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?? 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!

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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!!!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Spelling

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In all my years as a homeschooling mom, I have never once woken up with the thought “Oh boy, I can’t wait until we get to do our spelling lesson today!” Go figure. Even though I was a pretty good speller in school myself, I still never got overly excited about spelling in general. Ok, there was this one time in third grade that I won a regional spelling bee and got to meet our local news broadcasters, but that was honestly the highlight of my spelling career. After elementary school, I never really thought about spelling.

And then years passed, and I woke up one day and I was a homeschooling mom. Almost overnight, spelling became sort of a big deal. Homeschooling and educational guides got me thinking about things I had never even considered up to that point. Was I going to teach using the phonics method or the whole word method? Would I use visual and kinesthetic manipulatives? Did I know all the phonograms, and how to correctly pronounce them?  Add to that mixture a son who has dyslexia, and you have a recipe for spelling anxiety.  So, I have depended on a good many different tools to help me in my spelling instruction over the years.  I am mentioning some of my most favorite ones today…

  • Spelling City – revolutionary free spelling site that lets you put in your own spelling list, and students can hear the words in a real human voice, and play games with them.  You can even use it as your weekly spelling test with the testing feature. One other incredibly cool perk is the ability to create handwriting worksheets out of the spelling words!!
  • Franklin’s Spelling Corrector – for any off-computer writing, this is the tool to have. Even if a child only knows how to spell a word phonetically (by sound) this little gadget will figure out what word they are trying to spell and give them the correct spelling
  • As-U-Type – if your homeschooler does most of his or her writing on the computer, this is a wonderful program to install because it not only spell checks as they type, but keeps track of their misspelled words in a file, so you can collect them for further spelling study, or spelling lists.
  • SpellDoctor – this is a more than just a tool; it is a complete spelling program.  I have subscribed to this service for two years now, and can attest to its thoroughness.  Although it can be pricey, it is definitely worth it (and check Homeschool Buyer’s Coop for group discounts)
  • Skillswise Spelling – this site focuses on the “why’s” behind our spelling rules, and examines words from every angle. The site includes sections on root words, prefixes and suffixes, homophones, letter patterns, silent letters and more. Interactive games help students practice each of the concepts taught, and most of the lessons include printable factsheets for further reference and instruction.
  • LookWayUp – similar to the Franklin spelling corrector, but in an easy to access web version.  No matter what the word, or how strangely it is entered, the LookWayup program will decipher the word and give you the correct spelling and definition. Only know how the word sounds phonetically? No problem. Just type in the sounds you hear, and the program will tell you its top choice based on your input, and then list other possible choices underneath.

To check out the other Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints posts, go to my new HHH page!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints – All About Animals

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic I’d like to say we are an animal family, because we really do love animals, but I reserve that status for those cool families that start naming off the animals at their house, and it begins to sound more like a pet shop than a house, ya know?  Our next door neighbors, for example, are the proud owners of several chickens, a couple of guinea pigs, some lizards, some fish and a cat. (They actually would have a few more chickens if the poor things hadn’t made the unfortunate choice of flying over into our fenced back yard where they were basically hunting practice for our mutt who happens to be part bird dog)  Anyway, THEY, in my opinion, are animal people.  We have two dogs – – big deal.  But we honestly do adore animals, and think it is kinda cool having a “pet store” right next door.

So, in honor of those many-legged, sometimes furry, sometimes scaly, always interesting critters, I’m dedicating today’s HHH to the animal of the species.  Enjoy!

