Friday, April 29, 2011

Review of Greek 'n' Stuff Bible Study - Esther

In September, I was given a copy of Green 'n' Stuff's bible study "I Can Study Esther Alone with God" in exchange for my review.  While most people are familiar with this company because of their super popular Greek program, "Hey Andrew, Teach me Some Greek!", the bible studies are part of their product line, and are worth consideration.

Over the course of the last school year, my daughter (9) has worked through this bible study.  While she is the kind of student who prefers to complete assignments, units, chapters, and courses as quickly as she can (her attitude is always, "Why do one lesson when I have time to finish ten!?"), I encouraged her to follow the schedule for this bible study, since the Word of God is best digested in small bites rather than in huge meals.  She complied, and read a couple of verses of the Book of Esther every day, along with answering the provided questions.  Weekly memory verses are also provided.  The study lasts for 13 weeks with very short lessons daily Monday-Saturday.  An example day's lesson looks like this:

The most interesting part of this bible study, certainly from my perspective, are the questions and answers that are included along with each lesson.  For example, in week two, there is a reference in Esther to the Jews still being in Persia.  Karen Mohs, the author of the study, clarifies this in a sidebar, indicating that only about 50,000 Jews had returned to the homeland at this time.  I have a minor in Theology, but I have never studied the Book of Esther, and I learned much from this study.  My daughter has a huge advantage over me at this point, as she now has a wonderful comprehension and recall of this piece of the Old Testament.

I should mention that I am a Roman Catholic, and while this study is quite obviously written by Protestants, I wouldn't limit its usage to Protestants at all.  I found nothing in this study that counters Catholic teaching, and the fact is that there just aren't as many Catholic bible study products out there.  If you want to introduce your children in-depth to the Book of Esther, I would wholeheartedly recommend this product.  Because it is based primarily on simply a reading and recall of Scripture, rather than on promoting or educating about a particular denomination of Christianity, it is ideally suited to anyone who has a desire for her child independently to complete a bible study.

"I Can Study Esther Alone with God" is available from Greek 'n' Stuff's website, and is priced at a very reasonable $8.95.  It is recommended for middle to upper elementary students, and I found this target age to be exactly right.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching my daughter progress through this bible study.  To see what other Crew members thought, visit the Crew Blog.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review of Writing Tales

I was recently quite blessed to receive Writing Tales 1 and 2, along with teacher guides, free in exchange for my review.  Given that I was already familiar with Writing Tales, and the Greek writing program on which it is based, I was thrilled! Writing Tales is the "little brother", if you will, of Classical Writing, a writing program based on the Greek progymnasmata appropriate for middle and high school students.  Classical Writing called to me from the moment I began homeschooling, but my children were far too young at the time.  When I discovered a program based on the progymnasmata for younger children, I was anxious to try it.

Although Writing Tales is based on an ancient program with an intimidating sounding name, the program itself is unbelievably user friendly.  Given that teaching writing is something that many homeschooling parents fear, having a program with thousands of years of proven results that holds your hand every step of the way is nothing short of a Godsend.

The format of Writing Tales, whether volume 1 or 2, is the same very lesson.  The creator of Writing Tales explains on the website:
    The curriculum for both levels is built on a 30 lesson structure.  One story is studied for two lessons; each lesson is about one week long.  In the first lesson, the story is introduced.  The structure of the story is studied - who wrote it?  Who are the main characters?  What is their problem and how do they resolve it?  The student practices copywork using a passage of the story, and defines vocabulary words from the story.  A specific grammar concept is learned using examples from the story.  In Level Two, the student practices outlining the story, and finding synonyms for certain words.  Finally, the student re-writes the story in his own words.
    In the second lesson, the student practices spelling with words that were mis-spelled in her first written story.  More grammar practice is included.  Finally, instructions are given for re-writing the story a second time.
The consistency of the program from week to week and from year to year is one of its many strengths.  Most children seem to thrive when they know what to expect on a given school day.  Getting into the groove of writing is much easier when the progression of each lesson never varies.  Further, knowing how to "do" the program increases a student's sense of accomplishment.  Finally, if you happen to fall in love with the methodology of Writing Tales, you are assured of a continued writing curriculum with Classical Writing.

Given that Writing Tales is based on classical methodology, some parents might have the preconceived notion that it will be too hard for their children.  Nothing could be further from the truth! In our experience, each lesson takes about 20 minutes.  My son, who has ADHD and is highly gifted - a very difficult combination, loves this program and often does a whole week's lesson in one day.  The stories used are often familiar, and are such that younger children will enjoy listening to the story reading part of the program.  

One of the first questions I ask when considering a program is, "Do I need the teacher's guide?" In this case, I need to point out that the creator of the program maintains that without the teacher's guide, you are really only doing about half of the program.  Since I was provided with the teacher's guide, I have used it and found it to be incredibly thorough and complete.  Lesson plans for both individual students and co-ops are included, as is a large amount of supplemental material.  In all honesty, though, when I used Writing Tales with my older daughter, I didn't purchase the teacher's guide, and I never noticed that I was missing anything.  The upshot: if you can afford the teacher's guide, it is worth the money.  If you are comfortable with this method of teaching, though, and don't need help with lesson planning, you can use the program effectively without it.  

