Making Math Easy with CTCMath (review)

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

Grasshopper had such a huge success when we used CTCMath last year that I happily agreed to review it again to keep his subscription going!

What is CTCMath? In its most basic form, CTCMath is a program that teaches all levels of math from Kindergarten through Calculus. The program is split up into grade levels, and from there, units and lessons. There are also a few games to help with speed facts. Grasshopper has been working on third grade curriculum, which includes times tables. To help him with his times tables, he has been playing the Times Tables Shoot ‘Em Up game in addition to doing 1-2 regular lessons per day.

Let’s talk first about the regular lessons. Each one consists of a short video (2-5 minutes long), followed by a 10-question digital worksheet. Students know right away whether they’ve gotten the answer right, which is really nice. In the parent account, you set the “pass grade” for each of your students. We have it set to the default 80%. This means that if my son gets 80% or better on his worksheet, the program allows him to move on to the next lesson. If he gets less than 80% (which he never does – he’s borderline in tears any time he gets less than 100%), then he is prompted to answer more questions to encourage further understanding of the topic. Because the lessons are prerecorded videos, a student can always go back and watch it again if they’re unclear on what to do. We’ve had to do that a time or two. It’s really that straightforward! Grasshopper can easily get a math lesson done in 10 minutes, including the video. That’s why he often does more than one lesson per school day. I’m sure they’re harder when you get into the more advanced maths, but we haven’t been there yet.

Times Tables Shoot ‘Em Up is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Answer the multiplication problem by shooting the correct answer. Before you begin, you can choose which times tables you want to practice, or do a mix. The answers are shown in a straight line across the screen in ascending order. The group moves slowly down the screen, and you need to answer all of the questions before they get to the bottom. Once you’ve made it through three rounds, the movement picks up considerably. Even Will and Ballet Boy took a shot at that level, and neither of them could get all the answers in the faster level despite knowing their times tables really well. The numbers just move too fast down the screen.

For more details, look at my 2020 review of CTCMath. You can also head over to the Homeschool Review Crew and see what other members think of this fantastic math program! As for us, Grasshopper is going to continue doing a couple of lessons a day through the summer, and then dive into 4th grade math in the fall.

Blessings,

Further Study of The American Revolution

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

I have reviewed quite a few products from Home School in the Woods in the past, and I’ve got the biggest one yet to share today. For the past five weeks or so, Grasshopper and I have been diving into Time Travelers U.S History Studies: The American Revolution. I knew this would be a well-written, intense curriculum, but I was amazed by just how in depth it went! Let me tell you all about it.

The Files

When you purchase a Time Travelers digital download kit (of which there are many!) from Home School in the Woods, it downloads as a zip file. It’s super easy to extract the files; just use the extraction wizard on your computer. I was super overwhelmed by the sheer number of files at first, but as I continued to dig around in the folders in preparation of teaching the unit, I really got a good feel for how they were organized. They are sorted into four sections, but I only ever used two of them: Menus and PDFs (and Menus was only used once or twice). PDFs in the main bread and butter of the program, and where you’ll spend most of your time.

When you open the PDFs folder, there are 6 subfolders, and most of those will get used quite often, with the exception of “covers.” You’ll only need that one for the initial printing (as its name suggests, it has the cover images for the lap book and notebook portions of the study).

Intro-Etc has things like the acknowledgements from the authors, a list of additional resources you can utilize while working through the study, and tips for using the study. But the most important thing in that folder is the lesson planner. For the first week, I referred to in on the computer, but after that I decided it would actually be better to have it printed out even though it felt kind of wasteful to me. But because it was a landscape oriented document, it was sideways in Adobe Acrobat, and that made it a bit cumbersome to read on the screen.

Lesson-Masters is the real meat of the product, and this is where you’ll do most of the printing for your students from. It has every single thing you need to complete the notebook and lap book for the unit study. I’ll dive more into these pages in the next section, “How we used it.”

Lesson-Projects is a very useful folder. It is divided up into lessons (there are 25 in this study), and it explains how to create each thing you do in the day. This is especially helpful in some of the more complicated lap book elements.

