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!

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!

 

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!

Want to make your own copywork and handwriting pages?

Do want to make your own copywork and handwriting pages? Check out these links:

  • ZB Fonts Online Wow! You can easily make some beautiful Zaner-Bloser templates to instantly print out for FREE. Just choose your parameters (grade level, cursive or manuscript), type in the text and press print.
  • My personal fave: StartWrite You have to purchase it, but StartWrite has lots of different handwriting fonts as well as flexibility and the ability to add art to your pages. Great if you are using HWOT!
  • Download a free cursive font or a manuscript font with lines at Donna Young’s site.
  • Educational Fontware Inc. – A little expensive, but you can use the fonts in various applications (unlike StartWrite).
  • WorksheetWorks.com – You can make worksheets to trace or copy. Only two fonts are available.

Handwriting Without Tears Paper

August 16, 2009

Handwriting without tears style paper

I use Handwriting without Tears with Otter. I usually use StartWrite to create handwriting or copywork sheets for him but I wanted a plain paper already made up that has light gray lines vs. the red and blue lines in the StartWrite program. I created a hwot style paper with lines that are 2/16″ apart (measured diligently in Photoshop, lol) so I can print it out anytime.

You can download it from the main notebooking page.

Another great place to get handwriting paper is Donna Young’s site.