Critical Comparisons

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.

The Critical Thinking Co.™ is one of my favorite companies for supplemental homeschool curriculum. They offer such fun books that teach kids to think in ways that they might not normally. Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a few of their books with the older kids, and this year, Grasshopper had the opportunity to give their stuff a try with Dare to Compare Math: Beginning.

AF7BD1A2-DB68-4CAA-8C37-8D9076620732Dare to Compare Math: Beginning is a consumable workbook, available in physical or digital formats ($12.99 each). The physical book, which I received, is for a single student’s use; the digital copy can be used for multiple students in the same household. It is designed for kids in second or third grade. Since Grasshopper is finishing up his second grade year, it was perfect for him. The softcover book has 92 pages and is the first in the Dare to Compare Math series (there is also “Level 1” and “Level 2”). It has 150 problems all together; after the problems are sections for hints, answers, and samples of other math books from The Critical Thinking Co.™.

19B973B1-B581-4D7C-AAF8-48388519E0DDEach page (for the first 50 pages) has three problems on it, and Grasshopper and I dived right in at the beginning. And I immediately had reservations. He struggled with understanding what was going on with these problems. But we continued on, and before long he was off and running. By the time he got to problems 125-26, he was saying how “fun and easy” they were.

There are a wide variety of types of problems in the book, but they are all based around the idea of comparisons. For many of the problems, the information given seems unusual, but when you stop and think it through, they’re not difficult to solve. (Of course, that’s coming from me, and I’m a little above the suggested grade level!) For example, you can see the word problem in the middle of the photographed page. It gives you the number of teachers and students for a given field trip, and your job (well, your student’s job) is to separate the information out and determine which school sent more teachers on the field trip. When I had Grasshopper write down how many students (S) and teachers (T) were on the trip from each school, it was easy to see and compare to find the right answer.

Some of the problems are more traditional math problems (Fill in the blank: ___+23=54). Some have multiple parts all using the same basic set of information. Some use charts or graphs for students to read and decipher. Some are supplemented with illustrations, which may or may not be necessary to study in order to solve the problem. And so on.

Overall, once we got over that initial “Oh no, what I have I gotten us into with this review” moment, Grasshopper and I have had a good time working through this book together.

The Critical Thinking Co.™ has a lot of options for students from PreK all the way through high school and beyond. As their name implies, they put a focus on teaching kids how to think rather than how to simply solve problems. I really appreciate this, which is why they’ve been one of my favorite companies over the years. This week, members of the Homeschool Review Crew are talking about a wide variety of their books (though not nearly all of them!), in a wide age range of student levels. I invite you to click through to learn more about this great company!

And if you’re interested in reading my past reviews, you can find those links below.

Blessings,

ladybug-signature-3 copy

 

 

My past reviews of The Critical Thinking Co.:

Sentence Diagramming: Beginning

Pattern Explorer

Understanding Pre-Algebra

Spelling and Math Practice to supplement any curriculum

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.

There are lots of curriculum supplements out there, especially for things like math facts and spelling words, and they have varying degrees of “fun.” For the past few weeks, Grasshopper has been working with Math Shed and Spelling Shed, and having a good time with both. Today, I’m going to talk briefly about both programs and what we thought of them.

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The first thing to know about these programs is that they work in sync. What I mean by this is that it’s the same website for both; when you log in to one, you’re logged in to the other as well. When I got the information to sign us up, I logged into the teacher portal and signed my son up for the program. (Initially, I signed up Dragonfly, too, but it turned out to be way too advanced for him.) I was given the option to sign him up using his real name or a nickname, and then they emailed me a username and password for his account. From then on, we just signed into his account.

Math Shed

39923E4E-D07B-44F4-A437-B9C740078A6FMath Shed has five options on the main screen to choose from, and it’s presented in a fun, space theme. In each The choices are: Number Bonds (these were called “fact families” when I was a kid); Times Tables; Powers of 10; Add & Subtract; and More…

Each selection is represented by a planet, and to work in the program, you simply choose the one you want your child to practice. In each category, a random smattering of problems are displayed, and the child has to answer them. In all the games, it’s “answer as many as you can in one minute.” For each correct answer, children are awarded a “honeypot,” which is the currency of the game. They can use those honeypots to “buy” upgrades for their avatar. Grasshopper loved earning the honeypots and changing his character out often!

