Monday, August 10, 2015

Back to School Planning

I have mentioned once or twice before that I'm a bit of an obsessive planner.  It's my personality, that I like to have things organized and planned out, and detailed.  I like to do list, mostly because I love checking off things, and having proof that despite the fact that I am home all day and don't feel like I have accomplished meaningful things, that I have indeed been busy working.

When it comes to school though, I HAVE to do some planning.  First, I have found if I don't make some plans, we aren't that productive.  there is always something that needs doing on the Church website or something that needs cleaning and if I don't make plans and prioritize school, it won't happen.  Second, as I've mentioned before PA is kinda of an intensive state with the homeschooling regulations.  We still don't have to legally file, because Britt isn't 8, but I have been able to take the last two years and tweak what I think school is, and how to keep up with school without the government getting in my way.  I feel like if I keep adjusting things, by the time I do need to file, we'll have a pretty great system in place.  Of course the added bonus for us right now, is that if we move states for a new job and need to file, I've already got the paperwork to show what we've been doing, if I were to need it.

So, this year for our 3rd year homeschooling, I am using yet another new planner.  This time I think I might have actually found something that really works for us, at least for now.  I decided to get the Erin Condren Teacher Planner this year.  Since it isn't actually made for homeschooling, and since I wasn't sure if I could justify the price, I got online on a Facebook group back in January, and managed to get a copy off a lady that was selling an extra she had, for $40.  I thought for that price, I could tweak and experiment with it, and see if it would work for us.  And a month and a half into our school year I am loving it.

First, let me tell you what didn't work for me in last year's book.  1) It wasn't made well.  After a year of use, well really way before then, the weak plastic coil wasn't holding up, pages were tearing out, and the covers were seriously beat up.  2) No pockets or page protectors of any kind.  That meant I was paper clipping EVERYTHING into the book, and once again, that didn't help my coil and cover problems.  3) Too many pages that weren't useful for me.  I found most of the end of the book extras just not work able for me, there was semester planning, and monthly goals, and the 180 checkmark boxes, and curriculum planning pages.  I think off all that I used one of the curriculum planning pages right before CHAP convention, to make notes for purchases this year.  I just couldn't think of a good way to repurpose them either.  4) It was so boring looking.  I know this sounds crazy, but it's hard to be motivated to do school the end of Feb, beginning of March, when it's bitter cold outside, and you've been grinding away at the daily stuff for a good five months, and the book just didn't help.

 So now, I can share why I am liking my EC Planner so much better this year.  1) These things are made SO well.  I mean seriously.  Those coils are amazing, stuff doesn't come out, the pages that have tabs are reinforced, they don't come out.  The covers, are interchangeable just like the regular life planners, but they are made really well, heavy duty lamination.  The cover I used on my LP since last Oct, finally started to show some wear in May, so I swapped it out.  This planner I've been carrying around since January when I started working on it, and it still looks pristine.  2)  Their is a pocket and page protectors.  Ok, so there aren't any page protectors in mine, but you get 1-3 when you order one on the website, depending on how many you want.  This year (again not on mine) they have redone the folders so they are suppose to be even more sturdy.  My folder in my LP is starting to tear, I keep alot of bills stuffed in one side and coupons in the other side, so this one might show some wear, but it's so nice to have one.  3) It is so colorful, and bright, with happy quotes and patterns.  It makes me want to do lesson planning.  Even better it makes me want to pull it out and see what's on the plan for today.

Now here's the only catch, to be really useful for a homeschooler, you are going to need to get creative with some of the pages, that are really geared toward the public elementary school teacher.  I didn't mind doing this, because I feel like for the most part, it's easy to do.  The pages are mostly set up that you just change a few headings and wa-la.  Plus again it gave me the chance to be crafty and have a little decorating fun.  And since these serve as a record for our year, it's kinda like our school scrapbook, and I don't mind a little decoration.  I don't have the first page in mine, the lady before had her personal info and passwords on it so she tore it out.  I took the Helpful Hints for the substitute page, and turned it into our title page.  With our school name and such over the top, and then on the sides, I added some of my EC labels that I use for color coding appointments and such.  I wrote down what the kids most were interested in learning/doing for school this year on those. I will probably write their favorite part of the year at the end on the bottom lines.  The Birthday pages - I covered Birthdays with Field Trips, added some cute washi, and have a nice place to record all those fun out of the house things we do.  I used the year planning pages, but more on how in a later post.  (Next year I might would swap the two, since with more than two kids, I need more room to yearly plan, and I don't need quite as many lines for field trips.)  The attendance pages, became fantastic book logs, and I can even check them off when we are done and they go back into the library bag to be turned in.  I didn't have anywhere near enough of these last year, and they were so messy.  These are very neat, but since the kids are reading more, I'm taking some of the blank graph paper that follows them and making some extra book list, just in case.  I have a couple pages for science, and for history, lots for independent reading and just books for fun. I also used some graph paper to plan out our garden, which we do along with school each summer.  I again reversed the order for the lesson plan pages, but this year I printed my own labels, because that made everything much neater.  (I got a bonus 52 weeks of plans in mine, because the lady before me had added weeks to it, before deciding to sell it.  I HOPE Erin Condren will added in more weeks next year for those of us who find ourselves schooling mostly year round.)

I have also used the student checklist as chore charts for the kids (I'll have to write more on that in another post too.)  The notes pages have been great.  I know they have been changed up some this year, so I'm not sure how I would like that.  I use the one at the end of each month to note month goals and accomplishments, like the sight words we have worked, an evaluation of how the month went, and any monthly notes I need to reference for adjustments.  I have more room than I need so I am also using them to glue in art work from the kids, pictures of things we have done or places we have gone.  And occasionally my own stress relief artwork.  These are super important to me.  The notes at the end of the book, I used as a space to do some goal setting in general in each important area (either by the law, or things I felt essential).  These were really great to help me rough out my objectives for the year, before I typed them up all official for our paperwork, and before I sat down to try to do my yearly planning.  As for the monthly spreads, they are at the front, I've just come to accept that's the way they are with teacher planners, and they have an odd lay out (this year they went to a more normal looking layout), but I have really enjoyed decorating them, noting big events outside of the house, and logging our days/hours on them.

Now, could I have done all of the remakes with a cheaper planner?  Maybe?  I can say that watching the videos and looking through pictures of how other EC fans have used their planners to homeschool, gave me a ton of great ideas.  I like the heavy paper and better coil of the EC, and of course the bright colors are inspiring as well.  Ultimately I think that for alot of other planners out there, it would have required alot more work, and that while I changed some headings and decorated uptop, the page lines and set up where more conducive to changes, than alot of other planners.  I also could have made my own the way I wanted, but the paper wouldn't have been as good, the ink would have cost me a fortune and I really don't have the time for that project.  Next year, I think I will again buy an EC.  I might get one in May when they clearance out the previous year's version, or I might wait and see if they will have an option for 52 weeks of lesson plans in the 2016-2017 edition.  However, I'm pretty sure I've found lesson planner peace with this set up.

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