Grammar Sneak Peek!

Here are some screenshots of pages from my up-and-coming grammar curriculum for grades 2-6. During the 20+ years of teaching my children, I never found a grammar curriculum they or I loved. Everything was so borrrrrring and difficult to retain. Beowulf the Fox Terrier is going to change all of that….

If you’ve been looking for a new grammar curriculum, you’ll want to see this!

I’m working hard to get Beowulf’s Grammar finished by August or September of this year in time for the new school year!

A terrific addition to your homeschool…

It’s almost back-to-school time for those of you who don’t homeschool year round! I can’t believe how quickly the summer has flown by. Our youngest graduated this past May, so I’m not partaking in my usual summer curriculum shopping, but I thought I’d share one of the items that got a LOT of use in my homeschool over the years for those of you who are. It’s not often that I ever found one item that could literally last me years, but Startwrite is one of the exceptions. I certainly got my money’s worth from it! I hope my sharing this review will help some of you who are still putting things together for the up-and-coming school year!

Startwrite is a handwriting “worksheet wizard” that has so many applications (of which I’ll discuss more in detail later in this post). I used it from the time my kids were little and still needed to trace letters, all the way up until middle school when they still needed some handwriting practice and/or copywork.

I am a big believer in handwriting – not just neat print, but also cursive. Learning cursive has cognitive benefits that are important for learning success and brain development.

Here’s an excerpt from a NY Times  article:

… learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing. As a result, the physical act of writing in cursive leads to increased comprehension and participation.

Another article in Psychology Today talks about the biological and psychology benefits from learning cursive:

Handwriting dynamically engages widespread areas of both cerebral hemispheres. Virginia Berninger, a researcher and professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says that brain scans during handwriting show activation of massive regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory.

Another article states:

…scientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization,”[2] that is capacity for optimal efficiency. In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.

Studies have also shown that parts of the brain needed for reading are stimulated, and that writing by hand allows children to express more ideas and to produce words more quickly than they can when typing. Good handwriting activates more regions of the brain (associated with language, memory, and reasoning), and also has been shown to help improve learning difficulties like dyslexia, enhance auditory learning, and more! You can do a Google search for more info, if you are like me and love the science behind why cursive is so important to teach.

A lot of parents think it’s O.K. to forgo the time consuming process of teaching handwriting, especially cursive, as it’s just not “needed” in this age of typing and digital communication, but I strongly disagree. I think it’s a very important part of a homeschool, and made sure my children had plenty of opportunities to practice it.

So, now that I made my case as to WHY you should teach handwriting and cursive in your homeschool, I’ll share my love for the Startwrite program! Startwrite makes it really easy to get this important skill accomplished with the least amount of difficulty and cost.

For 39.95 (as of this writing), you can get Startwrite version 6 – the newest version of Startwrite’s software program. You can instantly download it from the website and have up and running in just a matter of minutes.

If you have an older version, you may be wondering if the upgrade is worth it. I think so! Version 6 has so many nice upgrades and is so much easier to use with many more options to truly customize your handwriting and copywork printables. You can click here to see the differences in a handy table.  If you already own an earlier version of the program, you can upgrade for a special price of $19.95.

Most handwriting workbooks run from about $10 to $14. Copywork books aren’t cheap either, and often you can’t find any that match exactly what you want to teach. If you have multiple children and want to have them learn and practice handwriting over several years, that can add up quickly! With Startwrite, you can make all of the handwriting sheets you will ever need for your entire family AND use it for other things like copywork for a multitude of subjects. That is a significant cost savings, plus you have the ability to totally customize what your children are writing / copying.

Before sharing how the program works and some of the great features, I’ll share some of the things I used Startwrite for in my homeschool.

  • Handwriting lessons and practice
  • Bible scripture copywork and memorization
  • Copywork for a variety of subjects like science, history, etc.
  • Spelling word practice
  • Character trait pages
  • Poetry memorization (copywork)
  • CHP Police Explorer code memorization worksheets
  • History & science notebooking – You can add in your own .jpg images to make some amazing notebooking pages!!

