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!


Otter is keeping a chemistry notebook. Inside he’s keeping track of some of the experiments we’ve done using this lab report. He’s also doing some notebooking pages, lapbook elements glued onto colored paper and other printables. When he’s done with chemistry, he’ll have a nice notebook to browse through and remember the various projects he completed. Here’s the cover I made to slip into the front:

Chemistry notebook

Here are some of the assignments he’s already entered into it:

This was a project from Christian Kids Explore Chemistry. Otter took a look at the ingredients of various items and wrote them down to see how “chemistry is in our home”. He noticed how some of the items had the same chemicals.


In the 2nd week of our study, he learned about chemistry tools, safety and measurement. I made him this lab sheet to record the data from a hands-on activity from C.K.E.C. . Otter learned that when you pour liquid from one container to another, eventually it affects the measurement. He also learned how to measure from the meniscus of the liquid.

Chemistry worksheet

Here’s a cut & paste vocabulary activity I downloaded from middleschoolscience.com.


He also made these lapbook booklets about the scientific method and pasted them onto colored paper:

chemistry lapbook

Here’s another cut & paste activity that helped define solids, liquids and gas:

solid, liquid, gas

I’m also making use of BrainPop, one of our favorite online activities. I found this printable to go with the movie about solids, liquids and gases.


He also did some fun lab safety papers with a Sponge Bob theme. You can find the teacher’s notes here.

Sponge Bob science

Here’s an activity he did examining various compounds and mixtures:

chemistry worksheet

Otter isn’t just learning about chemistry. He’s still exploring other science interests, such as astronomy, on a regular basis. He pulled out this kit we forgot to do when he was studying WinterPromise’s Sea & Sky program and completed it the other day. He looked up the actual positions of the planets from this site, to make sure every planet was in its place.
Woe to the big brother who might move one of them out of the proper orbit!

Solar system kit


The other day we read about plasma globes and did some experiments. Here are the pics. Warning: I’m not recommending you do what we did! These experiments could be dangerous and we were referencing websites and videos such as this one. In other words, don’t try this at home.

Otter got a fluorescent light bulb to light up, just by holding it near the plasma globe:

Plasma globe and light bulb

If you put a penny on top and then touch the penny with a nail, you can see a small arc of electricity:

plasma globe

Super close up of the above:

plasma ball

Otter also got an LED light from his Snap Circuits kit to light up just by touching it to the plasma globe:

plasma globe and led

We also recently split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Dad put a lit match to the hydrogen we collected and we all got to hear a POP!

Another experiment Otter did was to figure out how to separate salt from sand:


Other recent things we’ve done in chemistry:

  • Learned about hydrogen
  • Distilled salt water
  • Watched an acid reaction
  • Put up a periodic table poster
  • Learned about lab safety with Sponge Bob
  • Learned about controls and variables
  • Went on an elements scavenger hunt
  • Learned about Antoine Lavoisier

I think Otter is in science heaven lately. Chemistry is full of fun experiments and explorations.

For history, Otter made some ancient Greek honey cakes:

Honey cakes

Famous Figures of Ancient Times

Famous figures

I ordered this book: Famous Figures of Ancient Times: Movable Paper Figures to Cut, Color, and Assemble, because I wanted to help Otter remember some of the people we are studying this year. I wasn’t sure if it would really be worthwhile to make the figures in the book, but after making two of them (Narmer and Sargon the Great), I’m really glad I scheduled this in.

The book has figures of famous people throughout ancient history to cut out and assemble. You have a choice of cutting out figures that are already colored, or ones that are black and white that you can color yourself. I really like having that option! Each figure has moveable joints and the name of the figure on the back. The front of the book has a short summary of each person and his accomplishments.

Otter cut out the figures while I did our read-alouds. Afterwards, he acted out little bits of our history lesson. We put each figure into a plastic sheet protector in his history notebook when he was done playing with them.

Otter remembers who each person is SO MUCH better than if we had just read about each one of them. Each figure is a concrete reminder of what he’s been learning about.

