Thursday, April 11, 2013

Product Review: Apologia Press' Ultimate Homeschool Planner for Parents, Teens, & Students

Product at a glance:

  • Product received for review: 
  • Author/Designer: Debra Bell. Find her web-site here 
  • Other Products by Apologia: Apologia Press offers award-winning creation-based science courses, biblical worldview and apologetic titles, online classes, inspirational books, homeschooling tools, language arts and history curriculum, and a plethora of books and other materials. 
  • Ages/grades suggested for which products are suggested: 
  • The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - The perfect tool for mom or dad to plan out the entire homeschooling year. 
  • The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens-Grades 7-12.
  • The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students-Grades 4-8.

As I said in my earlier post about Blog Planners that I am NOT a planner. I want to be a planner when I grow up, but since I've hit the 40-something bracket at this point, I don't know if I will ever reach that stage of development. This planning system is so complex and comprehensive that at first, it honestly gave me hives just flipping though the "how to" pages. There are 11 "here's how this program works" pages and they caused me to close the book and put it aside more than once. That being said, I found  a quote from the Apologia catalog that did spoke directly to my heart:
"Do you want to do more than just survive homeschooling? Thrive in the pleasure of God's calling upon your life. Count your blessings while charting your family's progress with this 48-week planner designed to help you document God's faithfulness and activity during your homeschool journey."
"THRIVE in the pleasure of God's calling to homeschool?" Most days, I'm just hoping to keep the two of them from murdering each other and to survive it with my sanity intact. I muddle my way through multiple lesson plans across what seems like 19 books and as many curriculum, as best I can all while working full-time, raising three kids, chasing three dogs, two cats, and assorted other zoo animals. Survive is probably a good description of my goal these first two years of homeschooling. 

I do want to thrive. I do want to enjoy teaching my children. I want to be organized and feel like I'm finally doing the best job I can do. I want to take all the different plans that I have from my pieces of curriculum and smoosh them together into a big overarching schema to ease my stress every day and every week to make sure we're covering everything. I NEED a complete system that gives me a place to collect all of those pieces in one, organized place.

If anything was going to launch me into the realm of a true planner, it would be this system. The Ultimate Homeschool Planner for parents takes you through the process of planning from the big overall picture down to the finite details. As a blogging group, we had the pleasure of attending a webinar from the creator of the system, Mrs. Debra Bell. She said her goal for the planning system was to make you aware of God's faithfulness and activity in your homeschool. She also wants to help you raise and independent learner. You know, independent, as in you give them the right materials and a plan and they handle some of this stuff on their own!

This page is included for each week. On it you can record memorable moment from your homeschooling week, like it's a journal. She even gives you ideas across the bottom: family funnies, victories, progress, promising signs, small beginnings, finished projects. On the bottom half of the page, you can record evidences of grace: evidence of God's grace, mercy, faithfulness, protection, and provision. 

I will say, just to keep things honest, we are currently at the end of our homeschooling year. We have just, this weekend, attended the local homeschool convention and picked up part of the pieces of our curriculum for next year. As such, there was little opportunity for me to truly retreat, plan, organize and lay it all out. I read through the planning sections and began to lay out next year, but I could not put together the weekly day by day plans for each child. What I did do was discuss with the kids what they felt was working well and what was not working from this year. We also, as a family sat down and discussed what our character goals and educational goals would be for next year. 

I added in the pieces of curriculum that I know that we are using for sure next year. I have some missing pieces and I will have to add those in at a later date.

After that I look at the one-year planning grid page and to some extent, that is where this breaks down for me. We don't live that life where everything can be put on the grid and blocked off in advance. We run a family business with my parents and, thanks to the economy, we are understaffed. We work when we are needed, cover when someone is taking time off and just try to keep it under 50 hours per week for each of us. That being said, we have started blocking out next school year and discussing which events are plannable enough to go on the grid even this far out. Although I had my doubts when first I looked at the pages, in reality, there are many dates and events we can put on these pages.

From the yearly planner, you move into the monthly planner where you lay out those tasks that impact your schooling schedule. Lessons, holidays, co-ops, baseball/softball practice, karate, etc. I added in my blogging due dates just so I could maintain a single calendar for the month. 

Mom's Month at a glance
Student Planner
Month at a glance

Teen Planner
Month at a glance

There are also weekly pages where you sketch out the kids' assignments day by day and child by child. These pages are where you set up the child's goals for the week and on your first school day of the week, they copy these over to their own planners. We did not get the kids stuff transferred but I wanted to show the pages anyway. Note that the Teen Planner includes bubbles on the weekly page to record time spent on tasks. Some 
states require time to be tracked in order for the child to receive credit to graduate.

