Hey Mama! Homeschool Planner (Review)

Gena Suarez from The Old Schoolhouse® has created a wonderful new tool for homeschool moms! I was excited to get a chance to review the Hey, Mama! Homeschool Planner for 2019/20 Year and try my hand at using a paper planner. This is a beautiful 188 page spiral bound book with a variety of planning resources and devotionals included.

Homeschool Mom Planning Kit

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The calendar portion of this planner begins with July 2019 so I was not really using that portion (though I did go ahead and plug in some important dates and events). However, this is not just a calendar; there are a variety of planning pages in this planner that can help you get your new year planned, goals set, and curriculum organized.

In the past, I have typically used my computer to plan and one of the first benefits that I saw with the Hey, Mama! Homeschool Planner for 2019/20 Year was that it was very portable. Instead of planning while sitting at my desk, I was able to take the planner with me wherever I wanted to go. Planning while sitting in a swing and watching the waves on the river proved to be much more relaxing than staring at my computer. I also took it along on a family camping trip and used campfire time to discuss first semester goals with my two older children.

Hey Mama Pinterest

This planner starts out with information for creating an academic transcript if you have a child that is in high school and then flows into annual calendars for the next several years. Then the really good stuff gets started, you have the first devotional from Gena Suarez. Each month has a one page encouraging devotional for mom before the planning page and two-page calendar spread. This pattern continues from July 2019 through June 2020.

After the calendar pages are lesson planning pages, each week is a two page spread offering spaces for up to five children and seven different subjects. These are undated which allows you to fill them in as you go and not worry about weeks off or changes in plans. There are also some great devotionals distributed throughout those pages.

The Hey, Mama! Homeschool Planner for 2019/20 Year finishes with planning pages for each child (up to five children). There is a blank page for notes, a curriculum planning page, attendance, Books Read page (my children are excited to track their books this year), annual goals and semester goals pages. I really liked how these were laid out and kept it fairly simple. We worked together on our goal planning and I think that having the goals right there in the planner will help us stay focused on them as I am reminded of them whenever I use the planner.  The goals sheet was broken down into seven different areas to address the ‘whole child’ and not just academic goals.

Goal Areas:

  • Educational
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Personal Talents
  • Life Skills
  • Financial
  • Relational

My older two children both chose similar physical goals and are looking forward to training for and competing in a 5K during the first semester. They have even picked out the race they want to run on Thanksgiving morning. I was most appreciative of the relational goals because we are working hard on their relationships with each other.

If you are looking for a homeschool planner I encourage you to check out the Hey, Mama! Homeschool Planner for 2019/20 Year from The Old Schoolhouse®. I think it offered a variety of resources that would be useful for planning for younger or older children and could help keep your home school year on track. I do need to mention that they are 98% sold out and do not plan to print any more until next year. If you want to find out more about how other families are using this planner make sure you click the link below to read more reviews.

Hey, Mama! Homeschool Planner for 2019/20 Year {The Old Schoolhouse® Reviews}

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Resource Library and Affiliate Disclosure

When you sign up for the Schoolin’ Swag free resource library you will get a link and password to the library, we are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.

Resource Library 

This post may contain affiliate or referral links, including Amazon affiliate links. As always I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in and you will never be charged more for purchasing through our links. It does help pay for the costs associated with the blog.


What About Report Cards?

When people find out that I’m a former public school principal turned home school mom I get lots of questions. Grades and report cards are subjects that come up often in those conversations.  People always want to know how I grade the children and if they get report cards.


The second question is the easiest to answer so I’ll answer it first. No, they do not get report cards. The purpose of report cards is to share student performance with their parents and in the case of the last report card of the year, the teacher for the following year. There really is no need for me to create a document to share information with myself.  I do know parents that choose to create a report card for their child/ren for various reasons and it is certainly an option, but for our family it would just be an extra piece of paperwork on my already cluttered desk.

The first question is a little more complicated. At the elementary and middle school level, our family chooses not to do grading in the traditional sense, i.e. grade every assignment and average it out for a final grade. This does not mean that I do not check assignments for accuracy or that they have never received a score on an assignment. It looks different for various subjects and at various times. For example, in spelling they take a test each week and either it is scored with a 100% or the incorrect ones are marked and the work corrected.  They really enjoy the chance to earn that 100 or maybe just the small treat that sometimes accompanies the perfect score.

