Monday, August 30, 2010

Peterson Directed Handwriting (TOS Homeschool Crew Review)

Trace these letters on this paper.  Now trace these numbers on this paper.  And now trace these letters again. Tracing, tracing and more tracing.

That's the way a lot of homeschool moms believe is the best way for a child to learn to write.  I held the same belief, until I received Peterson Directed Handwriting ("PDH") to review as part of the TOS homeschool review crew.  PDH has been around since 1908, and my understanding of its basic philosophy is that handwriting begins with a visual image of letters/numbers and muscle memory, and that process then translates to smaller muscle memory and handwriting fluency.  (I say "my understanding" because there is a lot of information on methodology, etc. on the website to review before you even start teaching.)  Once the muscles know the rhythm/movements for letter formation, fluent writing follows.  I had never thought of that, but the girls' karate teacher and ballet teacher have all mentioned muscle memory from time to time, so it makes sense to me that it would also apply to something like handwriting.

The website itself ( has so much information that the company should charge admission (although I'll admit that there's *so* much information that it was sometimes confusing to me due to the way it's presented on the website).  There is a ton of  information in the website's resource library here, and a very informative audio/visual presentation on PDH's methods/philosophy here.  Very eye-opening - highly recommend you view it.  There is a plethora of other information - I think your first step should be to explore the entire website and digest some of the information.  When choosing which level to start with, reading the Where Should I Start? article might help.  Another bonus - Rand Nelson ("Mr. Pencil"!) of PDH sets up web meetings to help - I found his insight (both instructions on the program itself and individualized pointers for my children) invaluable.  Mr. Nelson can be contacted at or 1-724-837-4900.  He seems to have a real passion for helping kids have legible, fluent handwriting.

Let me back up a bit.  For this review, I received the print program e-books - print step 1, step 2 and step 3, each of which retails for $19.95 (see more details on the e-books offered here).  (There are other purchase options, including kits - go here to see a list of the products available, and here for more detailed information, including pricing.)    With the instructions I received on the web from Mr. Nelson and these e-books, I was ready to get started (although in hindsight I wish I had ordered some of the available accessories (position guides, grip guide, special pencils, etc.) - I may yet order those.  (Note that the kits include many of these "extras".)  I noted that the instructions in the step 2 e-book seem to be a bit more detailed than those in the e-book for step 1.  You can view all the e-books here (printing is disabled, though), so that may be helpful for someone starting with the step 1 e-book.

Since my girls have been writing for a while, they have bad habits firmly ingrained - so we're taking this program very slow.  I'm also going slow because I've met with a bit of resistance (you know, the "mommy, we already know how to write these letters!" protests).   Obviously, this program would have worked better for us if we had started it to begin with.  At the time of my writing of this review, we're still working through the program.  While I don't care for all of the parts of this program (some letters look odd to me; I prefer to have the girls use continuous strokes for as many letters as possible, and some of the PDH program uses "stops" on some letters), I will probably continue with it because I'm seeing improvement.  I will at least continue with the parts that work on muscle memory.  

Also, I've found the ideas/tips regarding paper placement, hand/arm placement and pencil grip.  

The Peterson method uses four basic steps:

1 - illustrate and describe
2 - write in the air and say
3 - finger trace and say
4 - write and say 

The girls thought "air writing" was quite fun.  We've always had problems with the size of their writing, so we started out doing really big "air letters", and then made a game of making them smaller.   We also did the same process on our white board.  Their letter size on paper is not quite where I'd like it just yet, but it has improved since we started.  PDH's auditory cues for teaching letter formation ("tall down, roll around" for b; "hook around" for c; "hook down, cross" for f) have also helped.

The above animation is a sample of the auditory cues, but also a sample of some cool animated letter formations available on CD here for $17.95!  Note that I did not receive this CD as part of this review, but found it while exploring the website - it looks so cool that I think the girls would love it and I think we'll be purchasing this CD. The CD includes letter formations for vertical print, slant print and cursive.

I really like most of this program; the parts I don't like we are "tweaking" to work for us.

To see other reviews of this product, click here. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:

Disclaimer: As part of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of the product in this review in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our first official school room!

I've always had trouble answering questions like "where do your girls do their schoolwork?" or "what does your school room look like?"  We've never really had an official homeschooling spot - our school room has been the kitchen table, the sofa, the bed, the living room floor, the bench outside, the car, etc. 

This year, though, is a little bit different.  We have a lot to accomplish, and the more I looked at our schedule the more I became convinced that giving the girls their own workspace would help them focus - so I started looking for desks.  The only real option for space in our house was what  was the nursery and is now the "library".  It's not a large room, so I knew I needed to find small-ish desks, but still wanted something very functional.  Frequent online shopping was fruitless - but one day I happened to be in Container Store and found the perfect desk!

Note that the lower writing surface pulls out - so when it's not being used, it can be pushed under and it takes up much less space.  Perfect!

