Lessontrek ~ Review and Giveaway

We have been testing out a new lesson planning tool for awhile now and I really like it.  Lessontrek was introduced to me by a blogging friend and I agreed to a review after I completed their free trial and liked it!  I now have a discount code for you and a giveaway, as well as my review.  Keep on reading!

{disclaimer ~ I was given a year of Lessontrek for this review, they are a blog sponsor, and my affiliate link is used}Lessontrek Homeschool Planner Review


 

I love simple, I love colors.  Lessontrek had me with those two things right away. I needed something very simple, and straightforward to plan our lessons.  Lessontrek is an online planner that is very easy to use. You set everything up online and have the option to print out weekly checklists, which is one of my favorite parts {probably my very favorite part}. I spent time setting each child up, giving them a specific color, and then each subject of theirs a specific color. Once initial set up is done, it is easy to navigate. I also love the flexibility it has. I can add assignments by typing in specifics, or add recurring assignments with a click {once I have entered in the list of recurring assignments}. Once you get started playing around I promise it isn’t too hard to figure out! I have 4 different categories; one for each child {keep reading to see those}, and one for our All Together subjects. Below is a screenshot of our All Together subjects planned out for week one.  Each little colored area can be drug around easily, and also copy/pasted if needed.

Lessontrek All Together Subjects

We do school intensely for four days a week, Monday-Thursday.  Friday is our family day off, and Saturday is a lighter day, with catch-up and extra subjects.  This particular week we took day 3 off to go to Six Flags, that’s why it is blank! I have been sharing a bit on Instagram and people have asked to see more details about how we are using Lessontrek.  I took screenshots of each planner from week one and then a photo of the printable checklist at the end of the week so you can see how we did! The screenshots are from the print mode, which produces the checklist format that you print. It looks different in the compose mode {which you can see a glimpse of at the top in my all together screenshot}

 

PacMan’s first week of 7th Grade…

This is what he got on Monday, with my expectations for his week.  See his 7th grade homeschool curriculum here.

Lessontrek Weekly Plan

Here’s what his printable plan looked like at the end of week one.  I gave some grace on a few things, and just transferred them over to the next week.  I do not put the plans in far ahead so it is easier for me to adjust each week.  It stresses me out to think we are behind, so instead I go with the flow and just adjust.  For now I am only doing one week at a time.  Setting up their plans on Sunday afternoon to print and be ready for Monday.

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Krash’s first week of 3rd Grade…

Lesontrek 3rd Grade Plans

Here’s what his looked like at the end. He finished all but one math lesson, since we decided not to do any school on Friday {our family day}. See his 3rd grade homeschool curriculum here.

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Ladybug’s first week of Kindergarten…

Lessontrek k Plans

Here’s hers at the end of the week. You can see we have a lot of circles, meaning we didn’t get to those things and I am totally fine with that.  I am completely flexible and will just carry over. I create a plan for her and we do what we can. See her Kindergarten homeschool curriculum here.

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Our All Together Plan…

As you can see we got almost our entire weekly plan done. We all REALLY enjoyed our all together time. See our all together homeschool curriculum choices here.

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I could keep this post going forever telling you exactly how I did things and how to set it up, but honestly it’s one of those hands on things you have to do to understand.  They have a wonderful totallyfree two week trial so you can play around and see if it works for you.  I did the trial before even agreeing to the review. Here is a list showing what Lessontrek is capable of doing now…

Lessontrek Current Features

 

Below are the features in the works! Lessontrek Future Features

 

A Discount and a Giveaway!

Get 30% off now through September 30, 2014

using code AUG30BLUECAR

Details you need to know ~ You can sign up for a free trial for 14 days to see what you think, but if you decide to purchase and use the 30% discount you will have to set up a new account.  So, don’t do anything too time consuming during your free trial since it won’t transfer over. Any questions?  Contact the Lessontrek team via their contact info on the site.

One of you is going to win a free year of Lessontrek!  Use Rafflecopter to enter to win below.  If you want to purchase right away and you end up being the winner, they agreed to refund your purchase price! Giveaway is open worldwide and ends 9/5/14.unnamed

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Time Invested in Tot Schooling

{disclosure: this post contains affiliate links}

A common question I hear from moms who are new to the whole Tot School idea is one concerning the amount of time invested. 

“How long do you spend setting it all up?”

“How long do you spend planning?”

“How long does it take to clean up and what do you do with the work in the end?”

The short answer is…as long as you let it take!

The longer answer is below…

I invest a lot of time into our tot/preschool activities because I ENJOY IT!  I have an early childhood degree and teaching young children is my passion. I enjoy just about every moment of the planning, prep, and even figuring out how best to organize/store it all when we are done. Because it is something I truly enjoy, it doesn’t seem like work to me, so I have no clue how long it actually takes me!  I know not all of you enjoy it all and you do it as an act of love for your youngsters.  I will do my best to outline what typical planning, preparing, and organizing looks like for me.

Planning for a Theme

Step One ~ Choose a theme {or letter of the week} You do NOT have to have a theme, especially with the younger tots, but it often makes planning more fun. When Ladybug was a young tot {around 9-12 months} the theme was a simple as “bells” and we just played with bells all week! This post is more for the planning that happens when tots are a bit older, around 2 years old and up.

