Which Planner is the Best One?


Which planner is the best one can be a loaded question. I have friends that love their planners and spent a great deal of time finding the perfect fit. There is the Happy Planner, Erin Condren, and The Old Schoolhouse Digital Planner.   There are hundreds of different planners out there and this time of year it seems they are being featured in e-mails everyday and are all over the stores as folks get ready for the new year. Everyone has different needs and I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution to planners but I’ll share what has been working really well for me over the last several years. This plan has really helped me to move passed the frazzled and forgetting stage that I was in from lack of planning.

First, I want to clarify that I am talking specifically about my personal planner not our homeschool lesson plans which I keep separately on the computer (my template is located in our free resource library). I needed a planner to keep up with where we need to be and my long list of to-do items. I have tried several different planners but found that I would forget to have them with me when I needed to schedule things and my husband never knew what was supposed to be happening. I needed something that was easy to transport and easy for my husband to see.

Like most people today, my phone goes with me most everywhere I go and it comes ready with Google Calendar. I have found that a shared google calendar is the best way for me to track appointments, events, deadlines and other important dates. Some e-mail services will even link to the calendar and auto-populate dates.  I even use it to remind me to bring things on a certain day or to make phone calls. This solved a big problem in our family. Since my calendar is almost always with me and my husband can also use the calendar we don’t double book our days.


While google calendar solved my calendar problems, I didn’t want to put my long list of to-do items on it everyday and there were other times I needed to take notes and have information that didn’t conveniently fit into the calendar. In our house the solution to this is called, “the brain” because it functions better than my brain to help me remember things.  It is simply a small lined journal that I keep to write notes and make daily to-do lists. At first I just used it front to back but I did find that at times there were pages I needed to be able to reference more often so this year I added inexpensive sticky tabs to give myself sections.


I set up the bulk as a section for my daily lists, but I also had sections for blog planning, and one for each of the organizations (4-H, Trail Life and American Heritage Girls that our family participates and helps in planning). This allows me to more readily find the annual plans or event notes for an organization while still allowing me my normal daily lists. It also keeps it very simple and easy to use. The tabs I chose can also be moved around if I figure out that the sections are not working like I originally planned.

The last component of our planning is a large monthly calendar (or for a more colorful option check out this one) that hangs in the laundry room. Any important family dates go onto that calendar each month so that the children can see what is happening and have a way to track things. I simply look at my google calendar and write down any applicable events. As they get older they are experimenting with their own calendars and planning, but this gives them a central place to see what is happening that week and month.

The fancy planners with lots of features work best for some people but if you are feeling overwhelmed or don’t feel like you are keeping up with everything that you need to keep up with, I recommend giving this method a try.

New Year’s day is often a time for setting new goals and planning, but you can start anytime with this method. Since the google calendar is free and always there and the lined journal doesn’t have dates you can start at the beginning any day you are ready.

For myself and my family, planning and having things on an easily accessible calendar has made our days more smooth. We are much less likely to double book or forget about an obligation. It also makes it easier to look at our schedules and make sure we have enough “white space” to account for much needed down time and those unexpected things like illness, car trouble, etc that always seem to happen (we are still working on leaving margin, if that is an issue for you I recommend the book The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst). I’d say that the best one is the one that works for you and you are willing to actually use.

I need to tell you about this awesome sale that starts today at The Old Schoolhouse. This bundle is incredibly discounted and this week only when you purchase one you get a second free set to give to a friend. This would make a great gift for a new home school mom, a mom going through a tough time or just someone who you want to bless this year!.


Friday Deals and Freebies

Gifts that make kids smile

Educents has some great sales on educational gifts, toys and even a minecraft coding program that is on sale for $49 (down from $249)

My Snowman Paul  is free on Kindle (as of posting Amazon changes prices frequently so always double check before purchase).


Masterbooks is having a sale this week as well. Prices are discounted 20-30% and with code MerryChristmas you can get an additional 20% discount. We love their math program and use America’s Story to supplement our US History.

Need a good way to organize all of these great printables and have access to them when you need them? Try a free Dropbox Plan.

Amazon Prime 30 day FREE trial. If you do not yet have Amazon Prime this is a great time to try it for free for 30 days! Get your Christmas shopping done with free shipping, enjoy Christmas music and more.

Apologia is running a $5 shipping special and other sales throughout the month.

The Green Ember is only $2.99 on Kindle or Free with a KindleUnlimited Trial

$10 Sign-Up Bonus for Ibotta and they are doing some major savings and rebates starting today. Great way to save money on the things you are already buying.

$40 off your first HelloFresh Box

If you are looking for some maps to help extend your geography check out these from Knowledge Quest Map Trek (including a free sampler).

Homeschool Buyers Co-Op is offering a great deal on Discovery Education Streaming right now. 60% off and bonus Smart Points redeemable for other products. We have used this in the past and enjoyed it.

