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'Write' Start for Fall, Fun Websites, ABeka Cursive Too Early?

By Heather Idoni

Added Monday, August 24, 2009

                The Homeschooler's Notebook
     Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
   Vol. 10 No 62                          August 24, 2009
                      ISSN: 1536-2035                              
   Copyright (c) 2009 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

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  Guest Article
  -- The 'Write Start' for Fall
  Helpful Tip
  -- Two Website Treasures!
  Reader Question
  -- Help with Cursive Writing?
  Additional Notes
  -- Newsletter Archives
  -- Sponsorship Information
  -- Reprint Information
  -- Subscriber Information

       Guest Article

  The 'Write Start' for Fall
    by Karen Lange


  If you take the summer off from 'official' homeschooling, it can
  be hard to get back into the routine.  Even homeschool parents
  can be reluctant participants until everyone gets into the swing
  of things.  Writing, in particular, may not be top priority when
  school starts, but an interesting writing project or two may just
  be the thing to break the ice and help your students ease back
  into writing.  Here are a few ice breakers that might complement
  your plan for fall.

  Instead of the traditional 'What I Did Last Summer' writing project,
  how about choosing a favorite event from the past year and writing
  a review about it?  This approach puts the student in a different
  spot, like in the commentator's seat.  For example, if the favorite
  event was a fun filled picnic at Grandma's house, the commentary
  could be written from a restaurant critic's point of view.  Movie
  reviews, family or sporting events, theme parks, a trip to the
  beach, or even an editorial on a current event has the potential
  to make a good project.

  I prefer this type of writing project over things like book reports
  because it requires opinions, likes, dislikes and emotions, rather
  than just the retelling of basic facts.  It provides opportunities
  to exercise critical thinking and observational skills.  Even for
  younger students, this writing angle generates other ideas about
  something the student enjoyed, so naturally they will be better
  engaged as they brainstorm and write.  They may respond a little
  reluctantly at first; this is normal.  Many children, no matter
  what their age, don't want to write.  They either feel like they
  can't or think it requires too much work.  Approaching writing from
  a different angle, with encouragement from you, can help get over
  those mental obstacles.  Once they get into it, your students may
  be surprised at how interesting a writing project can be.

  Writing a review could include telling your children that they will
  be writing a column, so explain that columns are articles found in
  newspapers and magazines.  Encourage them to choose a recent
  activity that they enjoyed.  Help them brainstorm, even to the
  point of choosing a topic for them, if necessary.  Other topic
  ideas, besides that great picnic at Grandma's, could include a
  vacation, trip to a theme park, a field trip, movies or plays,
  local events, etc.

  Once a topic is chosen, give them age and ability appropriate
  details to help them write.  A review can be a brief synopsis
  with comments and information or an in depth analysis discussing
  details.  Length should be dictated by age and writing ability.

  Here are some points to use to help them build the commentary.
  View the topic from all angles, from start to finish, and make
  relevant notes.  Some students prefer just to write and skip the
  brainstorming part.  If this is their style, just let them go.
  You can suggest additions and revisions later.  Younger students
  may need help making notes and brainstorming.

  Discuss things to include.  A restaurant review, for example,
  includes comments about the d├ęcor, service, the food from appetizer
  to dessert, music or entertainment, and other pertinent details.
  A movie review will include info about the target audience, plot,
  special effects, and enough details to inform, but won't necessarily
  give away the ending.  Of course, for this, giving the ending away
  is perfectly acceptable, for it may add to the emotion of the
  review.  It will help if you also show them examples of columns,
  and of book and movie reviews.

  Students, particularly older ones, can consider the following and
  similar thoughts as they prepare and write.  Tell them to avoid
  simply saying, 'The book or event was amazing!'  Encourage them to
  tell us why.  Was it full of fun or suspense?  Were the characters
  and plot interesting and believable?  How were the cinematography
  and special effects?  Was the weather a factor in this memorable
  event?  Why?  Are they glad that they got a chance to meet Uncle
  Boris or Great Aunt Camellia?  What interesting stories did they
  share?  Have they explained enough details and given their opinion?
  Will the reader understand what's been written?

