Monday, May 23, 2011

Review of Pearson Education's Reading Street

Through our participation in the Homeschool Crew, my family received Pearson Education's 2nd grade Reading Street program to use the twins.  Although Pearson has published its Reading Street program for years, the 2011 incarnation is brand new for the 2011-2012 school year, and it boasts several improvements over previous iterations.  Reading Pearson's own press release about Reading Street is the best place to begin to get a sense of the program.

Reading Street comes as two glossy, hardcover books and will immediately call to mind the reading textbooks of your public school youth.  I was actually flooded with nostalgia and love for my old textbooks when I opened this package.  Unlike my own reading textbooks, though, Reading Street's selections are unbelievably well thought out and diverse.  The excerpts come from both fiction and non-fiction books, and many are taken from longer books that you can actually find right at the library.  Thus, if a particular selection sparks your child's interest, you can seek out its source and read more.

The Reading Street program encompasses six units, each covering a different type of literature, from fiction and non-fiction to folk tales.  Each genre is first introduced, and is then exemplified through reading selections.  The selections begin with a list of high frequency words, and they end with comprehension questions that you can do orally with your child.  Because this is considered to be a Language Arts program, the books also include grammar and writing assignments.  While it is not a generally used format for homeschoolers, Reading Street could definitely be used as a self-contained reading and writing program.  For homeschoolers who like much more to supplement their reading program, an independent website has a plethora of additional resources.

Each Reading Street textbook costs $43.47.  The student package of both books can be purchased for $86.97.  Additional supplementary materials from Pearson Education can also be purchased.

Although I enjoy Reading Street as a reading book, it is not "homeschooly" enough for me.  It strikes me as public school at home.  For parents who want to mimic the public school experience at home, though, it is a very viable and exciting option.  As with all homeschool curriculum choices, the choice to use or not use Reading Street depends entirely on a parent's goal for her homeschool.

To find out what other Crew members thought of Reading Street, check out the Crew blog.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review of Wordy Qwerty

For the past couple of months, my three youngest children (ages 6, 6, and 7) have been using Wordy Qwerty, the sequel to Talking Fingers' wildly successful program Read, Write, and Type.  Wordy Qwerty is reading and spelling software for 2nd and 3rd graders.  Through the use of 20 consecutive lessons, employing both songs and exercises, Wordy Qwerty teaches your child common spelling rules.  The fun character and narration should make Wordy Qwerty an engaging way to learn for most children.

If you're unsure as to where your children should start Wordy Qwerty, or even if it is the right software for you at all, you can take an assessment  

.  Through spelling 22 words, the program will place your child accordingly.  
Wordy Qwerty is fun for kids, there is no doubt.  My children enjoyed using it.  My problem with the program, though, is that it relies so much on typing.  Perhaps if one used it after first using Read, Write, and Type, then the typing would not be such an issue.  For me, though, the program comes across much more as a typing program than as a reading and spelling one.  It is possible that my kids knew their phonics rules well enough that they really weren't learning as Wordy Qwerty intended.  They ended up getting hung up on the typing, frustrated because they knew what they wanted to "write" and they knew how to spell it, but unable to get the right answer because they typed very slowly and, sometimes, incorrectly.

Wordy Qwerty passes through a succession of different exercises:

Beginning with the basic sorting of words into the proper categories based on spelling rules, the program culminates with the reading of paragraphs.

Wordy Qwerty is available from Talking Fingers, and costs $25 for a single user, five year license.  The cost for adding additional users is quite reasonable, and can be found here.  If you prefer the program on CD, you can order it for $35.  Along with the software you will also receive a program guide in a three-ring binder and a copy of the song/jingle CD.  

Although Wordy Qwerty wasn't exactly right for our family, it has won enough praise and awards to convince me that it is a great product. I would definitely recommend starting with Read, Write, and Type, though.  I think doing so would have eliminated many of our frustrations.  To find out more about Wordy Qwerty, visit the Talking Fingers website.  To read other opinions of this software, visit the Crew blog.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review of Mad Dog Math

Two of my children seemed to learn their math facts quite easily, but the other two have had some trouble mastering their facts.  Thus, I was excited to receive free for review Mad Dog Math, a math facts mastery program.  Mad Dog Math is designed to teach your child the math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in as little as ten minutes per day in a fun format that kids will love.

Mad Dog Math has several purchase option, including one that includes a "Mastery Binder" with drill worksheets, etc.  I reviewed only the downloadable software found here.  The software doesn't come with any worksheet drills, but the interactive drills your child does online mimic them exactly except, in my opinion, they are more fun!

