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.

library and garden

Using the Library to Greatest Advantage

I am so pleased with myself that I really should be ashamed. But, I’m not – because I just figured out a way to keep on track with our history readings this year.

Each year we have literature and historical fiction books that we read to go along with our history studies, but every year, you can count on us having to pause and wait because we don’t have the library book that we need yet. Or, worse – just having to skip a book altogether!

Source: via shelia on Pinterest

This year, I am going to take advantage of a little feature in our library loan options that I have all but ignored up until now. I have the option to suspend a hold and set a specific day to set it in motion. I was hit with a lightning bolt of inspiration – what if I go ahead and set up the books to “drop” a couple of weeks before I need them so that we are always ready to move forward?!?

If it works, this is going to streamline my scheduling by leaps and bounds! Of course, now my only concern is that the books are going to get ahead of us – yikes!

Source: via Serena on Pinterest

What about you – how do you make sure that you have all the books and supplies you need?  Please share your tips in the comments!


HSBA - Beach Ball

Moms, Take Care of Yourselves, too!

Today you will find me over The Homeschool Post sharing about the very important topic of taking care of yourself so that you can better care for your family.

I was “introduced” to a wonderful homeschool mom of 25 years who teaches other moms about this very thing. Check her out and I pray that you are blessed by her knowledge.


Rex - unhappy

Homeschooling: Not for the Faint of Heart

You know, sometimes I think that when we talk to other people, we tend to gloss over the less than fun parts of homeschooling (or at least I do). But, the truth is – some days are just flat-out HARD.

The kids won’t stop arguing – everything is taken as an offense. No one wants to do their schoolwork. They don’t understand anything that you’re teaching. There are no clean dishes to prepare lunch. The list goes on and on (and on). And, you may find yourself standing there berating yourself with, “If I had only done it differently when they were small” or worse,”I’ve completely failed them!”

This week, we had a particularly bad case of one of those days. And, if I’m being completely honest here – I did not handle the situation well. I lectured, cajoled, and pleaded to please, please, please focus and do better. I even threatened (although they know I would never go through with it), “Do I need to just send you to public school? Cause you’re obviously not listening to me.”

And, the really sad thing is that I could have turned that horrible day into one of love and togetherness. Ann Voskamp has a wonderful printable called “10 Points of Joyful Parenting” that I printed out quite a while ago, but oh, how I wish I would have remembered #7 on that oh, so very trying day.

7.Today, the moment when I am most repelled by a child’s behavior, that is my sign to draw the very closest to that child. ~ Ann Voskamp

So, yes – I made a mistake (several, if we’re keeping count). But, luckily, I have taught my children that “We are all sinners and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)” So, they already know that I am not perfect, and there was no shock when I went into my daughter’s room that night and apologized to her for my lack of patience and asked for her forgiveness. To which she replied, “I forgive you,” and wrapped her arms around my neck. I was reminded at that moment that regardless of any of our (perceived) educational shortcomings, I haven’t “failed them” because I have continuously pointed their hearts toward God and Jesus.

Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah:and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

~ Deuteronomy 6:4-7 {American Standard}

We are blessed to be able to travel this homeschooling road – even during the rough days. Perhaps I should say – especially on the rough days. All of that time together sure does ease the small bumps and dips along the way. How do you handle those times when things are not going according to the plan? I would love to hear what works for you in the comments!


HSBA - Beach Ball

Personalizing Education using Special Interests

Today you can find me over at The Homeschool Post sharing ideas for how to use special interests to make learning relevant.  I hope you’ll hop over and join me.


Rex with Gorilla

Every Day an Adventure – Experiencing the Zoo

Do your kids ask and ask (and ask) to go to the zoo? Do you find yourself thinking, “Why? We just went to the zoo last week; how can they possibly be ready to go again?” Well, my friends, last week I had the reminder that no two visits to the zoo are ever the same.

For starters, because it was so unbelievably hot, the animals were doing what they could to stay cool. For some, like this Jaguar, that meant taking a nap beside the glass because the air conditioning seeps around the edges.

For others, it meant lying back in the shade by the “river”.

Bonobo mother nursing her baby

But, for this magnificent gorilla, it meant sitting with his back to the cool stone of the enclosure {while also giving us his photogenic side}.

The glare is bad, but you’re looking at 2 Silverback Gorillas

But, to be quite honest, he was just a little too close for comfort for me, and I was ready to move on. So, we went to the overlook portion where we could still see the gorillas but just not so closely. As we look over, Mr. Gorilla is now up on all fours staring at the people on the other side of the glass head on. {Sorry, no picture of this one as I was super freaked out by this time.} And, then all of sudden, he lunged at the glass and banged on it with his fists – just once – but let me tell you what an impact that made on me!

