Monday, August 30, 2010

Let's Write Right...alright?

 Disclaimer: As a member 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 review. No other compensation was received.

I keep wanting to say that I've found a NEW way to teach handwriting, but the truth is that Peterson Directed Handwriting has been around since 1908!  As I used the materials that were provided to us for the purpose of this review, I found myself wishing many times that I'd found this before I ever started homeschooling.  I'll tell you why in a minute, but first let me give you an overview of this amazing program.

Peterson Directed Handwriting works differently than any other handwriting program I've ever used...and with four kids with four different learning styles, I've used a LOT!  Peterson approaches handwriting as rhythm-based muscle-training.  Instead of students tracing letters over and over again, Peterson teaches students to learn their letters and numbers as simply a sequence of trained movements.

Each movement is learned in the following four steps:
1. Illustrate and describe (that's my job)
2. Air write and say (me with children)
3. Finger trace and say (on paper, a white board, newspaper on a wall, etc; the children do this step)
4. Write and say (with a pencil on paper; the children do this step)

I've been using the Peterson PDF By Hand E-Workbooks for Homeschool program with both Kaitlyn (6) and Megan (4) since we received it.  We received Print Step 1, Print Step 2 and Print Step 3 e-workbooks (we're still working on Print Step 1).  To me this program is very intuitive and makes complete sense.  Each letter is formed using specific verbal reminders.  For instance, a small "h" is formed by using the clues "tall down" and "roll around"; those tell me that my first stroke is a long straight vertical line, my second stroke moves in a curve to the right.  A letter with "hook around" instead of "roll around" would curve to the left.  I found that I like this program very well, even given that some of the letter formations look odd to me.  It seems like a very artistic/musical, and yet logical way to teach handwriting.

My children were not as enamored as I was.  I think the main problem is that ALL my kids have already learned to write all their letters.  Yes, even my four-year-old can write her letters (large and small) with about 98% accuracy.  To have to go back to the beginning and do something that they "already know" was frustrating to them, even though both girls could definitely stand to improve their handwriting skills.  Despite doing this with them day after day for several weeks, they started every new lesson with "why do we have to do this?" and more specifically "why do we have to talk when we write our letters?"  I tried explaining several times how the rhythms could help them remember how to make each letter correctly, neatly and accurately, but they just did/do not want to do it.  Even after I spent several minutes demonstrating the process to them, they insisted that "I sound stupid" to say the words.  I have a very strong feeling, though, that had I begun with this handwriting program nine years ago when my oldest son was learning how to write, he would have loved it, and subsequently each child would also have enjoyed it and gone through the program without whining at all.  Which is sad, because this program truly is amazing.

I do have at least one chance to redeem this though: neither girl has learned cursive writing yet!  I'm planning to keep up with the Peterson program with both girls, and hopefully by the time we get to cursive writing (starting next year), they'll be used to it enough that doing the cursive program will feel normal to them.

Overall, I really liked Peterson Directed Handwriting.  There are many more products offered on the Peterson Directed Handwriting website, besides the three e-workbooks that we received.  The Print Step 1, 2 and 3 E-Workbooks retail for $19.95 each.  There are also homeschool kits that can be purchased with all the materials already printed out for you.  One of the things I noticed was that printing out the e-books did require color printing to show the child the separate steps for each letter, which can drive up your printing costs quickly.  In addition, Rand Nelson (aka "Mr. Pencil") leads the user through web meetings to learn how to use the program.; this can be invaluable for parents who are having trouble getting started or who are unsure of how to do something.  There are training courses, help for left-handed writers, technical support, and more.

The only frustration I had with this program, aside from my uncooperative children, was that the Peterson Directed Handwriting website was difficult to navigate for me.  I found it confusing and at times, frustrating.  Unlike the handwriting program, the website is not laid out intuitively.  However, there's always that live help at the click of a button (conveniently located on the home page).  In addition, Rand Nelson offers an e-mail and phone number for additional help, so a hard-to-navigate website is just a minor problem.