  If this doesn't grab you, why not try poetry?  Poetry often appeals
  to children because of the rhythm and rhymes, or even the silly,
  nonsensical combos that can be created.  A sensory poem might be
  a good start for fall.  It involves filling in words pertaining
  to the senses and follows this pattern:

  Autumn is (color)
  It tastes like (taste)
  It smells like (smell)
  And looks like (sight)
  It sounds like (sound)
  Autumn makes me feel like (emotions or touch)

  Any variation on this can be made, changing words to suit any season,
  event, thing, or emotion.  Lines can be rearranged as well.  Be
  creative and see what happens!

  Another interesting kind of poetry is a bio poem.  These can take
  different forms, but one format looks like this:

  They call me (name)
  I am a (girl or boy)
  Who likes (choose one or two things)
  Who lives in/on a (house, apartment, condo, farm)
  In (city, state, and/or country)
  My favorite food is (pick one or two)
  I like to play (choose one or two sports, instruments, games, etc.)
  I want to be (career, character quality, etc.)

  Personalized variations can be made, and lines can be adjusted up
  or down according to ages.  Lines could include people students
  would like to meet, favorite people or events, and so on.  You could
  supply the framework, like the lines above, or let the children
  create their own lines.  Once students get a few examples under
  their belt, they often play around with ideas.

  Consider the old standby poem for another activity:

  Roses are red,
  Violets are blue,
  Sugar is sweet,
  And so are you.

  Now think about the possibilities to write similar, yet unique poems,
  following the same format.  Perhaps your students could finish the
  lines to this:

  Fall leaves are red,
  Crisp, cool skies are blue...

  Or they might want to write their own.  Compiling a list of rhyming
  words is a good poetry starter exercise.  It causes students to
  think and gives them words as a springboard.  Consider encouraging
  students to illustrate these written works, too.

  When we were homeschooling I would ease into the school year, doing
  projects like this, going on special outings, enjoying outside
  projects and nature walks as the weather transitioned from summer
  into fall.  I know it helped my children shift gears from summer
  to school time and helped me stay motivated, too.

  I'll be praying for your new school year, that you would have all
  the wisdom you need for the work ahead of you.  You are investing
  in our future, and no matter how daunting the task seems at times,
  it's all worth it in the end.  Blessings to you all!


  Copyright 2009, Karen Lange.

  Karen Lange is a freelance writer and a former homeschool mom,
  having taught her three children in grades K-12.  She is an online
  writing instructor for homeschool students ages 13 and up.  She's
  looking forward to the Fall 2009 session to try out similar writing
  ideas.  There are still some student spots available; for info
  about the Homeschool Online Writing Co-op for Teens, visit:

  You can also write to Karen at writingcoop@yahoo.com


  Do you have comments to share?  Please do!
  Send your emails to:  mailto:heather@familyclassroom.net

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      Helpful Tips

  "Here's a great learning site for the kids."



  "This website has really great American history craft kits
  for older kids.


  Click on 'General Store' and choose a category from the menu
  on the left."


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  Send to:  mailto:HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

      Last Issue's Reader Question

  "We are home schooling our 7 year old son for the first time this
  year.  He's in 2nd grade.  Everything is going great -- with one
  exception that is.  Cursive writing.  He just isn't getting it.
  We're using A Beka for our curriculum, and although it's the
  beginning of the year, we've already jumped in with cursive.  My
  question is this: 'What ways have you used to teach cursive
  writing that worked for you?'

  I'd appreciate any input on this.  He is so smart and flying through
  everything else, but this is going to drive us both crazy I think.
  Thank you." -- Angela L.

