Thursday, October 19, 2017

Training Little Hands

One thing I really want to make sure that I get right with my girls is proper pencil grip and handwriting, because I know that once bad habits start, they are really hard to break!  The Pencil Grip, Inc. sent us two of their products to review: The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors and The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit. My girls have been cutting and writing for a few years now, but neither is someone I'd hold up as a flawless example, so we figured these would be worth a try!

This post contains affiliate links.

The Pencil Grip, Inc.

The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors are for ages three and up. The scissor blades are covered with a plastic safety shield to prevent the cutting of anything except paper. When the scissors are all the way open there’s a thin slit between the blade and the protective shield that you can slide a piece of paper into to cut it. The tips are curved so there’s no risk of harm from your child poking herself with sharp scissors, but the blades themselves are actually sharper than most if not all other safety scissors since the protection is provided by the shield rather than by dull blades. I love this theory, because there is nothing more frustrating to a new scissor user than trying to cut and only bending the paper because the safety scissors are so dull.

The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors

Although my girls know the rules of scissors, we have had some instances of cutting things that aren't paper, especially in the preschool years. We've had some bang trimming, some hair ribbon cutting, and that frustrates me. When they were first learning to use scissors and itching to try out their skills on everything around them, this would have been a good tool. Now, when they've grown out of this stage and have been using scissors for a while, they weren't a big fan. It was awkward and had them more annoyed than anything. I think if I started with these it would have been fine, and then we could have "graduated them" once they were ready. Going backward was tough, and even I found them a bit frustrating. I do plan on passing them on to someone with young kids who can use them as intended - right from the start.

The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors

Next I asked Reagan to try out The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit first. It includes The Crossover Grip for Training, The Pinch Grip for Transitioning and The Pencil Grip for Graduation. Reagan is a new writer who is at the perfect age for this. Reagan loved them - she's stuck with Step 1 right now because she loves how comfortable and squishy it feels on her hands. I moved on to Madison, and she loves them too (and was willing to use the Step 2). She's holding a pencil well, but she's a reluctant writer who complains often that her hand hurts, and right now she actually likes using these and doesn't complain - so I'm counting it as a win for comfort alone! Honestly, sometimes it's nice to have your hand slide easily in and think "hooray, we're all doing it right!"

The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit

Overall, if you have a preschooler in your house, the scissors are a "wow, I wish we'd had these back then!" moment, and the pencil grips are a win for everyone - whether you need them or not!

Ultra Safe Safety Scissors & Pencil Grip Training Kit {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reading Eggs Review

When Madison was in kindergarten, I was chatting with a group of parents, and realized that I actually was depriving my children of something they'd be getting in public school - computer time. Adam and I both have laptops, and the girls have iPads to use (and plenty of apps that we love), but Madison had no idea how to work anything that wasn't a touch screen. Although the majority of our curriculum is offline, this didn't seem right, and I started adding "computer time" into our homeschool schedule. We went to the library, and one of the first programs I got Madison started on was Reading Eggs. Now, two years later, I have another kindergarten girl, and Reagan loves the fun online learning games and activities in Reading Eggs, and Madison is getting some great reinforcement in her reading as well.

Reading Eggs*

Although we'd had a subscription when Madison was in kindergarten, I had let it lapse last year. When we started again a few weeks ago, I wanted to see where Madison was. Placement tests are such a huge thing for me with these online programs. Nothing frustrates me (or my kids) more than a program that passes through a year or more of reading development, but insists that everyone begin at level one. Yes, reinforcement is great, but my second grader will only get a kick out of whipping through a few activities before it's boring or babyish or any number or whining excuses. Sometimes the parent can place the student, and we've done that too, but then we'll run into a situation where there are holes (because we didn't start at the beginning), and that's not great either. Reading Eggs allows you to either start at the very beginning, or to take a placement test. Since Madison is a comfortably reading second grader, and Reagan does know her letter sounds, I put both girls through the tests. That's how we found the perfect lesson for Reagan to start with, and how we realized that Madison was a better fit for Reading Eggspress, working on comprehension and other skills beyond basic decoding (although I did have her do the last few lessons of Reading Eggs for some spelling reinforcement).