Lesson-Text is the reading portion of the study. Each day gets its own PDF, and each of those is 1-3 pages long.

Teacher-Keys is just what it sounds like: answer keys for the different pages.

How We Used It

I spent a bit of time just getting a feel for the study before I did anything else. I received the files in my email on a Thursday, and spent much of Friday and the weekend going over everything so I could understand how it all worked. By Sunday night, I had a pretty good idea, and then I did the first week’s printing. (I did all of the printing one week at a time; it was less cumbersome for me that way. You could, of course, do all the printing at once and store the pages until you need them if that works better for you.)

Each day, I would look over what projects were expected to be completed and would pull those papers out of our folder. I set everything aside, only giving Grasshopper one page/activity at a time. I’d usually find a simple one for him to work on while I read the lesson text aloud to him. I tried to stick to things like basic coloring or cutting for the lesson time so that he could focus on listening to me read.

Besides the lesson text, there are two main components to the study: the lap book and the notebook. You can choose to do just one of them, but we did both. Grasshopper is at that sweet spot where he’s young enough to still love doing lap books, but also old enough to benefit from notebooking. So I seized on that ability. The schedule clearly labels whether something is “notebook” or “lap book,” so if you’re only doing one of them, it’s easy to cherry pick the pages you need.

For his notebook, we just picked up a basic folder from Walmart (I think it cost me a quarter), and then I also bought a packet of file folders for the lap book because we didn’t have any. We’ve been keeping all of the completed notebook pages on the right side of the folder, and the week’s worth of printouts on the left. This relaxed organizational method might not work for others, but it’s been great for us.

One thing we’ve done differently from the suggested schedule is building the lap book. The schedule has your child create all of the mini books and store them in a baggie, then create the entire lap book on day 24. We were too excited for that! So we have been building the lap book as we go. It might end up slightly less “rigid” in the end, but that’s okay. Grasshopper is learning so much and having fun every single day.

Final Thoughts

I can’t recommend Home School in the Woods enough. A lot of their things can feel pretty overwhelming, but that’s because they’re so well written. I won’t lie: it takes a lot of printing. A lot, a lot. So if you don’t have access to a good printer (and by “good” I mean one that will give you more than 30 printed sheets per ink cartridge), this might not be the product for you (and believe me, I’ve been there in the past). But if you do have access to a good printer, you should seriously consider looking at the different Time Traveler kits. They have them for pretty much all periods in American history (up through WWII).

If you’re looking for something more “supplementary” and less “full curriculum,” allow me to suggest the Timeline sets. There are four to choose from, and they go from Creation to modern times. The timelines are a great visual for kids of all ages, too – in fact, Home School in the Woods has them listed as a K-12 product, which means you can supplement literally curriculum and make an awesome family-wide keepsake. You can choose from Creation to Christ (Beginning – 100 AD); Resurrection to Revolution (0 – 1799 AD); Napoleon to Now (1750 – modern day); and America’s History (explorers to 21st century).

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have had the honor of reviewing a wide variety of products from Home School in the Woods (including all of the timelines I mentioned before, different eras of Time Travelers Studies, and more), and I highly recommend you check out their reviews! You won’t regret it.

Blessings,

Catching Slugs and Studying Language Arts (review)

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

Grasshopper has been having so much fun practicing his language arts lessons the past few weeks with Words Rock Online from EdAlive. Let me tell you a little bit about the game.

Words Rock is an online game, and it’s super easy to set up an account and log in. You have to go through the parent account the first time, where you can easily set up child accounts. I only set up an account for Grasshopper, even though the suggested age range is 5-15, and I don’t regret that decision at all. It took a few rounds of going back and forth between the student account and the parent account for me to get the settings *just right* for Grasshopper to be able to actually answer the questions each time, but once I did we only used the student account from then forward.

