Monday, February 27, 2012

TOS Review: K-5 Learning

I have been really eager to tell you about the online reading and math program K-5 Learning! This website has become this busy homeschooling mom's very best friend. K-5 Learning isn't actually a "homeschooling" program. It is for any kids from grades K through 5. It offers 4 reading and math programs that key in on 8 essential learning skills. It allows your child to learn independently at their own pace and at their own customized skill level. It also has very detailed and informative progress reports so that the parents can see exactly how their child is doing.

I know, I know. If you are like me, you are thinking, haven't I heard all of those claims before only to find myself disappointed? Having a child with special needs, I am always hoping that the customization of skill level or parental reports offer more than I am provided. Well, K5 Learning was everything I hoped it would be and so much more! So let me just show you around and share with you a few of the great things about K-5 Learning.

Now, remember, this is not an entire curriculum, it is geared as an after school program to help supplement what your child is learning in school, or in our case at home. However, I decided to actually implement into our school day so that I could utilize it as much as possible during our review period. This really came in handy on very busy days. Having a program where I knew that my daughter who has special needs was actually getting to work independently was a breath of fresh air. It was really great to be able to log in later and see what lessons she completed and how well she did on them.

While you can just choose your child's grade and get started, the first thing we did was sign up for a free online assessment to find out what reading and math levels Gess should actually be on. With Gess having special needs, I wasn't really sure to where to start her. Plus, this was also my chance to test to see if this program was really customizable to her learning level because I know that Gess has a much higher reading level than she does in her math. Her assessment placed Gess in the second grade level of reading, though if you notice on the assessment report it even breaks it down to show that some of her skills were in 3rd grade while some of her phonics skills were in first grade (pretty typical, I was not surprised.)

While Gess is in the 2nd grade level of the program for reading, her math skills tested in the 1st grade. So here is whats so great about the customization of this program. I can go in and assign her lessons myself, from any grade level. So while Gess is in the 2nd grade program, I can go in and assign her lessons from the 1st grade in areas where she needs help. I can also reassign lessons she may not have done well in the past. Now when Gess logs on she will have the option to do a lesson or an assignment. I usually instruct Gess which ones to do when she logs on. Now that we have Gess properly placed, let me show you how it works.

After your child has signed in you will see this screen. This is where they can choose which area of learning they want to do first. They can enter Reading and Math which leads them to the lessons or assignments in each category, drill their Math Facts, or practice Spelling (you can use their words or add your own).

One of the reasons I had to show you this screen is because one day Gess discovered the "Today's Riddle" on the right hand side of the screen and now she looks forward to reading that each and every day. You will hear her giggle or she will have to share the riddle with you. It's just really cute to hear her start her lesson off with a good chuckle. Ok, now moving on.

I love the way the math and reading lessons are done. Each segment focuses on a particular skill. It will teach the lesson to you and then have you do an interactive activity to practice that skill. It's not a game, it's a lesson, but they are really well done and Gess enjoyed them as well as learned from them. They do, however, break the lessons up and after each short segment you can stop or choose to go on. Here are a couple of screen shots from lessons Gess has done.

Sometimes they will even have games in between lessons to help you relax and recharge a bit before going on. One of the ones Gess loved most was bouncing items around on a trampoline. You would have to get the eggs from the nest to the conveyor belt without breaking them or bounce aliens from a house to the spaceship. Simple, silly, and short. Then it was back into another lesson if you chose to go on. Here's one where you have to drive a car around obstacles while picking up gems for points.

They also have a Spelling section that we did not use very much. I haven't been able to find a way to limit the number of words. For now it requires 15. We did a few lessons and when you add your own words it will focus on those if you choose that setting. However, sometimes Gess had trouble understanding what word the program asked for. I too, had trouble a couple of times and was only able to know the word based upon the definition listed on the page, not the audio portion of the quiz. I think this area will probably work well for children who don't have any special needs, but it didn't work well for us so we skipped it.

