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’?
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.
Anyone who tells you that homeschooling is awesome 24/7 is lying to you. There are definitely days that make a homeschooling parent question her self, her sanity – her decision to have children in the first place (just like non-homeschooling parents, I’m sure).
Yesterday was one of those days. A running joke among our homeschool group’s moms is the mantra ‘Good mothers don’t eat their children’, or something to that effect. It’s a good mantra.
Of course, there’s always that voice of reason that chimes in with perfect clarity and reminds us all that as the mother and leader, our children’s attitudes and feelings are likely influenced by our own. It’s 100% true, but not what I wanted to hear at that moment because that shifted the blame squarely to my own shoulders, which is always uncomfortably where it belongs most of the time. Le sigh. There are days where being a real grown-up just doesn’t pay.
In checking myself, I’ve been looking for other ‘bad day at homeschool’ stories, and have come to the not-so-startling realization that I am (thankfully) not alone. It seems that other homeschooling moms deal with the same lackluster attitudes and non-cooperative stubbornness that I do. While somewhat comforting, it’s not really helpful in figuring out how to get out of that funk, or change those attitudes.
So, in light of yesterday’s shenanigans, I’ve been forced to do some evaluation of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. I was going through some old schoolwork that the boys did and I was struck with the feeling that ‘I used to be so much better at this homeschooling thing’, and wondering where along the way I’d gone wrong. In doing some honest seeking, I’ve not been devoting the time and effort that I used to out into homeschooling that I did in the beginning. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s true.
I feel a bit discouraged right now, even having an action plan to put into place, I still feel that little pin-prick of failure. We’re a month into the school year, and are already falling apart, it seems. We just took a break from school to relax and regroup so we could start fresh, but it seems that break wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped it’d be. Over the last 9 months or so, I’ve been working more, which has limited my schedule and time at home. We’ve always been active out of the house, but our home days were much more structured than they have been lately. Partially, this is my own fault – I’ve been staying up late and sleeping in later, which means that we’re getting started later and the kids aren’t as focused as they are when we start earlier in the day.
They’re also left to their own devices more. Rather than doing the same sorts of hands-on schooling that we’ve been doing, I’ve been offering them more independent study. While I feel like this ‘should’ be appropriate, I guess ‘should’ in one hand and ‘spit’ in the other and see which fills up first is the game of the day, here. As much as I would love for them to be more independent when it comes to schoolwork, they still need direction. I see that now, and despite my best attempts to prod them, I can’t force them to do something out of their depth.
With this scrutiny comes the realization that I have to do better. I’ve known this, but have been reluctant to admit it. As the mom, and the teacher, I have to get my priorities in order so that I can effectively lead my children. I’ve notices that some of the things we used to do on a regular basis that were ‘centering’ and ‘grounding’ activities have slid to the wayside. We used to meditate, to stretch and take time to connect with each other before school started in the mornings. We’re rushed now, all the time, it seems. As our schedule as gotten busier (work, karate, soccer, volunteering, field trips, errands, visiting, etc.), that practice has been squished out of the schedule. Isn’t that the way it goes? The things you need the most are the first things to get put on the back-burner when you get busy.
Another aspect that I am missing for myself is attention to myself. Yesterday was the autumn equinox, and where over the past few years, taking time to observe the changing of the seasons has played a dominant role in my life, this year has been rather busy, and so I’ve let it slide. My favorite season, Autumn, is already here and I barely took time to notice it. So that’s another thing that I need to focus on – getting myself back on an even keel. Life’s all about the act of balance, right?
So here’s to turning over a new leaf (which is appropriate, because it’s Fall)!
When you have a child that is ‘different’, it’s often a challenge to get people to see the same small person that you see. Where you see an active, witty, inquisitive kiddo, they may see a hyper, sarcastic and nosy brat.
It’s so easy to get caught up in other people’s perceptions of your kid(s). We were at the bookstore a few weeks ago with our local playgroup – mostly kids 5 and under – and my big kids were sitting quietly, playing their Nintendo thingies. I was watching the other littler kids running around and being delightfully noisy – as littles tend to do – and I kept seeing the employees cut evil eyes over towards our little group.