Step TwoCreate a Pinterest Board for that theme

Step Three ~ Start pinning ideas! Pin anything you find that you might use, knowing that you will NOT use it all.  I do Google searches, Pinterest searches and specific blog/website searches. I have many theme boards on my Pinterest site, you can use those as a starting point! If you scroll a bit down on my boards you will see that my theme section is organized alphabetically.

Step Four ~ Gather books, toys, printables that you already have {I put them all in a prep bin}.

Step Five ~ Think about what YOUR child enjoys and narrow down your ideas.  Even if you pinned tons of craft ideas, keep in mind the likes/dislikes of your child,  If your child hates crafts, just choose one.  If you child loves crafts and you do too, choose one for each day! Balance out YOUR likes as well, if it stresses you out tremendously, don’t do it {or do it only once}. Example ~ I detest painting but Ladybug LOVES it.  I balance her love with my dislike and we will usually do painting all in one sitting, only once or twice a week. Even though she would prefer every day, my stress level can’t handle that!

Step Six ~ Start Printing! Print only what you plan to use, with maybe a few extras.  I print anything consumable on fast draft, and anything to be laminated or used again on fast normal. Sort your printed stacks into one pile of papers that need more prep work {cutting, laminating, etc.} and one that is ready to go {coloring sheets, dot fun sheets, etc.}

Step Seven ~ Final Prep! Get it all prepared and put it in one place.  If you are a detailed planner {I used to be} make your plan for the week{s}.  If you are like me, just dump it all in a big bin and then select new activities each night before you go to bed and have them ready for the next day! I usually try to set up a fun display of the theme in the schoolroom the night before it begins to get my kids excited to learn!  It works and they always head straight to the theme display when they first see it!

Pond Theme in Homeschool  Bug Theme in Homeschool

Step Eight ~ Have Fun! Enjoy the theme you have planned.  We usually leave a theme for a week, but if something comes up or if it is still being enjoyed, we will go for 2 weeks. I find that my kids usually burn out from the theme within 2 weeks. I also don’t stress about not getting to everything I had ready to go. Remember, you don’t have to do it all!

Step Nine ~ All Done! Let’s Clean it Up! I do NOT keep it all, I take a photo of the set of completed work and then toss most of it. Home Preschool Letter Cc

If it can be used again, it gets stored by theme using the theme printable storage method I shared awhile back. If it was super special, I might keep it, but honestly I toss 90% of it after the photo. I put everything back where I got it from, all in one night.  Sometimes the kids help me, but mostly I like doing it alone.

Storing Theme Items


A few other helpful posts that share a bit more about aspects of this topic:

This post is #4 in my series, “Homeschooling Tots & Preschoolers,” for the iHomeschool Network Spring 2013 Hopscotch. Visit other bloggers participating here!

Hopscotch-With-iHN-Spring

 

Homeschooling-Tots-and-PreschoolersDay 1 ~ Where to Begin with Tot School eBook

Day 2 ~ You Don’t Have to Do it All!

Day 3 ~ Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Day 4 ~ Time Invested in Tot Schooling

Day 5 ~ 10 Tips for Studying Nature with Tots

Day 6 ~ Exposure vs. Mastery

Day 7 ~ Why Themes?

Day 8 ~ Teaching Tots in a Large Family

Day 9 ~ Our Favorite Learning Tools for Tots

Day 10 ~ Early Childhood Theme Printables A-E

How to Plan Using Themes for Tots and Preschoolers

How to Plan Using Themes

I don’t always have a theme going on, but I often base Tot School, Preschool, and Kindergarten activities around a theme. I am going to share a bit about how I organize my thoughts, our stuff, and our week within a theme. This post is more for those moms who are feeling a bit lost and just need some simple direction. If you already use themes in your homeschool, I doubt you will learn anything new ~ I could probably learn from you!

Before I begin, please know that it is totally OK if you don’t do theme based learning with young kids.  I did very little of this with PacMan, and he has turned out just fine!  I think we homeschool moms can tend to go overboard sometimes, and feel the need to do it all.  I struggle with this too and need to remind myself that my simple presence as their mom and teacher is more important than any theme we ever do!  That being said, I do enjoy our themes and so do my kids.  We all think it is fun, so it works for us right now during this season of life!


~ How I Choose Themes ~

Themes in our homeschool are usually chosen one of two ways.  First, I will develop a school theme around a particular interest my child has.  A few examples of this in action are below…

The second way I choose themes is based around seasons or holidays.


~ How I Plan for the Theme ~

Once I have decided on the theme, I gather all of my own items, which includes:

  • Sensory Bin items {we don’t always have a sensory bin, but often I do include one for theme weeks}
  • Special toys {animals, games, etc.} that go along with the theme
  • Printables
  • Books IMG_0668

After I gather what I already have I begin searching online for what is new, mainly in the area of printables.  I create a Pinterest board for the theme and record all of my findings, whether I use them or not.  Using the Angry Birds theme as an example, here is my idea collection board. I try to keep my Pinterest Boards alphabetized in the theme section, so you can easily find my ideas.  This way when I go back to blog about anything, I can easily find links to share when we used things others have created.

