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Online Homeschool Planners in 2020


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I'm doing research about online homeschool planners, and I wanted to share my findings so far and learn from folks that are here.

I'd love to hear from you! What online homeschool planning tool do you use? If you don't use an online tool, what do you do instead?

In this journey to understand what planners are available, I found these tools:

My goal is to research each one of these tools and provide my analysis to this forum as I learn more. Where possible, I'm going to sign up for each tool, kick the tires, and compare features. I'll report back once I've given a tool its fair shake.

In my research, I've compiled mentions of various tools on this forum (using a combination of Google search pointing at forums.welltrainedmind.com and some elbow grease). Here's a graph of tool mentions by year if you like visual representations of data like I do. And here's the raw data if folks would like to see which topics these tools were mentioned in: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1SroV3KdUshFIQMOEKfVDtv5zwmcylL6OHfewTuaeJRo/edit#gid=0

My interpretation of the data is that some tools have peaked in popularity. It's also likely that different tools had advocates on this forum and either don't use the forum anymore or don't bother to mention these tools.

  • Homeschool Tracker was popular a decade ago, but it had very few mentions after 2012.
  • Scholaric seems like the dominant tool from 2012-2016.
  • Homeschool Planet appears to be the most popular tool from 2015 to the current day.

Admittedly, the sample size of data is quite small. I don't know what are some other good places to look for this kind of data outside of the forum. If you know of other places where folks talk about homeschool technology and are willing to share, please let me know! I'd love to follow through to collect more data and make a more accurate picture.

Finally, in full disclosure, I'm doing all of this research because I'm building a homeschool planner for my spouse. This research is intended to help me find the features that people, aside from my wife, are a looking for in a homeschool planner. Ultimately, I want to make the tool available for other users, but it's not ready for that limelight yet. 😁

Thanks for reading! I hope you find my bit of data interesting!

planners-by-year.png

Edited by Matt Layman
Link to Homeschool Minder thread
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1 hour ago, mom2scouts said:

I've used Homeschool Tracker for years. It has a steep learning curve, but I plan daily lessons during the summer and then assign them each week. It's really easy to move or change things we don't get done.

Is moving or changing things the headline feature that you like most about Homeschool Tracker? What is it about the tool that you like the best?

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18 hours ago, Matt Layman said:

Is there something about these items that particularly appeals to you (aside from being awesome with Peanuts characters)?

I like that they had plenty of squares/space for my lesson plans.  Iif you look at the samples here:  https://www.reallygoodstuff.com/peanuts-lesson-plan-book-1-planning-book/p/701511/

, there are 7 large subject squares for each day of the week, so you could put more than one subject in a square if you needed to, plus in those subjects that have multiple aspects like English, there was room to list them all (spelling/vocab, grammar, lit, composition).

I also like that the grade book was included because I did take grades in high school.  Each grade book page was a separate subject.  I put little tabs on them so I could turn to them easily.  Like this: https://www.officedepot.com/a/products/647853/Post-it-Notes-Durable-Filing-Tabs/  or this:  https://www.officedepot.com/a/products/315473/Avery-Self-Adhesive-Index-Tabs-With/

FYI: I used Excel to make to make subject based transcripts, like this:  https://www.servingdaytoday.com/2013/04/subject-transcript-instead-of-yearly.html#.X-j3athKiUk

And I issued a report card to my dd every quarter.  I bought report cards like this, generally from Mardel:  https://www.mardel.com/Homeschool/Homeschool-Resources/A-Simple-Plan/A-Simple-Plan,-Intermediate-&-High-School-Report-Card,-Contemporary/p/3119179 

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We tried a lot of different planners, but the one that lasted the longest was that page-a-day in a cheap spiral notebook. I'd go through at the beginning of the week and write appointments at the top of the pages in red for the week and fill in some subjects in black or pencil. After that I filled in only a couple of days out and also made notes and such on each page of what we did.

Even now I write appointments in my planners in red. 

ETA we have used an excel gradebook for high school. https://fivejs.com/homeschool-gradebook-free-download/

Edited by MamaSprout
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For long term planning and record keeping, I just use Excel. I have one sheet per kid with a row for each week and columns for subjects. I grey the weeks as we complete them and have my own color coding system and stuff. I also have other sheets with supply and curriculum inventory, homeschool budget, attendance, book lists, and ideas for future resources. I tried a couple of online planners and they were just SO hard to get the hang of. I got frustrated. They weren't intuitive enough for me and I didn't feel like spending the time figuring out the system when I already knew and understood Excel.

My kids each have spiral bound paper planners just like the ones issued by our neighborhood public school. I was actually buying them directly from the school for something like $2.50 a piece until this year, when I had to hunt them down online and pay full price.