You can also use it to create some math pages with the clock and money fonts. See the screenshots for examples:

Various clock faces for telling time worksheets (some have a.m. and p.m. next to them to expand your options):

clock font

Coins – There are dimes, pennies, quarters, and dollars:

money fontquarters font

Counting items – There are math fonts that allow you to place numbers of items together for counting worksheets. You can get numbers in other fonts, too – not just how you see them depicted below.

math-02

Yet another option is to create phonics practice sheets. Startwrite comes with some free clip-art you can add to your worksheets in both color and black-and-white. You can also add in your own clipart and artwork by importing .jpgs, as you can in Microsoft Word and other word processing programs.

phonics clip art

You might be wondering if Startwrite is a good fit, if you’ve chosen a specific type of handwriting to teach your child. You’ll be happy to know the program comes with most of the well-known fonts that are featured in many homeschoolers’ favorite handwriting programs like:

fonts

There are also other fonts for those of you who are homeschooling “down under” like:

  • Victoria Manuscript and Cursive
  • Queensland Manuscript and Cursive
  • New South Wales Manuscript and Cursive

Last of all, there is a Palmer style manuscript and cursive. You also have access to your system fonts, just like any other word processing program.

Cursive fonts are a joy to work with in the program. They link up instantly and perfectly as you type with no additional steps you have to take like some other handwriting fonts  or programs for sale. I personally believe Startwrite is the EASIEST program to use for linking cursive. It also does (in my opinion) the nicest job. The fonts look terrific, smooth, and sharp when printed out, without any odd connecting letters as I’ve seen in some handwriting fonts trying to approximate D’Nealian cursive and other typefaces. I’m an artist /illustrator, so I’m picky about that sort of thing. Startwrite delivers. Please note that it does look sort of pixelated and junky (at least to my eyes) in the program preview, but once you print your worksheets out, they look beautiful.

Startwrite works like most word processors with lots of options for text, adding images, and much more. Open up the program and you’ll see this (I’ve loaded a lesson template):

startwrite review

Along the top borders you have everything you need to get going. You can choose if you want ruled lines and can change the colors of those lines. You can choose how you want those lines to appear (baseline? descender line? top line? etc.). It’s super-easy to add in pictures and to move things around on the page. You can add in borders, highlight areas you want your kids to pay extra attention to, and more.

You can choose your font and how you want that font displayed. Some of the options you have:

  • Stroke arrows
  • Beginning dot – where to start writing a letter
  • Letter outlines (to trace inside)
  • Decision dots
  • Connect-the-dots
  • Color letters

You can also choose the intensity and shading of the dots and letters.

The possibilities are pretty much endless. You are constrained to working within Startwrite’s software program, but the program is quite robust. It also comes with a variety of practice templates for handwriting already built in – a real time saver if you are just starting to teach handwriting. There are also some terrific videos on the website to get you up and running, if you are a visual learner.

Startwrite isn’t just for little kids! You can use it for your 6th grader with the sloppy handwriting, or for a teen who needs some additional handwriting or copywork practice, but is too old for 99% of the workbooks available for that purpose. Just type up some age-appropriate practice sheets and you’re older student will be on his/her way to improving handwriting skills, or working on grammar, punctuation, or other skills that may still need a bit of “brushing up”.

Startwrite is one of those resources I think every homeschool should have. I used my copy of the software for years for all sorts of purposes and ultimately saved a lot of money. I also loved how I could easily whip up some notebooking pages that had to do with exactly what we were studying with a minimum of effort!

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Startwrite, click here!

You can also click on the link above to get a free, fully functioning demo of the program! The above link is an affiliate link, so your purchase helps support Guest Hollow!

