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TOS Crew Review — Science Weekly

April 8th, 2011

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Need a little science in your week?

Hands on science is often a favorite subject for students. Since they could talk they learned to ask, “Why?” I am always on the lookout for products that will keep my kids learning about the world around them, encourage their curiosity, and keep their hands busy. Science Weekly works to do all of those things.

Product: Science Weekly

Details: A publication geared toward students K-6 that offers a close up look at various science related topics. Each subscription comes with 15 issues (4 page booklet) over the course of the school year and has 6 different levels available to target your child’s specific age.

Price: $19.95 per student per year or if you order 20 or more only $4.95 per student (so, if you are getting more than 5, you are better off with the group discount — they do not all have to be from the same level)

What we loved . . .

  • Built for multi-level learning. The little magazine comes in different levels from Kindergarten through 5th/6th grade. If you have a few kids at different levels, you can still learn together, while they each have their own paper at their grade level. The teacher’s guide covers all levels.
  • Variety of activities. Each sheet comes with articles to read, puzzles to complete, and activities to work on to reinforce the information presented. Most of them could probably be completed in 30 minutes or so for the entire level. There was some interesting information and activities, but nothing too complicated.
  • Easy to use. This was easy filler material as my kids could for the most part read and interact with it on their own. We did some of the activities together to discuss the material also.
  • Volume discount. While the individual subscriptions are a bit pricey, the group rate is pretty reasonable. So, find another family or two if you are considering this — ask around your co-op or support group and get the classroom rate rather than the individual rate.

Some considerations . . .

  • Teacher’s guide only comes with 25 subscriptions. So, if you are ordering fewer than that it doesn’t seem that you have an option to get the guide.  The guide is only a four page booklet covering all of the levels, but has answers to the questions, activity ideas and tips on the weekly labs. It also helps you by offering some questions to initiate conversation on the topic and to follow up the activities to check learning and retention. You could still teach the material without it, but it would not have as much meat to it.
  • Younger levels seem too basic. Maybe I’m just used to pulling my kindergartener and first grader in with everybody else, but pretty much all they got out of their papers were how long to wash their hands. The upper levels talked in more detail about viruses and vaccines and contamination and other more detailed topics.
  • Tries to cover lots of subjects. Trying to integrate other material, I think they end up short changing the depth of the science presented. They have kids practice writing tally marks and riddles; space that would be better used learning more about science topics. They showed cells and talked about how long they live in different surfaces, but it seemed confusing to me. They said that the flu only lives a few minutes on skin and yet they emphasize handwashing for 30 seconds. However, if it’s more than three minutes since we were in contact with someone with the flu, aren’t those cells already dead? Maybe they should have emphasized the importance of not touching your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth as much as they emphasized hand washing.

Science Weekly has a good idea — to bring science easily and naturally into the child’s world. I don’t know if they really deliver. The topic is introduced, but not really covered. It could be helpful to those looking for additional at level reading material and want something fresh delivered to their home every couple weeks during the school year.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Science Weekly as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.



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TOS Crew Review — Go go Kabongo!

April 4th, 2011

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I love when education comes cleverly disguised in fun games, my kids do, too. Go Go Kabongo while still in beta form has plenty of educational fun to offer its subscribers. This is geared toward 4-7 year olds and since I have two that fall in the category, we figured we could give it a try.

At first my daughter thought the characters were a little creepy, but they have a quirky appeal to them and she was won over pretty quickly.

For example, here’s Karl:

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You might catch him saying chuckle worthy things like, “I have never felt better . . . unfortunately.” I don’t know that the kids grasped his humor, but I couldn’t help snickering as they played.

Product: Go Go Kabongo

Details: An online world for kids to build pre-reading skills in a fun, interactive environment that rewards them for learning.  Each habitat offers three different learning games and a different alien-like host to take you through them. The games involve letter recognition, sound identification, sequences, mazes, and more.

Price: $4.95 per habitat, but if you sign  up now you can get two free. There currently are three total. This is a one time purchase.

What we loved . . .

  • Builds pre-reading skills. While my kids are kind of more in the early reader category they did still enjoy these games. However, they are definitely geared toward the pre-reader as I would say most of the games are to help build reading readiness. They seem like they would be effective in doing this, but I didn’t have any non-readers to test it out on, except my 10 month old and he doesn’t know how to use the mouse, yet.
  • Offers rewards. Each game provides rewards that they can choose. Sometimes they can pick a sticker for the comic book area, a decoration for their treehouse, or an item for their skate park.
  • Easily navigable. My kids found their way around without any help from me. They easily knew what to do by listening to the characters and following the arrows. If they weren’t reading they might have needed some help finding the map and knowing what the items were that they hovered over initially. After playing a couple times they would likely remember what was where, but they would likely not be able to read “Avatar Maker” and “Comic Book Maker.”
  • Helpful emails. Each week you receive an email update about what your child did that week. If they were not there the email lets you know they were missed. If they did an activity you will get an entry like this in the email:
  • Game Level Skill
    Design A Door 4 Spatial Awareness: Being able to visually determine the placement of objects in space helps readers begin to identify sight words and particular letter groups as representing certain sounds.
  • More on the email. The email also gives you tips on extending the activities and topics that they cover as well as other online resources that you might find helpful.