Playing the Game

When you first log in, you select either Start a New Game or Questions Only. We always played the game! There are  a number of avatars shown on the bottom of the screen to choose from. It seems to assign you a different one each time, but it’s easy to just click a different one that you want to use for that session. Grasshopper always chose the same guy. Then a little pop up appears, where you choose whether you want a Basic Game (smaller board with no “gadgets”) or an Advanced Game (bigger board with “gadgets”). The first few days, we did the basic game, but once we’d figured out the game and were quite comfortable with it, we switched to the advanced game and haven’t looked back since.

The game portion of the app (it’s technically a website, but runs like an app) is kind of a cross between Battleship and Minesweeper. The goal is to catch slugs, and in an advanced game there are 7 slugs taking up a total of 23 squares (the board is 10×10). When you choose a square, you are told whether the square you chose has no slug (50 points), is near a slug (50 points), contains part of a slug (100 points), or completes the capture of a slug (200 points). Each game consists of 4 players: your student and 3 computer opponents.

In the advanced game, you have the option of using helps. Each help costs a certain number of points, so you can’t use any on your first turn (because you don’t have any points yet). The helps are: scatter search, which gives you a cross beam of squares that you can choose instead of a single square (400 points); hint, which gives you a 3×3 area in which to choose, one of which is a guaranteed “part of slug” (50 points); restricted zone, which allows you to block off an area from your opponents’ future turns (125 points); and unlimited move, which opens the entire board to you (in the advanced game, you can only choose from certain unlocked squares which change each turn) (50 points). We found through playing the game that scatter search is more than worth the 400 points it costs to use, because you pretty much always get 800-1500 points back using that option. When we started using scatter search, Grasshopper’s scores went from 1500-1800 to 3000-4000 or more per game. It really made a big difference! And once he got the hang of the game, his goal shifted. Instead of aiming to win, he tried to get a better and better score each time (essentially beating himself). At the time of this writing, he aims to get 4000 points each time he plays.

After each turn, you go to the question portion of the game. Students must answer a language arts question chosen from quite a large range of topics and difficulties. They are given 2 chances. If they get the answer correct on their first try, the next round of slug finding earns them double points. If they get it right on the second try, they get 1.5x the points. Some questions are deemed “brain teasers,” and those earn even more points for the next round if answered correctly (2.4x instead of 2.0). If a question is too difficult, you can click the “too hard” button and get a new question with no penalty. We had to use that a few times, but not too often once I figured out the right settings for him in the parent-teacher portal.

Questions include things like “Click all the verbs in the sentence” and “Determine which words are opposites from the following pairs.” You’ll answer about 5-7 questions per game.

Once all 7 slugs are captured, the game ends immediately – no further questions are asked. You then see the bonus points being awarded. These are for things like “most slugs captured,” “most brain teaser attempts,” and “highest slug hit rate.” The player with the most points wins.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think there was a single day that went by (weekends included) that Grasshopper didn’t ask to play the “Slug Game.” He absolutely loved it, and I liked that he was getting some extra grammar practice in. Some of the questions required a lot of help, but most were just fine for him to understand and answer on his own. I absolutely expect him to continue playing the game each day for the entire year that we have access.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been playing two other games from EdAlive this month, too. Click through to read reviews on Words Rock (language arts), Volcanic Panic (reading), and Baggin’ the Dragon (math).

Blessings,

Cross Seven Musical Memory Tool (review)

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

It’s no secret that one surefire way to make memorization easier is to use music. Cross Seven has created a program that utilizes this fact with their Cross Seven Ventures – Homeschool Musical Memory Tool. My younger kids and I have been practicing some of the basics in a variety of subjects with this program the past few weeks.

Cross Seven is divided up into weeks, and from there into individual subjects. Each week has a series of short videos, and the videos give little songs to help children memorize different things. You can use the website for accessing the videos, or there is also a Roku channel so you can put it right on the TV, which is what we did. Each morning after breakfast, I’d turn Cross Seven on for a little while and we would work our way through the subjects I wanted my kids to work on memorizing. We focused primarily on geography, grammar, and science. There are loads of other subjects included, too, though: Scripture, history, Latin, math, hymns, and timeline. Grasshopper thought the Latin was rather interesting, but I didn’t push it too much because that’s not something we’re focused on in our family.

