Monday, October 31, 2011

TOS Review: Ooka Island

When I saw that I had the opportunity to review Ooka Island for the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was really excited. I actually love the concept of what they have done. They have taken a reading program called the OokaMethod and merged it into an 3D, interactive educational computer game. The game encompasses what they call Emergent level skills that begin in Kindergarten (though I would say some could start sooner) and go through about 2nd grade to a level they call Fluency reading.

Because the program is designed around the OokaMethod each child must start at the beginning, regardless of their skill level, so it appears to be geared towards those students who have not yet began to learn to read or are struggling with their current method and need some review. Of course all that we accomplished this month was review for Gess and she seemed to enjoy it anyway.

When you purchase the game you download it from the website and then you install it. All that seemed to go without a hitch, but beware once you start to set it up. As soon as it was installed we were ready to check it out. Immediately we noticed it didn't default into full-screen mode, and Gess just hates that. It was taking us to make her character and before she started I thought, I will quit out real quick and look up how to make it full screen, then we will go back and enjoy it. Well, after quitting I found out that hitting alt plus enter was all I had to do to get it full-screen, but the bad news was when we went back we weren't able to make our character anymore! The game apparently logged it as though we were done even though we had not done anything more than look at the screen. I was sad that Gess would not get to create her own character because she loves doing that so much, but she does get to dress her up in game, so that at least is something. Anyway, we moved on and finally entered Ooka Island.

As you begin you fly over and around the island while Auntie Kay and Zobot sing you a catchy tune. Well here, see and hear for yourselves how it starts.

Ok. So this is Ooka Island. I linked this image up to the game map online that shows you what each section is and what you learn there. From Z Doo to the Submarine there are tons of fun games that teach you letter sounds, identification and reading comprehension.

See that blimp up there in the corner? He is going to fly down and let you know what part of the island you are going to explore. You must follow the blimp for a round of lessons and after you complete one level, which usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes, you earn some free time. In that time you may explore areas of the islands you have unlocked with your skills, read in the library or visit the playground. (Be sure to enjoy your free time now because whether you use it or not, it is not there when you return to the game.) When your time is up you are back to guided learning again. The Popcorn Library, however, is always open and children may read books they have unlocked at anytime. You can even choose to just enter and read rather than play the game.

Now for me, the game does not really offer much of a free time incentive. The playground is pretty boring because it is an actual playground. Watching your character ride on a slide or do a teeter totter loses it's fun rather quickly and after the first break you never really want to do that again. You can dress up your character but while Gess enjoys that some, it gets old after a while too. Being able to pick your adventure is a nice change, but you just did them and will be doing them again, so it's not really much of an incentive. However, that is what Gess would do, usually choosing to do Alphabet Mountain because after you jump up to the top by getting the alphabet in the correct order you get to skateboard back down it again. Here she is jumping up and then skating down. Going down she is actually in flight because she had just skated off a ramp.

Each lesson has something it focuses on. You have to choose letter sounds to decorate cakes, or catch some pigs, drive though a dark cave, and other adventures. Gess generally liked them all and always enjoyed playing the game. Since her skills are more advanced I worked this game into our school day to work on review of some sounds, for as we have focused on spelling I have noticed that sometimes she misses certain sounds in words. It's also nice as a speech lesson for her. It's good to have her hear and have to repeat the proper sounds because when she focuses on what she is doing she usually says things correctly, so it's good for her to practice them. For kids who have not yet started to learn to read, I think it's a pretty neat method and I think many kids with special needs will do well with it and enjoy learning to read in Ooka Island.

The last lesson you preform before playtime is reading a book in the Popcorn Library. I particularly liked the comprehension and word recognition games after reading the book. For comprehension you have to pop the balloons that Boo (a character in the books) is holding. I love how the questions are visual and interactive. Gess does well that way and while her reading is way above this level, answering comprehension questions are always tough for her. This has been a fun way to review. Here she is clicking the correct balloon to answer the question.

After finishing this lesson Gess completed the first tier of lessons. You can see at the library what books they have read and how they progress up in levels.