Some considerations . . .

  • Beta version. As a beta version you will still find some glitchy areas. Sometimes the rewards for the games would be blank rather than images of their choices. Sometimes they would say, “Decoration 22,” and sometimes they do what they are supposed to.
  • Limited habitats. Each habitat has three activities so you are basically able to get up to 9 minigames total. I expect they will add more as the site grows, but for now it offers somewhat limited gaming variety. However, at a price of $4.95 for three games, you’re not going to go wrong either.

Go Go Kabongo was a winner with my kids. Not fantastically so, but they did enjoy it and played it in their free time on occasion. A couple of the activities involved identifying certain letters (b then p then d) and this was great for my child that struggles with reversals at times. The characters were cute, as long as you could get past their creepiness, the games were simple, but fun, and my kids did enjoy decorating their treehouse and tweaking their avatar. Lots of winning elements in a program that can benefit the pre-reader in your house.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through GoGoKabongo as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.



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TOS Crew Review — Zeezok movie review

April 1st, 2011

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Great books and great movies need to be savored. A quick viewing, or a quick read through might be enjoyable, but you will get far more out of a book or movie if you take some time to discuss the contents and participate in activities intended to draw out the meaning and experiences in the story.

Zeezok has taken films with educational value and created movie guides to accompany them. These can easily fill a week of activities or be spread out over a few weeks. Students should view the movie, and possibly even read or listen to the book as well before or during the completion of the other suggested activities.  We did choose to listen to the audio book during our car rides so we could all have a good comparison of both the book and movie, although the guide is based on the movie.

The movie and book that we studied was My Side of the Mountain. It tells the story of a boy, Sam Gribley who went out into the mountains to try to prove himself as an outdoorsman. He lives on his own, relying on his naturalist know-how to survive. We loved how he trained a falcon to help him hunt food. He made clothes of deer skin and stored up provisions for the long, cold winter that would come to the mountains. The story tells of the challenges of living away from civilization and modern day conveniences and prompted lots of conversation in our house about what it would be like to live on your own like that. Some of my kids would jump at the chance (but probably be home by dinner), and others had no desire to prove anything by leaving the comforts of home. Either way, we enjoyed learning from Sam Gribley’s experiences.

Product: My Side of the Mountain Movie Guide

Details: A downloadable 32 page teacher’s guide to lead students through a middle-school unit study based on the movie My Side of the Mountain.

Price: $12.99

What we loved . . .

  • Movie day! I don’t use videos or movies as part of my teaching day very often, so for my kids to watch a movie as part of class was pretty exciting. Brought back memories of junior high science and the thrill of a period “off” when you saw the tell-tale movie or slide projector in the back of the room. Well before the day of DVDs, of course.
  • Interactive. After viewing the movie we got to dig into the guide and the suggested activities. While many of the activities were discussions of various aspects of the movie and related topics, they did also have a good representation of activities that required internet research, drawing, creative writing, outdoor observation, and other related tasks.
  • Great for the whole family. While this is geared toward middle school kids, we watched the movie together and read the book together. We also enjoyed some of the discussions in the movie guide together. Some of the topics obviously got a little over the younger one’s heads, but they all participated at some point. The young ones definitely enjoyed the nature walk and discussion of wilderness survival.
  • Summaries and answer keys. No good teacher’s guide could be without an answer key and summaries to jog your memory. They had helpful recaps of sections of the movie and had all the answers so I knew if my kids were on the right track.
  • Well designed. The movie guide gives you the activities and one option for going through the activities. Families could easily tweak the topics and cover them in a different order or more slowly if desired. Using all the activities would definitely give the viewer a good background to the various issues, animals, and characters in the movie, and book
  • Worldview discussion. We are really big on worldview discussion in our house, so I was excited to see a discussion outline centered specifically around worldview. This took the movie to a personal level and helps draw out some of the philosophical undertones in the film and book. I would have liked to see even more in this area including exploration of the worldview of Thoreau and possibly the movie director.

Some considerations . . .