Although you can start as young as preschool for Reading Eggs Jr, and keep using Reading Eggspress throughout the elementary grades, Reading Eggs in the meat of the program, and that's where Reagan is a perfect fit. She's at that awesome stage where you can watch that code being cracked, and a whole world opening up, and it's so cool to watch. Of course, we've been doing a lot, and since I didn't want to stop our current program, we added this as a supplement and I wondered if it would be too much. But instead, it's been great. Reagan loves incentives. If completing lessons earns her coins, or stars, or anything else that she can watch add up in her account, she will work through a program as much as I'll allow. In this program, she's been collecting eggs. After each lesson, she turned to me and crowed about how many eggs she'd received, and what her running total was currently sitting at.

In the past few years, there have been some great changes that are perfect for our family. Now, on the parent dashboard, there is a drop down menu called “Bonus Material.” On that menu is an option for “activity sheets.” Those are worksheets that correlate directly with each level of the entire program. There’s also a homeschool drop down option that breaks this into an entire scope-and-sequence for how to use this program as a full curriculum for kindergarten through second grade.What's great is that there is a four week trial, which gives you a good amount of time to see how well this will work for your family.

Reading Eggs

And beyond the reading, Reading Eggs also has a section called Math Seeds, for math reinforcement. I will never say no to more math practice, and, again, after getting the girls placed correctly, I let them have at it!

Reading Eggs

If you're interested to see how other homeschoolers have been using this program with their kids from preschool through the elementary years, check out the other reviewers!

Reading Eggs

The four week trial ends November 30, 2017, so if you're on the fence, now is the time to give it a try!

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CTC Math Review

Math can be tricky business - the foundations are so important and it's not something I want to turn the girls off to. I am always open to reviewing a math curriculum, simply because it's always worth seeing if something is a good fit. Last year, we actually did a major, mid-year switch of math curriculum because of a review I did. Since we're so happy now, it may seem odd that I was willing to rock that boat, but I was very curious to see how an online program compared to our paper/pencil program. I was thrilled to receive CTCMath's Family Membership with my kids (and they've got a great promo running - a free trial and homeschoolers can get 60% off + 6 bonus months.)


For Madison, who is in second grade, math is a strength. She excels in "real life" math - often calculating remaining time left before appointments, count down days to exciting events, percent off sales, and adding up what we've spent in a store, all in her head. She picks up concepts quickly. She feels confident with math, and I'm excited to see where she goes.

Reagan is in kindergarten, and to be honest, I struggled a bit finding a curriculum for that didn't cost an arm and a leg (Madison started kindergarten at a first grade level, so I didn't have anything to look back to and her current curriculum doesn't have a kindergarten option). We settled on one that we think is ok. She finds it pretty easy right now, and I think it's a little bland, but we've looked ahead and once it picks up, it takes off, so we'll keep at it for now before deciding if she should jump to Madison's.

Or, we could be adventurous and try this online program. Even if we weren't reviewing, this program is great, because there is a free trial available, and homeschoolers can get 60% off + 6 bonus months.


So how did my girls like it?

Every user is given access to the complete program from Kindergarten to Calculus.  I think the thing I love most about this program is that moving between levels to reinforce older concepts or just for extra practice is a snap, and if it's too easy, moving ahead is simple.

When we began each of my girls took the “comprehensive test” for the grade level that I suspected they would qualify for based on the topics covered at that level.  There are three versions, short, standard, and comprehensive.  We did the standard test, and looked at where we should start.

I do want to point out that my kids don't use the computer that often in our homeschool, so an online program was a shift for them. We spent a lot of time at the library so they could work on math together, each using their own computer. If we make this a permanent curriculum change, we'd need to make sure they had adequate access. The program is able to be used from iOS devices, which is a great help.

Each lesson begins with a video followed by practice problems.  The videos are pretty short, usually under 4 minutes.  They work through several problems just like the ones that the child will get try in just a few moments.  The problem sets are often just ten questions long, sometimes as few as 5.
Once all of the lessons are completed on one topic, the child is awarded a certificate. Perfect scores on all problem sets earns you a Platinum Certificate. 90% or above equals Gold Level. There is also Silver and Bronze. Children can redo the questions in the problem sets in order to achieve 100% and earn that Platinum.This was key for Madison. She wanted that platinum.


For me, this program was easy as could be. No planning, no correcting, no paperwork to keep track of, and no real "teaching" was required at all. If the girls were confused, they could replay the video, and all the work was done online. All I had to do was make sure I knew where they were by keeping track of their accounts. The parent dashboard laid everything out for me, and weekly emails kept me up to date. All the "help" that was asked of me was technical (my kindergarten kiddo still needs help navigating a website with a mouse and keyboard). It's worth noting that you can print out worksheets, if that's your style.

