Handwriting Without Tears Review – First Grade

Handwriting Without Tears Review – First Grade

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Handwriting Without Tears is a handwriting curriculum that is part of the Learning Without Tears group of resources. It’s intended for use in a school setting, but it’s become popular in the homeschool community. I was drawn to the curriculum because it was created by occupational therapists and I had a student that was extremely resistant to adopting the correct pencil grip in pre-k. It worked so well for him that I continued using it with him in kindergarten and first grade.

Handwriting Without Tears Review for First Grade

Curriculum Elements

My Printing Book, the first-grade level workbook, reviews pencil skills, uppercase and lowercase letter formation, and number formation. There are a few drawing activities and opportunities to color on most pages to practice pencil skills. It also includes writing activities focusing on words, sentences, paragraphs, and some grammar (ex. abbreviations, capital usage). But I would say that the focus of the workbook is practicing letter formation, which is taught in developmental, rather than alphabetical, order.

The My Printing Book Teacher’s Guide includes ideas for multi-sensory activities. Reluctant writers or students that struggle with workbook work would benefit from these ideas. But if your student just needs practice, the workbook should be sufficient. The parent/instructor can simply sit with their student and talk through the letter/number formations as described on the page, then monitor the child’s work.

The version of the book we used had about 86 pages of student work. If using just the workbook, you can do handwriting three times a week and complete it in less than a school year. If using multi-sensory activities from the teacher’s guide, you may want to do handwriting more often.

What Should You Buy?


  • My Printing Book – student workbook
  • Crayons – the flip crayons sold by Learning Without Tears are helpful in encouraging the correct pencil grip for kids with smaller hands, but many first graders will do just fine with regular crayons.


Teacher Prep

If you plan to use the teacher’s guide, you’ll want to spend some time with it and plan out the activities you do in addition to the workbook. You will likely also have to make additional purchases.

But if you’re using just the workbook, it should be open and go.

Student Time

Most of the pages should take less than 15 minutes to complete, but some students may want to complete pages towards the back of the workbook over two days if still struggling with fine motor skills or experiencing frustration. Conversely, most of the review pages for lowercase letters go so quickly that some students may want to do more than one page at a time.

To whom would I recommend Handwriting Without Tears?

(Based on Learning Preferences and Three D’s I describe in earlier posts.)

Recommend for…

  • Students that do well with the Written Word, Spoken Word, and Visual learning methods should do well with just the workbook. But students that need more Interactive or Physical methods of learning may need multi-sensory activities as described in the teacher’s guide.
  • Like most early-learning curricula, Handwriting Without Tears requires One-on-One teaching.
  • Children that enjoy coloring since there’s an opportunity to color most days.

I would NOT recommend for…

Children that are advanced writers since so much of the workbook is dedicated to letter (and number) formation.

My Best Tips for Using Handwriting Without Tears

  • Watch all of your student’s workbook work. Since this level is dedicated to practicing letter formation, it’s important to correct your student if forming letters improperly before they create bad habits.
  • Keep the lessons short, no more than 15 minutes.

Common Questions/FAQ About Handwriting Without Tears

Do I need the teacher’s manual/guide?

Yes, if your student needs multi-sensory activities as part of his/her handwriting curriculum.

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Handwriting Without Tears

This is one of my favorite of all the curricula we’ve used because it shows parents that have never taught handwriting how to teach this subject in a logical, stepwise manner that truly helps her child. I’m grateful that I found it!

handwriting without tears

Hooked on Phonics Review

Hooked on Phonics Review

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using the links.

Hooked on Phonics is a phonics-based reading curriculum. I’ve used it in our homeschool with all three kids, with two children currently using it (one about to graduate out). This is the only curriculum I’ve used to teach my kids to read. 

Hooked on Phonics Review 


While you can purchase individual grade levels separately, I purchased the entire set (Pre-K to 2nd grade). Each grade comes with a level 1 and level 2 books for phonics practice, a set of readers (beautiful with fun stories), stickers to mark completed lessons, and DVD’s with video content for each lesson. 


Each lesson mostly consists of word families, with a page introducing the words, a practice page, and a little story using words in the word families that they’ve used so far. 

Every few lessons, the student gets to read a fun, colorful reader. My kids are always so excited when they get to read a real book! There are also some reading comprehension questions for the parent to ask, and a place to put a sticker showing that the lesson has been completed. Since I have three kids, my younger kids put a sticker underneath the previous brother’s sticker. I thought that it would bother my younger boys to not get to put the sticker in the “real” spot, but they actually like seeing that they’re learning something that their older brother(s) learned.

