Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another College Campus Visit

Gesserine's brother is now attending his third college. At first he went to the junior college in town, then he went on Fort Hays State University to earn his bachelor's degree. Now he is attending grad school at Kansas State University. We took Gess to see him this weekend and he showed her around campus. She really does want to go to college someday "like Tim." He is a great example to her!

Here are a few shots of us on campus and having lunch at Aggieville. We ate at the Keltic Star and enjoyed some traditional Irish food. Gess tried lamb for the first time and seemed to enjoy her lamb slider, but she did have to dip it in ketchup because she didn't care for the pesto they put on it. I had a traditional shepherds pie which included lamb as well which was very good. We also enjoyed Irish Soda Bread with a truly "awesome sauce."

Our family is not very sports oriented and I felt like we were the only ones in town not wearing purple. It was in fact opening day of football season. I will have to grab me a shirt before my next visit!  Here is the logo for the K-State Wildcats.

We also visited the on campus art museum. I will share more about that later in the week. It really was a great experience. I am proud of Tim and wishing him the best!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Purse Shopping

Gesserine is almost a teenager. In October she will be turning 13. She has lately started carrying around a purse that she has had since she was a little girl. She never played with the purse until now. It just sat in her toy box year after year. Then suddenly, she wanted to start carrying it. I was excited because I tried to get her to start carrying one a couple of years ago, and that too never interested her. I am glad she is finally wanting to do it!

The purse is really small so it isn't very practical or comfortable. I felt she needed one she could actually use so last weekend we went purse shopping. Gess isn't really good at browsing for things. There are so many options she doesn't even know where to start. Even when its time for lunch in our home she will ask me to give her some options, so we started with that. I picked out several purses I thought she might be interested in and asked her if she liked it or not. If it was a yes, it went into the shopping cart until we got about 7 or 8 options. We then tried them out one by one.

We narrowed it down to her top 3.

Then I had her walk around with them for awhile.

Her favorite was the flowered one on the left. I then had her walk around with it on her shoulder while we shopped. Before we were done we learned it was not comfortable enough, so we tried the pink one on the right. It had a smaller but stiffer strap. We then settled on one she didn't like earlier but since we found it in red she was more agreeable. This isn't as cute as the others but the strap is very soft. For Gess and her special needs, that seems to be the most important component in selecting any piece of wardrobe or accessory.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: Essentials Skills Advantage

As most of my readers know, my daughter Gess has Down syndrome. While she is a great reader there are some reading skills she still needs to practice, comprehension being one of them. Like most kids, Gess loves computer games and activities but because of her special needs not all of them work well for her. Thankfully, my latest review turned out to be perfect for her.

Essential Skills Advantage is a complete online reading and language program for grades K-6. They have over 20,000 activities to keep your child engaged while they learn. Starting with reading readiness skills and phonics for kindergarten they work up to some great activities such as reading comprehension and spelling for the upper grades. That is where Gess spent most of her time.

For the purpose of my review I received a one year subscription to Essential Skills Advantage. Here is how it works. When you log in you come to a menu with all the activities that are offered.

Once they select their activity they are given a list of topics that are covered. They can work completely through them and go in order, or skip around. Most of the time I just let Gess choose but sometimes I would assign her work. Once they are in a particular topic they have the list of specific activities. As they complete them they earn stars. On this list you can see the ones Gess has completed. They are the ones with the stars under them.

Once they successfully complete the activity they pause for a brief reward celebration where this dog comes and does a dance as you are rewarded with your stars. Gess enjoyed this part because she loves having her successes recognized.

You can also check on your star activity along the way or at the end. Here is what it looked like after Gess completed a section on Homophones.

You can also print off certificates so you can reward their successes offline too.

The activities themselves were great. These are actual learning activities rather than just games you play so you know that your child is really learning when they  log on. I was very impressed with how well they were done. The game had a peaceful feel to it. There were no loud or flashy presentations yet it was still very cute and fun.