Finally, Book 1 is not a prerequisite for Book 2.  The scope and sequence of each book is as follows:

Our family loves Writing Tales.  I have now used it with two children, both completely different in learning style (and gender!), with great success.  I plan to use it also with my now six year-old twins next year.  For more information on Writing Tales, please visit their website, which is replete with great information.  You can also use their contact form if you have specific questions.  

To see other Crew opinions of Writing Tales, visit the Crew Blog!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Review of Science Weekly

 As part of the Homeschool Crew, I recently received all six levels of one of Science Weekly's science newsletters for children free in exchange for my review.  Science Weekly, an activity based newsletter, publishes 15 issues per year, and (according to the website) "develops and reinforces students' reading, writing, mathematics, and critical thinking skills, all through interactive science content."  Each issue of Science Weekly addresses a variety of topical science concepts, and is targeted at one of six different age groups ranging from K to 6th grade.  While each issue addresses the same topics, the age differentiation allows for the activities and the language to be age-appropriate.

Science Weekly is a full-color publication, and engages kids to interest them in science.  It provides experiments, along with math and reading activities which are topically related.  To families who utilize unit studies in their homeschools, Science Weekly's format should seem familiar, as it approaches the same topic from several different disciplinary angles.

Each issue even includes detailed teacher's notes, so Science Weekly really can be used in your homeschool, even if you are unfamiliar with the topics presented.

Whether or not Science Weekly is right for your family depends heavily on your approach to science. Families who follow a curriculum or use a textbook may not be able to capitalize on Science Weekly's format, but families who teach science via unit studies or delight-directed learning may find in Science Weekly an extraordinarily inexpensive curriculum.  Of course, there are some kids who are just science junkies and would love to see Science Weekly show up in their mailboxes every three weeks regardless of whether or not it complements their schooling! For these children, too, Science Weekly is quite a good value.

For $19.95 per student, per year, Science Weekly will deliver 15 issues of its award winning newsletter to your home.  You choose whether you want Level Pre-A (K), A (1st), B (2nd), C (3rd), D (4th), or E (5th-6th).  If you're not sure what you'll get, you can view samples on Science Weekly's website here.  Examples of recent topics include the following:

To find out more about Science Weekly, visit its website, or use the contact information below:

My kids thought Science Weekly was really interesting, even though it doesn't quite fit in with how we "do" science.  To find out how other Crew members used Science Weekly in their homes, visit the Crew Blog!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review of Kinderbach

For the past several weeks, my six year-old twins have been learning how to play the piano with Kinderbach. I have heard of Kinderbach for years, ever since I started homeschooling, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to use their online piano lessons free in exchange for my review.

My two oldest children (9 and 7) take piano lessons, and my twins have been anxious to start.  As they are still a little too young, it was especially gratifying to be able to let them learn piano online! Kinderbach offers DVD packages, song CDs, and, the option I am reviewing, online classes.  Each of these elements can be used in isolation from the others, which allows for a great deal of flexibility and financial choice.

Kinderbach is designed for children as young as two, depending on an individual child's maturity and interest.  Because the classes are self-paced, your child really can determine how fast she advances.   Further, the Kinderbach curriculum is so visually and aurally interesting that young children are naturally drawn into it.

Characters who remain with the program throughout become like friends as they teach children the basic elements of music reading and playing.  Lessons can be replayed, paused, and skipped (not recommended!) as many times as necessary for optimal learning.  Further, worksheet and coloring pages serve as reinforcement when the lesson ends.

Best of all, a child need not be able to read in order to derive the full benefits of Kinderbach.  

The lessons themselves are presented as short videos that include animations, songs, and piano instruction.  You can work with either a piano or a keyboard; my twins used both. I found the most effective way to present Kinderbach was to place my laptop on top of the piano and then just let my twins do their lesson.  As each week is broken up into four lessons, there is no need to create lesson plans for Kinderbach -- it's already done for you!

 While my twins are not yet done with Kinderbach (the program, if followed as presented takes about a year to complete, with about 22 total hours of video instruction included), but they have learned so much in the time they have been using it! They can identify notes on the piano, can read quarter notes on a staff, and know how to play quite a few notes in the correct time (i.e., a quarter note is worth a count of one).

Although I had shied away from Kinderbach in the past because of its cost, it is only after using it that I realize just how economical the program is.  For just $95.88/year, every child in your family can access Kinderbach - the video lessons and all of the printed resources - for an entire year.  Whether you have one child or ten, the cost is the same.  Kinderbach is an excellent way to teach your children basic music theory, as well as teaching them the basics of playing the piano.  No piano teacher can match that price for *one* child, let alone more.  If you prefer, you can subscribe to Kinderbach on a monthly basis, paying $19.99 month, billed monthly.  Best of all, you can access the first two weeks of Kinderbach absolutely free in order to determine if it is right for your family.

