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    Home Education, Other Thoughts

    Seven Quick Takes on Pencil Claws, Science Co-op, Links for Newbies, and More!

    August 21, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    Seven Quick Takes

    :: 1 ::

    Tomorrow, my youngest turns seven. Seven! That means that today, I am decorating a train cake. I’ll try and post photos next week. As you know, cakes are my only handicraft. 😉


    :: 2 ::

    I bought these cool pencil claw thingies. I’m pretty sure “thingies” is the technical term for them. Anyhow, it dawned on me that I was expecting myself to monitor the pencil grip of three separate children. Um. That’s just not gonna happen. My girls often do copywork at their desk in their room rather than out where I am, in the living room reading aloud to O-Age-Soon-to-be-Seven.

    These things are pretty cool, at least that is my opinion so far. They work best with my youngest, who is more flexible because I started him off using them on his very first copywork assignment. But the girls are tolerating them, for the most part, and they really are being forced to hold their pencils properly whenever they are wearing them.


    :: 3 ::

    This week’s links collection:


    :: 4 ::

    This month in 2012:



    In which I shared two questions that help me talk with my children about books and ideas.


    :: 5 ::

    Yesterday was our first day of science co-op! It went swimmingly. This all started when I asked another mom at my Charlotte Mason group — who also had teens — if she wanted to do something together this year. We also go to church together, and I’ve been praying for the children to have better friendships with people from church. Anyhow, we found a third mom at church doing a Charlotte Mason/literature-based type of curriculum as well, and the rest is history, I suppose. We’re hoping to do twelve adventures from Adventures with a Microscope with the older children {junior high and high schoolers}, and we’re doing simple water experiments from A Drop of Water with the elementary students. That wasn’t in the original plan, but I am so glad that AO added this book to Year 3 because it worked out great to have something for the younger children to do while the older ones were drawing their samples.

    This is such an answer to prayer, and I have also found that it the accountability approach to things I’m bad about doing really works: when we’re committed to doing something with others, it actually happens!


    :: 6 ::

    It’s taken a bit longer than I had hoped {these things always do, of course}, but the Set 2 Printable Lessons over at Teaching Reading with Bob Books should be out next week. Mystie is giving some away, if you want to go enter to win!


    :: 7 ::

    • Question: Do you have a list of links that would be useful for newbies? I remember you posting about that before… Also I’m recommending your site … are there any of your articles that would be a good starting point?


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  • Reply Alisa August 9, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Do you have any tips about what procedure I should use for coop class using Adventures with a microscope? I’d even be willing to buy if you made a study guide/procedure available.

  • Reply Claire August 23, 2015 at 2:13 am

    That Kon-Mari thing! I had tears running down my cheeks! And the comments were even better! Thank you!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 24, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      You’re welcome! I laughed so hard, too! 🙂

  • Reply Missy August 21, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    So glad you have a group to do nature study with. I am working on that myself. I agree that doing the things that are harder to pull off with friends is a great approach. You might also like this simple but powerful science idea – it’s called The Private Eye. It uses jeweler’s loupes to allow children to look at things up close (and cheaply) and then encourages them to draw what they see and compare it to something else (analogy). I think it will be a fun addition to our science this year. So it includes observation, drawing and thinking in analogies in a way that is fun and easily accessible around nature objects.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 24, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      That science site looks really neat, Missy!

  • Reply Laurie Hawley August 21, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    On the topic of pencil grips. My 6 year old son is left handed and had a terrible pencil grip. I consulted an Occupational Therapist this summer and she recommended the HandiWriter ( We have used it all summer and it is working great.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 24, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      Oh, that is interesting! I used to have them hold a little roll of paper with their two end fingers so that they didn’t try and use them while writing. And then I got tired of making the rolls, only to have them lose them before the next time we did writing. This is totally the same thing! ♥ it, Laurie!

  • Reply Ann-Marie August 21, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Happy Birthday to your littlest one! I have been thinking that you have a birthday cake to make. LOVE your cakes. You are quite talented. I have made many, many train cakes in the past and always loved those the best.
    Thanks for re-posting the “Switching to CM” post. That is the one that came from my question to you a few years ago. It was {and is} very helpful. Hope your first week of school went well.
    Have a great weekend, Brandy!

  • Reply Whitney August 21, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Those last links are really helpful, thanks! And I think those pencil claws are the same ones my son’s occupational therapist recommends.

  • Reply Rebekah August 21, 2015 at 4:24 am

    Here’s a question for you. I really know nothing about the Bob books, but I’d love to know why you use them instead of a program (like all about reading or whatever). I need to decide in the next few months what I’m going to use and lately I’ve been looking at Reading Lessons Through Literature and All About Reading (I like that they teach all the phonograms instead of just a few). 25 years ago my mom taught me with Sing Spell Read and Write, so I’ve thought of that, too, since I’m already familiar with the program.
    But I respect all your recommendations and really would love to know why you love the Bob books! ?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 21, 2015 at 6:06 am

      I used to be a reading tutor, so I never felt the need of a program. When we first started homeschooling, we had a teensy-tiny budget, and the name of the game was Spend as Little as Possible. Instead of a program, I tried to search out something I thought I could teach myself. What has happened over the course of many years is that I have written a program to go with it, refining it with each additional child I’ve taught {including our neighbor girl 🙂 }.