I am trying to give Gess more independence so I was thrilled that this program offers interactive upper elementary level content. Gess enjoyed each activity. They were bright, engaging, and easy to use. The fact that she didn't need my help very often was great.

The only things I did not like about the program was that you every time you changed activities you had to log back in again. That was particularly frustrating if you were just viewing them to see if they were even what you wanted to begin with. Also, while you can change the child's password you apparently can't change your own. It would have been helpful to do be able to do that. I felt the fonts could be larger in some of the activities as well.

I also didn't understand the grading aspect of the program. As the parent you can go in and look at your child's marks. When I do, they are mostly 100% and that seems to be due to the fact that you can't continue in an activity until you get the problem right. If you type in a wrong answer you get a beep and don't move forward to the next problem until you get it right. So basically, you are forced to get 100% on most activities anyway, so why keep score? It also trips up a student who doesn't know the correct answer. On multiple choice they can keep trying but if its typed in, they are just stuck. I had to help Gess on a couple of those answers so she could move on in the activity.

Otherwise we absolutely loved the program. Gess enjoyed it very much. It was challenging and fun all at the same time. She never minded doing her lessons. In fact, she usually did more than I required of her. She just kept going and I was certainly OK with that!

Their customer service also seems to be really super. I didn't have any problems that I needed to contact them about but Gess accidentally contacted them when she found the report a bug feature, probably because it's icon is an adorable little lady bug. When I emailed them back to explain what happened they were very gracious and helpful! I love that the people behind the program are that engaged and personable! They really do seem to care about their product and want to please the user.

I do have some exciting news for those of you who would like to try it. While membership to Essential Skills Advantage is $9.99 a month they do offer a FREE version of the product at www.ESAlearning.com. This will not give you access to the parent portal and ads will be in the newsletter and in the sponsor landing page. Otherwise its the same great product! If you decide you want more and sign up before October 1st and you they will give you 50% Off! All you have to do is use code TOS50. That discount will remain in effect for as long as you are a member too.

To learn more about Essential Skills Advantage visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: UberSmart Math Facts

Gess has Down syndrome so as most of you know, she really struggles with learning her math facts. However, I know a mom whose child was successful in learning their addition facts. They said the key was to drill regularly. Unfortunately that is where I fail. I found it so frustrating for both Gess and myself that I tended to put it off. When I saw that UberSmart Software was going to allow us to review UberSmart Math Facts I thought it might be the perfect solution to my problem.

UberSmart Math Facts is a computer program that works like regular flash cards. It is very simple and easy to use which is one of the things I loved about it. To learn your math facts you don't need flashy, you just need repetition.

You start by learning the math facts. To do that they simply show you the flash card without the answer. Then you click the show button to see the problem with the answer on the other side.

Once your student has used the learn feature a few times they are now ready to practice the facts for themselves. This works just like when you have the physical cards. You see the problem, answer it (by typing it in), then check your answer on the back.

The tests are a little different in that it shows you both the card before and the card after the problem you are working on. They want to give it the feel of a test in which you can see more than one problem on the page. This was sort of confusing for Gess. For instance one time she was on the problem 2+1 which she has memorized really well but she suddenly seemed to have a need to make the answer include 7 or have it come out to 7 because the next problem was 7+2. She thought there was a connection somehow I guess. She is getting used to it though and it is probably good for her to learn that way. You can also skip a problem and come back to it later. Gess of course hates skipping anything. I can never get her to come back to a problem. She refuses to budge until what is in front of her is done so she never did that.

What I loved the best was their approach to teach the kids the facts in order. You learn all the 1s, 2s, 3s, etc, rather than mixing them all up. That is the only approach that seems to work with my daughter's special needs. This also means that as they work their way up and the problems get harder there are actually fewer new problems to learn. We are currently in our 2s but Gess has made great progress.