So that is how the game works, or is supposed to. While I absolutely loved the concept of the game and Gess thoroughly enjoyed playing it, we did have some issues with it. I actually felt more like a beta tester for the game, rather than a reviewer. The game does have some issues and crashes occasionally. It just plays and feels like a game under production, not a completed product. In fact there were even areas in the game where it was wrong. My husband and I sat here one day and watched Gess in the Cave of Sound try and try to find the letter g because the game wanted her to find the beginning sound in the word go. There was no g, so after choosing some wrong answers to move it along, it then showed us we need a b for the word boo! We had the same problem in the Cake Factory too. Gess plays on her own so often that I don't know how many times that may have happened. There were also other times the game would just crash and we would have to use ctrl/alt/delete to shut it down and then restart the game.

There is also the issue of parental reports. Since this game is an educational reading game that actually teaches your child to read, it is imperative that parents and/or teachers know how the child is progressing. It's not really convenient for me to use it as part of school if I have to physically sit with her and watch how she is doing. I like using computer programs to supplement our day and let Gess work independently. Well, according the website they say, "Throughout the entire adventure, the child works independently, but can be actively monitored by a parent through the real-time reports offered in the “Ooka Lighthouse”." However, the Lighthouse is not yet available. When I contacted them about it they said it was due out this last week, but when I checked again today it was still not there. I feel that if it is not working yet the website should let parents know that the feature is coming soon, rather than implying that it is already functional.

That is my major problem with the game. To me, it is just not yet ready to launch. It may be close but I personally would think they should use more beta testers to fix the kinks in the system first. As a person getting to use this product for free, I was in no way annoyed at the issues we had (except the lack of ability to monitor their progress). However, if I were paying full price for this game, I would not have been pleased at all.

The game, when functional will probably be worth the price, though I think the best deal is if you have a family with 4 kids, but since it's geared only for kids K-2 it's highly unlikely that you will have that many kids using it at once. Here is their pricing chart for the game for homeschool families.

With all that said, I do have to admit that Gess just loves the game. When I implemented the game as part of our school day, I would set a timer for 20 minutes and tell her she had to play for at least that long before logging off and I counted it as our phonics and speech that day. Well, one time I came to check on her after 20 minutes should have been up and saw that she set the timer to another 30 minute cycle! It cracked me up because I never meant to use it as a limit for the game, just the minimum! She does just love it that much. Here she is enjoying the game. (You can see the timer that she reset in the photo.)

All in all, I think if Ooka Island can get it's kinks worked out, implement some better free time activities, and release the Lighthouse so parents can track the child's progress, it will be a really great game. In the mean time if you would like to try it for yourself, now is the time to do it since they are offering a 30% discount in honor of its launch. Just use the code below and start today.

If you are still not sure what you think and just want to learn more visit their website or see what other TOS Homeschool Crew members thought in their reviews.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a 6 month subscription to Ooka Island for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sickness, Birthdays, and Glasses

Gess turned 10 yesterday and I had hoped to have some pictures of her opening presents, eating pizza and roller skating but instead mommy and daddy were sick, so she opened presents without much fanfare at all. The sickness really began with her older brother having the bug last week and on Saturday Gess caught it. She got so dehydrated that we had to take her to the ER to get fluids.

I am at least able to get up on my computer today, although I haven't eaten much and Gess' appetite still isn't what it used to be. I hope that continues to improve.

On another note Gess did get new glasses a few days before all this sickness started. Here she is wearing her big girl glasses!

We figured by 10 years old she was ready to outgrow the plastic ones, though they were a great solution at the time. She is really doing a great job taking care of them too. She likes to recall that "when the glasses are not on your face, they go in the case."

I hope things will improve in a couple of days, for now this will be the 3rd day of school we missed in a row!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Saving the Season

I told you in my blog last year about a really neat present that Gess got for her birthday which was a book titled, 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You're 12.

Well we have been making some progress with this book and today I want to share how we completed challenge #95, "Save a part of one season into the next." We had a garden this year (which helped Gess complete #28 "plant something and watch it grow"), but it was a small one. In fact, it is only our second year to have a garden at all. Thankfully it turned out much better this year, but we didn't really have enough veggies to can or put back for next year. However, our basil plant really took off and as the season comes to a close we thought, what are we going to do with all that basil? Last year we made some pesto and it lasted quite awhile, but we didn't want to go that route again, so my husband looked up how to dry basil and that's what we did last weekend!