C357FCA7-85E8-4F53-99EA-C10AD634F7A7We spent most of our time in the Addition and Subtraction section. (When he has learned his times tables and just needs more practice, we will switch to that section.) After you choose which area you want your child to practice, there’s a pop up that has you choose which area of addition or subtraction you want them to practice. As you can see from the screenshot to the right, the options are “10s,” “20s,” “100s,” “2 digits,” “3 digits,” or “4 digits.” Next to each category, you can see a +, a -, and a +/- button. This allows you to choose what types of problems show up – all adding, all subtracting, or a mix. Once you make that selection, the pop up changes, and you see options for “easy,” “medium,” or “hard.” When you choose “easy,” the child is given three choices for each problem. On “medium,” there are six choices, and on “hard,” there’s a calculator-type image in which the child must type the answer.

Spelling Shed

Spelling Shed is a beehive theme, and when you first log in there are options for “Stage 1 & 2,” “Stage 3,” “Stage 4 & 5,” and “More Lists.” Because Grasshopper is a bit slow in reading and words, we kept to Stage 1 & 2, which was plenty difficult for him.

2BE82082-1D50-4B82-B49B-BF7511211F32When you select a stage, there’s a pop up very similar to the one you get in Math Shed. In Spelling Shed, the options are “Play,” “Create Hive,” and “Bonus Games.” When you choose the option you want, there are then four choices of difficulty: easy, medium, hard, and extreme. We stuck with easy for my son. The “Create Hive” option isn’t one that we found very useful. I think it would pretty cool if you had friends who were also using the program, because it’s a way to make a kind of study group in which kids can play the game together and challenge one another.

71427A8E-E70D-48A9-B427-96CC4762A8ABIn the game (the “play” option), students are given a word, which can be seen on the screen and is also read aloud by a narrator (a woman with a very pleasant voice) in the program. They can study the word, and then click “go,” at which point they must spell the word using the letters given. It’s a lot like a word scramble, to be honest. Points are awarded based on the speed with which the word is spelled correctly, and later words are worth more points than earlier ones (though they’re not necessarily harder). At the end of the round, which is ten words, students are awarded one honeypot for each correctly spelled word. When you choose an alternate difficulty, there are more letters to choose from; at the “Extreme” level, words are simply spoken (not shown on the screen) and students type them out on a qwerty keyboard.

There are two Bonus Games in Spelling Shed. Bee Keeper is essentially Hangman, and Missing Word is “choose the correct spelling.” We didn’t spend too much time in those because on the few occasions that we did, Grasshopper got frustrated at his lack of success.

Final Thoughts

Math Shed and Spelling Shed are pretty good programs for supplementing what your child is learning. They wouldn’t be good for teaching, but they’re not designed for that. If you have a child who is super into technology (rather than books or worksheets), this would be a really good program. It gives you the “flashcard” method in a really fun way.

Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew are discussing their experiences with Math Shed and Spelling Shed this week, so make sure to click through and read about their experiences too.

Blessings,

ladybug-signature-3 copy

Pursuing Art

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.

I live in a family of artists, literally. My husband does graphic art and comics for a living, and our older boys are following closely in his footsteps by doing illustrations for some new stories we’re working on. The younger set also want to begin learning all about art, so this review from Artistic Pursuits Inc. was well received. Because I’m not much of a “traditional” artist (I knit and crochet, of course, but that’s not so helpful in something like this), I delegated the teaching of Art for Children, Building a Visual Vocabulary to Ballet Boy (16). He and Grasshopper (7) spent several days working on art class together.

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Art for Children, Building a Visual Vocabulary is part of an 8-book set, and each book has 18 lessons. The entire course is designed to take four years, giving your student a complete elementary-level art history education. Each book comes with a DVD and a Blu-Ray with video lessons to go along with the text lessons of the book. We don’t have a player for either of those, so my kids used the book alone and didn’t have any trouble with it (but again – artists).

6DF68DCF-2B33-48B5-9F66-AF30B1C3EDC1The book has a focus of building an understanding of the elements of art, rather than just looking at pictures. Students are given lessons in landscapes, still life, animals, figures, and portraits. Rather than going through in order, we ended up selecting lessons based on the supplies we had on hand. (Yes, they’re artists, but we work mostly with pencil and/or pen and ink in our family.) This meant that the kids dove in to the still life lessons.

From Ballet Boy:

2009465F-4A4C-4D5A-837F-6DB4154FB0E7To start off the still life lesson, they provide examples of images that capture the essence of what still life is supposed to do, which is to capture your imagination and fascinate you with everyday items. It casts normal household things in a new light that draws you in, holding your interest. For example, they show a van Gogh painting of a table covered with various sized, colored, and shaped dishes. They explain to you something that you don’t even notice that you’re noticing. That is the focal point, the thing the artist wants you to see. In this case, he wanted you to notice a chipped dish, and so all of the dishes on the table are arranged in such a way as to draw you into the painting. All of them are angled the exact way to catch the light just right to make it so that you focus on exactly what he wants you to, like a magician. The art of still life is not, therefore, in drawing what you see, but it is in capturing the attention of the viewer and making them see it through your eyes and feel it the exact way you want them to.

