Spelling Ninja (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Spelling is a subject that is fairly important, but can be tricky to teach. I’ve struggled to teach it in the past because I’m a naturally good speller. I don’t understand having to “learn” to spell; I’ve always just been able to do it well. I had to deal with this a few years ago with Ballet Boy (he’s still not the best, but his writing is at least decipherable now – once you get past his handwriting!). Now that Grasshopper is the age to start dealing with spelling, I wanted to try to nip any potential problems in the bud, so we signed up to review Spelling Ninja from Reading Kingdom.

Spelling Ninja is an online program run through the website (not an app). Once you sign in and choose your student’s name from the list, you’re taken to that student’s home page, from which you can launch the program. It’s recommended that your student plays Spelling Ninja 4 days a week for optimal results.

The “game” itself is easy enough to understand. There is a picture at the top of the screen and a sentence below it. The student studies the sentence and then clicks the little star box when they feel ready. If they take a long time to study, the question eventually starts on its own. To pass each question, they simply have to type the words (spelled correctly, of course) into the boxes. Correct capitalization and punctuation is a must. The picture stays in place throughout the studying and typing process, but the sentence disappears a few words at a time. This means that in addition to spelling everything correctly, you must remember the words (which wasn’t usually too hard, but we did sometimes struggle with the specifics when a certain blank could have two words that both made sense in the sentence). The words in the sentences build on each other, meaning that you’ll see very similar sentences at the beginning (Can these kids read? and These kids can read.), but new words are introduced over time. Then those new words are shown over and over in a variety of different sentences. The sentences get longer and longer as you go because there are more words to choose from. There are 10 sentences per lesson.

When we first started, I had Grasshopper work on this on his own, with me watching to make sure he understood what he was doing. It quickly became apparent that that was not going to work long term. Grasshopper has a working knowledge of the keyboard, but he’s not a typist by any stretch of the imagination. He was having to type every single word many times, even when he got the correct spelling because he couldn’t get it typed in fast enough. So the next day, we switched it up and I did the typing while he dictated the letters to me to spell each word.

We worked 3-4 days a week this way (me typing, him dictating), and we had reasonable success. Grasshopper was able to get most of the words quicker, and there were just a few words that he needed to “study” with each new sentence. I really liked that he was able to get the spellings correct so much quicker over such a short period of time (I saw improvement after just 2 or 3 lessons). However, the time limit of the program was really frustrating for us. Even when I went in and adjusted the amount of time allowed before getting marked “wrong,” we still sometimes struggled. For example, in a sentence that’s 12 words long, you can be working along just fine, get the first 8 words spelled correctly and in the time limit but miss the 9th one. When that happens, you have to retype the entire sentence from the beginning, not just the word you missed. It got to be really demoralizing for Grasshopper and frustrating for me.

If your student knows the keyboard well and can type quickly, then Spelling Ninja would likely be a great fit for you. It wasn’t our favorite program ever, but I can definitely see the benefits to it and am pleased with the successes we had.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been trying out three programs from Reading Kingdom; make sure to click over to the main website to read reviews on Counting Kingdom and Story Smarts as well as Spelling Ninja.

Blessings,

What We’re Reading: October 2021

It’s October already! I don’t know about you, but I’m super excited about that. I adore October and November; they’re my favorite months all year long. And I think there are going to be big changes for our family this month. But for now, my fingers are tied on that front.

Instead, let’s talk about what books we’re reading this month!

Read Aloud

We’re still working through our shelf of beautifully illustrated novels. This month we’re going to spend wrapping up both Pinocchio and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (We didn’t do as much reading of those as we should have last month.) We’re also reading A Cricket in Times Square, and we will have a review on the Progeny Press study guide for that book later in the month!

Scorpion (9th)

As I briefly mentioned last week, Scorpion is reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. He will have a hefty portion of guest posting on that Progeny Press review when it comes up in a few weeks. Scorpion has always loved classic novels. From the time he was very young (like 6), he’s been reading them. Of course, back then he read children’s versions. Now that he’s older, I’m glad that he’ll get the opportunity to read some of them in their entirety rather than as a “Great Illustrated Classic.”

Grasshopper (4th)

We’re making great progress with Wayside School, and when he finishes it we’ll dive into a book I read a few years ago (it’s a kids’ book, but I saw it in the store and was intrigued by the plot so I bought it and read it anyway): Circus Mirandus. This is the story of a magical circus that only those who already believe in it can find. The main character must make himself believe so he can find the circus and get in touch with the one person who can help him save his ailing grandfather.

