Feb 202016

As a new homeschool mom, I wasn’t always confident that I was doing things “right”. Looking back on those early years, I think I pushed too hard sometimes. And then at other times I didn’t push enough. (I tend to swing between extremes.) I wondered if David was reading enough. Was his handwriting too messy? Were we spending enough time doing school? Were we spending too much time? What about math drill?

Enter Anna, child number 2, and I began to feel a little more confident. She was a dream child to homeschool. In kindergarten she would get her own workbooks out and do them herself without me even asking her to. So I pretty much let her. With a difficult to teach older brother and a 3 year old younger brother, it was about all I could do anyway.

Since I didn’t often sit with her watching her work, it took awhile for me to notice that she was holding her pencil incorrectly . It wasn’t horrible, but I was determined to correct it. Since she was left-handed, it was difficult for me to demonstrate a proper grip, so I went to the local education store and purchased a pencil grip that I found there.

I tried to get her to use the pencil grip, but she didn’t like it. I tried to show her how to use it, but I had a very hard time figuring it out myself. We did figure it out, but it felt awkward.  Plus it was hard and uncomfortable. That was pretty much the end of working on her pencil grasp. She’s almost 16 now, her grasp is functional, but her hand gets tired with too much writing.

Recently I received a collection of products from The Pencil Grip, Inc. to review. There are 3 different grip shapes and a child can transition from one grip to the next, allowing his hand to get used to the slightly different position. The grips are soft and more intuitive to hold then the different one we tried 10 years ago.

pencil grip

The 3-Step Grip Training Kit begins with the Crossover Grip (pictured in green on the left). This grip stops fingers from crossing over. Its shape is described as a “Superhero cape” to help encourage children to use the grip.

The next step is the Pinch Grip (in the center). This grip goes a step further and serves as a intermediate point between the crossover grip and the final step which uses the Original Grip.

The Original Grip is suitable for training all children to use the tripod grasp for writing. Using the grip can help prevent the development of bad habits.

All 3 grips can be used by either right handed or left handed children. They can be used to help correct a child with an incorrect grip, or train a young child who is beginning to write to avoid developing a bad habit.

I will be using these with Andrew, my 5 year old, as he begins formal writing lessons this fall. I am also encouraging Anna to see if they help keep her hand from tiring as quickly. I don’t think the Superhero Cape will help encourage her much though.

The Pencil Grip, Inc. sells their products on their website and on Amazon.com. If you’re concerned about the way your child is holding a pencil, I recommend trying them out.

Disclosure: I received a free set of pencil grips in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own. I am not an Occupational Therapist and do not have training in proper pencil grasps.


Jun 192014

Third Grade Curriculum

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

It is hard for me to believe that my baby girl will be in the 3rd grade this fall! Lizzie is, for the most part, a cooperative student. She grasps new concepts quickly, and she doesn’t mind writing things down. She liked having her own school desk in the living room this year and did well with most of the curriculum, so we’ll be continuing on with much of the same for her third grade curriculum.

Third Grade Curriculum MathMath

She is a natural at math and enjoys it. Singapore and Miquon have been a great fit for her. She’ll be working in Singpore 3A and 3B as well as the final two Miquon books: Yellow and Purple.

Third Grade Curriculum Language Arts

Language Arts

I love All About Spelling. It’s super easy to use and works well for both the natural speller and the struggling speller. Lizzie will be using Level 3 this fall.

I have fallen in love with Memoria Press Literature guides. She worked through most of the 2nd grade ones this year and will be starting with Mr. Popper’s Penguins in the fall. Then we’ll be using Farmer Boy, The Moffat’s and Charlotte’s Web. All great books!

For handwriting, she’ll be using New American Cursive 3 also from Memoria Press. She has done amazingly well. This is the first time I’ve strayed from Handwriting without Tears. I like the appearance of New American Cursive so much better!

Rod & Staff English is a favorite in our house. With her literature lessons and Latin studies, she really doesn’t need the complete course. I’ll be using it as a supplement though.

Third Grade Curriculum Latin and BibleLatin

I have become a fan of Memoria Press Latin series after initially rejecting it for my oldest son. (I’m still not sure that was a bad decision. Different children learn best with different approaches.) I like the no-nonsense approach of Memoria Press. Lizzie finished Prima Latina this year and will be moving on to Latina Christiana I.


I’m trying something new this year. We’re starting Classical Academic Press’s Bible curriculum called God’s Great Covenant – Old Testament 1. We haven’t started of course, but I think Lizzie and William are going to like it.  I’ll give a more thorough opinion after use.