Here’s a blurry picture of King Narmer hanging out in Otter’s History Pocket:

King Narmer

Here’s Sargon the Great (who was accosted by King Narmer’s flail as he traipsed across Otter’s desk, lol):

Sargon the Great

I’ve scheduled in the remaining figures to complement our studies from Mystery of History and Story of the World as we go along through the year.

The author is coming out with more books in the future and I plan on getting them! Check out her website to see more figures, an example of the biographies from the front of the book and some additional titles that are coming soon.

Ancient History – Week 3

We are in our 3rd week of studying ancient history and really enjoying ourselves. The Mystery of History is making a terrific spine. The lessons are short (usually about 10 minutes or so), Biblical, easy to understand for my 5th grader and very informative (enough to keep me interested, as well as Otter). You can take a look at a free sample at the MOH website. I like it that I can cover the main part of our history lesson in such a short time and then leave the rest of what I’ve scheduled as gravy.

The Story of the World is also making a great compliment to MOH. I’m glad I decided to do them together. The Mystery of History is giving me a Biblical based account of history, while SOTW is adding in a “story” element to it all that is memorable.

Here’s a map Otter completed after reading about Shamshi-Adad of the Assyrians in The Story of the World. The map is from the activity book.

Story of the World map

After reading about the Tower of Babel in The Mystery of History, he made a mini-booklet that summarized the story. You can get it for free from Gospelhall.org.

He’s also doing some notebooking. I got the page on the right here (scroll down the page) and the one on the left here. Otter is using the pages to write down short narrations of the things I’m reading out loud to him. At the end of studying ancient history, he’ll have a nice portfolio of the things we’ve covered.

notebooking pages

In History Pockets, our lesson today was about frontalism. After looking at some examples from the History Pocket book, as well as online, Otter used the Ralph Masiello’s Ancient Egypt Drawing Book to help him draw in this ancient style.


Last week in History Pockets he made a small timeline featuring some main events in Egyptian history.


I’m glad I chose to use History Pockets this year to compliment our studies. The activities are a good overview of Egyptian basics. I didn’t want to bother with trying to plug in lapbooks this year and I wanted something a little hands-on that would still leave us plenty of time for other activities. History Pockets is really working out for us.

However, if you prefer lapbooks, here are some that are free:

Otter’s latest…

Here are some pics of things Otter has worked on lately.

His WinterPromise Viking shield notebook page:

Viking sheild

He also continued working on the viking lapbook we started a couple weeks ago. We are a bit behind in it, but that’s the nice thing about homeschool – it doesn’t really matter!

He pointed out to me that the I in the middle booklet wasn’t originally capitalized. He “fixed” it and said, “Mom, maybe you ought to tell WinterPromise they made a mistake.” I informed him that WP didn’t make the lapbooks but that they are extra elements I scheduled in. He exclaimed, “What?? You mean all the fun stuff isn’t really WinterPromise??”

I had to remind him of all the great books and other activities we’ve been doing lately that ARE WinterPromise.

Viking lapbook

This week we are reading these books during our “adventure reading time”:




The Strange Intruder

The Strange Intruder

Otter doesn’t really like Stowaway because the story is in a “journal” style with daily/weekly entries. Here is an example from p. 58:

” Saturday 4th …Mr. Banks is unwell, and Mr. Perry says it’s the scurvy, the disease Captain most fears. I helped Surgeon Monkhouse prepare for Mr. Banks a drink the doctor calls a rob, made from the juice of lemons and oranges.”

I’m going to continue with it as it gives a good account of what it was like on Captain Cook’s ship voyaging around the world in the 1700’s. The story is fiction, but it’s based on actual journal entries and is about real people, including the main character, an 11 year old boy. I don’t blame Otter for not liking it though. Despite winning awards and getting good reviews, it is a bit slow and sometimes slightly tedious.

