Handwriting is one of those things that I’ve gone round and round with my kids over, for basically the entire time we’ve been homeschooling. It’s not that they aren’t capable of writing neatly; more that they get in a hurry and rush through it. I’m a stickler for legibility, and we focus pretty heavily on writing, especially now that they’re in middle school, so I really do need it to be a skill they master.
Over the years, we’ve tried various methods for improving penmanship, none being particularly helpful (other than the old standard of ‘practice, practice’ practice’). We’ve gone through 2 workbooks of Handwriting Without Tears, tried pre-writing hand warm-up exercises, ‘ZOOM‘ technique, and used tons of practice worksheets, used grid paper and Mead’s Redi-Space notebooks, tried note-taking in various forms – I think we’ve done fairly well at ferreting out all of the tricks of the trade, and to give credit where credit is due, all of these things have helped. I have definitely seen improvements – vast improvements over when we first started – but nothing that is an ‘a-ha! moment’ where it just ‘clicks’ for them. But homeschooling is nothing if not try, try, try again, and so the search continues. I found something new that I will be implementing with the boys when we start again in January and I thought I’d share.
It is actually an idea that I found in a video, from a Pinterest pin on writing and hand-lettering for art journal purposes. The video used Photoshop and a purchased font to create what is essentially a worksheet for the author to print and trace in order to learn a new style of hand-lettering. But I thought the same technique would work well for improving handwriting (only simplified quite a bit). For example, you can create a new MSWord.docx or other word processing program and use a very light font color. That would be the easiest way to achieve the same effect.
What you end up with is a page they can trace over. This picture is a sample of what that can look like; for ‘real’ use, I’d probably either type it or have them type it first, then trace. The font in this sample page is called Architect’s Daughter, and I downloaded it from DaFont.com (free for personal use). I also like a script font called Gruenewald VA – it is visually similar to what my boys are used to from HWT.
The reason I an sharing this is because I wanted to reassure other moms with older homeschooled kids (especially boys) out there that you’re not the only ones that struggle with legible handwriting! It’s something I am constantly harping on. If you’ve read here before, I often refer to myself as a ‘mean’ homeschooling mom, because I do make my kids erase and re-write thing that are hard to read. Our rule is, ‘If I can’t read it, I can’t assess your progress; ergo, you must re-write it’. Also, “Mom’s not going to go blind trying to decode these marks into words. Just NO.” And, “Are these words?!? In English??” and “Are you kidding me??? O_o” Sometimes, I change the wording.
In any case, I have dreams of one day having beautifully hand-written notebooks from my kids, but for now, I will settle for ‘legible’ and call it progress well-done!
Care to share your tips for handwriting help?
When it comes to establishing habits and patterns in your life, experts will say that you have to do it consistently for anywhere from 2 weeks to one month for it to become your new normal. While there may be some grain of truth to that, I think there’s more to it than just committing to something new for a while and expecting the new thing(s) to magically become ‘how you are’. Particularly when it comes to making changes to habits that you’re pre-disposed to having or that you’ve had for years, or doing something totally new in your life that also works against your nature.
For example, homeschooling.
For many of us, taking on the full responsibility of educating our kids is a new thing. If you had a child in school, then going from being the mom who gets the kids up, fed, packed and out the door to school everyday, to being the parent who gets to revel in the first (or third) cuppa long before the kids get out of bed seems like a luxury. And it is, don’t get me wrong! But all too easily, in even the strictest of homeschooling homes, ‘relaxing’ can go too far. To be fair, so can rigidity – but this post isn’t really about how relaxed or rigid your homeschooling style is. It’s about moving from your reality to a space that is more in line with your ideal (provided your ideal is at least somewhat realistic).
Lots of parents, when they first start homeschooling, have this vision of educational perfection in their heads. I am not excluded from this misty-eyed vision of homeschool naiveté; it’s such a great fantasy! But that fantasy rarely takes into account your level of introductory excitement vs. your maintained enthusiasm. It also rarely takes into account the family’s routines and patterns.
‘What is she talking about?!’, you’re probably wondering. Hang in there – I’m getting to the point, I promise!
