I feel like I should apologize up front for my unbeautiful bullet journal pages. I have seen many gorgeous bullet journals, and mine is not one of them. For me, it’s a tool — a tool that works really well as long as I don’t get caught up in obsessing about how it looks more than how it works. But it’s a little embarrassing to put these pages out in a world full of much more beautiful bullet journals, so I feel like I need to make some kind of disclaimer.
Along similar lines, I use these cheap, paper-covered Moleskine notebooks for my bullet journal. I’ve experimented with fancier notebooks, but I keep coming back to these—they’re big enough not to feel cramped but small and flexible enough to toss in my purse or school bag or picnic basket, and because they’re inexpensive, I never feel bad about ripping out pages or going through one more quickly than anticipated. I am the un-fancy bullet journaler, you guys, which is why it’s taken me so long to write this post. Please don’t mock my utilitarian pages, but if you have pretty ones, feel free to post them in the comments.
(If you’re unfamiliar with bullet journals, this post will probably make more sense to you if you watch this video, which outlines the general method quite succinctly.)
The Basics of My Method
I was never able to find a planner that worked for the way I like to plan our homeschool stuff, which I like to call call plan-as-you-go homeschooling. Instead of trying to map out what we’ll be doing each week, I record what we actually do each day . That way, I have a reliable record of our homeschool and I can keep a running to-do list, which is different from a daily schedule, and keep up with appointments and other things that happen at a specific time.
I do the bulk of my “planning” in the summer, when I choose the books we’ll be using for the next academic year. Once I’ve chosen the books and materials we're going to use, we just work through them at our own pace until we finish them—no matter how I try to plan in advance, the days never stack up the way I intend, and I end up moving things around, or forgetting things completely, or getting genuinely stressed out. At the beginning of the year, I write the materials I collected for each kid on a sticky note, which helps me make sure I don’t forget about a cool art book or nature study guide (which has happened), but by the middle of the year, I don’t usually need them anymore.
As you can see from the photo here (I warned you to expect messiness!), I jot down what we do each day, broken up by subject. I used to just jot down notes without the subject tag, but I find it’s much easier if I can always tell what subject I’m looking at. I actually thought about assigning each subject a color and going back and highlighting them for an even more obvious visual indicator, but since I would probably stick with that for about 13 days before giving up, I let that go. I DO use different colored pens for each kid—purple for my 9th grader and green for my 3rd grader—which works really well for me. (And I can just keep the pens clipped to my journal.) The day shown here is a pretty typical one, though some days are shorter and some days require multiple pages. You can see that I include things we did as well as assignments made, and I read through my previous week’s pages on Monday morning so that I can migrate any outstanding stuff to my to-do list.
You can see that I also make a little weekly schedule down the right-hand side with any appointments/deadlines. We don’t have a lot of things like this, so I don’t leave a lot of room—I give each day a couple of lines, and that’s always been plenty of room for our stuff. I carry this schedule from page to page, though I’m thinking of moving it to a sticky note so that I don’t have to copy it over every day or two. (Though I think writing it multiple times helps me remember it, which is a plus for me.)
I also keep a running list of things I need to do, which you can see in all its messy glory here. My list includes things like registering for classes or signing up for tests, lists of supplies we need—things like new pencils or index cards as well as science or art supplies, library books to put on hold, organizational to-dos—scanning, sorting, shelving, etc., and research I need to do, whether it’s reading ahead so that I know what we’re talking about or looking for resources for something that’s piqued our interest. I also make notes of books, curricula or other materials that I want to check out. I color-code these lists, too, and cross tasks off as I complete them. After I fill up a page, I draw arrows to mark any unfinished tasks and move them to the next blank page to continue my to-do list. I like having one master list instead of lots of smaller lists.
The index page is the best part of the bullet journal in my world because it lets me feel like my hodgepodge of lists and notes is actually an organized planner. I just make a note as I add new pages.
I compartmentalize with separate bullet journals for work and homeschool. I tried keeping one “master journal,” but my rhythms for work and homeschool are so different and they both eat up a lot of pages, so I’ve switched to keeping separate ones, which feels much simpler. I clip them together with a big binder clip (or a big rubber band if I can’t find a binder clip, which happens more often than I’d like to admit) so that I don’t always have the one I don’t actually need.
I use washi tape to mark the index pages. You could just turn down the corner, but washi tape makes it easy to see at a glance. I bought a five-pack of washi tape a couple of years ago that I’m still using, so its cost-per-use is pretty cheap. I use a different tape for my homeschool journal and my work journal so that they are easy to tell apart.
