Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints – What about Writing?

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

One of the things I see over and over in homeschool forums and in homeschool-related email groups is a fear of teaching writing.  I don’t know if it is because we didn’t feel like we got adequate writing instruction ourselves, or we just put so much emphasis on the importance of strong writing skills. 

Truth is, though, that those of us with a B.A. in Writing aren’t immune to this fear.  I find myself sort of hoping all that reading my kids do will simply “rub off” on them without me having to do much actual instruction in writing!  ;)  But I am also a realist. So I’ve been doing some research lately on some very cool online helps for teaching writing to your homeschoolers of all ages.

  • I think I’ve mentioned before the great online writing classes at Time4Writing.  Each of my boys is going to be taking another one of these next semester.  There are classes for every student level – – from elementary to high school and college prep!
  • For a quick writing refresher, there are some neat Writing Videos at neoK12.
  • GrammarGirl is a fun and easy way to get your teens excited about writing.  She has terrific podcasts, a Facebook fan page, and even some actual paperback books with a quirky, fun style.
  • There is no better way to get young kids excited about writing than by letting them create their own picture book.
  • If you have boys, like I do, then you know how powerful graphic novels can be on motivation to write.  Maybe you already have dozens and dozens of pages of cartoon-style writing sitting around on your coffee table.  If so, one online tool you might want to check out is  Lulu helps you self publish anything you want – – even graphic novels – – and turn it into a nice hardcover book, if you like.  (Talk about a great birthday idea!)
  • If your kids keep a journal, or you like the idea of having them journal as a daily writing assignment, you will appreciate the writing prompts at Writing Fix.
  • And some of my favorite all-time writing tools for students can be found at ReadWriteThink.  Take your time and check them all out.

I’m going to TRY to feel a little less daunted by homeschooling writing in the near future…how about you??

Advertisements Adds Student Record Keeping

spellingcitylogo If you already use SpellingCity in your homeschool, then I’m preaching to the choir, but if you don’t…you should definitely check it out!

SpellingCity is a free spelling practice program online that lets you input your own lists, or use ones already on the site.  Then your kids can practice their spelling words by playing ten different word games with their list.  A real human voice speaks each of the words aloud, so kids can hear the word, read it, play games, and make connections. 

There are also SO many great lists already entered on the site by parents and teachers all over the country.  There are lists for most children’s books, lists for most any subject of school study, and lists by grade level and reading level.  But like I said, you can also input your own personalized lists, based on what you are studying, or from a spelling curriculum you may be using.

And for the new school year, they have added another cool feature…student record keeping.  This feature does require a subscription, but theoretically, you could use the site to give your homeschoolers all their spelling tests, and the system would keep track of their success.  Neat idea! 

I’m betting it will be especially helpful for classroom teachers who want to have their students take their spelling tests on the classroom computer! 

Anyway, if you have been looking for a fun spelling program, or a way to make spelling tests more palatable, definitely take a look at

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Does Your Baby Prefer Frontline or Nova?

Sometimes I get totally fascinated by the most boring subjects.

Like learning styles, for instance.

I’m sure that reading about the way people learn would be lower than say – – watching an infomercial at 2 a.m. – – on some people’s priority scale, but I find it perfectly absorbing.

If you don’t know a lot about learning styles, then I’ll give you my super-condensed Topsy-Techie primer.

Visual Learners  – -  if your kid would steer his baby walker to the tv at age 6 mos., and stop to watch anything on – – even the Newshour on PBS – -  then you might have a visual learner. (Yep, H-T was a huge Newshour fan as a babe)

Auditory Learners – – if your kid talks  non-stop, repeats back everything other people say, or sings from morning till night – – then you might have an auditory learner. (Uber has to discuss EVERYTHING before it takes hold in his head.  He will readily admit that most anything he has retained has been because he has had a conversation about it with someone)

Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners – – if your kid has built two Lego castles and one Lego moat before you could finish reading one chapter aloud of his favorite King Arthur story – – then you might have a kinesthetic/tactile learner. (my boys each have kinesthetic/tactile as their secondary learning style)

Now you might be saying…”Topsy is such a genius. Look at all she knows about learning styles!”  And I would reply…”I’ll send you the 20 bucks via Paypal." But the truth is…I had to learn this stuff the hard way.  By slamming into the brick wall of curriculum choice vs. learning style. 

Early in our homeschool career, I desperately wanted to use Sonlight.  I LOVED the idea of reading aloud to my kids all day, and discussing good literature, and doing projects based on what we were reading.  I couldn’t possibly imagine a more lovely way to learn.


