Thursday, February 28, 2013

Don't Get Discouraged!

Sometimes life seems dark.  Then you realize that you have the very best sister in the world and that the things of the moment really are just of the moment.

Sometimes you wonder if your ridiculously gifted daughter will ever show the initiative for school that she did when she was little.  Then you find her lugging the laptop to her brothers' TKD class so that she can continue working on her first computer programming class because it just too fun to stop.

Sometimes you worry because unusual things are happening in your Church and you don't like unusual things.  Then you remember that your church is 2,000 years old and it can take it.

Always remember that a bad week (and even a bad month and, yes, even a bad year) is temporary.  The important things in life are the eternal things.  That doesn't mean that what you are going through doesn't hurt - that it doesn't matter! It does hurt.  It does matter.  Just try to remember that it will pass.  It will pass.  For some people, it may not pass in this world.  For those who love and serve Christ, though, it will pass, and if a day of suffering seems to last forever here, just imagine a day of participating in the Beatific Vision!

My week sucked.  There are amazing and inspirational writers out there who can write gorgeous blog posts about suffering and the redemptive power of God's love.  I'm here to be real about the fact that you don't always feel it.  Religion isn't about feelings.  It's about a relationship with God.  To me, it's like marriage.  Marriage isn't about feelings.  It's about a relationship that you build over time.  Sometimes it *feels* great and sometimes it *feels* really sucky.  If we relied solely on our feelings, I'm betting there would be even more divorces.  We rely on a relationship build on faith, hope, and love.  Sometimes I think God is really onto something with His whole marriage/church analogy.

In any case, like I tell my kids.  Tomorrow (next week, next month, next year) will be better.  Never forget that and never lose hope.  Our Blessed Mother promised that her Immaculate Heart would triumph and we know ...the rest of the story (Paul Harvey fans? You with me?).  Here's a hint for my atheist and agnostic friends: God wins.  What a tremendous comfort for those of us who like to read the last page of a book first.  You can endure all of the junk in the middle as long as you know that the good guys come out ahead in the end.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review of A+ TutorSoft, Inc.


As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, my 3rd grade twins and I were given the opportunity to review A+ TutorSoft, Inc.'s A+ Interactive MATH 3rd Grade Premium CD software.  This software constitutes a complete 3rd grade math curriculum and it is simply loaded with features.  Best of all, both of my very different twins like it, and for completely different reasons.

A+ TutorSoft, Inc.: The Product


Unlike many traditional math programs, A+ TutorSoft, Inc. gives children a completely multi-sensory experience.  Lessons are presented visually with just enough graphics to teach the concept (i.e., single color pie charts) without creating an unnecessary distraction.  Text accompanies the graphics and the text is narrated by a very pleasant female narrator.  In the past, narrators with accents have sometimes thrown my children when we are experiencing a new product.  Accent is not a problem with this narrator.  Her voice is perfect for presenting a math lesson - lively without being irritating.

The lessons themselves are very short! For example, the entire chapter on fractions (covering equivalent fractions, comparing fractions, and adding and subtracting fractions) took one of my twins only two days to complete.  The lessons (as enumerated above) took him about 7-10 minutes each, including watching the lesson, answering the interactive questions and answers and completing the printable worksheet.  Although Michael has never done fractions before, he understood the lessons as presented the first time, and was able to progress through this chapter quickly.  More on how my twins used this program below, but first, here is a summary of exactly what A+ TutorSoft Inc.'s A+ Interactive MATH Premium CD software includes:

  • Multi-Sensory Interactive Lessons
  • A curriculum book with the lessons in eBook format (in other words, the textbook version of the lessons)
  • Printable worksheets and tests
  • Printable worksheet and exam solutions guides which allow you not only to print the answers to the worksheets you give your child, but the detail with which the answers are explained actually allows your child to be able to piece through the answer himself, especially as the solutions are presented in a way that mimics the way the concept was originally taught
  • Formula reference sheets
  • Recommended lesson plans
  • Parental controls to lock the solutions guides
  • The ability to track student progress
  • Weekly certificates of accomplishment
The last three items are included on the Premium CD I received; otherwise the regular CD and the Premium CD are identical.

When you install the software on your computer and run it, you are able to see the chapter headings on the left hand side of your screen, so you know immediately where you need start up, whether that is continuing from where you left off, or re-watching a previous lesson.  At any time you can choose to watch a tutorial for how to use the software.

Michael, Mary-Catherine, and A+ TutorSoft, Inc.

Like a lot of homeschoolers, my 8 year-old twins aren't easily placed in a grade.  Fortunately, in math they both seem to be solidly in 3rd grade.  Thanks to the easy navigability of A+ Interactive MATH 3rd Grade Premium CD software, I was almost immediately able to see where I should start them in their new math program (decimals).  They transitioned to the new program seamlessly and (spoiler alert!) we plan to continue with it through and past 3rd grade.