Thanks to Peterson Directed Handwriting for providing these materials for us to review.  To read other reviews on this product, as well as other Peterson Directed Handwriting programs, visit The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew Blog.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Our "school" room - a work in progress

This post is my first for the Not Back-To-School Blog Hop at Heart of the Matter Online.  This week's Blog Hop feature is School Room Week.  Click on the link to see lots of other neat ideas for homeschool rooms and areas.  Here's a peek into our "school" room.

We've been living in this house for nearly four years now.  When we first bought it, I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to use the "den" off the front entry as our "school" room.  The den is accessed through a pair of French doors, and he was (rightly) concerned that the first impression that people would get upon entering our home would be the piles and disorganization that tends to go along with our learning.  I promised that the room would stay tidy, but unfortunately, I didn't have the tools to follow through on that promise.  Our school room was crammed full of furniture - two large office-sized desks, two 6-ft bookcases, two 2'x3' lateral files and a 3.5'x5' table - and all of it was either open, showing everything inside, or a flat surface, which accumulated piles of clutter.  I never took pictures, but here's a little diagram that shows the basic layout of the room.

The crude drawing doesn't do the room justice, really.  The French doors were constantly in the way, until we finally decided to leave one permanently closed by stacking boxes of occasionally-used items in front of it; the other was left open but was right next to the girl's chairs and they were constantly either slamming their chairs against it, worrying me that the glass would break, or coloring in the panes when I wasn't looking.  Other frustrations were: 1) the bookcase next to the boys' desk, making the child closest to the bookcase either pushed up against it, or annoying the other child by moving into "his" space; 2) The entire underside of my desk filled up with rolling carts, which made it difficult to get side-by-side with any child to do one-on-one teaching; 3) The visual overload when walking into the room - it wasn't conducive to learning at all.

About this time last year, my husband's parents gave us a very generous financial gift and asked us to use it for something we wanted and not spend it to pay bills, etc.  We talked about several things, but kept coming back to the idea of doing something with the school room to make it more visually appealing and better organized.  Right around that time I found the Not Back to School Blog Hop: School Room Week and found all sorts of great ideas to get us started.  Still, it took us several months to agree on a basic design, and get things ordered.  We had the cabinets and counter-top ordered by Thanksgiving 2009, and in anticipation of their arrival and installation, we cleared out the school room.

That was nine months ago.  The cabinets were in by Christmas, the counter-top installed in late January, but we are still waiting for the rest of the project to be completed.  Here's what we had planned:
  • The cabinets and counter-top (ordered from Lowes, installed by husband) 
  • Bookshelves across the entire wall above the cabinets (to be made and installed by husband) 
  • A 4-person square desk for the children (to be made by husband) 
  • A slightly-smaller (than what I have now) desk for me.  
My husband wants to make the bookshelves and kids' desk himself, but he was concerned about making the bookshelves to go in such a high-profile place - remember, this room is right inside our front door - without some practice.  So he's currently at work on a set of built-in bookshelves in the master bedroom as his "practice run"; when he's finished with those, he'll get back to the school room project.

In the meantime, the "school" area has been temporarily moved to several places.  The majority of our learning takes place in the living room.  The boys' desk and my desk have been moved into the living room, along with the lateral files that hold most of our schoolwork.

The lateral files actually don't look too much different in the living room than they did in our previous school room.  They still end up piled with the "stuff" that doesn't have another home. 

The living room furniture has been pushed to one side to make room for the school stuff.


Most of the books and supplies we had out in the school room are currently being stored in front of and around the fireplace.


The boys each have a desk in their own room, so when they get too overwhelmed by the very verbal learning that the girls are doing, they can retreat to a quieter place.


The bookcases from the school room are currently living in the piano room.  One kept all the books it had in the school room; the other has been partially re-purposed for music, though some of its books remain.


But here's where we're hoping to be moved into VERY soon.  I can't wait to move the STUFF into the cabinets and drawers, and get at least that aspect of life more organized.

So we're a work in progress this year.  I am praying that by this time next year, I will have a 100% finished, uncluttered and well-organized school room to show everyone for the 2011 Not Back to School Blog hop.