Monday, August 31, 2009

Creating a handwriting curriculum

I have decided on teaching my kids to italic and cursive italic for handwriting. It is not what I learned, but it makes sense to me that it is an easier style and it's adherents can write both more fluidly and legibly. See here and here and here and here for explanations.

I have a number of resources I can use to teach them how to write, and there are a number of free or affordable (under $15) resources that you can use if you want to follow this path:
  • Get the Briem Handwriting font (Look for these links: The Italic Project>Teaching Aids>Software). It includes lines if you italicize it (type spaces to get blank lines). If you don't like that style of lines, get Learning Curve. It's a cursive handwriting font but it includes a symbol for the more traditional lines. Change the font sizes to change the size of the lines or the text. You can use the font to make huge letters for younger children and copywork samples for older children.
  • Download another Briem resource, Cursive Italic News. It contains lots of ideas for starting out with hand-eye training and includes many warm-up exercises that can be copied.
  • For more exercises and a step-by-step guide to each letter, see yet another Briem resource: Quick results, easy work (click that link and read everything, or click on the Model link to see the letter instruction).
  • Consider buying Penny Gardner's Italics: Beautiful Handwriting for Children. This book gives all the (unadorned) workbook pages that you need to teach the lowercase italic alphabet, and then works through the different types of joins. She also has YouTube videos to help teach handwriting (see the links at the bottom of the page).
  • In addition, blank lined paper is available from other places on the web including the Donna Young website (in the Handwriting section). Or you can just use a notebook from the local office store.
These are the steps I envision will work for anyone. This is not rocket science (as FlyLady would say):
  1. Choose the type of handwriting that you think will serve your children best.
  2. If you can, find a font that matches #1. If you have nice handwriting yourself, I see no reason not to make the exemplars yourself. There are free handwriting fonts available, so check those out before you spend money on a font.
  3. Consider making sheets (maybe even laminated) of warm-up exercises such as vertical lines, horizontal lines, zigzags with the first stroke straight down and the second stroke up at an angle, n-type humps, u-type curves. Finding a rhythm and writing consistently is the object here. These warm-ups could be used for years, and could be offered in smaller sizes as the child get used to writing smaller letters. (See the resources in the bullet section above for specifics on warm-up exercises.)
  4. Experts differ on whether to teach uppercase first or not, but it makes sense to me, and it's what my children have asked for. So I teach uppercase, and then lowercase.
  5. Start providing words to copy, and of course, assisting in spelling when the child asks.
  6. Continue with copywork, moving to longer passages, poems, etc. These can be printed out in your exemplar font if desired. Ambleside Online volunteers have created Word files of quotes from each years books for just this purpose. They are available in the Files section of the AOCopywork Yahoo group.
  7. Teach how to join letters.
  8. Continue with copywork, providing support and correction as necessary.
Using the resources I already have, I can make pages of copywork of various sizes, and of single letters or words using Microsoft Word and one of the italic handwriting fonts I already have: Lucida Sans italic or the Briem Handwriting font (which are free), or one of the Barchowsky fonts. (See my below for instructions on finding the Briem font, and see my first post on italics for a list of fonts.)

Penny Gardner's book Beautiful Handwriting for Children is a very useable resource and a good value. I wish it had warm-ups, and it needs to be accompanied by plenty of copywork.

New free resources:
  • I've found an additional font for italics. It's here on (Choose The Italic Project link and then Teaching Aids and then Software.) When you download the Briem Handwriting font, you also download a program to join the letters into cursive italics. Frankly, I don't see using the conversion program regularly once my students have the hang of joining letters, but it's a great resource.
  • Monica Dengo's mini curriculum. Lovely!
  • Nan Barchowsky's videos
  • Penny Gardner's videos: links here

Barchowsky BFH Handwriting Review

This is an update to my earlier post on Fonts and other resources for handwriting.

I finally gave in and purchased BFH Fluent Handwriting. However, I bought it used, and all my comments are about the older version. (My book is blue with white writing and copyrighted 1997 and 1998.)

I've spent a bit of time with it, and it's definitely a love-hate relationship already. I love the style of writing and the approach to teaching it. I really like the warm ups that are included to encourage consistency and rhythm. However, as a program it is difficult to use. There is no clear index to what is on my CD. (I think the book should have included a printed version of the pages on the CD. Some pages, like worksheets with large print, could even have been shown in 1/2 size.) I have to use their program to look at the contents and pages appear in about 1/4 size on my screen. I can only read a page if I do a print preview, and I can only preview one page at a time. I'm also frustrated that I haven't found a single page to print to use as a reference to the alphabet. With the font that is included on the CD I can make one in Word, but it seems like an obvious thing to include in a handwriting program. (I looked into ordering them from the website, and the shipping for three 25 cent strips was $9!)