      In the beginning, I was just sharing what I was doing in hopes of teaching others how to teach reading with whatever they had on hand {using Bob Books as an example — there are other similar series of books}, but what I found was that people really did want/need a program, like you say. 🙂 So, that is what I’ve made. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but for people who want something super simple — and especially if they already own Bob Books — it is a great fit. I do teach all the phonograms. 🙂

      • Reply Virginia Lee August 21, 2015 at 1:26 pm

        Hi Rebekah,

        I have 4 kiddos and I’ve used All About Reading, which is a wonderful program, and I’ve used Brandy’s Teach Reading w Bob Books, which is also a wonderful program. Both programs teach every phonogram. But they are very, very different.

        All About Reading lessons will take longer than Teaching Reading w Bob Books. Partly because they teach what Brandy does in a multi sensory way and AAR includes paper activities. So you as the teacher will review the previous phonograms, introduce the new phonogram, using flashcards to do all of this (all steps in Brandy’s), then you will build words w the new phonogram using letter tiles, play a little game (word changing using the letter tiles or breaking words into syllables and labeling the type of syllable…), then do a paper activity that is supposed to help cement the new phonograms taught. These are steps that Brandy does not include. Then in All About Reading the child will read a Fluency Sheet to you. In a new lesson they will read a story from their included readers and before of after the story answer questions about the story. You could chose not to do the question part and just have your child read. The questions are supposed to be to talk about things like setting, characters, etc. A smart mama will of course need to be comfortable taking ONE of their AAR lessons and breaking it down into multiple lessons. This is too much for a young child to do in one sitting. AAR does not say to do this, but if you do not the lesson will take half your day. Ha! =)

        Teaching Reading w Bob Books will have your child review phonograms, introduce new phonograms (using flashcards), then read a few pages in their Bob Book. Her lessons do not include activity sheets, fluency sheets, or letter tiles. Brandy’s program is more snugly and less time intensive. As in your child learns the same things as in AAR, but Brandy streamlines it. Her teaching is more conversational, but she does explain everything to mama so that you feel comfortable teaching reading if you have never done so before.

        AAR teacher manual is just that, a teacher’s manual. It uses more words, includes dialogue for you as the teacher, even gives tips if your child is not understanding. I do believe this will be personality preference for you. If you enjoy reading Brandy’s blog, then you will like her teaching. It’s highly researched and detailed, but she gets the point across like she’s speaking to a human with a mind that knows their child. AAR is speaking to teachers everywhere that may or may not know their student(s).

        I used AAR with my first two children. I learned TONS as a mom who had never taught anyone to read. I appreciated the research and the tips. I never used the dialogue, I never did a whole lesson in a sitting, I often only used parts of the fluency sheet, and I dropped the paper activity sheets after trying a few. I think they are just busy work, but I know others who love them. I also never used the questions included with the readings. Very schoolish, not Charlotte Mason. My children all LOVED the letter tiles. Their readers are BEAUTIFUL. I would buy (and did) them all. They have an app so that you and your child can listen to every phonogram. This is very helpful if you as the mama do not know all the phonograms. Do not feel bad if you don’t, there are lots.

        As a mama who no longer has one or two kids, I needed something that was very thorough, taught all the phonograms, and did not take me a lifetime to get through a lesson. Brandy’s program does this. My child who is currently learning to read grabs her notebook, we head to the couch, snuggle up, run through the flash cards, have a little conversation, then she reads to me. She has no gaps in teaching, our lessons take 15 mins, then I can high five her for a job well done, and she goes to play while I move onto another kiddo.

        I no longer need the app because I know all the phonograms now, but we do still use AAR readers, they are just too pretty not to. As mama I can do Bob books, but I also like to hear something else thrown in the mix. My kids have all loved to practice their reading with anyone they can con into listening to them. 😉 So it helps to have a few different types in the mix.

        Basically I think it depends on what season of life you are in, how comfortable you are not letting a manual do the teaching but tweaking as the mom, do you want games and activities, do you want just the meat, do you want snugly teaching time, or a more teacher to student approach? I would honestly recommend both programs. But they are so very different. My kiddos will be using Teaching Reading with Bob Books from here on out. But that fits our season of life, our CM teaching lifestyle, and my comfort as a mama teaching reading.

        Both programs are from homeschooling mamas. So you can feel good about that either way.

        (sorry Brandy for hijacking your comments.)

        • Reply Rebekah August 21, 2015 at 1:41 pm

          Oh my gosh, SO helpful!! Thank you! Im going to reread this several times.

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