Thursday, June 11, 2020

Homeschool Planet: A Review and How I Use It

Homeschool Planet:  A Review and How I Use It
(plus a discussion of our current 4th grade subjects)

Homeschool Planet:  A Review and How I Use It (plus a discussion of our current 4th grade subjects)

How cute is this?
One of the things I want to start talking about on my blog is my homeschooling journey with my daughter Gracie.  I have homeschooled Gracie formally since she was 4-½ years old.  (I say "formally" because all moms teach their children from birth, but homeschooling typically involves using curriculum!)  Back then, I used one main curriculum, A Beka Books, so all I had to do was follow their lesson plans.  Over the last six years, I have made changes so that I'm using a variety of curricula that work better for us.  I'll highlight a few of those changes in future blog posts.

One thing I have changed, most recently, is the use of an online homeschool planner.  I have attempted to use several different ones in the past, as well as paper planners, and Homeschool Planet is the one that has worked the best for me.  As a matter of fact, just a few minutes ago, I went and ahead and started the monthly subscription for it.  The $7.95/month is well worth my sanity!

The best feature of Homeschool Planner is the ability to control the assignments and the school days.  I can set up the school calendar and adjust on the fly.  Ever since Gracie's K-5 year, when my mom was sick and we had to go back and forth between Memphis and south Mississippi, I have moved to a year-round school schedule.  That's just a fancy way of saying, "Some days we do school, and some days we do not."  Being consistent and staying on track can be very difficult with a year-round schedule, especially when we have a lot of interruptions to our days and our weeks.  However, that's what I love about homeschooling:  merging homeschooling into our life.  I believe that education my child involves both academic and real-life preparation.  However, the lessons must be completed!

There is a little bit of a learning curve to Homeschool Planet, but over the last four weeks (during the free trial), I have learned what works best for me.  I use Homeschool Planet to track lessons, assignments, and grades.  Every day, I print out an Assignment List to use to guide our schooldays.  I really like the Assignment List because it will print out both the current day's lessons and assignments as well as any that have been missed.

Today's Assignment List.  I print these two pages to a piece of paper both to save paper and to keep them all on one page.  This view shows one page per piece of paper for readability.  
I overloaded a couple of subjects because I have set tomorrow as an off-day even though we will do some school.  We will do the assignments that we do not complete today, and we may also work on some future assignments depending on how our day goes.

{Tomorrow is an off-day because it's my birthday!  Also, we will probably be going to church so that I can help my pastor's wife with the new puppet show video.  (View my Playlist for Noni & Buck's World of Adventure)}

Homeschool Planet: Calendar view for next week

Homeschool Planet: the other half of Calendar view

A Brief Discussion of Our Classes and How I've Handled Them in Homeschool Planet

Even though the classes are listed in the same order according to a time each day, we follow neither the order nor the time.  I just set it up that way so that it would be consistent with the way I think.


We typically start our day with reading.  I set out everything that will be read aloud, either by me or by Gracie, and I let Gracie pick the order.  This includes our current Read Aloud book(s), her reader, History, and Science.  She typically picks out the current Read Aloud (called Storytime in the Calendar) first.  Gracie is a great reader, but she does not particularly like to read (which breaks this bibliophile's heart!); she would rather have her nose in a screen than the pages of a book.  However, she does enjoy, most of the time, listening to me read aloud to her.

I never really thought about reading aloud to her even after she could read well until I read various posts online about the benefits.  However, in remembering my own childhood (and adulthood), I learned the most when I read what is called "living books" -- books that submerge you into an engaging story where you learn about different places or different times in history.  Over the last several years, I have read aloud some of the following:  All of the Little House books (my personal favorite books), Adventures with Waffles (I may have the title wrong, but it's a good book.), half of Little Women (taking a break and will resume the second half in a few months), Grimm's Fairy Tales (never again), Toliver's Secret, and others that I'm drawing a blank on.

Currently, I am reading aloud Indian Captive by Lois Lenski which I will probably do a book review about soon as I think parts of it have been relatable to recent current events.  Most of my picks for read alouds have been to coincide with our history program.  In Homeschool Planet, I input the name of the book and the chapter number for each day.  Indian Captive's chapters are too long for one sitting, so I actually read part of it in the morning and part of it at night.  I will also read on the weekends and will adjust the assignments accordingly.  Homeschool Planet has a neat input feature where it will put in successive numbers automatically (1 - 16 for example) which makes it very easy and fast.

For Gracie's reading aloud, we are finishing up the A Beka readers for 4th grade.  Somehow I forgot about Saved at Sea because I think that was supposed to be done earlier in the year.  I should tell you now that I don't follow A Beka's lesson plans for this.  My main purpose for Gracie reading aloud is to improve her oral reading ability and to make sure she reads things that are both enjoyable and from which she (we) can learn.  I don't even make her read all of the stories in the readers.  I choose the best ones and occasionally I'll give her the option of skipping one that I am ambivalent about.  We will be finishing up Saved at Sea sometime next week.  After that, I will have her begin reading from my collection of childhood books that are stored in the garage.  We will start with picture books and we will decide which ones are keepers and which ones are not.  (Concurrent decluttering project!)  We will begin reading the 5th-grade readers in August.  I plan on using the A Beka readers in 6th grade as well.