So, as a new homeschooling parent, you may have this vision of greeting the sun, coffee in hand, with snuggly children all around you. The sun rises, the birds sing, the children yawn and stretch and get ready for the day. While you gather your materials, they brush teeth and finish breakfast and everyone gathers at your knee to start their daily lessons, while you (indulgently) pat them on the head and offer gentle re-directions and instructions as needed. The little darlings are blissed out, understanding their privileged state of learning at home, and showing deep respect and appreciation for the time and effort that their dear mother puts into finding the right curriculum and materials and blah, blah, blah… you get the picture.
Only to find out, disturbingly, that instead of this beautiful fantasy, you end up with a life that looks more like the after picture in this equation and wondering what the heck you did wrong.
So what’s the trick? How do you go from your frazzled reality to a more peaceful new world? More importantly, how do you get started in such a way that you don’t automatically fail after a week?
The answer to both questions is ‘go with the flow’. What I mean by that, is to plan on a routine or schedule that flows within your already established patterns. If you’re not a morning person, then creating a schedule that requires you to be up with the sun is probably not going to be realistic. It’s easy to plan on paper – but when we have an ideal that doesn’t reflect the reality of our lives, instead of making adjustments and keeping that momentum going, all too often, we chalk it up to failure and nothing gets done that day….or week, or month. While ‘try again tomorrow’ is a good theory, it only works if tomorrow’s plan is better than today’s, and being creatures of habit, we rarely take the time to analyze what went wrong today and make changes (that we implement) for tomorrow.
If your patterns run toward more productivity in the afternoon, it may be wise to schedule a lazier morning and have your more in-depth studies later in the day. However, if you notice that your precious little darlings work better in the mornings, it may be necessary to work towards making an earlier start. This may take some time to accomplish, but it’s worth it if it’s what your kids need.
I notice that, in my family, none of us are ‘morning people’, however when it comes to schoolwork, if we are up by 8AM and start school by 9AM, the day seems to be more productive overall. If we wait until 10 or 11 to get started, then it’s like pulling teeth all day to get their work accomplished. This sucks for me, because I could win sleep marathons if there was such a thing; no time is better for sleeping, in my opinion, than between 4AM and 11AM. MY most productive time is typically between about 11PM and 2AM. But my kids are not that way, so I’ve had to make adjustments to ensure that we get at least a couple of days during the week where we are up early and working earlier in the day.
So how do you make those changes? Small steps add up to big ones. Start small – it may be a matter of slowly adjusting your schedule over the course of weeks or months to get where you want to be. You could take a different approach and designate one or two days as ‘this’ schedule, and one or two days as ‘that’ schedule. We tend to take the second approach; one day home, one day out. One day early, one day later. It works for us because it doesn’t require the odious task of making a permanent change that contradicts my personal needs (or desires, if you wanna get technical about it. Habits… how’s that?).
Another facet of ‘going with the flow’ is your ability to put in the time and effort – meaning, in short, homeschooling is hard. And time-consuming. And HARD for the parent. It’s much more-so if you choose to construct your syllabus, rather than rely on a boxed curriculum. Much of your free time is eaten up with school planning and studying so that you can provide for your kids. Realistically, after a couple of years, that gets old. Your eventual need for a break can outweigh your intent, and there’s no shame in acknowledging that. Implementing a change that helps the situation is better than dealing with burnout (which can last a long time).
I’m talking about getting help with school. If you can outsource in any way – whether that’s just having Dad (or Mom if you’re a homeschooling Pop), or Grandma or Grandpa or a homeschooling friend or co-op or community lessons or a tutoring center … if you can lighten your load, then don’t be afraid to take advantage of those resources. Some of them are costly, and for many (us, included) that takes them off the table – but some solutions just take effort to implement! A mini-co-op, for example: choose one or two days a week and one or two friends who have strengths in subjects you’re weaker in and school together. There are many free online resources that can lighten your load as well.
This year is the first year that I am out-sourcing some of the kids’ work – and ‘lo, it is *glorious*. Math is not my favorite subject, and it’s my weakest subject, both for my own skills and my ability and confidence to teach, so we outsourced it this year. Having Maths off my plate to plan and teach has relived SO MUCH of my stress – I can’t even tell you. I’m not totally un-involved; we’re using Khan Academy, and we all have accounts. I ‘play’ too, and we compete. I brush up on my skills, learn new things, have my finger on the pulse of their lesson and it’s fun, too. But being able to oversee, rather than instruct has made this year so much more enjoyable for me (and less stressful).