12121422-6B69-4DEB-8E5A-5E4812297032The way I taught this to my little brother was, as I was going over the information, he was really confused. I had to make him learn to take what he was looking at tell his own story through the items. I had to demonstrate to him how to make the art “make itself” – how he could feel something when he was drawing and let the drawing show him where he should draw the next line. You can never fully understand still life until you know how to put feeling into your lines. To do this, I had him draw a triangle. Then I made him draw another one. Then I had him throw in a square for good measure. As he saw what was happening, I could see his eyes light up. What was happening was a mosaic of shapes, all with that feeling in them – the feeling of confidence in what you were doing. Knowing where the next line needed to be. He filled a page, every square inch, with shapes and shadings. Then I made him look at what he’d drawn very carefully, for at least five minutes. When he was able to see the outline of a horse hidden away in those lines, I drew a line right down the middle of his page and on one side (his choice) I drew a tiny circle and colored it yellow. I said, “Everything on the yellow side is in the light. The other side is in the dark. Color it black.” He did, and he ended up with a very stylized, elegant horse drawn in a cubist style.

Since then, he’s been doing cubist drawings of everything, so I figured we’d take a stab at putting that feeling into another style of art. He and I worked together to create this still life of a NERF gun. He truly has begun pursuing the artist in himself!

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Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been working with a variety of books from Artistic Pursuits Inc. and reviewing them this week. Click through to learn more!

Learning Math, one page per day

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.

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Basic math skills are so important for kids. Starting strong when they are young really makes a difference, especially if they’re excited to start learning. That’s why I was super interested in the idea of the PreK Math Starter Kit from Page a Day Math for Dragonfly (4 years old). We had (and are having) such great success with him reading that I wanted to take advantage of his eagerness to start learning more, and this kit was the perfect thing. Page a Day Math was so generous to us reviewers, however, and didn’t limit us to just one product for one child. In addition to the PreK Math Starter Kit (physical books), I was able to get downloadable copies of their other Math Starter Kits for Grasshopper (7 years old), and some of the handwriting books for him as well.

What is Page a Day Math?

Well, just like it sounds, these books are designed to help your kids with their math facts – with just one worksheet per day. Dragonfly, as mentioned before, has been using the PreK kit, and Grasshopper has been using the Multiplication Starter Kit (he’s pretty strong with his addition and subtraction facts already) and I Can Write in Cursive! My first cursive writing book.

How We Used It

B05E8DDE-CC2E-4A30-ADE7-509CA57F9AB1Page a Day Math Kits are designed to be a math fact supplementation system. It works with any math curriculum you’re already using, because its goal is simply to drill the math facts into kids so they internalize them over the long run. We received a physical set of the PreK kit and digital versions of the others. The first thing I did was to go over their website and look for the kits I wanted. Once they were purchased, I downloaded them to my computer (zip files) and then was able to extract them and print out the books I needed. I printed the pages on both sides so that it would feel more like a book, and then put the sheets into a folder for Grasshopper. Of course, none of this was necessary for the physical books that came in the mail.

Each day, I would have my kids do one page of math. It’s mostly tracing numbers and solving problems. In the PreK level (for ages 3-5), you start the day by teaching your child one math fact (0+1=1, for example). Go over it with them a couple of times, then they start tracing the numbers. You can see an example of what I mean in the photograph at the top of this post. There are three sets of numbers to trace (on the first day, it’s 0, 1, and 2; on the second day, 1, 2, and 3; third day, 2, 3, and 4; and so on). Then they trace math facts. As you continue through the books, more math facts are introduced. It’s very slow and methodical, so it’s never overwhelming for the child. At such a young age, it’s important to keep things very simple, and Page a Day Math does a great job with that – just one new problem each day. And then lots and lots of tracing. I love that there’s so much tracing involved here because it really helps kids to learn what each number looks like and how to write it. Such vital skills!

DFC761C1-E642-4409-A5BD-C08061167615The PreK Starter Kit consists of 10 books, and each one has 2 weeks (14 lessons) of instruction. It starts very simply, as I described above. As more problems are introduced, they are added into the “review” section of each lesson (the back side of the page), but the front side is primarily dedicated to the new addition fact. By the end of the tenth book, students are adding up to 10+10=20.

