Is it a "b" or a "d"?


My kids are having a hard time in reading and writing  lower case “b” and “d” and are always mixing them up.  How do you help kids keep this straight?


I teach them “b”.  Leave “d” alone—it will take care of itself once they learn “b”.

Have your child say the word “ball” with you—and then you write a “b” so they see it and make the connection.  Pronounce “buh” (the phonic sounds of “b”) over and over.  Now, have your child reach up and touch your mouth when you dramatically enunciate “buh”.  You start with your lips tucked way into your mouth.  Run your child’s finger across the line your lips make when you are ready to say “buh”.  It is a definite line.  Write the line on the chalkboard in front of him.  Do it again, having him touch your mouth. Now have him write that line vertically on the chalkboard or paper.   That is the way a “b” always starts: with a line at the lips, and a line on paper.  (A “d” is written with the ball portion first, but don’t explain that—it just gets them confused. Just teach “b”).

When I taught “b”, I would watch my children silently writing and see them tucking their lips in to pronounce the ‘b” sound, and trace their finger over the line their lips make, and then write the stick line first on their paper. The rest comes more easily.  Saying “start at the top, down to the line, now up and around” can help walk a child through writing the letter “b”.   But knowing that memory clue of the line first, that matches the line on their mouths, seemed to help mine the most.

Once they totally master “b”, “d’ takes care of itself.  It’s just the opposite of “b”!



A Delicious Read, Indeed

I want to tell you about my favorite book: Laddie, A True Blue Story. It’s not very often that you find such a warm, family-value-oriented book. It is a treasure! The best part of it was reading it out-loud to my children. I found it taught just as much as a sermon . . . with my family chuckling along the way and begging for more. And there is lots more—416 pages of it. 

From the eyes of Little Sister (the youngest child living in a big family on a farm in the newly settled Midwest in the 1900’s), we get a tantalizing taste of strong family values and faith in God. . . full of adventures and scrapes—love stories too—with a kind and devoted mother, a protective wise father, and a loving older brother, Laddie, as superb role models that I want to follow!

Leon, a young brother, provides lots of humor, just being a boy. Little Sister, through whose eyes the story unfolds, finds school squelching to her free spirit, and it is hard not to commiserate with her as she explains her reasons for loathing the classroom. The mother and father are remarkable Christians in spite of the many challenges of taming a new land. Such a sweet story of wholesome, decent, loving family life!

Get it at your library, borrow it from a friend, get if from my bookstore . . . but read it! It will definitely enrich your life.  Read it aloud to your children.  It is as good as taking a vacation!







Natural Speller versus Has-to-Be-Taught

My children: Ammon, Julianna and Mark
Will the “natural speller” please stand up?

Having homeschooled 7 children, I eventually figured out that either kids come as “natural spellers” or they don’t. And if they don’t, you have to teach them to spell.

The natural speller can see the word in their head. You might see them writing it with their finger in the air when they are figuring out the spelling of a word. Spelling comes pretty easily to this child.

The “has-to-be-taught” speller is just as intelligent. In fact, spelling doesn’t have much to do with intelligence. As soon as the “has-to-be-taught” speller gets some memory clues or rules to go by, they can spell just as well as anyone. Of my 7 children, a few of them are natural spellers.

For the natural spellers, it is pretty much a waste of time to give them spelling lists, spelling tests, workbooks, or spelling activities. They will get it eventually, no matter what you inflict upon them. They can see the word in their mind’s eye and the more times they see it, read it or write it, the easier it gets. For a natural speller, I have found the best exercise is to correct their daily journal writing, and help them analyze a misspelled word. Once it is pointed out, they can practice that word—write it a few times each day perhaps. A memory clue is big help, such as pointing out the word end in the word friend (a friend is a friend to the end). Once they can see the right spelling, they generally do great at self-correction in the future.

Here are a few spelling clues to get you thinking:

here, hear
hear–you hear with your ear. See the word ear in hear.
here and there are places. You can see here in there.

Separate the word into syllables: to-get-her
If you are going somewhere together, you have “to get her” first.

Separate the word into syllables: to-morrow
The meaning is “on the morrow, or the next day”. Remembering that helps you not put an extra “m” in the word.