Another way to ‘go with the flow’ involves maintaining the connection and relationship and communication you have with your child(ren). Successful homeschooling is a two-way street; it involves the kids just as much as the parents. Some days, the vibe is just ‘off’ and as any seasoned homeschooling parent can tell you, it’s far better to reschedule the day than it is to try to force something that’s going to make everyone miserable. I tend to build in ‘slacker’ days on our schedule so that we can either take that day with a lighter load, or play catch up if we needed that slack earlier. It all evens out in the end, and makes for much more harmonious days as we go.
So what are your tips and tricks for ‘going withe the flow’?
This year is the first year that we’ve been able to really participate in our local library’s homeschool book club. Over the past few years, we’ve had good intentions, but the day of the week they met was always in conflict with our schedule, or I’d forget about it, or we’d end up with other plans the day of the meeting. So I was excited this year to make the planning meeting, and discover that the stars have finally aligned and that we can participate this year.
The first book that we read was for the month of September. Lois Lowry’s ‘The Giver’ was the selection. I read this book a couple of years ago when my friend PBJMom was going through it with her class (she is a former homeschool expert, now amazing public school teacher). With the movie version that came out this year (which my oldest has seen), I figured that was a pretty good choice, especially if/since some of the kids had probably seen it, and would be more familiar with the story. It’s age-appropriate (middle school, which is my kids’ age, and the age that their book club is designed for), and provocative in that it deals with subjects that I feel are important for kids to consider.
In no way did I think that this was a ‘controversial’ choice, but apparently I was so wrong about that! When we went to discuss the book, I learned that the suitability for this book for this age qroup had been questioned – to the point that rather than selecting a single book to be read and discussed for the month, there is a list of 5 books that the kids can choose from, with a few questions at the discussion that pertain to how the book the student chose affected them, personally. While I don’t think that’s an entirely unworthy pursuit, it’s definitely not what I expected.
In books clubs I’ve previously been part of, the book is chosen and the discussion pertains to that particular book and how it impacts the discussion group members. Ideally, a ‘good’ selection offers something challenging – an idea or viewpoint that the reader hadn’t previously been confronted with, or a situation that broadens the reader’s experience in some way. That’s what I was looking for in a book club for my kids, and I feel like the approach that is being taken in this case is ‘safe’. And by safe, I mean boring, and not challenging, and wrong.
I can’t help but feel like the choice is based on pressures from the conservative and/or religious set in this area. I may be totally off base on that, but I really think that has a lot to do with it. The only ‘objections’ that I’ve been able to find for The Giver come from a conservative and/or ‘fearful’ viewpoint, with questions and concerns about the topics of sexuality, suicide, and rebellion.
Given that the main character is 11/12 years old, I think it’s entirely appropriate for children who are that are to be reading about what a child of a similar age might be seeing, thinking, feeling and dealing with, including the awakening of sexual feelings. A pre-teen is likely dealing with some of those same issues, and struggling to find his or her own identity. Books – especially those that bring new ideas to the table – are essential to their developing sense of morality and individuality. Far better, in my opinion, to read books that a parent finds objectionable with your child than to try to hide it from him. Reading with your child does several things. It enhances the bond you have with your child. It provides opportunities for discussion and exploration of the ideas presented in the book. Talking about those points can help a parent know their child’s mind, and re-direct his or her thinking if necessary.
Reading books together also provides opportunities to talk with your children about topics that you may find uncomfortable, or hard to bring up. Some things just don’t come up in everyday conversation, and trying to segue into them can be difficult without a catalyst. The Giver has a couple of openings that provide an in-road to a discussion about euthanasia, suicide, end of life decisions, eugenics and selective breeding, and a host of governmental and societal topics that we simply don’t have to deal with in our lives. I think those are valuable discussions to have with your kids!
Moving on, the discussion, itself was great! Our librarian is just amazing, and she does a great job at getting the kids engaged in the discussion, even when they’re reluctant to participate, or feel they may not have much to add. She brought popcorn and drinks, and used the game ‘Apples to Apples’ as an ice-breaker to get the kids (and parents) comfortable with talking to each other before she opened the book discussion up. It was a great strategy!