The Multiplication Starter Kit is very basic as well, starting at the very beginning of the concept (0 x 1 = 0). It mixes in addition and subtraction, too, so there’s no loss of skill while learning a new one. It is mostly tracing, just like the PreK kit, but the main difference is that students are expected to write in the answer themselves. (In the PreK kit, it’s traced all the way through.) The Multiplication Kit has 12 books with 14 lessons each, and by the end of the kit students are doing all standard times tables through the 12s.

The handwriting books are basically the same as the math books, but with letters instead of numbers. Grasshopper is pretty good at writing in print at this point, so he was excited to begin learning cursive. I started him with the basic book, which teaches the uppercase and lowercase cursive alphabet, one letter (two sides of the page) per day. While he’s enjoying this, I think he’ll be even more excited to work on it when two things happen: first, when he gets his cast off (next week!); and second, when the letters start connecting into words.

What We Think of it

Each day when I ask Dragonfly if he wants to do his “number tracing,” I get a very enthusiastic “Yes!!” He calls the main dog mascot, Mo, his “best friend.” It’s really cute. We keep a pencil in the box with all of the workbooks so it’s always ready to go. He insists that his pencil must be “needle sharp,” so sometimes we have to sharpen it for him before he begins, but it’s always in the box so we can find it. I have never once had even an iota of hesitation from him over it. And he is learning. I love watching him make the connection between just counting and reading/recognizing numbers. He gets excited when he realizes what he’s seeing, and it’s magical to watch. I know it sounds like he’s my first kid when I gush like this, but the fact is that it doesn’t matter that he’s the fourth – watching your child learn (every child), is the most gratifying thing in the world.

Grasshopper, on the other hand, is much like his oldest brother. He likes to learn, but he doesn’t like formal lessons. That said, he liked tracing the letters in the cursive lessons. I am convinced that if it wasn’t for his broken arm, he’d be more engaged in the lessons. Even though the cast is on his non-dominant arm, he still has to hold it at an awkward angle in order to hold the page in place.

Page a Day Math is a fantastic product, and I’m so glad we’ve had the opportunity to review it. It will definitely keep a prominent place in our lessons through the summer. Both boys will be using these workbooks for many, many more weeks.

Blessings,

ladybug-signature-3 copy

 

 

Over 50 members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing Page a Day Math this week. Make sure to click through to read their thoughts, too.

Fermenting Food (Fermentools 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.

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I don’t have much experience with fermented foods, but I’ve read that they’re very good for you (due to all the probiotics produced during the fermentation process). So I was curious about the idea of using the Starter Kit from Fermentools to give fermenting a try.

The Fermentools Starter Kit was designed to be able to turn any wide-mouth Mason jar into a fermenting vessel. You provide the jar, food, and  distilled water; Fermentools provides the rest. The kit includes:

  • a glass weight specifically designed to fit inside a wide-mouthed jar
  • a stainless steel lid
  • an airlock
  • two rubber stoppers (one with a hole and one solid)
  • a rubber canning stopper
  • a 1-lb bag of Himalayan powdered salt
  • an instruction guide, which includes a recipe for basic saurkraut

4A57384D-776A-45FF-AC6B-E2524C434AE9When I first opened my kit and read the instruction guide, I didn’t fully understand all the terminology used (“airlock,” for instance), so I found a couple of helpful videos on YouTube to get me started. Then it was time to go to the store, where I bought some wide-mouth jars (I don’t can as much as I wish I did, so I only had a single regular-mouth jar on hand) and asparagus. I’d read that asparagus ferments really well, and I was able to get a fantastic deal on it at the store. I got home and started it right away. From what I’d read, you don’t need to add other stuff to the ferment if you don’t want to, so I opted to try just a very, very basic recipe. I prepared a 2% brine solution using the salt provided with the Fermentools kit and distilled water, poured it over my asparagus, added the glass weight to the top of the jar (this is to keep the food below the level of the brine for proper fermenting), lidded my jar, and waited.

BEB1F8DF-78C7-4355-A707-C6BC07F46EECTo prepare the brine, all you need is non-chlorinated water (so no tap water) and the salt included in the kit. The salt is super finely ground so that it will dissolve in cold water. On the bag of salt, there’s a table to help you figure out the proper solution you need/want. On one side of the bag, it tells the number of grams you need based on the amount of water you’re using. On the other side, it gives an approximation gram-to-tablespoon ratio, so it’s more user-friendly for an average home cook.