The other section they have that I am just wild about is Math Facts which is a drill for your 4 basic math operations. With Gess having Down syndrome that is something she really struggles with. She can memorize bible verses like crazy but memorizing math facts has been hard. Even the facts she has memorized like 1s, 0s and doubles gets forgotten as soon as you mix them up with other numbers. However, I have found this Math Facts program to actually be helping her! With each lesson that she does she also has to review previous lessons and she has worked through several getting 100%. Of course I have her repeat the lessons several times until she gets to 100% but the fact that you can do it over and over again is great. I can't wait to see how truly far she can go.

One thing I love about Math Facts is that is practical. In each lesson you are working on a real life, every day situation that requires math. In one lesson you go out to eat at Bistro Math. You order spaghetti and a salad. The spaghetti costs $4 and the salad costs $1 so your meal costs $5. Your friend orders spaghetti and garlic bread. The spaghetti is $4 and the garlic bread is $2 so your friend's meal costs $6.

Then you just drill the facts while sitting in the Bistro. (Gess noticed that on the wall of the Bistro is a picture of your own character that you have dressed up and created. That always cracked her up.)

Then when you are done you get a chart that shows the progress you have made so far based upon your overall performance. Here is a sample one from their website.

That is part of what the kid sees for their result. The great part is the parent can see the same chart while looking at the reports available through the dashboard.

This area also allows you to customize the settings for each operation. For typical children the speed that you do your facts is just as important as getting them right. Well, this program allows you to not only time your skill you can adjust the time level from .25 seconds up to 1 minute based upon your child's personal goals. You can also choose to click unlimited which won't time them at all. This is really good for children with special needs like my daughter Gess.

As you do the lesson you get a check plus icon if you do the problem correctly and quickly (or just correctly if you chose unlimited), a check if you do it correctly but not fast enough and it will tell you that is not correct if you get the problem wrong.

As I have mentioned before the parent dashboard is just full of information, reports and customizable tools that parents can use to make sure K-5 Learning is meeting your child's specific needs. I assign Gess lessons based upon what we are studying in school or in areas where I feel she needs refreshed but I also have her do the regular lessons too.

Because there are so many tools and options available they have implemented a great Help Center to explain how each section works. I found these extremely helpful. Without this information I am not sure how long it would have taken me to notice that I could set Gess' Math Facts time to unlimited. If you are going to try K-5 Learning I highly recommend you visit their Help Center.

As you have probably noticed by now I am quite sold on K-5 Learning. This is definitely something we will continue to use to supplement our homeschooling. I do think that the price is a bit high, but because of it's educational value, high quality and interactive hands on lessons, I can't help but think this is perfect for us and I am willing to pay that extra price each month to have it. It will help me not only give Gess some extra practice, it will give her the independence she longs for while still offering her the guidance and monitoring she needs

K-5 Learning is $25.00 a month for the first student and $15.00 for each additional student but you can save about $100 by signing up annually for $199.00 for the first child with additional children costing $129.00. You can try K-5 for FREE for 14 days with no obligation and without giving any credit card information. Your FREE trial includes both the reading and math assessment as well.

I highly recommend K-5 Learning for any family. I can see how this would be a great way for children to practice skills after school or keep them fresh in the summer. It's also a great way to supplement homeschooling by allowing them to practice in the evenings or during busy days while mom catches up on chores or blogging or whatever she needs to get done. If you want to learn more I suggest you visit their website or you can see what other members of the TOS Crew thought about it.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a six week subscription to K-5 Learning for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Friday, February 24, 2012

TOS Review: Reading Eggs

Reading Eggs is an online website that teaches children to read through fun activities and games. The Reading Eggs program offers various levels from First Steps for preschoolers, those getting Ready For School and Fun Practice Makes Perfect for kids up to about the 2nd grade (about age 7). They also have a section for older students ages 7-13 called Reading Eggspress that helps them continue on in their reading journey. This offers more advanced skills like reading comprehension, spelling, vocabulary skills and others. This last month we had the pleasure of reviewing Reading Eggs and we found it to be quite enjoyable.

As I mentioned above, Reading Eggs has basically two different categories, Reading Eggs that teaches actual reading skills, and Reading Eggspress that offers advanced reading activities. If you are not a beginner reader you can take a placement test to find out where you will begin. Since Gess is 10, but has special needs, she tested in at both levels. Because the majority of her skills are more advanced we spent most of our learning time in the Reading Egsspress area but Gess really loved going to the Reading Eggs section of the site too. In fact, I would often find her going there on her own.