When I have more than one child using a computer-based learning program, I usually hook my laptop up to the TV in order to avoid jockeying for position in front of a small screen.  In this way, I am also able to turn the sound up nice and loud (no "I didn't hear! He was talking! The guinea pig squeaked!").  Here, Michael and Mary-Catherine learn about fractions.

It is a true delight not only to have someone else teach my twins math (math is not my friend), but for it to be on the TV (via the laptop) and immediately replayable (key for Mary-Catherine who tends to have math meltdowns).

Michael loves doing math this way.  He is perfectly content to sit down, watch the lesson through, do the interactive Q&A and the worksheet and call it a math day.  Often, because he picks up concepts quickly and because the lessons here are concise and well explained, Michael will do multiple lessons in one day.  For example, two days ago, he did adding and subtracting fractions lessons on the same day.  It is essentially the same concept, so it made sense.  I did have him do both worksheets to make sure that he really did "get" it.

Mary-Catherine is a different story.  I always start her with Michael in math....and we always end up going back and doing it again.  She has watched some lessons three or four times.  I honestly don't think it's because she finds the concepts too hard.  I think that she has decided that math is hard and, therefore, math *is* hard.  Regardless, as much as I love this program for Michael (because he gets in, learns, and gets out), I really like it for Mary-Catherine.  It is not visually intimidating.  It teaches in very small bites (short lessons). She can watch the same lesson as many times as she needs to and it will never take more than a few minutes to rewatch it.  Several times, she has started watching a lesson again (especially in decimals), and has told me, "I get it now," even before the lesson is over.  I think that is the whole multi-sensory thing kicking in.  She sees the lesson and then remembers what it was like before -- and then realizes that she actually did learn the concept. Maybe she just needed the trigger.

Because it is multi-sensory, A+ TutorSoft, Inc's program is great for all kinds of learners.  The progress tracking feature of the premium software is nice, especially if you have more than one child doing the same grade level.  I am able to log in my twins separately and track each of their progress separately.  I don't actually need to since I do math with them, but it's great to know I can.  Truly, this math software takes all of the guesswork out of math: lessons, lesson plans, eText, worksheets, and tests.  It's all here.

You can view a demo of this great software on the A+ TutorSoft, Inc. website.  You can purchase the A+ TutorSoft, Inc.'s A+ Interactive MATH 3rd Grade Premium CD software I received for $124.99.  But wait!

You read that right! This generous company is offering 50% off all of their products, CD and online, through the end of March.  4th grade is on my list! I rarely use the same curriculum more than once; I have curriculum ADD.  For me to say that I plan to use the same math curriculum next year is huge, but I really like how A+ TutorSoft, Inc. is working for my twins.  When you combine a great product with an amazing low price, you have a huge winner in my book!

A+ TutorSoft, Inc. has lots of other great math products.  The Crew reviewed both online and CD versions of 1st-4th grade, so you'll definitely want to check out the other reviews.  If you're in the market for a new math program, or even if you're remotely curious about what else is out there, please give this company a look.

Disclaimer: I received this CD free through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.  I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chin up, Chin up...

...everybody likes a smiling face.  Make it! Fake it! Let a little sun shine in! You'll be on the right side if you're on the bright side - up with your chinny-chin! Chin up!

Um, excuse me up there: you're not listening to me.  Which makes you exactly like most of my children (okay, all of my children).  Sigh.  I have been having one of those weeks.  Months.  Years? Okay, yes.  It's only February: years.  I look at one of my children (usual disclaimers apply: I love all of my children dearly, wouldn't trade them, etc.) and think to myself, "You are the child I always begged God not to give me." Brief explanation: growing up, I prayed that God would not make me deal with having a particular kind of child (because I had that sibling and I didn't know how my parents did it).  Understand, I'm not talking about a disability or anything like that.  Call it a personality type.  One that is particularly challenging when confronted with my own personality type.  Let's just say it was difficult to grow up with that child as a sibling.  It is infinitely more difficult to be raising that child (with the ghost of my sibling never far from my mind - I really am a therapist's dream).

Heh.  Therein lies the rub.  Someone has to be the grownup around here.  I have the unfortunate and distinct feeling that I am she.

I also have the unfortunate and distinct feeling that I have not been praying enough.  Or sacrificing enough.  I guess it's back to the drawing boards.  Still a week left in February.  And it's still Lent.  Of course, I'm still a pessimist, so we'll see how things go...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review of Handwriting without Tears iPad App

 Handwriting without Tears Logo

Handwriting Without Tears is one of the biggest names in handwriting curriculum, not only for homeschoolers, but for all schoolers worldwide. Offering a full range of handwriting products for Kindergarten through 5th grade, Handwriting Without Tears takes the pain out of handwriting for parent/teacher and student alike.  In fact, if you homeschool, it is likely that if you have not tried Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) yourself, you have probably had it recommended to you.

What you may not know, though, is that HWT has joined the world of Apps! If your child is anything like mine, he will be intrigued by the Wet-Dry-Try App! Available for download from the App Store for $4.99, the Wet-Dry-Try App is everything that is wonderful about Handwriting Without Tears, but it is completely and totally portable.  Also, because it is something your child does on the iPad, it won't feel like schoolwork at all, which is ironic, because using the HWT App looks and feels exactly like using the regular Handwriting Without Tears program!

