I was recently given the opportunity to try out Homeschool Planet, which is a new homeschool lesson planing and record-keeping software by Homeschool Buyers Co-op.
I've tried several different planning software in the past, both desktop and web applications. The online planner I used all last year met my planning needs for the most part, allowing me to create reusable lessons plans and print out daily reports, but it was very difficult to work with, took forever to set up, and had some severe limitations that I just had to deal with because there wasn't anything better available at the time.
So I was excited about trying out Homeschool Planet, especially after seeing the overview video below, because it looked like not only did Homeschool Planet have all the features that I wanted, but it looked exponentially easier to use than any of the software I'd used before. (If you're reading via RSS or email, you may need to click through to see the video.)
So here's the rundown of what I like (and don't like) about Homeschool Planet.
Setting up my school information & school calendar
Homeschool Planet scored a home run with this. I didn't need any help at all figuring out where to enter my info for my school. It was very self-explanatory and I didn't need to click through multiple popup windows to enter all my information.
And setting up my school year calendar was even simpler. I just entered my beginning date and ending date and what days of the week we plan to do school, and Homeschool Planet automatically displayed how many total school days that was.
To add days off for holidays, I selected U.S. Holidays from the dropdown, and those holidays were automatically marked as non-school days. There were a few holidays on which we were still going to do school, but it was super easy to change those back to school days. I just clicked on the red X and it turned to a green checkmark indicating it was a school day again. The "Total School Days" updated automatically, too. So simple and intuitive!
I also easily changed the theme of the software. I was not a fan of the default pink theme that was set when I first logged in, so thankfully there were other themes I could choose from.
Setting up my students
After I got my school information and school calendar set, I moved on to setting up my student accounts. Like the school calendar, this was very intuitive. I easily uploaded a profile picture for each child (and was even able to crop the photo), and then set up their email preferences, such as whether they were going to be emailed their lists on a daily basis or not.
I also set up a password for each child so they can log in to see their assignments and mark them as completed.
Creating & assigning lessons
The one feature of any planning software that for me is the "make it or break it" is the method of entering and managing assignments. With three children, each with about six subjects, and around 180 lessons for each subject, that is over 3,000 assignments to enter for a single school year! So having an easy method of entering those assignments is of the utmost importance to me.
When I first explored the assignment entry options, I was excited because I could type in the assignment for a day, hit tab, and then type in the next day's assignments (unlike the software I used last year which didn't allow for inline entry of assignments at all, and instead required navigating through multiple popup windows to create the assignments). And if I messed up the order of an assignment, I could click and drag the lesson into a different order. I could also insert lessons easily in between other lessons already entered, remove blank lesson days, and add multiple lessons to a single day. So easy!
This method of entry worked well for me for lesson plans that had varying assignments each day, but for some curriculums, the lessons are sequential (like most math curricula, Wordly Wise, etc), so entering those would be much more efficient if I could auto-generate the lessons in order.
I checked out the Homeschool Planet auto-generator for entering assignments…and I was pretty disappointed because I would only be able to generate sequential integers for lessons (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc) when what I needed to do was generate lessons like Chapter 1a, Chapter 1b, etc.
So I immediately emailed support and expressed my disappointment that the software wouldn't allow me to auto-generate lesson sequences with subdivision. And it was only a few hours later when I received a reply letting me know that the programmers had implemented that change in the software to allow auto-generated assignment subdivisions like 1A, 1B or 1.1, 1.2!
To say that I was impressed with that quick response would be an understatement! I was so excited—and SO impressed at Homeschool Planet's responsiveness and willingness to adapt the program to their user's needs.
So with that one upgrade done, I decided to send them another email requesting another feature in the lesson creation process that would make things even easier for users—the ability to import assignments from a text file.
This was their quick response:
"… giving our users the ability to import, save, reuse, and share lessons plans is one of the top features on our list, and we expect to have it implemented this school year."
So I'm VERY excited about that new option as well. I'm just not sure how soon they'll have it implemented, but I have a feeling it will be very soon!
Printing out daily assignment sheets
Another must-have feature for me in lesson planning software is the ability to print out a checklist of daily assignments for my kids to use. Homeschool Planet definitely has this feature, although they don't have any options to customize the printed list.
I would love Homeschool Planet to have the ability to alter how the printable list is laid out, such as changing font sizes, altering the headings, or removing extra space to allow more of the checklist to fit on each page. But even though there is definitely room for improvement in the the way the lists print out, the way it's done now is perfectly adequate for our current needs.
Setting up grades
We probably won't be using the grading feature of Homeschool Planet, but I played around with the settings for grading and was impressed with how easy they were to use. Definitely a great feature!
What I don't like about Homeschool Planet
Other than the fact that they don't have the import, save, reuse, and share aspect of the lesson creation implemented quite yet, I really only have one negative comment about Homeschool Planet. The Homeschool Planet Online HELP section is pretty limited and really not of much use. That being said, their inline instructions and their email support are both excellent, so at least at this point, having a pretty sorry HELP section is not a deal breaker. Homeschool Planet is still pretty new, so I'm sure that they will be improving their online help section soon.
Do I recommend Homeschool Planet?
Definitely! Of all the available lesson planning software out there, I would absolutely say that Homeschool Planet has the easiest user interface I've encountered and it has some pretty powerful features that most homeschoolers will love to have.
As for the cost, you can try Homeschool Planet for free for 30 days, and then it's only $65 for a one-year subscription, which is about comparable to the other subscription-based planners I've looked into.
I would definitely recommend Homeschool Planet if you're looking for quality lesson planning and record-keeping software for your homeschool.
NOTE: I received a free 1-year subscription to Homeschool Planet in exchange for an honest review of the software. All opinions expressed above are my own.