There and Back Again: A Cautionary Tale of Homeschool Planner Pitfalls

I’ve blogged before about my organizational woes, or, more specifically, my older son’s organizational woes.   He has what I call a healthy case of ADHD/Inattentive type.   Since I’m often his frontal lobe, his woes often become my woes.  Often homeschool work is forgotten (or “misremembered” as done by my 13-year-old) until quite late in the day.  Let’s just say that trigonometry is no more fun at 9 p.m. that it is at 2 p.m., for him or for me.  By that hour,  his chemical assistance has worn off, and I’m off duty for school work .  The mom hat stays on through the evening and night, but the (somewhat) formal education hat hits the shelf by dinner.

Over the years, we’ve tried it all.  When we started homeschooling, I kept a planner that was for my use only, posting his daily items to complete on a small white board.  After each item was completed, he’d erased it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  It worked.

One of many homeschool planning sheets we tried from DonnaYoung.org. One of so many.

But somewhere along the line, I moved to a paper schedule for him.  It was more portable and could be saved in a binder.  For years, we used various free, printable planning sheets from DonnaYoung.org .  Donna’s site is a treasure trove of record-keeping forms, and many are in MS word documents or Excel spreadsheets, with a few designed as PDFs.  The first two formats allow the user to customize the form for the number of subjects of study, the number of days a family homeschools, and more, although she has so many existing variations available already made that I’ve only needed to make minor adjustments.  Her products work well for me, but I’m from the days of calendars made of paper and notepads (the paper kind) on the desk.  No matter what style we tried (and we tried many) and where we posted it (in a binder, on the desk, in a plastic sleeve for use with erasable marker, stuck to the end of his nose with duct tape (okay, we didn’t try everything), items were missed.  Crossing out items done, highlighting priority work, begging and pleading:  nothing worked.  Donna produces great (free!) products but not effective for my executive function-challenged child.

After four or five years of attempts to make paper work for my son, I tried to woo him with technology.  His father agreed to take up the cause, and together with our son, they created a schedule on Excel file.  My son was enthused:  my ex-husband and I were hopeful.  Success was his the first day.  He loved highlighting what was done on computer, and he really wanted the system to work.  But by day two, he began to flounder.  His dad tweaked the format a bit, and my son gave it another try, but to no avail. Perhaps he needed to schedule each to-do item with a specific time.  Off to Google calendar.  Three torture-filled weeks ensued.  It turns out, my son isn’t very talented at estimating how long a piece of work will take and even less inclined to get up early enough to perform his (numerous and slow) morning ministrations to start at the time he’d chosen as the start of his work day.  Adjusting the schedule and bemoaning how far behind he was during the day took far more time that the assignments themselves would have taken, or so it seemed.  After the third angst-filled week, we bailed.

One version of his Excel planner. He liked highlighting finished work in green, but otherwise, this was a flop.

In December, I plunged headfirst into the 21st century and bought myself an iPad.  My older son had six months or so of iPod

The Google calendar lasted three long, painful, tearful weeks.

Touch experience, and while I’d pestered him periodically about trying the scheduling apps available, he’d failed to even nibble. So once the iPad was in hand, I took over the search.  We (meaning I) settled on ToDo, a nifty scheduling app reviewed favorably by folks at the app store and by App Advice, an app reviewing apps (yeah, I’m completely sucked in).  I spent an hour or two entering and tweaking his lists with the hope he’d bond with the high-tech yet fairly simple scheduling and reminder system.  I was tickled pink, sure this was the answer to all our traumas and dramas of the past six years.  I almost blogged about our success on day one of  the ToDo app for the iPad and iPod Touch, but I thought better, remembering the Google calendar flop.

The ToDo app was so nifty. So much for wooing him with technology.

Good thing I waited.  By day three, I was nagging him to check off his list on ToDo.  By day four, I was checking off items myself, distressed by the ever-growing number of red “overdue” reminders coming from my iPad.  If I had to pick a sure sign of failure of a homeschooling planner, increasing the parent’s anxiety while not helping the student would be it.  So I did what every parent would do in my situation:  I threw up my hands, tore my garments, wailed and gnashed my teeth, and ditched ToDo.