In any case, I don’t think that book clubs should be all about deep discussions, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I really am looking forward to next month’s discussion. The books the kids got to choose from were: Treasure Island, The View from Saturday, Anne of Green Gables, The Book Thief and The Pet War. The boys chose different books originally; PeaGreen was keen to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, while LBB chose The Pet War by Allan Woodrow. After some discussion, PeaGreen decided to switch to The Pet War as well, so we’re working on that at the moment. We’re in chapter 6, and it’s clever, funny and engaging.
We’re notebooking our way through it, using ‘graphic’ note-taking. PeaGreen has really gotten into it, with pictures and charts, while LBB tends to prefer a more linear style of note-taking. It’s odd to me that they’ve ended up taking notes the way they have; I’d have thought they’d be opposite in their styles. Just goes to show that there’s always something to surprise you!
I’ve read The Book Thief already, and I think when we finish this book, we’re going to read that one, too. It can’t hurt them to be prepared with more than one book!
What are your thoughts on book clubs and ‘controversial’ topics in literature for kids?
The last couple of weeks, I’ve made some changes to how I am assigning the boys their work. We’ve tried using various methods (workboxes, STARS journals, various binders and lists, to name a few), but nothing has really stuck. Partially, I think I was pushing too hard for too much independence before they were ready, but now that they’re older, we’re trying some more self-paced scheduling.
Last week, I printed their assignments and gave the pages to the boys and allowed them to work at their own pace. Loverly Husband was off Friday (home DIY-ness related), so the understanding was that if they got all their work accomplished for the week before Friday, they could have Friday off. While they didn’t quite hit that goal, overall, this method was successful, so we’re trying it again this week.
I usually plan 3-4 weeks at a time, but having them knowing what’s on the schedule for the week is nice. In the past, LBB especially, has gotten overwhelmed with seeing everything laid out, but he’s able to focus on one day at a time and work neatly with the week’s schedule (thank goodness!!) – that’s an ADHD/anxiety success!
In other news, we’ve been busy with our homeschool group – the Houston Children’s Museum held their homeschool day a couple of weeks ago, and we had a great time! They have this child-sized city called ‘Kidtropolis‘ that has samples of real life – all kinds of jobs, including: a TV station, a postal service, a bank, a grocery store, city hall, police/fire/EMS, restaurant, vet – the kids can ‘work’ and get ‘paid’, make deposits at the bank, ‘buy’ things at the store, change jobs… it’s really neat. This was the first time that either of my kids really made an effort to experience it. LBB started working in the restaurant, and was eventually promoted to manager. It was fun watching him ‘work’ with all the other kids.
We also dabbled in some folk art while out at the park. The kids used glue and paints to faux-batik pillowcases. PeaGreen was pretty happy with his rendition of Link from Legend of Zelda, while LBB was less enthused about the entire project. Still, he managed a decent representation of the Destiny logo.
We’ve been using Khan Academy for math, and after some initial trepidation, we’ve established a routine with it and it’s working well. Basically, the boys are ‘learning’ each new concept by watching the video. Then working through the ‘practice’ sessions, and then competing each section with a ‘mastery challenge’. Questions and concepts do come back up even though they’ve mastered them, so it’s keeping skills in the rotation, which is nice. The boys are spending about 5 hours per week on math, which is good at this stage. It was taking them a bit longer, but they’ve gotten the hang of doing it this way now, and it’s nice. I love that I am not having to ‘teach’ it – when they get stuck, we watch the video together (because I am often just as lost as they are), so we talk it out and work through the problems together, then they continue working on their own.
I think that having such a central subject taken off of my plate has helped me get a handle on things. I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed with middle school curriculum – math is so not my area of expertise, so being able to pass that off to more qualified ‘teachers’ is awesome. Plus, I think that it’s helped the boys be more independent and not rely so much on me.
Last but not least, this is the boys’ new bathroom! Loverly Husband spent this weekend ripping out the floor and walls and replacing everything from sub-flooring to fixtures. We had bathroom wallboard in there, but it wasn’t sealed very well, so water has been seeping behind it, and rotted out the floor and a lot of the wood underneath the wallboard. It was totally nasty in there. But thanks to all his hard work, it looks great! We bought a new shower curtain and will be painting soon and it will be all done. I absolutely could not be happier that the floor and bathtub surround are done though.