  • You will need other materials. Obviously, if you are doing a movie guide you will need to get your hands on the movie as the whole basis for the study. We easily found a copy at our library.
  • This book/movie talks about Thoreau. They focus mostly on his naturalist abilities, but in the movie guide it has an activity which involves memorizing a passage from Thoreau’s book, Civil Disobedience. While it is an interesting passage to discuss (focusing on the responsibility of the individual over the government), I would have rather read and discussed it and left the memory work to Psalm 19 or some passage of Scripture recognizing God’s handiwork in nature.

These movie guides (there are many others available) would add a little pop to many topics of study. Using these guides and the corresponding movies, families can enjoy a change of pace and some interesting conversation. We found it easy to incorporate into our other lessons and enjoyable for each of the kids to participate and learn. Check out their other movie guides as well to see if one might fit a subject you currently have in your studies. And, check out the other reviews since many different movie guides were received and reviewed by other crew members.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Zeezok as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.



TOS Crew Review — Song School Latin

March 30th, 2011

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How many languages can we learn at once? We are in the midst of testing the answer to that question. We of course speak English. We have spent time in recent weeks learning Spanish and Mandarin, and also Latin. So, I guess it is reasonable when I say, “Salve!” that my daughter responds, “Hola!” But, then she grins and says, “Salve, Magistra!” I guess we can learn four languages simultaneously.

I have a love for language for some reason. Whenever I traveled as a child I made a point of learning as much of the language around me as I could. So, I can say words and phrases in about 10 different languages. I can’t get enough of language, and I see the benefit as so many languages overlap here and there. The more we know of others, the more we understand our own as well.

No language is that more true of than Latin. As we delve into Latin words we see hints and clues to the language that even our 10 month old is learning to speak, English.

Latin used to be common place in schools in America. My parents both took Latin. Now, it has seen a resurgence with the classical school movement. Classical Academic Press has taken Latin and created an amazing curriculum that starts off with early elementary students and continues from there.

Here’s some reasons why you might want to bring Latin into your homeschool if you are not already:

I always knew Latin was beneficial to bring into my schedule, but never before found such a fun and easy format to do so. Song School Latin starts for the young learner, geared to kindergarten through 3rd grade. I used it with my five and seven year olds and they both picked it up easily and had incredible fun with it all. Begging to do foreign language? Seriously? Seriously.

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Product: Song School Latin

Details: Student book is a 130 page book with 31 chapters each containing 3-6 pages of activities and lessons. The teacher’s book contains the same pages with answers to all of the activities and a whole host of other activities in the back to supplement your Latin teaching time. These can be used for kids that need extra help, for general reinforcement, or just for some plain old fun.

Price: Student book and teacher book are $22.95 each or buy in a bundle with the flashcard game for $64.95

What we loved . . .

  • Fun from page one. As soon as the package arrived, my kids were drawn to the book and its contents. Great graphics, professional appearance, and appealing to kids.
  • Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. They see it in print, they hear it in song, they repeat it out loud, they answer questions about it, they connect it to their English knowledge, and they learn effortlessly. This program brings the same words before them time and again, but not in a boring redundant way. The kids enjoyed putting their knowledge to music and then repeating the new found phrases as we conversed.
  • Reasonable writing expectation. Kids do a lot of writing some days in all the different subjects that they cover. So, when it comes to foreign language I prefer to focus on the verbal and save their hands. This material does have them do some writing, but it is mostly in the form of tracing letters already on the page. Just another way to help cement these new words in their memory.
  • Ties in to English. There would be little reason to learn a “dead” language if we did not tie it into our lives. Each chapter includes a section that ties at least one of the vocabulary words into an English word that they already may have heard. This helps build and solidify their English vocabulary even during Latin lessons.
  • Entertaining songs. You’ve got to love the songs. Languages must be repeated often to really sink in. With the songs rolling around in your head, the words are naturally repeated and reviewed. At first I would sing the song now and then and my kids would have a quick review of our Latin lesson throughout the day. By the end of the week, I would catch them singing, “My pater is really my father, My mater is really my mom . . .” They had it. No written test required. ;)
  • Includes pronunciation guide. For you non-Latin speakers out there, you don’t need to be intimidated. There is a guide to the different pronunciations and you can easily pick this up with no prior Latin knowledge and teach and learn right along with your kids.

Some considerations . . .

  • You will probably want a workbook for each child. These are consumable books, so they will most likely each want their own. Just sticking to oral work would lose some of the benefits of the programs design.
  • Could use more built in review. They do offer lots of great review tools, each chapter reviews a few earlier words, and there are a few chapters that are strictly review of all previous material. However, I have found that my kids can never get enough review. We definitely re-sing the songs often and each week would review all of the previous vocabulary so nothing is lost as we continue to add on. Any new language needs continual review and exposure to help it sink solidly into long term memory.