Besides word families, Hooked on Phonics also introduces what they call Helper Words. Helper Words are basically sight words or high-frequency words. I usually play a little game with them where they say the word of the color I choose, but I don’t worry about them memorizing them just yet and simply provide them when needed if my child can’t remember it. Since they are high-frequency words, I know that it won’t be long before they remember the word on their own. 

Additional Purchases 

Hooked on Phonics was sufficient to teach my oldest to read, but since my younger two enjoy reading we usually read something in addition to the Hooked on Phonics reading for that day, like BOB Books or a history reader.

I also found that it was nice to have fun magnetic bookmarks to mark our place in the book. I put these Dr. Seuss bookmarks in my kids’ Christmas stocking, and the magnetic feature is so nice because my kids drop their stuff ALL THE TIME. No more wondering, “Where were we?” because the bookmark stays in place. 

Teacher Prep Time 

Hooked on Phonics is pretty much open and go, so there really isn’t any teacher-prep time. It’s just a matter of having the readers easily-accessible when you need them. I keep the grade-level bin that my student is currently working on in his crate on top of his workboxes so that I can quickly grab a reader for his drawer if needed. 

Student Time 

The amount of time a student spends on a lesson each day is dependent on the child. Some kids have an affinity for words and love the process of learning to read. Others see it as a drudgery. But even kids that enjoy the process can take only so much of new learning at a time. 

In general, I’d say that about five minutes of word family practice is sufficient per day. Sometimes that means that we read through the words on the lesson introductory page a couple of times. If we’re on a lesson practice page, we might read one line a couple of times. or read through the whole page if my student finds it easy. If it’s not so easy, we’ll just work on part of the page and go back to it the next day. We end the lesson if I feel like my student is getting frustrated or mentally worn-out with their new learning.

Writing it out makes it sound so much more complicated than it is, so be sure to watch the video to get a better explanation. 

To whom would I recommend Hooked on Phonics? 

(Based on Learning Preferences and Three D’s I describe in earlier posts.) 

  • Recommend to..

    • Students that do well with the Written Word because there aren’t a lot of extra activities included in Hooked on Phonics.  A Visual learner may be greatly helped by the DVDs. And a Spoken Word learner will appreciate hearing each word in the word family spoken by a parent or on the DVD. There is also now a Hooked on Phonics app with games that may be great for an Interactive learner, but we haven’t used it.
    • Students that prefer working One-on-One because this curriculum is designed for parents to sit side-by-side with their child and guide them through their learning. But Independent learners may enjoy the DVD portion and find that they need little prompting from their parent when it comes to the reading portion.
    • Students that have a Delight for one-on-one time with their parent (my boys love to cuddle up with me to read!) or that simply love silly stories.
  • I would NOT recommend to…

    Students that prefer Physical learning because this is a sitting-on-the-couch curriculum. You could try having your student use a pointer as they’re sounding out words (either store-bought or one he makes with craft supplies). And you could supplement by incorporating a physical element, like maybe using letter tiles to build words and move each tile when sounding out the words. But if this is your situation, I wouldn’t use this curriculum if you don’t already have it. You might instead want to try something like All About Reading, which I understand incorporates some physical activities (we haven’t used All About Reading, so please double-check). 

My Best Tip for Using Hooked on Phonics  

When lesson planning, set aside an amount of time (ex. 5-10 minutes) rather than what page you expect to be on. Some word families may be more difficult for your students than others, so they’ll take longer to get through.

Common Questions/FAQ About Hooked on Phonics 

  • Question 1: Does Hooked on Phonics teach the alphabet?

    The purpose of the Pre-K level is to teach the alphabet (and letter sounds) and gives ideas for fun activities, but I honestly didn’t feel it was super helpful or sufficient. All of my kids learned their letter sounds with this fantastic video (great for kids that prefer Visual and Spoken Word learning methods).

  • Question 2: How do I know if my child is ready to start reading?

    One of the things that you’ll want to look for in your child is phonemic awareness. You can do a search for phonemic awareness online, or you can refer to this post by This Reading Mama. She going into detail about the  steps a child needs to go through to learn how to read, and also has some great printables! 

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Hooked on Phonics 

Hooked on Phonics is a great phonics curriculum for kids that are interested in reading and have the patience and maturity to spend a couple of minutes sounding words out during the early stages. And the Kindergarten-2nd Grade levels are perfect for parents that need an open-and-go solution and don’t want to do a lot of lesson planning.

Homeschool First Grade Curriculum – Mid-Year Update

Homeschool First Grade Curriculum – Mid-Year Update

We’re about halfway through our school year, so I thought it would be a good time for a little update on how we’re doing with our first grade curriculum choices. If you’re interested in all of the specific curricula that my first grader is using this year, please watch our current curriculum choices video.