      Our Readers' Responses 

   "Angela -- One of the most difficult things for new homeschoolers
  is the process of casting off preconceived notions which have been
  imposed on you by the school system.  Your son doesn't have to learn
  cursive just because he's 7, or just because he's in '2nd grade', or
  just because it's what the book does next.  If he struggles with it,
  it's okay for him to wait a while.  In the meantime, you can give
  him some things to do that use his small muscles, so that when you
  try it again, he might be more near ready.  Art activities, crafts,
  building projects, and other things that require fine motor skills
  will enhance his development and his readiness for cursive writing.
  Any time you feel that something is about to 'drive you crazy', you
  need to take a look at what you're doing.  Maybe the child isn't
  ready; maybe you need to try a new approach; whatever, it is, it is
  not worth jeopardizing your relationship with your son.  Make sure
  he always knows you are his advocate, and you are in this together.
  Let him know that you will find a way that is best for him.  Putting
  the penmanship book on the shelf for six months will not change the
  course of his life; your relationship with him will." -- Mary Beth


  "My son is now 10 years old and still has trouble with cursive. 
  Considering the number of adult males I work with that cannot write
  legibly, I wonder if it's not gender related.  LOL

  Try to get writing pads with larger line spacing.  My son was often
  frustrated by trying to fit the letters in the smaller lines usually
  given for cursive work.  Also, having him play with tiny pieces seems
  to be making things easier by working his fingers.  Things like Lego
  kits with small pieces and plastic models of cars and airplanes that
  you need a steady hand to put together seem to help as well." -- Jo


  "I have read that boys often develop slower than girls in the
  handwriting department.  He might not have the motor skills yet, so
  be patient.  In the interim, try using handwriting stencils.  Here is
  a site that carries them in their stores -- www.lakeshorelearning.com
  -- not sure about online.  They cost $12.95 each, and come in upper
  and lower case, manuscript and cursive.
  We used grade-appropriate handwriting workbooks that came with our
  curriculum.  But my son didn't do well with handwriting at first
  either.  He said his hand would get tired, and he was also very slow
  and often sloppy.  Sometimes he'd form the letters the wrong way so
  they looked weird.
  I learned to keep lessons short and simple.  I'd pick a letter or two
  to focus on each day, and would have my son practice writing as many
  letters as he could, on grade level appropriate lined paper, for about
  10 minutes or so using the stencils.  Then I would have him try to
  write a few letters and words without the stencils after.  In all,
  handwriting time wouldn't last longer than 15 minutes. 
  Some days I'd pick a nice, themed, short verse or poem of three lines
  or so, and would have him copy it in his best cursive/handwriting
  possible on lined paper.  Afterward, I'd have him mount the poem/verse
  on a crafty back-drop or handmade picture frame he made himself and
  would hang these on the wall.  (For instance, a snowman haiku with the
  backdrop of a piece of navy construction paper adorned in silver
  glitter and handmade mini-paper snowflakes.)  This way it became
  more of an enjoyable art project.
  With time my reluctant writer gained more confidence and eventually
  was able to write on his own without the stencils.  He is a slow
  writer, but his handwriting is very nice.
  Other things to consider -- What type of desk or table do you use?
  If your writer is seated at too big of a table, this could affect
  handwriting.  Try to use an age appropriate table or desk so his
  feet are flat on the floor and his shoulders fairly relaxed, not
  hunched when he writes.  Make sure he's sitting up straight and the
  paper is positioned correctly, and consider using 'finger-guides'
  on his pencils to ensure he's holding them properly.  Finger guides
  are rubber blocks, molded to keep fingers positioned properly on the
  pencil or pen.  They can also help prevent tired hands.
  Another good thing to check out is 'Handwriting without Tears':


  I have not used this, but I have many homeschooling friends who say
  this was the solution for them.
  We had luck with toys that tutor in handwriting.  V-Tech company makes
  many models of electronic toys that will teach and correct your child's
  handwriting.  Most models teach both manuscript and cursive.  My kids
  enjoyed these because it was more like a game to them instead of school.
  The downside is the machine is very, very forgiving when it comes to
  form.  If the letter they write with the stylus is recognizable to the
  program it will accept it as correct."


