of correct answers; enter the total number possible; touch “calculate.” The percentage grade and description is then saved for that assignment or test.

homeschool grading | homeschool record keeping | homeschool helper review

You can plan or record field trips and books read. You can also create a variety of reports, including report cards. Just enter the range of dates you want included on the report and information you want on the report. Then, you can either save or email the report. I usually email it to myself and then print it from the email. There is also a function to plan lessons, batch plan lessons, etc. But I can’t review those functions since I’ve never used them.

homeschool record keeping | homeschool report cards | homeschool helper review

I have used this app to record my grades for about 5 years, and I love it. I can’t see myself switching to anything else any time soon. While I love my pen and paper planner, I wouldn’t want to go without my Homeschool Helper.

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from the website
homeschoolhelperapp.com

Visit the website HomeschoolHelperApp.com or look for it in your app store.

Have more questions or want a little more help on the topic of homeschool planning? Read about different styles of planning, combining those different styles to find your perfect solution, organizing your child, and finding your rhythm—all in my free course “Planning your Homeschool.” Plus, get free downloads to get you started. 

Click here to find out more!

Loop Planning with file folders (for themes, topics, and unit Studies)

homeschool planning | lesson planning | loop planning

Some subjects, like math and grammar, can be pretty straightforward when planning. But other subjects that are more topic or theme oriented are a little harder to schedule with traditional lesson planning. For those subjects, I’ve found that I really like loop planning.

The idea of loop planning is that you plan the order rather than the timeframe that a lesson is completed. When you finish one theme or unit study, you pull out the next one. There’s no deadline or getting behind; you finish when you are finished.

For instance, I plan my Tapestry of Grace history this way. I have file folders for each history topic we want to cover. Book lists, project templates, notebooking pages, and all other pertinent info goes into the file folder. On my folder, I mark about how long I expect this topic to take, but it’s only a guideline. Some topics take longer than I expect, and some topics finish more quickly. Because I know I have this flexibility, I don’t panic when we take a little longer on a topic; I know it will work out by the end of the year. Also, because I’ve marked approximate lengths of time on my folders. I can make quick judgement calls. (Hmm. I said two weeks for Ancient Incas but we just spent 5 weeks instead of 4 in Egypt. I bet we can cover Incas in just a week.) Whenever we finish one topic, I pull out the next folder to complete.

Simple Steps to Loop Planning Unit Studies

  1. Decide on a list of topics or themes to study.
  2. Decide on a method of organization to compile your resources for each study (file folders, Pinterest boards, Evernote, whatever you like to use).
  3. Decide on an order or arrangement of topics.

*(Optional) Decide on a rough time-frame for each unit or topic.

You can use loop planning for discipline subjects as well (math, spelling, etc.) And I will often default to loop planning whenever I can. If you want to attempt loop planning for all your subjects, here are a few suggestions.

Using Loop Planning for Traditional Subjects

  1. Decide on the number of lessons you need to complete each week.
  2. Set up a filing system for each week. (I love file folders and have a folder for each week.)
  3. File the correct number of lessons for each week inside your file folder. (5 math lessons, 3 latin exercises, 1 spelling list, etc.)

Your done! Pull out the correct folder, finish it, and move on to the next folder when you are ready!

The loop planning method also works really well for creative subjects or extra-curriculars like art, music, or nature study. You can even arrange the subjects themselves to loop. Nature study follows art which follows music, etc. Plan language arts and math everyday, then loop plan history, science, art, etc. completing one or two of these each week.

There’s no end to how you can creatively use loop planning. But the major benefit is that there is no falling behind or meeting a deadline. You are free to enjoy your topic until you’ve exhausted it. You are free to work on it whenever time allows; some weeks you may have 5 days and others you may have 2 days. Loop planning allows for maximum flexibility.

While loop planning has not worked for every subject in our homeschool, a combination of traditional lesson planning and loop planning has worked really well for us. Find a combination that works for you—your personality as well as your homeschool style.

Have more questions or want a little more help on the topic of homeschool planning? Read more about loop planning, other methods of planning, and combining different methods to find your perfect solution in my free course “Planning your Homeschool.” Plus, get free downloads to get you started. 

Click here to find out more!

Free Homeschool Planner pages | free download | free homeschool printable | weekly planning pages

5 steps to traditional lesson planning

homeschool lesson planning | homeschool planning

For most people I know, lesson planning is the part of homeschooling that they despise. But I’m a nerd; I love to lesson plan and organize our year. And I have two methods for getting my ducks in a row: traditional lesson planning for subjects like spelling and grammar and loop planning for subjects that are more topic or unit study oriented. (We’ll tackle loop planning in my next post.)