My son uses a computer based math program for his seventh grade math and it gives him a score for every lesson. For him I require 80% accuracy or he has to re-do the lesson. My daughter is in fifth grade and is still using a book based math. For her math I mark the incorrect problems and she fixes each one that is incorrect but does not receive a numerical score.

In writing, they have assignments and I will help them proofread and edit but no numerical score is given. We use real life writing opportunities like our North Carolina Junior Historians projects, NC State Fair essays, letters to our elected officials, etc. In general, our science and history lessons are done together and they do projects or oral discussion to share what they have learned and show master of the content.

In a public school setting grades are important because they share how much content is mastered by a particular student in a particular subject with parents and other stakeholders. Grades also give a quantitative measure of achievement. In the home school setting I have the ability to continue to work on a topic until mastery is achieved and because we are all here together, I do not need to worry about using that information to share progress with the stakeholders.

I first talked about elementary and middle school grading because those are the ages which I am currently homeschooling. However, beginning as early as next year I will have a child taking high school level courses that will be included on a transcript. For these courses I personally believe that grading is more important. The transcript will share his accomplishments with outside stake holders who will need more quantitative data. Therefore, while I will still work with him to mastery of those subjects I will use a quantitative grading scale for each course.

There is no one right way to handle grades in your home school. The freedom to do what works best for your family is one of the many benefits to homeschooling. Some children might really enjoy getting a report card and others may not care. I would love for you to share how you handle grades in your home school!


Resource Library and Affiliate Disclosure

When you sign up for the Schoolin’ Swag free resource library you will get a link and password to the library, we are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.

Resource Library 

This post may contain affiliate or referral links, including Amazon affiliate links. As always I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in and you will never be charged more for purchasing through our links. It does help pay for the costs associated with the blog.

Deals and Freebies!

Reading Eggs has their new kindle books FREE on Amazon today (10/18)

The World of Peter Rabbit and His Friends Only .99 on Kindle! We love Beatrix Potter’s stories and this one includes her original illustrations.

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Wind in the Willows on Audio for only $2.95

Alice in Wonderland on Audible for less than $1!!

FREE: Check out this great new FREE resource for classical and Charlotte Mason education! Classical Christian Education & Charlotte Mason. Great for folks already homeschooling or if you have friends that are looking into it!

FREE Fantasy and Fairytales StoryBuilders from Write Shop!


Picking the Twaddle Out of Your Noodles

roastnoodlesYesterday was a bit frustrating for our oldest. He had a couple of quizzes, and one of them was the sort that required psychic ability in order to answer some the questions. The interpretation of truth was a bit subjective, and if answers were not given according to the thinking of the assessment writer, well, they were wrong. It reminded me of this humorous portion of an “I Love Lucy” episode:

  • Mr. Mooney: I’ve been trying to find Mr. Burns’ file. It is not under the B’s.
  • Lucy: Oh, I must have put it under the X’s.
  • Mr. Mooney: Why would you put the B file under the X’s?
  • Lucy: That poor little file never has anything in it!
  • Mr. Mooney: Well, where is it??
  • Lucy: Well, wait a minute. Oh, I bet I know what I did…you see, Mr. Burns, I always have trouble remembering names, so I took a course in word association. Now, “burns” reminds me of fire.
  • Mr. Mooney: So you filed it under the F’s?
  • Lucy: No. “Fire” reminds me of “stove”.
  • George Burns: So you put my file under the S’s?
  • Lucy: No…”stove” reminds me of pot roast.
  • Burns (to Mr. Mooney): It’s your turn.
  • Mr. Mooney: You filed it under the P’s?
  • Lucy: No, pot roast reminds me of noodles.
  • Mr. Mooney: Mrs. Carmichael…you’re making me angry…
  • Burns: She’s making me hungry!
  • Lucy: And noodles reminds me of my mother!
  • Mr. Mooney (to Burns): Your turn.
  • Burns: “Noodles” reminds you of your mother?
  • Lucy: Yeah, she made the best noodles! And I’ll be that’s where I put your file.
  • Burns: Under “noodles”.
  • Lucy: No, under “gravy”.