I also like the way they time the tests. Doing facts quickly is important so most kids need to work on accuracy as well as speed. However, they do let you hide the timer and they score it both as timed and un-timed. While some students need the incentive of the timer for those of us with special students, its nice to have the option! If you hide the timer there is nothing making them feel rushed and they won't even know they were timed. As the parent you see in their progress report two grades for one test: timed and un-timed. While Gess got a 92% un-timed, her timed score was more like 64%. The good news is that only I see that score. She has no clue the timer is even on.

While we are using this for addition the software does cover all four operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. They also have some dot cards and key entry practice for beginners.

The only thing I did not like is that it doesn't really go to full screen. It takes up the full screen placing a blue background behind the workspace so there are no distractions in the background, but otherwise you can't make the cards any bigger. They don't really need to be, but Gess does seem to prefer having a larger workspace. However, visually they were still easy to read and use.

UberSmart Math Facts is a simple program at a very affordable price. It is helping me remain consistent with practice while avoiding the frustration that I might cause Gess during the process. When a child moves slowly and we have a million things to do during the day we can unintentionally rush a child.  I fear that I do with Gess sometimes so I avoid doing it at all. However, this program, as simple as it is, does it all for me!  Then, when I have the time I can go look at the report and see how she has done!  She seems to enjoy it much better this way as well. If I do see her getting frustrated I simply send her back to the learning mode that day. Since getting this program I put my flash cards away and Gess hasn't missed very many days practicing her facts! We are finally being consistent! Thank UberSmart, for making my life easier!

UberSmart Math Facts sells for $24.95. It is a downloadable program so you can use this year after year and you have permission to use it on all the computers in your home that run Windows. Each of your students will have their own user so you will be able to keep track of who is doing what. While it is intended for grades K-6 it is great for any child who needs to learn or refresh their math facts.

To learn more about UberSmart Math Facts visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.

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Free Friday: KidsTV123

I was looking for a song to help Gess review the months of the year. She had this memorized once but since we don't really talk about the order of the months all the time she seems to have forgotten. Since we memorized the days of the week by a song, I thought I would find one for the months of the year too. In doing so I found some really great videos for young kids!

KidsTV123 has great quality videos for kids. These songs are really well done and are not as annoying as your typical kid song. I also like that the music is calming and slow. It is easy to follow and gets them thinking about the words rather than just bouncing around. These are really great for kids with special needs!

Here is the song we used for the months of the year.

We also discovered this one and Gess loved it as right now she is really interested in the solar system!

They have several other topics including opposites, countries, states, numbers, alphabet and so much more. You should really check them out!  While most of these are young for Gess, I am going to share them with my grandkids. I thought you might want to know about them too!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Day of School!

We officially started school yesterday and it went really well. It felt good to have some structure back into our day.  We started by reviewing where we left off. This is important with Logic of English. I want to make sure Gess has remembered all the phonograms before introducing her to new ones.. She has done an excellent job in retention and there are only a few that she missed in her first review. We will have those back  easily by the end of the week!

For Math I am using the Mathletics Curriculum Assessments Books to see what Gess needs the most work on before moving forward. We will probably be doing these for the next few weeks.

We are also reviewing the letters she has written in cursive. You can see her practicing here.

I have also introduced a new Log Book method of keeping track of independent work she needs to do in the latter part of the day. She will have a couple of worksheets each day along with her computer work. The Log Book is a review item that I will be sharing more about next month!

We had a pretty full day which included chores. These are important life skills. It was laundry day!

We also make time to practice the piano.

And of course she gets recess too!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: Wizzy Gizmo

I have a daughter who loves to read therefore we spend lots of time at the library. As a parent I wish she had more access to books that promoted a Biblical worldview. That is why I was glad to have an opportunity to review one of the books from Wizzy Gizmo.

Wizzy Gizmo is a company that offers children's books that not only have a biblical worldview, but are actually about the Bible. Using a fictional narrative their characters end up in situations where they learn about and experience events from the Bible. For the purpose of my review Gess chose to read Book Two: In His Image.

