Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cursive First Review

I have been reading a lot about teaching cursive first, before manuscript. In theory, it makes a lot of sense. It is the fastest way to write, and when anyone needs to take notes from a lecturer, writing fast is advantageous. It also makes sense that we learn best what we learn first. Additionally, I have old letters written by my grandparents that date back over 80 years--love letters to each other from before they were married--that I want my children to be able to read. And I think it would be hard to read cursive if you haven't learned how to write it.

I started Cursive First with Grasshopper, now 5 1/2 yo, a couple of months ago. Grasshopper has been writing manuscript for 2 years, so for her, this is not her first writing instruction. I chose Cursive First, because it is integrated with our spelling program, Spell to Write and Read, and because I had hoped to use it for Cricket in a couple of years.

The various pieces arrived in a ziploc bag. I received a thin manual, practice pages, and flashcards printed 4 to a page, which needed to be cut apart. I am not at all impressed with Cursive First.

  • It comes in loose pages. I suppose that this keeps the price down, but I then had to buy page protectors and a binder, so I was not able to organize the materials until I could go on a shopping trip. I would have liked to have a consumable workbook and just have it all bound. Of course, I can use my original as consumable workpages, but then there is still the issue of storing them.
  • The assignments are half pages, but not exactly half. So when you cut the pages on the line, you do not have equal size sheets of paper. The worksheets look like they were made up on a computer and printer from 10 years ago and never updated. This is not a big deal, but it contributes to the overall impression of the program.
  • There is very little actual instruction. The booklet that comes with it contains information about proper posture and pencil grip, as well as suggestions for lesson plans and scheduling. But there is little guidance about how to teach the child to write, except for some pre-writing activity suggestions (like salt boxes).
  • For each letter taught, there are no arrows to show which way to write the letter. There are only a couple of letters to trace and then a lot of blank space for the child to practice on his own.
  • There are a lot of assignments devoted to practicing writing the phonograms but very few opportunities to write complete words, and there are no complete sentences at all. The manual suggests having the beginning writer practice 2-3 lines per day. But Cursive First gives mostly just individual letters with 1-2 actual words on each assignment page--tedious and boring! Maybe it is fine for a child that can't read, yet. But there is no way that I can get Grasshopper to write 2-3 lines of meaningless letters. But she will happily write complete sentences, especially if they are interesting and meaningful to her.

After Grasshopper finished learning the alphabet, I purchased the StartWrite software and started giving her copywork. (The Modern Cursive font is the same one that is used for Cursive First. I like it because every letter starts on the bottom line, preventing confusion about where to start each letter.) Fortunately, writing comes pretty easily to dd. But I think that Cursive First would be lacking for the average child and entirely insufficient for the child that struggles with writing. If you don't anticipate writing difficulties, I would recommend just using StartWrite and making your own worksheets. Otherwise, I would look into something with more help for both the teacher and the child.

Concerning teaching cursive before manuscript, I was skeptical at first, and to some degree, I suppose I still am. The transition has been difficult for her, and for that reason, I am inclined to support the teaching of cursive first with younger children. Nevertheless, I still have concerns about teaching cursive first to a young child. (Grasshopper was 3yo when she started to write manuscript.) Cursive First is not designed for children younger than 5yo, and I am not sure what programs, if any are designed to teach cursive first to a younger child.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What We Are Doing for 2010-2011

I have been meaning to share our curriculum for this upcoming school year. But I wanted share some initial observations and impressions of our new programs. Since that takes more time, I was putting it off. So I decided that I would give a list and then make separate review entries of each of our programs as I have time. So here goes:

In addition, we will continue memorization and add in narrations. I would also like to experiment with something called story circles, as outlined in Nebel's Elementary Education. It is intended for a classroom, but I think we can adapt it to a family situation. Basically, each child takes a turn adding to a story. As the children become adept at actually creating the story, you begin writing and illustrating the story with the students. Eventually, you can talk about grammar and literary devices. From my perspective, this is the seed of the Socratic discussions that should be taking place as the children get older.

I intend to write at length about each program as we get into it. Let me know if there is anything specific that you want to know more about.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Add-A-Century Timeline Review Update

Since my original review of Add-A-Century Timeline, I have been contacted by the company. I want to share some of that interchange, as I feel that it bears substantially on the product and on the integrity of the company.

I was contacted by a company representative who wanted to respond to some of my negative comments about Add-A-Century Timeline. I was reached through my personal e-mail rather than posting a comment. I felt that it showed great integrity to handle this matter privately rather than publicly on my blog.

The first comment was in reference to my statement that "not only did I not have enough pages to get us through one whole history rotation, I did not even have enough to get me through the first year." Here is the company's response:

"The idea behind Add-A-Century Timeline, the reason it was created, is to give you the tools to build your history timeline the way you want it, without the limitations of preprinted pages or predetermined spaces. I would have no idea how many (or few) pages someone will want to use per century when building their timeline. You could use one page or ten! Someone may want to cram more centuries onto fewer pages for the ancient times, while someone else desires the consistency of keeping all centuries with equal spaces. It’s up to the individual. If the Starter Pack is not enough, Add-On-Packs are available."

I understand the concept, but I still maintain that since the only specific example used on the website is to use two pages per century, it is reasonable to assume that one pack would be enough for a first year study starting with ancient civilizations. But it was mostly my fault for not doing sufficient research, which is why I wrote this review. Most people are not prepared to conduct the same kind of research for a timeline that they do for a curriculum. I hope to be your heads-up.

Next, the representative was confused about my comment that the dates to put on the pages were calculated wrong. Here is my clarification to the company on that subject:

"The marketing materials indicate that you can cover one century on one double-page. While it indicates that you can use them however you want, this is the only way that is actually specified. By applying the date stickers according to the instructions, the years 1 A.D through 5 A.D. and the years 5 B.C. through 1 B.C. end up in a 5-year column, even though the span is 4 years. Honestly, it is a very, very minor complaint. But it is nevertheless technically incorrect. I do understand the desire to keep the year 1800, for example, with the rest of the 1800's."

The representative acknowledged this point. I think it should be in the instructions, because when I got to that point, I thought I had done something wrong. She also acknowledge the vagueness of some of the instructions and indicated that they would consider my comments upon the next reprinting. In closing, the representative had this to say:

"I will keep your comments for when we reprint our materials. Add-A-Century was never meant to be a 'here's how you do it' item as much as a 'here, do it your way' tool. But as we get more customers, I see that the 'here's how to do it' option, along with specific instructions, is a good idea."

I felt like this was a very positive exchange, and I am very much willing to spend a little extra money to support people of integrity that are working to make homeschooling a better experience.

Now, this would be a nice place to stop. But I subsequently received another e-mail sharing an idea that they are working on and inviting me to assist in testing the product. I will not share any details about the idea in the interest of protecting their intellectual property, but it is a great idea and will save people like me a lot of money. I am really excited to help with this product, and after they are ready to market it, I will post my review.
Latter-day Homeschooling