  • First off, a video game with educational value – – no that is not a oxymoron.  I’m talking about Animal Genius for Nintendo DS.  This game is chock full of animal facts and trivia.
  • Smithsonian National Zoological Park Homework Helper – if I had animal homework, I’d want the Smithsonian having my back. If you’ve got a question about animals and their habitats, you’ll probably find the answer here.
  • BBC Extreme Animals – Is there any other kind??  Watch all the videos on this page, then you decide which animal gets the title “Most Extreme”
  • Who doesn’t like animal games?  PBS Kids has a great one called Link-o-Vision that lets you match up animals with their characteristics.
  • Enchanted Learning Animal Printouts – When my kids were younger we had a ball with Enchanted Learning’s printouts…there are so many creative ways to use them.  Games, scrapbooks, lapbooks, scavenger hunts…the possibilities are endless.
  • We LOVE animal cams!!  The National Zoo Animal Cams is a weekly must-visit site for any animal lover.
  • I don’t know about you, but I still miss Steve Irwin.  If he were alive today, I think he would really love the Field Trip Earth website, which is completely devoted to animal conservation
  • AnimalLand – If you have kids who want a pet of their own, make sure they visit this site first for all the info on pet care for different kinds of pets.  There are cartoons and information for every future pet owner.
  • HumaneTeen – a great site where teens can learn about and get involved with animal welfare issues
  • AnimalBytes – incredible site where you can find out about every kind and type of animal, watch videos about them, and even hear the sounds they make
  • Discovery School’s Animal Lesson Plans – Organized by grade level, this is a comprehensive list of lesson plans for anyone studying animals
  • Pet Pals Animal Doctor – this downloadable game lets you play veterinarian, and learn about the animals you care for in an interactive and up close way
  • Zoobooks Animal Directory – Remember Zoobooks?  Well don’t think you’ve seen everything they have to offer because their website is high tech and high fun!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: American History

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic H-T is studying American History this year in his Time4Learning Social Studies curriculum.  It is quite a thorough course, going all the way from the native peoples to inhabit the land all the way through the Clinton administration.  The best part is the Time4Learning trademark of fun, interactive lessons that make American History really “pop” – – especially for a visual learner such as H-T.  But, sadly, not everyone has Time4Learning, so….it is my goal this week to reach into the Topsy-Techie toolbox and help you find the next best thing – – websites and tools to make American History “pop” for your kiddos as well.


  • Great American Landmarks Adventure – If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you know that I am a big supporter of the National Park Service.  And if I weren’t before, I would be after seeing this terrific website that takes kids through the history of the U.S. as a time travel adventure. There is a great teacher’s guide on the site as well.
  • Nobody does history better than the Smithsonian, so head over to their Our Story in History website to find a seemingly unending supply of American history activities (including printable ones), objects in the Smithsonian archives, and plenty of quality literature suggestions.
  • Meet Amazing Americans – I always found history to be a lot more palatable when it had a human face on it.  That approach is the core behind this terrific website by the Library of Congress that puts the “story” back in hi”story”!
  • Who doesn’t love timelines?  The Digital History website chronicles our dates and places of importance all the way back to the 15th century!
  • African American History – I haven’t found a better or more thorough source for studying African American history than this MSN Encarta entry.
  • The History Channel Classroom is the companion website to the cable network.  Because of these ties, you will find lots of multimedia footage on the site, as well as great ideas for integrating the History Channel programming into your curriculum
  • Firsts in America – I love fun factoids, and this site is full of them, including the first “woman elected governor of a state” and the first “postage stamps issued”
  • This Day In History Widget – this fun download is the widget that keeps on giving (knowledge, that is).  Each days history factoid includes a link to an online encyclopedia to find out more about the event.
  • HippoCampus American History –  Who can ask for more?  A free online history course for Advanced Placement students that includes great multimedia content.
  • Picture History – American history through pictures.  A simple idea – – but incredibly effective.
  • American History Lesson Plans – Ordered by era, and then by grade, this is a one-stop shop for U.S. History lesson plans
  • Oregon Trail – Still one of the most popular American History SIMS of all time – – now in its 5th edition.
  • US History by State – check out the unique history of each and every state in the Union in this great “How Stuff Works” site

How about sharing your favorite American History resources in the comments section??