I actually do a lot of my planning during the summer to help relieve some of the time pressure that lesson planning can create, so my school year just about runs itself during the actual school months. During that process, here’s how I break down our year and create traditional lesson plans.

5 Steps to traditional lesson planning

  • Think through vacation days and breaks your family likes to take. Do you want a winter break or spring break? When do you take family vacation? Will you have relatives visiting? Plot these times in your calendar first.
  • Set start and end dates. At this point, these are just rough estimates, you can always move these forward or backward as you define your year. But roughly, when do you want to start and end?
  • Calculate the number of weeks/days in your year. The traditional U.S. school year is about 180 days or 36 weeks. As a result, a lot of your curriculums will be designed for this time frame. However, depending on your state requirements, you can do less or more. Some families school year round; others finish up when the books are completed no matter if that is week 33 or week 48.
  • Divide your year into periods or terms (6 weeks, 9 weeks, 12 weeks). This step is optional. But it can be helpful to break your year into smaller increments: (1) if you plan on having report cards and grading periods, (2) if you are planning unit studies or themes throughout the year, (3) or if you just need to “eat the elephant” a bite at a time. 
  • Divide the number of pages or lessons by the number of weeks in the school year. (The average school year is about 36 weeks.) The answer will be how much needs to be assigned each week.

homeschool planning | plan your year

From there, you can decide how you prefer to keep track of progress. You can write in the lesson numbers each day (but then, if there are sick days or spontaneous field trips, your planner is all messed up), write in lesson numbers for each week (a little more flexibility with this approach), or record how many lessons you complete each week (maximum flexibility, but you will need to double-check that you are completing enough to ensure you finish on time.)

I use a combination of weekly planning and recording. For some assignments, I chart what needs to be finished on a weekly basis. So each week, I fill this in (and never more than 2-3 weeks ahead of where we are, in case of the unexpected): “read pages 20-30” or “complete lessons 35-40.” For subjects that only need to be completed 2 to 3 times a week. I write the subject into my planner and then record the days we worked on those lessons. For instance: FFL (First Language Lessons) M W F; WWE (Writing with Ease) M W; WA (Writing Aids) F

Subjects like math, spelling, grammar, etc. lend themselves to this kind of planning best. The rigid structure of these subjects fits well with the rigid structure of traditional lesson planning. Creative subjects, especially those that are based on theme, topic, or unit study are often easier to plan using loop planning. Stay tuned for my next post for more info on this method.

Have more questions or want a little more help on the topic of homeschool planning? Read more about traditional lesson planning, other methods of planning, and combining different methods to find your perfect solution in my free course “Planning your Homeschool.” Plus, get free downloads to get you started. 

Click here to find out more!

Free Homeschool Planner pages | free download | free homeschool printable | weekly planning pages

3 Benefits of Planning (and why I love my Plum Paper Planners)

benefits of planning | planning 2017 | planners for moms | plum paper planner review

Life doesn’t always happen the way we plan it. And yet, there is something so comforting about having a plan. I love planning and planners, the old-fashioned paper planners,  especially my Plum Paper Planners (see my review and a coupon code at the end of this post). And in spite of the fact that plans change, I’ve found a number of benefits to planning. Here are my top 3.

3 Benefits of Planning

Planning to Create Order Out of Chaos

Just like some people vacuum obsessively so that they can see the nice neat lines in their carpet, and some people just can’t think until their kitchen is clean, I love a nice orderly list of check boxes—the chaos of my life neatly arranged into categories and days of the week and orderly lists. The rest of my life may be in total disarray, but I’m good with that as long as my planner is neat and orderly. So what does that mean? Well, it means I must have no empty boxes at the end of the day. If I decided something did not need to be done, I put an X through the box. If I still need to do it, I put an arrow through the box and write the task into the next day. And if it’s done—CHECK IT OFF!

Planning to Remember

I’ve learned that the physical act of writing helps me to remember things in ways that the iPhone just can’t. No number of reminders and alerts will do for me what checking off a little box in a planner can do. I’m much more likely to remember an event I write into my planner than an event I enter into Google Calendar. Though I use Google Calendar, mainly to sync my husband’s appointments with mine, I have to write events into my planner if they are going to happen.

I also use my planner to remember what has already happened, a special afternoon with a friend, a fun memory, blessings of the day (1,000 gifts Ann Voscamp style), etc. In this way, my planner also becomes my journal or scrapbook, recording the events and memories and special notes of the year.

