Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review of Classical Academic Press' Latin for Children

For the past two months, I have been using Classical Academic Press' Latin for Children Primer A with my nine year-old daughter.  I received the program, including instructional DVDs, free in exchange for my review.  I was thrilled to be able to sample this program as I have a deep love for Latin and have tried many Latin programs.  We've been with our current program for a few years, and I just haven't felt that my daughter was progressing as quickly as she should.  Her lack of progress was not due to lack of enthusiasm or effort; rather, it was the fault of the program's glacial pace.  Since I've always been curious about Classical Academic Press' curriculum, I was delighted to try out Latin for Children.

I knew from the first page that I was going to love this program.  Latin for Children uses my preferred approach to learning Latin - grammar, grammar, grammar.  Other programs often use a vocabulary approach that has a student reading Latin passages very quickly, but with little to no understanding of the grammar on which the language is based.  There are so many reasons why it is preferable to have a strong grammar foundation in Latin before attempting to read it.  For one thing, a student can learn to write and accurately translate Latin more effectively by learning the grammar first.  For another, a clear understanding of Latin grammar can greatly facilitate an understanding of English grammar.

Ordinarily, I would not buy the accompanying DVDs for a program, but in this case I am so gratified that they were included in the package.  Now I know to purchase them for every level! The creator and instructor for this program knows how to teach Latin.  My own Latin teacher made Latin fun, interesting, and exciting, and Dr. Perrin does the same in this Latin program.  His teaching style is fairly informal, but 100% rigorous.  Also included on the DVDs are chants done by students to aid in the memorization of grammar and vocabulary.  These chants are not my daughter's cup of tea (she chants in a less sing-songy way, as I taught her), but for a parent with no Latin experience and no way of aiding a student with the heavy memorization required by a study of Latin, the chants can be a marvelous aid.

Latin for Children can certainly be used without the DVDs, but if your budget will allow, I strongly suggest them.

In addition to a rigorous, yet nonthreatening, approach to Latin, Classical Academic Press provides more support materials than any other program I know (and I know quite a few!).  Its accompanying website Headventureland is replete with games, videos, and other practice opportunities for all of its subjects.

I can't think of a single reason not to buy Latin for Children.  Although the entire course (A) can be rather expensive at $99.95, it does include the primer, answer key, workbook, DVDs, and reader.  Classical Academic Press doesn't require you to purchase the entire package, though.  For as little as $22.95, you can purchase just the primer, which is all you absolutely need to complete the course.  Visit the website to see all of your options!

I love Classical Academic Press' approach so much that I have already ordered its Greek curriculum. I further plan to use their Spanish curriculum as well.  To find out what other Crew members thought, check out the Crew Blog.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review of

For the past couple of months, my family has had the pleasure of using the premium version of the BigIQkids website in exchange for my unbiased review.  Suffice it to say, my unbiased review is -- Wow.  This website has so much to offer kids of all ages.  Using a very entertaining set of cartoonish kids as announcers of sorts, the website offers kids of many different ages practice in spelling, vocabulary, geography, and math.  Additionally, kids can study time and view age-appropriate ebooks.

My nine year-old daughter has been the most avid user of this program and, with its assistance, she has mastered the map of the United States, at least as far as the states and capitals are concerned! The math facts review section is very helpful, and fun enough that I enjoy seeing how adept I am with my math facts. There is a spelling practice program which any parent should welcome.  The program allows you to input your own spelling list or to choose from set, grade-specific lists.  After setting your list, you can choose either to learn, practice, or be tested on the words.  The animated and realistic cartoon speaker even guides you through your own personal spelling bee! Given that it is my daughter who has made the greatest use of the site, I thought her opinion would be particularly relevant:

                  After using BigIQkids for a couple of months, I can now recognize all of the states on a map, spell magnificently and do simple division at the speed of lightning.  My favorite part is vocabulary. I am learning what all sorts of words mean. If you miss a question on BigIQkids you get the answer instantly instead of after you have finished all of the other questions.  BigIQkids is the best learning website that I have ever encountered.

My favorite component of the site, though, is the SAT Vocabulary review section.  I am thoroughly in favor of children learning SAT-type words at a younger age.  It will improve their overall vocabulary, their writing, and their reading comprehension.  If you also happen to study Latin and/or Greek, your children will be able vividly to see the impact of these languages on our own.  BigIQkids allows you to set your grade level as low as 2nd-3rd, thereby easing you into more sophisticated words.  If, as you practice, you get a word wrong, the program stops and reviews the word with you.  The instant feedback is so much more effective than taking a test and then checking your answers.

