A Guiding Verse for Homeschool

There is one verse in the Bible that has become very central this year to the way we do homeschool—Ecclesiastes 12:12.  Here it is in context (vv. 9-14):

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

There are many other verses, of course; Deuteronomy 6:7, for instance, is at the very forefront as well, but Ecclesiastes 12:12 cuts against homeschooling “culture” in general.  “School” is not about amassing the most knowledge or meeting lofty academic goals.  Nor is it about pursuing our own passions or teaching kids to love learning.

The Words of the Wise

The first thing we’re about, here, is the words of the wise.  Solomon says these are the truths given by one Shepherd.  This isn’t just random wise words, the wisdom of the ages and the sages, but rather, the wisdom of God Himself.  And there’s a promise here, as well—that these sayings are like goads, pushing us to do what we ought, and like nails firmly fixed, of great duration.  This is what we should be studying: true wisdom.  James 3:17:

…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Beware of Anything Else

This is huge: if it isn’t wisdom from God, beware.  When we study worldly philosophers—Plato, Socrates, the great men of the Renaissance, those in other religious traditions—do we teach them in a positive light, or do we teach beware?  The Hebrew here carries the connotation of admonishing, specifically, not just be “wary” but actively caution against them, teach, shine the light on the falseness therein.  This is especially relevant when we come to classical education: we must be careful not to lift up these worldly and ultimately inadequate philosophers.  It is one thing to know what they teach, but we must not be caught up in it.  It isn’t Scripture, it isn’t God’s wisdom, and we must teach it and teach against it.  We must remember that even the best philosopher of the world is an enemy of God.

A Weariness of the Flesh

“Much study.”  This is a great temptation of mine, both personally and in teaching.  I love knowledge.  I love reading books and learning new things.  I want the children to know all the things, too.  But, there’s a very selfish angle there, and I think that’s exactly what Solomon is getting at when he says much study is a weariness of the flesh.  It springs from our sinful natures.  At a certain point, a certain approach, studying is a fruit of the flesh, not a fruit of the Spirit.  At a certain point, studying is not “setting your minds on things above,” but it actually begins to detract from that focus, both temporally (we ought to study “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15, not for worldly knowledge) but also in subject matters it can draw us away from God.  We have to be careful of what we study, why we study it, and how much time we’re devoting to studying it.  We are called to prepare for heaven, not to be philosophers much learned in the worldly arts.

The End of the Matter

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”  Having affirmed the good and warned against the bad, Solomon offers this final conclusion, and says, this is it.  Fear God, and keep His commandments.  The end, the book is closed, there’s nothing to say beyond that.  This is why we’re here.  This is why we homeschool.  This is is what we homeschool.  This is what we care to have our kids walk away with: fear God, keep His commandments.  Everything we do and teach must be tightly focused on those two things.

Of course, Ecclesiastes 12 just led us straight back to Deuteronomy 6 after all:

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…

Getting A Different View

I’ve been working like a maniac the past week or so trying to plan out every last detail of school after the baby is due.  I’ve scheduled in a three-week break, but hoping to get back on the horse again thereafter and get some real work done before Christmas.

And it’s so much easier if you have a plan.  No excuses. Continue reading “Getting A Different View”

Our School Year, 2015

S asked me to put together a list of what curriculum we’ve found useful, and—overwhelmed at the magnitude of that task, it finally occurred to me that probably the simplest way to do so is just to explain what we’re actually doing, and a couple sentences about why.  One caveat, this is more like “this very month,” because different kids are in different parts of their grades… some of these we JUST started and some are almost finished. Continue reading “Our School Year, 2015”

New year, except not. :)

Last week marked the end of the girls’ adventure in their current math books, which means by my lights, they’re onto the new grade.  I use math as our metric because 1) it’s the subject we are most behind in; 2) it’s very sequential, you can’t really skip around or ahead if you’re not getting it; and 3) whether it’s going well or hard, it’s about the same amount of work—it takes about 36 weeks regardless.