Planning for Perspective

Planning gives me perspective. I totally write in tasks I’ve already finished so that I can check it off. It helps me combat the feeling that I didn’t get anything done. Most days, I got a lot done, even if it wasn’t what I’d planned. Sometimes “rest” is on my planner. It’s something I need to do, and yet something that I often feel as though I can’t do (because I’m not getting anything done when I rest). I combat that with the power of the little check box. It helps me remember that I am still doing something important when I take the time to recoup. Then there are those days when, honestly, I didn’t do anything but parent. I write that in, too! I parented. I homeschooled. And maybe that’s all I got done. But that alone is doing quite a bit.

What I use (a Plum Paper Planner review)

For the last three years, I’ve used (and loved) Plum Paper Planners. They are cheaper than Erin Condren or Inkwell, comparable to the Happy Planner but with lots of customization options. With a variety of layout options, add-on sections, and cover options, I can customize everything about this planner, making it exactly what I need. In fact, you can choose any start month and add extra months if you want to use it for longer than 12 months. I’ve used Plum Paper Planners to plan my daily life, my homeschool lesson plans, and even to journal our food journey (tracking everything everyone eats and daily symptoms and behaviors). They are perfect for just about everything. Plus, the paper is amazing!

benefits of planning | planning 2017 | planners for moms | plum paper planner

You can create your own cover, choosing from a range of colors, patterns, and designs; and you can personalize it with exactly what you want your cover to say. You can choose from a variety of add-ons: notes pages, to-do lists, checklists, budget planner, meal planner, fitness planner, etc. Lots of options! You can also choose from at least 6 different layout options, vertical and horizontal. My favorite is the ME option, which allows you to customize your own headings in your planner. {My personal planner is labeled Events, Projects, Tasks (plus 3 blank sections), and Blessings. My homeschool planner is labeled Reading, Tapestry (for our Tapestry of Grace material), Assignments, Meeting Times, Notes, and a couple of blank sections.} Not to mention, they are beautiful!

plum paper planner coupon code | planner review | planners for moms | homeschool planner

And as a special thank you to my blog followers, Plum Paper has provided a special 10% off coupon code for you all, good through March 31! Just visit their website and at checkout enter the code GRACE10 for your 10% off.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

I don’t always get to complete my well-laid plans: the unexpected happens in my life on a regular basis, and disorder is a constant, it seems. But the benefits of planning extend beyond the chaos that life can bring. At the very least, planning brings order and beauty to one small space in the messy disorder of my life. And I can live with that.

Take a look at specifically how I plan our homeschool: 5 Steps to Traditional Lesson Planning & Loop Planning with File Folders.

DIY Science Curriculum for the classically inclined

DIY science curriculum | classical science | classical homeschooling | DIY homeschool curriculum

Of all the subjects, science has probably taken me the longest to find a curriculum that I really like. Over the last several years, we have tried a number of approaches for science.

  • We’ve learned science through lapbooks and creating mini-books.
  • We’ve done unit studies and read living books.
  • We’ve watched a whole lot of Magic School Bus and Wild Kratts and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
  • We’ve dabbled in a few different curriculums: God’s Design, Christian Kids Explore, and Sassafras.

And while we’ve enjoyed different aspects of these, none have been even close to ideal. So, I did my own thing this year, with some inspiration and direction from the Well-Trained Mind. And just in case you are a DIY homeschooler, too, I’ve assembled a few steps for a DIY science curriculum.

4 Steps to a DIY science curriculum

Step 1: Find a core resource or encyclopedia

Any resource you love will work: Usborne, Kingfisher, DK, etc. I found the World of Science encyclopedia from Master Books and have absolutely loved it. World of Science is formatted similarly to an Usborne or DK encyclopedia, except that this resource is Christian. No millions of years or evolution to wade through, but rather the book begins with the idea of a Designer who had a thoughtful design and a creation that reflected His order. It’s colorful, interesting, easy to use, easy to follow, and includes some experiment ideas in the back of the book as a bonus. This particular book covers basic physics and chemistry topics. A companion encyclopedia World of Animals covers some simple biology and animal science.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | Master Books | World of Science

True to the classical homeschooling method, I assign a couple of pages a week for my fifth grader to read and outline. His outlines consist of Roman Numeral main points; he is learning to pick out the main ideas or topic sentences. Occasionally, I’ll require him to write a summary paragraph or copy a diagram. He also looks up new terms in the glossary at the back of the book and copies them for his notebook. He has loved using it as much as I have.

