I should also confess that I also struggle with homeschool planning. We start our homeschool year in late summer, sometime around the time the local schools go back to school. We finish in the spring, again roughly around the time schools are finished for the year. In the middle, we take roughly the same amount of breaks (but not always at the same times). For curriculum, we generally just move at a steady pace and hope we finish before summer break.
I was intrigued when I saw HomeSchool Office from Lord Heritage. HomeSchool Office is a web-based organizational program with tools to help plan, schedule, and manage crazy homeschool days.
I should admit up front that I struggled with this program for quite some time. Honestly, if I hadn't committed to writing a thorough review of the program, I wouldn't have stuck with it long enough to conquer the steep learning curve. Thankfully the more I work with the program, the easier it gets to use.
I'm thankful for Lord Heritage's clear step-by-step instructions for starting out the program. Even better, these instructions automatically open in a separate browser tab so that I can easily switch between the help screen and what I was trying to do.
I started by inputing some basic information. Some of the information will only be used if I chose to use the reports function, either just to have a summary of our school information or to create create reports cards/transcripts.
I then planned out our school year. I went back through my calendar and through Lauren's daily notebook to recreate what we had done so far this year. I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that we are now 78% of the way done with our school year. Even better, I found out that we can take three mental health days and still complete 180 days of school by the time our local schools dismiss for summer break.
My next step was to set up subjects for each student and then create lessons. The subjects part was a lot easier than the lesson part. I started with what I thought would be an easy set of lessons -- Lauren's American History. She's using an online program that has 160 lessons. Unfortunately, there's not way to have HomeSchool Office automatically create lessons numbered 1 through 160. I need to input each one separately. I then entered the names of her Math U See lessons. After entering the names of the 30 math lessons, I realized that I really needed to be thinking in terms of daily lessons or assignments, not the bigger divisions used in that program. Each of the 30 lessons takes multiple days to complete and has multiple practice pages. Each practice page needs to be entered separately so that they can be scheduled nicely throughout the year.
My big struggle with lesson planning on HomeSchool Office is that there are some subjects that I don't plan in advance. For instance, I read aloud to Lauren nearly every school day. I don't pick the books until just a few days before we start them, and I never really know how long it will take us to get through each one. Perhaps I could just enter the books as lessons after we complete each one. I'd need to do the same thing with the books that she reads to me each day.
After planning the lessons, I could move on to planning our weeks. The beauty of using an electronic program really shines when it came to combining lessons plans with my weekly schedule. I set up my weeks with which subjects would take place each day. The computer automatically repeats those subjects for each week of the school year. It also automatically assigns a lesson to each school day. If I want to, I can assign a specific time for each subject. Since we don't stick to a strict time schedule, I've chosen to simply mark them as "all day" activities.
The remainder of this week:
(When I hover over a subject, the specific assignment will show. On Thursday, Lauren will do the Factors lesson for math.)
HomeSchool Office then allows you to keep records of how you (and your students) successfully completed your carefully laid plans. It tracks attendance in either hours or days. One nice feature about the attendance is that the default setting is to mark the child as present for each assigned school day. That means that I'd only have to remember to change the attendance setting if we have an unscheduled day off or sick day.
Grades can be entered either as a percentage, a letter grade, or a description. From what I can tell, however, the type of grade is set for each child and not for each individual subject. Also, I was not able to find a way to easily match a grade with a specific lesson. The grades are labeled by date and by what you name them (Test 1, Worksheet 23A, etc).
Assuming that I've kept up with inputting all the lessons, attendance, and grades for the year, generating a report should be quite simple. I could even use HomeSchool Office to create a High School transcript suitable for college applications. I love the idea of being able to quickly create a transcript, but I know that I'd have to do a lot of data entry to recreate Addison's first 2.5 years (nearly 3) years of High School work in HomeSchool Office.
Overall, I felt the navigation of this program was a bit clunky. As I work through various tasks, I see all sorts of options that don't pertain to me. While I appreciate knowing that I can add extra notes in various places and categorize things in different ways, it doesn't always make sense to me. It has also taken me quite some time to figure out how to navigate to different specific areas. For instance, if I want to change (or add to) a lesson plan, I need to navigate to the specific subject in the planning area, then click edit, and then find the button that takes me to the lessons.
With that said, now that I've figured out the basics of this program, it's far less daunting than it first seemed. It gives me a way to keep the attendance records I'll need after we move to a state with more homeschool regulations and helps me see where we are in terms of finishing our curriculum by the end of each school year. If I start this summer (before Brennan starts High School), I can keep up with his classes and grades so that his transcript would be easy to create and update.
HomeSchool Office costs $79 per year. Since the program is all online based, it does not require any specific computer operating system. In addition, I successfully used it on multiple internet browsers (Safari, Firefox, and Chrome) without any issues. It also works on mobile devices. It was more convenient to enter lesson plans on a regular computer, but I could mark completed lessons on either my iPhone or iPad.