Fast forward one week, and I took my jar out of the cabinet where I’d stashed it. (You’re supposed to keep the fermenting jar somewhere dark.) I was surprised to see that things were a bit bigger than they’d started. In fact, there was a bit of liquid coming up out of the airlock, which surprised me. It probably shouldn’t have, because upon rereading the instruction pamphlet, it says to leave extra space for this in your jar. But that was okay. It didn’t leave a mess in the cupboard or anything. I popped open the jar and gave each of my kids a piece of asparagus. I expected them all to love it because we love pickles in our house. And the teenagers did like it okay. But the younger crowd didn’t like it at all. I liked it okay, but it wasn’t my favorite thing ever.

I didn’t want this review to be a fizzle, so I tried my hand at fermented cucumbers. You know, because my kids like pickles. But because of quarantine, I didn’t have a lot of “off the wall” ingredients on hand (like fresh dill), so I again went with a very basic recipe: thickly sliced cucumbers and brine. I followed the same steps as I had for the asparagus, but this time I used a 3.5% brine solution. A few days later, Grasshopper and I tried the cucumbers. He didn’t like those, either. And frankly, I didn’t love them either.

So, thus far, our fermenting journey hasn’t been super successful. I’m not at a point where I’m considering giving up yet, but I probably will take a break until I can get my hands on some of those more unusual ingredients. I really do want to have a fermenting success story, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I do know, however, that some of my fellow Homeschool Review Crew members have done great things with the Fermentools Starter Kit, so go to the blog there and read some of those reviews. I know I plan to, just to see where I went wrong!

Blessings,

ladybug-signature-3 copy

Beautiful Handwriting ebook (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.

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Many people dislike their own handwriting. I am not one of those people. But I was interested in reviewing the Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting ebook from Everyday Education, LLC anyway because it promises to be able to teach you how to write in italics. The idea of that really appealed to me, and that was my intention of how to use the book. But then when I started working on it, a couple of my kids (Grasshopper, age 7, and Scorpion, age 13) showed some interest too, so we went back to the beginning and worked on it together. And that made it even better!

Janice Campbell, the owner of Everyday Education, used a book when her first child was young that taught reading and handwriting at the same time. She loved its approach, and was excited to use it again when she had another child ready for that teaching. Imagine her dismay when the book was out of print! Many of us would have given up at that, perhaps feeling sorry for ourselves for a few days, but we would have eventually moved on and found another curriculum. Janice didn’t do that. She tracked down the author, Caroline Joy Adams, of her beloved book and convinced her to republish the book with Janice’s company. This way, Janice was sure to have the book in print for a very long time, for any homeschooling families who might want to use it.

55FF7DC5-F0BE-4953-B071-56DBAE28E15DThe book has six chapters, and the first five are primarily teaching a child to read (although the writing is intimately involved with that process). Chapter 1 is an overview for the teacher. Chapter 2 teaches the alphabet. Chapter 3 is basic English sounds and blends and words that use them. (For example, “short a,” “short e,” “sh, th blends,” “compound words,” etc). Chapter 4 is similar to chapter 3, but with different sounds (long vowels, more complicated blends, etc). Chapter 5 are the most complicated parts of English: silent letters, endings, contractions, and more). Chapter 6 is where the author suggests starting if your main goal is to simply improve your own handwriting. This is the chapter for people who already know how to read and are learning more beautiful handwriting techniques. This is where I would have spent most of my time except that, as I mentioned before, my kids joined me. Even if it had just been Scorpion and me, we would have worked there, but Grasshopper doesn’t read very strongly yet, so we started at the beginning with all of us.

The PDF ebook is printable, and because of the nature of the book (lots of practice pages), that would be a great approach for a lot of families. For us, I just set up my iPad on the table to the right page, and we all worked onto regular paper instead. When you’re learning the alphabet (which I actually recommend, even if you’re mostly interested in the italics portion of the book), the instruction/practice pages teach you the letter, an example of a word with that sound, and how to write that letter, stroke by stroke. It’s that last part that makes me recommend going through the alphabet pages even if you’re already a proficient reader. Most of these were “normal,” but a couple of them were different from the way we (my family) normally write. I’m thinking specifically the lowercase e, the capital M, and the capital Q.

I have really enjoyed doing these handwriting lessons with my boys. It gives us something to do together during the school day, and those types of things can be few and far between when you’re working with as wide an age range as I am. And for me to be able to join them was really special too. Because Grasshopper was joining us, we moved slower than we otherwise would have, but that was okay too. I fully intend to keep going with these lessons, and we’ll make it through the entire book soon enough.

Don’t forget to read more reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew.

Blessings,

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Reading at 4 years old! (Reading Unlocked 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.