How to dry basil

1. First you wash and dry the leaves.

2. Layer the Basil in a baking pan.
First place a paper towel in a baking pan and place a layer of basil on it. Do not let any of the leaves touch. Then place a paper towel on top of that and make another layer. It recommended that we not do more than 3 layers of basil. Be sure there is a paper towel covering the last layer as well.

3. Bake the Basil at low heat
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Place the pan in the preheated oven and then turn the oven off. Leave it in for about one hour. Then, still leaving the basil in the oven, preheat it again, shutting it off when it hits 175 degrees. Check the basil every hour or so to see if it is ready. When it is done will be all dried out like this.

4. Then crush the basil with your fingers into a bowl or something, making sure to remove any stems as you do it. Then place it in a container. We put it in our basil canister for our spice rack. It's pretty neat that it came from our own back yard! Here is Gess showing off the basil that we will use in lots of dishes this winter. It won't be as good as grabbing the leaf fresh off the plant, but it's better than the store bought stuff...and Gess has one more item to check off of her list!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

TOS Review: Always Icecream

I have an (almost) 10 year old daughter who has special needs and I really worry sometimes when she gets on the internet. I mean, come on, I can't sit next to her every hour of the day, and we have already had some issues with things she has found online. What's even more frightening is that she is getting to the age where she will begin interacting online with others in some of the "social network" kind of sites. What is a parent to do?

Well, I now have a great suggestion for mothers of girls age 7-12. It's a site called Always Icecream that I had the privilege to review for the TOS Homeschool Crew, and I have to tell you I am definitely sold on the concept. At Always Icecream girls, and only girls, can log on, play educational games, take care of virtual pets, decorate their online space and interact with other girls in a safe and friendly environment! In fact, they advertise that they have been "certified by the Privo Privacy Assurance Program to be in compliance with the rigorous standards defined in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)." I think it is the perfect way to introduce young girls to the social networking aspects of the web without the fear of them coming in contact with predators or even just hearing inappropriate conversations. At Always Icecream, all communication and media is monitored and parents can view friendships and customize whether or not children can even participate in the social aspects of the website. You have codes that you give your real life friends so you can be assured that anyone who has unlimited communication is really someone you know. You can read more about their safety features at their website.

Ok, I know, you are thinking, so fine, it's safe, it's really safe, but what does this place look like and what do the kids do? Well, there are tons of things really! One of the social things is that you get to set up your avatar (no real life images) and make your personal page to let others know a little bit about you, such as you favorite ice cream, book, movie, etc. You can also say what's on your mind and pick (or make up) your "motto." Here is Gess adjusting the look on her avatar.

Now, there are tons of educational games you can play, and when you play those games you earn scoops of ice cream. When you click on the Learn and Play button you come to a menu that has lots of games. I love the way the menu (and the whole site) is very visually appealing. It's not small lists of little games, but larger images letting you see what you can choose from. You will notice that the games that earn you scoops have an ice cream cone on top of the image.

There are games in Language Arts, Basic and Advanced Math, Science, Bible, Geography, Typing and more. Gess loves Science and one of her favorite games was one on anatomy where you had to identify the body parts, and we are talking about the parts inside as well as out. You have to click on your ear, foot, kidney, things like that.

As you can see on the bar in the left, you earn medals after you reach so many levels. It appears Gess is up to a silver medal in anatomy! Typing and Geography are some other games you can choose from.

Now that you have played these games and earned some scoops of ice cream you can go spend them. One thing you get to do is decorate your virtual room. Here is the little pad Gess is setting up.

Oh, and another thing that is really neat is the artwork that you can put in your room. You can either make the artwork yourself or you can purchase artwork that some of the other girls have made! Gess has actually sold a piece of her artwork earning 30 scoops of ice cream! How cool is that?

Another thing you can spend scoops on is hatching and raising pets. Gess didn't really get into this at first, but now she seems to just love taking care of them. Of course, she has to remember to do it. The poor things were out of love and food when we checked in, but that's OK. She had plenty of scoops to get them back on track. Here is her turtle Mario after she gave him some tender loving care.

I do have to admit, Gess had some struggles with the site at first and for awhile she didn't find it very fun, but I think that was mostly because of her special needs. She just didn't seem to care too much about socializing or doing any of the activities that you actually get to spend scoops on. So the motivation for her is a little tougher. And while the games are cute, they aren't as interactive as she would like them to be, and many of them are too advanced anyway. However, after we played together for awhile and she saw how things like the pets worked and what they did, she started to enjoy it more. So while I am anxious about the ability of this website to help teach my child online social skills, because of her special needs she really isn't all that interested in being "social" online yet (which is alright by me!). For girls who are though, this is an excellent and safe way to let them learn! Either way there is plenty of enjoyment to be had whether you choose to interact with others, or not.

