Category Archives: Planning

Debra Bell Planner

Debra Bell’s Ultimate Homeschool Planner Review

It’s almost September – are you feeling the pressure? You know, that little voice in your head that is asking, “How are we going to get it all done?” or reminding you that you haven’t even begun to start planning for next year.

Well, my friends, I have found a tool that has the potential to make this process a million times easier! Not only did it make planning this year easier for me, but I can already see some results in training my children how to schedule their own time!

Debra Bell’s Ultimate Homeschool Planner, combined with the Student and Teen Planner, has all the features you need to get ready for the year – complete with detailed guidance to help you through the process.

But first, I have a confession to make – it took me a few weeks to actually bring myself to write in these beautiful books. {They are all made with good quality paper and a plasticized cover that feels like it will last all year.}

Debra Bell Planner

I would look at them and read the information, but I couldn’t bring myself to write in them. And, once I worked up to it, I still had to write in pencil for several weeks so that I had the opportunity to erase if need be. Now, I am happy to report that I have broken through and realized that this is a tool like any other to help me – I can’t be held back by my own perfectionism. {Something that helped me was using a favorite pen.}

Full Year Scheduling

Probably one of my favorite things about this planner is that there are 12 month and 50 week schedule pages. {I know it’s not quite a complete year, but who really needs 52 weeks for school, right?} Not only that, but you also have an entire One Year Planning Grid to help you get an overall sense of your year and to help you visually see any long-term projects/events so that you don’t over-schedule.


Pre-Plan for Success

Once I did get started, I actually found it rather painless to step through Debra’s Yearly Retreat steps to decide on our Family Priorities as well as set some academic and character goals on the Student Goal Setter for both Monkey and Rex. The students are also asked to set goals in their personal planners. I prayed about it and talked to Monkey and Rex, as well as to Dad, before setting these goals.

As I compiled their Resource Lists, I was surprised at how setting our priorities and goals helped me focus on exactly where we should concentrate our studies. Priorities and goals made it so much easier to narrow down all of the options to what made sense for these kids. This year. Keeping the character and academic goals in mind, I was able to {with less stress} formulate a plan with their curriculum. For example, Monkey needs to work on her writing skills and fully developing her ideas so writing is being incorporated into all of her studies.


The cool thing about the resource lists is that I can see at a glance the books and other resources I plan on using for each of them. So, half way through the year, I can be reminded that I had a reading book I wanted to pull out, or we had intended on watching a certain video. This takes a lot of the stress away for me because this way I don’t have to plan out the entire year at one time. I can refer back to this list as we go along.

Planning to Get it All Done

At the beginning of the month, I work through the Monthly Planing Session while referring to our family priority list and blocking out time for our priorities as well as any commitments for the month.

At the beginning of each week, during the Weekly Planning Break, I have the opportunity  to focus on our successes {no matter how small} and God’s provisions while filling out the Memorable Moments/Achievements and Evidences of Grace. These pages help to keep me focused each week on why we homeschool and who is ultimately in control regardless of how much planning I do.

The Weekly Planner pages are set up with 6 columns and 6 rows to give you maximum flexibility on whether you want to go by subject or day or child,etc… {It should be noted that the Teen Planner only has room for 5 subjects.} For us, we decided to list the subjects at the top and put names down the side. Because we only have 2 children, we were able to also put some of those other spaces to use. This is also the time when I make all the copies that we need for the week. They each have a folder with all of the papers for the week.


Put it All in Motion

Each Sunday night, I meet with Monkey and Rex individually to go over their schedule for the next week for our Monday Morning Tutorial. {The actual recommendation is to do this part on Monday mornings, but we need to have our plan in place when we get up on Monday to keep us motivated.} And, this next part is why this planner is unique and different from anything I’ve ever seen out there. The kids write in their own planners to make their own plan. For Rex, I direct him as to what to put down for each day. Since handwriting is difficult for him, we use a lot of abbreviations.