For about three years, we have used Bible Study Guide for All Ages for our Bible curriculum.  (I'll do a post about it soon.)  When I first input the Bible lessons into Homeschool Planet, I only put in lesson numbers, but I never could remember a lesson according to its number, so I added in the name of the lesson as well.

We will be switching to another Bible curriculum for 5th grade; however, I hope to return to Bible Study Guide for All Ages in another year or two.  Gracie has been wanting to try out ACE/School of Tomorrow because that is the curriculum that her best friend (whose family serves as missionaries to Ghana) uses.  I used to teach ACE in a Christian school, so I am familiar with the program and I know which subjects fit better with our homeschool needs.  Actually, we never used ACE Bible at the Christian school, but I do want to try it out with Gracie.  I hope this will make a good transition to doing some work more independently.


Language Arts: Grammar.  Whew!  This one is probably the trickiest class because there are a lot of moving parts.  I probably could, and should, separate it out more in Homeschool Planet, but I'm not going to (at least not now).  Here are the elements that make up our Language Arts grammar class:  A Beka Language Arts 4, A Beka Oral Lessons, A Beka Reading Comprehension Skill Sheets (each grade level has a slightly different name), and Daily Grams.

As much as I have enjoyed A Beka in the past, this year's Language Arts threw me and Gracie for a loop from the get-go.  All of a sudden they went from doing one lesson on one or two pages, no more and no less, to splitting pages between lessons so that one lesson might be 1-½ pages and another lesson might be 2-½ pages.  In other words, page 6 is for lessons 3 and 4.  In my OCD mind, this is not acceptable.  I know it's weird, but it has been a hangup for the whole year.

I didn't even find out about the Oral Lessons book until a year ago.  Apparently, it can be used from 1st grade through 6th grade.  The lessons are supposed to train your ear to using proper grammar so that you begin to speak it correctly.  Every day that I use it, I read aloud a group of ten sentences that incorporate properly spoken grammar.  Gracie copies me in saying each sentence after me  (and then she continues to copy everything I say or do until I get annoyed and super mad -- she's mischievous that way!).  I will continue to use this for 5th and 6th grade, and then for 7th, I may do a pretest for each section and only go over the ones she needs help with.

I really like the Reading Comprehension Skill Sheets.  I think we started doing them in 3rd grade.  They are short and sweet.  The 4th grade teacher's guide lays out a different schedule than I have used.  I will continue these for 5th and 6th grades.  A Beka also has reading comprehension books which tests both comprehension and speed of reading, but I have opted not to do this.  I think it's too much.  The Skill Sheets do exactly what I want them to do:  develops and improves reading comprehension.  Another note is that I do not time these.  Gracie balked at the time limit.  Even though I'm sure she CAN complete it within the recommended time, getting her to focus squarely on it is a difficult challenge in itself because her brain goes all over the place.  I tell her, "I don't care how fast you can do it; I DO care about you getting the right answers."  Again, I type in the number of each as well as the title that coincides with it.

Daily Grams.  <Cue some beautiful instrumental music.>  I found Daily Grams 4 (Teacher Edition) in our local Bibles for China thrift store for $3.  It looked interesting and worth a try.  After all, $3!  It's probably the best accidental change I have ever made for homeschool.  This particular book is designed to be a short-and-sweet daily review of grammar.  Truthfully, it looks dull and boring.  There are no pictures and everything is in black and white, but Gracie loves it!  She would rather do Daily Grams than A Beka Language Arts any day!  I think she loves it because it is short and sweet.  It's done in less than 10 minutes, and we can move on.  For this reason, and because A Beka Language Arts threw us both for a loop this year, I am going to switch totally to Daily Grams and Easy Grammar (the teaching component) for 5th grade.  I'm hoping that Easy Grammar will be just as enjoyable as Daily Grams.  (You might wonder why I kept on with A Beka Language Arts since we have disliked it this year.  Well, I paid for it, I know it's a good program (albeit a little too much too soon), and I'm determined not to let it defeat us!)

Additional note:  I did not do any Creative Writing and only one (traditional) book report this year.  I wanted to add in IEW for composition but just was not able to fit it in.  I plan on adding it in for 5th grade.  For our future book reports, I will be assigning books to Gracie (She can choose some; I'll choose others.) and she will do alternative book reports for her assignment.  I have a list of 80-something alternative types of book reports from which to choose.  (Neither of us is a fan of the traditional book report.)


For spelling, we now use Spelling Power, another somewhat-accidental find.  I love Spelling Power because it doesn't make the child do busy work, and it keeps on moving.  I think that all school assignments should be intentional and meaningful.  (Redeem the time!)  Therefore, I do not see the value of making a child write spelling words multiple times if they already know how to spell the word correctly.  Spelling Power is short and sweet and requires that Gracie only study the words that she gets wrong.  We will use this until she completes the program, and then we will be done with formal spelling.  For Homeschool Planet, I input each group of words over two days.  We have not done spelling every day this year, but I'm glad to see that we will be able to finish Level G by July 31st which is our last day of 4th grade.  I'm good with that.