This is one of the reasons I love having a front row seat for educating our kids. I was able to come in the back door on that quiz, see the way some the questions were phrased rather ambiguously, and make a judgement call.

Yes, I have eliminated quiz questions. Sometimes I’ve tossed out entire assessments because there was a better way to see if my child had assimilated knowledge. I don’t think questions which ask for ridiculously detailed information are necessarily profitable. What was the name of a certain prominent person’s second cousin’s husband’s pet? Nope.

I also know our kids, and I have watched them shaping into who God intends for them to be. Because of that, I can decide if certain questions, projects, even subjects should carry more weight with regard to time and focus. Yes, we fulfill what the state requirements mandate; but we do it our own way, and reasonably. 😉

Some material is simply twaddle. I really dislike busy work immensely. Things which occupy time, but don’t serve to build or teach much of anything (except perhaps patience) are subject to educational extinction in our house.

Today, I punted a quiz. I saw my child struggling to decipher it, and making several attempts to answer the way the program wanted him to answer. He kept his cool. He did not get angry and storm off. He did not declare he hated the subject, hated the program, or hated school. He handled the whole thing maturely. So we went question by question verbally, and I tweaked the phrasing so he could comprehend more fully what he was being asked. His understanding was more complete after that than it would have been if he had guessed his way through, absently clicking buttons. He passed just fine, mom style. I commended him for his attitude and perseverance. I told him that was of more value than A’s to me.

Give yourself the freedom to do this.

For the love of learning,
Diane 🙂

Common Questions about Lessontrek, and a Sneak Peek!

lessontrekblogimageLessontrek has been a very popular planning and scheduling tool at Schoolin’ Swag! Our friend Jason Pessemier has been hard at work, tweaking and upgrading as he can, to make this valuable tool even more user friendly and seamless.  I asked Jason if he would tell me what the most common questions about the product are, so users could find answers easily here at the blog.  Here is what he shared.

Common Questions

1. Question: How do I add hyperlinks in a lesson? I need to click to websites for my child’s assignments.

Answer: To set up, click a lesson block, paste the URL and click save. To access, navigate to the lesson block and click the Open button, then click the hyperlink in the upper left.

2. Question: How do I print in color?

Answer: Make sure your browser’s Print Settings is set to print in color. Most browsers set their Print Settings to Black & White

3. Question: What curriculum can I use in Lessontrek?

Answer: You can use any type of curriculum or you can create your own. Lessontrek was built to be as flexible and easy-to-use as possible.

4. Question: Can I add weekends to Lessontrek? We sometimes have classes or we like to add household chores to our calendar.

Answer: Yes, make sure to click the Show Weekend check box located inside your Student Home modal.

5. Question: Can I use Lessontrek if I’m a public or private school teacher?

Answer: Absolutely! We encourage anyone to use this if it fits their needs. School teachers are currently using Lessontrek and they love it.

Sneak Peek!

Here is a list of items Jason plans to add, as he is able:

  • Shared subjects/school years across multiple students
  • Bumping subjects/assignments
  • Monthly view
  • Report card printouts
  • Separate student/parent/teacher logins

There is some great pricing available right now at Lessontrek!


Want to try a FREE TRIAL? Click here!

Got another question for Jason? Let me know in the comments!

When Failing is a Good Thing

failure2We have taken a new direction in our education, and it is more demanding with many more assessments and evaluations (read: quizzes and tests) than what our kids had been accustomed to. To them, it can seem tedious…but it helps me to ensure they know what they are doing before coming to that realization on a big exam.

I’ve often told our kids that failures can be a stumbling block or a stepping stone…the choice is ours. Today, one of the kids had an assessment on a math lesson and failed badly. We were about to see how that plays out in real life.

In going over the answers, I saw that at least half of the errors were simple things like not paying attention to the wording or the symbols in equations. This was not an official quiz, so I cleared all the work, had my student come by me, and we went through the assessment, question by question. We reviewed concepts. We looked up definitions. We worked things out on the Boogie Board. We even borrowed the brains of Sal Khan for one particular question. The result? When the assessment was retaken, the result was well above average. But that is not the best thing.