We did make some changes in our group subjects, so check those out, too!

Homeschool History – Mid-Year Update 

Homeschool Science – Mid-Year Update

But today is about my first grader. We had one big change, a couple of successful completions, and a plan for an addition to our first grade curriculum choices before the end of the school year.

Biggest First Grade Curriculum Fail – First Language Lessons

My first grader’s biggest change has been that we stopped using First Language Lessons. If you’ve seen my curriculum choices video, this won’t surprise you. I was ready to let it go a long time ago. It’s a curriculum that I tried with my oldest when he was in first grade, and we dumped it that year, too. At the time I thought that the issue was a difference in learning styles, and that was definitely a problem. But this second time around, I realized that the main issue with this curriculum is that it doesn’t teach from the known to the unknown, which is an educational tenet that I live by. We do continue to use the poetry memorization selections in our group learning, but the rest of it just didn’t work for us.

Instead, I switched my first-grader to Kumon Writing Grade 1. He’s working out of it twice a week, so he should finish the workbook in March. Do I love it? No, not really. I feel that it’s too advanced for most first graders to fully absorb the information, but, truth be told, I think that it’s ridiculous to teach grammar above basic sentence structure at this age. Grammar is a state requirement for us, so we’re going to stick with it just to check the box. But I’ll most likely find something much simpler for my youngest when he’s in first grade.

Biggest First Grade Curriculum Win – The Beginner’s Bible

My first grader is almost done reading through The Beginner’s Bible. This is my favorite Bible storybook because it simplifies Biblical stories for children without dumbing them down or adding extraneous fluff. My first grader has loved it, too, and has changed so much in his view of God. Before reading the Biblical story for himself, he’d been pretty resistant to spiritual things. That has all changed in a big way, which just goes to show that God understood the power of storytelling before we all figured it out.

Success – Spelling You See

My first grader completed Level A of Spelling You See before Christmas. He’d begun it about midway last year, and I decided to complete it this year. Level A is pretty different from the upper levels of Spelling You See, lacking a lot of the uniqueness that Spelling You See is known for, and I didn’t love it at the end. Teaching spelling rules works much better for my kids so far.

My first grader is also maybe halfway through Level 1 of All About Spelling. I’m resisting the urge to fly through this curriculum. Even though my first grader could already spell the words we’ve covered so far, I feel that it’s important to acclimate him to the systematic approach used by All About Spelling in order to give him a good foundation for our future spelling work.

To Be Started – Writing

Since my boy has been learning some about writing in his handwriting, spelling, and grammar curricula, I’ve been holding off on doing more in this subject area. But after he completes the Kumon Writing workbook in March, I do plan to try a couple of WriteShop Primary projects with him. After doing WriteShop Primary with my oldest last year (check out my WriteShop Primary review video), I feel like I have a grasp on the general ideas and strategies implemented, so will adapt them and do a scaled down version of the suggested lesson plans. I’ll work with my son to choose the projects that interest him…I know that the shape book is high on that list, so we’ll probably begin with that.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this peek into my first grader’s year!

(You may also be interested in how my pre-schooler’s and fourth grader’s year is going.)

Homeschool Update - First Grade Curriculum

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Homeschool Workboxes for First Grade

Homeschool Workboxes for First Grade

When I first considered homeschooling my kids, one of the big things holding me back was the idea of teaching all subjects to all of my children while also being constantly available to each of them. As an introverted, highly sensitive mama, I knew that I would get overwhelmed very quickly. My husband, knowing me as he does, was concerned for me, too.

I had a nursing baby at the time, so I decided to start researching homeschooling by watching YouTube videos so that I could see how other moms got it all done. One video, created by Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler, introduced me to the homeschool workbox system. Suddenly, homeschooling seemed possible! Even my husband agreed to be all in on homeschooling if I homeschooled “like that.” 

So from Day One, I’ve implemented a version of the workbox system in our homeschool. It has evolved over time to meet our specific needs, but we continue to love it.

Organizing with Homeschool Workboxes

Homeschool Workboxes for First Grade

Like Erica, I use a drawer system as our homeschool workboxes. I chose the Seville Classics Large 10-Drawer Organizer Cart for its  wider drawers that comfortably hold a binder. My first grader’s drawers are each assigned to a different subject and labeled appropriately. I’ve ordered the drawers in the order that I usually want him to do his work (from the top down), but the drawers do come out and can be re-ordered easily.  