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So, it’s a new academic year.  It’s also our spring break, which is going to last about three weeks and involve some non-textbook math, a side adventure into a different reading program, a different science program… it’s the season for electives, in other words.

And then we’ll go back to the grind.

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One big decision I made is to go through the curricula as we come to it, rather than adhering to the idea of Fall-to-Spring, and also to not keep the children in sync with each other or even in sync with themselves, subject-wise.  While the girls have both finished their current textbooks and are relatively together in scheduling, L is not finished his current course and I am not planning to begin his “new year” until fall, at which point the girls will be half-way through this year.  In other words, I am trying not to lose my mind, but also trying to let things progress at a natural pace.

My other big decision was to go year-round, which gives a lot more freedom for longer / more frequent breaks, while providing structure continually, and some extra academic time to pursue electives, fill in gaps, and otherwise go off-script.

2nd grade:

Core curricula: Christian Light Reading 200, Singapore Math, R&S Grammar 2, Sequential Spelling, Tapestry of Grace, Apologia Science, typing

DSC07716We are about halfway through Christian Light’s Reading 200 program.  It’s FANTASTIC.  Seriously.  I rave.  You definitely need a fluent reader, but we’ve got that, and there is everything to love about this program.  It’s cheap, has fantastic, deep Christian stories (albeit not Reformed), a great workbook with a good workload and challenging concepts… room for teacher interaction but absolutely not required.  Regular quizzes included help me know she’s really getting the concepts.

Singapore Math is still working wonderfully for us.  I will say I decided with five children in the pipeline, that manipulatives might not be such a bad investment, and so I’ve been collecting them over the past year, and they really help make math a lot more fun.  I plan to do a post on that.  I also really like Math Mammoth and I use it to provide extra practice / extra explanation of difficult concepts, and I can see myself possibly switching to MM entirely once I’m confident I have a good grasp of the path-to-Saxon-54 that I’m doing for the first three grades.  Right now I feel like with Singapore, I know we’re on track. But MM is very similar and would be cheaper, once I have more confidence in the subjects and level of mastery expected at each grade level.

Rod & Staff Grammar is also… exciting.  It’s a non-consumable textbook, cheap, solid, great mastery/spiral balance.  But the best part is they teach kindness and truth as an essential part of grammar.  I will say the exercises are a lot of work for someone who doesn’t have a great grasp of handwriting, and so I will sometimes let her do it out loud or a subset of problems.  The years after 2nd grade have workbooks, which will make it easier for her.

DSC07530Sequential Spelling is awesome.  It would work really well for multiple students, even ones slightly off in grade.  We are starting at the beginning, so I can’t speak for starting mid-stream, but I see her spelling improving so much from this program.

We are still doing Tapestry of Grace and Apologia Science—I reluctantly ordered the lab kit this next year, because I have trouble handling the prep for the non-core subjects with all the children.

We are also doing typing and math flash cards (via xtramath, which I extremely recommend and is free).  Ideally we would finish addition/subtraction in first grade and do multiplication/division facts in second grade, but I found xtramath too late for that to be true this year.

1st grade:

Core curricula: phonics (variety; Christian Light), Singapore Math 1A/1B, Tapestry of Grace, Apologia Science, Headsprout

DSC06420I honestly feel like I’m still feeling out the best path to reading fluently.  I am a big fan of Headsprout.  So much of reading seems like a developmental thing more so than a taught thing.  I’ve talked a lot previously about the different things we do, so I’m not going to rehash them.  I will say I’m doing things a bit different in K now, and hoping that will lead to a more well-defined 1st grade DSC06408reading program with child 3.  That said, I am currently giving a good shot with Christian Light Reading 100 in addition to my regular mish-mash and I am hopeful that that will be a good track for us.  The thing I really like about it (besides the fact that I like the 2nd grade curriculum) is that the workbooks only cover a couple of weeks so it is easy to do just part of the curriculum and only buy for the next child what you actually need, instead of having to buy a whole new workbook.  CLE is also extremely affordable.

Singapore Math 1A/1B – this program is challenging, numbers to 100, double-digit addition and subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, money, time, measurement… it’s work. :)  It also seems to work, though!

