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Product review: Spanish for You!

May 14th, 2012

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I can’t tell you how many foreign language products I have used temporarily over the years. A workbook here, an old cassette tape there, a full program, an online resource. I’ve tried a lot! Some highly recommended, some just cheap alternatives.

The reason I have tried so many is because I really want to learn Spanish and teach my kids to speak Spanish, but I can’t do it on my own. Foreign language is not a skill you can pick up casually. I need to have a curriculum to help me in this area. So, when Debbie Annett approached me about her brand new curriculum, still in the works at the time, I could not resist.

She comes with years of experience in Spanish and teaching in the homeschool community in particular. She has created her curriculum with homeschoolers specifically in mind. I find this a huge benefit as you are not trying to tailor a program geared toward a traditional classroom or the business traveler (the two main targets of language programs, it seems). She made this for you to use at home with your children, or possibly in a co-op setting.

Product: Spanish for You!

Details: (excerpts from their site) Spanish for You! is a flexible, unique self-study curriculum for grades 3 through 8 that establishes the foundations for learning Spanish with just a short lesson each day. The set includes the Spanish for You! Estaciones Book (teaching the seasons — another set teaching fiestas should be out summer of 2012), 24-27 Week Lesson Guides for grades 3-8 (PDF), Self-Checking Worksheets for grades 3-8 (PDF), and Audio Download of entire book (MP3 format)

Cost: $65 for the whole set

Some of what we liked:
The diversity of target ages. This is an all in one curriculum that someone with minimal Spanish knowledge could pick up and use with all of their school age kids. Even though the target range starts with 3rd grade, my 1st and 2nd graders were right in there picking up basic vocabulary as well. (I think 3rd grade is a good starting place, I just generally include all of my kids when teaching if possible).
Abundance of materials. Worksheets, audio files, teacher’s guide, lesson plans, activity ideas, visuals, pronunciation guides, etc. This program is well fleshed out with lots of built in resources. The lessons include pictures in the book, audio files to hear the vocabulary properly pronounced, worksheets for individuals to do on their own, activities to do together, and ideas for review and further teaching.
Lots of built in review. Without becoming redundant, the lessons review, reteach, and repeat the words the kids need to learn. They do not get bored since it is always presented in a new way and language study is such an interactive discipline that everyone stays involved and learning. The lessons are also on the shorter side so they won’t take up a lot of your day, but they will get the job done efficiently.
The audio is at a great pace for learning. It is not rushed through. The words are clear and  easy to understand. I do like my kids to hear a more conversational (fast!) pace as they get more comfortable, but for beginners this is a non-intimidating step into the language. Anyone can learn these words with Mrs. Annett’s gentle teaching.
Adaptable and reasonable time commitment. This program is a gentle introduction to Spanish for younger kids, and a more focused beginners’ course for older kids. While foreign language is better done frequently throughout each day (the lesson plans are mapped out for use 4 days each week), you could easily condense the lessons to 2 times each week, and then try to pepper it in throughout the day as well. You will find you are both quickly learning a new language.

Some considerations for potential buyers
While the curriculum is for multiple grades, it teaches the grades differently. So, beyond the first few days, you would likely go through the material more quickly and to greater depth and mastery with older kids, so you wouldn’t actually teach the class the same way to a 3rd grader and an 8th grader. Just take that into consideration when determining how much time is needed to teach each lesson. Review could still be done together, and kids of different ages could study together, but the teaching times would most likely be separate, or at least branch off after starting together.
Some of the audio, especially early on, seems to be a little light on the Spanish accent. I think especially of “calendario” and “martes” among others in the first lesson. Later lessons do not have this issue, but as students get used to pronouncing these foreign words, they might notice that some sounded a little American at first. This actually seems like another way to gently transition kids into the Spanish language.  You might want to be aware of it, and even point it out, but also be sure to encourage a stronger accent along with the audios as you and your students gain confidence in your new found language.
This curriculum is very user friendly and can be used by someone comfortable with Spanish or someone who really needs a solid Spanish teacher to rely on. You can do this! As a poster in my high school classroom said, “Stamp out foreign languages — learn one!” This program will start you on the road to doing just that.

Disclaimer: This product was given to me in exchange for my personal,  honest review.

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.