Sometimes as a member of the Homeschool Review Crew, you get assigned products that you’re unsure will be a good fit for your family. Part of being on the team means you do your best to give those products a fair trial, and in that process you are sometimes right about it not having been a good fit. But sometimes you are very, very wrong, and a product ends up being an amazing asset for one or more of your children. Reading Unlocked has been such a product for us.
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Because I didn’t want to mix things up for Grasshopper now that he’s finally getting the hang of reading, I decided to use Reading Unlocked with Dragonfly, who is just 4 years old. I was really hesitant to start him out because he’s so young (in fact, I asked specifically to not be on this review because of that). And there were moments in the early days when I was sure I was right. It was really frustrating at first. But, as we kept on it (admittedly too slow and irregularly for a while), things started to click for him. I was stunned, and ridiculously pleased. But let’s back up a bit and talk about the program itself.

39E87083-CA5E-4168-8334-6EAFD4B7719BWhen you first go to the website, you have to log in (of course). When you do, you’re taken immediately to to the lessons. There are 3 levels of the program, and by going to the settings (which are available straight from the lesson page; there is no “parent portal” as near as I can tell) you choose which one is best for your child. The choices are given in examples rather than descriptions. Because Dragonfly has never had any sort of reading instruction before, we started at  “a b c d sun red pot mud.” Also in the settings, you can choose which lesson within the level (each stage has 25 lessons) and whether you want a British or American accent. 

6037B4A8-715A-4D8E-96FB-61EBA0CE755FLessons at level one teach letters and simple CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. Each instruction and teaching moment is spoken by the program itself, and children are instructed to do things like “say it with me” followed by a letter sound, touch the correct picture associated with a specific beginning sound, write letters on paper, read words and match the right picture, and more. 4C8395B8-E16E-435C-9827-F4EAB2EF6739Periodically, parents are asked which of the recently taught sounds the child knows. You “give” the answer by toggling the switch red or green. Any letters that are left red are reviewed one more time before moving on to reading words.
It’s a very simple program, but it works! A month ago, my 4-year-old could recognize an A (because it’s the first letter of his name), but that was as far as his “reading skills” went. Now, he can easily tell me the sounds of 5 letters and read words like “can,” “pan,” “nap,” “cat,” and “cap.” My skepticism about this program, even for young children, is gone, and I can’t recommend it enough.

3658CF68-3B41-4583-8F7E-17875FA2FCF0Now, all that gushing said, there are a couple of issues I need to address. Earlier, when I mentioned there was a choice between a British and American accent, that is technically true, but I must have changed the setting to American and clicked save a dozen times or more. But every time a lesson started (immediately after clicking save), it had reverted to the British accent. That didn’t cause too much trouble, but that could be because I was super involved and basically repeated everything for my son (much slower than the program). Because it wouldn’t allow the American accent setting to stick, it used British phrases too, like “draw” instead of “write” in reference to letters and words. Also, the recording of the voice wasn’t the same from slide to slide, which I found a little distracting, but it didn’t seem to bother Dragonfly. And finally, you could hear the white noise on the recording a little before and after each instruction. Again, not a deal breaker, but potentially an issue for some kids.

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So, in conclusion, Reading Unlocked is a fantastic program, but it has a few minor bugs that would be nice to see adjusted. That said, will we continue to use it? Absolutely! 

Blessings,

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As always with my reviews, other members of the Homeschool Review Crew are also discussing this product this week. Make sure to click through for more information!

Music for Babies, Before and After Birth ~ Preborn Prodigy 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.

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Have you ever wondered just how much certain types of sounds and music influence a person? This day and age, we all accept that babies in the womb can hear us, but how much influence does what we say have on them?

Sara Bumgarner, the owner of Preborn Prodigyhas done some research for you, and the answer to both questions is, A LOT! So she created three albums using her research, and I’m going to tell you a bit about them today.

In Prayers and Blessings for the Unborn Child, we hear gentle music, which is overlaid with promises, many of which come directly from Scripture. The narrator reads promises and assurances in many categories: 

  • Health and Delivery talks about the unborn baby’s health and development, as well as prayers for an easy and safe delivery
  • Protection and Provision includes prayers and promises from scripture about God’s sovereignty and role as provider in our lives
  • Spiritual Growth and Dedication reads scriptures to teach how to live a godly life
  • Identity and Destiny is from the point of view of God, assuring babies of who they are and their purpose
  • Spirit, Soul, and Body has blessings parents want for their children but don’t always think of 
  • Salvation tells about Jesus and what salvation means and how to get it
  • Blessing and Lullaby is a sweet song directly from the Old Testament, and is sung rather than spoken

The idea behind this record is to play it while Mom is still pregnant, and the blessings and promises contained will offer assurances to the baby that he is loved, wanted, and not a mistake, before he is even born. A pregnant mom can play the record while she goes about her day, or she can play it over headphones on her belly during a few moments of quiet time.