  "I am surprised when I see how young they are trying to teach cursive
  writing now.  I am not that old and I was at least in third grade
  before they tried, but 5th grade was when it was concentrated upon.
  Some children do not have the fine motor skills, especially boys, to
  learn cursive writing in second grade.  I would say to check out
  'Handwriting without Tears'.  We have loved it and I love the gradual
  and painless approach it gives to handwriting." -- Martha


  "Dear Angela -- There are so many reasons why your son may not 'click'
  with cursive writing, so my experience may not be helpful, but I'd
  advise looking at his gifts and interests.  I don't know what your
  son's gifts are, but my son is very artistic -- a perfectionist who
  hates 'book learning' or anything he needs to do quickly.  His love
  of art was my 'hook' into cursive writing.  I hadn't planned to teach
  it until he was in Grade 3, but at the end of Grade 1 he was trying to
  figure it out before he would happily read anything else.  So during
  the holidays I let him browse through some calligraphy books and enjoy
  their artistry, then told him cursive writing was a first step toward
  doing such fancy scripts.  Then we each sat down together and practiced
  writing a letter each afternoon of the school holidays after a snack
  break (this is a boy who hates sitting down).  I figured that way he
  wouldn't be overwhelmed by the amount of writing expected (and it was
  'together time', since he hates working alone).  Now because he's
  'ahead of my schedule' he can do a little bit of slow, careful work
  each day instead of having to write the amount a 'writing program'
  would expect of him." -- Brenda in Thailand


  "One thing that I think you should keep in mind is that not all
  children are ready for cursive handwriting at the same age.  Development
  of their hand muscles is different for all children.  I don't think
  that you should rush it.  Second grade is young for cursive writing.
  Take a break from it.  One program that I would recommend is Handwriting
  Without Tears.  It is a great handwriting program and very inexpensive.
  I use it with my son who is 11 years old and has autism.  One thing that
  my evaluator recommended is to teach typing.  It is a great skill to
  know.  Take your time with cursive and you may be amazed that when he
  is ready it will be much easier." -- Stephanie H.


  "Angela -- I had the exact same problem with my 8 year old 2nd grade
  boy.  He had NO interest in cursive, so I didn't make him do it.  I
  figured he can wait until 3rd grade.  Writing is enough of a project
  for him without adding having to learn the cursive.  So this year (he's
  almost 9 now) I told him we would be learning cursive (so will his 7
  year old sister who LOVES the idea of cursive!) and, much to my
  surprise, he wants to learn it now.  My perspective is a little
  different on cursive though... after talking to a high school student
  who says there isn't one teacher who lets them write in cursive (I'm
  guessing for readability?)  I am thinking it's less and less 'necessary'.
  I want my children to learn the basic letters, be able to write and read
  cursive, but I decided I am not going to push it, requiring everything
  to be in cursive.  Legibility is my goal.  I would like them to learn
  to sign their name so they can some day create a 'signature' for
  themselves, but beyond that I can't see a huge need for writing in
  cursive.  Even I do half-cursive-half-print in my everyday writing.
  With our computer age, I believe typing is a much more needed skill
  than cursive and have been spending time making sure he's starting to
  learn to keyboard.  I think you probably need to assess how important
  you think it is that your son learn cursive.  Is it something important
  enough to struggle over (especially in our day and age where email is
  probably many people's main form of written communication)?  He can
  always wait and learn it at a later time too.  Don't be afraid to
  jump outside of the curriculum you are using.  No curriculum can
  substitute for your discretion as a parent as to what your child is
  ready for.  If you're looking for a 'friendly' handwriting series, I
  would suggest 'Handwriting Without Tears'.  It simplifies printing as
  well as cursive and the pages don't have a lot of work on them,
  so as to not overwhelm." -- Robyn W.


  "Angela -- I use the Italic Handwriting Series by Getty & Dubay.  I
  find it to be much more 'user friendly' and easier to learn.  Their
  transition from printing to cursive handwriting is very simple and
  practical.  As an ex-public school English teacher and 8th year home-
  schooling mom of 4, I think cursive handwriting is way too overrated.
  Yes, kids need to be able to write legibly, but the real world uses
  computers much more than handwritten work.  Keyboarding is a much more
  valuable skill.  Having said that, there is excellent curricula that
  still pushes handwriting skills.  This year my middle school son is
  beginning a School of Tomorrow program and he is having to learn the
  D'Nealian alphabet now in the 8th grade.  He understands that it's a
  'necessary evil', and he's being a real trooper. 