Mom's Planner
Week at a glance
Student Planner
Week at a glance

Teen Planner
Week at a glance

There are other pages in the planner for recording resources used, field trips taken, a section of teaching tips, a high school planning guide, a year-end review, reading list per child, and grades per child. Too many to show them all to you in a single blog. 

I foresee the Ultimate Homeschool Planner helping me achieve my planning goals and getting me on the right track. I hope it will keep me from getting derailed by all the minutia involved in teaching two children every day and working full-time as well.  It is a fantastic tool for any homeschooling momma, but most especially the novice homeschooler whose fears often affect their ability to teach. As a planning-impaired scatterbrain, I feel like this planner gives me something to ASPIRE to in my planning endeavors for next year. Thanks to Mrs. Debra Bell and Apologia for the chance to really get to know this planner at just the right moment, just when I'm beginning to plan that next school year!


What did Mom think of the program?
  • I love the depth that has been put into the planners. The detailed user's guide, although it was a little bit overwhelming to the organizationally challenged at first, it is laid out with examples and full pages shown so that you can SEE what is being explained and how the parts work together
  • I love that Debra includes a page each week to record the positive things you saw throughout the week. So often, I wonder if I do anything right and if the kids are doing anything right. (Come on now, you've been in the trenches, you HAVE those weeks too!) Having this little journal section gives pause for reflection on the week. A time to look for the positive.
  • There is a great section to layout your Bible battle plan, what verses you're reading and to reflect on why, a section to layout your prayer goals and your Godly duties with hospitality and outreach.
  • The fact that the kids have a coordinating planner where the purposes overlap.

What would I change?
  • Mostly, I would change myself to be the woman who CAN plan with this much focus and determination. I want to be that planned out organized momma. Oh, wait, this is supposed to be about the product...shoot!
  • I would put the weekly pages between the monthly pages or add tabs with the months so that flipping back and forth is easier. 
  • I would increase it to be a 52-week planner. If I'm going to be this planned and organized, I'm probably going to do it every week of the year. Plus, we are moving closer to year round schooling with a few three day weeks and a few weeks off scattered around our school year.
  • In all honesty, what I most need is a planner that is where ever I am. We school at home, at granny's house, at our home with the other granny, at work with mom & dad, and when one kid is having practice, the other kid is working on something else.Even though these planners are super durable and easily portable,  ideally, I would find this most useful as an app on the iPad, iPhone and on the computer. Automatically updating between devices, please. In the rush to get out the door on time, things like planners end up being left on the table more often than they should. The iPads though almost always make their way into the bag.

Other cool stuff:

Join us for a FACEBOOK PARTY on Friday, April 12th from 9:00pm-10:00pm EST. 

Just click HERE! It even sounds like there may be some awesome giveaways! Who doesn't love prizes & free stuff! It's my very first Facebook party, so be patient and let me know what you think afterwards!

Click here: Mosaic Reviews - A Medley of Review Perspectives to read dozens of other reviews about this product and see it from many different angles. Make an educated decision!



  1. What a wonderful, comprehensive (okay, as comprehensive as one can get on such a meaty product), well-written review! I really like the tone of your writing throughout. I feel like I was sitting down with you and you were showing me the planners and telling me how they worked for your family. I love that you wrote little checkboxes by your to-do items on the weekly planning pages--I do the same thing! I also love how you have the parent, teen, and student pages showcased right beside one another! Great job! :-)

    1. Thanks. I have to admit, this one was a bit overwhelming to summarize. Getting those pictures the way I want is a bit of a dice roll too. I'm not really happy with Blogger. I truly think I'm going to go back to Wordpress soon. Or, just use iWeb and a hosted site. I feel like there were so many more options when I was Wordpressing :/

      I'm trying to instill skills in my kids that I have only recently developed as an adult. It is very therapeutic to cross things off of a to do list. If I had learned that earlier in life, where would I be now?

  2. This planner on the iPad would be AWESOME!!!

    1. Thanks. I think so too. I hope they are thinking along those lines soon. I would pay for it and pay for it every year, for sure. I think it needs to link to the computer too, just for ease of data entry.

  3. Wonderful review! Very thorough and honest,and I can see your personality through the review.I really struggled with this one!