Where do I begin?

The poster child of bad signage. . .

OK, I know this is supposed to be Wordless Wednesday, but I can’t help myself—this is just too good to pass up without commentary. After all, we have three fabulous sign wrecks in one! First is the “amazing” and “questionable” use of “quotation marks.” We also have a fine example of the misused apostrophe. And finally—that lovely spelling error. It’s like finding buried treasure!

I can’t help but wonder who approves these signs for production?

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Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

College prep: Is writing on track?

BookshelfIf your bookshelf looks anything like mine did when we were homeschooling, it holds an assortment of curriculum you’ve stopped and started at various times along the way. Some we just couldn’t get into for various reasons, and we ended up finding alternatives. But there were others that we fully intended to use—we just never got around to them.

For example, we were supposed to get through a foreign language to meet my son’s college admissions requirements. Time and again, it seems, we’d start fresh and then stop. Spanish kept sliding to the back burner because of everything else that vied for his time. Then one day I nearly had a stroke when I realized he would never be able to finish the course in time for graduation. He paid for my lack of perseverance by having to spend some of his college electives on a foreign language.

Do you find that writing is one of those subjects you keep starting and stopping? Does your child drag his feet, fail to finish assignments, or complain night and day? Or are you the one who has trouble following through with lesson planning or editing? Whatever the reason, it’s important that you start afresh, make a plan, stick to your guns, and don’t let your student whine, wheedle, cajole, or otherwise manipulate you into letting him lapse!

Start Fresh

Writing is one of those non-negotiable subjects that forms a basis for academic success. So make a commitment to see your writing program through. If you’re not using a formal writing curriculum, you must still commit to assigning writing on a regular basis.

Has time been the culprit? You may need to give up another subject or extracurricular activity in order to have the time to devote to writing. Your child will not survive in college without writing skills.

Make a Plan

WriteShop’s convenient scheduling options can help parents stay on track. With older high schoolers, time is running out. So if you’re concerned about the SAT essay, for example, your student will need to complete the essay portion of WriteShop II well in advance of the test because he’ll need time to practice writing timed essays. But no matter what, arm yourself with a plan—and stick to it—or your student will slip into old habits of not completing his work. This means:

  • Choosing a schedule to follow;
  • Sticking with the schedule;
  • Supervising your student’s work to make sure he’s doing it; and
  • Editing and returning papers to him on time so he doesn’t fall behind in his writing assignments.

If your student can finish WriteShop II by (or before) 10th grade, you can devote the rest of high school to more advanced writing, such as longer essays, literary analysis, and a couple of research papers.

Stick to Your Guns

Now for the hard part! Help your child develop self-discipline. See that he follows the schedule. If he’s used to giving excuses for why he didn’t get around to doing his writing assignment, make him write first thing each day. Hold him accountable and don’t let him off the hook!

Likewise, if follow-through hasn’t been your strong suit in the past, recommit yourself to helping prepare your student for college by teaching and overseeing the lessons and adhering to deadlines. If your student knows you won’t check up on him, he’ll continue to fritter away his time. But if he realizes that you’re going to hold his feet to the fire and impose consequences for incomplete work, he’ll perform better for you.

You’ll both be much happier in the end, and just imagine the pride at being able to say that you reached your goal!

Stepping stones | A reluctant writer’s journey

Stepping Stones: A reluctant writer's journey from struggling student to Master's degree

In January 2008, in faraway Nottingham, England, my then-23-year-old son turned in a 63-page dissertation. In so doing, he capped off a year of grad school and became a candidate for a master’s degree in philosophical theology.

Why do I share this? Because…

  • Your eighth grader can’t spell his way out of a paper bag.
  • Your sixth grader keeps wadding up his paper in frustration and hurling it across the room.
  • Your kitchen table has become a battleground.
  • This very morning, you asked yourself why you even bother homeschooling.
  • Most days you just can’t believe your child will actually grow up, mature into a productive adult, and find his place in the world.

Because over a dozen years ago, I was in your shoes.

At times, it’s hard to believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Try as we might, they just don’t seem to get it. We plan out our year, buy curriculum, write lesson plans. We review spelling words again and again. And again. We go over grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. In our weary minds, we think that we might as well whack our heads against a wall for all the good it’s doing.

Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones: A reluctant writer's journey from struggling student to Master's degreeWith reluctant writers (boys in particular), it’s easy to grow discouraged and think you’ll never see growth or progress.

I invite you to take a trip with me as I drift back to September of 1996 when Ben was an 11-year-old sixth grader. Beginning at that point, I’d like to share excerpts from his writing, with each year representing a stepping stone along his journey.

What was the secret to success? Lots and lots of practice, self-editing, parent input, revising, rewriting, and polishing during our homeschooling years, followed by five years of countless essays and papers for college and grad school. No magic wand produced this kind of fruit, but diligence and perseverance in the face of struggle did.