Prayers and Blessings for Newborn to 99 is basically the sale album, but words are adjusted to be appropriate for anyone who has already been born. The tracks counteract the “bad stuff” we sometimes tell ourselves: “I’m a failure, I’m a mistake, I don’t matter.” 

Math Prodigy is very different from the other two albums. Instead of reading prayers and blessings, it reads math concepts and equations over the top of gentle, pleasing music. It sounds strange, and it was at first, but it is based on the experience of a math professor (who Ms. Bumgarner saw on a TV news show) who had read about math to his pregnant wife’s belly. Fast forward 5 years, and their child was a math genius. Whether a coincidence (Dad was a math professor, after all) or because of the readings, it’s an interesting idea, and one that Preborn Prodigy ran with in creating this album. Tracks include

  • Introduction to Math
  • Addition and Subtraction   
  • Multiplication and Division    
  • Fractions    
  • Decimals and the Order of Operations

I played these albums for my kids at bedtime (they usually listen to audiobooks anyway). They thought they were weird at first, but they warmed up fairly quickly. They probably won’t ever ask to listen to them, but they won’t say “no” if I put it on.

I received digital downloads of these albums, but they are primarily available as CDs. (We don’t have a CD player.) Math Prodigy is available only in English, but the two Prayers and Blessings albums are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, German, Hebrew, and Afrikaans. Each CD (one album in one language) is available for $14.99. You can also purchase an instrumental version for $9.99 or a PDF of the written blessings (to read aloud to your child) for $6.99.

Many members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing these albums this week, from all walks of life. I encourage you to click through and learn more.

Blessings,

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Math Apps for All Ages ~ Math Galaxy 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.

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I don’t know about your kids, but my kids love having iPad time. I have to be pretty strict with them, because they would spend all day watching movies and playing games if I wasn’t. When I found out about Math Galaxy, I requested this review so that I could “reclaim” some of that time for productivity. I selected apps for each of my three school-age kids (3rd Grade Math, Pre-Algebra, and Algebra), as well as 2 supplemental apps (Word Problems Fun and Addition and Subtraction Balloon Pop). Part way through the review period, I received an email from the founder of Math Galaxy letting me know of new app they’d just released, Preschool Math, so I downloaded that one for Dragonfly (4 years old). I will talk about each one in turn here. Math Galaxy also offers ebooks, and I will touch on those at the end of this review as well.

3rd Grade Math

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This was for Grasshopper (surprise, surprise – he seems to be becoming a large part of my blog these days!). He is technically only in 2nd grade, but I thought he was fairly advanced in math, so I wanted to try this with him. The screenshot above shows the main menu, and each of those categories has many lessons. For example, “numbers in base 10” has lessons in adding, subtracting, estimating, and place value. “Operations and Algebraic Thinking” is mostly multiplication and division. And so on.

Because this was officially above his “pay grade,” we stuck mostly with the Base 10 category. As I had hoped, he really enjoyed it. He needed a bit of instruction because we haven’t used base 10 blocks much (he knows the concept of place value, he just didn’t recognize the blocks), but then he was off and running.

Pre-Algebra Fundamentals

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Scorpion has been working through Pre-Algebra this year, so I requested this as a supplement for him. Because he’s done some pre-algebra already, he jumped around a bit, spending time mostly in Decimals and Word Problems.

Scorpion tells me that the program was neither too easy not too hard. It covered the material well and was enjoyable to work through. He would recommend to other students as a good option for extra practice.

Algebra Fundamentals 

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Ballet Boy has done Algebra I off and on (usually depending on what curriculum we have at a particular time), so he, like his brothers, had a bit of a jump start on his app. He picked up where he left off in previous math book, Linear Equations. He had to be reminded somewhat about the math, but it came back to him quickly. He too quite enjoyed using the apps.

Preschool Math

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Dragonfly is 4, and he’s at the age where he’s really interested in learning. He was so excited to get a math program of his own, and he’s been the one to actually use it the most! Because he’s only 4 still, I haven’t done a whole lot of formal education with him. For this reason, we avoided things like Matching Sums and focused instead on keeping things fun with Tracing Numbers and Froggie Count. His favorite activity was Tracing Numbers, specifically the 5. I’m not entirely sure why, but he gravitated to the 5 every time. 

