Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review of I See Sam

All of my kids are decent readers, so I was a little skeptical when I set out to review Academic Success for All's Little Books.  I wasn't really sure that they would help my kids.  However, after taking the assessment, it was clear that these books were perfect for Michael (7).  Although Michael reads beginning chapter books, he does not read with confidence and, I've found out, he sometimes skips over words he doesn't want to bother sounding out.

This reading program is a set of 141 color-coded books. There are up to 27 books in each of 8 sets.  The sets range from a reading level of K-3.6 and are correlated to the No Child Left Behind standards.  The Scope and Sequence of the books can be seen here.  We received the books for levels 1.3-1.6 and 1.6-2.0

As I had initially suspected, these books were pretty easy for Michael to read, but I trusted the assessment.  To get help finding out what level your children might need, contact the company here.

There are several reasons I really like these books.  First of all, there are assessments built into each level of books.  For instance, in the yellow set, there are assessments in books 6, 11, 16, and 21.  In this one set, your child learns 109 new regular words and 15 sight words.  The books are very simply presented with black and white drawings and not too many words on each page written in a very clear font.  They are designed to make your child feel successful reading.  One book can be completed in a very short time (depending on the level), and your child then has the satisfaction of being able to say that he read a whole book.  New skills are then reinforced in succeeding books.  The best way to see how these Little Books work is to view the demo, found here.

Each set of Little Books retails for $30 and can be purchased here.  Remember that for that price, you will receive up to 27 books (the number of books is dependent on the level; see the website for details).

The Little Books really opened my eyes about my son's reading level.  After completing sets 3&4, he is reading more confidently and, more importantly, I know how to continue helping him with new words.  We really liked "I See Sam." For more opinions, see the Crew Blog.

Disclaimer: I received these books free in exchange for my review.  The product was complimentary, but the opinion is all mine.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review of Action Alert Software

Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing the PG Key.  This nifty little device plugged into a USB port on your computer and acted as a filter on what your kids could see.  This year, the same company has introduced Action Alert, a concept similar to the PG Key, but one that goes that extra step.  Action Alert sends real time alerts on computer activity to your cell phone or computer.  You can see in an instant what your kids have been up to online.  Even more impressive is their screen shot function.  You can set the interval for screen shots to be taken (as often as every few seconds!), and then you can review your child's activity on the computer -- exactly has he performed it!

Action Alert changes your home page to the Action Alert safe browsing page for kids.  It has news links of interest to kids and promises safe browsing.  From there, Action Alert is always monitoring your child's activity online.  When it sends you an alert (which is customizable for multiple users) that "X just wrote "s*x" on the computer", it gives you the opportunity to shut down the computer remotely from the device you're reading the alert on.

Action Alert comes preloaded with thousands of websites it already blocks, but parents can add websites as they desire.  I will admit that I had some trouble figuring out how to customize Action Alert, but their in-depth FAQ offers walk throughs.  Customer service is also very willing to help!

I think that Action Alert offers a great product, but I don't think it is right for our family.  Because my children do all of their computer work in the living room with me there, it is not likely that they will access something I don't want them to see.  Further, the start up page is unnecessary, as I always get my kids started and navigate them to the place online that they need to be.  For parents with older children, though, I can definitely see the screen shot feature coming in very handy!

Action Alert is available in two options:

The free version is completely find for users like me, but other users (like those with multiple children who are online) would probably benefit more from the Maximum Protection version.

Although Action Alert was not right for our family, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have a lot to offer yours.  Read the Crew Blog for other opinions.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review of Progeny Press Literature Guids

As a homeschooling mom who was public schooled, I sometimes experience conflict about what I did in school versus what I have my children do.  I have no desire to replicate the public school experience at home (although I received a superior education), but there were things about my education that I feel my children are missing.  Specifically, I learned to write well from reading books and then answering comprehension questions about them.  Thanks to what I now call after-schooling, my father used literature and these questions as a jumping off point to teach me to write essays.  I learned how to analyze literature by writing.