The songs, as I mentioned, are quite short. Each one is only 1-2 minutes long, which is perfect for small children. It gives them the important information without much else. For example, in the geography song that deals with the continents, it pretty much just lists the continents and oceans to music. There aren’t a lot of extraneous lyrics. This keeps things super streamlined.

We did the grammar songs as a supplement to our regular grammar curriculum, and the short songs helped Grasshopper (8 years old) keep track of the different types of words he’s learning – nouns, verbs, adjectives, et al. It really helped him to focus on the different types of words, as well as giving him hooks to hang information on (what a noun is, for example, not just its name).

There are also quizzes available, but I didn’t worry too much about those.

I found the Cross Seven program to be quite popular with my children. I was a little surprised, to be honest, because the songs are so very short and don’t have any “extra” information in them. It’s quite literally just listing the things to music. But it really works! Just a few times through each song and my 8-year-old was singing along. That tells me that the method is sound.

Make sure to read more reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew website, especially if you’re interested in learning more about the quizzes we didn’t utilize.

Blessings,

 

Teaching Textbooks 4.0 (review)

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

For the past several months, my teenagers have been using the Teaching Textbooks Math 4.0 apps on the iPad for their math. The Teaching Textbooks apps are easy to download and sign in to, and each grade level gets its own app. If you’re short on space on your device this could be problematic, but otherwise I think it’s a benefit. There’s no trouble having students working on different levels having to sign each other in and out in order to do their lessons. Simply download the app, sign in using the parent account, add your student, then assign them a username and password. Each day, they have to enter their own password, but they shouldn’t need to sign in to the main account each time. (Ballet Boy had some issues and had to get my log in many times, but I don’t think that’s normal. Scorpion didn’t have the same issue at all.) Here are my boys’ thoughts on the program.

From Scorpion (Math 7):

Teaching Textbooks 4.0 Grade 7 is a program that starts with a video that explains the lesson. The videos are very clear, and last about 5 minutes. After that, there are the lesson portion, which is just a series of questions and problems to solve. If you get a question wrong, there is an option that says “watch solution,” which allows you to see exactly how and why you got the problem wrong. This helps you to remember in the future and get similar problems correct next time.

Topics that I’ve covered so far have been mostly the normal addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. But I’ve also moved forward into some more advanced division as well. Later lessons have shown me ways to break up some of the harder division problems in order to solve problems quicker.

Math 7 is an excellent math program for any middle schooler (or a high schooler who is behind and/or needs a refresher course). I have tried a lot of different math programs, and Teaching Textbooks has worked really well for me personally. I like the “app” format because I spend a lot of time on my iPad anyway. It’s really easy to find what I need and move forward in the next lesson. It keeps my spot, so I never have to try to remember where to pick up. Signing in is super easy, too. The app keeps our family login all the time, so I just have to type in my student password each day. This makes it really quick to get going. I’m glad to have this math for my main curriculum.

From Ballet Boy (Algebra I):

Teaching Textbooks 4.0 Algebra I is a great program for people who learn like me. I’m normally terrible at watching a video and then doing questions. The thing I love about this program is it’s a lot more interactive than others I’ve done in the past. Each video walks you through the problems step by step but you have to type in the answers; it’s not just the teacher solving them for you. It then gives you about 20 questions and they run them the exact same as the ones you solved in the lesson so it’s more of the same instead of watching someone be good at math and then being given a page of homework and told to do it in an hour. All in all a great program. Five stars.

Back to Mom:

You can see that both boys have really enjoyed working on this program, and that’s really saying something because they each have different strengths. Ballet Boy is definitely a math kid. His main struggle has been finding a program that works for him, not the math itself. We’ve found that with Teaching Textbooks. Scorpion, on the other hand, has always been more of a literature kid – he’s struggled with math for as long as I can remember (which is why he’s 14 and doing 7th Grade math). But it looks like we may have found a good fit for him as well (famous last words, right?). I never have to harp on the kids to work on their math now, though. In fact, they like it so well that they wake up and dive right in. They’re always done with it by the time I see them for the first time in the morning.