How long will a friend stick with you?  to the end!  If you can see the word end in your friend, you spelled it correctly!

The main thing is to talk through the misspelled word with your child the first time you spot it. Just dissecting it is often enough to help a natural speller see and correct his mistake. When my son spelled rock as roc, I asked him to spell sock, clock, block, lock, etc. As he put the ck on the end of each word, he quickly recognized the pattern and fixed rock without another word from me.

You never know for sure which kids will be natural spellers, so I start all children off writing with the Spelling Dictionary by their side from about age 6 and up.  If they get in the habit of looking up words they are stumped on, instead of puzzling (and misspelling them), it seems to get them off to a better start.

As they grow, I switch over to How to Spell It. This was a wonderful discovery in my homeschool, because kids often can’t find a misspelled word in the dictionary, obviously, because a dictionary teaches definitions of words, not primarily how to spell them.  This handy book spells every word is a variety of ways with the correct spelling bolded in red, so you can find your word easily!

From day one of homeschool, I have my children keep a school journal.  This is an easy way to teach spelling, as they learn to spell right along with learning to write, and the spelling words are the words they use in their everyday conversation.

When it is time for some formal rules, I reach for Better Spelling in 30 Minutes a Day.  This book is great for older children who need some spelling help, or as a guidebook for you, as a teacher, to get the rules down so you can teach better. Workbook contains exercises that allow you to identify weak spelling areas and practice to improve them, tricks for spelling those commonly misspelled words, proofreading practice so you can learn to spot an error, and an answer key in the back of the book so you can check your answers as you go. Of course, you don’t have to spend 30 minutes a day, but I’m certain this book will improve your spelling even if you only spend a few minutes!

Good spelling is just about as important as brushed hair or a washed face. It is often the first impression we will make. In a day when email or texting is a common form of communication, spelling matters. Believe me, I have seen my share of misspelled job applications—and they are not very impressive. It’s worth it to teach our kids to spell!


Long Division Troubles?

Some children are stumped by long division. They can be progressing along just fine, learning their times tables and doing well on their math lessons, when suddenly long division enters the picture and math becomes a tearful subject. When I taught Emily (9) how to do long division, we encountered some problems. In explaining it to her, I realized that I was using an old tried-and-true, failproof method that I’d learned somewhere that seems to help every child along in learning long division. Here it is, just in case you ever need it!

Before learning long division, a child must have mastered his multiplication facts. He must also be able to do short division, one step answers such as: 45 divided by 9 = 5, 15 divided by 3 = 5, etc. To begin your long division lesson, prepare stacks of ten- and one-dollar bills. You can use real or play money. (I like real.) Draw this on a piece of paper: a column for tens and a column for ones, labeled. Have the child count the money and lay it in stacks under the tens place and the ones place (A). long division

Draw three little children, boys and girls, depending on your family configuration (B). Now, say this:

Emily, Ammon and Louisa (use your children’s names) are going to share 47 dollars.  Count out the bills (set the rest aside) and help your children stack the ten dollar bills in the tens column and the one dollar bills go in the ones column on your paper.

Look at the first number in the division box (C). It is a 4 in the tens place. That means 4 ten-dollar bills. Ask your children to pick up the ten dollar bills in the tens place and pass them out to the three kids in the drawing.  How many ten-dollar bills can each child have to share it fairly?  (one ten-dollar bill, with one ten dollar bill left over.)

On the division problem (D), write a dark 1 in the ten’s place and a light tracing of an 0 in the ones place. Explain that this means each of the 3 children (point to the divisor “3″) gets one ten-dollar bill (point to the quotient 10, in figure D).

long division

How much money did you spend?
(3 x $10 bill = $30.) Write 30 below the 47. (figure D)
How many ten dollar bills do you have leftover now?

Point to the stack of ten-dollar bills in the ten’s place (figure A).
(one ten-dollar bill and seven ones)
Perform the subtraction to show how much money is leftover.

Ask: Can 3 children evenly share one ten-dollar bill that is left in
our tens column without cutting it in pieces?

Can they trade it into the bank for 10 one-dollar bills?