  One final thought: boys usually don't care as much about beautiful
  handwriting as girls do.  Don't let it upset you; and don't let this
  problem get blown out of proportion.  There are probably lots of
  other things that your son does enjoy." -- Tina in Georgia


  "Angela -- One of the benefits of homeschooling is that you can
  modify curriculum and teaching methods to best fit your individual
  children.  I know Abeka teaches cursive early -- but some, perhaps
  most, boys just don't have the fine motor skills necessary to be
  proficient at cursive at 7.  I'd drop it for now and let him print.
  In the meantime, add in some extra fine and gross motor skills
  (wheelbarrow walking, pinching and squeezing clay, Legos, etc.) to
  help develop the muscles. 

  You need to ask yourself what your main goal is.  He is doing well
  in everything else, which suggests this is not just willful refusal
  to do his work, but an actual physical issue.  Is it worth trying to
  force him to do something he cannot do, just because a book says to?
  Or would it be better for his self confidence and your relationship
  with him to give him the time he needs to develop the skills necessary
  to write in cursive?

  My son struggled with cursive.  At age 8, he could spend 30-60 minutes
  copying something that took most of his classmates 10 minutes.  The
  next year we homeschooled him and dropped cursive completely.  By
  age 10 he was asking to learn cursive, and did beautifully." -- Laurie


  "Angela -- I, too, use A Beka and went through the same thing with
  my son.  And the second grade curriculum hurries through penmanship
  because it was taught in detail in first grade.  I would suggest using
  the first grade curriculum for penmanship only.  (That's the great
  thing about homeschooling.)
  In first grade, I thought about going back to manuscript for awhile,
  but I decided to just keep at it a little while longer.  I just kept
  working with him, and stressing the formation of each letter.  I also
  made sure he had a copy of the formation guide nearby.  That way he
  could refer to it whenever he felt he needed to look at it.  Also, I
  started him on regular notebook paper toward the end of the year, and
  that seemed to help a lot.  It seems it was easier for him to write the
  letters on a smaller scale.  By the end of the year, his handwriting
  had improved greatly.  It just takes a little time.  Don't give up!"
  -- Judy W.


  "Angela -- Teaching cursive might be considered subjective.  When we
  fill out various applications, what does it usually ask us to do?
  PRINT NEATLY!  What are we usually required to write in cursive?  Only
  our signatures.  So, if you have a kid that struggles with cursive,
  teach him how to print neatly now and teach him cursive later on when
  he might be able to better grasp the concept -- or just teach him how
  to write his full name in cursive.  This wisdom was shared a few
  years ago at one of our homeschool meetings and it made a lot of
  sense to me.  In this day and age, learning how to type might take
  precedence over cursive writing." -- Noreen

     Answer our NEW Question

  "This will be an unusual problem.  I have 2 children with juvenile
  rheumatoid arthritis.  My son is 13 and my daughter is 11.  My kids
  have been homeschooling their whole lives and they have great attitudes 
  toward school and chores, but they have a very difficult time with
  mornings (achy). 
  My problem is that I just can't get it all done -- meaning our school
  work and our housework.  For example, we have physical therapy on
  Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  We need to be in the pool three
  times a week as well.  Wednesday my daughter woke up throwing up and
  my son had diarrhea.  His back and hip were hurting and he was having
  trouble functioning.  We have a doctor appointment on Friday.  This
  would be an example of a typical week, even though this was a real one.
  It is Thursday and we have gotten our school work done, except for
  my daughter yesterday.  The basics of housework (food and laundry)
  are done, but there is nothing left in me for bigger chores.
  Here is what we do:  I have a menu and a schedule.  I have a housework
  schedule.  The kids have chores each morning, when they are able to
  do them -- and I do push them.  Unfortunately, they have to move to
  keep their joints moving.
  I don't need anyone to feel sorry for us; this is just life.  I
  would like any practical ideas to help me with scheduling -- or
  a better idea of how to fit in real cleaning." -- Audra in Alabama


  Do you have practical suggestions for Audra? 

  Please send your answer to:  mailto:HN-answers@familyclassroom.net

     Ask YOUR Question

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