Tuesday, July 14, 2015

TOS Review: Homeschool Planet developed by the Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Homeschool Planet Review

Homeschool Buyers Co-op recently sent me a full one-year subscription of their online home and homeschool planner called Homeschool Planet to review. The Homeschool Buyers Co-op is one of the largest family-owned and operated discount buyers for homeschool families. They offer high quality homeschool curricula at rock bottom prices. I save a bundle every year ordering through their company. 

I've tried numerous planners both printed and online. I haven't really found one that meets all of my needs as a home educator and work-at-home mom. However, Homeschool Planet has met my needs more than any other company. I really need to minimize the paper clutter in our home and this online planner will help get me closer to that goal. It'll give me a way to our organize life, work, and homeschool. I was looking for a planner with an easy-to-use interface, because my time is limited. Homeschool Planet is one option I am considering for the new year. 

What is It? 
Homeschool Planet is a fantastic online homeschool planner with scheduling features that can be used to organize your entire family and life. You have the ability to customize the background theme, home page, family profiles, school year, homeschool information, vacations or holidays, and so much more. Set-up was a breeze! 

You'll need to set aside some time to organize your curricula ahead of time if you plan on adding assignments. It would be helpful if you knew the total number of lessons, when you plan to complete the material, the number of work days, and which days you'd like to work on each subject prior to adding lesson assignments. Watch the overview video below to learn more about Homeschool Planet. 

Technology Requirements
  • MAC or PC Computer
  • Broadband or High Speed Internet Connection
  • Web Browser
  • PDF Adobe Reader for Printables (optional)
  • Printer (optional)
How We Used It
I used Homeschool Planet for planning purposes. I wanted to organize both my home and homeschool to simplify matters. I used the program to schedule my daughter's school year, assignments, appointments, meal plans, review due dates, vacations, and extracurricular lessons such as piano and dance. I also utilized the program to create grocery and curricula shopping lists, to track attendance, and to plan out my personal daily agenda. Several times a week I explored and familiarized myself with the website and its features. I also watched short yet relevant video tutorials which explained usage in a step-by-step concise manner. I accessed this planner on my MAC computer using Safari as my main browser. Be sure to double click on all screenshots for larger views if necessary.        

There are 18 background themes available. I changed my background to the turquoise green circle theme (4th one). My blog background is pink and I'm not really a fan of the color so I chose a theme that reflects my preferences and personality. I wish the background themes were named, but it isn't that big of a deal. Here are a few available selections.  

I personalized the interface by adding photos. You can see them on the left side under each person's profile page. I also filled in basic school and child information. I also added "Reviews" and "Meals" as people. I chose to color-code our planners primarily for aesthetic purposes. 

I also color-coded all subjects and extra categories which helps divide the content on the screen making it easier to see when a new subject occurs or which subjects must be completed that day. It also makes it more visually appealing. 

You can adjust the font size of the calendar (5 sizes) which can be viewed in three different formats: Daily, weekly, and monthly. I currently have my font size set as "small" so that I can see more on the screen at one time. If I want to see an overview of Alyssa's August assignments, then I view the monthly format. We can use the daily planner format when Alyssa asks me, "What's the plan for today?" Completed calendar items appear shaded and upcoming events or dates are unshaded (white). Here's a screenshot of a monthly calendar chocked full of scheduled events and classes.  
Homeschool Planet Review

Another feature I liked was the opportunity to print out planners. My daughter (Age 7 1/2) can use the weekly schedule to work on assignments in advance freeing up time later that week. The printed daily schedule allows us to check items off our to-do lists. In the photo below, you can see a printable showing a section of our monthly August plans. Notice the checkboxes. 

This is probably one of the most important features of a planner for me. When my daughter left for summer vacation, I dived into planning mode for the new school year and began scheduling her assignments. You can add lessons, projects, quizzes, and tests. Whatever you heart desires! I clicked on a Alyssa's photo when I was ready to add her classes and assignments.  

You can choose how you want to present and divide up assignments. For example, for one class I typed in the number of lessons (84) that needed to be completed by June 30th (end of school year) and selected certain work days. I also used the feature that indicated the number of lessons to be completed without an end date. I could adjust the days based on the information the program automatically supplied to me. The M, W, F option works well with assignments that must be done 3 times a week. They have several options for you to chose from which simplified the planning process. If you have assignments that must be done on a daily basis, then you would choose the "every weekday" option. I already scheduled and planned History, Math, Spelling, Grammar, and part of her Bible. This planner worked extremely well with my sequential or chronological curricula too. 

