I have always loved the idea of a planner. The concept of being well-organized has always been something I wanted, but it never came naturally to me. Today I’m going to share my journey of using planners. First, I’m going to share my history with planners and what worked for me. And what didn’t work. And where I am now in my hunt for the perfect planner.

Way Back

When I first started homeschooling, I kept records and made plans in regular notebooks. I dated the top of the page to write about what we had done in one notebook. In another, I wrote lists of ideas or created lesson plans. Unfortunately, at that time, I wasn’t very organized and the notebooks often ended up out of sight and out of mind after just a month or two of use. It wasn’t a horrible way to keep up with things and it was cheap.

Then one day, I saw the cheap “Teacher Planners” in the bargain bin at Target and grabbed one. For just a few dollars, I thought I could take a chance. The layout of this planner gave me pages to write what we were doing each day and make notes about goals. That was neat. But once again, it wasn’t something I could manage to do every day.  I used it well for September and October. Then again in January, it got used for several weeks.

The weeks I was using the planner I felt more organized, but keeping up with 3 small children and finding time to write things down was hard. I also tended to misplace it as we did school all over the house.

Bullet Journalling

Next, I tried making my own bullet journal. I still have that bullet journal. There were some very good things about bullet journaling. I could make sections in my little book for all the different things I was working on. I had pages for planning homeschooling. Pages for work ideas. Pages for my volunteer work with the scouts. I even had pages to just write book lists and ideas. It was very helpful for having all my checklists in one place.

The problem was it wasn’t a great way for me to keep up with dates and appointments. Yes, I know some people draw their months and make little calendars. I tried that. But relying on me to have the time to do it, and to remember to create those was way too much. Once again, it was fun for a few months, and then I stopped putting in the time.  I also found that my kids were getting older and I needed to write down appointments and activities months in advance. And if I just added them to a list, that wasn’t always a good way for me to find what we were supposed to do, when we were supposed to do it.

Next Steps

Fast forward to the fall of 2019, when I found a “Family Planner” at Aldi. This planner was designed to have space to write appointments and activities for each member of a five-person family. This layout was one that finally made sense to my brain. Dates were across the top and family members were listed in a box at the left. Under each date, there was a box for every family member. So, I could make notes on each of us for every day and see at a glance who had what appointments or needed to do what.

That fall I started learning how a planner could work for me! Unfortunately, it was followed by the spring of 2020 and that poor planner ended up with a whole lot of blank pages. But the concept of what I wanted in a planner was now something I could imagine.

Homeschool Planning

I am a firm believer that part of why I can now use a planner successfully is that my brain has matured now that I’m in my 40s. I also think that all those attempts at planning helped me figure out what I wanted in a planner and what would work for me.  Let me tell you about my most recent planner and why they worked and how.

In the summer of 2021, I found a Teacher Planner by Erin Condren at Target. It was not dated, which I actually liked, so I could start using it in whatever month I wanted to. It also had a vertical layout. It had monthly calendar pages where I wrote appointments like the orthodontist, the therapists, the doctors, and anything else we had to go to. Then, it had weekly pages with a vertical layout.  Again, there was room under each date to just write what my kids had actually done for school. I could note which pages they did for math, the topics we covered in language arts, science experiments, or history topics.  And it was spiral bound with a sturdy wire that held up to a lot of abuse that year.

Finding What Works

Planners come in lots of layouts. Horizontal seems to be more popular the vertical, but finding out what works best for your brain is the most important part. It doesn’t matter how pretty the planner is, if it doesn’t have a layout that your brain feels makes sense, you won’t use it.

Making those notes made me feel very accomplished. Now that my kids were older, I could take the time to write those notes, and they mattered a lot more. Looking back at these notes will help me write transcripts later.  I also found uses for many of the pages that don’t apply to homeschooling, as the book is designed for a school teacher with a classroom of students. Because of my experiment with bullet journaling, I felt good repurposing the pages I didn’t need. One became a place to list the books each kid read. Another became a place to list all the lesson topics and videos we were watching for history. I wrote the list and checked them off as we watched them. I couldn’t find a use for every page, but I used enough to feel good about the book.

It also came with stickers, which were fun, even if once again they didn’t all apply to our lives. I really loved this planner. It was sturdy and held up to being taken everywhere I went for a solid year.  I also found this was the first year I rarely lost my planner. I created a space on the bookshelf in my room, where it could live, and I used a tote bag to take it on outings where I might need to make an appointment, like the dentist. I dated the whole year in advance so that I could write those appointments that were weeks or months away.

Lightning in a Bottle?