There is so much to love on BigIQkids that it is impossible to relate all of it here. Suffice it to say that if you have a child from K-12, you will find something to love on this site.  Fortunately, BigIQkids gives you a great opportunity to sample its site for free, given that the programs all have incredibly comprehensive free versions.  With the paid site, your child will have his/her progress monitored and tracked, and you will receive progress emails.  Further, your child will gain access to a full gaming page, will have his/her progress and high scores saved, and will be able to customize a "buddy", a BigIQkids persona. There are also more functions available with the premium version.  A complete summary of the differences between free and premium can be found here.

A premium subscription to BigIQkids can be paid either monthly or yearly.  The full premium site is $99.99 a year.  Alternatively, if you are only interested in the premium version of one or two of the site's programs, you can purchase them a la carte.  As a final option (and this deal is really an amazing one), you can upgrade your free version of BigIQkids, enabling you to access the full features of the premium games, along with the customizable buddy.  What you won't get are premium features like the score tracking and notifications.  Upgrading your free account will only cost you $9.99/year.

I love BigIQkids, and I plan to keep my subscription when my free-for-unbiased-review period ends.  To find out what other Crew members thought about this cool website, see the Crew blog.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Review of Reading Kingdom

For the past several weeks, my two youngest children have been using Reading Kingdom, a program to which I received a year's subscription in exchange for my review.  Reading Kingdom is an online program which teaches children 4-10 to read and write to a 3rd grade level.  Unlike other reading programs, Reading Kingdom not only teaches phonics, but it also teaches a plethora of other skills lacking in similar programs.

Reading Kingdom begins by administering a skills test to your child, and this part of the program is where I have the most trouble.  Both of my twins took the skills test and, at six, Reading Kingdom determined that they were at the level of recognizing patterns of letters in words.  The problem is, both of my twins can read at about a first grade level.  The disconnect, I think, comes from the fact that typing skills, or lack thereof, are a factor in the skills test.  If you mistype something, the program assumes that you don't know it.  My kids can read, but they can't type because I have deliberately required my children to master handwriting before they learn typing.

When I saw that my twins didn't want to do Reading Kingdom since it did not challenge them in any way, and merely had them identifying patterns, I emailed Reading Kingdom to ask if they could redo the skills test, as I was afraid that their lack of touchpad skills may have inadvertently landed them at the wrong level.  After cautioning me that the success of the program depends on students following each level sequentially, the helpful Reading Kingdom staff reset my twins to the start.  However, after taking the skills test again (which was easier since they had been doing Reading Kingdom anyway), they still ended up just practicing typing, essentially, with no reading yet in sight.  As they have no yet progressed beyond this point, I can't evaluate the reading portion of the program.

Who do I think Reading Kingdom would ideally suit? Pre-readers.  Pre-readers are a target of Reading Kingdom, and the graphics and execution of the program will definitely appeal to them.  The complete independence of the program (parents are repeatedly cautioned not to help in any way) will appeal to parents who are unsure how to teach their children and would rather leave that process to an expert.  Dr. Marion Blank, the creator of the program, is an undisputed expert in the field.  For children who can read, but not type, the program may not be as appealing, since one has to demonstrate that she can type before she can progress in the program.  For a child (or parent) who wants to focus solely on reading, this might be a deal breaker.  

Further, Dr. Blank's program is predicated on the notion that one cannot teach reading by phonics, since most of the English language is simply not phonetical.  Unfortunately, this premise is simply false.  There are phonics rules to explain the vast, vast majority of the English language. 

 In the example cited by Reading Kingdom, it is posited that only 8 of the 23 words in this example can be sounded out phonetically.  However, if one has a complete grounding in phonics and phonograms, one knows that every single word in the example can be sounded out using phonics rules.  True, you have to know that the second sound of "s" is "z" and that s often makes this sound at the end of words which are not plural, and you have to know that "so" is pronounced the way it is because it is an open syllable, and not a closed one.  Whereas RK touts that your child can read without learning all kinds of complicated rules, I come at reading from the position of learning all of those complicated rules, which will not only create a great reader, but also a great speller.

This program is the first I have ever reviewed with which I have ideological differences.  Reading Kingdom advocates one method of teaching children to read, and I believe that another method is superior.  As I said, though, for some parents, this program could well be the answer to a prayer.  It is user friendly, cute (a plus for young children), and boasts a helpful and responsive staff.

Reading Kingdom costs $19.99/month (after a free 30-day trial), or you can pay for the whole year for $199.99).  Subscriptions can be canceled at any time.  To find out more about the program, visit their website, or contact them on their contact page

I (wearing my Dr. Delgado hat, which I usually don't put on in my homeschool life!) have one opinion about Reading Kingdom.  For others, visit the crew blog!