when i first began homeschooling heron i used formal textbooks to teach handwriting and reading. for handwriting, handwriting without tears, and for reading, first 100 easy lessons and then the ordinary parent's guide to teaching reading. while i have had friends see great success in their children using these tools, after reading ruth beechick's book the three r's, i have begun to move in "a more natural way" (as she terms it) in regards to much of my language arts approach. although heron is a reader now, and a writer, too, the process was tedious & tearful for both of us, and i'm not convinced that the textbook way is the best way. 

so now, as we begin the process of teaching shepherd to read, i am approaching it in "a more natural way", and i feel like this free little pdf by amy tuttle, from the ambleside online site, is helping us do just that, with some lesson plans & activities to get us started. it appeals to my montessori side, using sandpaper letters, a sand tray, and other tactile & visual devices, making the whole progression of phonics learning a fun parade! she takes a charlotte mason approach, and sits on the auxiliary board for ambleside online. 

learning letter sounds with montessori moveable type alphabet

heron's basic handwriting training is currently based in copywork. the exercises change daily for us. one day she will copy the hymn we're learning for the term, or the memory passage we're learning. mostly she will copy this onto lined manuscript or story paper, or occasionally she is free to write this in her illuminated manuscript book (below), with drawings to accompany it. another day she will dictate something she'd like to write on her page and i will write it or type it for her to copy. other days it's a poem to copy, straight from the text, or a tiny story she's writing (which again she'll dictate to me, & i will write or type it out for her to copy--further explanation below). she is expected to use her best, most careful penmanship every time. friday, our journal & letter-writing day, also provides many opportunities for penmanship practice/copywork. (sidenote : lindafay over at charlotte mason help has written some helpful ideas for copywork here).

i did realize last year that i was being a bit too lenient, though, by not enforcing the use of lined paper enough, and her letters, though beautifully formed, were slanty & sloping. so this year i am having heron do one copywork exercise on lined paper each day, while tiny stories, journal-keeping, letter-writing, and her illuminated manuscript are all unlined, occasional, just-for-fun activities.


i have a tin full of ready-made blank books, created from half sheets of construction paper & printer paper. it holds blank ones, & the ongoing stories they are writing. in these the kids will choose to document their day, write their own story, summarize a story we've been reading, change the ending to a story we've read, record a favorite memory, etc.. often this is an activity josh will lead them in. the ongoing tiny story he is writing is called "The Long Way Home : A Tale of Princess Heron, Prince Shepherd, and Prince Per." they all sit down & write & draw together, & it is lovely.


one day heron opened up her Bible and on her own began to copy a favorite passage. it was so lovely it deserved a book to be placed in. we pasted it in, i showed her pictures of historic illuminated manuscripts, & the tradition began.