The plan is to get them both laptops (inexpensive ones, mind you).  Having their own computers will make it easier for them to get their schoolwork done - they use a computer-based math program (Teaching Textbooks), they review their co-op memory work online, and there are other tasks that they need a computer to accomplish. Giving them each access to a computer in a non-public area gives me a bit of heartburn, but one of my upcoming reviews for the TOS homeschool crew is for Lanschool.  From what I can tell, Lanschool is software that will allow me to see what they're doing on their computers from my computer (and it looks like that software will allow me to send messages to their screens, take control of their computers remotely, and blank out their screens if I don't like what I see) - which eases my mind a bit about them having computers on their desks.  I'm hoping that software works as advertised.

Now I needed a large writing surface for the wall.  I didn't want a chalkboard (due to the chalk dust), but discovered that large white boards are expensive - and I quickly put that thought on hold.  But God in His wisdom brought me the perfect answer!  This past week I went to a parent orientation for the IEW program that Punkin and I are doing this fall, and during the video Andrew Pudewa mentioned using shower board as a white board.  (Was that providential or what?)  I added Lowe's to my errands list for yesterday to shop for a makeshift white board.  We bought a 4' x 8' piece of white shower board that works perfectly as a white board - for $14!

This afternoon we put everything together.  After My Hero used a little elbow grease, my white board was up and ready:

Putting together the desks came next.  The second one was much easier to put together than the first - guess we were over the learning curve!

My original plan was to put the desks against the wall - but that would block the white board a bit, which defeats the purpose.  Instead, we put them back-to-back and pulled them away from the wall about 2 feet.  They are, in essence, sitting in the middle of the room (well, almost the middle), but I think it's going to work fine.

On the wall opposite the white board is a window, and next to it is the glider rocker where I rocked the girls when they were babies.  Now that glider rocker will be used for me to read our read-alouds to the girls!  I'll toss a couple of bean bags by the rocker for them to snuggle in and we'll be all set and comfy!

Here's part of the room all set up:

I think they like it!  And so does mommy. 

We'll still "do school" in all those different places, but now they have a work space of their very own. 

And maybe now they'll be able to find their math books.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Little School that Thinks It Can! (And on!)

I've always liked Kohl's, especially those $5 goodies at the front of the store that are "Kohl's Cares" deals.  Turns out, that money goes to really great causes.  Right now, in celebration of Kohl's Cares® 10th anniversary, they are donating $500,000 to 20 schools each for a total of $10 million!  Suddenly I'm a bigger fan of Kohl's than I realized.  

As a homeschooler, I obviously don't have a vested interest in any particular school (except our own homeschool!) - but I have a friend who has sent all her children to Lucas Christian Academy ("LCA") in Lucas, Texas.  My friend's family is one of the finest families I know.  The mother (my friend) epitomizes the Proverbs 31 woman.  She has homeschooled all her children and when they reach 7th grade, they start attending LCA.

LCA is a certified University-Model School.  What's that, you ask?  You can learn more about LCA and the university-model here.  At LCA, classes are held M/W/F and then the students work at home under parental supervision on T/Th (but upper level students can also take classes on T/Th).  Families are admitted under the agreement they will have an at-home parent overseeing student studies in the home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Because of the M/W/F class schedule, homeschooling families find LCA a useful bridge to the college years.

You have 20 votes that you can use in the Kohl's Cares Contest - please use 5 of them for LCA!  This link takes you to the school's voting page. Before voting, "Like" Kohl's Cares from your Facebook page, then click the voting button five times for LCA.  Thank you for taking of your time to support the school's efforts. 

What will LCA do with the money?   The school's land will be paid off and the school will break ground to build their own facility.   The 10 yr. old school has been leasing portables and renting space from a small country church.

Please vote, then come back here and comment to be entered in my drawing for a $20 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble (your choice!).  

Also, LCA is giving away an iPad for those who vote (and who get others to vote).  Click here for details on that drawing.

Your vote really CAN make a difference!  Please vote for LCA!!!

And in true homeschooling style, Puddin saw me type "vote" and asked me what I was doing.  When I explained it, she said "oh, like a campaign!", and off she went to make a campaign poster:

Don't you just love homeschooling?

Happy birthday to me...and Mama.

Today's my birthday.  There's a vicious rumor going around about how old I'm turning, which can't possibly be true.  Let's see - the year is 2010, so let's subtract my birth year and...oh, I guess it is true.

My day started off wonderfully - woke up to breakfast in bed, prepared by the girls: 

You have to see *what* they served me:

And I was served a glass of sweet iced tea to wash it all down.

Of course, like any good mommy, I ate most of it.

You'd think after all that sugar, I would have accomplished more today.  But my happy day has also been peppered with sadness.  Oh, I got lots of hugs/kisses from My Hero and the girls, the phone rang a lot with birthday wishes, and I received lots of happy birthday wishes on Facebook from friends near and far.  But the one call I wished would come did not...

The happy birthday call from Mama.

That's because Mama died in the summer of 2006.  For five years now, I've missed her happy birthday call and the sappy birthday card from her that inevitably arrived that same day.  She was very rarely sappy in real life, but the birthday cards always were.

I miss her.

Do you ever really get over losing a parent?  My daddy died when I was very young (right before I turned 10), so for most of my life it was just me and Mama.