I couldn’t get away from the gorilla enclosure fast enough – I was totally freaked. Both Monkey and Rex were chattering back and forth trying to talk about what had just happened, but finally I had to tell them that I just needed them to be quiet for a few minutes so that I could slow my heart rate.

When I could finally breathe again, I asked Rex what he had been wanting to tell us about why the gorilla behaved that way. He said, “Oh, the people on the other side of the glass were probably smiling and waving  – like this…” {and then he proceeded to demonstrate}

Rex smiling and waving {albeit not at the zoo}

And, then he continued, “And, in the wild, bearing your teeth is a sign of aggression and waving your arms is a way to make yourself look bigger, so the gorilla was just scared and he wanted them to back away.” To which I replied, “Which made the smiles go away, so the problem was solved.” And, in his matter of fact way, he stated, “Right.”

Later on, I mentioned to a zookeeper about the frightening experience, and she said, “Oh, he’s a big softie; he just wanted to play.” And, as we walked away, I told Rex that I found his explanation much more plausible. {Seems that the Twycross zookeepers may be of the same opinion.}

So, while a little scary, I definitely appreciated the reminder that I am so blessed that no two days are ever the same – even if both of those days involve melting at the zoo.

What are some of your favorite experiences at the zoo? I would love to hear about them in the comments!



iLiveMath Animals of Africa App Review

Since one of my son’s special interests is Animals, I jumped at the opportunity to review one of iHomeEducators Educational Apps: iLiveMath Animals of Africa. This is the first app they developed in a series that use animals as the base for word problems. {They also have math apps that focus on transportation, agriculture, insects, and the Winter Olympics.}

From their website:

iLiveMath Animals of Africa” brings math to life by describing a group of animals as a coalition of cheetahs, parade of elephants, or a dazzle of zebras. There are 26 animal types from Africa (additional updates will include more African animals and problems). The app automatically generates over one million possible combinations of questions.

Three levels of difficulty can be configured to help students from first through sixth grade as they move through different operations and challenge the student with equations from single digit to triple digits.

Rex has had an aversion to word problems in the past. It was as if he had a mental block that he just couldn’t move past. This app has changed that. For one thing, he loves that he is not only allowed, but encouraged, to play on Dad’s ipod. But, more than that, once he started seeing word problems with his much loved animals as the focus, it was as if something clicked for him.

If you have a child that has resisted word problems, then I highly recommend the iLiveMath series to make it more fun. {They also offer apps for grammar, spelling, and vocabulary.}

And, here’s some fun – they have given me the opportunity to give away 9 codes so that you can have an opportunity to win your very own copy!

To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me how you make math fun in your homeschool. One entry per person. Giveaway ends Thursday, August 9th at midnight ET.

Good luck!


Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of iLiveMath Animals of Africa for my honest and unbiased review. All opinions expressed are mine.

Linking up with

Faux Stained Glass

Handi-skill Spotlight: Stained Glass

Not sure what a Handi-Skill is?

Making stained glass is probably a skill better suited for the older kids. Here are two different  methods for achieving beautiful results.

Suzy’s Artsy-Craftsy Sitcom has a fantastic tutorial for making Faux Stained Glass using glue, acrylic paints, and other easily obtainable materials.

If you have a teen who is ambitious, you may want to give the real stuff a try. has graciously provided step-by-step instructions for how to make stained glass.

Or, maybe your’re like us and just want to enjoy the beauty of the glass. We have a local glass shop where they allow customers to watch the process.


Matthew 11:29

Rest in the Lord

Have you ever felt like God was not just whispering in your ear but yelling at you so loudly that you would have to be blind to miss the message? These are the moments when you know without a shadow of a doubt that God is interested in you personally.

Here’s an account of my most recent experience. {I’m going to apologize upfront for any randomness in this post – I’m working it all out in my own head, so I hope it comes across and you understand where I’m coming from.}

I have been tired. Just flat worn out. And, it’s not really because I’ve had too much on my plate, but rather that I’ve not been taking the time to rest and rejuvenate. But, in my mind, rest meant inactivity.

I had my perceptions turned upside down when I was up late one night, and I happened to catch a sermon {Restful Increase versus Stressful Increase} by Joseph Prince. I had never heard of him before, but he was talking about Rest so you can imagine that it caught my interest.