He likes the other book, The Strange Intruder much better probably because the writing style is a bit more action oriented. WP scheduled it as a reader, but I’m actually reading it out loud.
We got totally sidetracked and looked up the Faeroe Islands (where the story takes place) on Google Earth and then ended up watching a 20 minute video on YouTube. What a neat place! The Faeroe islands were settled by the Vikings a thousand years ago and look like a place out of a fairy tale with sod roofed houses, etc. I like being able to take rabbit trails!

We had an experiment to do in our Awesome Ocean Science book last week. We took two tuna cans, made a mark on them with waterproof marker in the same location and placed them in two same sized bowls. Then we put ice on top of one can (simulating a glacier) and put ice directly into the water around the other can (simulating ice bergs). After this, we filled the bowls with water up to the marks on the cans. Otter had to guess which water level would rise the most after all the ice had melted. You can’t really tell by the picture, but we started out with about an equal amount of ice in the two bowls.


Otter was surprised to see the bowl with the ice on the TOP of the tuna can caused the water to rise the most. Thus he learned that melting glaciers would cause more of a sea level rise than melting ice bergs.

In math Otter is working on multiplying 3 digit numbers.

Teaching Textbooks

He enjoys the fact that Teaching Textbooks is on the computer. I enjoy the fact that it’s all pretty much self contained. Besides the occasional clarification by me on something that isn’t absolutely clear to him, he pretty much “gets” each and every lesson with little or no help. The only problem he’s having with his current lesson is that he keeps forgetting to multiply the third number on the bottom.

Printable Passport and Butterfly Notebooking Page

Otter’s science has been updated and a new Microsoft Word document created for those of you with older copies of the software. I consider it pretty much finished, except that as we work through the materials this year, I will likely tweak things here and there. There are also just a couple of books that don’t have page listings scheduled in because I haven’t received them yet.

I’ve really enjoyed getting emails in from those of you who are planning to use Otter’s Science! For those of you who are making alternate schedules, let me know if you’d like to share and I’ll post your alternative plan(s) for everyone else.

Here’s a preview of some more new printables posted:

Pretend printable passport Pretend printable passport
I made this pretend passport to use with CAW. The PDF has 3 pages to print out: a cover, an info page and blank pages for your country stamps. Click here to access it.

Notebooking printable butterflies

I offered to make a friend a notebooking page for her daughter. This is what was requested and here it is for everyone else! Visit our notebooking printables that feature “illustration boxes” to download it.

March update

Long time no blog! We were all very sick. In fact that was the sickest I can ever remember being since I was a child! Both of the boys had pneumonia after having the flu. We were all hacking and coughing but thankfully we’re all better now and back to our normal lives – like doing school!

Here are some of the things Otter is working on:

Barton Reading & Spelling Program

We are back into using the Barton Reading and Spelling program. Otter was having some problems with spelling and reading. With spelling he would “decorate” with letters, add in letters that are not sounded in the word or mix up the proper letters. For example he would spell bird as brid, noises as noseses, spider as sipter, black as blake, bowl as blole, etc. After reading about some of the things he’s been doing I started thinking about and investigating the possibility of Dyslexia. We are in the process of getting him tested and (so far) it doesn’t look like Dyslexia is the problem after all. However, I have noticed some real improvement in his spelling and reading since using a combination of Barton and Sequential Spelling so I’m going to continue using both through the end levels.

Barton is expensive, but it really does work. Even though the first few levels seem really easy and unecessary we have gone through every lesson without skipping anything. I am VERY pleased with the results. If you have a child who is struggling with reading or spelling, I encourage you to check out the Barton website and watch some free videos or read the Dyslexia warning signs check list. The program is very easy to use. First you watch a teacher training video that not only explains step-by-step how to teach the material, but also goes over common mistakes a child might make and how to handle them. After watching the teacher training you can start the lessons. Each lesson is totally scripted and all materials are included like letter tiles, worksheets, reading sheets, etc. (and in the 4th level a Franklin Spelling Ace).

cactusIn science Otter is wrapping up learning about the desert in WinterPromise’s Animals & Their Worlds Program. Dad bought us a cactus to go with what “we” are learning! He is excited to start learning about the forest habitat next week.

