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.
…scientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization,” 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):
Coins – There are dimes, pennies, quarters, and dollars:
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.
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.
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:
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):
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
- 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!
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!
Today Otter explored ratios and proportions using ETA’s Hands-On Math Standards book.
I handed Otter the bag of plastic square tiles and told him to pretend that each tile measures 1 square foot. I then asked him to build a pretend “porch” in the shape of a rectangle measuring 45 square feet. I told him it takes 3 pints of paint to paint his new porch.
I then asked him to figure out how much paint he would need for just 15 square feet. This is how he found the answer.
After that I asked him how much paint would he need if the porch measured 75 square feet! He figured he would need 5 pints.
After this activity and a worksheet from the ETA book we talked about changing proportions, like doubling a recipe for cookies. Proportions are now a crystal clear concept instead of a math term to be easily forgotten!
We’ll be doing a lot of hands-on math activities this year to really get ready for algebra next year. You can read about some of the resources I’m using this year in a previous post here.
It’s not often that Otter asks to do MORE math. However, after incorporating some recent hands-on pre-algebra activities into our summer studies, I’ve been hearing that quite a bit!
Transitioning from concrete math to the abstract can be a little tough for some kids. It doesn’t have to be though! Below are some of the resources I’ve used to help make pre-algebra not only tangible, but also fun.
Exploring Algebra and Pre-Algebra with Manipulatives is one of Otter’s summer favorites. Chock full of lots of activities, this book even comes with tear-out tiles you can use for some of the games. You do need to copy some of the pages though for things like the algebra dominoes, game boards, and activity sheets.
Otter was having trouble solving equations like “40 – 2X = 6”. Looking at rows of problems like that in his math text just made his eyes glaze over. After playing a game with some math dominoes, he was solving these types of problems like a pro and then asking if he could do MORE. After I picked my jaw up off the floor we played for about an additional 45 minutes or so.
Another big hit is The Hands-On Equations Learning System. I honestly think this is Otter’s favorite math “program” he’s ever used. Every time I pull it out he’s enthusiastic and his math confidence soars.
Basically the program takes something that is usually thought of as abstract and makes it totally concrete, helping to lay a terrific foundation for algebra. I really wish I had had access to something like this when I was a kid.
UPDATE: You can now get the Hands-On Equations Learning System via a set of apps and save a TON of money:
Hands-on Equations is so easy to use and understand. In the above picture, Otter is solving the equation 5X – 3X + 2 = X + 5. In this particular lesson he is learning to take away pawns as part of the set-up process. So, the first thing he needs to do is get rid of 3 pawns from the left (that’s the 5X – 3X part). Once he’s done that, he has things set up and is ready to solve the equation.
The next thing he would do is subtract one blue pawn from each side (because it’s a balance whatever you do to one side you must do to the other!). Finally, he would subtract 2 from both sides (get rid of the red 2 cube and replace the 5 cube with a 3) and come up with the final answer of X=3.
Afterwards he has to check his work. He checks it by looking at the original physical setup, NOT the original abstract equation. This way he understands the concrete meaning of the abstract equation.
The program comes with 3 levels of books and each step is spelled out visually to help you easily teach each concept. There is also the option to purchase DVDs, but the books were enough guidance for me.
I also order the Verbal Problems book that goes with the program. Using this book, he’ll be able to solve problems like the following by using hands-on methods that really help make the meaning and problem solving clear:
Dave had one package of cookies in his bag. Ed received 4 cookies from a friend on the bus to add to the 2 packages that his mother had packed for him. Andy did not eat breakfast that morning, so he had already eaten 2 cookies from his one package of cookies. Each package of cookies had the same number of cookies at the start. When the boys were ready to eat the cookies, they counted a total of 10 cookies. How many cookies were originally in each package?
You can purchase Hands-on Equations from Amazon or Rainbow Resource for around 35.00. It’s one of the best supplementary math purchases I’ve made.
Another hands-on pre-algebra resource I bought is ETA’s Hands-On Standards Math Online for grades 7-8. You can order physical copies, but I found it easier to use the online version which is basically PDFs you can print out as needed.
Each lesson has full-color lesson pages as well as black and white student pages to print out and work on. You can look at some of the sample lessons online for free. The only downside to the program is that you have to purchase a lot of manipulatives. Fortunately I already had some of the required items, but I had to search all over the ETA website for the rest of the ones I needed and the cost added up pretty quickly (over $100 bucks for the program and the manipulatives!). I also had to put in a special request for a single order of some algebra manipulatives as they only had a classroom sized set listed on the website. Because of this, I would recommend the other two previous resources, if you are looking for something that is inexpensive, quick and easy to implement your math studies. However, if you really need more, the ETA program is well put together with lots of different “things” to play with while you are learning math that help keep the interest level high.