Late in life I found My Hero, and then God blessed me with Punkin and Puddin.  I thank Him every day that Mama got to know both girls - and they developed quite the love affair.  Mama called them "my loves".  The girls miss her terribly.

Mama was my protector from early on.  When the school classroom was too hot, she brought a fan.  When I couldn't eat the divinity that she was famous for, she made some without pecans.  There are thousands of other acts that I truly didn't appreciate at the time.  Now I wish I could thank her for all of them.

Sure Mama and I had our moments - we sometimes argued like cats and dogs, but underneath there was always the understanding that we loved each other and would be there for each other.

And now she's gone.  What I wouldn't give to have that phone ring just one more time with a happy birthday wish.  That would be the longest birthday call in recorded history - because I'd take the time to tell her everything I wish I'd told her, and I'd apologize for not being grateful for everything she did for me while she was still here.

I suppose birthdays should be celebrated not just by the birthday boy/girl, but also by the mothers  - after all, giving birth makes it a pretty memorable day for the moms too.

For those of you still blessed to have your mother here on earth, take the time today to thank her.  And remember to tell her happy birthday on your birthday.

Happy birthday, Mama - I love you and I miss you terribly.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The planning panic...and a planner to the rescue!

Each summer, I enter the "planning zone" for the coming year - here's what it looks like:

Day 1 - sit down with all my homeschooling curricula for the year and try to make a plan.
Day 1, 20 minutes later - overwhelmed, I stop for the day.

Day 2 - sit down again, determined to take more time today to plan.
Day 2, 30 minutes later - overwhelmed, I stop again.

Days 3 - 16 - repeat above.

Day 17, starting to worry about not having a plan.  This time I manage to plan for 40 minutes.  Still too many missing pieces and moving parts.

Days 18-25 - repeat above.

Day 26 - wonder if there's someone I can pay to do my plan.

Day 27 - wonder if there's someone I can pay a large sum to do my plan.

Day 28 - remember that I have a copy of the TOS 2010 Schoolhouse Planner.  Voila - my homeschool plans (and my sanity) are saved!

The above may be an exaggeration, but honestly each year in late summer I truly go into panic mode.  Why?  Because I have to get our next homeschool year planned out!  Sure, I know what curricula we're using, what our extracurricular activities will be, and what my goals are for the year - I just don't know how to accomplish those goals!  In other words, I have everything I need except organization and schedules!

Ah, but the TOS 2010 Schoolhouse Planner to the rescue.

The TOS 2010 Schoolhouse Planner can give me just what I need - organization and schedules.  Talk about a wealth of information - this planner has everything you need to plan your school year.  Lest you think I'm overstating its contents, the planner weighs in at a whopping 614 pages!  Trust me - if the form isn't in this planner, most likely you don't need it!  It is available as a download here from The Old Schoolhouse Store.

So, what's in it?
  • Monthly sections (from July 2010 to June 2011).  Each month includes ideas to enhance your home and school experiences in the form of an article written by a well-known name in homeschooling, together with "must know" lists relating to the article (and a resource list for items in the TOS store).  (Some months even have *two* articles and must know/resource lists!)  Also included are family-friendly recipes for you to try - recipes that were sent in by other homeschoolers so they're "tried and true".
  • Calendars - 30+ pages worth! 

  • Miscellaneous educational information that you can use in your homeschool - everything from common Latin roots, to the miracles of Jesus, to countries and capitals, to U.S. Presidents and their wives, to elements by atomic number - almost 50 pages of invaluable reference information.

  • Homeschool forms and instructions - Need a form to keep up with websites and vendors that others recommend?  A curriculum planning sheet?  A 12-year planning page?  A field trip planning page?  A form to keep up with the homeschooling requirements in your state?  Daily/weekly/monthly schedule forms?  Nature journal pages?  Co-op planning sheets? Homeschool convention planning forms?  Library books/movie list?  You get the idea - it's all in here.

Oh, remember that household you're also supposed to be running?  There are forms for:
  • Important phone numbers
  • Information for babysitter
  • Dates to remember
  • Home repair projects
  • Family computer schedule
  • Grocery/menu planning 
  • Chores
  • Budgeting
  • Gift-giving
  • Christmas card list
  • Loaned/borrowed list
  • And too many others to mention!
OH WAIT!  I forgot to tell you the best thing.  All these forms I've told you about are interactive - each blank field on the planning forms is actually an interactive field where you can type your information directly on the pages.  (Just be sure to save your changes each time you've updated your planner!)

So now, with planner in hand (or, actually, on screen), I sit here once again faced with planning and organizing our new homeschool year.  But now instead of saying "Organized, who me?", I can say "Organized?  Me?  Yes! "

This planner is worth its weight in gold, but it's only $39. 

Click here for more information and to order your own sanity-saving copy!

Note/disclaimer:  As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS homeschool crew I have written this blog post/sell sheet as my entry into an ad contest for The Old Schoolhouse Planner advertising campaign, and was provided a copy of the planner free of charge for use in preparing this ad. 

Disclaimer to the disclaimer:  As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS homeschool crew, after writing this ad, I now know how truly valuable this planner is and will be implementing it in my homeschool/household!