Grammar and Spelling we follow along with older sibling.  Same with science and history.

Xtramath – addition and subtraction flashcards.

Kindergarten:

Core curricula: Christian Light Kindergarten II, Singapore Essential Math A&B, Handwriting Without Tears, Reading Eggs

DSC07093Child 3 has been doing a much more carefully-defined preschool program than his sisters, and so I’m intending to transition him into Christian Light’s Kindergarten II program (and Singapore Math’s Kindergarten Essential Math, which is on track) in the fall.  Then that program transitions into a learning-to-read program which eventually transitions into the Reading program that I like so much.  I’m not sure how all that is going to go, but I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting it. :)  At this point I have a good grasp of what needs to happen in kindergarten, I’m just still working out the best way to get there while managing older children and preschoolers at the same time.

Pre-K:

Core curricula: R&S ABCDEF series, Handwriting Without Tears, Starfall, Before the Code

DSC07548(This is where child 3 still is until Fall or so.)  We have transitioned into separate math (Rod and Staff) and English (Before the Code) books, which I feel is good, challenging prep for Kindergarten.  He also does handwriting (Handwriting Without Tears).  Right now I am loving this spot as a transition out of “preschool” and into something that’s really directionally preparing for Kindergarten proper.  We seem to spend about six months in pre-K.  It really is a transition to full, proper school.  Assignments are still really short (maybe 30 minutes total per day) but there’s the expectation there.  It also begins to build on itself rather than just meeting the child where they’re at, to begin sequential knowledge for the first time and increase skills.

Preschool:

Core curricula: R&S “About Three” preschool series, Horizons Preschool for Threes, Horizons Preschool

Child 4 is just beginning on this stage.  I feel like I have a good system here.  There are kind of three sub-levels I set in my head:

  1. We begin with Rod & Staff’s “About Three” books (learning tracing skills, to sit still, to match, etc.)
  2. Then move into Horizon’s “Preschool for 3s” (learning colors, to follow directions, to count)
  3. And finally Horizon’s “Preschool” book (which is essentially Pre-4 or so)

Horizon’s Preschool book is about on level with the Rod and Staff ABCDEF series which I use in Pre-K, but much more colorful and fun / less work / less prep, as well as having a large mixture of subjects in one book.  We seem to spend about a year and a half in preschool.  At first it’s very spotty and student-directed and by the end it’s an expectation and regular, if still very short, assignments.

Also important to note that this stage is not about finishing books.  Most of these books you can start in the middle and so I just pass them on child to child and buy new ones when the old ones are full, not finished by one child.  I move them along according to their stage, not based on completion.

Homeschool, week 6, randomness and solutions.

I have learned so much in the past month.  I had all these ideas and so many things that didn’t entirely pan out the way I thought they would.  I have a great urge to try to spit it all back out in an organized post so that others might not make the same mistakes that I did, but then I realize in my next thought that there are still ten million things I don’t know, and everything is incoherent (hello, pregnancy brain, I love to blame you!) anyway.

Nevertheless.  A dear friend chronicles her life in blogging with lots of pictures.  So here are lots of pictures from this very week of ours.

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Lesson first: Daddies are great.  (Okay, I already knew that, but this is a new context.)  We did school on Labor Day.  Seth was intrigued with what we were doing, so we drafted him into helping us build our Mesopotamian ziggurat.  I would have never, ever, in a million years come up with such a good resemblance!

 

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Lesson two: Visuals are great.  Specifically, the alphabet here, which is hanging over our dining room doorway, has been a great help.  It helps the children remember which letter is which and which sound goes with which letters, and it gives them a lot of confidence in “guessing” answers for our various phonics games.  We also have a vowel chart which we refer to daily as well.  Actually, I pretty much have our walls plastered with things we’re working on, and I take them down and replace them as we move through our studies.