Kinderbach has fit in well with our homeschooling life.  To see what other members of the Crew thought, you can, as always, check out the Crew blog! If you have further questions about Kinderbach, feel free to contact them.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review of Go Go Kabongo

For the past couple of months, my children have been playing Go Go Kabongo, to which I received a free subscription in exchange for my review.  For the first time, my kids and I disagree on a product we have reviewed for TOS' Homeschool Crew.

Go Go Kabongo is an online gaming site for children.  It is billed as "an online world of brain-boosting gaming for reading." Children can play in different habitats, populated by different fun and weird cartoon characters in fantastical and imaginative settings.

The games on Go Go Kabongo are designed to "guide children toward better thinking" through their interesting and fun games.  Kids can design their own skate ramps, sort things according to large and small characteristics, and play other great games.  It is important to note that Go Go Kabongo does not actually teach children to read.  Rather, it teaches skills that are important in reading, such as attentiveness, planning, visualization, and simultaneous processing.

My kids love playing Go Go Kabongo.  They don't think of it as educational playing.  Although I have read Go Go Kabongo's explanation of how it aids in cognitive development, I must confess that I don't understand the rationale.  It doesn't seem like educational play to me either.  Perhaps because my children are already readers (although my six year-old twins who played are very nascent readers), Go Go Kabongo was not able to enhance their reading readiness.  I watched my seven and two six year-olds play Go Go Kabongo quite a bit, and I was not able to discern which reading skills were being effected in the games.

Still, the fact that they enjoy playing speaks well for Go Go Kabongo's design.  It really is a very cute gaming environment.

If you're unsure as to whether Go Go Kabongo is right for your family, I would really encourage you to give their free habitat option a try.  Your child can investigate many areas of Go Go Kabongo before you commit to a paid subscription.

If you like Go Go Kabongo and want to have access to the entire site, as well as having email updates of your child's activities sent directly to you, you can buy additional habitats for $4.95 each.

Although Go Go Kabongo and I did not get along as well as I might have hoped, I encourage you to read the FAQ and give it a try.  For pre-readers, this might be just the thing.  As always, don't take my word for it.  Find out what other Crew members had to say on the Crew Blog.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Review of Zeezok Movie Guide - Les Miserables

I've always associated Zeezok with its Presidential Penmanship series, a handwriting program I have always coveted.  When I had the opportunity to review a Zeezok product, then, I was very excited! In exchange for my review, I was provided with one of Zeezok's new movie guides - Les Miserables.

Les Miserables has long been one of my favorite books, and my children know the songs from the Broadway play from hearing me sing them! Zeezok's Z-guides to the Movies turn a movie into a lesson, complete with lesson plans! My 35 page movie guide breaks down as follows:

  • A thorough synopsis of the movie (*very* thorough)
  • Movie Review Questions (25)
  • Activity which places the student in a psychologist's place analyzing Javert
  • Tracing the chain of a random act of kindness from the movie in order to see its ripple effect
  • Thought-provoking questions about the relationship of parents and children through the story of Cosette and Valjean
  • Questions requiring a student to examine the political climate of France at this time
  • A pro/con chart to fill out to decide if the student would spare Javert's life in Valjean's place
  • A crossword puzzle
  • Designing a wanted poster for Valjean
  • A worldview activity asking students to consider whether people can change by using the example of Valjean
  • An examination of literary devices like foreshadowing and irony in the film
  • Family discussion questions that truly are thought provoking
  • Further resources - a reference to the book by Victor Hugo
  • An in-depth answer key
I really liked this movie guide.  From the outset, it asks parents and students to consider the themes of the movie, in this case love, forgiveness, mercy, the consequences of a vengeful spirit, random acts of kindness and parenting.  Knowing from the beginning that these topics will be ones the movie addresses helps in watching the movie with a certain awareness that might otherwise be absent.  Les Miserables is one of those films that covers so much emotional and moral ground that having a movie guide is almost essential if one wants to make sure that her child gets the most possible out of the movie.  Further, the movie follows the book closely enough that this guide would be very useful as a very broad literature guide for the book.  

Zeezok's movie guides will fill a much-needed niche in the homeschool world (and should be very useful to school teachers as well).  While in a perfect world, everyone would read the book, the fact is that not all parents feel up to teaching a book as weighty and meaty as Les Mis to their kids.  In cases like this, then, watching the movie thoughtfully and with a genuine awareness can provide a substitution.  In any case, it will allow both parents and children to be able to join "the great conversation" of western civilization.  The fact is that the story of Les Mis is embedded in our culture.  Knowing that story is a part of a true liberal arts education.  Also, having watched the movie and completed this movie guide, both parents and children may feel up to the challenge of the book.  My daughter can't wait to read it!

Zeezok's movie guides cost $12.99 and are worth the price.  I have read Les Mis and had seen the movie, and I was very glad to have the guide as a teaching aid for my daughter.  For parents not familiar with a story, the teaching guide will prove invaluable.  Zeezok's guides are assigned a typical age level (high school for this one), but, as always, a parent is the best judge of what is appropriate for her child.

I love Zeezok's new movie guides; they are a worthy addition to its preeminent educational materials.  To find out what other Crew members thought, visit the Crew blog.