Wizzy Gizmo derived their name from the main character in their books. The character Wizzy Gizmo is a science professor and an incredible inventor. His invention Gizmovision has the ability to make any book literally come to life. He uses this invention to help teach children about the most important book of all time, the Bible. Book One: Who Created Everything? was of course about the creation account from Genesis chapter 1. While I like starting things in order, Gess really wanted In His Image which focuses on the creation of man from Genesis chapter 2.

In this book a group of friends, Olive, Thomas, Summer, Eli, their robotic duck, and talking dog go to visit their favorite scientist Wizzy Gizmo to check out his latest invention. This time it was a Gizmoanycream which can make ice cream any flavor you want, and maybe some flavors you don't. I don't think I would have cared for the salad dressing ice cream myself, but the lemonade could be good. Anyway, the kids wonder how Wizzy became so creative and ask him about it. He answers that "being creative is one of the ways people reflect God's image." This leads into the theme for the rest of the book, that we are made in the image of God.

They then go to Wizzy's Gizmovision, turn the Bible to Genesis chapter 2, and place it on the machine. Suddenly the world around them seems to disappear as they end up surrounded by the spectacular view of the Garden of Eden. I have to comment here that I was a little concerned about the time travel aspect of the book but they did an excellent job treating the Word of God with great dignity and respect.

One thing I liked is that didn't use any magic to do it. There is no mystical force in play. It is a scientific contraption that makes the book somehow come to life. I don't think they actually travel but rather are made to feel as if they have just entered the surroundings of whatever book they just opened up. They also never interact in their surroundings. While they are transported so they can see it, they don't talk to anyone there and can't become part of the story. Since we are dealing with the Bible and topics that are sacred, I am really glad that they handled it that way.

I also loved how they handled the meat of the Scripture as well. The machine literally quotes God's Word. There is no paraphrasing or summarizing it. Each verse is quoted accurately from the NASB version of the Bible. They make it bold and have it stand out so you know that what you are reading is important. They talk about what it actually means and share many important aspects of the Word itself. I really like how they begin introducing children to theological concepts such as ex nihilo which means God made the world out of nothing and inerrent which means the Bible is without error. These key vocabulary words are placed in bold too which means you can find it's definition in the back of the book. We loved this part! Gess is always asking me what things mean. Anytime she finds a word she doesn't know, she asks. This allowed her to find the answer for herself.

The only problem I did have with the book was in regard to their character Pepe which is a dog that can both think and speak. The robotic duck I get. He's mechanical. It's artificial intelligence. They claim that Pepe's ability is also artificial. It was from Wizzy's invention of Anama-Gizmo-Logic but that really isn't explained in the story, just in the character information at the beginning of the book. And even if it was, it just felt really awkward when the point of this particular book was how man, not animals, were made in the image of God and therefore have the ability to do things like think and speak. They even laugh at the idea of animals doing certain things, like a monkey writing poetry, all while hanging out with Pepe who is a dog who appears to be able to do that if he wanted to.

The actual book itself is a paperback but it feels more durable than most and the print inside is large enough for children to read easily. That is always a plus for us since Gess really struggles with small print. While there weren't that many it did have some full color graphics that had a cartoon like feel to them.

Gess thoroughly enjoyed the story. I would find her laughing and getting into what was happening. We read it together but she also enjoyed reading it alone. She loved reading the Scripture content and as I mentioned earlier would often look up the new vocabulary words in the back of the book.

Book Two: In His Image sells for $12.99 and is for ages 4-12. This also works great as a family read along. The little ones will be compelled enough to listen and the older ones will actually be reading something on their level. Best of all, every child will learn and grow in their biblical knowledge from it and that is everything I could ever want in a book. It seems a little expensive to me for a 58 page book, but it's content is way more valuable than most anything you would find at your local library or book store. I will probably wait for a sale to buy more books in the series but I do hope this is one book that Gess will read again and again.

To learn more about the Wizzy Gizmo books and other products visit their website, or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.

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