Ben will be the first to tell you he’s not grown immune to the frustrations that accompany writing. From time to time he still crumples papers, loses focus, procrastinates, and suffers from bouts of writer’s block—we all do! But as you watch his writing mature and improve year by year in content, structure, style, vocabulary, and mechanics, I pray you gather hope and courage to carry on.

Junior High

Stepping Stones: A reluctant writer's journey6th grade: Usualy my room is prity clean, some times I fourget to clean up my messes. My room wold be neater if I put away my toys.

7th grade: I am confident beacouse our leader, Goliath, the campion fighter from Gath, he is over 9 feet tall a fighting man since his youth. He is going to chalange the Israelites again. All right! They are finly sendin some one to fight him.

8th grade: Whipped around the corner with amazing velosity, our car rushes through the icy water. Looking over my dad’s sholder, I can see the tunel entrance up ahead. Surprised and frightened, I suddenly feel the bobsled drop from under me as it swerves dangerously into a secret tunel.

High School

9th grade: Waiting in anticipation, my team prepared to enter the secret “catacombs”. Our mission: to find the clues, rescue hostages, and avoid getting caught. Finally the doors opened and our adventure began. One by one we disappeared into the darkness.

10th grade: Each county in each state determines how its citizens will vote. Some systems are not as good as others and allow many errors. For example, the punch card ballot is terribly flawed because a voter has to make sure to punch the holes cleanly. One mistake will result in the disqualification of the entire ballot.

11th grade: Simply, he loved God, and he desperately loved the people that he ministered to. His joy was not found in material possessions, for he had none except a few books. Instead, it was the Bishop’s passion to see a good Catholic find God. (Character analysis, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather)

12th grade: Many people believe that all goodness is subjective and relative. This idea is a very subtle tactic because it allows the critic to “play God.” The critic has the power to decide what is good and what is bad, what men ought to like and ought to despise. In the end, he creates his own standards by which to judge not only inanimate objects, but also morality. This is what society has adopted; this is where society has gone astray.

Ben became more inclined toward academics toward the end of high school. Though not all students will continue on to university, this path suited his bent. So once our homeschooling years were behind us, college challenged his writing to new levels.


Freshman: While Clayton’s claims are well articulated and organized, his proposed solution is short-sighted and insufficient. Furthermore, he does not effectively support his primary claims or demonstrate how students will be able to suddenly rise above the relative postmodern ideology that they use to justify cheating.

Sophomore: During the age of Roman domination, the Caesars ruled most of the populated world with absolute power. Considered living gods, these men each sought to make their place in history. However, all their collective triumphs and achievements would soon be dwarfed through the life and death of a single man. The solitary life of a Jewish rabbi, raised in a backwater town on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, marked the single most significant point in human history: the point when the God of the universe became a part of his own creation in order to redeem it from its own corruption and despair.

Junior: In the realm of political philosophy, questions arise that seek to identify, evaluate, critique, and improve social, civil, and political governance. For what reason do we form commonwealths and civil structures? Why are such unions justified? Indeed, how do those who maintain power within such civil societies legitimize their use of political authority over any other person?

Senior: Wedged between the forces of privatized spiritualism on one hand and secular social activism on the other, the Christian
Stepping Stones: A reluctant writer's journey from struggling student to Master's degreeChurch finds itself in a time of transition and tension. In a world dominated by geopolitical nation-states, rapidly expanding capitalistic market places, and the global presence of multinational corporations, God has awakened the Church to a new sense of urgency to respond faithfully to its calling to be in the world, but not of it, and to live out its vocation by embodying the presence of Jesus Christ to all the peoples.

Grad School

Master’s Thesis: Accordingly, the works of mercy are fundamentally relocated outside the bounds of the Christian economy of salvation. As we have seen, for Aquinas the works of mercy are embodiments of virtue that constitute the liturgical life of the body of Christ. Grounded in the infused grace gifted to the church through the Holy Spirit, the works of mercy are irreplaceable performances of the church’s concrete worship of God.

What a picture of encouragement! When I follow Ben’s progress from year to year, I confess that even I’m amazed. It’s a good reminder that what you see today is not necessarily where your child will be in five or ten years; so much happens in our kids as they grow up! For most students, vocabulary increases; logic and reason develop; and writing skills improve.

Remember too that not every child is destined to become a scholar, but improve he can (and will)—with practice, tools, and time.

. . . . .

WriteShop I and II laid the groundwork for us, and can help you establish a strong foundation for your teen, too. Visit our website and poke around. About WriteShop and Parent Testimonials may be good places to begin.

How to write a book review, Part 4

Over the past several weeks, I’ve given you tips on how to write various kinds of curriculum and product reviews.