We only ever had access to Teaching Textbooks 4.0, but other members of the Homeschool Review Crew are comparing the 3.0 version to the new 4.0 version, so if you’ve used Teaching Textbooks 3.0 and are wondering how the new version is different, I urge you to check out more reviews.

Blessings,

The Humble Calculator (Triad Math review)

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

I grew up using a Texas Instruments scientific calculator, and I’d be willing to bet many of you did as well. What I bet most of us don’t know, however, is the sheer amount of power that humble machine has. Enter Mastering the TI-30Xa Scientific Calculator: Augmented Intelligence for all 21st Century Students from Triad Math, Inc. In this course, which is a combination of video lessons, a work text with problems to solve, and the calculator itself, students learn all about the nuances and extraordinary power this calculator has.

The main dashboard

When we first got access to the course, I gave the book to Ballet Boy (17) and emailed him the login credentials for the video lessons. Then, he worked on the course independently each day. From my perspective, the course was very easy to navigate. When we logged in, it was easy to find the right course, and then to scroll down through the lessons. The interface kept track of where you left off, so it was a breeze to move to the next lesson correctly. I did the first few lessons with my son, and I found the teaching to be very clear and easy to follow. The questions in the textbook went well with the lessons.

A screenshot from the video for lesson 1

Each lesson consists of a pretest, the video lesson, practice questions (available as PDFs within the course or as a separate book, as we received), and a post-test. The post-test is identical to the pretest, except it’s taken after the lesson to make sure the student has learned the material. Each lesson also has a forum, but we didn’t utilize those. 

Here are Ballet Boy’s thoughts. 

I’ve been using the Texas Instruments calculator for a few weeks now and let me just say: this calculator is AMAZING! It’s the only calculator I’ve used that was actually useful for math. All calculators do math, of course, but I’m not in third grade so one that does more that multiply and divide is a welcome sight. I have yet to come across an equation or geometry problem that isn’t made easy with this tool. The calculator even does trigonometry with a few clicks of a button. It also has three memory banks for doing complex word problems. I have done entire math lessons without even scratch paper.

Additionally, the course has many video lessons and a work book that go with it to help you understand every button one step at a time. The videos are super easy to understand and follow along with. What I will say is when you’re watching them, “Dr. Del” is a lesson behind when he tells you what lesson number you’re on so that’s confusing at first, but only a small bug.

All in all I have no problems with the class, only praise. Highly recommended!! 

Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew for more information!

Blessings,

 

LeapFrog Academy (review)

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

If you’ve had little kids any time in the last 20 years (maybe more), you’re likely familiar with LeapFrog® . I remember borrowing LeapFrog DVDs from the library 12 years ago when my teenagers were small, but I’d largely forgotten about them until the opportunity to review their website and app, LeapFrog Academy®, was presented.

LeapFrog® is a learning resource for kids ages 3-6. Even though I technically only have one child in that age range, I had three of my kids get accounts. Bumblebee is 2 1/2, Dragonfly is 5, and Grasshopper is 8. They have all been having loads of fun with the app over the past few weeks!

Bumblebee isn’t quite ready for much on this app. He’s almost at the 3-year suggested age, but because he was such a slow talker, we’re focused more on increasing his vocabulary and working on preschool milestones unrelated to reading (counting, colors, etc). Despite that, I tried working with him a little bit on the “regular” lessons portion of the app, but it was just too much. But that was okay! LeapFrog Academy® has simpler things like videos for just that situation. In fact, he’s watching the ABC song video as I write this review.

Dragonfly is currently an early reader. He’s been working through another reading app for the past several months and knows many sight words as well as loads of simple words. With this background, he was able to to have a lot of success with LeapFrog Academy®. But that’s not all this app has to offer! While my previous experience with LeapFrog® was mostly alphabet and reading, this time around I’m discovering that it’s much, much more than that! Besides reading, there are sections that deal with health, science, math, and more. It really is an all-inclusive preschool/Kindergarten supplementary curriculum.