Elementary: https://www.amazon.com/Elementary-Student-Academic-School-Mate/dp/B085HB6H59/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Dated+Elementary+Student+Planner+for+2020-21+Academic+Year%2C+School+Mate+Brand%2C+8.5"x11"+Weekly+Matrix+Format&qid=1609465762&sr=8-1

Secondary: https://www.amazon.com/School-Student-Planner-Academic-Mate/dp/B085GMT2QH/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3HDNFFEYSRJ73&dchild=1&keywords=school+mate+middle+school+planner&qid=1609465881&sprefix=School+Mate+%2Caps%2C214&sr=8-2

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17 hours ago, MamaSprout said:

.... I'd go through at the beginning of the week and write appointments at the top of the pages for the week and fill in some subjects in black or pencil. ....

I'm curious how you do long term planning for the school year. The method described seems to be taking thing a week at a time (and there's nothing wrong with that! 🙂 ). My wife likes to get course material for the entire year laid out. In that mode, making edits could be quite challenging if she used paper so I'm curious how you'd handle something like that.

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15 hours ago, Cake and Pi said:

For long term planning and record keeping, I just use Excel. .... I tried a couple of online planners and they were just SO hard to get the hang of. I got frustrated. They weren't intuitive enough for me....

I totally get that. Excel is super powerful and flexible. Do you use Excel for tracking grades and report cards too?

I'd love to understand what was hard about the online planners that you tried if you don't mind sharing. For the tool I'm building, I want to avoid the obstacles that would make the service hard to use. Knowing any big land mines would be extremely awesome to understand.

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14 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

I, err, so far have been winging it entirely. So I don't have good records, but then my oldest is only 8. 

I've started keeping very vague records, and those have been in Excel. I'll probably keep that up. 

My kids are young too (6 and 8 ) so we're fairly new to this homeschooling process as well (compared to veteran parents with kids who've already gone through high school).

Are there things in your process that you wish you had? I know we've got some requirements to report to our local county that affect what my wife feels like she needs to collect and do, but she also has a wish list of things that she wants her homeschool system to do (which I'm trying my best to provide).

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9 minutes ago, Matt Layman said:

My kids are young too (6 and 8 ) so we're fairly new to this homeschooling process as well (compared to veteran parents with kids who've already gone through high school).

Are there things in your process that you wish you had? I know we've got some requirements to report to our local county that affect what my wife feels like she needs to collect and do, but she also has a wish list of things that she wants her homeschool system to do (which I'm trying my best to provide).

We have reporting requirements, too, but we don’t have to report hours. I think I’d just estimate if we did.

I’m a naturally organized person, so no, I don’t wish we had anything we didn’t. I tend to have a gauge of what skills my kids are working on in my head, and I keep it in mind when we start our day. We have a weekly schedule of subjects in Excel, and we follow it. For our main subjects, I make it up as we go along; for others, we mostly read books.

We’re currently largely focused on math, writing and Russian (my first but not best language.) I taught my kids to read early, so we got that out of the way, which makes it easy to keep track of the remaining basics 🙂 .

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3 hours ago, Matt Layman said:

I'm curious how you do long term planning for the school year. The method described seems to be taking thing a week at a time (and there's nothing wrong with that! 🙂 ). My wife likes to get course material for the entire year laid out. In that mode, making edits could be quite challenging if she used paper so I'm curious how you'd handle something like that.

I always had an Excel spreadsheet for all the subjects for the entire year. I might have one still saved somewhere. I can look for after bit. I had a cottage school (one room school) for a couple years, so I actually would lay out everybody (3 grades, usually) on one sheet and print on a legal paper. It became a check list of sorts since I could see that whole semester at a time.

I still use Excel for long-term planning.

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I just use Excel.  I like that I can set up things how I want them, change them if things need to be different.  I'm basically an expert level user so I can do anything I possibly need.  I have daily lessons, long term plans, a full portfolio of everything we've done, project plans.  Basically anything I want to keep track of or plan for. 

I think I tried Homeschool Planet once?  Or Homeschool Tracker?  I can't remember.  I didn't do it for very long.   I know I didn't like how it worked if you needed to change the date for something, but I don't remember what else I didn't like.

I don't have to keep any records at all where I am, so a lot of the online trackers were overkill.   I keep records for myself and eventual transcripts and that's it. 

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11 hours ago, Matt Layman said:

My kids are young too (6 and 8 ) so we're fairly new to this homeschooling process as well (compared to veteran parents with kids who've already gone through high school).