If they trade in their $10 bill for one-dollar bills, how many
one-dollar bills will they have altogether? (10 ones plus 7 ones = 17
ones.) Put the ten ones into the ones stack with the seven ones.

Can 3 children share 17 one-dollar bills evenly?
(Encourage your child to deal out the dollar bills evenly to each
drawing of a child.) Now count up the dollar bills. How much does each
child get? What number times the 3 children is close to 17?
(five one dollar bills)

Write the number five in the ones place. (figure F)
How much money did you spend to divide the one dollars evenly?
(15 one dollar bills)

How many one dollar bills are leftover?
(2 one dollar bills).
Since the children can’t share these evenly, there are leftovers. We
call them “remainders,” and we write them after our answer like this:
r. 2. The “r” stands for remainder (see figure G).

Go through this process several times, using different numbers but the
same story of children sharing ten- and one-dollar bills. Begin by
asking, “How can ___children share ___dollars?” Here are some good
problems to do:

43 divided by 2
85 divided by 3
74 divided by 5

After your child has learned how to do long division using the $10 and
$1 bills, you can introduce harder problems by adding $100 dollar
bills to your game.

Teaching Children to Write the Natural Way

My daughter Louisa has kept her school journals since she was 4 years old. What a treasure they are now! A whole childhood recorded.

I would like to share with you some of the things we’ve done in our homeschool that have really worked so well over the years. Teaching my children to write  has been a joy to teach, and any mother can easily do it without any expensive program.

I start when a child is very young—before he can even write his name—and we begin keeping a journal. I like the idea of this habit because it will help your child develop into an articulate thinker and writer.  And it is important, creating a history for generations to come.

I start by having my little child stand beside me while I type on the computer. I ask him to tell me about something, some event that has happened recently. It can be seeing a butterfly, or getting a bloody toe, or any thing significant or insignificant. At first, the going can be a bit rough, but as you practice this habit of writing as your child dictates to you, he will be on the lookout for ideas and will come to you and ask you to “write in his journal”.

So, you type while he talks. Keep it short (children can go on forever). I say something like, we are going to fill the page halfway, or set some other limit. I leave a blank half page at the top so he can illustrate his story when it is printed out. Of course, you don’t have to type it, you can write it out in handwriting (printed neatly, not cursive).

When you are able to teach your child to write his name (about age 4), he will have the motor skills to advance to the next step, which is tracing. Using very wide lined paper (5/8” spacing), have your child dictate one sentence that he’d like to tell about. You write the words in yellow marker (highlighters work well) or light colored pencil. It should be clear to see. Then you give him the job of tracing your very neatly lettered sentence using a dark colored marker or fat crayon or pencil. With this exercise comes the awareness that thoughts are put into words on paper using letters that he can make himself. At first, this is slow going, and if my child has a lot to say, I type out the rest, or write it in dark letters that he won’t have to trace. A sentence is plenty for the first while.

As you child advances in learning phonics—recognizing the letters and their sounds—and in his ability to write letters, you can leave some very easy words blank. For example, if you child dictates to you, “We have a cat.”, you could write in yellow marker, “We have a —.” leaving space for the word “cat”. As your child traces his sentence, he can sound out the word and fill in the easy word “cat”. Naturally, during this period of learning, he is going to be held back from long journal entries by the fact that the going is slow when you are learning to trace or write the letters yourself.

The next step, after the “fill-in-your-own-word” thing, is to sit down with your child and ask him to write as much as he can of his sentence. This is where you teach him that every sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period. When he comes to a stumper, you write that word on a separate piece of paper so he can copy it. I never make my children look up words in a dictionary to discover their spelling at this point. We are trying to teach them how to write without too much discouragement. The slicker the process, the better for all.

Your child will stay at this level of writing until he is 6 or 7 years old, lengthening his journal entries from a few sentences to the front side of a page. At this point, I introduce a Spelling Dictionary and help him learn how to use it. If he comes to me needing the spelling of a word, I flip to it in the Spelling Dictionary for him and underline it. It doesn’t take long for a child to become independent in using it before asking for word spellings. But, there will still be some words you will need to write down for him to copy. Common ones can be written into his Spelling Dictionary.