You can also sign up to become a Startwrite affiliate and receive 60% commission on all the sales through your blog or website. I know you homeschool moms like making a little extra $$, so I’m sharing that nifty tidbit in this review, as well. 😉

In other news, I have decided to start working on a non-math high school physics course sometime this late fall, followed by a 3 level American history program. I’ll keep everyone posted via my blog here, and over on my Facebook page!

Happy homeschooling!

English from the Roots Up

I ordered English from the Roots Up years ago and my big kids dabbled in it. Now Rabbit is using it on a regular basis.

English from the Roots up

 

English from the Roots Up is a vocabulary program that teaches students in grades 2 to 12 Greek and Latin roots as well as a variety of derivatives and their definitions. 100 roots are covered (63 Latin roots and 37 Greek roots) with an average of 6 to 8 derivatives per root. That’s at least 600 definitions that are so much easier to learn and retain because students are learning the roots the words are made from! It’s also easier to figure out unknown words. If you know a word’s root, you can have a much better idea of what it might mean, even if you don’t know the full definition.

The program is really easy to use. Each page looks something like this:

english from the roots up page example

 

Greek roots are lined in green and Latin roots are lined in red (red for the Romans?). The pictures of the cards represent the flashcards your students are supposed to create. However, many homeschoolers just use free notebooking pages and worksheets from online to accomplish the same thing. Rabbit fills out notebook pages and I create cards for her to study from. For kids who are really averse to writing or too little to write much, you can even purchase pre-made flashcards.

I really like this vocabulary program because it’s inexpensive, pretty open-ended and you can practice learning the words in a number of different ways by playing games, using flashcards, writing, reading and basically whatever works.

Here’s a game I played with Rabbit today to practice her root cards. Mr. Frog was trying to make it across the derivative cards to the root cards. If Rabbit got a word wrong, he fell off the card into the “water” and she had to start the line of cards over. If he made it all the way to the root card, Mr. Frog shared a few of his chocolate chips with her. Nothing like a little chocolate with your vocabulary!

roots1

 

roots2

English from the Roots Up is perfect for families with a variety of ages. It says it’s for grades 2-12 and I think that’s an accurate statement, although I’d recommend using a much slower pace for littles. Even I’ve learned a thing or two and Otter plans to make his own set of cards from the book sometime in the near future to supplement his other vocabulary studies. wink I  LOVE the fact that the kids are learning the tools to understanding & unlocking many of the “big” and more complicated words in the English language.

After using the first volume, we plan on starting volume 2!

Pros:

It covers a large assortment of Greek and Latin roots.
Learning vocabulary via roots engenders retention of word meanings.
It’s great practice for the SAT and other similar tests.
You can use it with almost any age.
It’s a very flexible program without any “busywork”.
It can be used over any time period – 1 year or so for big kids, 2 or more for younger students.
The program isn’t dumbed down for kids. It assumes they are smart enough to learn all of this, and they are!!

Cons:

It requires a fair amount of writing (copying), unless you purchase the flashcards which would take away some of the efficacy of the program because writing helps you learn the material.
Very young students may not be able to read all of the big words (Rabbit needs a lot of help as many of the words are beyond her reading level).
It requires teacher participation, except for older students who can manage on their own. You can’t just sit your child down with a workbook and go do something else.

If you are looking for a change in your vocabulary lessons and something different from the usual fill in the blank boring workbook, English from the Roots Up might be worth looking into!

Here are some free resources / printables to use the program. We are using the notebooking pages & tests and I plan on using the flashcards (for the games) as soon as a get a big package of cardstock to print them out on!

Cyncesplace has several terrific printables:

Schedule
Notebooking Pages
Flashcards and Games
Tests

Here are some other freebies & printables to use with the program from other sources:

Greek root word study notebook page
Latin root word study notebook page

Printable flashcards (just features the root word – you still have to fill them out)

Quizlet flashcards

Happy Homeschooling!