Homeschool Workboxes - Subject Labels

Besides a label, each drawer also has an indicator (similar product) that you can move to show red, green, or in between. Since my first grader doesn’t have work in every drawer every day, I move the indicator to green if a drawer has work for him to do that day. When he’s done with the work in that drawer, he moves the indicator back to red. He loves being able to glance at his drawers and see how much work he has that day (it’s often the first thing he does in the morning!), and I can glance at the drawers to see how much he’s done.

Crate Contents

A file crate lives on top of the drawer system. I color-code my kids so that I can identify the owners of certain belongings with a glance, so his name on the front of the crate, his folders, and his clipboard are all in his color. 

Crate for Homeschool Workboxes

The clipboard is one of the most important things in his crate. It holds a checklist of his work for the week, which I print out from Homeschool Planet (an online lesson planner). Each day when I fill his drawers, I can just pull out the clipboard and see what I have planned for him for the next day. I should mention that the lesson plan is not set in stone. It’s just a plan, not my boss, so I change it as needed. But schooling three kids and having a lot going on, I absolutely must have some plan in place to refer to so that I’m not standing in front of the drawers each evening trying to come up with a plan on the fly.

While a lot of my first grader’s work is in binders that generally stay in his drawers, I keep a few resources, like some worksheets, book reports, and file folder games, in folders in the crate until they’re needed. Keeping these materials close at hand makes filling the drawers quick and easy.

The crate also contains reading material. I keep his Hooked on Phonics books and readers for the year in the crate, along with any other books that I have planned for him to read over the next month or so. That way I don’t have to go looking for them when it’s time to fill his drawers.

What’s in the drawers?

Now let’s take a closer look at the contents of each drawer on this particular day:

Morning Work

Homeschool Workboxes - Morning Work

This drawer contains my first grader’s glasses and Morning Work binder, which he works out of every day. His Morning Work binder contains calendaring sheets as well as some copywork. And isn’t this binder cover the cutest?! The printable comes with many different binder covers. I chose this little guy because he has a big smile like my first grader.


Homeschool Workboxes - Math

This drawer contains my first grader’s math binder. We’re using Math-U-See, which does come in a workbook, but I re-order the worksheets into a binder to fit our needs. Last year I had all of the math worksheets in a folder in his crate and just pulled out pages each day to put in his drawer, but there were days that he wanted to work ahead and do more. Keeping it all in a binder allows him to work ahead if he wants to without him having to wait for me to pull out more worksheets.


Homeschool Workboxes - Handwriting

This is where his Handwriting Without Tears workbook lives. And that’s all I have to say about that. 🙂


Homeschool Workboxes - Spelling

My first grader is doing a couple of different things for spelling this year (please refer to our Curriculum Choices video for more information). This drawer usually contains a Spelling You See worksheet along with a Boogie Board that we use for All About Spelling. I’ve also put together a Spelling Practice binder with worksheets for practicing his All About Spelling words. That binder stays in the crate on top of the drawers on days that we’re not using it. The other materials we use for All About Spelling are a teacher’s manual, which I keep with my other teacher’s manuals, and the All About Spelling app, which we use on my iPad.


Homeschool Workboxes - Grammar
Homeschool Workboxes - Grammar

This drawer contains our First Language Lessons book and the Kumon Writing workbook for Grade 1. My curriculum video explains more about why we have two different resources in here, but basically it looked like First Language Lessons wasn’t going to work out, so I selected a Kumon resource to give him another way to learn parts of speech.


Homeschool Workboxes - Bible

He reads out of The Beginner’s Bible every day. It’s a bit above his reading level, so I treat it as shared reading. When it’s time to read out of his Bible and do his other reading (below), we move to the couch to be more comfortable.


Homeschool Workboxes - Reading

This drawer holds his Hooked on Phonics material, plus another fun reader if he doesn’t have a reader in his history drawer (below). Reading real books every day has helped both of my older boys progress more quickly and naturally in their reading abilities (especially in recognizing sight words!), so I always have him reading out of a book as well as working through his phonics program.


Homeschool Workboxes - History
Homeschool Workboxes - History

We do a lot of our history together as a group, along with age-appropriate notebooking. This drawer is the home for my first grader’s history binder, which holds his notebooking pages. It also often contains a reader related to the historical topic that we are currently learning about.


I’ve been treating science very much the way I’ve been treating history, with group work supplemented by notebooking pages. This drawer holds notebooking pages when we have them.


I’m saving this drawer for a couple of writing projects that we’ll do later in the year.

I hope this peek into my first grader’s homeschool workbox system was helpful! The labels that I use for his drawers are available for download, so go ahead and grab a copy today!

You may also be interested in:

Homeschool Workboxes for Fourth Grade

Homeschool Workboxes for Pre-K

Videos you may find helpful:

Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2018-2019
How We Use All About Spelling

** This post contains affiliate links.

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