Grasshopper was above the age range for this app, but I knew he would feel left out if he didn’t get an account, and I was right. He has also been working on the app using the first grade level (the highest it goes). It’s very similar to the Kindergarten map, but harder questions and games. He also has been loving it!

When you first open the app, you choose which child is working, and from there you can decide which section to work on (lessons, videos, etc). The app automatically assigns them a grade level based on their age – preschool, Kindergarten, or first grade. Grasshopper and Dragonfly worked pretty much exclusively in the map (which is the lessons portion of the app), and Bumblebee watched the videos, like I mentioned before. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t watch/help the kids every time they used the app, so I don’t have a complete understanding of the ins and outs, but I do know that it follows a treasure map-style progression. The character moves through the map when the child taps on the different parts of the path, and when they get to a lesson (delineated by a large icon on the map’s path), they have to complete it in order to move on. When they finish a single lesson, a bridge appears to allow them to move forward on the path. When they complete a map, they are given a new piece of their pirate ship. None of my kids have completed their pirate ships yet, but Dragonfly especially is super excited each time he gets a new piece.

My kids have been loving the LeapFrog Academy® app! They never argue when I suggest they work on it, and I love that they’re spending a portion of their screen time learning. I definitely recommend LeapFrog Academy® for kids this age. You won’t regret it!

Make sure to read more reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew too!

Blessings,

The Reading Game (review)

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

Reading should be fun. If it’s not, kids will rebel against the process of learning it (ask me how I know…). So I’m always on the lookout for products that help in that goal, and as such I was really excited about getting to review The Reading Game, 2nd Edition from Allsaid and Duun, LLC.

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I have two kids who are on the spectrum of “learning to read.” My 8-year-old, Grasshopper, is one who’s rebelled against reading. (He’s just like his oldest brother in that regard.) My 5-year-old, Dragonfly, is super excited about learning to read – in fact, he had mastered some simple words when he was still 4. (He takes after his second oldest brother.) So something that would make the idea of reading fun for both of them seemed like a win in my book.

Contents of The Reading Game:

  • Six decks of 60 cards: Skunk, Snake, Bear, Penguin, Unicorn, and Zebra
  • Six sets of 3 flashcards that match the animal decks
  • Six books that match the animal decks
  • Game play instructions

The Reading Game is very similar to the age-old game of Memory, but with a twist. It comes with 6 decks of cards, each assigned a color and an animal. Each deck of cards has six sets of 5 pairs of words, and they are numbered on the backs. So for example, your kids start with the Skunk deck, which has sixty cards. 10 of these have a 1, 10 have a 2, and so on. Because there are 10 cards of each number, that’s 5 words with which to play Memory. You start with level 1 of the Skunk deck. You can have basically an unlimited number of kids (within reason, of course), but you do need one person who is a strong reader already (parent, teacher, etc). Just like in regular Memory, kids choose 2 cards. They need to read each word on the cards. If the words match, the child keeps the cards. If not, they put them back and the next child takes a turn. When the teacher feels like the students have mastered the words in the 1 series, they add in the 2s, then the 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s.

IMG-7325As they move through and master the words, there are flashcards for each deck (3 per deck – 1s and 2s; 3s and 4s; and 5s and 6s). These flashcards create sentences from the words they’ve worked on in those sets – only those words. And when all six sets from an animal group are mastered, the child is ready to read the matching book, and then move on to the next animal to repeat the process with new words.

Grasshopper, Dragonfly, and I played the game a few times a week. I started them both at Skunk 1, and we gradually moved up as the boys mastered the words. Grasshopper (8) was able to move more quickly than Dragonfly, but they both made incredible progress as we played. As we continued to add word cards, the kids quickly realized that they had better luck if they chose their cards with the same numbers on the back. (This was obvious to me, but they were very pleased when they “discovered” it themselves.)