The kids weren’t being ‘bad’ – they weren’t excessively noisy; they kept well within acceptable ‘joyful chatter’ limits for in public. They weren’t making messes (at least not ones that the moms weren’t helping to clean up) and they weren’t disrupting other customers. Really, there was no cause for complaint. Even our most boisterous tots were pretty chill on this occasion – and yet still, they were being viewed through the eyes of people who probably don’t really even like children all that much, much less enjoy the exuberance of youth.
I think the same thing happens in school. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people who do not enjoy children would go into teaching them as a profession, but it seems that many do. I remember conflicting particularly intensely with my 8th grade math teacher. We had instant dislike for one another the first time we met. Some personality conflicts are just that strong and quickly formed and no less important because they’re between an adult and a child. My mother thought that the conflict might be a good thing for me; something along the lines of teaching me/helping me learn that sometimes you have to work with people that you don’t particularly like. I agree in theory, but in practice, all that accomplished was continued animosity and a lifelong (at least to this point) hatred of all things math-related.
Sometimes, it is as basic as a personality conflict. Sometimes, the problem is deeper – like a fundamental lack of understanding about how children with more than their allotted share of ‘muchness’ function and relate to the world. My oldest child is ADHD, has sensory processing disorder and is all-round a ‘high needs‘ child. He’s growing out of it (or adapting better, maybe?) but there are still some key areas where his muchness shines through. It’s his personality, true, but there are other contributing factors. He is the way he is because of certain things, like his hearing (hyperacusis) or his need to touch things (sensory seeking) or have non-sticky or dirty hands (tactile defensiveness) or his need to be up and active with a 30-second attention span (ADHD). He is ‘this way'; he’s always been ‘this way’. He will always be ‘this way’.
Then there’s my youngest… he is alternatively the sweetest, most polite and helpful child on the planet, or the most obstinate, willful, argumentative and unyielding child ever to have been born. That’s just his personality. I’ve watched it develop as he’s gotten older. I see personality quirks in him that I recognize as being my own, or my Loverly Husband’s, and others that are uniquely his own. But he doesn’t have the same kinds of issues that my oldest has. Noises don’t affect him the same way. He can focus on something for long periods do time, and if he’s interested in what he’s doing, then it looks more like ‘obsession’ than mere interest.
I remember what it was like as a younger mother with two small boys. The bookstore is a fairly contained area where, for the price of a cup of coffee (Starbucks, so it’s not even cheap coffee), we could hang for an hour or two when it’s unbearably hot outside and the boys could stay relatively close to me, but still had plenty room to maneuver – and this was back when they had a train table, even. Why have a big comfy kids’ area when you’re not really ‘kid-friendly’?
We’re fortunate to have in our circle of friends several families with at least one child with more than the normal allotted ‘muchness’. I’m also extremely fortunate in that most of my friends parent somewhat similarly to the way I do, so when there is need for a mama-voice in a situation, no matter which mom steps in, the procedure is on-par with what I’d do myself. I value that consistency for my kids.
I also value the overall parental attitude that sees this type of ‘muchness’ as something to be encouraged – not something to be disciplined out of them. We/They value these personality quirks and attitudes as necessary skills for future thinkers and leaders. We/They see our kids as the amazing people – individuals – that they are, not as mini-robots who are stepping out of line. They have a voice, and they’re used to those voices – however small – being heard and valued. I don’t understand people who think otherwise.
In days of yore, way back before I had kids, I was nanny to a HN child before I knew there was a term for it. We took a Kindermusik class for a couple of years and one of the things that I still have and use some 10 years later is a bookmark that I got that talked about language – how the words you use when talking about your child shape how other people see him, and how the words you use shape how your child sees himself. The bookmark had a list of words in one column that could either be neutral or negative, depending on the situation, and an alternative word in the second column with a more positive connotation; instead of ‘bossy’, you might describe your child as a ‘leader’. That sounds really easy, right? But it’s hard to do when you’re tired or stressed out and don’t have the vocabulary handy.
Over our years of homeschooling, I’ve expanded the ‘extra pages’ section of my planner to include various articles, charts and other bits of information that I want to use to help me be a better parent and teacher for my kids. The ‘positive adjectives’ list on this site has been extremely helpful to me to keep handy. Sites like SizzleBop were great helps when my kids were younger, and though it’s changed formats several times through the years, it’s still a great place to find appreciation for the ‘highly distractable child’.