Song School Latin brought a wonderful introduction to Latin for my younger kids. I wish I had this years ago for my older kids, but I will definitely be considering their other curriculums for them as well. They put together a great lesson plan and keep the kids from getting bored with a subject that has significant impact on other areas of learning as well.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Classic Academic Press as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — Big IQ Kids

March 24th, 2011

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As my kids get older it is easy to focus on their core texts and let other, but still important, subjects slip a little. Just when I was grappling with how to keep on top of those little areas, Big IQ Kids came to my rescue.

This online program allows kids to learn independently in four essential areas — spelling, vocabulary, US geography, and math. They can just go with the flow of the program or you can customize it to their needs or your current academic focus. I was so grateful to be able to set it up initially, and then let my 6th and 8th graders run with it. I required them to do a lesson in spelling, vocab, and geography each day and it freed me up to work with my other kids knowing that these areas were covered.

Here is an example of the different levels of membership and what they offer you in just one area of the website:

My kids have really enjoyed using this and it takes little oversight on my part. They get excited about advancing and it has really helped my daughter’s spelling in particular. It was a great review of state information as well and has overall been a great fit to teach and review in the four areas covered on their site.

Product: Big IQ Kids

Details: An online program geared to kids K-8, and even adults. The program offers quizzing and lesson helps in spelling, vocabulary, math, and US Geography.

Price: Pricing has a lot of different options, see their pricing page for all the details, but basically, you can get the whole program for $19.99 per month, $99.99 a year. You can also purchase just portions of it for a month or year if you want to target learning in a certain area. Their full program for a full year is really the best price available.

What we loved . . .

  • Lots of free quizzing. Big IQ Kids offers some great stuff on their site that everyone can enjoy. You can have your child spend time quizzing on spelling, geography, math, and vocabulary. However, you cannot save their work or check their progress without setting up a membership that costs money. I think that’s fair. You can play around for free, but if you really want to track the progress and see the program become more customized to the user, you need to put in some money. To see if the premium options would be a good fit for you, you can enjoy a free 7 day full access trial.
  • Game rewards. My kids always love the games. In Big IQ Kids they earn coins for each lesson that they complete. The coins can then be spent in the “arcade.” There are a variety of games, some better than others, but both my kids that used the program found something they enjoyed and would willingly work toward the reward at the end of the lesson.
  • Email updates. Every time they take a quiz, pass a level, or do noteworthy work, I would get an email. It told me the percentage score and in many cases gave me specifics about what they missed. This was great to remind me to check in with them, to follow up on areas of struggle, and to praise them for the great job they were doing in the program.
  • Focuses on success. While the email updates did include their percentage and what they got wrong, it also encourages you to praise your child. My kids did not get discouraged by low scores, because they could repeatedly redo quizzes until they achieved the 100%. This was great. They weren’t stuck somewhere with a poor score, but continued to work hard to get to the next level or master the new content.
  • Great for independent learning. Both my kids that used the program did so with little or no help from me. I checked in with them a couple times a week, read the emails the program sent to me, and answered questions as they came up. I loved the simplicity of use for this and did not need to remind my kids once to get on the site to get their work done. They would even do extra work during their free time because they wanted to get to the next level in certain areas. I love programs that motivate the child to learn even when they don’t have to. ;)

Some considerations . . .

  • The site does contain ads. It may just be in the free portions of the site, but there are ads geared toward kids on the site in various places. Most of the ones that I saw were for games or vacation locations. I didn’t see any offensive ads, but there were ads.
  • The voice on the site is very computerized. At times we did have difficulty understanding some of their words, but most of it you could also read along, so it was not a problem to fill in the blanks left by the occasionally unintelligible host. In general this did not cause a problem, but it is something to be aware of.
  • More drill than instruction. My son commented that no matter how many times they asked him the vocab word he wasn’t going to get it right, because they didn’t give him any help in remembering the definition. They do tell the kids to write the words they get wrong and they do let them know their mistakes, but they try to teach it through repeated drills, not really teaching for understanding. This will be fine for some kids, but my son always needs to know the “why” so he struggled with this method of “teaching.” I was impressed that my kids were good about writing the words three times when the program told them to. However, it is really on the honors’ system that they follow through with this.
  • Might want to check the accuracy of state info. We live in Illinois, obviously, and so we know a bit about this state we live in. And, in the little blurb about our state in the geography section there was some less than accurate information. Just outdated stuff about O’hare and the building formerly known as the Sears Tower. Facts do change over time, and with how much information they carry I’m sure it is difficult to make sure it is all up to date. Well, I emailed them and within the next business day they had changed the information to reflect current data. They also recognized the need to verify the other state’s information. I definitely appreciated their speedy response and their desire to make sure their product is top quality.