I keep the symbols simple. I use a checkbox for things I need to do (so that I can have the satisfaction of checking them off when they are done) and a dash/dot for notes/brain-dumping. If I don’t finish something on my to-do list when I’m done with a page, I mark it with an arrow and move it to the next to-do page. There’s a whole world of bullet journal symbols out there, but I honestly can’t keep up with more than a few.
I use pages in order. At first I tried to figure out how many pages certain categories would take, but I was usually wrong and ended up stressing about empty pages or not-enough pages. So now I just uses pages in order and remind myself that hey, that’s why there’s an index page, right? (One great tip I picked up somewhere: If you’re skipping a bunch of pages, indicate the jump to the next page number at the bottom of the page, as in 25 —> 41. You can easily check the index, of course, but this is like an extra bit of simple.)
I use different colors to keep track of my kids. I use a purple pen for my daughter’s stuff and a green pen for my son’s because I’ve found that having different colors really helps me to quickly find information I’m looking for. I keep the pens clipped to the cover of my journal. For everything else, though, I just use whatever pen or pencil I have handy. Again, I do not let myself get caught up in the aesthetics.
Collections I Use
“Collections” are basically just lists or things you want to keep track of in your bullet journal. These are the ones I use for homeschooling:
I do a seasonal list of upcoming events—birthdays, holidays, Buffy anniversaries, etc. that I can quickly refer to when someone says, “Hey, are you guys free for dinner on the 22nd?” or when I am worried that I might have forgotten Passover. (In all fairness, that was a really tough year.) I tried doing these as monthly lists, but there’s just not enough stuff in a month to fill up a page—and a yearly checklist quickly got overwhelming. Seasonal works well (and it goes with the home/school/life magazine publication schedule, which is a nice plus).
Books We Read
I think this one’s pretty self-explanatory! I keep a running list of what we’re reading together—the kids keep their own reading logs, too, which includes all their reading, not just the homeschool stuff. Green for my son, purple for my daughter, and just any color for the readalouds we do as a family.
Books to Read
Again, this one is kind of obvious: I keep a list of books I want to read or find out more about. I don’t bother color-coding these. If I request a book from the library or check it out, I cross it off the list.
Movies We Watch
Like our reading list, this movie list gives us a record of what media we’ve consumed in our homeschool life. I jot down everything we watch together, including our family movie night picks but especially movies and documentaries we watch as part of our homeschool. (If I have notes I want to make about a particular movie, I make them on my daily notes page—this page is just a list.)
I write down three good things at the end of every day. I really believe this is one of the little things that keeps me from getting burned out on homeschooling. I have kept a separate journal for these notes in the past, but it’s so much easier just to keep a running list in my bullet journal.
Every quarter, I sit down with my kids individually for a conference, and I use a page for each of them to keep a running list of things that I want to talk about. I probably add things every week or so, usually on Mondays when I’m reviewing the week, and I include accomplishments I’m especially proud of (which are usually related to persistence and hard work) as well as notes about things I think we could be doing better. If my child expresses an interest in a particular class or subject, I’ll jot that down here, too, so that we can discuss how to pursue it at conference time.
I also use my bullet journal to make plans for subjects or topics I want to cover. I know I keep apologizing for messy pages, but this one is really messy because (with this one exception!) I am the only person who will ever use it. I really just brain dump on these pages, and eventually some of the info will migrate to its own page (4th grade reading list, 4th grade history, etc.). Aside: You can see that we are planning NOT WHITE MEN HISTORY next year, for which I am writing my own curriculum and about which I am nerdily excited.
If you are a regular reader or podcast listener, you know that I am constantly baffled by how much feeding people is involved in homeschooling. I keep my menu plan in my bullet journal—I plan for the month, then copy each week onto a weekly schedule to post in the kitchen. You may wonder if this means that people ask me “what’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack?” less often, but no. No, it doesn’t.
So that’s my (messy) bullet journal in a nutshell. It’s the only homeschool planner that’s ever worked for me, probably because it’s not really a planner in the traditional sense at all, and I love that it allows me to feel organized about my homeschool life. So many planners and organizers seemed like a great idea when I bought them but never really worked with my actual life. This one does, and I really like having everything in one place and being able to quickly tell where we are and what I need to do next.
What about you? Do you bullet journal? Or do you have a planner you really love?