The book I have contains the same sections as the updated book. Note that the first section is, indeed brief, and goes from posture and how to hold the writing implement (which is indeed useful information) right to some of the patterns for warmups and the joins that go with each pattern. Introducing younger children to writing is not covered in the book. The CD, however, does include pages for teaching capitals (one page per letter) in alphabetical order, and pages for teaching lowercase (also one page per letter) grouped by letter family. I do really like the quick narrative for each letter. Some of them are especially fun like: g: "Gus the gopher runs around, jumps up, and goes down in his hole to curl up." The narratives for lowercase letters are grouped by letter shape, and those for uppercase letters are in alphabetical order.

The CD for the older book contains five folders: Basics 1, Basics 2, Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. I notice that the new version has a level 4, which my older CD does not have, but perhaps it doesn't have two Basics levels and the material is the same. In each folder are worksheets to print out, including patterns and letters and, at the higher level, words and words with joins. The first page or so of each file is nearly always text for the teacher to read, and it is this text that can't be read without using print preview or just printing the lesson. Some of the words used on some of the worksheets can be replaced by the user by typing new text.

I find the material poorly organized. For instance, after a little review, my fourth-grader is ready to start joining letters. However, the material for introducing that topic is split between the book and the CD. The book is perhaps more complete, but doesn't offer matching worksheets. To be clear my copy is old and the program has been revised. I don't know how many of my comments apply to the revised program and unfortunately, the website doesn't provide a lot of information.

The search for the perfect handwriting curriculum continues or rather, I need to forget it and build one from what I already own! (Getty-Dubay is calling to me - I've never seen it in person, and it adds up in price with three kids . . . .)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Homeschooling for the Trip

I think much of our Ambleside Online plans will be put on hold for the month and instead we'll focus on stories and such about Britain in preparation for our trip. This morning we started reading David Macaulay's Castle. After about 20 minutes of that, I tried to switch to one of the Shakepseare History plays in Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories, but was pre-empted. P said "I really want to use this book to play We Are The People." He took the book and they disappeared inside for a few minutes. When they came back out they all had parts: P was, I think, the master engineer, M the mason, and E the blacksmith and the miner. They busily made the tools they needed and built a castle, while I read David McCullough's 1776 in preparation for a unit on the American Revolution that I hope to lead for our co-op after the holidays. It was fun to listen to them "narrate" what I had just read to them.

We just went to the library and I got out a pile of books on Britain, but didn't find a good history. So I think I'll revisit stories from An Island Story: specifically the Romans (because we will visit some Roman ruins) and The Princes in the Tower (because they had a connection to Ludlow, where we will visit). I'm sure I pick a few others. I'm going to encourage P to read Dawn Wind by Rosemary Sutcliffe, and maybe some other books set in Britain. The sights all bounce around in chronology -- I'm sure the two younger won't be able to make sense of that. Oh well. And M (7) is very interested in Vikings right now, so we'll probably continue with those books (Viking Tales and Viking Raiders). We're flying through Iceland, but decided not to do a layover -- the Viking sights could have been fun.

I'm also looking for appropriate movies with British settings so that they can perhaps recognize some places from the. Other recommendations are most welcome!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

We're going to Europe!

Just booked the trip for the five of us! I found that Iceland air is considerably cheaper than other options, and the layovers in Reykjavik are reasonable -- 1 to 2 hours. Of course the trip over will be brutal -- leave at 9:30 pm, 5 hours in the air, then land, layover for an hour and get on another plane. But the trip over is brutal when you land at 6am London time too, so it is what it is. At least we'll be able to check into a hotel as soon as we get to London, and not have to wander around with our bags! And take a cost increase of $100-200 for a better (i.e. nonstop) flight and multiply it by five, and you'll see why I'm willing to do it this way. I considered a longer layover in Iceland, but decided against it. We'll have enough to do in the UK to fill up our 10 days.