When it was time to read the book because they’d done so well with the card game portion, the boys were a bit intimidated (especially Dragonfly – he’s done lots of reading of individual words but not much in the way of full stories). But when they could do it, they were so excited! And I was so proud of them too.

We will absolutely keep using The Reading Game. It is a wonderful resource for teaching kids to read – or for encouraging struggling (or rebelling) readers if that’s what your family needs.

Make sure to read more reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew. Also on the Crew blog, there’s a giveaway for The Reading Game. Five lucky winners will each win a copy, so please head over there and enter today! (Open to US addresses, ages 18+ only. Giveaway runs March 8-15, 2021. Void where prohibited.)

Blessings,

ladybug-signature-3 copy

Failure Free Reading (review)

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

For the past few weeks, Grasshopper (8 years old) has been working with the Failure Free Reading Home Edition. As a kid who’s struggled with reading, I thought it might be helpful for him.

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When I first received access to this program, it was easy enough to set up the account. There are two options for student login: with a picture or without one. I set Grasshopper up using the “with a picture” option. This means that when you click “log in,” you only have to type the password. From there, a grid of pictures is on the next page and your student has to choose the correct one associated with their account to complete the login process. Once we had that set up, the first thing the program had us do was the placement test.

I liked how all throughout the placement test process, we were reminded that it wasn’t a big deal. It’s important, obviously, but it was okay for students to get some of the answers wrong – that’s the point of a placement test, after all. This test was long. It took us 2 schooldays to get through it, and that was with me helping him heavily. There would have been no way Grasshopper could have made it through the test at all without my help.

But we did make it through, and Grasshopper was put into a vocabulary building section of the program. We used the program 3-4 days a week, except for the week we didn’t have WiFi because of the winter storms. (We were lucky to never have lost power, but our internet was down for an entire week, which caused problems for homeschooling.)

The word building part of the program introduces lots of new words (I think 5 per week, but I never actually counted them), and they are complicated words, especially for a child. I think that’s great though. The words are vocabulary that an older teen or adult probably use regularly, but are new and difficult for a younger child (think obstinate, recalcitrant, and other words like that). This is perfect for a vocabulary program! Each day, the process is a little different from the day before, but all the lessons build on one another.

IMG-7270First, the word is introduced. The program doesn’t require your student to know the words or be able to read them in advance – good thing for a vocabulary lesson! It will read everything out loud to them. The student should listen to what’s being said and examine the word carefully as everything is happening though. They’ll need all the information about each word that they can absorb during the lesson. When they feel comfortable with this, they can click continue to move on to the next step.

IMG-7271After learning and hearing the word (and hopefully examining its spelling), a synonym and definition is introduced. For most of the words, I found the synonym to be more helpful than the definition. And for words with multiple (but similar) definitions, I thought the voiceover reading was a bit too quick between the definitions. They tended to run together too much for my taste. But my son didn’t seem to have any qualms over the speed, so maybe it was just me. Again, here students should examine the screen and really focus on the word and its definition(s).

IMG-7272The next step is comprehension – using the word in context. The program gives a sentence using the word and the student’s job is to determine whether that word has been used correctly based on the context of the sentence. This comes in handy because in later lessons of the week, a paragraph is provided using all the words of the week (these can be a bit clunky and unnatural; imagine a 3-4 sentence paragraph incorporating 5 vocabulary words). Having had a bit of introduction to sentences with the words already makes that a bit easier to wrap young minds around.

IMG-7273Remember before when I said students should examine and memorize the word? That’s because they’re going to be asked to type it correctly before the day’s lesson is over. This will happen with each word of the week.

These steps repeat for each word. And this is all on the first day of the new list. Activities change throughout the week, but they all use the same set of words.

So what did we think? I’m a bit torn, honestly. First of all, I thought the placement test was way too hard. Maybe that’s because my son doesn’t care about reading (he takes after his oldest brother in that regard), so getting through it was like pulling teeth. But when we did, and we were able to move on to the actual lessons, it was smooth sailing. I liked the vocabulary aspect. I don’t think it provides “failure free reading,” but I think it is a fantastic resource for vocabulary words.