Now Always Icecream does have a fee, but I agree with them that is absolutely necessary to ensure the site's safety. It costs money to make and maintain an online game and you basically have two options of gathering revenue for such a site. One is to charge a fee and the other other is through add revenue. On their website they say, "we don’t want to depend on ads to pay for site improvements since ads lead to external sites at which we cannot control the content." And that is absolutely true. With that in mind I think that the fee they require is really reasonable. You can get an account for girls ages 7-12 for only $4.99 a month, $29.99 per year or $99.99 for a lifetime. There is also a way to try out some of the features for free. Personally I would rather pay a small fee and have the peace of mind knowing that my daughter is in a safe and happy online community. To learn more visit Always Icecream or see what other crew members had to say about it at the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a lifetime membership to Always Icecream for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Learning the 10 Commandments

As Gess is getting older we thought it was important to stress having some personal devotion time. I think she needs to know that she can pray and study God's Word anytime she chooses. We always begin her day learning something in the Bible together. Then I have her write and meditate on the portion of Scripture that was the focus for the day. Since she was doing some written work each day we thought it would be good to have a place to keep it all together so that could look it over later and remember what she has studied so far. So we made made her a notebook and titled it My Devotional and keep it with her bible.

One of our early lessons this year was to memorize the 10 commandments. I recalled that Living Waters had a great resource for helping kids to memorize them so I went to their site and downloaded their 10 Commandments Learning Aids. They use these images to help tie the number to the actual commandment. They have a full presentation but here is the sheet with just the visual aids.

The 10 Commandments Flip Chart is the presentation that helps you tie each picture in.

1. God should always be Number One. (#1 ribbon)
2. Don't bow to anything but God. (person bowing shaped as 2)
3. Don't use your lips to dishonor God. (lips in shape of 3)
4. Don't neglect the things of God. (Bible and spider web make 4)
5. It's a 5 shaped like a mother and father to remind you to honor them.
6. It's a bomb shaped like a 6 for don't murder.
7. Adultery leaves a broken heart. (crack in heart makes a 7)
8. The thief's mask looks like an 8 for don't steal.
9. The number nine is "lying" down for don't lie.
10. The door and ring together look like a 10 for don't covet.

Gess does really well with visuals and adding the hands on element made learning the 10 Commandments easy and fun. We started by learning one commandment each school day. She would read the verse from the bible and then copy it in her journal. Then I had her glue the image to the bottom of the page.

Each day we would add a new verse but we would also review the other verses by matching the verse to the picture. By the time we were done she was pretty good at getting them all correct.

After 10 days of practicing she was pretty good at it. Now it was time to see if she could do it without the visual aids. Does she actually know the 10 Commandments?

And you know what? She did it!

Monday, October 3, 2011


Not many towns and communities will have an entire afternoon set aside to celebrate the Bible, but a small town in Kansas does. Humboldt Kansas has been hosting Biblesta for over 50 years and this was our first opportunity to visit it. It was a lovely afternoon filled with Chrsitian music, good food, activities for the kids and a parade centered around themes from the Bible. Each church, civic group and/or business places a float in the parade that depicts a scene from the Bible and the floats are then placed in chronological order from Genesis to Revelation. My favorite float was the 10 Commandments.

The Jonah float is another favorite and is one that is entered every year. It is mechanical and you can see the legs of Jonah as he is being swallowed and water even exits from the blow hole of the whale. Here is Gess with the "big fish" behind her.

When we arrived on the scene there was a really good Southern gospel band performing called The Missourians. Gess was taken with the music so we sat and listened for quite some time. I say, sat, Gess sat some and danced some too. Music just makes her move. Here she is in front of the stage before we moved on to other things.

One of the activities they had for the kids was a petting zoo. Here is Gess feeding a few of the animals. She could have stayed in here all day I think, she loves animals.

It was a blessing to see the Bible celebrated in the center of town and Gess really enjoyed seeing God's Word come to life before her eyes. It was our first time visiting but we will certainly visit Biblesta again.


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