I didn’t look for perfection. I looked for education. Real learning. Not just the “I think I have an idea, and so I will color in this bubble” facsimile of going-through-the-motions education.

Coming out of this experience, I know my student has a solid grasp on where the weaknesses were in understanding and comprehension. Exactly. My finger is right on that pulse. When we were done with our session, we both knew the material (I’d forgotten all about “multiplicative inverses”…so, thanks Sal!) solidly. That’s important. It’s supremely key if we are going to call what we are doing e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n. In the words of a family friend, “Do you understand what you know about that?” 

Getting A’s is all well and good, but if the grade is achieved by skillful guessing, or merely a rudimentary understanding (the “I’ll learn this for a test, but I plan to let it vaporize post haste!” kind), then we need to look more closely at how we are educating and less at the alphabet. Quizzes, tests, and exams are not the end. They can be used as a means to achieve learning, if we choose to grade smarter instead of harder. Grading, if you choose to do it, should be a used as a barometer. It should tell you if the synapses are connecting. It should never be interpreted as a reflection of who your child is. Let’s all remember that.


My Grading Epiphany


Perfect Grade and Sticker on HomeworkDear Homeschool Mom,
Please read this post, especially if you have not been a fan of regular grading in your homeschool. Keep an open mind?
If you’ve followed our homeschool path recently, you know we switched to Monarch online by Alpha Omega Publications. We are nearly a month into it now. I think we’ve finally found our homeschooling “sweet spot”! 

What I Didn’t Expect

The Monarch program gives the kids assessments after every lesson Their comprehension is tested every day, to make sure they are engaged. They have regular quizzes and tests as well. You decide what your grading scale will be, as well as whether a particular assignment will be “open page” or “open book” or not. If there is a question in an assessment that you feel is redundant, unclear, or unnecessary, you can alter it in the teacher settings.
I honestly didn’t know how the kids would feel about all the grading. For myself, being more regular in “formal” evaluations has not only given me a more accurate, visual idea of how they are doing (and where we need to spend more time), but I really didn’t realize how much it would help them to thrive by actually seeing their grades. It has given them a more positive outlook toward schooling, and it shows:

What I Learned

I wasn’t much of a formal grader up until now. The kids did the papers and lessons, and I checked them. The kids would get a verbal assessment, but not much on paper to actually see for themselves. I would step up their work where I saw they needed more practice, according to what I observed each day. The grades went on our transcripts, but the kids rarely saw anything in the way of a letter grade or percentage on a regular basis. With this program, they have evaluations after every lesson, and they get immediate feedback. They know exactly where they stand. And surprisingly, they love it!
This program has also helped my husband to see the progress the kids are making. It is his hard-earned money which purchases our materials, so it is good for him to see he’s getting some bang for his buck. 🙂 Because he’s not involved necessarily in a hands-on way with our schooling (he’s my moral support!), this gives him validation for what is happening educationally in our home. I like that a lot. 
I understand those who prefer not to grade, for whatever reason…but this was sort of an epiphany for me and our kids. They don’t have a classroom of kids to “compete” with (you know what I mean, I hope), and I’ve never really done stickers/rewards for school work…so this gives them a way to compete with themselves (which is the best type of competition IMO when it comes to education). 

If You Want to Look Into Monarch

Monarch automatically grades about 85% of student work. The remaining items are in the form of projects and written assignments the teacher needs to grade, and then enter by hand. I’ve found this program to be challenging for our kids, as well as thorough. The program keeps your records for you, and will print reports as well. Our 10th grader, who has some reading disability, can follow along as the text is read to him. You can choose the “voice” you listen to, and text is highlighted a sentence at a time, and within that each word is highlighted as it is read. That has been a very helpful feature for us, and it aids in his comprehension level. It has allowed him to do his work completely independently, which has been a huge boost for his confidence.
So, I guess this is not only a bit of a promo for Monarch (which you can get for 10% off here…and you can try free for 30 days here), but also for tangible grading for your students. I never thought I’d say that. But here I am.
For the Love of Learning,