Two Free Audio Books with an Audible Trial and if you aren’t sure what to start with I’d suggest checking out the Green Ember or The Penderwicks for good family choices.

Also check our free resource library for two new Christmas freebies, Christmas Traditions and a Christmas Bucket List. We have also just this week added a planning guide for helping children focus on giving to others.

When you sign up for our free resource library you will get a link and password to the library, we are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.

Resource Library

This post may contain affiliate or referral links. As always I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in and you will never be charged more for purchasing through our links. It does help pay for the costs associated with the blog.


Common Questions about Lessontrek, and a Sneak Peek!

lessontrekblogimageLessontrek has been a very popular planning and scheduling tool at Schoolin’ Swag! Our friend Jason Pessemier has been hard at work, tweaking and upgrading as he can, to make this valuable tool even more user friendly and seamless.  I asked Jason if he would tell me what the most common questions about the product are, so users could find answers easily here at the blog.  Here is what he shared.

Common Questions

1. Question: How do I add hyperlinks in a lesson? I need to click to websites for my child’s assignments.

Answer: To set up, click a lesson block, paste the URL and click save. To access, navigate to the lesson block and click the Open button, then click the hyperlink in the upper left.

2. Question: How do I print in color?

Answer: Make sure your browser’s Print Settings is set to print in color. Most browsers set their Print Settings to Black & White

3. Question: What curriculum can I use in Lessontrek?

Answer: You can use any type of curriculum or you can create your own. Lessontrek was built to be as flexible and easy-to-use as possible.

4. Question: Can I add weekends to Lessontrek? We sometimes have classes or we like to add household chores to our calendar.

Answer: Yes, make sure to click the Show Weekend check box located inside your Student Home modal.

5. Question: Can I use Lessontrek if I’m a public or private school teacher?

Answer: Absolutely! We encourage anyone to use this if it fits their needs. School teachers are currently using Lessontrek and they love it.

Sneak Peek!

Here is a list of items Jason plans to add, as he is able:

  • Shared subjects/school years across multiple students
  • Bumping subjects/assignments
  • Monthly view
  • Report card printouts
  • Separate student/parent/teacher logins

There is some great pricing available right now at Lessontrek!


Want to try a FREE TRIAL? Click here!

Got another question for Jason? Let me know in the comments!

Free Lessontrek Membership–start the New Year right!

lessonfamOur fabulous lesson planning superhero, Jason Pessemier of Lessontrek, is about to make your New Year fabulous!

Extended to the first 700 (you read that right!) folks who really need a new plan for this New Year, he is offering a FREE FOR LIFE membership!!! Here are the instructions (follow them exactly):

1) Go to this link. Click the Sign Up button in the upper right hand corner of the website, then click the 14 day trial (this will enable the Referral Code text box where you enter the code), if you choose the 14 day option and not enter the code, you will not receive the Free Membership. If you click either the Monthly or Annual plan it will not work as this is a free code, so no credit card needed.

2) Enter the code exactly like this (or else it wont work): FFL15
If you don’t enter the code and only do the 14 day trial, you will not receive the Free Membership.

3) Enter the rest of your information (make sure your email address you use doesn’t have capital letters).

4) Then proceed to checkout and begin planning your new school year!

**This offer expires January 5, 2016.**

Curriculaholics Anonymous–Are You Addicted to Collecting and Perusing Stuff?

curriculahelpI’m a purger, not a piler. Piles make me crazy, and nothing distracts me more. True confession? Schoolin’ Swag was begun partly because I came across a ton of great homeschooling stuff I knew I’d never use, or I didn’t need at the moment…and I could not stand to let go of it! So I created the group as a place to park stuff (and in the process hopefully bless someone else who needed exactly that stuff). But that didn’t solve my compulsion to grab all things free and homeschool-oriented.

With all that free stuff at my fingertips, it was very easy to feel overwhelmed. Then it stopped being a blessing and turned into a very distracting burden. Counterproductive. I needed a “sieve” of questions to help me decide what was best. I have met people who buy stuff because it is on sale…without any particular goal or plan in mind. There may not even be a need for it. They may have never used that item before…but it was on SALE! Can you guess what the house looks like? Ever seen “Hoarders”? We don’t want to be that. We want to be good stewards of the money, time, and space we have…not to mention those few brain cells we have remaining.

So here’s the 5-question sieve for printables and downloads:

  1. Does this material jive with our learning style or can it be easily tweaked?
  2. Is this material going to necessitate additional purchases (supplies, etc) for it to be useful? Am I able/willing to invest in those?
  3. Does this fit in my lesson plan currently? Do I have a place to put it so I can readily find and plug it in?
  4. If this is something to save for the future, do I have a logical, usable, accessible way of storing it?
  5. Does grabbing this material obligate me to sign up for things I don’t want (read the fine print)?