HWOT Wet/Dry App Title page

There are two approaches you can choose when using the app.  You can either practice the capital letters (the only letters available in the app) in any order you choose, or you can practice them in "HWT's Winning Order." For those unfamiliar with HWT's program, that order consists of the following: Frog Jump Capitals (F,E,D,P,B,R,N, and M), Starting Corner Capitals (H,K,L,U,V,W,X,Y,Z), and Center Starting Capitals (C,O,Q,G,S,A,I,T, and J).

The student (and with the purchase of the app, you have the opportunity to create separate logins for up to four students) has the opportunity of mastering the letter with either 1,2, or 3 stars, and in this mode, the letters are locked until the user has achieved at least one star (although these options can be customized by the parent, as seen below).

The process for practicing each of the letters, regardless of which mode you choose to follow, is the same.  First, the speaker tells the child to watch as she writes the letter.  Then she describes the process as she writes it.  She then instructs the child to trace over her chalk letter with a sponge.

After that, she has the child dry the letter with a towel.  If at any point, he deviates from acceptable limits in tracing, she says, "Whoa! Try that again!" and has him try again from the beginning of that particular screen (sponge, towel, etc.).

 Finally, the child gets to trace over the dry letter with a piece of chalk.

Here is what my son's progress looked like after "playing around" with Wet-Dry-Try App for about 20 minutes.

 The Wet-Dry-Try App is age-appropriate for Pre-K and K, but is considered appropriate for remediation with older children.  My son is 8, but has never had great handwriting.  His pencil grip has always been off, but I can't figure out how to correct it.  I have always wondered if that is because my husband and I are both lefties, but all of our children are right-handed.  We just don't know how to help them with things like pencil holding!

Because Michael has trouble with things like proper letter formation, I was anxious to go back to the beginning.  He reads and comprehends well above grade level, but he hates to write and requests to do most things on the computer.  To that end, I thought this app would be a great fit for him.  I was right...partly.  It turns out that you can't fool an eight year-old into thinking that handwriting practice for five year-olds is tailor made for him.  Still, that is not the fault of the app, and Michael did work completely through the app (progressing all the way through three stars (no visual cues on the letter formation and zero tolerance for deviation from the formation) and all letters).

He worked with the app for about 20 minutes a day each day, four days a week.  For about two weeks, he didn't mind, but then he started to complain.  Because he tended to be sloppy, it took him longer to get through some letters than it probably would a conscientious Kindergartner.  My daughter (now 11) would have LOVED this app when she was learning to write at 3.  It would have made her desire to write so much easier for her not-quite-coordinated fine muscles to carry out. It is just that my son's problems have more to do with lack of patience and impulsivity than with anything else.  Still, I loved the opportunity to have him go through and have proper letter formation emphasized over and over.  What I really, really, wish this app had, though, is LOWERCASE letters! Those formations are the ones that really seem to trip Michael up!

Although the Wet-Dry-Try App was not ideal for my son, he is not really the target market for it. He did benefit from it (whether he would admit it or not), and I would not hesitate to buy this app for my Pre-K or K child if I had one.  In fact, I just might buy it as a gift for my 3 1/2 year-old niece.  I trust the Handwriting Without Tears brand, and this app is 100% worthy of their name.

The Wet-Dry-Try App is available in the App Store for $4.99, and it is worth every penny.  Of course, HWT still sells all of its standard handwriting curriculum!

There were plenty of younger kids of the Crew who tried this app and other HWT products, so be sure to click on the banner below to read their reviews!

Disclaimer: I received this app free as part of my participation with the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my opinion, which is my own and was not purchased.  I received no other compensation, and I am disclosing this is accordance with FTC regulations.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Plans Gone Astray

Everyone knows that the worst thing that can happen to a control freak is for plans to go off the rails.  Apparently, 2013 is about me learning to deal with it.  So far, we have spent the majority of the year sick.  I shouldn't complain since we are almost never sick, but right now all six of us are on antibiotics.  Funny aside, when our doctor asked me how my kids tolerated antibiotics, I had to tell him that I don't really know.  I think that among the four of them, there may have been *at most* half a dozen antibiotics in the last 11 years.  Anyway, because we've been so sick, school, dance, and TKD have gone by the wayside.  For so many reasons, that causes me anxiety, but I am trying to get over it!

"Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent." St. John of the Cross

"In the same way that a powerful medicine cures an illness, so illness itself is a medicine to cure passion. And there is much profit of soul in bearing illness quietly and giving thanks to God." St. Amma Syncletice

"When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly." St. Sebastian Valfre

"Is it not true that your gloominess and bad temper are due to your lack of determination in breaking the subtle snares laid by your own disordered desires? The daily examination of conscience is an indispensible help if we are to follow our Lord with sincerity of heart and integrity of life." St. Josemaria Escriva'

That last one? He's talking to me.