But for Monkey, I tell her what she needs to complete for the week, and then she is responsible for breaking it down into daily plans. {I am still guiding her in this process.} Debra is very focused on helping the children work towards being independent learners, and I can see how these sessions will help them get there.


To wrap up the week, I meet with each of them for a Friday Review to go over their work and put the papers into their notebook. This only takes a short amount of time, but it gives them the feedback they need, and it makes sure that I am staying on top of their progress.

Record-keeping for Sanity

As if all that wasn’t awesome enough to help keep me on target, the back section of the book is for record keeping. I’ll probably only use the Grades portion for Monkey, and the only reason is because she is now in high school. {I’m not a big proponent of grades in homeschool.} But, I LOVE the Reading and Field Trips/Outside Activities Lists! These will help me remember all that we accomplished over the year. {Yes, I know the pages of weekly planners should do that as well, but nothing is quite so awesome as a list of all the books they read for the year or all the places that we went.}

Since we only have 2 children {the planner has enough spots to accommodate 6}, we are using 2 of the extra columns to record our read alouds as well as our audiobooks.


There is also a High School Planning Guide which I used to work out Monkey’s next four years. Can you believe that? I have actually not only planned a year out, I have planned out four years?!? Well, actually that’s not that surprising, but what is surprising is that it is all written down. Neatly. In a place that I will be able to find it again.


Both the Student Planner and the Teen Planner have multiple pages where they can record their favorite stuff. This way you have something for the scrapbook to represent this oh-so-brief year. {Yes, I know his is not filled out – he’s waiting on me to do his writing for him.}


This year, I was blessed to win 2 of these planners, so I started thinking about the cost and whether or not this was something we could continue with each year – having to buy 3 planners. And, ultimately, I decided YES! The cost is not much more than what I used to do, and the convenience {not to mention the guidance and expertise!} is well worth the little bit extra. I really can’t say enough good things about this system.

And, now, the good people at Apologia have given me the opportunity to bless one of my readers with TWO planners of your own. The winner will receive the Ultimate Homeschool Planner as well as either the Student or Teen Planner {winner’s choice}.

To Enter: Simply use the Rafflecopter below! Ends at midnight on Thursday, August 23rd ET. See Full Terms and Conditions in the widget.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Full Disclosure: I won two planners during twitter parties, and Apologia provided me with a complimentary copy of the Teen Planner in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. There was no other compensation.

Monkey and Rex Sleeping

Teens and Sleep

I recently purchased Tell Your Time by Amy Andrews {a steal at $2.99 with code Spring12, btw}, and I have been going through and figuring out where I need to schedule my time in order to accomplish my goals.

One of the last steps is to grid in a rough idea of your schedule. Well, one of the first things to put on the grid is sleep – so that you don’t accidentally forget to schedule it! This is definitely an area where we need help.

Monkey and Rex Sleeping {Pre- the teen sleep crisis} Aren’t they sweet?

Lately, my monkey seems to be sleeping the day away. Now, granted – we are also going to bed later at night because of other commitments. So, my mommy guilt kicked in overtime, and I started researching exactly how much sleep teenagers are supposed to need. I seemed to remember reading that they needed more sleep, so I figured we were going to need to start going to bed earlier to get that extra shut-eye.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that according to several sites out there, teens’ circadian rhythm actually changes through puberty, and they turn into night owls – where they naturally go to bed later and sleep in later. {Well, they would sleep in later if they didn’t have to make it to school so early.} In fact, I only found one site that disagreed, but truthfully, I found their argument more along the lines of “since they’re able to function on less sleep, that must mean it’s ok.”

In fact, it’s becoming so widely recognized, that some public schools are actually changing the time that high schools begin in the morning to accommodate their new sleep patterns, but even with the change, they still may not be getting enough sleep. What a great opportunity we have in homeschooling! I can let their natural sleep patterns emerge.