Now this leaves the things that I have really struggled with getting done. History and science require more time and effort from me. I really like the resources that I own and I want to give myself another chance to make it work. I am planning on making these as low key as possible, but I don’t feel like I can continue to ignore these subjects with my younger students. I hope to keep these as simple as possible.

Third Grade Curriculum History and ScienceHistory

We will be reading The Story of the World Volume 1. I own the audio version as well, so I may not actually be doing the reading. Along with that we’ll be using the activity guide for note booking exercises and I am hoping to implement a “book basket” with related resources for independent reading time.


I’m sticking with my old favorite Apologia Elementary here too. We’ll be working through 1 or more of the zoology books next year. I will have a book basket with more titles there as well.


Jun 062014

Homeschool Kindergarten Curriculum

I had the opportunity to talk with a friend at church who will be beginning to homeschool her oldest son for kindergarten this fall.  She was interested in hearing my recommendations for homeschool kindergarten curriculum. In my opinion, kindergarten should be kept simple. For formal school I recommend phonics, handwriting, and math. This conversation occurred several years ago, but I revisited this post and found my recommendations are still the same.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


So far I’ve taught 4 kids to read and I’ve used 3 different phonics programs, plus some on-line resources.

Alpha Phonics – This spiral bound book is a simple, no-frills phonics program. The pages are white with handwritten style lettering. The text uses word families to teach reading. For example, the student would learn -at, then add letters to the beginning of -at to make cat, hat, fat, mat, and bat.  In addition to word lists, there are pages with sentences throughout the book. (Read my complete review.)

Phonics Pathways – This is also a simple phonics program.  There are cartoon drawings on many of the pages. This book teaches reading using syllables and spelling patterns. Instead of learning -at with an m in front is mat,  Phonics Pathways begins with teaching the syllable ma- then adding a -t to the end.

Happy Phonics – For William I had to think differently, because he is so different from my older children. First, he wasn’t really overly interested in learning to read. Second, he doesn’t sit still very well. When I tried the first 2 books with him, I couldn’t even get him to focus on the page. After doing a little research, I discovered Happy Phonics. Happy Phonics consists of lots and lots of colorful games, cards, and small booklets to learn phonics. For the first time, I was able to get my son to look at the letters. It definitely requires more teacher prep than the other programs -the program comes printed on cardstock, with all the cutting to be done by the teacher – but it was a worthwhile investment for us. This program uses mainly the word family approach to reading.

Explode the Code – I used this fun workbook program with William in addition to Happy Phonics. I also used Explode the Code with Anna as a supplement to Phonics Pathways and with Lizzie as a supplement to on-line programs. These workbooks provide excellent reinforcement to the phonics concepts being taught in most phonics programs. They have funny line drawings and silly sentences. These books require the student to write. There is also on on-line version available.

Ideally, I would have used either Phonics Pathways or AlphaPhonics with Lizzie. But I never got a chance because she already knew how to read! She did use 2 different on-line programs. I think that she learned to read with those along with her natural readiness to learn. I’ve heard of children teaching themselves to read. I would not go so far as to claim that, but she’s definitely come the closest. She used both Reading Eggs and Reading Kingdom. Links are to my reviews of those programs.



Handwriting without Tears – This is the only handwriting program I’ve ever used for kindergarten. Designed by an occupational therapist, the approach to writing is very logical and sequential. Each letter is broken down into its component parts, and similar letters are learned together. All the capital letters can be written using long lines, short lines, small curves, and large curves. The basic program consists of a workbook and a slate. There are many additional accessories that are available and I’ve added to our collection over the years. I especially liked the wooden letter pieces for William. He used the letter pieces and the letter cards and learned all his letters in about a month.


Earlybird Kindergarten – I used this math program with William. (Not exactly this version, this is the new U.S. Standards version.) The text contains colorful pictures and is a fun introduction to numbers, counting, shapes, addition, and subtraction. I used the textbooks alone without the teacher’s guide.

Miquon Math – For David, Anna, and Lizzie, I used Miquon Orange for their math curriculum in kindergarten. This is a unique program, that is discovery based. It makes extensive use of Cuisenaire Rods. They all both loved this program. William really loves using the rods, but there are some portions of Miquon that I have found to be too abstract for him.

Miquon Orange is technically a first grade program, but I used it is conjunction with Singapore 1A to ensure that we thoroughly covered beginning concepts before encountering too advanced problems. Using both programs allowed for variety at a slower pace.

Singapore 1A
– Singapore Math is a math program that stresses understanding of mathematical concepts from the beginning. Story problems are introduced early and are very thoroughly taught. I use both the textbook and workbook, but have not invested in the teacher’s guides.