We'll do a little London, maybe Oxford, the old walled city of Ludlow in Shropshire, with a side visit to the Roman ruins at Wroxeter, and hopefully some coasal Welsh castles. Recommendations appreciated, and more to follow!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Massachusetts cannot require 900/990 hours from homeschoolers

I've seen Massachusetts listed as one of the more difficult states to homeschool in. I don't know enough about regulations in other states, but it seems to me we're somewhere in the middle between states like Texas that don't require registering homeschooled children at all, and states like New York and Pennsylvania that have specific academic requirements. One of the difficulties in Massachusetts is that each homeschooling family is required to report to their school district superintendent, thus guaranteeing different treatment in different towns, and that there are not laws, only case rulings to govern the regulation of homeschooling.

At any rate, I'm not going to reiterate Massachusetts homeschool law here -- see the experts for opinions. I recommend MHLA and AHEM.

And I do highly recommend that you brush up on the case rulings, particularly what they don't include. My district, and I think others, provides me with paperwork, which from my reading of the case law, includes many inaccuracies, starting with the first paragraph: "The Massachusetts General law requires the School Committee to determine that a home schooling program meet with the minimum standards established for public schools in the Commonwealth prior to approving such a program."

In fact, there is no reason to believe that homeschooling must meet the minimum standards established for public schools. The case law actually asks that the homeschool program "equals in thoroughness and efficiency, and in the progress made therein, that in the public schools in the same town."

The form that my school district asks me to sign provides the following text immediately above the signiature line: "The following signature confirms the intent to provide a minimum of 900-990 hours of instruction." I balk at this, mostly because I don't want to track hours the way I would have to to ever provide documentation of those hours. I can see it now: "Approximately 15 minutes spent in car discussing personal finance, 5 minutes spent on fractions while making dinner . . . ." I don't think so. This requirement makes me uncomfortable, so I did some research. I'm not the only one who doesn't like it. There was a vociferous discussion on this point on the MassHomeLearningAssoc Yahoo group a couple of years ago. From that list, and the two web sites linked above, I've come up with the following potential responses to the 900/990 hour requirement (that's 900 hours for elementary school and 990 for secondary level).

The Brunelle decision states: "While following a schedule may be an important consideration in a public school where preexisting schedules need to be maintained and coordinated, the perception and use of time in a home school are different. The plaintiffs can observe and accommodate variations (from child to child, subject to subject, day to day) in the learning process and teach through a process that paces each student."

As we will teach our child on a year round basis, we will meet or exceed the state mandated 180 days/900 hours per year of structured learning time required by the Massachusetts Compulsory Attendance Laws for public school students. However please note that according to the Brunelle case:"Parents who teach at home stand in a very
different relationship to their children than do teachers to a class full of other peoples' children. Teaching methods may be less formalized, but in the home setting may be more effective than those used in the classroom because the teacher-to-student ratio is
maximized, a factor permitting close communication and monitoring on an individualized basis."

We endeavor to live up to the Charlotte Mason ideal that "Education Is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life" and therefore does not end at set times. Thus we consider that we homeschool all the time, and thus easily meet the 180 days requirement.

[child's name]'s education is holistic as well--learning occurs in the context of and as part of normal life experiences. His "school year" extends 365 days a year.
Due to the flexibility of homeschooling it is impossible for us to state the number of hours of instruction. [Child's name]'s education will be equal in thoroughness and efficiency to that which is received by public school students. Please note that the 900/990 hours per year of structured learning time required by the Massachusetts Compulsory Attendance Laws pertains specifically to public school students.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The coming homeschool year

I've been working hard on my plans so I'm going to jump on the Not Back-to-School bandwagon and share my idea(l)s. My apologies if I’ve ever sounded smug about my homeschooling. I think homeschooling a single child under a certain age (I think under 4th grade), can be easy. I certainly don’t feel that way now with my oldest turning 10 this year, and my second child being well into school years. I want to offer them some content as well as helping them to develop their skills , but not overwhelm them (or, just as important, me) with work. I want to pick a few excellent resources for us to use, and I worry over finding the right ones. I prefer living books, and consider myself a secular Charlotte Mason educator.

My boys are 9 (P), 7 (M), and 5 (E) ; fourth grade, second grade, and kindergarten. We will continue to use Ambleside Online as our guide.