Are there things in your process that you wish you had? I know we've got some requirements to report to our local county that affect what my wife feels like she needs to collect and do, but she also has a wish list of things that she wants her homeschool system to do (which I'm trying my best to provide).

I can’t figure out how to log on and am not a frequent poster, but it’s letting me post as a guest even as a long time user, so I’ll take it.  Anyway, I appreciate what you are doing and wanted to provide feedback.
 

I am typically a OneNote user for planning. I have kids from post graduation to elementary and am in a state with no mandated homeschooling reporting fwiw.  
 

I found HSP frustrating and also had a kid that didn’t like the interface (issue for parents with older kids logging on for assignments.) We ended up sticking with OneNote, although I will admit it was a lot of work for me. OneNote and Excel are options, but of last resort for me. For my kids pre-high school, I resort to paper planning (but would love something great online.) and whiteboards. Excel and OneNote are necessary evils, and are graceless, utilitarian things. I, frankly, would like something with an aesthetic that is also user friendly and intuitive. And would be happy to give $ to a fellow homeschool family above Microsoft.
 

A lot of it comes down to ease of use and aesthetic to be honest. If I have to watch multiple training videos it probably won’t happen. 
 

Functionality wise, one thing I would have really appreciated would have been a transcript generator. Generally speaking past that would be ease of lesson plan adjustment. 
 

Kudos to you for what you are doing- actually doing versus waxing philosophical and not contributing. Hats off. 

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3 hours ago, Matt Layman said:

I totally get that. Excel is super powerful and flexible. Do you use Excel for tracking grades and report cards too?

I'd love to understand what was hard about the online planners that you tried if you don't mind sharing. For the tool I'm building, I want to avoid the obstacles that would make the service hard to use. Knowing any big land mines would be extremely awesome to understand.

I do not do grades below high school level course work because I require my kids to work to mastery. They don't move forward until they've achieved what anyone would probably consider an A, I suppose. Our state does not require homeschool grade reports. I only need to track hours. For high school level classes I've been keeping transcripts in Excel, but all the high school level classes have been outsourced to online providers thus far, so I've only needed to record semester and/or final grades as reported by the providers. That will be changing soon, and I'll probably track assignments and grades in Excel at that point as well.

As for the online planners, I think they required too high a level of detail for my purposes. I need a *lot* of flexibility in day-to-day planning. I can set broad goals for a week easily, but my kids are all outliers who don't follow standard sequences very readily. We may blow through two weeks worth of lessons in a single day, or we may spend three weeks on a lesson that was only supposed to take a day. 

I like that I can see the big picture in Excel. I can see when our breaks were and are planned. I get the broad sweep of the kid's trajectory in each subject. I can project ahead easily and make a rough outline of what future studies will look like. 

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I think we are similar to @Cake and Pi  I have a friend who sent me this wonderful Excel thing where you could put in your schedules and it would automatically generate a weekly schedule.  It just doesn't work for us. Part of it is possibly my planning (I might over, or underplan a day) and part of it is that my philosophy on some subjects is that it takes what it takes. If we need to park on a math concept, we do.  There is the best laid plan and the reality and they often don't match up. For that reason, up until now, I have a separate spreadsheet for every subject. The only one I don't have a spreadsheet for is math, because we follow the schedule in the teacher's guide and just mark the date when we completed it on my photocopy.  For the rest, we may be on week 16 in one subject, week 14 in another, and week 20 in still another. It depends on quite a lot of things.  

For my own benefit, I have a printed "weekly plans" that indicates which days we are doing which subjects and which outsourced classes.  I just handwrite stuff in it each week. If I don't do something, I cross it off. I keep it as a record, but since I don't track hours on it or anything, I am not sure it means much. It's more of a memory thing just to help me stay on track, especially with material we cover once or twice a week.  

My kids do better with me writing down the subjects they must cover that day and then they consult the spreadsheet copy they have and look to see which assignment they are on.  I did try buying blank planners but my kids didn't see the point. It would basically be copying in from the spreadsheet. So we are back to simple notepads with "math, bio, history, Spanish, etc." on them. 

I have a piece of graph paper where I track what week we are on (or what lesson for math) for each week, just so I can get an idea of when we will "finish." Because last year was really our first year doing any high school level stuff, I didn't track hours before that. Now, I only really track hours for homemade courses. If I am using a text (like for Bio), I assume one text = 1 credit.

I have a spreadsheet for each transcript and a spreadsheet for each child for grade tracking.

There have been times when I have considered using a program, but it seemed like tons more data entry that I am currently doing, and not enough value added.

I would love to have something that was in part a scheduling program and in part a brainstorming central warehouse where I could create tabs to dump links and notes in, etc.  Sort of like One Note or something like that, but easier to use. 