 

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Lesson three: nameplates really work!  I printed these up TOTALLY just for fun.  I’m not sure whose fun I was thinking of; it makes it look more like a school, right?  But I thought they’d get ripped up and destroyed in a week.  Instead, they’ve actually been great resources that the kids actually USE.  Both girls have the worst time remembering how to make numerals, in particular, and they actually refer to the itty-bitty (but right in front of them) print on this during their math lessons.  They’ve also noticeably improved their handwriting, especially of their names, from referring to the plate.  Now I just feel dumb for having thought nameplates were merely classroom decorations!

DSC06048Lesson four: a brainless (overwhelmed) Mommy needs a real preschool curriculum.  I had vague notions of throwing something together for L as we went along, matching (vaguely) whatever the girls were working on.  You can guess how that story went—it didn’t!  Thankfully I had ordered a copy of Horizons Preschool for Threes way back in mid-summer, and they finally released it and mailed it to us, and to my great surprise, I actually really like it!  It is reasonably affordable (like $30 or less?), covers all subjects, and really is designed for beginning three-year-olds.  And it’s just about all I can handle, myself, to sit down with him and work through it.  It could be a good jump-off point for a mom with more time to devote to preschooling (I think the teacher’s guide has lots of extra activities), but I needed something really simple (for me) that was also reasonably well-rounded to build all the essential preschool skills. So we literally just sit down together and work through the day’s worksheets. Preschool for Threes is a perfect fit for us. L also follows along with phonics, and often science and history lessons as well, and we do extra math with manipulatives. And the girls actually enjoy “teaching” him things like counting and adding, and he actually learns from them sometimes!

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Lesson five: children love maps.  Not the preschooler, who I think doesn’t understand what maps even are, but I have a modern map of the whole world hanging on one wall, and on the other wall, we tape up multiple maps of the area we’re actually studying—Mesopotamia here.  We compare the maps, remember where we are, where Florida is (this gives them some concept of distance, because they know how long that drive is!), so they know where we are studying.  And they can also compare to other places we’ve studied; they quickly recognized the Nile on their Mesopotamia map, and it opens the door for talking about ancient trade routes and other things.

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Lesson six: planning is… enlightening.  Really I could say much more emphatically that planning is the root of all success in homeschool or something like that, except that I know it isn’t true for everybody. :)  But, trying to balance THREE children’s schooldays, when none of them are independent learners… I figured out in about week two that a vague plan or even a weekly sketch was just not nearly sufficient.  This is what we’ve ended up with—those blocks of lessons are for one week.  And that is terribly, terribly abbreviated.  Behind those lines are actual plans, links, projects… this is just what I need to remember what page to turn to.

The really amazing thing is that all this planning actually saves me time.  Week one and two, I had my weekly list of things to accomplish, and then when we’re all sitting there actually doing school, I had to keep double-checking and calculating which part we had to accomplish that day in order to get through our week plan.  It took a lot of time and stress, right in the middle of the school day when I couldn’t afford it!  Now I just look at my sheet, open the books, and literally check it off as we go.  We’ve been getting more done, more projects, more subjects, and finishing our day about an hour earlier.  Seriously!  I cannot believe how much time I was wasting scrambling throughout the day.

How do I plan?  Like this:

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Homeschool Planet is the awesomest homeschool planner ever.  It’s new.  It’s a little rough around the edges (just came out of beta).  It’s a little bit expensive.  But… it’s totally worth it.  I tried planning on paper for two weeks.  In the amount of time it took me to plan one week on paper, I can do at least half a semester on here, and best of all, I can plan ahead as I have time to do it. And I can plan per subject rather than per week.  That really helps with continuity.  And in execution, this saves me HOURS each week. No exaggeration.  I have tried lots and lots of planners and this was the first one that was powerful enough but also quick/simple enough. RECOMMEND.

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Lesson seven: kids like to plan, too.  This is our “into our brains” chart for a week.  Every week I put a new one up.  The stickers match our subjects, and when they complete a subject, they put the sticker in the right block, and throughout the week it completes a path—and at the end of the path is an increasingly-small reward.  It works.  Seriously.  It’s like magic.  Even the subjects they hate (*handwriting*), they know it’s just a sticker on the chart and then they will move on.