At Schoolin’ Swag, I added a little sanity to my life by beginning some Files tabs. Also, by posting items in the group with a little blurb like “great resource for algebra” I can easily find it again, simply using the search tool with key terms. What else do I do with my stuff?  Here are some things I’ve found helpful.

  • First, I think it is good to ask why. Why do I think I need to do something different? Is it because what I am currently doing is not working? How do I believe this new thing will help me accomplish my goals? Don’t change for the sake of changing. Be purposeful.
  • I rarely bookmark anymore. It doesn’t really organize things in a usable manner for me, and it is too TOO easy to click to bookmark every little thing that seems appealing for that “rainy day”.
  • Pinterest? I’m personally not a fan. Many at Swag really love to use it, so I started Pinterest boards for our group. To me, that venue is totally sensory overload and it can be a certifiable time waster for me. I click one thing, which leads down the path to something else like a winding path through a dark forest. I get lost. I start out looking for lapbooks on George Washington and end up watching videos of dolphin rescues. Educational? Maybe. Productive? Not really.
  • I use Evernote (free) which allows me to do save pages (or portions or articles) in folders I can create in a way that makes sense to me. Just download the little toolbar button, and simply click the little elephant when you are on a page with something save-able. Here is a screen shot with the options at upper right for how you want to save and where. I create folders like “Michael’s School” (for things I know we’ll use this year) and “2016-2017 School Year” (for something I’m looking to use in the future). Subfolders can be set up for particular subjects and projects. That way things are not saved just as arbitrary bookmarks, but are categorized in a way so that I can FIND them!


  • So I don’t “print and forget” those great freebies that are time sensitive and won’t be free later, I have plastic milk crates with hanging folders to organize things I’ve printed. Since they are open and available, the likelihood of my actually filing things is much greater. Just make folders for each grade/subject, paperclip your projects, and plunk ’em in. Go through the folders at least every 6 months. Pull stuff you have realized has lost its appeal and see if you can find a new home for it. If not, flip the paper over, and you have scrap for sketching, math problems, etc. I keep a box of scrap. 🙂
  • As far as free samples, I find I rarely use them unless they are substantial or it is a handout I need very SOON. So, I usually don’t bother with these and it uncomplicates my life.
  • Books? I’ve been guilty of grabbing some off the free cart at the library just because they looked cool. We flipped through it once, and off it went to Goodwill. Why add that stress? Check it out from the library if it is cool to look through but not something you’ll make good use of. If you have books that are just gathering dust, set them free! Sell them on Ebay, Varagesale, or even via Amazon buy back. Or, if you are feeling philanthropic, you can give them away on Facebook pages like this.
  • What about YouTube videos? We love to use those for school! Here is how to create playlists of your very own!
  • And how about those humongous downloads you grabbed? Those things that are 200, 300, 700 pages? Yikes!  Here is what I’ve done with those, because I keep forgetting I have them!  I started pulling up the cover page on my laptop, taking a screen shot (on my computer, I click the “prt sc” button at top right, then open Paint and click “paste” and then save the image).  Then I save the images to a folder I called “Homeschool Downloads”. At a glance, I can see what they are, and what they are called if I want to open them.

Got some great organization tips for curricula? A 12-step program? Tell us in the comments! 🙂

For the Love of Learning,


Homeschool Product Review: Order Out of Chaos Academic Planner

chaos1My sweet friend Leslie Josel, sent me a couple of her beautiful Academic Planners to take for a test drive this school year. I was going to wait until we were actually using them to post a review; but I’m so excited about them that I wanted to jump right on it and get the word out, so folks could get theirs ordered before August rolls around!

The planner is available in four different styles, to suit your taste. I loved the blue kaleidoscope design! The front and back are beautifully colored vinyl…very durable! I love the size of this planner, too…a generous 7″ x 11″ which gives plenty of space to write, as compared to impractical “pocket” planners. It is also 3-hole punched to fit into a binder, if you so wish!

I’ll post some photos here to show you the inside (click to enlarge). This is a great, intuitive organizational tool that is easy to use, without a lot of flipping around…and it teaches the student how to own their school planning!

If you need help, Leslie will hold your hand a little bit!
If you need help, Leslie will hold your hand a little bit!
Write in your subjects and activities once on the left, and they line up with each day's pages!
Write in your subjects and activities once on the left…
Neat vinyl storage pocket in back!
Neat vinyl storage pocket in back!

Here is a nifty video, explaining the perks of this great tool:

As a perfect accompaniment to the planners, Leslie was gracious enough to include her new book, “What’s the Deal With Teens and Time Management?”  What a great pairing! The handy little book covers everything from procrastination (oh boy!) to homework strategies. These are important life skills for your teen! Click here to preview!

Speaking of teens managing their time, while you’re at it, sign up for the FREE Back to School Webinar (Monday, August 17, 8pm EST), targeted specifically for middle and high schoolers, titled “Have You Done Your Homework Yet?”–click here!