If I was to use a program, it would have to be highly adaptable, and perhaps able to import data from Excel. I looked at the form fields for one program (it might have been the free one--Homeschool Skedtrack) and it was SO much work just to enter all the fields. I just don't have the desire for a "pretty schedule" so much that the investment of time that would require is worthwhile to me. 

Edited by cintinative
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2 hours ago, Cake and Pi said:

As for the online planners, I think they required too high a level of detail for my purposes. I need a *lot* of flexibility in day-to-day planning. I can set broad goals for a week easily, but my kids are all outliers who don't follow standard sequences very readily. We may blow through two weeks worth of lessons in a single day, or we may spend three weeks on a lesson that was only supposed to take a day. 

I like that I can see the big picture in Excel. I can see when our breaks were and are planned. I get the broad sweep of the kid's trajectory in each subject. I can project ahead easily and make a rough outline of what future studies will look like. 

That's very helpful context. Thank you for sharing. I can see how an online planner might expect a very tight schedule and how that can hinder flexibility.

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2 hours ago, cintinative said:

...

For my own benefit, I have a printed "weekly plans" that indicates which days we are doing which subjects and which outsourced classes.  I just handwrite stuff in it each week. If I don't do something, I cross it off. I keep it as a record, but since I don't track hours on it or anything, I am not sure it means much. It's more of a memory thing just to help me stay on track, especially with material we cover once or twice a week.  

...

There have been times when I have considered using a program, but it seemed like tons more data entry that I am currently doing, and not enough value added.

I would love to have something that was in part a scheduling program and in part a brainstorming central warehouse where I could create tabs to dump links and notes in, etc.  Sort of like One Note or something like that, but easier to use. 

If I was to use a program, it would have to be highly adaptable, and perhaps able to import data from Excel. I looked at the form fields for one program (it might have been the free one--Homeschool Skedtrack) and it was SO much work just to enter all the fields. I just don't have the desire for a "pretty schedule" so much that the investment of time that would require is worthwhile to me. 

One of my wife's early requirements for an online planner was having a weekly plan view so I definitely understand this point as I had to build it in early. She likes to be able to see what is coming up over the entire week from a pacing perspective, I think.

As a former Skedtrack user, she told me how complicated it all was, and there were tons of fields that she tried to ignore or didn't use. What she valued out of Skedtrack (and the feature that I've replicated in a simplified fashion) was that it generated all the dates. She could create a course that ran on, for instance, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Skedtrack would fill in all the right content. I've carried that kind of functionality over to the tool I'm building without all the extra data fields.

Thanks for explaining your workflow!

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For my daughter, I did everything on paper. I used lesson plan sheets I made myself and single page grade sheets for each credit. 

For my son, I've used Evernote for all of his high school lesson plans. I didn't really want something to plan my whole life, just keep a record of what he did for school. I chose it because you could access it on two devices for free and it syncs automatically. I do the planning on my computer and he accesses it on his. I made a notebook for each semester of high school and a note for each week of the semesters. 

When I compare it to other online organizers, I hate having to pull down tab menus and choose subjects. Those seem like unnecessary steps to me when I can just type it in. I'm a fast typist, so those other type of programs slow me down and put me in their "box". I want the freedom to make the daily assignments with the features I want not what someone else chose for me.  I put in check boxes for him to check it is done, so that's all he needs. We don't have to keep up with time spent except for credits like PE. 

I keep his grades in an Excel spreadsheet file. It has several pages, one for his transcript, one for logs of credits requiring time spent, and one for each credit. I like that I can set up the calculations myself. 

 

 

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I prefer paper.  I use the High School 4 year planners by Well Planned Day for my high schoolers.  I like them because I can 1. handwrite.  (i journal after the fact for daily stuff, but I can plan generally in advance on pages that where I can list credits, extra curriculars, awards, curriculum, literature read, etc.) 2. I like that it lays out things to do each semester as they go through high school to get ready for college. 3. that it has a full page calendar spread before each month.  I really like planners with the full page calendar before the daily pages.  This is SOOO important. 

 

Before high school most any planner works for me.  I use whatever pages they have in the front for teachers to list my planned curriculum and the extra curriculars that particular child is involved in.  Then I use the planning pages to record each day what the child has done.  Easy peasy. 

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On 1/7/2021 at 11:52 AM, mom31257 said:

For my son, I've used Evernote for all of his high school lesson plans. ... I do the planning on my computer and he accesses it on his.

When I compare it to other online organizers, I hate having to pull down tab menus and choose subjects. Those seem like unnecessary steps to me when I can just type it in. I'm a fast typist, so those other type of programs slow me down and put me in their "box". I want the freedom to make the daily assignments with the features I want not what someone else chose for me.