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Lesson eight: projects and games are really helpful.  Above, the girls hold leaves from their nature walk looking for monocots and dicots to put in their botany notebook, and are standing in front of the remnants of a phonics game that we’d played earlier in the morning (every right answer and you move the correct worm an inch closer to the apple).  I hate projects.  As a student, I was not the one who wanted to go out and experience it for myself if I could just read about it in a book.  And as a teacher… projects are CHAOS. Seriously. Every time you do “fun,” you are inviting chaos into your home. :)  But… it turns out they remember things better.  They have fun.  The silliest little game or a run out to the back yard to fetch some moss, and they get a boost of energy that will last them ‘till lunchtime.  It’s great.  It requires a lot of planning, but, again—worth it.

So.  There’s my homeschool randomness, for anyone who’s curious what we do all day, how it works, with three littles and a baby and a pregnant, perpetually exhausted, brain-deficient Mommy. 🙂

Fall 2013–the best-laid plans…

Well, after all my planning, I ended up scrambling a whole lot of things over the summer!

Still on Tapestry.  Still on Singapore Math.  But we went to a curriculum fair and I have come to realize a few more things, and… pretty much everything else has not quite ended up as I planned! But now that we are working through our first week, it’s all official—if still subject to change!

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The first thing is, I switched to A Beka phonics.  Now, I really don’t like A Beka.  I don’t like what I have read about their business practices, I don’t like their prices, and I don’t like their theology or their rampant civicism.  But…  While feeling like I still don’t know anything and wishing that I had majored in early childhood education instead of secondary education, I have nonetheless come to the conclusion that I have been going about teaching reading all the wrong way.  I think I have been too laid-back and random.  E got a hold of math really well, with very little effort on my part, and I thought reading would be the same way, that learning was just a natural process that needed to be facilitated.  But it didn’t work.  So, while she knows a lot more than the beginning of A Beka Letters and Sounds K5, we are starting in the beginning, doing all the exercises, all the games, all the chalkboard stuff, everything—and we’re taking R along for the ride.  They’re doing the exact same thing.  It will be a lot of review for E, and a real challenge for R, but they really enjoy doing it together and I am hoping it will serve as a good foundation for R, while cementing a lot of concepts that E didn’t get so well (particularly blending), while building her confidence and mine.  A Beka is supposedly about a grade ahead of most other curricula, so while it kills me that my otherwise-first-grader is doing a K5 curriculum, I’m trying to be very chill about it and just ignore the “K5” on the cover. :)  And for R, I’m not really expecting her to master the concepts, just to do her best, and then next year we would either move on to something only incrementally more difficult for mastery, or, if she does better than I expect her to, she could keep on with E.  They don’t seem to mind doing the same thing.  I even have L in on the fun and am hoping he at least picks up his letters, if not his letter sounds, from the exercises. (For him, I am supplementing with extra preschool-oriented worksheets centered around the same letters that the girls are working on.)

I will say that the experience has given me a great determination to be more purposeful in earlier schooling, and I am pursing a more systematic preschool curriculum for L so that he might have a better foundation than E did when he gets to this point.  That’s my hope, anyway!

I also changed science.  We went to a homeschool fair and there was an Apologia Science display, and I looked at it and really liked it.  It is designed such that the whole family studies science together, with different levels of activities and notebooking for the different grades.  I really like doing school together.  It also, instead of doing every science subject in every grade year after year, picks one major area (botany, animal science, anatomy, astronomy, etc.) and spends a whole year going into great depth on it.  That seems a lot more conducive to learning.  Then, after I’d decided on it, and went through to compile my supplies lists and pick our experiments and projects for the year, I was even more impressed because it’s full of things that are really hands-on but also use affordable/available supplies and are easily adapted to a wide age range.  The only thing I really don’t like about it is the textbook is very word-heavy and has few pictures (and some is downright clipart-looking) and it isn’t bound very well.  The text itself is fine, but the formatting just is not very appealing, and it’s hard for small children to be engaged with so many lines of unbroken text.  All three children do science together with very different expectations of their participation.