Mad Dog Math excels in working with the child who is intimidated by timed math drills.  As I stated, I had one child who would do her timed paper drills every day and would not balk at all.  My second child (an ADHD boy) would have a full-on tantrum at the sight of a math drill, but, because he excels at math, he didn't need them to learn his facts.  Enter my twins.  They were a little slower at picking up their facts, but, because I have relaxed a little as a homeschooler, they really couldn't write fast enough to make a paper drill meaningful.  For kids like my last three, Mad Dog Math is a dream come true.

Mad Dog Math works in the following manner: your child is presented with a series of 20 problems, some of which may have a missing number (depending on your level).  You have the option of choosing "time me," which will start the drill (you can choose to work with 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes, or "untimed"), "fetch," which will give you new facts, and "stop."  When you play signed in,  your progress is tracked and reward "stickers" are accrued.  I have to confess that one of my favorite features of Mad Dog Math is the dog bark sound effect :-)

Mad Dog Math is designed to work in a cumulative manner.  When you allow the software to increment the way it is designed, your child will systematically work through the facts in a particular area (+, -, X, /), all at the very reasonable pace of ten minutes per day.  The question, of course, is does Mad Dog Math work? For my kids, the answer is yes.  They beg to "play" Mad Dog Math, and their mastery of facts has increased.  The format is such that retention is nearly inevitable.  The only possible drawback of Mad Dog Math is that it can be hard for young kids to find the correct numbers on the computer keyboard.  If this is a real issue, though, there is no reason that younger children can't call out the answers to an older sibling or parent who can then type them in.

Mad Dog Math has several purchase and pricing options.  For a complete list, including options not home-tested here, see this page.  For information on the home downloadable version that my kids have been using, see this page.  Mad Dog Math has a variable pricing structure based on your needs.  A one year license (which allows you to create different profiles for each of your children) costs $29.95.  A two year license is $29.95.  If you think that Mad Dog Math would benefit your family for more than two years, purchase the perpetual license for $39.95.

If you have a child who is resistant to paper drills for learning facts, then Mad Dog Math is a good choice. It is comparable in price to similar programs, and is very visually appealing to children.  My family enjoyed its time with Mad Dog Math.  To see what others thought, read the Crew blog.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review of Wondermaps from Bright Ideas Press

WonderMaps from Bright Ideas Press is perhaps my favorite new homeschooling product this year.  I am a self-proclaimed map junkie.  If there is a popular homeschooling map product, be assured that I have it.  (I'm not going to name drop, but surely everyone knows about whom I am speaking!)  Every time I find out about a new homeschool map product, I want it.  Fortunately, when Bright Ideas Press released its new WonderMaps software, I received a copy free in exchange for my review! Well, don't tell Tyler Hogan this, but the truth is that I would buy this software in a second -- and I would pay more than $49.95 for it.  If you're a map junkie like I am, then the first question you will undoubtedly ask is, "What makes these maps different from all the others out there?"

Unlike the other major map offerings available to homeschoolers, WonderMaps is interactive.  Historical maps are wonderful; I love them.  Modern day maps are equally exciting.  The conundrum for many homeschoolers, though, is finding a way meaningfully to show the evolution from the past to the present.  How exactly did the Holy Roman Empire go from being a dominating presence in Europe to becoming just so many European countries? Well, you as the homeschooling mom will have to go through the historical ins and outs with your children, but Bright Ideas Press has made sure that you will be able to show your kids exactly what that transition looks like.  In other words, how did the Europe of yesterday look, in direct comparison to the Europe of today? How does Bright Ideas accomplish this? Historical map overlays! Perhaps you've tried using overheads to create such an overlay in your homeschool; I have.  Now, not only will I never again have to do that, but I can map such overlays with easy, clear, and precise maps!

Your options when using WonderMaps are endless.  You can choose to create physical overlays, showing rivers, mountain ranges, regions, and anything else you can think of.  You can choose to show merely a physical map.  You can choose from a variety of ways to display your maps as well.  Every time I think that I have plumbed the depths of this cool software, I think of something else to try! With over 350 different maps, including 125 historical maps, it may be awhile before I really do find everything this software does.

Rather than try to explain what WonderMaps can add to your homeschool, I heartily recommend watching the introductory YouTube video.  I have the feeling that you'll be hooked, just as I was!

If you use maps in your homeschool at all, or if you've been thinking maybe you should start, look no further than WonderMaps.  If you know Bright Ideas Press at all (think Mystery of History), then you may have had some experience with their wonderful customer service.  For $49.95, the purchase price of WonderMaps, you can buy the assurance that you will never need to purchase any more maps.  Further,you will never again spend your time searching for just the right historical map on the Internet.

If you're interested in WonderMaps, visit the Bright Ideas website, watch the YouTube video, and if you still have questions, contact 877-492-8081.  You can also check out the Bright Ideas FAQ.