As far as using labels for children, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the labels are a quick way to convey information. If I say to you, ‘My child has ADHD’, then you know (or should know) that lots of sit-down and be-quiet instruction isn’t going to help him achieve as much as he could with a few adaptations. As a teacher who understand this label and what it is intended to convey, you’d know to adapt how you’re teaching to help him learn and retain the information you’re presenting by including activities that work his body as well as his mind. But all too often, those labels also carry a negative connotation. Instead of conveying information, it too often condemns a child to a ‘box’. I’ve seen teachers check out when they hear a label, and that’s absolutely devastating to a parent to see.
There are negatives to labeling for parents as well. I’ve seen lots of parents who hear that their child has a label and just sort of … give up. They either don’t have access to, or don’t care about getting, more information so that they can help their child. Or, they might not believe the label (and plenty of children, esp. with ADHD are given the label without actually having ADHD) and so their child falls through the cracks. Others, parents and teachers alike, can’t see past the label. The diagnosis takes over and that’s the only thing that people see. In either case, those kids need an advocate.
I get frustrated with parents who don’t advocate for their children. For children with a ‘label’, it means that we sometimes have to advocate a little more. We need to be educated, to network with other parents and build support networks for our children. We have to learn a little more, put a little extra effort into them. Our kids still have to function in the real world, so my goal (for both of my children) is to help them develop coping mechanisms that will help them function to the best of their ability. There are thousands of adults who learned to deal with various disorders as students – some in good ways, some in not-so-great ways. With today’s plethora of research and knowledge about how to help, we are in the best position possible to help our kids manage their needs in productive ways.
For my child, this has been a series of interventions, from very noticeable, to less overt as he’s gotten older. I’ve blogged about learning tools before, and about helpful bits I’ve picked up along the way several times over the years, but this is a topic that keeps coming up as more and more parents with ‘labeled’ kids choose homeschooling.
One of the fun things that many homeschoolers do in conjunction with learning history is to create a timeline of events as the kids learn. There are a hundred different methods for creating a timeline, from a notebook or binder system, to a wall-based system, to a scroll system (which is what we’ve been using for the last few years).
Last year, we started keeping a history notebook. The kids worked on that together with their lapbook. We are using Story of the World, and several bloggers have made coordinating lapbooks that cover books 1-3. We’ll start book 4 later this year, and I’d like to transition fully to notebooking, rather than lapbooking for this last book. If you’ve never worked on a lapbook or a notebook, the concepts are pretty similar. I like to think of lapbooking as a little more ‘directed’, while notebooking is a little more student-led, but lapbooking can be student-led as well. It’s really up to you as to how you use and/or combine the two methods.
We’ve been working on taking notes in various subjects, and I’ve been requiring that the boys write more from their own perspective, rather than being told what to write. With our new school year on the horizon, I’ve been searching through my history & geography pins on Pinterest and seeing what I’ve pinned that will help me help the boys make notebooks that they will want to read through later.
One pin on Interactive Notebooks has several really good tips for creating lasting work. The site is geared towards younger students, but even with boys in middle school, the tips are just as relevant. As I mentioned before in my middle school lesson planning post, we’ve been using ‘mind-mapping’ to take notes, which combines color and pictures with words and related ‘branches’ arcing out from a center, or main, point. I have one child that likes this method of note-taking, and one that prefers a linear (traditional) style – but both ways have merit.
I also am a big (BIG – HUGE) fan of art journals, and art notebooks. I’ve been toying with the idea of helping the kids work on art notebooks for history. Combining maps (geography) and art in this way would make a great project. Printed pictures, colored pencils layered with notebooking (journaling and notes) would make a keepsake that can be referred to in later years as both an art piece and an educational review.
Something like this (pictured – not ours!!) would be ideal. That’s not history (art history, maybe??), but that’s similar to what I envision the kids’ notebooks looking like in this process. It probably will require more preparation on my part, as far as printing pictures and graphics to use, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.
Currently, we’re in Russia, with Peter the Great. There are several battles and movements of the army that would make for great visual aids in a notebook like this.
This would be another way to mark your timeline if you work through history chronologically. Keeping up the notebooks will keep your timeline in order. I am looking forward to getting started with this idea with my kids!
If you art/notebook, I’d love to hear from you, and see how it works and looks for your students.