My daughter reads voraciously, just like I did at her age.  Because of that, I have never emphasized answering questions and analyzing literature as much as I would have if she struggled with reading (which actually kind of sounds like a backward approach now that I think about it.  However, now that she is in middle school, it has become important to me that she knows how to read and properly analyze literature.  Making this decision is only one step of the process, though.  The next step is choosing the curriculum for the purpose.  While I could write the questions and/or book units myself, I would rather not expend the effort!  Fortunately, I do not have to. Progeny Press has done it for me.

Progeny Press has offered amazing literature units for many years, but their new interactive pdf guides are amazing.  With these guides, your student can type directly on the pdf and then print it out.  Also, more than one child in your family can use the same guide without having to make additional copies.  Each one just saves the guide under his own name.  To see an example of how the interactive guides work, navigate here.

In exchange for my review, I received two of Progeny Press' interactive guides free.  We used Pride and Prejudice in our homeschool.

Each of Progeny Press' study guides is assembled in essentially the same way: a synopsis of the book, a summary of the author's life, and chapter questions.  Each group of chapters has vocabulary (matching a word to its definition and using the word in an original sentence) and questions.  The questions are not merely "What does Elizabeth Bennett say when Mr. Darcy is rude to her?" or the like. Instead, the questions ask the reader to consider everything from irony to foreshadowing (explanations accompany the questions), finding examples in the text, and asking what certain statements or events in the book reveal about a character? The questions lead a student to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the text.  Finally, at the end of the guide there are multiple essay question options (eight for Pride and Prejudice) for parents to assign to their students, followed by related books of interest and (in the case of Pride and Prejudice) a list of movie adaptations.

I can't say enough good things about these study guides.  I loved them when they were just bound editions of literature studies.  My daughter did not.  There was a lot of writing for her to do, and given that she is younger in years than in reading/comprehension ability, the writing really was onerous for her.  The interactive pdf version of the guide changes everything.  Now, instead of having to hand write everything, all she has to do is type in the fields provided.  She and I are both thrilled! Of course, the thing that really sets Progeny Press apart is its Christian emphasis.  Biblical references are always included, and students are asked to analyze the literature in light of Christian values.  I actually think that a secular homeschooler could use these guides quite happily, just by eliminating the Christian questions.  Christians, of course, will love how any literature is made relevant to their life in Christ.

Progeny Press offers over 100 literature guides, for ages ranging from 5-18 and up.  The entire catalog of titles can be seen here.  The guides range in price from $10.99-$27.99, with CD and print versions running a couple of dollars more expensive than pdf downloads.  One thing that should be noted is that the emailed pdfs are not an automatic download.  They are processed manually and emailed usually a day later.  Progeny Press does charge a $3.00 processing fee for the email downloads, however, the charge is the same whether you order one guide or ten at a given time.  Therefore, if you want more than one guide, make sure to order them at the same time!

My house is definitely a Progeny Press house.  To see other opinions, view the Crew blog.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review of The Art of Argument

Thanks to the Crew, we already use Classical Academic Press' Latin for Children and Greek for Children, so I was thrilled when a friend of mine (who teaches at a Christian, classical school) told me that the CAP also had a logic program.  I consider it very much a God thing, then, when I was selected to review the same program she was raving about! The Art of Argument is the first book in CAP's logic series.  This book (which has a wonderful teachers' manual available for separate purchase) introduces students in grades 7 and up to the 28 logical fallacies.  Through the use of full-page ad examples, students learn very quickly to identify these fallacies for themselves.  The fallacies are introduced both through an explanation in the text and through a dialogue between Socrates, Tiffany, and Nate.  As the teacher, I always read the part of Socrates, while my daughter is Tiffany.  When Nate joins in the conversation, my son obligingly joins in.

Like all of CAP's materials, The Art of Argument is directed toward students and is almost compulsively readable.  Had I let her, my daughter would have read the whole book in one day.  It was only because I wanted to give her the opportunity to fully marinate in the fallacies that I have insisted that we stretch it out to a more appropriate course length!  Each chapter closes with a few simple questions for students to answer.