Addition and Subtraction Balloon Pop

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This app is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Choose the difficulty of problems you want to work, and then pop the balloon with the answer to the problem at the top of the screen. This is more game than work, and my kids treated as such – Grasshopper loved it!

Word Problems Fun

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This app is an adventure game for one to four players. You select a player and move around the board, exploring “caves” and answering math problems along the way. The screenshot above is from just “inside a cave,” where we’ve just answered the problem correctly and now have the option of going inside properly. This wasn’t our favorite app.

Ebooks

In addition to these apps, we also received over 30 ebooks from Galaxy. The books are large workbooks full of practice worksheets. I didn’t use these as much as I wish I could have, but we did use a few pages from the ones that matches our studies. 

Each worksheet is a riddle. There’s a question and a series of boxes along the top, and math problems in the bulk of the page. Students solve the problem and then find the correct answer from the answer bank, each of which is assigned a letter. Put the letters in the boxes to solve the riddle. (For example: What do you give a snake at bedtime? A good night hiss.)

The ebooks were fantastic to have on hand to quickly print off some extra practice for the kids, especially on days when I wanted them to go screen free. My only complaint is that the answer page for each one came directly after the work page, unlike most books where you get a book full of worksheets followed by all the answer keys together. That’s not really a big thing; in fact, as I think about it while I’m writing at this moment, it’s probably just that it was an unfamiliar way of doing things for me, and therefore I didn’t like it much.

Overall, we have had a good time working with Math Galaxy over the past few weeks, and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to do so!

Blessings,

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Math Galaxy has tons of different apps, and members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing them all this week. Some members are even focusing more on the ebooks than the apps (which, by the way, are available only for Apple, not Android). I highly recommend you head over to the Crew blog to learn more about the huge variety of apps and books offered by Math Galaxy!

Learning About the Past: Book 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.

I’ve read a few YWAM Publishing books in the past, but always with my older boys. I was excited when the opportunity arose this time because Grasshopper (7 years old) is old enough to listen. We chose from the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series, Corrie ten Boom: Keeper if the Angels’ Den. I chose this book for two reasons. First, Corrie ten Boom was used as a sermon illustration by our pastor at church a few weeks ago (around the time we were selecting the book we wanted to review). Second, Grasshopper and I had read another true story from the WWII era this school year (Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes), and he wanted to learn more. 
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About YWAM Publishing 

YWAM Publishing started in 1972 as an outreach of YWAM (Youth with a Mission), printing and distributing gospel tracts during the Munich Olympics. Within the first year, they had expanded to books, distributed all throughout the Eastern Bloc countries. Now located in Seattle, they have over 300 titles of their own. They also work as distributors for other Christian companies, selling books, DVDs, and resources for homeschooling families. 

YWAM Publishing’s Christian Heroes: Then and Now series has 49 books, and their Heroes of History series has 29 titles. Many of these also have study guides to make the biographies into a complete unit study.

About Corrie ten Boom 

Corrie ten Boom was a watchmaker in her father’s at-home clock shop, the first woman of the trade in the Netherlands. She was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis as a teenager and spent 6 months in bed because of it (turned out to be appendicitis). As a young adult, she created many clubs for other young men and women in her town; within just a few years one of her clubs had grown to many hundreds of members and their annual performance drew an audience of more than 1000. 

The Germans invaded Holland in 1940, when Corrie (properly, Cornelia, makes after her mother) was 48. They promptly shut down her clubs. Two years later, in 1942, a woman showed up on their doorstep, claiming to be a Jew in need of help. Casper, Corrie’s father, agreed immediately. He read the Bible twice a day, every day, to his family and believed with all his heart that the Jews were God’s chosen people, and he would therefore do anything he could to help them. This the ten Boom home, Beje (bay-yay), became known as The Hiding Place.

On February 28, 1944, all of the ten Booms were arrested after having been outed by a Dutch informant. Her father and sister, Betsie, died in custody. 

After the war, Corrie was released and became a world traveler, public speaker, and author. Her most famous book is The Hiding Place. She died on her birthday in 1983, at age 91.

How we used it

As suggested, Grasshopper and I read (well, we are still reading) this book together. I didn’t use the full study guide (of which I received a digital copy), but I have been utilizing the comprehension questions with him. He was very wary about starting to read the book, but from the very first paragraph he was hooked. He has asked to read more regularly since I convinced him to start listening the first time. In summary, YWAM Publishing biographies have found a new generation of love in my family!

Blessings,

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Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing a variety of YWAM biographies this week, from both series. Make sure to click through and learn more!