Review

CATHY DUFFY REVIEW

BestEver Handwriting Workbooks
Bonnie Emerson
4 Kids Publications
01 March 2016

“Cathy Duffy has been reviewing curriculum for the homeschooling community since 1984. She also reviews other resources she believes are important for those interested in homeschooling, education, the origins debate, and related political, and spiritual topics. While we stretch beyond homeschooling, our primary goal always remains the same: To help families successfully educate their own children!”. The BestEver Handwriting series boldly claims to be the best on the market based on both the educational content and the economy of having all you need for each year within a single book. There are other handwriting programs that cost the same or less so economy isn’t a compelling claim for the series. However, the educational content is unique in a number of ways that home educators might find compelling. The program has three levels that teach beginning manuscript printing letter formation through cursive fluency. While some other programs have books for each grade level, these often re-teach and review previously-taught skills. BestEver Handwriting books can each be used at whatever grade level you think appropriate. Instruction at the beginning of each book explains how the program works, and student activity pages include instructional information for parents or teachers as needed. The style of handwriting is a fairly standard manuscript (ball-and-stick) and cursive. One difference is that for letters that begin with a circle, such as lower-case a, d, and g, students draw the circle then continue without lifting their crayon or pencil to draw the line up and then trace it back down to complete the letter. Similarly, for the letter b, students draw the line on the left, then trace back up the line to begin their circle. These techniques help prepare students for cursive writing better than when students make their balls and sticks separately.

Level 1 is recommended for beginning writers about ages five and up, although some younger children will also be ready to begin this level. Level 1 begins with tracing lines and shapes prior to teaching children how to write letters so that they have an opportunity to develop small motor control. Mr. Writewell, a cartoon icon used throughout the books, shows students where to begin each line or letter, serving also as a reminder that work proceeds from left to right. Lessons begin with various “lines”—wavy, jagged, and looped. Then they progress to circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and diamonds, first tracing the shapes, then drawing them. Here is where students first encounter what I think is one of the most helpful techniques of this book. As children move from tracing to drawing on their own, work pages gradually provide fewer of the lines of the object to assist the student. As students move on to letter formation they are taught both lower- and upper-case letter forms simultaneously for each letter. As with earlier lessons, they first trace the letter forms then gradually write each letter with fewer and fewer “clues” provided. Children will use crayons and a pencil without an eraser throughout this book. There are no lines. Students learn to write within the space provided without having to worry about fitting onto lines. For each letter of the alphabet a “Reading Connection” page has a drawing illustrating a key word for recalling the sound of the letter. Children can color these pictures.

Level 2, recommended for students ages six and up, teaches manuscript printing on lines. Students are presumed to have completed Level 1 and have mastered how to write each letter. Lessons are presented in three sections. The first section teaches how to write upper case letters on lines then lower case letters on lines. Children also practice writing a few individual words. The second section teaches words and spacing. Students practice writing their own names plus other individual words. On page 58, Mr. Writewell transforms into Spaceman and is used as a spacing device between words. Cutouts of Spaceman are provided for students to affix to popsicle sticks then use as physical spacers as they write words. Section three moves on to punctuation and sentence writing. Large pictures illustrate sentences that students copy for the first six pages, then students come up with their own original sentences for the next four pictures. A page with room for the student’s own drawing and sentence is at the end. Parents will almost certainly need to help students quite a bit with spelling words for their original sentences. Lines that students write on in this book are printed in blue ink so that letters show up distinctly against the lines. Lines gradually reduce in size from 1 ¼ inches to ¾ inch. Extra pages with various size lines can be used as needed.

My Writing Journal
A separate, optional book, My Writing Journal, can be used for students to practice what they have learned in the first two levels. My Writing Journal has one page with suggestions for use with either Level 1 or Level 2 then the remainder of the book consists of identical pages with half-inch lines with Spaceman standing to the left of each line.

Level 3 teaches cursive and is recommended for ages eight and up. The author suggests that students write with a pen since pens generally move more easily on paper than do pencils. (Using pens that DO move easily is assumed.) Lessons begin with the sets of lines as used in Level 2, but it gradually removes first the top line then the middle line so that students learn to write on a single line. The first section teaches cursive forms for lower-case letters and also teaches students to write a number of high frequency words. Section two teaches upper-case letters and has them practice with proper names beginning with each letter. The third section teaches days of the week, months, numbers written as words, seasons, and a few other words. A few lengthier writing assignment pages are included. One page has students copy a limerick from its printed form into cursive. The next page encourages students to write their own limerick. Three other pages have specific writing assignments: a report, a retold fairy tale, and creative writing. Other pages can be photocopied and used repeatedly: a page with four boxes for drawings and lines for students to write a caption for each picture, a page for writing spelling words, a page for writing sentences using the spelling words, a page for writing a letter, and a formatted page for cursive practice.

Summary
BestEver Handwriting workbooks offer yet another option within a crowded field of resources, yet distinctive features of this series might make it an excellent option for many families.

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Homeschool Review Core Curricula
Handwriting/Traditional Method