 

 

That's a clever use for Evernote!

I definitely understand wanting to type thing in. As a software developer, I use a text editor that is literally nothing but a white screen and every action is done through keyboard commands and shortcuts. Any website can feel boxed in when I'm used to dealing with absolute freedom at the keyboard. 🙂

Thanks for sharing. I hadn't put a lot of thought into the tool I'm building regarding student access, but maybe that's because my kids are young and need a lot of direction from my spouse at this stage of their education.

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On 1/7/2021 at 3:36 PM, 2_girls_mommy said:

I really like planners with the full page calendar before the daily pages.  This is SOOO important.

Can you explain what makes this important to you? I have some guesses, but I don't want to project my thoughts and opinions on what your real reasons might be.

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On 1/9/2021 at 2:20 PM, Matt Layman said:

Can you explain what makes this important to you? I have some guesses, but I don't want to project my thoughts and opinions on what your real reasons might be.

They have different funcions.  A full page spread of a calendar gives you a space to see the month all at once.  The daily pages are more of the daily to dos. If I am trying to remember which day we have a conference call or a one day zoom class, if there is no monthly calendar where I can see the whole month at once I would have to flip through and search every weekly page for where I wrote down the call information.  On a monthly spread I can put appointments, field trips, what have you, as they are scheduled.  Then each week as I plan out the current week, I can refer to the monthly calendar to see what is on the schedule, especially out of the ordinary, one time things like dr. appointments, etc. 

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On 1/12/2021 at 8:32 AM, 2_girls_mommy said:

....  On a monthly spread I can put appointments, field trips, what have you, as they are scheduled.  Then each week as I plan out the current week, I can refer to the monthly calendar to see what is on the schedule, especially out of the ordinary, one time things like dr. appointments, etc. 

Ok, great! That's about what I would have guessed. Thank you for confirming. I like the idea that you can review both monthly and weekly at the same time for full context when planning. I'll have to chew on that as I'm building my app.

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On 1/13/2021 at 9:02 PM, Runningmom80 said:

I use Trello for lesson planning and google docs for High school transcript record keeping.

Trello is free, user friendly, and highly customizable. I've tried some of the ones you've listed and none were as easy or flexible as trello.

Yeah, I know a lot of people in the software world that use Trello for home planning too. That degree of being highly customizable is very appealing, especially if you try to record a lot of your life digitally.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chris, good to hear from you! Homeschool Manager is next on my list of services to review. So far I've read all your docs and watched the help videos, but I haven't had a chance to sign up yet (because I've been too busy preparing to teach a course on Python to my local tech community).

I've been really impressed with what Homeschool Manager offers from what I've seen. Once I have the time in the next few weeks, I'm going to get into the tool and write up a review. I think that will help shine some light on what appears to be an excellent product.

As far as what people are saying regarding online planner feedback, I agree with you. I read every article that I could find on this forum about online planners, and the same themes are generally present from year to year and this data dates back to 2008. It makes sense to me as new families (like my own) start homeschooling and encounter the same challenges that the "veterans" faced.

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We started using Homeschool Planet last fall and I gave up on it in March.  In theory it had what we needed - a calendar, and the ability to create and track completed assignments under a course heading.  A big draw was that I could purchase and load onto our calendar the assignments for  a couple homeschool curriculum items we use.  I ended up abandoning it because carrying  over or moving assignments was frustrating and glitchy.  It wasn't easy to deal with assignments that were something like "This week, get pages 10 - 20 done."  I had to manually touch it every day to make sure it stayed on the calendar. 

Now I just have a Word document that I update weekly with each child's assignments and a weekly calendar I made in Excel for each child that shows any time specific commitments.  My kids like it better and it takes me 1/10th of the time.  

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4 hours ago, ChickaDeeDeeDee said:

I ended up abandoning it because carrying  over or moving assignments was frustrating and glitchy.  It wasn't easy to deal with assignments that were something like "This week, get pages 10 - 20 done."  I had to manually touch it every day to make sure it stayed on the calendar. 

That would be totally frustrating indeed. One of the aspects that my wife made very clear to me for the service that I'm building is that the tasks on the calendar need to automatically roll forward if you miss a day.

She didn't want to create a bunch of busy work when my family gets behind in the week so I made School Desk (the service I'm building) move those tasks to the next day. In her experience, moving these tasks has worked well for the school year.

I can certainly respect picking a solution like a Word/Excel workflow that works for you. I'd guess it's a bit more management from a reporting perspective, but perhaps that's a worthy tradeoff.

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