He was talking about how you can have rest and peace when you are doing Spirit-directed activity. He said that it is not physical rest – but rest in the Spirit. Jesus performed miracles on the Sabbath and he chastised the people who were criticizing the man who carried his bed (saying that he was working). I wish that I could remember all of the specifics, but it was very enlightening. {I found this article on the seven miracles that the Bible records were performed on the Sabbath. I haven’t had time to review all of the information by this group, but this page seems to have Biblically accurate information.}

Then, the next day I heard the following verse on the radio:

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ~ Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

For me, this verse reminds me that I can rest, knowing that the Lord has plans for me, and I can rest in the knowledge that I don’t need to strain and stress over making sure that those plans take place – God is in control.

And, then for good measure, let’s add in Week 12 of the Run to Him Devotional: I Rest because He Perfectly Knows.

And, because I am hardheaded, I think God wanted to drive home the point to make sure that I remember to leave things to him, and this is the verse that I saw on a billboard:

Several days after that, I came across this post, Dear Pastor, that really spoke to me about trusting the Holy Spirit to work in my life. I can’t do it alone, but I can pray for guidance and strength.

I’m happy to say that I think I got the message. I have been making an effort to trust that the Lord will direct me in the activity that is good and of Him and to let the other things go. I have been too stressed lately, and for my health, I’ve got to find that peace {my word of the year, no less.}

How do you find the time to rest and rejuvenate? I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments!


Been too Long

Hello, Friends! It’s been so long since I’ve really posted anything and I felt that it was time to apologize and let you know what’s been going on.

My granddaddy went to be with the Lord on June 11th, and to be honest, I just haven’t felt like writing much. I’m hoping that will change very soon as the Lord has really been working on me in a few areas.

So, I hope you will forgive me this time of inactivity as my soul rests and our family adjusts to the “new normal.” I hope to be back soon.



The Middle Years

Hey, it’s my first guest post! Follow me over to Hip Homeschool Moms where I’m talking about what to do during those Middle Years – you know, those difficult years when they aren’t little anymore, but they aren’t quite ready for high school yet…

See you there!


Apologia Biology

Exploring Creation with Biology {Review}

Recently, I realized that our proposed science plans for this year simply were not working and we decided to put the book down and look for something new.

Luckily, right about that same time, I received the awesome opportunity to review one of the Apologia highschool science programs, and since we LOVED all of Jeannie Fulbright’s Elementary Science books, I jumped at the chance!

I talked to Monkey to see which program appealed to her the most, and she surprised me by choosing Exploring Creation with Biology. Since she is a recent teenager, I decided that for the first part of the program, I would work with her to make sure that she was understanding the material. Secretly (well, maybe not so secret), I’m excited that she chose Biology because it means that maybe we will make it to Exploring Creation with Marine Biology – another good reason to start the higher sciences early.

When I got the materials, I immediately read the student notes, and I was very pleased with how well the layout (or pedagogy as the book says – I learned something new right away!) of the book was described. I was confident that we could do this.

There are 16 modules which breaks down nicely into 2 weeks per module to complete in a standard 36 week year. Each module has been broken up by “On Your Own” questions that are designed to be answered as you read through the text (We use these natural breaks to determine our reading for each day) as well as experiments (2-3 in most modules).

There are three different types of experiments: microscope labs, dissection labs, and household labs. They stress that all 3 are not required if you don’t have the funds (or the desire), but they recommend that you at least do the household labs. We have a microscope, but it was cost prohibitive to purchase the slides, so we decided to get the companion multimedia CD – at $19, it was a much better option for us to be able to see some of the organisms. Although, I was thrilled that the second experiment taught us how to use our National Geographic microscope she received as a gift many years ago which came with NO directions (which we may be able to use for some of the experiments even without the slide set so might as well give it a try).

At the end of the book, there are fill-in-the blank summaries for each module that we are using as we go through each module in order to cement the information. Then, at the end of each module, there is a study guide that is an overview of the module and prepares them for the test – which is conveniently included in the Solutions and Test book that is included in the 2 book set.

The writing is clear and interesting even given the tough subject matter, and although challenging for Monkey, she is understanding the material. We are both enjoying the conversational style of the writing that is written directly to the student. There is also plenty of built-in review to check comprehension along the way. I’m so thankful that we received this opportunity to return to our original plans (at least for Science) because we have been really happy with Exploring Science with Biology – and, now for some exciting news!

I have the pleasure to be able to give away a copy of Exploring Biology with Creation 2 book Set to one of my readers. How cool is that?!? So here are the rules: You must 18 years or older, have a US mailing address (including APO), and use the Rafflecopter below. (Full details in the Terms & Conditions of the widget.)

Ends: midnight, Thursday, May 24th. Winner will be announced on Friday, May 25th.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary copy of Exploring Creation with Biology from Apologia for my unbiased and honest review. All opinions here are mine as a result of using the books. Apologia will also be providing a copy for the winner.


Giveaway Day