Lesson planning for Mac users

Written by contributor Lora Lynn Fanning of VitaFamiliae

As my children have grown, my needs in a homeschool planner have grown, too. Google Calendar is our family’s go-to for scheduling and I’ve used it successfully for several years for planning out our school work.

But when my boys were reading better and were beginning to work more independently, my needs changed a little.

  • I wanted to be able to print them an easy to understand assignment sheet.
  • I wanted to save the lessons plans I was creating and use them for future children.
  • I wanted something that was intended for homeschool plans, not something I adapted to “make it work.”

Because we are a family addicted to Apple and Mac products, my choices were limited.

Web-Based Options

Homeschool Tracker and Scholaric are web-based, which mean you need an internet connection to view them. There are advantages to this, namely that your plans and grades are accessible from any device with internet and there’s nothing to download or update. These services are subscription based, which means you pay a monthly rate to use them.

Software Options

Olly and iPlan are downloadable one-time purchases. Olly is currently a Mac App with plans to expand with iPad and iPhone apps very soon. iPlan is only available on iPad or iPhone. It will sync with iCal. The updates are free, but you do have to remember to update!

To be honest, not being able to use iPlan on my computer seemed too limiting to someone who hasn’t completely given up her old-fashioned ways of using a laptop and I quickly nixed it. But if you mostly use your iPad, it’s a cheaper option than Olly.

After a few days of fiddling and inputting the same lesson plan into each service, I quickly identified my favorite.

I chose Olly for several reasons:

  • The interface made the most sense to me.
  • I don’t have to have internet access in order to see my lesson plans.
  • I can reuse my lesson plans and even duplicate them easily for my twins.
  • The assignment sheets it creates are color-coded and simple for my kids to understand.
  • I can keep up with grades and even create reports and transcripts easily.
  • Eventually, I will have access to Olly on my iPhone and iPad, too.
  • Olly was designed by homeschoolers for homeschoolers and their forums are extremely helpful. Any changes we suggested have already been implemented.

One important thing to note: Any of these programs will have a learning curve. Pick one program and stick with it.

None of these were immediately intuitive to me upon first glance. I invested just enough time in them to determine the features I liked, but I didn’t spend hours learning the ins and outs of each program.

Once I decided I liked Olly, THEN I took the time to completely understand the inner workings. It took a few weeks, but it was a good use of my time. Now I can make lesson plans, assignment sheets, and report grades in a matter of minutes each week.

Are you a Mac family? What do you use? Do you prefer web-based programs?

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site, LoraLynnFanning.com.


  1. We’re definitely a Mac family but we use Google calendars for our scheduling needs.
    Steph’s latest post: When you’re THAT mom

  2. I have to confess that I still keep my school lists in a Word document and printed out on paper. We love iPhone and iPad, though, so I might check into one of these options — the idea of having all your school on the computer (instead of printed out and then re-written every week) would be great for later record keeping.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Apple Pan Dowdy

  3. We currently use Google calendar, but I’m keeping this in mind as my planning needs grow with homeschooling.
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: Creativity: A Key Component to Fulfillment

  4. We’re a Mac family. I had no idea these options even existed! Thanks for sharing, Lora, because I could definitely use a better system for planning 🙂
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: The Future of the Internet

  5. We are a mac family too. Thanks so much for these recommendations. I’m going to check into them. Right now my son is just starting out on his homeschool education, and I’ve found it’s been very helpful to open him an e-mail address (it’s in my name). I send an agenda for the day to his e-mail every night, and we check it in the morning at the computer in the activity room (aka school room). I save the agendas in a folder, although I do a lot of other record keeping, so I probably don’t have to. I use a lot of free clip art so that it’s fun for him since he can’t read yet. It’s a great way to send links and other things I want him to see on the computer too, and family members can send him things to see that way too. But as the boys get older, I may need something more robust. Thanks!
    shelli : mamaofletters’s latest post: Homeschooling and Socialization

  6. Thank you! I didn’t know that those things were there as most things are not for a Mac still!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Menu plans

  7. This was very helpful! I currently plan on random notebooks and on my calendar but have been looking for a planning system to use on my iPad. After looking at iplan and olly, I prefer olly but really want to plan on my iPad. Do you have any idea when olly plans to release the iPad app?

  8. Mac family here, too! Since I’ve only got one homeschooler, and he’s still young, I’m using Evernote to keep up with what we do every day. It synchs to my iPhone, as well, so if we’re out I can add things without being on the computer.
    Angela’s latest post: This Week I…

  9. I use scholaric. I use it on iPad and computer. I probably will have to use something a little more comprehensive as my daughter gets older but it fits my needs perfectly right now. You do have to have Internet access to use but I’ve not had that be an issue as I plan at home.

  10. I use “Things” and print a sheet for each of my girls everyday for them to use as a checklist for their schoolwork. It has an integration for iPad, but I haven’t felt the need to purchase it. The computer version works fine for my purposes.
    Laura’s latest post: Brussels Sprouts with Bacon & Avocado

  11. I am just about to switch over to mac… this post came at the perfect time! Thanks!!
    robyn oakenfold’s latest post: 5 years old // just one

  12. We are a MAC family and I have used iCal the last couple years. I like that I can use it on my computer and iPhone. I also print out weekly list assignment sheets for each child.
    Olly sounds intriguing, so I’m off to check it out. Thanks for the suggestions!
    Paula’s latest post: Still a Loser

  13. I’d love to know if there are similar tools for PC families. We’re still on PCs and I do love organization!
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: Word Play

  14. Long time Apple girl here. I don’t like web based programs. I do like things I can add-to and sync between MacBook & iPad. I use mostly Numbers for my planning – a template I have set up for 6 – 6 week terms. I have tried many apps, and they haven’t worked for the way we do things. iHomework was the closest. I was also in process of switching my lessons into Bento (where I do all my business/ministry planning and such) but they are discontinuing Bento this year, so it isn’t a recommendation I can give to others.
    Lisa @ Me & My House’s latest post: Keeping Christ in Christmas

  15. I just got a iMac for my homeschool – so thinking of going digital — always been an old school kinda mom – paper and pencil. But would love to try OLLY or Homeschool tracker for grading and transcript easiness.

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