We were quite pleased with Big IQ Kids in our home. It was a great fit for our current needs and I love the flexibility of pricing since you can just pay for what you want if you don’t want the complete package. It encouraged learning and really brought about improvement in the areas that it covered.  Love finding products like these that really fill a need.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Big IQ Kids as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — Reading Kingdom

March 7th, 2011

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Let me introduce you to a new friend of ours. My son named him Nate. This friendly owl is helping teach my kids to read and write, and doing a pretty good job of it, I might add.

Through Reading Kingdom, my 5, 7, and 9 year olds are interacting with letters and sounds in a brand new way. This program tackles more than just learning to read. It identifies six skills required for successful reading. The six skills are: sequencing, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar and comprehension. So, it doesn’t start with sounds, it starts with learning sequences. Kids also learn to type in the process since it is a computer based program and they must be able to type to interact with it.

After some time in the introductory levels, my son made it out of Letter Land. He was thrilled when he made it to the soccer field today:
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Reading Kingdom focuses on whole word recognition and alternating between clicking correct words and then typing them out to reinforce the word. This is a great integration of learning styles and keeps the kids as active participants in the learning process. Great for active learners and for kids who might also struggle with reversals. The word-focus is clear and builds one step at a time.

Product: Reading Kingdom

Details: An online program that helps 4-10 year olds learn to read through a third grade level.

Price: $19.99 per month or $199.99 for a year. Additional children are $9.99 each per month

What we loved . . .

  • Game based, but solidly educational. While Reading Kingdom involves games and game type graphics, it is all about learning the skills needed to read. Children interact with helpful cartoon characters to begin building their reading vocabulary.
  • Rechecks learning. The program naturally includes quite a bit of review and retesting. This helps them to confirm mastery of the topics and skills. It is brief, so I did not find it boring to my kids, but it did make sure that they were ready to move on.
  • Teaches the little words. One of the foundational principles for Reading Kingdom is that much of our language is made up of those little words that hold the sentences together, but early readers often miss. So, they focus on them and drill them, and repeat them, and make sure that the kids notice them, read them, and understand them. I think this is a great component of the program.
  • Short sessions. Because reading does involve some tedious exercises, they break it down into very small lessons. If the kids are having fun and want to continue they can easily do more. But, they are not pressed to continue for 45 minutes or more on repetitive lessons that are helpful, but sometimes not very exciting. My son would do one lesson in a sitting, my daughter would sit for three or four. It was nice to have that flexibility and not feel like they were leaving in the middle of something.
  • Excellent program for kids that rush or struggle with letter order. My 9 year old has a tendency to rush. Although she can read, she likes to skip things, filling in the mental gaps as she goes. This program won’t allow that. She has to click what they tell her to. She has to type the letters they ask for. She has to spend the time to slowly make the progress and show what she knows. In order to do well she needs to make sure that she gets letters in the right order and at the right time to move on successfully.

Some considerations . . .

  • Program can be touchy at times. This is my biggest beef with a program that we really liked overall. My 7 year old daughter was getting really frustrated and bored stuck in the training part of the program (Letter Land and Sequences) and she is already a good beginner reader, so I figure I would help her out. **Ahem** I know, I should let them learn and not step in, but I knew she knew this stuff, she just kept making little mistakes in the way she entered the letters. So, I stepped in to save the day. Well, after a few minutes, I realized she was better off without me. ;) On one screen I would type too fast and it would not register my typing. Another page I would try typing instead of clicking the letters and would get it wrong. I was taking her backwards instead of forwards. After a session of failure I did start to have it figured out and began to improve. A few more sessions and I got her out of Letter Land. She is now much more happily and successfully living in the land of Reading and Writing Level 1. And, we both learned a bit in the process.
  • Sometimes I didn’t know where they were going. They have some interesting exercises. They show a sequence of letters and then kids need to pick it out of a longer sequence of letters. They teach apostrophes and quotation marks.  And, while I’m sure they have a purpose, sometimes they just seemed cumbersome to the kids. I understand why the sequences are important, but they just seem to need an awful lot of repetition to get their point across.
  • NOT phonics based. In fact, the author is quite clearly against phonics instruction. She makes some claims that I disagree with regarding phonics, but I guess she is entitled to her professional opinion. I can see the benefit to combing whole language and phonics, but I have worked with too many kids to discredit phonics based programs entirely. I do agree that there are bad phonics programs out there, and many of her criticisms would hold true in those, but there are also great phonics programs that her criticism would not hold up against. To hear all of the differences between this and other reading programs, check out this document.
  • Would be nice if it repeated words at times. This is just a personal preference I suppose. But, there were times when my child would be celebrating a right answer and miss the instructions for the next screen, or would not hear the word they were supposed to type. There was no way to go back and hear it again and so they were left to guess what they were supposed to do.