Me

I recently finished reading a book that had been on my to-read list for months, Sooley by John Grisham. It’s a stray from his normal legal thriller and explores the world of high-end college basketball through the eyes of a South Sudanese young man in America on a series of emergency visas. I love basketball, so I was pretty sure I’d like this book. It was not entirely what I expected, though, and Amazon reviews on the book are mixed. (I would give it 5 stars.) But that’s all I’m going to say for now, because more of my thoughts will be outlined when I feature it in this month’s book club post. For my new book, I’m sticking with my Grisham streak and reading an older novel called The Racketeer.

What are you reading this month?

Blessings,

Science for Little Kids (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

The Critical Thinking Co.™ is a favorite in our homeschool. We’ve used many of their books over the years, and always had great success with them. All three of my older children (Ballet Boy, 17; Scorpion, 15; and Grasshopper, 9) have used one of their math books over the years. When they were offered up for review this year, many of the choices were for the Preschool crowd, so I chose Science Mind Benders®: Animals to work on with Dragonfly (5). He’s very interested in learning, and animals are always a popular choice for little kids so I thought it would be a good introduction to science for him.

Science Mind Benders®: Animals is an 86-page, softcover workbook printed in full color. The pages are a bit glossy, so it feels almost like a picture book inside. There are 7 lessons, and each lesson has 7 activities. This gives your child enough time to take the book slowly and reinforce the concepts being taught throughout, making sure they remember they remember what they learned over the long term. At the end of each group of 7 lessons, there is a page of “interesting animals in this lesson” and a review page, which you could use as a quiz if you wanted to.

Because this was Dragonfly’s very first introduction to any sort of formal science lesson, we just started at the beginning of the book and worked our way through. For an older child, you could use this book as a review for certain types of animals and jump around a bit more.

Let’s look at the first lesson – Vertebrates and Invertebrates – fairly in-depth to give you an idea of how you could use this book in your homeschool.

My favorite type of homeschool curriculum is “open and go,” which means that there’s minimal prep work involved. This not only makes it easier to keep your homeschool day moving, but it also limits the amount of loose papers and other things you have floating around your school area. This book is definitely an open and go science curriculum. Everything you need to teach your child is included all in the one workbook – a simple lesson teaching children what they will be learning about and the consumable workbook pages for them to do themselves.What this looks like in the Vertebrates and Invertebrates lesson is a page with a short paragraph at the top that you can read to your child or paraphrase to teach the concept, and then the other 4/5 of the page is a series of pictures showcasing the different types of creatures, all separated out so children can get a clear understanding.

Once they have the initial learning done, the next seven pages are activity pages. You could do one activity a day, or all at once, or anything in between. We did one lesson per day because I want my son to tuck away that knowledge and remember it long term, not to just breeze through only to forget what an invertebrate is in two weeks when he’s working on the Mammals and Reptiles lesson.

Examples of activity pages are “point to the pictures of animals that are vertebrates.” This page also comes with discussion questions. Instead of having Dragonfly simply point to the pictures, I had him draw circles around the animals the question asked about. When we got to the question that compared invertebrates with an exoskeleton vs those without, we drew circles and squares to differentiate them. There are some very basic logic puzzles for the children to work through, which is perfect for developing good critical thinking skills. Activity 3 in the lesson shows photos of 6 different animals and you’re given three clues. The child is to determine which clue goes with which animal. Lesson 4 is very much like lesson 3, except that after matching the clue with the animal, the child determines whether each animal is a vertebrate or an invertebrate. Lesson 5 is another logic puzzle. Lessons 6 and 7 mirror lessons 3 and 4. For the review of this lesson, there’s a flow chart. Groups of pictures are shown together and the child determines what word from the “choice box” best fits that particular group. There’s even a bonus question for further research.

Dragonfly and I have had so much fun learning about animals together! We’re not done with this book yet, but we will definitely be continuing to work our way through it. It’s the perfect introduction to both critical thinking and science for my Kindergartner.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been reviewing one of 6 different books from The Critical Thinking Co.™. Make sure to click through and find out more about those books, as well as an introductory article that talks more about the company itself than I got into here.

Blessings,