Step 2: Choose an experiment kit

Search Amazon or Homeschool Science Tools, Target, Wal-mart, Hobby Lobby, even local thrift stores. Choose an experiment kit that fits with the topic you are covering. For instance, when we learned about electricity, my son had a snap circuit kit we picked up from the thrift store; this term we are studying principles of physics and simple machines, so he is using a gears and levers kit. Later this year, we will begin some chemistry and try out a couple of chemistry experiment kits.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | experiment kits

Each week when his outline is complete, he is free to select an experiment from a kit that I’ve purchased to go with what we are studying. This is the “delight-directed” component of our science; he is free to pick an experiment from the kit that interests him. I know that these experiments are on topic, and he loves being able to choose his favorites. Then, after completing an experiment, he fills out an experiment form. We are using forms from notebookingpages.com, but there are tons of free printables online and on pinterest.

Step 3: (optional) Find science DVDs at the Library and on Netflix

As a fun bonus, I search for DVDs in our local library and on Netflix for the topics we are learning about. I’ve found that searching by specific topic has the best results; for instance, searching for gravity, light, force, motion, energy provides better results than searching for physics, geology, chemistry, etc. Some of these DVDs do contain evolutionary ideas (Bill Nye, for instance), but I’m okay with discussing that with my kids, especially since they’ve had an opportunity to begin studying from a Christian source. Use your own discretion.

You could also use the same strategy to search your library for additional reading on your topic if you prefer. Because of all the reading I assign in our other subject areas, I don’t choose to assign additional science reading. 

Step 4: Make a plan

Be as detailed as you need to be, but I love to keep it simple, personally. Below is a picture of my actual plans for this last term. I counted up the number of pages in the unit we wanted to cover and divided by our 12 week term. Since it wasn’t a perfect fit, we needed to outline more reading pages on certain weeks. On those weeks, I did not assign an experiment. Of course, he was welcome to do one after his assignments were complete, but it wasn’t required.

I did not assign specific experiments. You could easily do that by looking through your experiment booklet and comparing it to the topics of your encyclopedia. But for us, this is a great compromise. I provide some parameters (“you are going to learn this topic and use this kit”) and allow him the freedom to pursue his interest within those parameters.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | lesson plans | classical homeschooling | classical science

I printed off a bunch of experiment forms and placed them in his notebook. He can choose from several different styles to find a form that fits best with his particular experiment. Each week, I look over his outline and his experiment form (and he usually can’t wait to show me his actual experiment).

What about the youngers?

Middlest (3rd grade) and Littlest (preschool) usually join Oldest for the experiment demonstrations and videos; in a sense, he teaches the material to them. Middlest also fills out her own form.  I did pick up a Magic School Bus chemistry kit for our chemistry unit later this year so that she has some age-appropriate experiments. As she gets older and more skilled in her reading and writing, I’ll have her completing more assignments (reading/outlining). But for right now, I limit the amount of writing I require from her.

So far, I have loved our DIY science curriculum. The kids are learning a ton, are very independent, and are still able to incorporate a lot of hands-on experiments that don’t require my constant supervision. It’s been a win all around. For the first time in years, I feel good about science.

Hip Homeschool Moms

Why Teach Mythology in classical Christian curriculum

greek mythology | classical Christian curriculum

Teaching mythology and ancient gods in classical Christian curriculum can be a little tricky to navigate with your kids. It’s something I debate every time it comes up. But I must say, some of our richest discussions have come from reading these myths about the ancient false gods. The contrast between our God and these mythical gods is so stark that it never fails to leave me filled with gratitude and worship.

I remember four years ago when we covered ancient history for the first time, I had a moment like this when we read The Rain Player, a myth about a Mayan god. The main character had to win at a game against the god to get forgiveness from the god and rain for his people. I was moved to tears as I shared with my little ones that our God does not require us to earn forgiveness; He gives it freely. That our God sends rain upon the just and the unjust to show His common grace to all mankind.

And this year, our second time through ancient history, we had another opportunity. As we finished up our chapters in Story of the World on the ancient Greeks, we were discussing a Greek myth about the Trojan War and the vanity of the gods, and I asked them: What are you thankful for about your God as you read these stories?

I loved their answers. One child mentioned that God was slow to anger, and the Greek gods were not. Another mentioned how God was loving, sending His son to die for men. We mentioned a few other differences. We ended our time in Greek mythology thankful and grateful for the true God.

It’s such a humbling, beautiful thing for me to be able to have these moments with my kids, to worship God together as we study nature and art and ancient civilizations. It’s not just what I’m teaching them; it’s what we share together.

I’m grateful for homeschooling. I’m grateful for my kids and their perspective on life. I’m grateful for Greek mythology and the conversations it sparks. I’m grateful for a God who is slow to anger, merciful, loving, and intentionally revealing Himself to us in every day moments.