That was me hitting the brick wall of reality, when my boys became bored – quickly – – with me reading to them all day, and discussing good literature, and doing projects based on what we were reading.  “This is LAME,” I heard, more than once. 

Impossible!  I couldn’t figure out why this lovely, perfectly educational curriculum wasn’t working for us.  And then I read about learning styles, and how some homeschool materials and curricula are better suited for certain kids, based on HOW they learn.

One cool resource I recently discovered was the Homeschooling Books website, which lets you search for homeschool materials by learning style, thinking style, personality, and expression.  Now THAT’S a good idea!  Understanding the uniqueness of your child and using an eclectic assortment of resources to help him or her learn best. (For more info on eclectic homeschooling, check out my post on Home-School Online today.)

What about you?  Does your child(ren) have a noticeable learning style?  How does it play out in their homeschooling?

(Note: Homeschooling Books has a decidedly Christian slant, but offers secular resources as well)

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August Just Ain’t What It Used To Be

It’s August.

Not only does the calendar tell me so, but my “educationological” clock does too.

For the past nine years, August has basically been homeschool CURRICULUM month.  I’d pull out all the old stuff, and see what was still salvageable/saleable, and then pop into a couple local curriculum fairs – – just to check out the latest and greatest, and then spend the rest of the month blissfully planning and scheming and envisioning what terrific things we were going to learn in the coming school year.  I hate to teach, but I adore to plan!

Now, even the planning has been wrenched from my capable little mitts because this year we are experimenting with UNSCHOOLING. (Which I have to admit – – as a term – – I still really hate!)August

But if you are following your interests, there really is nothing to  plan.  No organizational software to punch figures into.  No crisp, colorful catalogs to thumb through.

Just learning.


There is SUCH a hole where my Daytimer used to be!

Anyone have some lessons that need planning??  Anyone??

Has Keyboarding Ruined My Children For Life?

So I’ve found one sincere downside to the big wide world of high-tech homeschool.  My children’s handwriting is ATROCIOUS.  Think : second grade essay without lined paper.  That’s my boys.

Actually, I can’t blame it ALL on the constant keyboarding.  Uber’s neurological issues have always given him the unfortunate side handwriting effect of hand tremors and insufficient fine motor skills.  And H-T’s dyslexia has always made writing anything a chore.  There might also be a genetic component…I had award-winning bad handwriting as a kid.  Every report card I got in elementary school was full of back-handed compliments like…”she has such promise as a young writer, if only her work weren’t so damn sloppy.”

Ok, maybe I added the “damn” for effect, but that was basically the way my mom read it, based on how hard she would come down on me afterward.

My handwriting didn’t seem to improve, either, as I edged closer to middle school, until one day when I went to visit my dad (my parents were divorced and I visited my dad often on weekends and summers).

Dad was one of those classic guilty divorced dads who tried to buy me things to make up for his absence.  Only problem was, he was always dead broke, so instead of picking me out the latest Bloomingdale treasures, he went thrift shopping for me. Dad was a regular fixture at every flea market, yard sale, and thrift store within a 100-mile radius of his house.  He would take hours each week scouring through other people’s cast-offs to find the very things he thought I would like.  And doggone if he wasn’t usually right on the money!

Well, on the day in question, when I showed up at my dad’s, he had spread across his kitchen table a gorgeous used calligraphy set.  It had a wide assortment of pens, and nibs, and papers and colored inks.  Granted, some of the inks were half empty, but do you think I gave a hoot?!  Having never even seen anything like this before, I was fascinated.  I pored over the instruction book as if it were my Teen Beat for the week.  And in two days time, I had conquered every pen, nib, and technique it had to offer, and was begging for more.  Dad let me take the stuff back home with me, and I became a die-hard calligrapher for about six months.

I guess you can see where this story is going.  When next  semester’s report card rolled around, my teacher had nothing but glowing praise for my handwriting.  “’Bout damn time!”, it probably said.   And I’ve been getting compliments on my handwriting ever since.

So, Topsy-Techie is considering this low-tech solution to her current remedial handwriting crisis…what do you think?  Calligraphy class for boys? Will it be successful, or bomb as flat as all the other “it-worked-for-me-so-surely-it-will-work-with-my-boys schemes”?

Sound off below, you moms of boys with bad handwriting…

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Over the Moon!

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

I know that it has been a while since I have visited the Hardwired Hints territory, so you know it had to be something good to bring this puppy out of temporary retirement…

Our subject this week is The Final Frontier.  Yep, that’s right. Outer space.  And instead of a passel of links, this time I’m going to direct you to only one – – cause this one is a doozy!

Microsoft isn’t always known for its incredible educational software.  Lately, that has been all Google’s domicile.  And granted, Google Earth, in particular, has got some incredible things going on over there for students.