I still have a lot of planning to do this month while she's gone, but I am definitely already ahead of the game. The screenshot below shows the assignment generator for Alyssa's Grammar lessons. I was very thankful for the "Start Numbering At" feature, because we started the curriculum and had to stop for summer vacation. This feature made inputting the class data easier rather than having to add each one by hand. It automatically filled in the dates. 

Left-Hand Box in Corner Shows Available Schedule Options

Access to printable reports are just a click away including transcripts, grade reports, class hours, assignments, and notes. I won't be using the transcript option any time soon, but I believe families with high school students will appreciate this feature. You have two printing options: Economy and Color Print Mode. If you like to save on the cost of ink, then you'd choose the Economy Mode. The Color Print Mode adds a splash of color and visual appeal to your reports. You decide which best meets your circumstances or needs.  

Homeschool Planet Review
Official Transcript

Homeschool Planet Review
Grading Helper

I appreciated the planning feature which gave me the option of tracking yearly attendance. A red "X" indicates that there isn't school and a green checkmark indicates a school day. I don't have to track attendance in Texas, but it helps me stay on track and it may be needed at a later date. You can easily change a school day to an off day, by clicking on the checkmark. It is that simple! 
Homeschool Planet Review

Having the ability to choose pre-selected US Holidays was also a bonus. I can't imagine how long it would have  taken to individually add each holiday into a planner. This option automatically selects holidays and will save you a decent amount of time. You can also remove pre-selected holidays from your calendar. Many holidays selections are available from the menu in addition to the "Holidays in United States" option including but not limited to Christian Holidays, Jewish Holidays, Muslim Holidays, Orthodox Holidays, Holidays in Canada, and other holidays around the world. You can choose one or more of the available options.

I want to teach my daughter time management, organizational, and independent learning skills. I created a separate login password for her to login, view her checklists, and checkmark items off as they are completed. This helps teach her how to be responsible with school work too. I can decide which items she can view and which ones she's allowed to edit.   
Homeschool Planet Review

The additional resources found in the top-left corner of the home page was another one of my favorite features. Click on the "Resources" tab under the "Calendar" and "Planner" options. Then, you click on the "Add a Resource" to add materials such as Books, DVDs, and PDF computer files. The "Add File from Computer" feature increased accessibility of materials on my computer rather than searching for them on a daily basis. Everything was in one place making it more convenient to use. I like the idea of adding, viewing, or printing resources I plan on using when teaching a particular subject. You have the option of sorting the items by type, alphabetically, by student, by subject, and by the school year. I would frequently view my resources by type of subject which made it easier for me to find related items. You can also add items to specific classes or assignments. I added several read aloud books for this year, e-book curricula, and DVDs to watch. I wish there was a way to checkmark or draw a line through the resources that were used and still see them on the screen. I also wish that items that are categorized by type could be further categorized alphabetically. They do offer an "Archive" feature which hides resources used but saves them in your planner. 
Categorized by Type
Homeschool Planet Review
Alphabetically Arranged
Adding a Widget to your interface provides you with additional opportunities to customize your online planner.
Available Widget Features
  • Daily Referenced Bible Verses
  • Daily Inspirational Quotes 
  • Bulleted Shopping Lists
  • Weather Temperature, Highs, and Lows for a Specific Zip Code
  • "Lookup" Feature - Search for recipes, Bible passages, dictionary definitions, synonyms, items on Amazon or Wikipedia   
I used the "to-do" widget feature to create an independent reading list for both of us on the main page. We can print it out or checkmark the books as completed. I especially enjoyed reading the inspirational Bible scriptures and quotes before beginning my day. I am going to start a "Movies to Watch" list too. The "to-do" list feature is my favorite because it is very versatile.   

 A few of my widgets

The shopping list and texting option were most helpful on Wednesdays when we traveled into town for our weekly shopping trip. I kept a running list online and could text it to myself. Texting rates may apply.  
Shopping List
You can minimize and maximize the list for viewing purposes.

My daughter likes to check the weather each day so she knows how to dress and if she'll need her raincoat. At first I wasn't very fond of the "Lookup" feature, but then I realized Alyssa could use the "Dictionary" when reading to figure out the meaning of unknown vocabulary words or she can improve her writing papers by using the "Thesaurus" to find synonyms for particular words. I also used this widget to search for Bible passages based on scripture references mentioned in books I read. I did topical searches during my personal Bible study time too.