But, first things first – I need to figure out how long their sleep needs are {the average ranges from 8.5 – 11 hrs!} in order to plan the rest of the day – not to mention, paying off the sleep debt that we’ve all built up. {Bet you didn’t know that you could catch up on sleep – not all at once, mind you, but you can catch up.}

So, for the next several weeks, we will all go to bed at the same time {not as each other, but the same actual time on the clock} each night. It will probably be around 11pm – midnight for the kids because that’s when they are naturally getting tired – and, then we’ll sleep until we have gotten enough sleep that night.

Apparently, if you do this for a couple of weeks, you can actually get caught up on your sleep as well as figure out how much sleep you actually need. Once we have that number, I’ll be better able to draft out a schedule to help keep us on track toward our goals instead of letting life just happen to us. {Seriously, get the book Tell Your Time – you won’t be disappointed!}

How long do your teens need to sleep to feel completely rested? Tell me about it in the comments!


Disclaimer: if you do decide to purchase Tell Your Time, I am an affiliate and will make a small commission. Thank you for your support!

Smooth Running Days Require Planning

Bet you thought from the title that I may have found the silver bullet, but sadly – no – I’ve been hit with an epiphany.  Lately I’ve found myself getting that overwhelmed feeling more and more often.  It feels like I’m constantly running from one task to another in emergency mode – or the kids are having to wait for me to gather the materials for our studies for the day.  Why is this happening?  What is going on?  I felt that I was getting a lot done each day but it just was always in a high stress mood.

Then, while going to sleep the other night, it hit me – I wasn’t taking any time for planning!  I have all these tasks that need to be done each day but I had totally forgotten to set aside time each day for planning the future days.  And, there are so many things that need to be planned – schoolwork of course being at the top, but I should also be planning out meals so that I know we have stuff to eat – and, what about housework?  Surely, if I were to plan housework, I’m bound to get more done in an efficient manner right?  And, my new passion – blogging, that definitely needs to be planned out or I could totally find myself stuck in front of the computer all day checking out what all my new friends have to say.  Oh, and let’s not forget couponing!  How on earth to fit it all in…..

You know the saying about tasks filling the available time…..I think that’s definitely what has struck me!  So, I’m off to plan now and see if we can take a little bit of the emergency out of the day to day.

What about you? How do you keep your day planned so that STUFF doesn’t take over?  Do you plan in time to plan?  I’d love to hear what works for you!

Learn From My Mistakes

It seems that I have so many friends that are starting up homeschooling, and I find that I am biting my tongue with all the information that I want to give them.  The #1 thing being – don’t try to make it too much like “school.”  But, then I started thinking about the things that I would do differently if I were to have a magic time traveling Dellorian (I have no idea how to spell that) and could start over again at the beginning.

So, if I had it all to do over again, I…

Would skip private “preschool”
At the time, it made so much sense to me – put them into preschool (ages 2 – 4) for early socialization skills and then we would move on to homeschooling for Kindergarten.  Yeah, the problem with that is that they are also getting all kinds of bad information at their most impressionable age.  I have had to undo reading training, build up self esteem, and a whole world of other things that I can’t really remember right now because of this mistake.  It would have been so much more fun to have spent our days together just experiencing the world.

Would not buy one of those little school desks for each child

Wouldn’t buy even one of them.  Not that the desks themselves are bad, but they were a symptom of what I was trying to do.  For some reason, I had it in my mind that homeschool was supposed to be just like the school that I went to – only at home.  After all, I turned out great, didn’t I?  I was just doing it at home because of all the negative influences out there.  So, while my own schooling was adequate and I learned a lot, I realized that it was not the only way to learn – it IS possible to learn about a new math concept while snuggling on the couch or learn about sea animals while walking on the beach.

Would not buy any workbook that looked like busy work

Oh, my goodness, how I used to love the workbook.  What a simple way to find out what they know, right?  Wrong – it is a way to make them realize all the things that they do not know.  Now, we much prefer the Charlotte Mason practice of narration to discover what they truly remember.  If they don’t remember much, then it’s my job to find a way to present it in a more interesting manner or consider that maybe what they remember is the most important part.