But once in a while, Microsoft finds it’s inner “apple” and takes a bite…a BIG one.  And that is exactly what they have done with the new program: Worldwide Telescope.  After playing around with this software for a few days now, I’m thinking of sending my next paycheck to the local planetarium, because those places are going to be basically just echo chambers after the general public gets hold of this.241

Besides being one of most incredible virtual telescopes I’ve ever  come across, this program has so MUCH to offer the home educator.  Why wait for someone to organize a planetarium field trip, when you can have, well, Wall-E give you a personal guided tour of the universe. 

Of course, as informed as Wall-E is about the realms beyond, Worldwide Telescope also contains multiple guided tours of the sky from astronomers and educators from some of the best planetariums in the world.  And if you ever get tired of that (don’t count on it), then you can just take off and explore the universe hands on – – by panning, zooming, and exploring every corner of the Milky Way. 

Want to know something else?  This is just the shadow on the corner on the edge of the tip of the iceberg of what there is to this program.  Prepare to be impressed as you now actually CAN go where no man has gone before.

Take your time…we’ll still be here when you get back!!!

Link for Worldwide Telescope


Romans and Tire Pressure and Zombies…Oh My!

One thing I nearly never do on my blog is regale you with details about what we are studying in homeschool.  Mostly, that’s because when other homeschool bloggers do it, I tend to nod off for a minute.  Not that it isn’t important – – because it IS!  But somehow the excitement of a homeschool lesson is one of those things where, well, “you had to be there,” I guess.

But we’re at the end of our first “semester”, and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed nostalgic about all that we’ve covered so far this year.  So granted, this is probably more for my sake than yours, but I’m gonna lay it out there.  If nothing else, it will justify my existence as a homeschool mom.

Uber, as you may remember, is in his second year at the 3D virtual school called Wilostar 3D Academy.  He attends class via avatar, and uploads his assignments to his teachers.  First semester of 9th grade at Wilostar includes Ancient Civilization, 9th grade Integrated Language Arts, and Art.  Wilostar uses an integrated learning model, so that what you are studying in social studies or history is tied in with your literature assignments in Language Arts.  He covered everything from Ancient Egypt, to Ancient Rome, to Ancient China, and Ancient Africa.  And to supplement his studies he has read the following novels: Pharaoh’s Daughter, The Golden Goblet, Inside the Walls of Troy, and Siddhartha.self_portrait One of the highlights of the semester, of course, was his virtual performance in the story of King Midas.

For art, he has created a complete online portfolio, which I think is a really cool idea.  Using the DK Art Book as his text, he has learned about, and experimented with: shading, distance, pastels and color mixing, perspective, texture, shape and form, cartooning, and self-portraiture (see right).

In addition to his online work, Uber was also subjected to my self-designed Life Skills course.  Determined that no child of mine will head out to university or the working world without at least knowing how to check the tire pressure in a vehicle, I have put Uber through the paces of personal finance, character ed, automobile maintenance, job skills, and public transportation. Next semester is cooking and cleaning and sewing on buttons (basically home-ec, but let’s keep that little title between us, k?)

This is only Uber’s “official” education, though. That kid seems to be learning about something 24/7.  He has taught himself 3D-modeling, graphic design using Photoshop, hex-editing, and creating and designing his own trading cards. He is also slowly working on a fantasy drama novel.

Hyper-Techie (H-T) has had a busy semester as well.  He uses the Time4Learning online homeschool curriculum, and has been breezing right through math and language arts this year.  Geometry is his strong suit (not too surprising for a right-brainer), and he has made 100 on almost every geometry quiz so far!  T4L has an incredible 7th grade American History course that is animated and interactive.  I’m so jealous!  And we are supplementing that with a cool electronic field trip curriculum from Colonial Williamsburg, where we long to take a family trip one day.

H-T doesn’t stop there though.  I created my own earth science curriculum for him which involves lots of videos on Discovery’s United Streaming. We are working through the Saxon Phonics Intervention program, which is helping incredibly with the spelling troubles he deals with due to his dyslexia.  And he is also logo-final taking guitar this year and is just beginning to learn his very first song.  H-T needs to get his hands dirty, so to speak, and guide his own learning somewhat, so he is currently spending a little time each day on “social skills” – – interacting on the Fusefly social network for homeschooled kids.  He has made some pretty neat buddies online, actually.  And his current self-directed project is a screenplay B-Movie about zombies.  Thanks to a terrific online screenwriting program at, a finished screenplay is a very real possibility for a motivated 12-year-old!

Whew!  Oh my!

The main conclusion I’ve come to after this post?  We are SO ready for Christmas break!!!