In 2022, I was unable to find an Erin Condren book with that layout. It made me very sad to have to go back to the drawing board.

After much looking, I found The Happy Planner. The Happy Planner company has created planners where you can add and remove pages. It was an interesting idea I was up for trying. They also offered a teacher planner with the vertical layout I wanted.  I got one designed to last for 18 months.

I am still using this planner, so it isn’t a fail, but it does have some drawbacks. I had a hard time figuring out where to add the extra pages I wanted. So, I added another notebook to my planning, once again, separating things and increasing the chances that I’ll misplace something.

After nearly 11 months of use,  I’m now wishing I had found one that was just 12 months long. The removable pages are starting to try to pull out. And 2 of the rings broke. Thankfully, the company was willing to send me 2 new rings free of charge, so my planner is still useable. I really appreciated their customer service, though they asked if I had the receipt, which was lost long ago, as I had bought the book in an actual store. I know, crazy. But they worked with me.

Moving On

I think this planner could be a great one for other people, but it just wasn’t perfect for me. In January, I bought an Erin Condren Life planner, as the Happy Planner was now needing some coddling and to stay at home on the shelf. The Life Planner is currently my go-to planner to take with me to appointments. It has room to write everyone’s appointments and track small events. It has pages where I can write questions to ask my doctor or make notes about important events. Unfortunately, it does NOT have enough room to keep up with my kid’s schoolwork. It is smaller and that is a drawback. I really need a planner that is 8”x10” at a minimum for tracking that.

So, to summarize: At this point, I actually have 3 planners. One to track school work, one to track appointments, and one to track and plan classes I’m teaching my kids.  In my dream life, I can once again return to just one book to do all of those things.  But this system works for me because it just has to. Since developing Lyme disease, my brain won’t hold everything like it used to. So, I HAD to find a way to keep track of my life.

If you are struggling to figure out the best planner for you, I totally understand. I wish I was writing this and telling you what to use that is wonderful.  I know there are homeschool parents who create a separate planner for each family member to track their school work and events. So, if you want several planners, there is nothing wrong with that. There are tons of homeschool planners out there, but when I’ve looked at them, I haven’t found what I wanted in a planner.

Where Are We Now

I have now gotten to where I have spent far more money on planners than I ever thought I would. But, I’m staying organized. I’m finally in a place where spending that money makes sense because I’m using these planners daily all year long. As you can see, it was a journey of many years to work up to that. If you can’t do it, I respect that. Not all of us are ready for that.

If your kids are young and you are new to both homeschooling and planning, look at lots of options. Test things out. Experiment. Watch a video about bullet journaling. I love adding a few pages that are bullet journal style to my regular planners. But don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to find a planner that works for you.

Despite the fact I’ve got a whole system that is working, I’ll be once again looking at new planners this summer. I can’t help myself. Planners are beautiful and now that I know I can use one, I’ll be throwing down the money if I find one that fits the way my brain works.

If you too will be hunting for a planner, I wish you luck! May you find a planner that works with your brain and is easy to use.

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

5 thoughts on “A Homeschool Mom’s Planner Journey”

  1. Carrie

    I have mostly transitioned to digital calendar, but I like the disc bound notebooks and I prefer the letter paper size. I can print my own pages, punch the binding, and move around however I need. I started with a Levenger brand set of discs, but staples has their own brand now, too. They also carry a Martha Stewart variety that is fancier, if you like it. Joann’s has a brand that is pre-printed and not usually stable for my meds, but the accessories or special pages work. But the other cool thing is people create printable planner sets and I can print any letter size template I want.

    1. Laura Sowdon

      I have one of those notebooks from Staples. It is a nice notebook, and I’m using it for lesson planning notes that don’t fit elsewhere. I need to look at what else I can download! That is a great idea, Carrie!

  2. Carrie

    “not usually suitable for my needs” 🤣

  3. Dezz

    Oh, the planner dilemma! I haven’t been successful in using any physical planners. My go-to solution for tracking events & appointments is a big monthly calendar that I hang on the fridge door. Everyone can see it, so they also can track what’s going on. For homeschooling & volunteering purposes, I use OneNote on my cellphone. I can create pages and sticky notes there. So far, it has worked quite well.
    Good luck with your planner hunting!

    1. Laura Sowdon

      Thank you! I also have a big calendar where I write all our appointments and such so the kids can see it. However, this year I switched to a white board style one that I update each month, so I can’t note ahead of time things for next month. I wish I could get into using a digital version, but for some reason I need the old school paper. When I go digital, I forget to look at it. The paper book is sitting in an obvious spot so I see it and remember to check it. I love that you have a solution that works for you!

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