The reason I don’t let my children “guess-spell” is that it forms a first impression of the spelling of the word, and if it is wrong, it can be hard to undo. I tell them that I would rather write the word for them to copy, then have them have to write it onto their spelling list because it is misspelled. We use pencil, or erasable pen, for journal writing. When their entry of the day is done, I go back with them and check over it, and have my student correct his errors. Misspelled words go on a spelling list, that they practice daily and test on Friday.

These journals they are creating will be the record they pass on to their children and grandchildren. They are a keepsake, a personal history, a book of remembrance, a treasure. We want them to be perfect. Each year, at the end of December, we take that year’s journal entries and have them spiral bound at the printer. This only costs $1 or so, and it creates a treasured book that my children are proud of. This makes their writing meaningful and makes them eager to do their best, day by day, year round. I give them 2 pieces of colored cardstock to make the front and back cover for their journal, and then the whole thing is bound together. You can add their photo to the cover and have it laminated or have a protective plastic overlay page put on the front cover. These are so precious that the printer admitted to me that he had to just pause and read a few entries!

All the while, the children are illustrating every journal entry. I encourage the use of crayon or colored pencils rather than markers, as they tend to disappear in a matter of years, particularly the washable ones. We have even used oil pastel chalks and watercolors for their journal illustrations. By the time a child is 8 years old, he has experimented in many art mediums and made hundreds of original creative drawings.

About 7 or 8 years old, I introduce the concept that each separate thought or idea gets a paragraph to itself. I teach them to indent each paragraph with 2 finger spaces. This is the beginning of paragraph writing. As I teach it, I remind my child to stop and think, “Is this a new idea? If it is, remember to indent!”. It is best to keep a close watch as this concept sinks it. Nobody likes to go back and erase and rewrite a whole sentence just to indent!

Around 8 years old, or whenever they express an interest and their manuscript printing is nice and neat, I teach them cursive. Then journal entries must contain at least one cursive sentence. As their skills improve, I require longer entries, and more of the writing to be done in cursive.

This process continues, writing daily in personal journals, until they hit the teen years and want a private journal. At this point, they often want a topic to write on, as their daily doings will be recorded in their own private journals. The book my daughter Julianna created called, All About Me, is a good writing tool for this age. This is a write-in workbook that gives interesting personal topics to write about. When the book is finished, your teenager will have their personal history written! Another useful resource is the card deck called Kids Talk. Each card presents a concept or incident along with thought questions. These can be just the flash of writing inspiration that your student might need.

As long as my children are writing, I continue to check spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. Research has proven that children learn best in the context of their own writing. Rather than do workbook pages, I want them to learn to edit and correct their own work, learning in the process! If you are rusty on these skills, and fear that you cannot correct their work, there are good English handbooks such as Everything You Need to Know About English or Writer’s Express, that can help you out.

It has been amazing to me how this daily plugging away at journal writing accomplishes so many things: neat penmanship, English skills, mechanics of writing, plus drawing skills while recording a personal history, and making a treasured keepsake for now and for future generations. I’d say this is one of the best things we’ve done in our homeschool!

Note: I organized this process into a program called K-5 Journal and Language Arts Program .

The Best Character Building Stories for Children!

Heaping Coals Upon Their Heads

“Daddy,” cried Donovan, running in from school, “that Lionel is the meanest boy in the school.”

“What’s the matter with him?” asked Daddy.

“Oh, he’s just terribly mean. He’s always calling me names, and everything I do he says is bad or stupid, and he’s always turning the other boys against me.”

“It surely can’t be as bad as that,” said Daddy.

“Yes, it is,” said Donovan. “And what’s more, I’m not going to stand it any longer. Big as he is, I’m going to fight him tomorrow.”

“Well, that’s interesting, said Daddy, smiling. “I hope you will tell me when it’s going to come off, so I can come along and pick up the pieces.”

“There won’t be any pieces left of him, said Donovan angrily.

“What? Are you going to swallow him afterward?”

Donovan laughed.

“Do you know, said Daddy, “I can tell you how to pay that boy back.”

“Can you?” cried Donovan, all eagerness. “How?”

“Would you like to put some coals of fire on his head?”