Make sure to read more reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew, too.

Blessings,

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Amazing Names! (CrossTimber review)

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way.

 CrossTimber review

Have you ever explored the meaning of your own name? What about your children’s names? CrossTimber has a variety of products to help you on your way to learning the special messages behind each and every name. I was fortunate to have gotten to select 5 Name Bookmarks, which was perfect because I have 5 children! They were also so generous and allowed each reviewer to choose a name to incorporate into their AmazingName Print Activity Sheets. For these, I chose my almost-11-year-old niece because her birthday was coming up (it’s next week, actually).

The ordering process for the bookmarks was super simple. I did it on my phone (quicker and easier than setting up the computer), and was easily able to find the style choices. They have many, many options from animals (butterflies, safari animals, birds, horses, and more) to outdoors (flowers, sunrises/sunsets, the beach, and more) to people (babies, couples, occupations, music, and more) to spiritual (inspirational, symbols, lighthouses, and more). Once you’ve chosen your image, you get to also choose what kind of quote you want on your bookmark: a Scripture reference, an author quote, a presidential quote, or a character quality quote. If you’d prefer, you have your own custom wording put on the bookmark in place of the quote for an extra charge of just $1 (base price for the bookmarks is $3.99 each, which is very reasonable – that’s about what you’d pay for a bookmark in any bookstore, and those aren’t personalized).

CrossTimber bookmarks

When you order, your names won’t be smudged! But these have my kids’ real names, not their online names.

The best part was going through all the selections with my boys and letting them each choose the design they wanted!

Ballet Boy (17), whose real name is Irish/Celtic, chose a Celtic design with a presidential quote.

Scorpion (14), whose name is Polish, chose a ram with an author quote.

Grasshopper (8), who has a strong Biblical name, chose a tiger with a presidential quote.

Dragonfly (5), with his German name, chose a lighthouse with scripture.

And Bumblebee (2), who has a beautiful Scandinavian name (to match mine and Will’s Scandinavian heritages), got elephants with an author quote. He’s small enough to not need a bookmark, so I chose my favorite animal for his, and I’ve been using it myself! I’ll give it to him one day when he’s older.

The older kids have been using their bookmarks in school books. Grasshopper and Dragonfly have been mostly just looking at theirs a lot (we hung them on the wall for safekeeping until they’re at the point where they need a bookmark). And as I mentioned, I’ve been using Bumblebee’s in the book that I’m reading right now. The bookmarks are a very nice quality. My only issue thus far has been that the plastic coating they put over the top didn’t last very well; with normal use it bubbled and peeled away from the printed paper. It wasn’t that big a deal to just pull it off when this happened, though, and even without it, the bookmarks have held up well. They just don’t have that shiny look anymore.

activity pages 1The activity pages are pretty neat too. When you order, you have a choice to submit any name you like, and you can choose to have the pages printed and mailed to you for $6 or emailed as a downloadable and printable PDF for $3. I thought my niece would think they were pretty cool, maybe a bit silly but still fun because they had her name built in, but I was wholly unprepared for her reaction. When I gave her the envelope and she pulled the pages out, she paused to process what she was looking at. Then she got the biggest grin on her face and said, “This is so cool!” She was visiting us (along with her mom, brother, and sister) at the time, and I gave them to her a little while before they had to leave. She proceeded to spend the rest of the time (30-45 minutes) doing the different activities and raving about how much she loved them. I got the biggest hug when she left!

Overall, CrossTimber is a pretty cool company. I highly recommend their products for a supremely personalized gift! (And by the way, they have many items besides prints – you can get mugs and music boxes too, and they also do stuff besides name meanings. For orders with 3 or more items, they offer discounts, too.)

Check out the Homeschool Review Crew for more reviews. Some of us got bookmarks, some got name cards (like bookmarks, but business card sized), and some got an 8×10 name plaque. All are beautiful! (I reviewed the name plaque a couple of years ago. Feel free to check out that review if you’re interested.)

Blessings,

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