The teachers' manual includes the entire student manual, as well as a *lot* more supplementary information.  Even if you've taught logic or taken logic before, you will undoubtedly find much to aid your teaching in this manual.  I have a minor in philosophy, and I was thrilled with all of the information in the teachers' manual.  However, if you are on a budget, the student manual is a complete course unto itself.

CAP also has available for separate purchase, a DVD set of discussions of each of the individual 28 fallacies studied.  While I previewed the first DVD and found it helpful, it is definitely not essential for this course.  If you like a full package curriculum, though (with teachers' manual, student book, and DVD set), then this course is ideal for you! Also, because students do not have to write in the book (separate notebook paper works fine for the questions at the end of the chapters), you will be able to reuse it with multiple children.

I am so thrilled to have been exposed to Classical Academic Press.  Now that we are using their materials for three classes, I already know that when we study Spanish, this will be our go-to company.  The customer service is wonderful, the materials are excellent, and everything is so user friendly! The Art of Argument is available on their website for the following prices:

We loved The Art of Argument! To see other opinions, visit the Crew blog!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review of Creek Edge Press' American History Task Cards

For the last six weeks, we have been using a really neat product in our homeschool.  To me, it is the kind of product that makes perfect sense for homeschoolers: it was developed by a homeschooling mom, it allows parents to utilize the very popular Classical and Charlotte Mason learning styles, and it is largely child-directed.  Further, there is plenty of room for parents to adjust and adapt the cards to suit individual needs.

Because we are currently studying American History, the American History Task Cards were perfect for our family! When you order a set of cards from Creek Edge Press, you receive 40 cards like this one:

Each card contains essentially these same categories.  The set is recommended for grades K-8, and it is obvious from a glance at this card that there is plenty of work for older and younger kids.  The other great thing about the set is that there are activities for different kinds of learners.  Two of my children were delighted with the poster option, while two of them always chose to write sentences rather than to make posters.  Because I wanted to see how flexible these cards really were, I made some of the activities mandatory for all of my kids (7-10), including map work, timeline work, and copy work.  I then let them choose how they would respond to the books we read together (three of them chose verbal narration while my oldest daughter chose written narrations under the "Literature" section of the card).  In essence this set truly does offer complete flexibility.

More than any kind of actual curriculum, these cards should be viewed more as the best kind of alternative to textbook activities and Q&A.  Further, because specific books are not required, these cards can easily fit into your existing curriculum.  Each has a topic heading for encyclopedia research, so it would be easy just to file these cards into your current curriculum.  Especially on days when you have not had time to plan or are not sure how to apply what you've learned, these cards are ideal.

The cards are supplemented by an instructional booklet, which includes a guide for using the cards, ideas for choosing suitable books, and tips for setting up an environment ideally suited to this kind of schooling.

In addition to American History, the cards are available for Ancient World, Early Modern, Geography and Culture, Medieval World and Modern World Histories, various sciences, Art and Music.  I have to confess that I am quite excited about the Art and Music cards.  They are definitely going on my curriculum list for the fall!

The American History Cards sell for $20, and other sets range from $18-$32, with complete sets of history and science available for under $100.  My family loved these cards and plans to buy more.  To see other opinions, head to the Crew Blog.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review of K5 Learning

K5 Learning is an online supplemental curriculum.  While it is not designed to be a complete curriculum in and of itself, it has a full spectrum of curriculum review, including math, spelling, reading, and math facts.  Students begin K5 Learning by taking an assessment to see where they fit into the program.

Far more than just "edutainment," K5 Learning offers solid instruction and review in 8 key skill areas.  Students are able to work independently, while parents are provided with an update which they can access any time.

With K5 Learning's format and parental reports, you really do get the feeling that you are privy to an actual look at your child's skills.  After all, for many homeschooling moms, we *think* we know what grade our children are in or what level their skills are at, but we are rarely ever completely sure (unless we have them take standardized tests, which are minefields in and of themselves for children who are poor test takers!).  K5 Learning takes the guesswork out of that process.  It is also excellent at isolating your child's weakness and filling in those gaps.