I do not print an entire printable pack.  I usually will only print a few pages specific to the interests/abilities of my child. 

I utilize notebooks to save on printing and laminating.  I will put together a notebook with printables.  Printables that can be used with dry erase markers are slipped into heavy weight sheet protectors.  Consumable printables are 3 hole punched and placed in the notebook also, so I don’t forget what I have. Below is a photo of her Fall Theme notebook…

Fall Tot School-3310

 

I get my new themes set up for the kids on Sunday evening, so that is my final night of prep and set up.  By that point it is fairly easy to pull out and set up everything I have gathered.  Here are a few photos of theme set ups, the beauty only lasts for a few seconds on Monday morning, the rest of the week it is always a bit chaotic.  I enjoy the organized set-up and display! I do NOT always do an elaborate set-up for a theme, it is certainly not necessary at all.  Ladybug really enjoys the display so I will do it for her if I have the energy!

All photos are linked to the blog post they came from. Our shelf is from Ikea {Trofast}.

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Pumpkin Tot School-3446 Thanksgiving Theme Tot School-4075



~ How I Organize the Stuff ~

Along with themes comes a lot of stuff; books, sensory bin items, special toys/games, and of course printables! When certain themes are not in use, the stuff is sorted so I can find it easily. 

Printables are stored using this methodStoring Theme Printables

 

Books are sorted using this methodBook Storage

 

Extra stuff, including small toys, animals, and more are stored in labeled bins.  Although, some things that are played with on a regular basis, are sorted within their regular toys so I have to remember to dig things out. Here are a couple of my bins, which are stored in our storage room.  You can see our homeschool storage room here, and here.

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I store seasonal themes in bigger bins, with the book boxes alongside.  Here is a shot of my storage shelves for the season themes…

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~ A Few FAQ ~

Do you use everything you print, or set up out for a theme?

NO!  I almost always have more than we use.  If my young child isn’t interested, we skip certain things.  I do my best to print and create activities my child will enjoy, but sometimes I am wrong.  I believe in child-led exploration and learning during the younger years, so even though I may fill her trays and notebook with many activities, it is OK if she only chooses to do a few. 

What about “normal” school during a theme?

Usually I just throw in a theme along with whatever curriculum/program we are using.  There are times I will take a break from regular curriculum and just do a theme.  I don’t have any set rule for this, I just go with the flow.

What about multiple ages?  What do your other kids do when a theme is planned specifically for 1 child?

I do my best to include the other kids in a theme as much as possible.  PacMan joins in with special games, and also loves sensory bin play! If a theme is for Krash {such as Angry Birds} I find ways to included the other 2 in the play/learning time too. Same is true when ladybug has a special theme, such as Doc McStuffins.  We all played doctor the animals together!  I usually focus my theme efforts around one child {age}, and then will add in a couple of extras for the others.


Be sure to visit iHomeschool Network to see more Homeschool Planning posts!

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Out of the Zone ~ 3rd Grade Planning Sheets

out of the zone2I am always making stuff on the computer, so of course I have to create my own personalized planning sheets. For those of you who just happen to be using Calvert’s 3rd grade, you’ll be able to use them too-since they are specific to the program. The rest of you might be able to get ideas, and I also included a blank form in case you like the layout but don’t use Calvert.

This is the front page of the planning sheet, which shows 5 lessons{days} at a time. Each subject is on the left and I write short notes of page #s to the right for each day. These are not detailed plans {those are in the manual written for me ;-)} just notes mainly so we can check things off each day and also so I can pull papers in advance.

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This is the back of the sheet where I am dividing each day into 3 parts. 1-Morning Independent, 2-With Mom, 3-Afternoon Independent. I hope to keep up with this to help organize P’s days for him in advance so he can see what he should be able to do independently before needing my help, what he should wait for me on and what he will need to do after we work together.IMG_4284

I am pulling all worksheets for the week and putting them in a binder with each page labeled with a highlighter in the bottom right corner to show which lesson it goes with.IMG_4286For those of you using Calvert-I broke down the following workbooks: Math, Maps, Globes & Graphs, Critical Thinking, RWP, Phonics, Reading Word Cards, and Activity Pages. I did NOT rip apart: Spelling, Gods & Goddesses, Famous Americans or any hard bound textbooks. In case you missed it here is my Details About Calvert 3rd Grade post

I have one large 3” binder with tabs dividing each section of 5 lessons. Calvert goes in groups of 20, so I have a 1” binder that is our current plans. Currently we have lessons 1-20 in there, each section of 5 divided by colored tabs. As we finish the work, I am grading it and placing it in the back pocket of the notebook.IMG_4280

In the back of the notebook I keep the assessment sheets. Calvert has these for each 20 lessons and with our cyber school, we have to send them in to be graded and reviewed by a teacher. I actually like this component because it is automatic assessment and ongoing review. I always know that we are on target.IMG_4288

You can download my planning sheets here. I also made a blank version in case you like them but don’t use Calvert.