Since we homeschool I wanted to use this to supplement our learning day so I would often have Gess do some lessons during school time in both Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress. When you click on the login screen you get to choose which section you would like to go to.

Once you click on the Reading Eggspress side you get to the floating Island. The Island rotates around as you choose which area you want to explore. There is a library where you can read books and take comprehension quizzes when you are done, a gym where you exercise your reading skills, a stadium where you play games (that require reading skills) against the computer or other players, and a mall where you can spend the eggs you earn doing your activities.

We spent a lot of time at the library. Here you can choose a book from the entire library list or limit the book selection to your reading age level (although you have to reset the search bar limit each time you enter). They have fiction and non fiction books and so far but we have found them all to be really interesting and fun. Here is a cute one Gess enjoyed.

One of the reasons I loved the library so much was that at the end of each book it has some questions to see how well you retained the information in the book. As Gess has gotten into chapter books it's hard for me to tell if she really understood what she read without me also taking the time to read the book and ask her about it. Well, I need her free reading time to be free for me too so I can get chores or other things done. With Reading Eggspress she could read a book and answer questions about it and her score would let me know how well she did! (I do, however, need to watch her take the quiz because the parental dashboard that lets me track her activity only tells me her average score, not how she does on each individual activity.) Now she would not always get the 80% they would like her to have to pass, but even with her special needs she hasn't really gotten below 60%. I love the way the quizzes are on a note pad right over the book and each page simply floats away when you are done with it. Here is one of the quizzes that she took.

I also liked the comprehension gym. I have been working on teaching Gess how to use a dictionary and this hands on, interactive way certainly makes it much more fun.

Of course you do more than just dictionary work in the gym. The entire interactive system that they have has been really well done and we find it to be a great way for Gess to learn.

Since Gess tested into both sections of the program we also implemented Reading Eggs into our day as well. While it was basically review for her she really enjoyed it immensely. (As I said before I have often found her just playing there, even when we were not doing school.) I think it is a good thing to have lessons where the kids can continually do them successfully and because of that this made it a fun and rewarding way for Gess to review some basic reading skills.

I was pretty impressed with the system myself. One thing kids with special needs struggle with is repetition. While repetition can be important for learning some programs repeat lessons so many times it begins to frustrate or bore Gess. This program was not like that at all! They only had you do each activity a short number of times before moving on. It really kept Gess motivated and she never got frustrated or hung up anywhere.

After you choose to go into the Reading Eggs section of the website you don't see a floating island, instead you see your map. Here is a shot of the lesson paths. This character is on the 8th activity in lesson 71. On the left hand bar you can see icons for other areas of Reading Eggs.

The interactive lessons were quite fun. Here is one where you have to make a sentence by putting the words in the correct order.

Every time you complete an activity or lesson you earn eggs. You can spend those eggs decorating your house or playing in the arcade among many other things.

On the Reading Eggs website they have an area where parents can track what each of their children have been doing on the site. The parent dashboard is helpful but as a homeschooling mom I wish it had more information. Maybe that's asking too much. Still, you can log on and see how many activities your child has done, what lesson they are on, how many eggs they have earned, how many tests they have taken, some average scores and other information. However, since I have a daughter with special needs who isn't always good at communicating to me what she has done I would just like more information than that, but not enough so that it would keep me from coming back or recommending the site.

Overall I think Reading Eggs is a great way to teach children to read. They have done an excellent job making games and activities that the kids really enjoy and are excited to play. Having your child desire to learn is most of the battle, and Gess never minded heading over to Reading Eggs or Reading Eggspress. In fact, she looked forward to it. There wasn't any part of what the kids did that I did not like or think needed improvement.

Reading Eggs offers a few subscription options. You can subscribe for a year for $75.00 which is only $1.40 per week or for 6 months is $49.95. The cost is for one child but if you sign up a second or third child up at the same time you receive 50% off their subscription price. Another option is subscribing monthly for $9.95 per child. I personally think the pricing is pretty reasonable and for what you get it's worth the money. You can try it out for FREE by simply signing up for a free trial. (I don't believe there is any credit card information required for the free trial.)