I’ve also added subjects.  We are doing First Language Lessons for grammar, which are really short auditory lessons that all three children participate in, which fits well with our school day, A Reason for Handwriting (A & K) for handwriting (I don’t like A Beka’s), Draw Write Now for an art supplement, and Polished Cornerstones for a “character”/home economics supplement.  I should add that none of these is terribly time-intensive, nor do I try to do them all every day (except for handwriting).  But it is good to have them on my weekly schedule and work them in here and there. Smile

Homeschool Day Book — Review

I have been hunting for the perfect homeschool planner for months.  And finally ended up with an Excel spreadsheet and a whole bunch of paper printouts.  Still not thrilled with that solution.

But when I read about a record keeper that let you put things in after finishing them, it seemed like it had the potential to be a good fit for us: I could keep my spreadsheet for planning ahead, but then keep track of what we actually did in a neat little program.

So… how did it work?  We just started our school year so I decided to give it a whirl.

One area that Homeschool Day Book really shines is in simplicity.  It took me less than ten minutes to put in our three students and all our subjects.  Similarly, it has been taking very little time for me to enter what we did – less than five minutes. If I’d put the program on a laptop that I kept in the schoolroom (this would have been smart) then it really would be effortless.  I love how easy it is to tick which subject each lesson falls into (this would make field trips, for instance, really easy to categorize), and that each lesson can include any combination of students.  You can also record how long you spent on each activity, and add a “description” to explain what you actually did.  This could be really useful for those who aren’t using textbooks or who need detailed notes to compile for the state.  So far that is not me, however, so I am just putting the page/lesson numbers in the title and leaving the description blank.  It works well.

Then there are the reports:

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And this, to me, is the weakness of Homeschool Day Book: there just aren’t quite enough options on the reports. And I would love to be able to export all my data to CSV or some such readable format so that I’m not locked into the program’s report options.  For me, the major thing the reports are lacking is the subject name.  You can print subjects when you do the “Time Spent Per Subject/Date” reports, but the “Entries” report (seen above) doesn’t include the subject names at all… leading one to wonder what on earth “Cooked Cornbread” was supposed to fall into (it was actually part of our kindergarten phonics exercise).  This would be a handy option.  The reports are neatly formatted and sensibly divided by date, subject, or child, so this is kind of a minor quibble, but honestly, the inability to export the data wholesale would make me really question the wisdom of entering my information in every day, day after day, and then be limited to these few report options that the program provides.  I can think of lots of ways I might want to format the data, but will never be able to.  That said, the program is so simple and fast to use, and light to run, that I might use it anyway.  They’ve really put together something that excels in simplicity, and that’s a good thing.  “Reports” is just a little too simple.

The last point is the price: I downloaded the trial to do a review, and popped over to check out the price, and it’s $39!  That’s a lot, for something that you could do with just a spreadsheet (admittedly a sloppy and hard-to-print spreadsheet, but still).  If it was half that, I would say, that’s fair, and I would consider paying it myself for the convenience and simplicity of the thing.  I would also think about paying that much if it was web-based so I could access it across computers, because I bounce from one computer to another all day, and having to go upstairs to enter information on “my” computer is a small hassle.  If it was $29 instead, I would think it was pricey but would still consider it.  I understand that in some ways, $39 is not so much since it is a permanent license, and it is a useful, niche program, and if I used it every year for twelve grades, then $39 would be an absolute steal.

To conclude… on the one hand, I do think I’d be more likely to use this than any other planning software I’ve tried.  It is so easy and requires so little time.  It’s easy to understand, easy to get started, and easy to be up and running in less than a half hour.  It’s practical.  On the other hand, the fact that I’m limited to the predefined (and few) “reports” to get my data back out again… I’m not so keen on that. And honestly, that is what is making me waver about whether or not I’m going to continue using it.  My advice would be: wait until you start school, then check out the trial, take a good look at the reports, and if you’re happy with what they generate, then this could be a great solution. Smile

Disclaimer: I was offered a free license for the software in exchange for writing a review. It did not impact my opinion.