English for the Thoughtful Child

English for the Thoughtful Child
Many homeschoolers are drawn to materials that employ a Charlotte Mason style of learning. One text that employs that type of instruction is English for the Thoughtful Child, a gentle grammar and composition book that is simple to use with memorization assignments, oral and written compositions and practice exercises. Here’s my question though: why pay $14.95 when you can get the original for FREE?!

I’ve been on the hunt for free teaching materials and found the motherlode of freebies on Google Books. Many old texts that are coming “back into fashion” in the homeschool world are free for the taking (er, downloading). English for the Thoughtful Child is one of these, also known by its original title Lessons in the Use of English.

Lessons in the Use of English

I do understand why someone might want to purchase the updated version of the book. The “new” book is printed in a workbook style that you can directly write in. Some of the original text has been added to and revised (or so it appears) and the formatting has been changed to a more modern layout. You also don’t have to print any pages out and have the convenience of being able to hold a book in your hand. I commend the person who revised and edited the original in an effort to bring this quality text to homeschoolers who would otherwise never have known this book existed. If you want to hold this book in hand instead of fussing over a digital version, you can purchase it from Amazon.

However, I personally prefer the original book’s layout & look and if your child has access to a computer, tablet or e-reader there is really no need to purchase a physical book (that has to compete with your already overloaded bookshelves). Just buy an inexpensive composition book for any written exercises and you are good to go!

Take a look at a comparison of the new text and the old.

Click on this link and open up the Amazon preview in a new browser page so you can see a preview of the new text. Scroll through the table of contents until you see lesson 1.

Here is the same material from the original book:

englishlesson1

 

Now scroll down in the Amazon preview to page 2.

 

Here is the same material from the original (notice it’s missing the “exercise 2 in the new version and moves directly to lesson 2, which is on page 3 of the new version.

englishlesson2

 

I think the old version is more friendly looking and best of all, it’s FREE. If you are on a tight budget and just can’t afford to purchase the new version, you can still have access to this high-quality, lovely book!

I’ll feature another popular “modern” reproduction of an English text in a future post and share the links for the FREE version. Homeschooling doesn’t have to be expensive, especially in the early grades. There are a lot of things you can find with a search engine. wink

E-English Tutor

Writing tutor, english tutor

My daughter is starting an email tutoring service for English and/or writing in order to help her remain debt-free through her college studies. She has a lot of experience tutoring students of all ages (from elementary age through college), including ESL (English as a second language) and EFL (English as a foreign language) students.

She has a variety of course options available and will even help grade and/or edit writing on a per paper basis!

Please check her website out and keep her in mind if you are looking for someone to teach, tutor, mentor or assist your student(s) with writing!

Review of Marie’s Words – Vocabulary Flash Cards

Marie's Words Vocabulary Cards

I’ve been homeschooling for 17 years now and have seen (and probably used, lol) just about everything you can think of for vocabulary studies. One of our favorites over the years is the book Vocabulary Cartoons for the way it connects pictures to a word’s meaning. The negative about Vocabulary Cartoons is that it’s in a book format. It’s kind of hard to practice definitions when you can see everything (like the definition/answers) all together on the page.

Marie’s Words Vocabulary Flash Cards solves this! Fun illustrations are on the front of each card (about the size of an index card). Flip it over and you get the definition(s), pronunciation help, synonyms and antonyms. There is a total of 550 cards with words targeted for the SAT.

Marie's Words Vocabulary Flashcards

Look at all these cards! There are 550 to be exact.

The front of each card features the word you are learning along with an illustration to help you remember the meaning of the word. For example: the word viscous is drawn with a jar of honey being poured over the top of the letters V I S C O U S. You can see that the honey is clinging to the top of the letters and dripping down. It’s an immediate visual cue that really helps you remember that a viscous substance (like honey) has a thick, sticky consistency between a solid and liquid.

On the “hamper” card below you can see both meanings for hamper: something to hold dirty laundry and also the fact that the vehicle is being hampered from driving any further.