This was an interesting program, definitely different than other reading program that we have used in the past. Some things we loved, some things that left me sour. You can see for yourself if this program is a great fit for your kids with their free trial. It would definitely be worth giving it a try, and if you have a struggling reader in your home, this could be the key that unlocks the world of reading for them. I would definitely encourage a melding of this with a phonics program, but it can give kids a confidence boost to get them on their way.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Reading Kingdom as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — I See Sam

February 27th, 2011

My early readers are always hungry for books at their level. Books that they can enjoy and not stumble through. Books a fitting length so they don’t get bored half way through. Books made for their little hands and big imaginations.

We had the wonderful opportunity to review a set of books made just for kids getting started on the reading trail and my kids devoured them.

Brooke and Nathan are in first grade and kindergarten and both are enjoying learning to read. Their progress has continued to soar this school year and I was excited to bring them some more books appropriate for their levels. In the few months we have had this, they actually both read through the entire four levels that we received, some with me and some independently. They both agreed that these were fun books to read.

Deluxe Read to Succeed Gift Set

Product:I See Sam by Academic Success for All Learners

Details: We received the little reader books for sets 1-4 (91 books total), flashcards to go along with the sets, a placement and assessment manual, an instructor guide, and some charts and certificates for tracking and rewarding progress.

Price: $160 for the four sets of books. They also sell for $30 each set. The flashcards are $15 for the set.

What we loved . . .

  • Starts from the beginning. The first book of the first level starts with introducing four sounds and creating a story from there. After 26 little readers the child should have reached roughly the beginning of a first grade reading level. This is definitely designed to use with kids first starting to learn to read. As my kids have mastered this early level, we flew through the first set.
  • Clear teacher guidance without being scripted. With an instructors’ guide book and lots of tips throughout the readers, parents can easily teach these books without a lot of prep work and without the dryness of a scripted reading program.
  • Praise based. Throughout the program there are adorable little smiley faces to remind you to praise your child. I know, we all want to praise them and brag on them, but sometimes we are rushing through a lesson or trying to get things done and we forget. I love that these little reminders were there to keep me showering my kids with the praise they deserved for the excellent job they did as we read through the books.
  • Steady progression. The books and stories within each book have a logical progression of sounds, and students easily flow from one to the other as their knowledge of reading grows with each turn of the page. Set one has one story per book with 20-100 words. In sets two and three the stories get a bit longer until in set four the students have two stories in each book and they are 200-400 words. But, by that point the kids are ready for it and reading roughly 60 words per minute. This is where the fluency criteria first appears. In the first sets they do not require speed, just mastery of the words.
  • Reasonable expectations of mastery. For a child to progress they must have mastery. The program gives clear criteria for mastery of each level and help you know when a child is really ready for the next step. They give accuracy and fluency standards. This was great because even though my kindergartner could read without errors, he was a little slower than their standard at one point. So, we took a little break, and reread a few books while his fluency caught up with his phonemic awareness.  Before long he was back on track, and as I mentioned he did finish all the books through level four landing him at roughly a late first or early second grade reading level.

Some considerations . . .

  • Lots of pieces. Of course, since the books are so appropriately sized, there are lots of them. This program does have a lot of pieces to keep together. I would definitely recommend a basket or bin to keep the items together. This is the kind of product I love to use, but will not be able to find all the books a year from now unless they have a handy home.
  • Might need supplementation for the kinesthetic learner. Both my early readers are pretty easy to teach, but I have had others that were not that way. If you have a child that needs to wiggle more you might need to add some activities that keep them up and moving now and then to focus when they need to.

As my kids are both enjoying reading it did not require any leg pulling to get them to pick these books up and read. This program is well thought out and formulated for reading success. With pre-reading, post-reading, and periodic assessments, I see this being a great fit for most kids learning to read. It teaches various reading tips in a natural way within the context of stories, not meaningless exercises. Keeping kids reading, it definitely did that in our house.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Academic Success for All Learners as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — Kid Scoop

February 18th, 2011

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We have read to our children since before they were born. We have books in pretty much every room of the house, with the exception of the laundry room (although with as much time as I spend in there, maybe I should change that). I love to read for fun and learning. So, it would follow naturally that my kids would all be voracious readers and share my love for books. Right?