I would have read aloud more

I would love to have those days back and just snuggle on the couch with them reading the day away.  I was way too focused on getting them to be able to read for themselves as early as possible instead of realizing that it would come and it wasn’t a race to see who could get there first.

I would have taken them on nature explorations more 

I wish that we would have gone to the beach or for a walk on a nature trail more – wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting to experience nature instead of just reading about it.

I would have done more projects

I wish I would have known about lapbooking back then.  I really think that would have been something that we would have enjoyed doing – but, now they tell me they are too old for such things.

I guess, what I’m saying is that if I had it to do all over again, I would have just flat ENJOYED my children more – not that I’m not enjoying them now, but I hate looking back at all that wasted time trying to recreate a school environment at home instead of celebrating learning in a HOME environment.

First Test of the New System

So, tomorrow is a big day for me – “why is that?” you ask.  Well, it’s the first test of whether or not I’m going to allow myself to stick to the idea of “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc…”  as opposed to being stuck to actual days of the week.  The theory is that this way I don’t feel “behind” if something comes up for a day.

Yesterday – aka Day 1 – the doctor’s office called me to set up an appt for DS (age 10) for today – aka Day 2.  So, no big deal – I take the appt.  DD (age 12) stays with Grandparents for the day and does her schoolwork.  Uh-oh now what do I do……DS still has his schoolwork for Day 2 and what about all of those extra things that we all do together.  Do I try to squish them all into Day 3?

Nope – That is supposed to be the beauty of this plan…..Day 2 can be on Wed – it only means that it is Day 2 of Week 1.  And, DD just has a little extra time to draw tomorrow.  I’m sure she won’t mind spending some extra time on Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels.  I’m sure she won’t mind…. 

How do you deal with schedule de-railers?

First Day Jitters

So, I’ve been homeschooling for 6 years now, and this year is the first time that I have taken the time to plan out the year in advance.  This has given me a lot of peace because I know where everything fits and I won’t be trying to force too much into one day because I can visually see all of the time that I have available for the year.  However, it has also made me a bit nervous…..what if we get off track?  what if I still scheduled too much and now I’ve got to switch the *entire* year?!?  

Another addition this year is the “mom schedule.”  There are several subjects that we do together, so I’ve come up with a schedule for me as well that lays out the plan of each day for what I need to do.  This also helped me because as you may have noticed on the weekly schedule, there are several items that just happen weekly.  Well, I was stressing about how to get all of that done – and, then it came to me last night.  I have assigned each item to one day a week – that way we’re not jumping around from one subject to another every 5 min in order to do a little bit every day.    

So, why am I nervous you ask – after all it sounds like you have it all planned out perfectly……What if after all of this planning my kids don’t enjoy what I’ve labored so many hours to create for them?!?  I think that their subjects are fascinating this year but what if I missed the mark for them……  

Oh well, no use in worrying over tomorrow – I’m just going to jump in and trust that the Lord has guided my planning and lay it at His feet! 

As Promised….Week 1 of Copywork Assignment

To download:

Copywork Curriculum Shaping Up

So, today I have started working on our copywork program for next year.  I’ve had a desire for the last year to design a year’s worth of copywork material that incorporates Scripture, Quotes, and Poetry.   I’ve scoured the websites offering quotes and I’ve looked at the Scripture that we’re using for memorization, but there just hadn’t been a unifying factor to inspire me to bring it all together. Last year, I did have some success with assigning DD (age 12) to copy her favorite verse from the Proverbs chapter of the day, but it still wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

So, this year, it came to me.  I’ve still got a lot of work to do to compile all of the information, but I happened across a list of Operational Definitions of Character Qualities on the Duggar’s website, that I think is a perfect starting point for my DD’s copywork this year.  I’m going to start with the Operational Definition and then build on that with scripture, a few quotes, and (hopefully) a poem – or maybe a Shakespeare quote.

I can’t wait to share our plans when they come together.  Stay tuned for further resources.

So, what inspires you for copywork?  Do you assign something specific or do you allow your children a say?