Then I brought out the old white board.  It’s a modest sized board, about 12 ” square and able to be propped up at an angle by a built-in support.  The first few days, I wrote a daily list of tasks on the left side of the board, with a corner in the lower right corner for appointments and online classes that had specific times.  Erasing items done was his job.  By week two, he was creating most of his own list while discussing the day with me.  He loves it.  It works.  He’s generally completing the listed tasks and working more efficiently than ever before.  He says it’s the best way to keep track of his work we’ve ever used.  I’m torn between feeling relieved that we have an answer and fairly idiotic at having dropped such an effective tool some five years ago.

Yeah. It's just a white board. But it works.

I don’t think there’s any magic to the white board.  It makes creating lists, making changes, and removing completed items a breeze.  It’s portable, and he travels from the upstairs laptop to his desk downstairs with it as he changes his work location.  It’s as low-tech as they come and environmentally friendly. It’s, well, a white board.  And it’s working.

The moral of my five-year quest for the perfect planner could be KISS (Keep it simple, stupid), but I’d prefer to reach a bit deeper.  Be flexible.  Change what isn’t working.  Try new things.  Quit when they don’t work.  And don’t drop what is working.

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8 thoughts on “There and Back Again: A Cautionary Tale of Homeschool Planner Pitfalls

  1. Last year I printed a checklist for my son every day, complete w page numbers. But i also determine when he’s doing various things. He much prefers an external schedule, and I do too. i wasnt able to handle scheduling my own time until well in to my adult years. Even now, I have to write myself up a schedule to follow, or nothing will happen.

  2. This reminds me of my virtual workboxing attempt a while back…sigh. I have to KISS myself pretty often (as odd as it sounds LOL). This year I’ve gone back to the simple pen and paper to do list. The to-do’s are mostly for me though. I just have the usual running list of things for him and we don’t check anything off anymore. For me it became too much of a how many things can we check off plan than a truly learning-oriented plan. But I am guessing we’ll need to have some sort of a plan when he gets older.

    • I wondered what happened with the virtual workboxing, Suji. For my younger son, I keep a list of what we’re planning to do for the day (that I create while we’re starting work, at which point I generally know what’s realistic to accomplish given the rest of our calendar). I’ve often come to look at the list more than look at the child. Just yesterday, as my younger sat reading “Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Medieval Warrior,” I found myself thinking about his undone list (math, handwriting, vocab, etc). I broke myself out of that thought by asking him about the map on his current page. I was treated to a (long) explanation that illustrated a far better understanding of that historical period than I have. So why do I still feel the tug of the list?

      What to do when they’re older (and that’s really right on us with my older) plagues me. I need to work that out, and I’m likely to do that in a blog post. It’s likely to be more philosophical than practical, however, but at least I can clear my head!

      Sarah

  3. We may have to try that. I have been getting too many alerts from HIS Google calendar to MY phone all week. Obviously, we set it wrong somewhere. I don’t think we can set up the whiteboard wrong, can we?

    • Those beeps on the computer and iPad were getting to me, too, and they weren’t even for me. I doubt you’ll find the settings on the whiteboard a problem. Did I mention how quiet it is? Who’d have thought it?
      Sarah

  4. Pingback: March Homeschool Planner Denver Homeschooling | Examinercom | Home Schooling

  5. Wow. Just wow. I know this is an old post, but I’m reading through some of them. Found you while doing a search for “secular homeschooling magazine.”

    Sounds so similar to our family. My son has Inattentive type ADD and dysgraphia, and my daughter has dyslexia. My son is done with school, but I am still homeschooling my daughter who just turned 16.

    I have Inattentive type ADD, as well, which makes homeschooling quite the challenge. I pulled my teens out of public school about 6 years ago because they weren’t being helped at all. After 6 years of trial and error, I think I’ve found a scheduling method that works for me… most of time. lol I do let it slip sometimes and don’t follow through, but I’m able to get myself back on track with this system.

    Just wanted to say hi and I’m enjoying reading your posts. 🙂

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