Marie's Vocabulary Words

The back of each card has several helps beyond just a definition (or several definitions if a word has more than one meaning).

vocab1

First, there is a number on the upper left corner. This is helpful if you want to alphabetize your cards. Ours are hopelessly out of order from using them so much, but if we ever wanted to put them back in order, these numbers would help tremendously.

Next, there is the word you are defining featured prominently at the top (which is nice if you are helping a child practice – you don’t have to look at the front of the card to see what you are doing) as well as a pronunciation help underneath. The pronunciation help is a great feature, especially for some of the harder and more unfamiliar words. For example: On the card for the word putrid the pronunciation help shows: pyoo-trid with the pyoo part in bold so you know to emphasize that syllable.

Underneath the word and it’s pronunciation help is the definition itself. Sometimes there is more than one definition if a word has more than one meaning. There is also a sentence for each definition so you can see the word in context. I find this really helps my son better retain the meaning. The sentence for the first definition (and most commonly used meaning) is related to the drawing on the front of the card to make it stick even more.

The last thing on each card are two boxes at the bottom. One contains synonyms and the other antonyms. These boxes do double duty. Not only do they expose you to even more vocabulary, they also help clarify the meaning of the word. Let’s say my son is learning the 2nd definition for the word “hamper” and he doesn’t know what impede or restrict means. He can look at the antonym box and see that the opposite meaning is to allow or permit. This not only helps make the definition more clear, it also connects it to other words and meanings. When he looks at the synonym box he can see the synonyms block and stymie. These words will either help him better define the word or will introduce him to additional vocabulary words he may not be totally familiar with. I find the synonym box to also be a huge plus in that it can allow a student to define the word using just one other word instead of a longer definition. Sometimes that just works better (and is quicker)!

I know these cards are being marketed for SAT study, but I think they are just as useful as a vocabulary program for almost any age (though some words and their definitions might be too difficult for some early elementary students). I’ve found that they are a fun break from using a workbook or something similar. They are easy to use, quick and memorable (and portable!).

Another thing I want to comment on is that I work with a child who has (high functioning) autism (Aspergers). This child sometimes has difficulty learning things out of context. Having Marie’s Words on hand instantly ties each word to something visual and more easy to connect to than just a word itself.

A student can easily use the cards on his own, but I find it’s more fun to use them together. We like to flip through them and quiz each other. Even I learned some words *blush*…

The only negative thought I have about Marie’s Words is the name. It’s not sticky. I think the cards should be called something like Visual Vocabulary or something similar. Ah well. That’s a very minor complaint and has nothing to do with the actual use of the cards themselves. Also, sometimes the definition is kind of difficult, but all you have to do is look at the synonyms to “dumb it down”.

I’ve had great success using Marie’s Words in my homeschool and highly recommend them if you are looking for something different to help you teach vocabulary. The illustrations really help the word meanings stick and turn learning vocabulary into something visual, quick, easy and even fun!

Click here to visit the official Marie’s Words website. You can also purchase them from Amazon and Timberdoodle. If you visit the official site, there is also an app available for the iPhone, iPad and Android!

Handwriting Fonts

Handwriting fonts

Handwriting font

Handwriting without Tears font
No matter which handwriting style you’ve chosen, if you want to make your own penmanship worksheets, you are going to need the correct font. Here are some places you can go to online to get a variety of fonts for your homeschool:

  • Startwrite $39.95
    I used to use Startwrite when I first started creating handwriting worksheets. It features fonts similar to all the major handwriting fonts (D’Nealian, Handwriting without Tears, Zaner-Bloser, etc.) plus additional features like clipart, colored ruled lines, letters that show arrows, dots, guides and more. I stopped using Startwrite because I like to work in other programs like Microsoft Word and Photoshop. Startwrite fonts can only be used within the Startwrite program. I also thought their Handwriting without Tears font was a teeny bit “off”, but that is only my own personal opinion and not a scientific observation!
  • Educational Fontware $49.95
    I currently use EF for all of my handwriting font needs. These are fonts that get installed on your computer as any other normal type of font. The CD of fonts also has small programs that get installed to link and unlink cursive letters. I like EF’s fonts because they are the MOST like the actual fonts used in handwriting workbooks. EF actually worked with Ms. Dubay to develop their version of the Getty-Dubay Italic. Although it’s a little more expensive than Startwrite, it’s more useful to someone who wants to use handwriting fonts across multiple computer programs.
  • D’Nealian Fonts FREE
    You can download some D’Nealian fonts at Fonts 101. These are fonts you install on your computer that can be used like any other font in all your different programs.
  • ZB FontsOnline Plus FREE (for the limited version)
    You can create worksheets online in both cursive and manuscript Zaner-Bloser font. The limited free version allows you to print your worksheets, but not save them. The paid version with more features, is 29.99 for a one year access. The online program adjusts the font size and ruled lines depending on which grade you choose in the options.
  • Fonts for Teachers 19.95
    You can order a CD that has 31 fonts that are D’Nealian style plus some extras.
  • Free Handwriting Fonts for Teachers FREE
    This About.com page features a variety of fonts, including some based on dots for early letter tracing. You won’t see anything like D’Nealian, HWOT or Zaner-Bloser here, but what you do find might do in a pinch if you want a manuscript style font and don’t care much about the exact style.

Having the appropriate font on hand really opens up options for making your own worksheets and can save money over time, especially if you have several children. Another great benefit to having a handwriting font on hand is that you can customize your children’s penmanship work. You can have them copy all kinds of sentences that have to do with their other studies like history, Bible memorization, sentences about character, science and even Latin!

*P.S. Prices listed are what each site had posted as of 8/8/2011 and may or may not be accurate when you read this!

Grammar Help Sheet

Grammar help sheet

We are currently using MCT (Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Curriculum) for grammar. Otter LOVES it. He loves the characters and the creative approach to what can sometimes be a boring subject. He liked the book Paragraph Town so much, he said he’d like to use it in his free time! We hit a snag though when we started working out of the Practice Town book. In that workbook, you are supposed to analyze a sentence and practice the concepts learned in Grammar Town. You mark the parts of speech for each word, parts of a sentence (subject, action verb, etc.), phrases and then clauses on four separate lines. Otter was having a hard time remembering everything he was supposed to write down. To help him remember all of the things we’ve been learning, I made him this grammar help sheet.

If you are a fellow MCT user, I hope you might be able to get some use out of it too!

Free Summer Reading Programs

Every summer, Otter participates in several free reading programs. It’s a nice opportunity to win some free books (or prizes), and I’m using it this year as a motivator to get him to read chapter books. Here are some we are looking into this year:

Don’t forget to also check out Pizza Hut’s Book-It program that starts up this fall! Registration is now open with a deadline of June 30th.

Grammar

Otter recently finished his First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, Level 4 workbook and…they don’t make any more levels for it yet. GASP. That means I had to find something else to use. I thought I was going to use Shurley English, as we’ve done in the past. But, ugh…we’re both tired of Shurley English. It works great, but I think we both want something a bit different. I finally made my choices. We are now using:

  • KISS Grammar – I love KISS Grammar. You learn to analyze sentences using classic literature. Here’s a great review that goes over the basics. Otter likes it too (we’re working through the 1st workbook). The lessons are short, enjoyable and FREE. Don’t be scared off by the website. There is a LOT of info there, but you can pretty much pick up and go if you download one of the workbooks.
  • Intermediate Language Lessons – This book was published in 1914 and was designed for 4th through 6th graders. I downloaded a free PDF from Google and am printing off the lessons as we go through them. It has picture studies, narration, poetry, dictation, outlining, composition, memorization, grammar and more presented in a gentle, engaging format. I am VERY pleased with it.

I feels great to find things that work for us that don’t cost anything! Oh! Oh! I also found this today (for FREEEEEE):

A Child’s History of Art by V.M. Hillyer

I’m looking forward to doing some art studies using it. Happy downloading!