A number of years ago I reviewed what I thought were the top three computer-based planners, but I didn’t write up those reviews because I thought that all of them were just too cumbersome to be practical. Homeschool Planet is the first I’ve reviewed since then, and I am very positively impressed with its usability.
Homeschool Planet is an online organizer for homeschoolers that you access on a subscription basis. It works on computers with an internet connection, and it also works on a more limited basis on smart phones and tablets. Your computer needs to be your primary point of access.
As with most planners, you’ll create your parent account and individual accounts for each child. You can also add contact info for other family members which might be useful as I will describe later.
Your children will have individual logins, and they will be able to view a restricted amount of information. (Parents can give older children greater access if they wish to do so.) You can allow them to check off completed assignments themselves. Because of the controlled access, there’s no danger of them getting into information they shouldn’t.
Homeschool Planet has all of the features you expect in a computer-based planner and then some. You can view your calendar by day, week, or month. When you set up your school-year calendar, you can customize it with preset options for holidays and then add other vacation days or unusual variations.
Of course, the system lets you create classes and assignments, assign grades, track student attendance, and print out reports and transcripts.
You can also keep track of other family activities on the same calendar by adding categories in a manner similar to subjects. Default category choices are Chores, Church, Field Trips, Meals, Medical/Dental, Music, and Sports/Exercise, but you can add other categories of your own.
An introductory video shows how the program works, but if you ever need help, you can click one of the very helpful tutorials. It's very easy to get the hang of how it works fairly quickly.
Setting up subject areas, students, and the main calendar is simple. Just click anywhere on the calendar to bring up your scheduling tools.
The lesson planning section is where I think Homeschool Planet really shines. You can use the system’s tools to automatically generate assignments in many different ways. For example, if you plan to read real books, you can enter each book’s start date and end date, enter into the system how many chapters (or pages) are in the book, and for which days of the week that reading is to be assigned. It automatically computes each day’s assignment. You can enter additional books for whatever start and end dates you wish. You can also enter assignments manually for each day, but the system is set up to handle more options than I’ve seen in any other system. I entered assignments for a course that has four daily lessons and a test day for each lesson in the book. There was a preset option already set up for just this type of scheduling, so it took just a minute to accomplish. I could have set up a different but similar pattern which the computer would then replicate quickly. For me, the assignment scheduling features make or break a computer-based organizer because it can take a ridiculous amount of time to enter this information manually. The assignment scheduling in Homeschool Planet offers a range of options for entering assignments automatically that really looks like it will accomplish the customization that I need without requiring hours of work.
In addition, Homeschool Planet allows you to enter weblinks and notes along with basic assignments. Parents can also write notes or reminders for themselves that are invisible to students.
Printing customized schedules for each child is a snap. Schedules include check boxes, so that students can turn in the assignment schedule at the end of the day with everything checked off (we hope). Alternatively, you might print out each child’s schedule for them to use and turn in with completed work to be checked.
Shifting assignments forward or backwards, or moving individual assignments, can be done easily without having to rewrite them. You can automatically shift the entire year's schedule out a week if an emergency comes up. Assignments can be “shared” by more than one student. If students sharing the same assignment get out of sync with each other, you can even adjust the schedule of one student without affecting the other. The program alerts you to overdue items from the schedule that have not been checked off, and it allows you to easily reschedule them.
You can track and report hours for each class, a requirement for some homeschoolers. Assignments to be graded can be put into different categories such as quizzes, projects, and tests so that they can be weighted differently if you wish. If you’re using a unit study, you can even group subjects together for a single grade if you wish to do so. The system will calculate grades for each type of activity properly for a final grade. (Setting up weighting for assignments might take more time than entering assignments themselves, but it gives your grading much greater accuracy.)
Another unusual feature is the set of optional widgets that you can turn on at your pleasure—widgets for daily quotes, daily Bible verses, a to-do-list, shopping lists, a messaging tool, and a look-up widget.
The look-up widget is one I’d likely use all the time. It includes automatic links to a dictionary, a thesaurus, the Bible, Wikipedia, Google, Bing, Amazon, the Homeschool Buyers Co-op, movies, and recipes. When you are creating your lesson plans and need to find an article, just enter the topic and hit Wikipedia or Google. Need to search Amazon for book titles or to order books? You can accomplish these tasks quickly without leaving Homeschool Planet.
I suspect that homeschooling moms will keep Homeschool Planet up on their computers throughout the day, checking off assignments, entering grades, making notes, and planning ahead. You’ll be even more likely to do so if you organize the rest of your life through Homeschool Planet as well using the calendar and scheduling features and the to-do and shopping lists. You can send messages to family members if you’ve entered phone or email info for them into the system. You can even write a shopping list in the planner then print it out or text it to your or your spouse’s phone or send it as an email.
While you can create daily assignment sheets for school work, you can also send “daily digest” emails to family members listing their schedules, assignments, and activities.
You can try Homeschool Planet free for 30 days. After that, a subscription costs $6.95 a month or $65 a year. The price is in line with at least one other similar online organizer, but it does seem a bit high. However, when I balance the cost against it being relatively quick to set up and very easy-to-use plus added features with the widgets, I think it will be a good investment.