Scheduling: Keeping School Fun

In my last post, I alluded to the new schedule for this year that the kids and I worked out together.  I’ve also tried to be very conscious of where the Lord is leading us for this school year.  (I won’t even pretend that that is easy, because it’s definitely a process….)We have divided the year into 7 seven week units.  Yes, I know that is more time than your “typical” school year, and we can move some at the end to next year if we need to, but I hate the idea of having more than a few weeks off at a time – too much time to get bored, into trouble, and out of practice.

The kids love the idea that every 6 weeks, they know they will get a week off of their book work.  There will still be learning going on, but it will done in more unconventional ways.  And an unexpected added bonus — the 6 week units are giving me a much more manageable time frame to work within as I plan out what we’re going to do next year.  Another important thing about the schedule is that the weeks don’t necessarily correspond to complete calendar weeks.  You probably noticed that I have the days labeled as Day 1, Day 2, etc…  By doing it this way, it relieves some of the pressure and if you have to take an unexpected day off due to a service opportunity or sickness, you don’t feel like you’re now “behind.”  This also alleviated the stress I was feeling about how to schedule around Thanksgiving – being that I didn’t want to necessarily take off the entire week since it’s right in the middle of a unit.

Each school week has 4 days of intensive studies covering all of the subject areas – I find that it works better for us if we do every subject every day for shorter amounts of time instead of splitting up the subjects (M/W or T/Th, etc…)  There are a few exceptions, but they are very very few.  Art is one…..Art is 2 days a week and Geography is probably going to be 2 days a week – but, that hasn’t been finalized yet.  The fifth day is going to be Bible and History with other subjects being taught in the framework of those two subjects.  This opens us up for time intensive projects for those subjects – which are the “spine” of our homeschool. 

 I never realized how much a workable schedule could excite the kids – they think it’s great that they know in advance what is expected of them and they know where there breaks are definitely scheduled in.  This also keeps Mom from becoming too intensely focused and pushing them until they just lose all JOY in their schoolwork.  Yes, yours truly has done that before and I’m hoping that this year’s plan will keep us all on target.

Another Year, Another Plan

Yep, it’s that time of year again – time for planning for next school year. So, the purchase has been made for 2 new 3″ Avery Heavy Duty Binders (our favorite due to the EZ opening) – ds chose the exact same color (which I do not understand – didn’t you always want something new each year?) He even chose the same color of paper – can you tell that he doesn’t like change? DD has chosen new paper and a new notebook color – and she chose a wonderful yellow paper that quite frankly just makes me happy working with it. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

This year, I’ve come up with a new form that we’re using because while last year’s form was helpful in helping me plan the entire year (well, at least the 2nd half of the year), it didn’t fit what I needed perfectly. So, given that I have the capability, I decided to create one that specifically worked for us. Here’s a link in case it might help with your planning : (To download an editable copy, you can use this link – for some reason it doesn’t view correctly, but it is formatted correctly on download:

Their 3″ Binders contain one of these sheets for every week (printed double sided). I bet you’re wondering where Day 5 is, aren’t you? Well, the kids and I came up with a schedule that we are all happy with – and, Day 5 is included on the form for “Weekly Studies.” This form is based in large part on the weekly studies at Ambleside Online. Here’s a link to our final schedule page that is included for each week:

We then used Legal Tab Dividers that can be purchased at Amazon, Staples or Office Depot, etc… We chose these because there are two packs available that combined go up through number 50 (it should be noted that they come UNpunched so you will have to punch them yourself.) We also used the Office Depot plastic dividers to further divide the weeks into groups of 7 weeks.  Something like this Wilson Jones View-Tab Transparent Dividers, 8 Round Tabs, Letter Size, Multi-Color (W55063) should work well, too.  The 7th week of each unit is a “Fun Week” where the school assignments will not be book based but will instead be activity based ie games, field trips, hands on projects, etc… Here is a link to what our Week 7 schedule looks like:

Here are some pictures of what an assembled binder looks like. I chose DD’s for reasons mentioned above.