Features I Like
  • Tutorials - Making it easy to use and quickly learn about the features 
  • Calendar Format - Select an individual or the entire family to view at once
Homeschool Planet Review
Daily Calendar Format for Two Children
  • Planner Format - Similar to a to-do checklist for each family member which means my scribble notes are no longer needed
Homeschool Planet Review
Daily Planner for Two Children
  • Shopping Tool - A grocery list can be created, printed, or texted to myself 
  • Separate Student Login - Alyssa can login, view her assignments and chores, and check them off
  • You Can Upload Computer Files as Subject Resources - Keeps everything in one place so resources are easier to utilize and more accessible. No more wasting time searching for a lesson file every single day
  • Automatic Rescheduler - I love the ability to reschedule assignments automatically when a family member is sick or if school days were canceled due to an emergency 
Homeschool Planet Review
  • Daily Digest Emailed- Perfect way for each person to see their daily schedule, chores, and assignments
  • Set Appointments, work hours, tutor hours, school hours, her father's weekends, summer vacations, etc.
  • Add Lesson Plans - Add subjects, assignments, resources, and even notes
  • Tracking Alyssa's attendance has NEVER been easier with pre-selected holiday options
I recommend Homeschool Planet to ANY homeschool family or parent wanting to organize their life without the mess of paper clutter. If you are looking for a digital all-in-one planner designed for homeschool families that will help you maintain records and save you planning time, then this powerful and convenient tool could help. Navigating the planner features was easy and self-explanatory. You can print what you need if desired.   

I believe Homeschool Planet will become an essential part of our day. I am still adding lessons and other content into the program. I can't wait to add field trips, additional co-op classes, Alyssa's future extracurricular activities., and my set work hours. It will definitely help organize and plan the busy days. The program is user-friendly and customizable. The scheduling features are flexible. This online planner makes planning our school year stress free and I bet it will help us have a more successful year. I was impressed with the completeness of this program. I can't wait to see future updates!

The Homeschool Buyers Co-op is constantly making upgrades to the program based on their customers' feedback. Be sure to send them a message if you have a helpful suggestion. I hear they have great customer service.

Possible Vendor Suggestions
  • Can you add more choices under the "Just Once" scheduling options such as "Selected Days," "Just This Week, etc. I also recommend adding a "NEVER" option under "Repeat" in the "Custom Schedule" Option which would give users the ability to plan vacations that occur just once and don't repeat.  
  • I think it would be a neat option if after organizing the resource list by type, additional options such as alphabetizing were offered enabling the resources to not only organize a list by type but each type of resource would be alphabetized.
  • Having the ability to categorize shopping lists or a feature enabling users to move items up and down on the list would be helpful. I see up/down arrows but for some reason they wouldn't work on my computer.
  • I would love a feature that would allow me to add and color-code review due dates for specific vendors on my monthly calendar. Right now, I have "Reviews" listed as a person and added each product review with beginning and ending due dates as an activity. However, when I view the "Reviews" calendar all my reviews show as one color. I ended up creating a "To Do" list for the person "Reviews" which allows me to print a list. However, I really would like to see a monthly color-coded or symbolized overview showing beginning and ending due dates for each product.   
  • Enable the "Lookup" widget feature to specifically search for subjects or curricula available at the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. I kept getting a Google 404 error when I attempt to specifically expanded the search to math or reading. This would make it easier for users to find specific subjects or products on your website.  
The price for a one-year subscription is $65 which is comparable to those on the market. You also have the option of paying $6.95 per month. Sign-up for the 30-Day FREE subscription trial to see if Homeschool Planet will work for you - no credit card is needed! You will NOT lose your data during the trial period if you choose to purchase it.

*You will need to sign up as a member of the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. It is FREE to join. Visit my post about the Homeschool Buyers Co-op by clicking on the following link, A Learning Journey. It is my personal referral link which also contains information about joining the Co-op. I earn SmartPoints and once you join so can you.    

Note: Prices are subject to change without notice and are current at the time of this review.

Social Media

Twitter @HSBuyersCoop
You Tube

Visit The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read more reviews about Homeschool Planet 
developed by the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. I look forward to reading other crew reviews so that I can learn new ways to maximize the use of this planner. It is one of the best and most functional planners I've ever tried. 
Homeschool Planet Review

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