“Anything,” said Donovan. “Anything.”

“Well, I’ll get the prescription for you so you can do it.”

So Daddy went into his study and brought out a book. After a little searching he found the place.

“Ah, here it is,” he said. “Listen, Donovan: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap coals upon his head’” (Romans 12:20, R.S.V.)

“Aw,” said Donovan, “that’s no good; I’d rather fight him.”

“But,” said Daddy, “this is much better. If you fight him you can’t hurt him very much, but this way you pour coals of fire on his head. You will burn the meanness out of him.”

“Fine!” said Donovan. “But I don’t like that way of doing it.”

“Why not try it?” said Daddy. “It’s worth trying, anyway.”

“I’ll see,” said Donovan. “I’ll think it over.” Donovan thought it over, and it was not long before something began to happen.

Next morning, on his way to school, whom should he meet but the hated Lionel.

“Just my luck,” Lionel said as he came up to Donovan. “Got up late and missed my breakfast. Suppose you’ve had a big meal.”

“No breakfast!” said Donovan kindly. “You must be starved. Why don’t you eat my lunch right now. Yes, I did have a good breakfast, and I am not a bit hungry, so here, have my lunch.”

Lionel was as surprised as if he had received a blow between the eyes. He looked first at Donovan and then at the lunch. “You don’t mean it,” he said.

“Yes, I do,” said Donovan. “Here, take it.”

“That’s nice of you. Thanks,” said Lionel, taking the lunch and beginning to eat. “But you’ll have some yourself, won’t you?”

Donovan took a sandwich, and they walked on to school together, munching in silence.

“Hot this morning,” said Lionel after they had gone some distance. “Wish I could get a drink from somewhere.”

“A drink?” said Donovan. “Let me see, where can we get one? I’d like one too.”

“Pity we can’t get some lemonade in that store over there,” said Lionel.

Donovan felt in his pocket. “I have three dimes. What about it? Let’s go over.”

“Well, I don’t want to take your money,” said Lionel. “I’ll wait till we get to the playground.”

“Oh, no, come on,” said Donovan. “We’ll have a drink each. Looks good, doesn’t it?”

So they went in, bought a lemonade each, and then hurried on to school.

That evening Daddy was waiting at the gate for Donovan. “Well,” he said, “how did the fight go? I hope you won.”

“I did”, said Donovan with a twinkle in his eye. “I just burned him all up.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Daddy.

“Why, I did what you said. I fed him with my lunch, and I gave him a drink of lemonade, and–well, he suddenly changed. He’s been different all day. We’ve been like old friends.”

“Splendid! Well done, Donovan!” said Daddy. “I hope you’ll win all your battles just like that.”

from Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, Book 5, Story #8, pg. 48

See Uncle Arthur Bedtime Stories in our store.


Teach Character with Bedtime Stories!






Everybody loves a story! Evenings at my house are time for read-aloud, and my children’s favorite stories have always been Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. These charming, old-fashioned stories have incredible appeal because they are true! These tales really happened, and they sometimes turn out disastrously! Each story is just a few pages long, so it is easy to sneak one in here and there in a busy schedule.

The five-volume set has a publication date of 1976, and it is actually a collection of the best stories found in the 1964 version, so you know old-fashioned Christian values are alive and well. In addition to the real stories about real children, each book has a story from the Bible. Each book has 192 pages, a glossy picture cover, and wonderful color drawings throughout. The very best thing about these stories is that they speak right to a child’s heart! I read my daughter Louisa the story “Two Carolines,” a story about a little girl who was very pleasant and lovable when out of the house but not very happy to those at home. A day later, Louisa came to me to confess, “I am like that story, Mom.” The best part was that I never said one word! I read the story out loud, then Louisa saw herself in it and strived to correct her own behavior. Ooh, hard to beat that kind of powerful teaching–teaching through parables!

One of the stories my grown children remember best is “The Hollow Pie.” Seems a certain young man always grabbed the biggest piece for himself rather than watching out for others and saying, “You go first.” After a very disappointing dinner, one very sorry boy learned that maybe the biggest isn’t always the best!

If a set will bless the whole family for years to come, this is it!