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.


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:


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!




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!


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!!


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:

Notebooking Pages
Flashcards and Games

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!

Bible Lapbook and Notebook Pages

I have some new Bible lapbook and notebook printables posted to my site. Twenty-nine pages of activities cover a variety of subjects like purity, character traits, making right choices, etc. I’ve also uploaded some more Bible handwriting and copywork pages in several popular handwriting fonts such as Handwriting Without Tears, D’Nealian and more. Click on the image to go to the free downloadable printables. Feel free to pin the image below at Pinterest or share on your website!

Free Bible printablesP.S. I didn’t forget about posting part 2 to my “Sometimes Homeschoolers Worry Too Much About College” series of posts. I’ll hopefully get to that soon!


Countries and Cultures Lapbook File Fixed

Thanks to all of you who point out little errors on my site! I’ve fixed a broken file in my Countries and Cultures lapbook.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a preview of some of the pages.You can download them for FREE here on my website.







I have lots of other free printables available like handwriting pages, science printables, and even Handwriting without Tears style paper (scroll down for it)! You can check out even more printables I’ve created here.

More Botany Printables and Botany Tests / Quizzes are posted!

I’m working on creating interactive, online quizzes to go with each chapter of the Botany For Dummies book and have just received permission from the publisher to post them on my site. Thank you John Wiley & Sons, Inc.!

These tests are designed to be used “open book” as I sometimes refer to figures or illustrations in the text. The quizzes are designed to not only help assess understanding, but to also help a student learn how to find the answers to questions he doesn’t know by learning how to skim chapter headings and so on. This is an important skill for high school and beyond! Each test has a little humor sprinkled here and there to make it a teeny bit more fun.

Each quiz is self-grading and has feedback and hints for some of the answers.

Click here to look at the botany quizzes and tests!

I’ve also completed a few more notebooking pages for my botany curriculum:

This blank sheet (a filled in example is shown above) is for recording the various plants and flowers we’ll be learning about this year. You can choose from an editable page that can be filled out on your computer or one to print out and fill in by hand.

These pages will make a nice scrapbook of plants and flowers and help you learn to easily identify them out in the world!

I’ve also created a 10 page printable to practice taxonomy as well as a little box to construct and store all the taxonomy printable project pieces in.

Click here to go to my botany notebooking page to download any of the above.

Quite a few of you are joining me this year in studying Otter’s Botany. I hope you all have a wonderful year!

Otter’s Botany Curriculum Notebooking Pages

I’m currently working on creating notebooking pages to help my son retain what he will be learning in botany this year. All answers to these notebooking pages can be found in the Botany For Dummies text. All the pages are in PDF format. I’ll post more sets of notebooking pages as they become available. I’m also creating some interactive tests and quizzes, but am waiting to see whether they can be posted online or not.

Chapter 1 Botany Notebooking Page
This printable page highlights the many ways plants are useful.Botany notebooking page chapter 1
Chapter 2 Plant Cell
Draw and label the plant cell parts based on figure
2-10 from the text.botany notebooking page
Chapter 2 Lift the Flap 3 Domains Base Sheet
Learn about the 3 domains. Copy the book’s text explanations underneath each flap.botany notebooking pages
Chapter 2 Lift the Flap Cut & Paste Page
Cut out the tree parts for the 3 domains printable.botany notebooking page
Chapter 2 Plasma Membrane
Make the parts and jobs of the plasma membrane memorable with this printable!botany printable
Chapter 2 Lift the Flap Cell Parts & Jobs
Create a lift-the-flap on colored paper to help retain the parts of a cell and the various organelle jobs.botany lapbook page
More to come!

Free notebooking pages

I like to use notebooking pages with Otter. We often use them for history or science to summarize the things he’s learning. At the end of the year we have a beautiful portfolio that’s fun to look back on!
Here is a free package of notebooking pages for Ancient Egypt and Africa that are available this week from Currclick. Click on the image to go to the download. This download is available for a limited time only so grab yours while you can!

Ancient Egypt Notebooking Pages

How to Convert Metric Numbers Help Sheet

Otter was having trouble understanding how to convert metric numbers so I made a help sheet for his math notebook. If you’d like to download it, click on the picture below.

convert metric numbers

Timeline Figures Template & Sample

I’ve been working on making timeline figures for Otter’s timeline notebook. I thought I’d share the template with everyone else with a sample of how it works. Feel free to download and use to make your own timeline figures for any period of history.
It’s easy to clear the template for your own use. I’ve included instructions on how to do that quickly (1 click!) for Microsoft Word and Open Office users.

Timeline figure template in .doc format

Timeline figure template in .docx format

Timeline figure template in .odt (Open Office) format (This template has a few differences than the Microsoft template. I had to adjust a few things. Also, shapes and text boxes from Word don’t show up in Open Office. However, the main parts of the template should work fine. I have no way of checking though if the embedded font worked at the top of the page!)

Timeline figures template
A little bit more about timelines…

I’ve found that a timeline is a very wonderful tool for not only seeing the big picture of history, but also as a way to help foster the retention of everything we’ve studied. As Otter thumbs through the pages of his timeline notebook, he’s able to see how everything fits together AND at the same time review all of the wonderful books we’ve read since we paste the covers in on a regular basis. Timelines don’t have to be tied to your history classes. You can also paste in scientists and achievements from your science curriculum, artists (and even the works they created), composers from your music studies and novels you read for literature, if they fall into a historical time period. If you get your children into the habit of pulling out their timeline on a regular basis for a variety of school subjects, they’ll start to really understand how things fit together in the past. Also, when they finally graduate, they will have a lovely scrapbook featuring their many learning adventures over the years!

Latin Help Sheet

We are getting ready to wrap up our year with Lively Latin Big Book 1. This is the first program where we’ve actually experienced Latin success that goes beyond vocabulary! I LOVE it. This is one of my favorite finds in years. Seriously. I’m not a Latin failure anymore! smile

One of the things I did to make our year easier was create a Latin help sheet that covers all of the main lesson concepts and then lists vocabulary. Neither one of us likes to flip through Otter’s huge notebook of printed papers to hunt down a lesson, so we just pull out this sheet instead and have the answer in seconds. “Magistra” Catherine Drown generously granted me permission to share it (as it contains some items from her much more detailed lessons), so here it is:

Lively Latin Help Sheet PDF

Lively Latin Help Sheet Doc (You can change/tweak it to suit what you need to focus on)

Each file is 8 pages long with the first 3 pages containing “lesson” helps and the last 5 list the vocabulary from the entire program broken into categories (adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, nouns, verbs, etc.).

Latin help sheet