Will we make the switch from "book" math to "computer" math? I can't say for sure yet. The girls liked the program, but they also like having an interactive math experience with me. But with the deal that is currently running, it's definitely worth it!

CTCMath Online Math Tutoring {Reviews}

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Making the Time for Cursive (Review)

Handwriting is not a strength in our homeschool. From the very beginning, the girls have struggled with letter formation and I have struggled with the best way to teach them. And trust me, we've tried it all. Even though Madison doesn't have picture perfect print yet, I knew I wanted to start her on cursive now that she's in second grade. Not only do I think it's an important skill that needs to be taught (and taught early) I've read that it can actually be easier for kids who struggle with printing to master. Add to the that the fact that we've been working through the Colonial Period with the American Girl Felicity as our guide, and Madison was sold on learning how to make "fancy" letters. Easy Peasy Cursive from from Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks is perfect for someone who is just learning how to transition from printing to cursive.

 Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks

This is not a handwriting curriculum and it won't do the "teaching" for you. What it IS is a practice pad that has taken all the pitfalls of handwriting practice and addressed them in a way that is effective. The spacing, shading, and slanting of each page helps the writer visualize "letters that are tall, letters that are small and letters that fall" (I cannot for the life of me remember where Madison read this, but it's stuck with her). The slanted boxes keep the letters the proper size and it even has spacers between the letter boxes.

Channie's Easy Peasy Cursive Workbook

The majority of the book is single letter practice. There are three pages for each letter, each gradually stepping down the "help". The first page is tracing with guidelines in red for the direction of the stroke. The second page is tracing without red guideline arrows. Finally, there is a page just for practice, with only a single letter as an example, but plenty of space (and the boxes still there). The final two pages are words.

 Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks

I assigned Madison three pages (three letters) a week. Rather than write one letter per week, I wanted to get her started on the formation of each letter. In a nod to our Felicity unit, I did allow her to choose pen while she was tracing. She loved how "fancy" it made her feel, but the added benefit was really allowing her to see her letters, instead of the dotted lines. After a few letters of switching back and forth, she was asking to do her letter writing, and grabbing one of my special pens, usually off limits to her. The paper is strong, and the pens don't bleed through - a bonus!
 Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks
We aren't done with printing, and printing practice. Right now, for a four day school week, we've decided to spend our handwriting time split between print copywork and cursive letter formation. Once Madison learns all the letters in cursive, she'll have the option of doing any of her other work in print or cursive.

I like the set up and durability of these practice pads, which just seem to zero in on exactly what visual learners need to keep them on track. I'm sure we'll start keeping them stocked for handwriting, wherever our need is. We'll make sure to check out Easy Peasy Alphabet for Reagan, since we're working on getting her letter formation just right, and now it's time to see if we can get the size of her letters down and teach her how to write on lines.

Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks {Reviews}

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Super Teacher Worksheets

We're officially into our second month of homeschooling, and, while I'm actually very happy with all the curriculum pieces I have for both girls, there are times when I realize that I need to supplement certain topics with additional practice worksheets. I've become a big fan of trolling the internet for people who are more design minded than I am, and when I discover a big site, and get the option to review it, all the better! With the Individual Membership, Super Teacher Worksheets makes it easy to add supplemental worksheets for anything you can think of!

 Super Teacher Worksheets

The past two years, I've done a lot of individual worksheet purchasing and downloading. You get a preview of course, but sometimes the worksheet works, and sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't, even the dollar you paid seems like a lot. It also can get overwhelming, hard to track, This year, I was bound and determined to stick with our curriculum that I researched. I wouldn't nickle and dime my way into issues, and I could stay focused and not overwhelm the girls.

Then, as usual, I ate my words. Almost immediately, really.

First, Reagan, as a kindergarten student, has less "work" than Madison, as a second grader, does. This shouldn't be a problem (and generally, it isn't). However, when we take our school on the road, I end up with one child moaning that this isn't fair that she's not done, and the other climbing all over me, looking for entertainment. So within a few days, I was searching for fun stuff that could keep her occupied without overwhelming her. Color by number fit that bill, and it's nice to have them at my disposal!

Reagan knows her numbers and colors, so it doesn't feel like more "work" for her. However, she's getting the fine motor practice of having to keep (at least somewhat) in the lines, and she's getting reinforcement and reading skills.

What I love about this site is that I can browse when I have time, and save worksheets to my filing cabinet. When I want them, they're easy to find again. This has been an issue for me. I find something perfect when I'm browsing, I save the link, but then it ends up in a black hole and I can't remember where I found it or where I saved it (Facebook? Pinterest?) Having a filing cabinet that sorts by date, subject, topic and title is helpful for my overloaded brain! The only thing that would make it better is the ability to sort by grade level as well (or to let me create folders so I could have one for each girl).