Smiling womanAs we wrap up the series in Part 4, let’s look at the personal review. This type of product review makes a personal recommendation. It not only presents the facts, but it adds the writer’s opinion based on her experience with the product.

So even though Part 3 explains how to write a positive, opinionated review, using the materials is not a criteria. On the other hand, the personal review must be written by someone who has actually used the program, book, or product. She loves it and will gladly tell you why. 

The personal review will include facts sprinkled liberally with opinion. The reviewer may also indicate how her children enjoyed the materials or how their skills have improved as a result.

The following review is written by a mom who uses and loves WriteShop. She glowingly describes how her kids’ writing has improved, what she loves about the program, how easy it is to use, how helpful various parts of the Teacher’s Manual are to her, etc. You’ll easily see how you can use this method to review any of your favorite products!

Review by Heidi Shaw

for The Old Schoolhouse magazine

    This is a GREAT program. I don’t usually start out so strongly but a program like this in the home school community has been needed for a long time. Let’s take a look.
    Starting with descriptive writing, and carrying on with narrative and informative, WriteShop has everything you need to guide your students on the path to becoming excellent writers.
    Sure, I can hear you say, but how will I KNOW they are becoming excellent writers? Aha, that’s where the beauty of this well laid out program becomes evident.
    Lesson by lesson, step by step, the student is taught how to evaluate and improve his own writing. And the parent/teacher is taught right along with him. Every lesson has self-checking evaluation worksheets for both student and teacher. They actually teach us how to assess and edit every lesson. We start with describing an object and move on up through to conducting and writing an interview; the lessons are interesting and fun! Each lesson follows a basic format so it is easy to implement…. (Read complete review here. )

You never know when you’ll have the chance to review a book or curriculum, whether it’s a brand-new product or an old favorite. Now you have the tools to write with greater confidence by following some simple steps and then deciding whether the review needs to be neutral, positive, or personal.

When Yoda writes

Wow. Guess Yoda has a new job as a sign-maker.

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Notable confusables

Last week we talked about some Notable Confusables, and you and your kids had fun with a bunch of online grammar quizzes. How’d you do?

Clearing Up Confusing Combos 

If your children had trouble with any of the concepts, they’ll enjoy the following engaging and interactive learning tools. They’ll view definitions, learn the rules, and practice the new skills with the click of the mouse. Give ‘em a try!

. . . . .

The Blue Book of Grammar and PunctuationDo you or your kids need additional help tackling these Notable Confusables? The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation offers concise, helpful rules, examples, and practice exercises. It’s a combination reference book and workbook, super easy to use, and handy for home or office. Examples are short, simple, and practical. We know you’ll love it too! Want to read some reviews? Just click here.

Writing historical diary entries based on real journals

For a project that springboards from authentic historical journals, students will be writing historical diary entries using their own words.

A while back, I talked about how much our family enjoyed using journaling ideas for writing across the curriculum. Even though the journaling tips and examples would work for all ages, they are especially effective with younger children, even pre-readers.

Studying Real Historical Journals

For for a project that springboards from actual historical journals—true living books written by men and women who experienced the times—students will be writing historical diary entries of their own.

Because of the more challenging vocabulary found in most old journals, this activity is probably better suited for your high-school aged students, though some junior highers with more advanced reading skills could do this as well.

Writing Diary Entries 

  1. Historical journals, narratives, and diaries abound, both in books and online. Have your student read the actual narrative or journal of a person you’re learning about in history.
  2. Ask her to choose five key events or times in this person’s life.
  3. Then, in her own words, have her write five diary entries for those pivotal times or incidents.
  4. She must include the time and location for each entry.
  5. If the incident is a major historical event, she must show the role the person played.
  6. In addition, she needs to weave into her diary entry any background information that’s needed for context and understanding.

Online Resources for Historical Journals and Diaries

Below you’ll find some links to resources for online journals. As always, parent preview or supervision is recommended.

The Diary Junction – Internet resource linking to hundreds of historical diaries. Search alphabetically or chronologically

American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology

First-Person Narratives of the American South

American Journeys: Eyewitness Accounts of Early American Exploration and Settlement – Columbus, Cartier, Sir Frances Drake, Lewis and Clark, many more

. . . . .

Looking for a more structured program to incorporate writing writing across the curriculum? WriteShop lessons can help your teens learn important writing skills while offering flexibility of topics. Visit our website at writeshop.com to learn more!

Photo: Barnaby Dorfman, courtesy of Creative Commons

Make a story pocket

Publish Your Child’s Stories 

ColoringONE OF the most encouraging and rewarding experiences for a young author is to see her work published. As a second and third grader, I remember how much I loved to find my own little stories and poems published in our school’s newsletter.

WriteShop Primary gives your student the opportunity to publish her writing project as a book or other art form that she can share with others.