Complete with over 3,000 tutorials and activities, K5 Learning helps build your child's confidence by teaching them to work independently and allowing them to progress at their own pace.  Because K5 Learning also provides lessons, instead of just practice exercises, you can rest assured that your child will be *learning*, and not just playing (as can be the problem with other supplementary programs!).  The learning is accomplished in such a fun way and with such likable characters, though, that your child will not mind doing it at all!

I used K5 Learning primarily with my 2nd grade daughter.  I could tell right away that she really enjoyed it.  Because we are using Singapore Math, her knowledge of what is typically considered 2nd grade math is uneven.  Therefore, she was able both to learn and to feel accomplished at the same time.  I will confess that I did not have her spend as much time on K5 as we have spent on other online programs simply because I knew that we would not have it that long (we received a six week extension on the available-to-anyone two week free trial).  Because K5 Learning (while reasonably priced) is not something we would typically use in our mostly classical school, I knew that I would not be subscribing at the end of the trial period. Thus, I did not want her to get too used to doing it!

K5 Learning is a great option for parents who are required to document their schools for the state.  It allows you to print tangible evidence of the level your child is at, and it allows you to make sure that they are the grade you think they are (in case you are required to show that your child has actually learned and progressed in a given time).  K5 Learning is available in the following subscriptions:

  • Monthly: First child - $25, additional children - $15
  • Yearly: First child - $199, additional children - $129
A subscription gives you access to all four of the site's programs.

We liked K5 Learning, but it's a little too expensive for our family, given that it is not intended to be used as a full curriculum.  To find out how other Crew members are using K5 Learning in their schools, visit the Crew blog.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review of Reading Eggs

For the purposes of review, my family received, free, a subscription to Reading Eggs, an online reading program that teaches children to read.  Geared toward emerging readers 4-7 years old, Reading Eggs offers an online placement test designed to correctly assess where your child should begin the program.  He then follows a path through the lessons.

There are actually two different parts of Reading Eggs.  The first teaches phonics and decoding with an emphasis on teaching children to be able to read sentences.  The second is focused on reading comprehension.

The placement test is designed to assess a child's current level of reading and/or comprehension in order to begin his lessons at the correct point.  The need for accurate placement is obvious to parents, as children who start a program at a level too advanced for them will lose heart.  Those who start at a level too easy for them will get bored.

I have found in the past that I have a lot of trouble with online placement tests, or, more correctly, my children do.  Unfortunately, my experience with Reading Eggs was no different.  I have twin seven year-olds.  My daughter is an accomplished reader and reads advanced chapter books.  My son, though, while he can read, is not what I would call proficient.  I was, therefore, excited to begin Reading Eggs to try to catch him up to his twin.  Whether because he does not do well in a placement test situation, or because his skills are not consistent in any one area, he scored much lower on the test than I would have expected (or, rather, he was started at a level that seemed too low to me given what I know about his reading ability).

I gamely started him where he was supposed to be, but he quickly became bored.  He already knew everything that he was being taught.

Thinking that perhaps he just hadn't tested well, I tried him in the reading comprehension section.  Because we haven't done anything like this before, he didn't seem to understand what was required of him.  When "reading comprehension" takes the form of narration, my son knocks it out of the park.  His memory for details is wonderful.  In this format, though, he just didn't seem to understand.  He kept choosing the wrong answer and then getting more and more upset.  We didn't get much use out of our subscription.

I don't want to imply that this program is not a good one.  I think for a child just starting to read, still learning basic phonics and sight reading, this program would be excellent.  The format is fine, the characters are likeable, and the pace of the program seems good.  If your child can read, though, but can not yet  "get" reading comprehension, then you may find that there is no good fit for you here.

Reading Eggs is available as a free 14 day trial, or can be purchased as a subscription starting at $9.95/month.  Other plans are available.

Reading Eggs didn't end up working for our family, but that doesn't mean that it won't work for yours! You know my experience with the program.  Visit the Crew blog to learn others'.