For history we just finished studying about World War I and the Great Depression/Dust bowl. Here are some of Otter’s notebooking pages. I find that notebooking helps him retain what he’s learned and the pages are fun to flip through for “review”.

WP World War I page and and WWI map from Knowledge Quest.

world war I

WWI propaganda posters from online with a copywork sentence.

Notebooking page on Theodore Roosevelt and pictures of National Parks he signed legislation for:

More WWI posters and a page about the stock market crash of 1929:

Stamps showcasing events and items from the 1930’s (the website where we got the pictures from was scheduled in the WP guidebook as an optional extra). Otter really likes to learn and recite dates, so now we have some more that he knows:

We didn’t like one of the books WP scheduled for WWI (Dear America’s When Christmas Comes Again) so I substituted with Where Poppies Grow – a very visual scrapbook style book. The new WP catalog came out and it looks like they replaced the book we didn’t like with something else. Kudos to WP for working on their programs to make them even better.

 Otter really loved it when we read one of the books scheduled in WP’s middler pack: Hoping for Rain: The Dust Bowl Adventures of Patty and Earl Buckler. He didn’t like the book scheduled in the regular program (Rose’s Journal) so we ended up using Hoping for Rain exclusively. I personally thought both were excellent.

Otter is totally itching to get to World War II.

In math Otter just finished up RightStart’s Level D and moved on to Level E.

In other news, you probably have to be on another planet to not have heard about the recent court decision concerning homeschooling in California. Please consider signing the online petition, if you haven’t yet. Click here to go to it.

I am very encouraged by the following:

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced today that the California Department of Education has completed a legal review of the February 28 California Court of Appeal ruling regarding home schooling. O’Connell issued the following statement:

“I have reviewed this case, and I want to assure parents that chose to home school that California Department of Education policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling. Parents still have the right to home school in our state.

“Every child in our state has a legal right to get an education, and I want every child to get an education that will prepare them for success in college and the world of work in the challenging global economy.

“As the head of California’s public school system, I hope that every parent would want to send their children to public school. However, traditional public schools may not be the best fit for every student. Within the public school system there are a range of options available. Students can take independent study classes, attend a charter school, or participate in non-classroom-based programs. But some parents choose to send their children to private schools or to home school, and I respect that right.

“I admire the dedication of parents who commit to oversee their children’s education through home schooling. But, no matter what educational program a student participates in, it is critical that the program prepares them for future success in the global economy. I urge any parent who is considering or involved in home schooling their children to take advantage of resources and support available through their county or district offices of education.”

I guess it’s going to be a wait and see game. I’m hoping things will continue to stay positive.

American History Notebooking Pages

Otter finished some more WP notebooking pages. Here are some pics:

The Battle of Little Bighorn:


Sharing the news about moving west and a page about Levi Strauss and the invention of blue jeans:

Moving West and blue jeans

Transcontinental railroad and traveling west in wagons (the top part of the wagon page is lift-the-flap):
Transcontinental railroad and wagons

Some history pocket things about the Oregon Trail pasted into ds’s history notebook (including a “quilt block” made from felt):

History Pocket

A Wild West wanted poster:

Wanted poster

More History Pocket stuff:

More History Pockets

History Pockets Moving West is schedule in the WinterPromise Middlers Pack but we are just doing the pages whenever we feel like it and have the time.

I also didn’t end up liking the Down the Yukon by Will Hobbs and am substituting Caddie Woodlawn instead. Caddie Woodlawn was scheduled as a reader in the LA package, but we aren’t using that this year. Instead, I am using the readers as substitutes for some of the adventure reading assignments.

WinterPromise’s American Story 2

I am doing WinterPromise’s American Story 2 this year with my youngest. He is LOVING it. The schedule is so “doable” and the books are totally engaging and fun. Every day, when I am finished with the scheduled reading, Ds keeps begging me to read more. I don’t usually indulge him because that keeps him eager for the next day’s work. 😉

Here are some pictures of ds’s recent notebooking pages. We are currently wrapping up learning about the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.

Ds’s drawing of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began:

Fort Sumter

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