She might make a story kite to fly around the house as she “reads” it to Daddy; create a paper-plate face book; or turn her story into an accordian-folded train. (Visit our website for more info about WriteShop Primary, our delightful parent-guided writing program for K-3rd graders. It’s filled with fun, engaging activities to promote a love for writing!)

Make a Story Pocket

Featured in Book A, story pockets make wonderful publishing tools, and they’re perfect for storing and displaying a child’s early stories and drawings. Here’s how to make one.

Advance Prep

Short Pocket: Paper plateUse one paper plate. Cut it in half. Place both pieces face to face and staple together around the curved edges. The top straight edges remain open to form a pocket.

Tall Pocket: Use two paper plates. Leave one plate whole. Cut the second plate in two, discarding one of the halves. Staple the half plate to the full-size plate to create a tall pocket with a high back.


  1. Allow time for the child to use crayons, markers, paint, or stickers to decorate the paper plate so it matches the theme of the story.
  2. Fold the story and store it inside the pocket.
  3. (Optional) Have your child draw a picture of each object in the story on cardboard, poster board, or tagboard. Cut out the tagboard pieces and store them in the pocket along with the story.
  4. Encourage your child to read her story to family members or a friend, pulling out the corresponding pieces from the pocket and placing them on the table as she shares.
  5. These pockets also make great holders for holiday greeting cards!

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Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

How’s you’re grammar?

Okay, okay! Before you start giving me a hard time about this blog title, yes, I KNOW it should be “your.” And if you didn’t catch it, well, this blog’s for you!

Confused?Notable Confusables 

Today we’re going to tackle these Notable Confusables:

  • their, there, and they’re
  • your and you’re
  • its and it’s

Did you know that using these words incorrectly can make you appear uneducated?

In an earlier blog, I explained the difference between its and it’s. But today, let’s just have some fun taking a few short Internet quizzes to test your knowledge. They’re quick, painless, and provide immediate feedback!

Once you’ve taken these quizzes, give them to your children. The results will help you know where to focus your teaching efforts.

Take Some Grammar Quizzes!

They’re/their/their quiz

Its/It’s and There/Their/They’re Quiz

Its/It’s and There/Their/They’re Quiz 2

Quiz: Its & It’s

Its/It’s Quiz

Confusing Words – Your vs. You’re

You’re – Your Quiz

Their vs. There vs. They’re Quiz

So go have some fun today! Play around with these quizzes, make note of which words trip you (or your kids) up, and then commit to practicing till everyone feels confident. You can slay the Confusables Monster!

. . . . .

The Blue Book of Grammar and PunctuationDo you or your kids need some help tackling these Notable Confusables? The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation offers concise, helpful rules, examples, and practice exercises. It’s a combination reference book and workbook, super easy to use, and handy for home or office. Examples are short, simple, and practical. We know you’ll love it too! Want to read some reviews? Just click here.

How to write a book review, Part 3

Reviewing a homeschool curriculum or textbook is different from reviewing a novel. In Part 1 of this series, I shared four basic steps to writing a homeschool book review, and Part 2 looked more closely at writing a neutral or unbiased review.

But what if you’re so impressed with a curriculum or book that you feel you MUST give an opinion? More than simply summarize its main features, you want to share your enthusiasm and encourage others to check the product out, too! If ths is the case, you’ll want to write a positive review.

This type of product review is designed to influence a purchase. It not only presents the facts, but it adds the writer’s personal bias.

The reviewer has not used the material but clearly loves what she sees, and doesn’t hesitate to say so. So when you write a positive review, even if you haven’t used the product, share why it appeals to you and mention the features that make you say, “Wow!”

If you’re visual like me, it always helps to see an example, doesn’t it? This review, written by Deborah Cariker of Eclectic Homeschool Online intermingles facts about WriteShop with her personal excitement about the program, even though she hadn’t used it herself. While she stays focused on the program’s key features, she also manages to impart a “Where has this been all my life?” flavor to the review.

Review by Deborah Deggs Cariker

for Eclectic Homeschooling Online

    I met veteran homeschoolers Kim Kautzer and Debbie Oldar, saw their curriculum, and knew that I was looking at something special. I am a writer, but I never really learned how to write. No one sat down and taught me how to paint pictures with words. I did very well in English and Literature, but can’t tell you why. I won the National Council of Teachers of English award my senior year and had my essay published in an English textbook, but can’t tell you what was so special about what I wrote. I have believed throughout my ensuing writing career—for radio, television, newspaper, and magazine—that “my ability” is God’s gift. I also thought that this was impossible to teach.

Next week, we’ll close out our series, “How to Write a Book Review,” by taking a look at Part 4: reviews written by homeschooling moms who have actually used the products they’re reviewing.

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