My homeschool has been immeasurably blessed by WonderMaps.  To see what others thought, check out the Crew blog.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review of GoTrybe

As part of The Old Schoolhouse's Homeschool Crew, I was given a subscription to, a kids' fitness and nutrition website, in exchange for my review.  GoTrybe is a comprehensive website, including nutrition tips, motivational clips, and, the core of the site, a personalized workout regiment for kids.  Kids are given the chance to create an avatar (the base of which resembles this one),

and the more credits they earn from working out, the more outfits they have to choose from (available for "purchase" in the trybe store.

The ability to customize the avatar is a great incentive to earn points on GoTrybe; the outfit choices are very cute!

The core of GoTrybe is its customized workout.  Kids have the ability to create a workout for themselves, composed of warm up, cardio, strength, and flexibility segments.  Most workouts are about 25 minutes long.  Kids begin by looking at a blank series of boxes, into which they can put the workout segments they like best.  The choices for each segment run across the bottom of the screen.  To aid in the decision, the segments indicate the level of intensity, and the grade level for which it is appropriate.

A child simply drags and drops the video segment she chooses into the appropriate box (indicated, when empty, by a question mark).  If having a workout created for you is more to your taste, you can select a "GoTrybe workout", as seen inside the blue rectangle.  Once fully filled out, your workout is shown to you as a series of short video clips.

Once you click "start workout", the clips will play in the appropriate order, providing you with a customized workout, which you can change any time!

The actual workout is led by a fitness instructor and three children of varying ages.  The instructors are all wonderful and have a great manner of kids.  If it turns out that you have a favorite, each segment description tells you who the instructor is!

GoTrybe is a really neat website.  For homeschoolers who tend to worry perpetually about whether their children are getting any kind of P.E., this site should address your concerns perfectly.  Further, although it is tailored to children, it is great for moms, too! For moms who are already fit, there will likely not be much of a challenge in these workouts, but for moms who have spent too many years out of the fitness scene, the workouts are fun and (thanks to the kid-friendly instructors and backup kids in the video) completely non-threatening.

The only real drawback to GoTrybe is that it can be a little confusing at the outset.  Some background reading on the site is necessary, but everything you need to know is spelled out clearly in the FAQ.  Further, some families may not like the avatars, as they are shown in poses some may consider questionable.  I think the value derived from using GoTrybe far outweighs any concerns you may have.  You really don't have to interact with your avatar at all, should you choose not to.

GoTrybe offers a trial membership, and full membership is only $19.95 a year (the regular price is listed at $39.95).  For the price, I would definitely say that GoTrybe is worth the money.  The option to create and customize workouts is really neat for kids, and it gives them a feeling of ownership over their own workouts.  They are not just doing what mom has told them to.  

GoTrybe is likely the wave of the future, as more and more "school" activities hit the web.  If you have any questions about GoTrybe that are not answered on their website, email them at  To find out what others with children thought of GoTrybe, visit the Crew blog.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review of Kregel Publications' "Andi's Scary School Days" Book

Most moms I know are constantly on the lookout for new, wholesome, fun books for their kids to read.  Tween and kid series starring vampires, "mean girls",  and adult-type relationships abound, but books showing kids acting like kids are in short supply.  For this reason, I was delighted to receive the Kregel Publications' book Andi's Scary School Days free in exchange for my review.

Andi's Scary School Days is part of a larger series of books starring Andi called Circle C Beginnings.  The series is comprised of six books total (two are not yet published), and they are intended for children 6-8.  Each book is around 80 pages.  The books take place in the Wild West of the late 1800s, and they feature a lively little girl who loves horses.

The Circle C Beginnings books should appeal to any child who has not been jaded by modern culture (in other words - homeschoolers!).  The book that I read to my children (9, 7, 6, and 6) was entertaining, charming, and quite reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie books.  The story was perfect for both boys and girls, as Andi is obviously a girl, but she could never be accused of being girly! My whole family thoroughly enjoyed this book as a readaloud, and I'm sure that my girls would have enjoyed reading it silently (my boys, typical 7 and 6 year-olds don't sit still long enough to read for any length of time yet).

There is nothing not to like about these enchanting books.  They reflect a simpler time, but they don't present unrealistic views of children.  As indicated previously, the books would likely not appeal to children who have already been heavily exposed to what passes for kids' books these days, but this is not the target audience of the Circle C Beginnings books.  As an aside, although the books are published by a Christian publisher, they should appeal to a wider audience.  I would encourage even non-Christian parents who want wholesome books for their beginning readers to try this series.

The Andi books are available through Kregel's website,, and, and they cost $4.99 each.  Considering that there are supplementary coloring pages and activities to download from the website, the books really are a great deal.  My kids enjoyed these books.  To find out what other Crew members' kids thought, visit the Crew blog.