I've thought a lot about whether to combine the studies of any of my boys -- doing three different years is definitely a bit daunting. However, I don't want to hold the oldest back, or force one of the younger children to jump in at a higher level, so for now my plan is that they will all work on their own level, with separate materials for history, geography, literature, and some math and science. I'll have to push my oldest to do more of his own reading to make this work; it's hard for me to let go of knowing everything he reads, and it will be hard for him, too, because he likes me to read to him. I'll read the literature selections to him, but my hope is that he can take over the rest. We'll also do some topics together such as artist and composer study, Shakespear studies, and nature study

For my fourth grader I am planning to use the following: For history, This Country of Ours, by H.E. Marshall, George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster, Poor Richard by James Daugherty, and Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober. For geography, Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling. For math I'm leaning toward Math Mammoth as being a little more useable than MEP, which I used last year. I want to de-empasize the workbook (use them as a guide) and use more Living Math. I'm hoping this list of math readers from the Massachusetts DOE will prove useful.

We'll use the AO 4 Lit selections: The Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, as well as some shorter works.

We will do some poetry, but I'm not sure if we'll use the AO 4 selections for the family, use difference selections as a family, or do different poems with different boys. I have a long free reading list for P to choose from -- I think I'm going to ask for two books he selects from my list per term, but we'll see how that goes.

I've done a lot of thinking about our science selections. We'll read Physics Lab in the Home by Robert Friedhoffer. I would like to cover some earth science also and have requsted the following from the library to evaluate: How the Earth works / John Farndon, and Shaping the earth / Dorothy Hinshaw Patent. We own The Earth by Barbara Taylor, but it's what I consider a factoid book and not the type of material I prefer to use. We may also read material about evolution and/or read a biography of Charles Darwin. I'll use DVDs here also (see Nature Study, below).

I plan to teach my oldest italic cursive this year, continue doing copywork, do some written narrations, and start doing dictation. I may have him learn to type this year. I also plan to do some Plutarch, using Our Young Folks' Plutarch by Rosalie Kaufman. We need to do a little grammar, perhaps using Primary Language Lessons, by Emma Serl, or perhaps just expanding on Mad Libs.

A focus with my second grader will be his reading skills, and my hope is to be low key but do consistent and regular work with him. His little brother is breathing down his neck with reading skills and I think my middle boy will be happier if he can stay a step ahead of his little brother, even if he has to work hard to do it.

M enjoys language, and is interested right now in Norse mythology and medieval times. We'll read Viking Tales, an AO 1 selection that we didn't get to yet. We'll use early chapters of This Country of Ours and Child's History of the World, by Hillyer for history, and I may look for ways to supplement that, although our literature selections may be sufficient to fill it in some history. We'll use Holling's Tree in the Trail and probably Seabird for geography and more history. This child is very sensitive, and I'm not sure how he'll feel about whale hunting. History tales will also include The Little Duke, by Charlotte Younge. We'll try Understood Betsy, The Wind in the Willows, and Robin Hood for literature, as well as other selections, including Shakespeare stories (we'll try Leon Garfield's book, and Jim Weiss's audio).

Science selections will include The Kids' Book of Awesome Stuff by Charlene Brotman which I enjoyed with P two years ago, and Pagoo, by Holling.

I'll be a little more flexible with the reading selections for M, as working on basic reading and writing skills is where I'll need to pick my battles. I plan to use children's readers and other children's books to work on his reading, and we may add a phonics resource. His computation is good, I'lll try to keep in fresh with living math, but will probably use Math Mammoth with M also.

If we do individual poetry selections, I'll use this compilation from Ambleside for the two younger boys.

I like to unschool for kindergarten, and my youngest has lots of interests (unschools well;). I own MFW K program, so I may use that for guidance as well as making sure we have a good selection of books to read. I use the lists from AO0, Mater Amabilis, and Five in a Row for guidance in selecting books.

I plan to do some things with all three boys, perhaps even starting that way in the morning after doing family chores (this would be new for us, but worked well one day recently). However, we have a tea-time ritual, and composer and artist study will be saved for tea time on occasional afternoons. I'm hoping to do the following together: hymns (from our UU hymnal), virtues, a bible story a week from Penny Gardner's list, foreign language (Spanish, probably), art, song/folksong, and perhaps recorder for the older two.

As I've noted before, we struggle with nature studies, but we continue to work on it. Last year we watched the complete DVD series Life of Mammals (David Attenborough). This year I plan to use Handbook of Nature Study bird challenges, and follow that study of common backyard birds with the Life of Birds DVD series (also David Attenborough). I may also look for DVDs for learning about the earth, space, and evolution.

That's it, and it's subject to change to meet our needs.