If you want to learn more you can see what other TOS Crew members thought of Reading Eggs or you can visit the Reading Eggs website and give the free trial a whirl so you can see it for yourself.

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

Friday, February 17, 2012

TOS Review: Apologia Who Am I?

I was in a bible study at church not too long ago and learned that only 9% of Christians actually possess a biblical worldview. That fact was simply staggering to me. How could so many people profess to be Christians and yet not understand what the bible teaches? With that fact in my mind I was excited to have the opportunity to review Apologia's biblical worldview curriculum Who Am I? (And What Am I Doing Here?).
This is actually part two in the What We Believe Series, but each unit can be taught individually and does not require any particular order. Since I want to make sure Gess is raised with a proper biblical worldview I was thrilled to have an opportunity to try this resource. I have heard great things about Apologia so I was really looking forward to getting my book. When the box arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find that it contained even more than I had anticipated. I not only received the Who Am I? (And What Am I Doing Here?) text book but also the Audio CD, Notebooking Journal and the Coloring Book. This would definitely be everything I needed to help teach Gess!

As the mother of a daughter with special needs I was especially touched that the first lesson dealt with that issue. It tells the story of a child who was born lame and how his family learned that he was still God's special creation. It reminds you that no matter what, you can and should bring joy to God. You are no mistake or accident. God made you just as you are! What a beautiful lesson to start off with a daughter who has Down Syndrome!

Now, the material is written on a fifth-sixth grade level but is made in such a way that allows you to use it with kids from ages six to fourteen years. This really makes it handy for large homeschooling families to use it with several students at once. At Gess' age and comprehension level I am not worried about her getting every aspect of the lesson, but am rather using it as an introduction to a biblical worldview. The book does come with a recommended lesson plan but they do suggest you follow it at your own pace. They say it can take anywhere from four to nine months to teach. I think we will be on the nine month program which makes it nice. That will allow us to use it for an entire school year and then next year we can purchase one of the others from the series.

Because of Gess' special needs, we have only (almost) finished lesson one which took us about a month, but so far I am impressed. From what I can tell the material is very solid, scriptural and enjoyable. I love how it takes important theological truths and brings them to a level a child can understand and relate too. We will definitely continue to use this curriculum and look to get more of the series in the future.

With the material being somewhat advanced I did some of the reading to Gess. The stories, however were awfully long so I really utilized the CD quite a bit and found that the Coloring Book also came in handy.

The Coloring Book actually has pages that are from the main story of the lesson so I would have Gess sit and listen to part of the story while coloring along in her book. Then afterwards we would discuss highlights and try to answer the questions at the end. Here she is coloring while the story plays in the background.

We found the Notebooking Journal useful as well. I think they did an excellent job at making it compatible for any age group. For instance younger kids draw a picture while older kids can write their answers. The pages are visually appealing which makes it seem less like work and more like fun.

Gess enjoyed her Notebooking time as much as she did coloring. Here you can see where they were instructed to either draw a picture or write a story on one page and write vocabulary on another. Gess of course drew a picture for the first lesson but did written work when she was able.

Our first lesson was on "What am I doing here?" We learned how God created each one of us and what that meant about God's character, who we are in relation to Him, and what we should do with that knowledge. To find out more about what this series teaches you can view the Table of Contents or a Sample Lesson.

The Who Am I? (And What Am I Doing Here?) book can be purchased for $39.00. The Audio CD is $19.00, the Notebooking Journal is $24.00 and the Coloring Book is $8.00. I think the price is my only issue with this product as I wish they at least offered a discount for purchasing the entire package. However, I must say that the content and the quality of the products are top notch, so it certainly is something worth fitting into your budget if you can. To find out more view Who Am I? (And What Am I Doing Here?) online or see what other members of the TOS Crew thought about it.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received the "Who Am I?" Curriculum listed above for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

DOGO News - News for Kids

Gess got her own computer for Christmas and we made her a start page similar to ours. It has a calendar, links of her favorite websites, her email (which we are just now teaching her to use) and the weather. I was thinking about how my start page also has news feed and I thought that would be cool for her as well but I didn't think she would find it as interesting as I did. So, I decided to search for a news site specifically for kids and came across DOGO News.