Add in a library card and a variety of books, and you have everything you need for kindergarten. Here’s a list of great picture books from the 1000 Good Books list.

But, if I were starting again with my oldest child in kindergarten, I would probably also add Five in a Row. I didn’t use it when we were starting out, but had an opportunity to review it with my younger son this past year. It is a unit study curriculum revolving around terrific picture books for younger children. You can read my complete review here.

May 242010

Handwriting is simple to teach. You just hand the kid a pencil and paper, show them how to form the letters, and then it’s just a matter of practice, right? Maybe that’s true some of the time, but some children will never be able to write without a lot of effort, if they’ve learned to write by visually copying models.

I have always used a handwriting program with my children as they’ve learned to write. The one that I have used actually did emphasize the strokes, but I didn’t really understand the importance of the strokes until I had a conference with Rand Peterson, the creator of the Peterson Directed Handwriting system. Handwriting needs to be automatic. If a child has to think about how to form each letter, then it will be a very laborious process writing words.

The Peterson Directed Handwriting curriculum emphasizes internalizing the letter strokes. New strokes and letters are first practiced in the air using large muscles. Then the student traces the letters with his fingers while saying the motion. Finally the student writes the letters again while reciting the motion. The end result is fluent handwriting.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you probably know that it has been a big struggle teaching my 8 year old son just about everything. Reading has been particularly difficult and after much research, I am fairly certain that he is dyslexic. He has also struggled with writing and I’ve seen very little improvement with time. After talking to Rand, I realized that among other things, he was gripping his pencil too tightly and was writing too slowly in an effort to copy the letters.

So we started with a fluency test. For the test, I instructed him to write as much of the alphabet as he could for 1 minute.  (I neglected to mention that I meant lower case.) He does know his alphabet well, so he did not waste time having to think of the next letter. Here are his initial results.

I knew it would be bad, but not this bad. It’s difficult to believe that he has been working on handwriting for almost 3 years!

I started using Peterson Directed Handwriting and did another fluency test after 11 school days.

I know it’s not terrific, but the improvement was a tremendous motivator for both of us. We continued with the program for 14 more school days and he took this fluency test.

This is a different type of fluency test using words. Again, the improvement I see is very exciting. He was able to write many more letters than either of the previous tests.

I am very excited to have found a program that really seems to be helping my son learn to write. I will definitely be continuing to use Peterson Directed Handwriting with him.

Do I think that every child needs this handwriting system? Probably not.

Do I think that every child could benefit from this method? I think most children could benefit from this method. However, I think that some children internalize the letter strokes naturally, but for those that haven’t, this is a very valuable teaching method.

We have been using the PDF version of Peterson Handwriting. This is available for $19.95 per level on the Peterson website.

*Stay tuned for how I’m using Peterson Directed Handwriting to retrain my left-handed daughter who has a terrible pencil grip. So far she’s been resistant to change, but I’m hoping to work on her pencil grip over the summer when she doesn’t have much writing to do.


Disclosure: This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are our own.

Apr 192010

Alphabet Beats is a unique, DVD  program designed to teach young children to write the alphabet. There are 2 DVD’s: one for uppercase and one for lowercase. The DVD is divided into  5 minute segments for each letter. Each segment begins with Miss Marnie teaching the proper formation of the letter with a picture, her finger, and a chant. This is repeated several times, followed by a short interlude with things that start with the letter. Next, Miss Marnie moves to a chalkboard where she writes the letter while saying the chant a total of 6 times. After another short break looking at objects that start with the letter, the final segment involves Miss Marnie writing the letter on paper with a marker.

I received the Uppercase letter DVD to review and have been using the program with my 3-1/2 year old daughter. While I personally find Miss Marnie to be just a little too perky, my daughter absolutely LOVES the video and asks to learn a new letter almost every day. The chants are memorable and are repeated enough in the segment for the child to memorize them. Just last night she picked up a book that had capital letters in the title and began tracing them with her finger while saying the chants. In addition, my 8 year old son likes the video and gets upset when we watch it without him. However, he is immature in many ways. I do not think a typical 8 year old would like these at all. Also, I don’t think my older children would have liked them much when they were little. They were never very big on repeating anything that they heard on TV. I remember when they watched Dora and she said, “Say Map! Say Map!” they would both look at me with a look that said, “She has got to be kidding Mommy. There is no way I’m going to talk to the TV!”

I think these videos are a terrific way to teach proper letter formation. Whether or not your child would enjoy them is going to depend on the individual personality of the child. I think that my older children are more of an exception, and that most 3-5 year olds would enjoy these videos.

The DVD’s are available at The TV Teacher.com and cost $35 each.

Disclosure: This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are our own.