Just because you’ve got a middle schooler or a high schooler doesn’t mean you have to stop using manipulatives! In fact, for some kids (like Otter), they really help foster a true understanding of higher level math. Pre-algebra doesn’t have to be boring and it doesn’t have to be hard!
courtesy of ExploreLearning Gizmos™
ExploreLearning.com has a free 30-day trial where you can have full access to their entire library of 450 Gizmos. The Gizmos are interactive math and science simulations that really help make learning concepts clear and easier to understand. ExploreLearning has a variety of Gizmos for grades 3-12 that cover topics like:
- Number and Operations
- Earth and Space Science
- Physical Science
- Life Science
Once you choose a grade range and category, you get to choose specific Gizmos to play with like some of these:
courtesy of ExploreLearning Gizmos™
When you choose the Gizmo you want you then have the option of choosing some of the available printables to use with it like a student exploration sheet, teacher’s guide, vocabulary sheet, assessment questions, etc. (each Gizmo will not necessarily have every option available). In the screenshot below you can see that this Gizmo on pollination has a printable student exploration sheet as well as a vocabulary sheet available. Available printables are highlighted in blue.
courtesy of ExploreLearning Gizmos™
The student exploration sheets are a terrific help. This particular one is 5 pages long with various questions, activities and specific directions to help your student get the most out of the Gizmo. They are totally optional though. Sometimes your student may just want to plunge into the Gizmo and “play”. Other times he may need more assistance or you may want him to get a bit extra out of the lesson. The student exploration sheets offer both. They also look good in a notebook and/or give mom some tangible evidence of the kiddo having done some actual work and gained some understanding.
courtesy of ExploreLearning Gizmos™
The Gizmos themselves are interactive. In this demonstration of cross pollination I’m moving some pollen grains from one flower to another. The activity continues with animation and more opportunities for interaction.
courtesy of ExploreLearning Gizmos™
I’ve used Gizmos in the past with Otter and found that they are excellent in making various concepts clear and easy to understand. Some of my favorite Gizmos are in the math section. Gizmos take abstract concepts and help make them concrete – something your student can “touch” and manipulate. I’ve found them to be a big help in supplementing Otter’s middle school math lessons.
Look at this Gizmo where you get to learn about square roots:
courtesy of ExploreLearning Gizmos™
Suddenly square roots aren’t just some abstract concept! You can SEE what a square root is instead of having it be scary, weird looking math term.
Anyway, I thought I’d pass on that ExploreLearning has a free trial. I know a lot of you are still ironing out curriculum choices for next fall and perhaps this might help a few looking for a boost in science and math. It also would make a great resource for some “summer learning fun”.
Click here to visit ExploreLearning’s website (www.explorelearning.com). You can also contact them toll-free at 1-866-882-4141. If you decide to order a subscription, be sure to ask them about a home account.
I recently finished scheduling out Otter’s 7th grade math (pre-algebra). For each lesson I linked to various videos, books, games, Khan Academy lessons, BrainPOPs and more to make things more interesting and fun! If you’d like to take a peek or use it as a template for your math, click on the one of the links below to download the Microsoft Word document.
math.doc (older versions of Microsoft Word)
math.docx (Microsoft Word 2007)
One of the challenges of homeschooling is finding a program that works for each child. Years ago, we used to plan things out like this: buy a program for the oldest, save it for the middle child and then pass it on down to the youngest. It was a good plan. A money saving plan! Something where I could count on having books on the shelf ready-to-go and milk every penny’s worth! However, that plan crashed and burned because, *gasp*, all three of my children have different learning styles and preferences. What worked for one, simply did not work AT ALL for the other. So, I have a lot of different programs. Bad for the pocket book, but good for when my youngest hits a wall and needs a new approach. It’s like a lovely buffet of homeschool curricula to choose from. A veritable catalog ensconced in pine shelves that I can pick from at the first sign of a mental obstruction.
However, even with a plethora of materials to choose from, sometimes, even still, NOTHING works. Like lately. Otter doesn’t understand fractions. Teaching Textbooks didn’t work. Math-U-See didn’t work. Singapore didn’t work. Life of Fred – nope, didn’t work. Websites – worked for a while, but very inconvenient. I tore through math curriculum, workbooks, worksheets, pdfs, online lessons, videos… trying to find the perfect program that didn’t rely on Otter memorizing rules. I needed something that took a visual approach since he’s not ready for the cognitive leap to the abstract. Yes, some of the programs I tried started out with a visual approach. However, they dropped it too quickly and left Otter confused. He needs lots and lots of practice with visual reminders of what he is doing and why. He also, for some goofy reason, seems to get it when fractions are presented as circles much better than when they are presented as bars. (????) Maybe imaginary cookies are more motivating? Oh wait, yesterday he was calling them “Star Wars shields”…
Finally, I found an answer: Math Mammoth Fractions. For just $9.50, I was able to instantly download 2 full size workbooks in PDF form with exactly the kinds of lessons Otter needs. The workbooks contain clear, self directed lessons with visual models of pie(s) all throughout the pages. There are also printable manipulatives at the ends of the books for kids who may need a more hands-on component.
Now Otter is successfully going through his fraction lessons without feeling frustrated. All is well in the land of homeschool math again!
You can check out more Math Mammoth workbooks and even sign up to download 300 free worksheets. There are all sorts of sample pages to look at, as well as videos and other helps.
I hardly ever blog about Bear. He’s such a big kid that there aren’t a lot of projects to take pictures of. However, I thought I’d share a gem that I found recently, in case it helps anyone else.
Bear “ran out” of homeschool math courses last year when he completed Calculus. While I waited for Life of Fred’s Linear Algebra book to become available, he messed around with various Art of Problem Solving books.
I was finally about to order Life of Fred, when I came across a textbook written by Dr. Jim Hefferon, a Professor of Mathematics at Saint Michael’s College. Not only can you download the entire text for FREE, but it comes with answers to the exercises. I also found some linear algebra video lectures from MIT. I’m really thankful that people share their hard work with others online. It’s such a blessing to our family.