Madison has generally been doing well with her curriculum, but there are times when I realize that a little more practice wouldn't hurt. She's been working on time, and she's getting it, but she needs some reinforcement, especially now that her time focused chapter is over, and she's only getting little snippets for review.

Blank spelling pages for writing lists. Maps. Science concepts. Grammar skills. Handwriting. Literature units. If you need it, it's there. And if you, for some reason, can't find it, you can create it with the worksheet generator.

 Super Teacher Worksheets

 Super Teacher Worksheets

There are printables for awards and incentive charts, and overall, it's great for one stop searching and keeps things affordable at only 19.95 for a full year of access! If you have internet, a printer and ink, you have everything to supplement what your kids are learning from their curriculum - homeschooling or not!

 Super Teacher Worksheets

I love reading about how others use the site - I've gotten some great ideas on where to go next!

Super Teacher Worksheets

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

World Traveling (Digitally!)

Geography is one of those things that's important to include in an elementary curriculum, but definitely doesn't work well as a "workbook" activity.  Let’s Go Geography has fun homeschool geography course that includes many hands-on activities, and I was happy to get the chance to review it!

Let's Go Geography

We've tried a few geography programs with varying degrees of success (great, but expensive; perfect style, but not "enough", etc) as well as a mom/library directed study where we get books and DVDs and try to work our way through with projects I find online. But the girls love hands on programs with plenty of things to do, and not being a super-Pinterest mom, I burned out on that pretty quickly. 

Let’s Go Geography is an online subscription for  K-4th graders that will introduce students to the tastes, sounds, and sights of different countries around our globe each week. The author, Carol Henderson, has been teaching geography in her co-op, and now the program is available in digital format.

Let's Go Geography

What I like is that it works well for both girls together, and I don't need to worry about not receiving enough materials. This subscription style curriculum will send you an email each week with a hands-on study for a new location to explore, or you can download the entire year and pick and choose countries you want to visit.  Each year is 36 weeks and will cover 26 countries, and 2 regions of the the USA, and the full curriculum is designed to take three years.

Let's Go Geography
Each week’s lesson is designed to take about an hour.  The downloadable PDF lessons include 5 chapters with with a variety of activities, so you can spread it out over five days, or combine chapters into fewer days. I like to do two days, usually covering chapter 1 and 2 on the first day, and 3-5 on the second. (We school four days a week with the fifth day available for projects, field trips, and catch up, so we have used that fifth day to do some of the creating). All of the printables for the flags, notebooking, and coloring are included in the 6th "chapter", which felt more like an appendix.

In Chapter 1 the students locate the country on the map and learn some basic facts. We use our globe as well. I'm helping my second grader to jot down a few notes.

In Chapter 2 the focus is on the flag. Print, color, cut and paste the flag into your Travel Journal (three-ring binder) to keep all the geography mementos organized.  Free printable covers come with your subscription.

Chapters 3-5 have the students delve into the culture. In Chapter 3 they will listen and watch the music of the country with online videos – all videos are in a safe viewing mode – no YouTube ads or comments. Chapter 4 has them sightseeing, focusing on landmarks, food, and the people. Finally, in Chapter 5, you're doing a real hands on activity with step by step instructions and a detailed list of supplies.

Your membership gives you access for a year for all of your students - and even your co-op if you want to make it a class! This is definitely a plus when you're teaching multiple kids. Since it's all digital, you don't need to worry about sharing supplies. Although you get an email each week reminding you which country is up next to cover, there is some flexibility to skip around. This is good for us, because it lets us align with other things we may be doing, or with my husband's travel. We haven't gotten to go with him yet, but it's nice to be able to jump over to China the week that Daddy is in Shanghai for work, and then have a real conversation with him when he gets home. My husband and I are traveling to Hawaii in November, so I held on to that lesson, and they'll do it while we're gone.

We also chose to do interactive journals instead of binders (we have journals for different things - field trips, pleasure reading, documentaries we watch, history units, etc). The journals travel much more easily for us, and it lets us really discuss what's important as we cut and paste and copy. I do love how neat the binders are for organizing, and we may switch later on, but so far, we've been successful with a smaller format.

Overall, the girls are loving it. They love learning the National Anthems, the flags, and marking the countries we've "visited" on our map! I'm excited to keep going!

Let’s Go Geography {Reviews}

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