Well, not so.

One of my kids just recently latched on to the Narnia series and has not stopped reading since. Aside from that, my first grader and kindergartner put the older kids to shame. The young ones do love to read. They are what I thought was supposed to happen in terms of reading success. When a product came along pledging to transform my reluctant readers I figured it was definitely worth a look.
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Product:Kid Scoop

Details: A downloadable product with 365 pages. Each page contains activities and ideas for encouraging reluctant readers.

Price: $97 for the downnloadable product and 12 month access to their online newspaper that comes with even more ideas and activities each month.

What we loved . . .

  • Diversity of materials, activities, and topics. There is no true one size fits all product when it comes to reading, so they packed an incredibly diverse group of topics into this product. Everything from animals and the environment to baseball and optical illusions, bugs and budgeting to mini golf and just about every holiday on the calendar.
  • Shows us that reading is everywhere. Building off of the daily newspaper, Kid Scoop has created loads of activities to get kids reading, skimming, searching, researching, and in general digging in to reading material. I think the hook for us was that this wasn’t just reading to enjoy a story (which for some reason my oldest does not enjoy), it was reading for fun, for a game, for some friendly competition.
  • Free daily emails for a month. Anyone can sign up for their activity of the day email on their website and receive an activity email. We had lots of fun with these daily tasks. They will also give you a sample of some of the simpler ideas you will find in the Reluctant Reader Solution.
  • Free online sample. On the page with their activity packs you will find a free sample that you can download. You will probably have some fun with this, so be prepared to set aside some time to get distracted with learning.
  • Use it again, and again, and again. Since this is a download, after you get it, it’s yours. Print and reprint as much as you want. Print a copy for each of your kids. Print more copies of pages they want to do again. Print a page for you and your child and race to see who finishes first. When you aren’t just restricted to one copy of each page, the possibilities expand.
  • Time tested. Kid Scoop has been around for a number of years. Sections of it appear in newspapers world wide. Kids love it, parents love it, educators love it. It has been well received in a variety of homes and cultures.
  • Gets kids into the newspaper. Because many of the activities build off of the real newspaper, kids get into reading it. Some of my kids already have an interest in the paper, but this was a fun way to get them searching through it even more. I want them to be comfortable with this print medium that has been around for a long time and doesn’t look to be going away soon. One of the goals of Kid Scoop is that kids will get to know their daily paper, the terms used and the parts of it. They definitely work to intentionally reach that goal.

Some considerations . . .

  • I actually felt like it was light on the reading. While their focus is the reluctant reader so it makes sense that they keep reading unintimidating, I felt like kids could get through many of the activities without really reading much. Some of my kids are experts in figuring out how to complete a task without actually doing any reading. I had to keep on top of that.
  • Helpful if you subscribe to a print newspaper, but not essential. Many of the activities can best work with a printed newspaper in hand. They also include a wide variety of activities to use the newspaper before recycling it, so it will be put to good use. For many of these activities you could merely read a paper online, but a print one would be easier in some cases.
  • Some will flop. While the diversity of materials is quite a plus, some of it will not appeal to some kids. They will more than likely all find something they enjoy, but they will also more than likely find something you have to drag them through, which kind of defeats the purpose.
  • Secular. Just be aware that their holiday sections focus on the holidays, not any spiritual meaning behind them. So, Easter is all about bunnies and eggs. This is another reason that I would be more likely to pick and choose and buy activity packs rather than purchasing the whole set.
  • A bit pricey. Yeah, I could buy a lot of workbooks for $100. And, since there were topics in here that I know we would not likely use, I might be more inclined to buy their separate little ebooks or activity packs that they offer on their site for just a few bucks each.

This product did definitely fill a lull in our days and prompt reading where none existed before. When I needed a little something fun that would not require an hour of planning on my part, we could pull out a little unit and find multiple activities with something that appealed to almost everyone. In the process we learned. Not just playing around and having fun together, although that was part of it, but really learning something new. Learning how our eyes work, new vocabulary words, craft ideas, trivia and history, and other facts and data to keep stimulating my kids minds. And, whether they noticed or not, a lot of reading got snuck in in the process.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Kid Scoop as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — VocabAhead

February 7th, 2011

Product:VocabAhead CD

Details: A CD with videos and MP3s of over 1000 vocabulary words taken from SAT level lists.

Price: $24.99

What we loved . . .