I love how the rss feed has images for each article. It makes it visually appealing to Gess and I have actually found her exploring the news feed because of it. This is an example of what she sees.

Every article has pictures with it and it appears that most of them have videos too, which really makes it fun. I think this is a great way to start introducing kids to the importance of news and world events. Instead of long boring articles they are short, but informative, visually appealing and usually teach the kids something new. Take the article about the Super Bowl for instance. There the kids learned that it's not only about football, it's also about food!

We have only been using this for a few weeks and as I mentioned when Gess opens up her browser it has started to catch her eye. I believe that knowing what is going on in the world is important and I think this is a fun way to get kids interested. In fact you might find that you can learn things too. I mean I certainly did not know that Elephants wore contact lenses, did you?

Friday, February 3, 2012

TOS Review: Math Rider

The Math Rider Intelligent Math Facts Game was created by a dad who found out his daughter's were struggling in math. He realized that he needed a fun and creative way to encourage his children to practice their basic math facts. Failing to find a good and innovative way to do that through other games and programs he decided to make his own and thus created the Math Rider Intelligent Math Facts Game.

Math Rider takes you on a magical quest through math lands where you ride your horse over obstacles along the way until you reach your goal and earn awards. To jump over each obstacle you must answer the math question correctly.

But don't worry, if you can not answer the question correctly or quickly enough, it will give the answer and let you move on.

Not only that, but two questions later you will get a chance to retry the problem again until you start to get it right.

At the end of the course you are shown a graph of how well you did on each problem and told how many points you have earned.

If you did well enough you can move on to the next level of your quest. Once you have completed a quest you receive a reward to place out in front of your castle. Here is a courtyard scattered with all the rewards. Now that's something fun to work for!

The neatest part about this game is that parents will be able to see the progress their children are making. If you scroll on each bar in the graph at the end of each level it tells you exactly how long you took to answer each problem. It also has a section which lets you view your entire progress. For each operation you can find out which problems you struggle with and which ones you are doing correctly. It also shows the amount of progress you have made for each individual problem as well as on average for each area of operation. Below is an example of a chart showing how fast a particular problem was answered over the course of the game.

I think you will discover that most kids will find that Math Rider is one of the funnest ways to practice math facts. My favorite part of the program is that it focuses on success and not failure. I love how it handles it when you get a problem wrong. There is no "crash" or any kind of "big" deal made out of the "failure" but instead it just corrects you and moves on. The reports are also extremely helpful for parents as well as fun for kids to see the progress they have made. In fact, each reward becomes more beautifully animated with each level of improvement so even after you get a reward you are rewarded by it!

Of course, I have a daughter with Down syndrome so the game really didn't work well for us, and I knew going into the review that might be the case. Math is where many kids who have DS really struggle and my daughter is no exception. Math Rider does decrease and increase the speed of the game in correspondence to how quickly your child answers questions, but unfortunately for us there is just no speed that was slow enough for Gess.

Even when I sat at the keyboard and typed for Gess when she answered, she just gets confused and frustrated when similar problems come at her too quickly. Since they didn't focus on her failures she at least did not become frustrated when she got a problem wrong or not in time, but neither did she seem to learn the answer even after they told her. This is just not a good learning style for her, but that is no fault of the game itself. We actually had a friend of hers play the game one day and she really enjoyed it and did rather well with it. I truly think Math Rider is a great game for a typical child, even one that struggles with math and it might even be helpful for kids with other kinds of special needs, it just did not work for us. If you think it might be a good fit for you I think you will really enjoy it. After all, even though Gess didn't do well learning the math, she still had fun playing.

Math Rider will soon be selling for $47.00 but if you purchase it before February 15 you can buy it for $37.00, so if you are interested in this game, now would be a good time to buy it. To learn more about Math Rider visit their website or see what other members of the TOS Crew thought about it.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received temporary access to the Math Rider game for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.


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