Additional note:  Spelling Power recommends adding in Dictionary Days every so often to practice dictionary skills.  I went on a huge Google (and TeacherPayTeachers) search and found things to use on these days (in addition to the Dictionary Skills section found in the A Beka Language Arts book).  I will also incorporate the use of other reference materials and library skills.


We have been using A Beka Penmanship 3, but I've added in some copywork sheets that I found somewhere online.  For the current copywork, each day, Gracie writes out a different Principle of Liberty (as taught in the book The 5,000 Year Leap which I have not yet read but would like to).  I'm not sure how long I will have her practice penmanship.


We use Singapore Math (US Edition) which incorporates three books at its basic level:  Home Instructor's Guide, Textbook, and Workbook.  I combined each day's use of the Home Instructor's Guide and Textbook into one line.  I put the Workbook separate since it will be graded.  You can mark some assignments as "Not Graded" and others you can indicate the type of grade (Homework, Quiz, Test, Project, etc.) so that it knows how to average the grades.  I also incorporate Math Games from Multiplication Facts That Stick (I also used the Additiona... and Subtraction... books) and math fact practice on


I use Evan-Moor's Daily Geography Practice for map skills.  I actually bought it to use for 3rd grade and forgot about it!  So I've been using it for 4th grade and will continue using each subsequent grade until it is finished.  One major change I have made is that instead of having Gracie answer two questions a day for five days for a particular lesson, I teach her the concept and have her do all ten questions (plus the challenge) the same day or the next day.  It's pretty simple and straight-forward and I'm not sure there's any benefit to stretching it out that long.  When looking for online sources of this product (I bought the 3rd grade book at our local (overpriced) teacher store), I saw that they have an additional Skill Sharpeners: Geography workbook which we will try this year as well.


I have admired Notgrass History for several years and have bought some of their material at used book sales to use in the future.  I was really excited when they came out with Our Star-Spangled Story for elementary history!  It is recommended for Grades 1-4 which fits perfectly for Gracie's 4th-grade history.  Notgrass has three other history courses to use for the middle school years (5th-8th grades) and to fill in the gap before 6th grade, we are going to finish Our Star-Spangled Story and then I will have Gracie do ACE Social Studies 1061-1072.  She's been wanting to do some ACE like her best friend and I think this will be a good subject for her to do independently.  I picked the 6th grade level since the scope and sequence indicates that it covers topics that we have not yet covered.


Science has been another hit-and-miss subject in previous years.  I actually own all (but one? can't remember) of the Apologia Young Explorers series.  We are just now going to finish up the Astronomy book and will dive right into the Botany book with lapbook activities next week.  I do plan on doing all of the Apologia elementary science books over the next 2-3 years), but I may not incorporate all of the activities.  Since it is (late) spring, we can easily do botany activities over the next few months and I think it will be both interesting and useful.  Homeschool Planet has a bonus feature of offering lesson plans that you can purchase to import into the planner.  The free trial includes a free lesson plan and this is the one I picked.  The purchased lesson plans are helpful, but you have to do some work to get the assignments laid out the way you want them.  I have incorporated a "lapbook check" day every other day as a reminder to check the activities and also as a buffer day to catch what hasn't yet been done.

A Final Note about Other Activities

When I began the free trial, I added everything I could think of to Homeschool Planet including music practice, chores -- all the daily things that SHOULD be done every day but often ISN'T.  It was just too much of a pain to deal with the rescheduling, deleting, or checking off every day.  Homeschool Planet also allows you to add in scheduled extracurricular activities such as outside lessons (e.g. Homeschool PE, field trips), church, American Heritage Girls, but I have chosen not to do that.  I have a very narrow purpose for using Homeschool Planet: keeping me on track with assignments and keeping up with grades and attendance.  The rest of our homeschool LIFE is better handled elsewhere for me (namely my wall calendar and phone calendar).

One More Thing about Homeschool Planet

Overall, I think Homeschool Planet is well worth the time, effort, and cost.  It has already proved to be extremely useful for me.  The only trouble I've run into, beyond the learning curve and learning how to tweak it, is that when I've needed to reschedule lessons, it will sometimes put some lessons out of order.  One thing I have done to combat this is to declare a day as an off-day rather than telling Homeschool Planet to reschedule assignments.  This basically puts a pause in the assignments while giving us time to catch up and rebalance.  Since it is currently summer and I do not count "summer school" days towards attendance, I don't worry about the lack of accuracy for attendance.

Well, this turned out to be longer than I originally intended.  In fact, I just laughed at where I called it a "Brief" discussion.  Yeah, I'm almost never brief when writing!  I probably could have split this post up into two posts.  If you have any questions or if you would like me to write about anything else homeschool-related, drop a line in the comments.  If you have any helpful suggestions, I would love to hear those as well!
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