  • Pop and go! No downloading or figuring out complicated software instructions. You pop the CD into the computer and click the word you want to view. It pulls it right up for you and your student to view
  • Goes beyond a word and definition. Often vocabulary means simply writing a word and definition, but VocabAhead uses each word in multiple sentences so students can get a good grasp of the definition and the appropriate context in which to use the word. They also include different usages to broaden their working knowledge of the word.
  • Word of the Day Anyone can sign up for their word of the day email on their website and have a word emailed to you. Painless vocabulary expansion. ;)
  • Lots and lots of words. With over 1000 words, this CD offers students a great way to prepare for SAT or other college entry exams.
  • Made for a variety of learners. With the simple video, the printed definition, and the audio of the definition and usage, all students can easily learn from this product.
  • Helpful online tools. On their website you can register for free and then create word lists, study your word lists, and get quizzed over the lists. You can also view many of their videos and check out the Apps they have available.  Even if you do not think you are interested in their product, their website is worth looking over.

Some considerations . . .

  • Simple concept. While sometimes simplest is best, I felt the videos were a bit lacking. They were mostly just a printed definition and a picture visualizing the definition. The minute long explanation is beneficial, but better accompanying graphics would have enhanced its use.
  • Just definitions. Maybe I’m just weird, but when studying words I like to know their background. Not that I’m some expert in foreign languages, but knowing the roots that it came from and breaking the word apart helps me understand it and makes me more likely to remember it next time.
  • Maybe critical of parents? Maybe I’m just over reacting, but a few of the definitions seemed to paint parents in a less than positive light. They talked about parents who “abase” their children and being “captious” (overly critical). I would prefer if they left negative parenting examples out of their definitions. I don’t know if they were trying to appeal to their presumably teenaged audience, but I didn’t appreciate it.
  • One more . . . I was just about to wrap this up and was clicking through a few more definitions and have decided that I will not have my son using this tool afterall. For the word “debauch” it has a cartoon picture of a pole dancer and says that she debauched the morals of the virtuous men watching her. Seriously? Virtuous men at a strip club? That is an image I think I will keep out of my vocabulary lessons.

Well, I am disappointed that I cannot recommend this product any longer. After looking at more of the definitions it is clearly not presenting these words from a similar worldview to mine. Now I have a greater understanding of why people push the original Webster dictionary back when morals meant something. I know it is only a small percentage of the definitions that are in question, but I find it unnecessary to find any questionable content in material of this type. I am very discouraged at the path that this supposed vocabulary building tool went down.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through VocabAhead as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — Bible Dictionary for kids

January 26th, 2011

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Product: Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids

Details: A Bible dictionary made just for kids to use on their own, or with an adult to help them, in understanding more about people, places, and things mentioned in the Bible.

Price: $14.99

What we loved . . .

  • Attention grabbing! As soon as this came out of the packaging, my kids were all over it. The cover catches your eye and page after page is full of colorful illustrations, maps, real photographs, and charts to help make clearer many different passages of Scripture.
  • Kids can explore on their own. Geared toward kids ages 5 through 10, this sturdy hard cover book rested comfortably in the hands of my 7 year old as she excitedly looked up various words that came to mind. Beatitudes, plagues, communion, Matthew, etc. Each one offered her an entry with information that complemented and cemented what we are learning during Bible times or what she has recently studied at church.
  • Easy searching. Each page has the letters of the alphabet along the edge with the first letter of those entries highlighted. So, from anywhere in the book you can easily get to a different section with the letter that you are looking for. Even my 5 year old was able to use this to find words that he wanted to look up.
  • Substantial number of entries. Maybe not abridged, but with 750 entries, this dictionary does have every word my kids have wanted to know more about since we received it, and roughly two thirds of the entries also have graphics to accompany them in addition to the written explanation.
  • Biblical references. Of course, what would a Bible dictionary be without actual references? This one includes at least one and often a few fitting references to go with each entry.
  • Great reference tool for kids learning to study on their own. Although the internet can probably give all this information and more, this book has it in a safe, easy to use format for younger children. I don’t let my under 10 kids just surf the web, even with filters in place. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary gives them a place to look up words they may want to know more about as I am encouraging them to start reading and studying the Bible on their own.

Some considerations . . .

  • Limited age range. Although I could see the appeal of a Bible dictionary for a wider range, early readers would have a hard time using it on their own, and kids in their preteen years might find the graphics babyish. The publisher did well giving the appropriate age range, and it would likely not find as receptive an audience outside of those ages.
  • Not a Bible study book. Bible dictionaries are great tools when studying the Bible, but they are not a Bible study in and of themselves. I think this is an important book to have on your shelves if you want your kids to begin exploring Scripture for themselves, but they will need some direction to learn how to make the most of it.

Studying the Bible accurately is one of my primary goals for my children. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary is a great asset toward reaching that goal and we look forward to making the most of it for years to come.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Lifeway Christian Stores as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

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