One of the biggest headaches of homeschooling our children is the planning and documentation. I recently had a chance to use HomeSchool Office, an on-line homeschool management tool from Lord Heritage. This review will provide an overview of what this tool does and our thoughts on incorporating it into our family’s homeschool experience.
HomeSchool Office is an on-line homeschool record keeping system. It surpasses many other tools in that it not only allows you to schedule courses and lessons, but also field trips, music lessons, doctor appointments, or other commitments that your family may have. The framework is conceptually simple in that you start at by setting up your school, your students, their subjects, and then down to the lessons to be completed. In addition to scheduling, HomeSchool Office also has a complete grading function and report generator.
Included in this tool are six main menu areas to explore. Join me on the journey!
Team – Your team are your people. This includes you as the primary teacher and superintendent of the school. Your children as the students. It also includes those outside resources that are a part of your children’s education. It is a convenient place to store contact information as well.
Plan – The Plan tab is where you define your school year, the subjects that each student will take, and a master schedule of what your day generally looks like. I had a calendar/schedule for each of my children. However, because the calendars are all color coded, it was wonderful to be able to create a separate calendar for field trips, outside appointments, and holidays. These alternate calendars allowed me to schedule events that did not have to correspond to my children’s specific subjects, but were reflected in our overall calendar. One of the beautiful aspects of HomeSchool Office is that as I would schedule a field trip, it would provide a dialogue box prompting me to decide if I wanted to pull the regularly assigned work back to the previous day, push it and all future lessons forward a day, or just skip the regularly scheduled lesson. This feature alone makes HomeSchool Office worth its weight in gold.
It is also under the plan tab, then you can enter each of your child’s subjects and then the lessons in the order that they are to be completed. The lessons can be entered by the lesson number and a title with space provided underneath for any special notes or directions to the student. I found that putting actual page numbers of the lessons or chapter titles for literature assignments a real time saver for my children to be efficient in their work.
Order – The Order tab allows you to see how everything is coming together. You can view all your calendars together, a single student’s calendar, or even take a glance to see your scheduled school holidays or field trips to check their frequency and how well spaced out they are. Buttons are provided at the top of the calendar area to be able to easily toggle between monthly, weekly, or daily views. A “Print List” button is also provided allowing you to print out your student’s work on either a daily or weekly basis. This print feature is great in our home where we have one computer for school to be shared by 5 people. Attempting to constantly check off assignments and to see what is next solely online would create such a bottleneck in our day. Additionally, when you register for a HomeSchool Office account, your students log in through your account, but with their own password. This allows certain functions to be locked down, such as the ability to move assignments or change grades.
An additional feature of the Order screen is an area for a drop down To Do List. This is not related to completing the set up of your account, but rather a checklist of other things outside of school that your children need to remember to do. It is a great way of reminding them of their morning chores, practice time for music lessons, or even returning library books.
Work – The Work tab is very similar to the Order tab. The Work Screen is actually the screen that the student is directed to when logging in. This allows them to just see their own workload, daily lists of assignments, etc.
Evaluate – The Evaluate tab is exactly as it sounds. This is the area you travel to to record attendance, hours completed for those in states where actual study hours must be captured, and also the place to go to enter your students’ grades.
Report – The Report tab is fairly self explanatory. It is in this tab that you can print out quarterly or yearly report cards. There is a sheet within this tab that also helps to generate a transcript for your student.
Now that we have used it…
So what do we think now that we have had an opportunity to use it? Overall, I am impressed. I have attempted to build something like this as our record keeping system using different tools from Microsoft Office, but certainly have never achieved the seamless nature this provides.
Aspects We Like:
- The incorporation of both the scheduling of schoolwork and how it interfaces with outside commitments
- The ability to pull back or push forward assignments as needed
- The inclusiveness of the tool to include grading and preference on how to weight grades
- Login accounts for our children separate from mine and their siblings
- The color coding of schedules
- The printable daily or weekly list for the kids to use as checkoffs if they are not on a dedicated computer throughout the day.
- The logical sequence in which data is added to avoid repetition entering of the same information for each child.
- The flexibility in entering a week of assignments or the whole year at once. This was a real perk for scheduling my son’s work who uses a lot of unit studies. We could schedule one unit at a time and adjust days as needed if we decide to go down a bunny path in our learning as new interests were sparked. It also would be beneficial in pacing units to cover the desired amount of work in an academic year.We obviously started using this tool once our school year was well underway. It is more challenging this way, but not impossible. The tool is built in such a way that assumes that there will be users that will start using HomeSchool Office mid-year. There are actually specific instructions in the knowledge base posts that address this to make the transition wonderfully easy.
What I Learned:
- Just how unstructured we are in our schooling. It was challenging in making the master schedule initially because we don’t always do school in the same order. Once we got going, I found it did not matter as much, except for times when there were conflicts with outside events.
- To read the instructions. There is a wonderful knowledge base if you click on the Support button. I did not access this at first and felt overwhelmed. Once I started utilizing the clearly written instructions in the knowledge base, things went smoothly and everything did what it said it would do.
- I am still getting comfortable with the idea of my child’s grades being placed in any type of online tool. HomeSchool Office is all online which can be a plus for those that are on the move.
Some Possible Enhancements for the Future:
- One of our children is doing a subject which would have fallen under Elective – Other based on the subject categories in the subject drop down list. It would be great if this was customizable somehow so that the actual subject name displayed on the student’s weekly and daily lists as well as in the calendars, especially if they were taking multiple electives in a given year.
- When setting up the initial calendars, it would be wonderful if you could select a subject, assign the time during the day, and then be able to click the days of the week to have it populate on the calendar. This would reduce some tasks that are initially repetitious.
- Since HomeSchool Office is an online tool, I would encourage Lord Heritage to consider building an app for mobile devices. There are many students and parents that spend time completing schoolwork or grading it while sitting at ball practices or waiting on doctor appointments. Additionally, as we commit to outside events a mobile app would allow us to add those to the calendars while on the go rather than overlooking them when we return home.
All in all, I would recommend HomeSchool Office for anyone considering an online record keeping system for their homeschool. I have tried to include some screen shots from the program, but encourage you to visit their samples page to see more examples of how this program looks and works.
As always, I would encourage you to check out what other reviewers from the Crew thought from their experience in using HomeSchool Office in managing their school schedules as well as outside commitments that may affect their school routine.