Friday, August 31, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: The Reading Kingdom

Since my daughter has special needs I am always eager to try out new reading programs so I was pleased to have the opportunity to review The Reading Kingdom. While most programs use phonics or focus on whole language learning this program takes a unique approach by integrating the best part of those methods into their 6 skill model of reading instruction.  Developed by Dr. Marion Blank, the director of the Light on Learning program at Columbia University, The Reading Kingdom is a common core approach that requires no memorization of rules.  Below is the chart showing the comparison between this program and the approaches most commonly used to teach reading. 

When the program starts they are very clear that you do not give your child any instructions as it really needs to evaluate what your child does or does not know.  Of course, having a daughter with special needs, I soon found out that I still needed to assist her to make sure she understood the instructions.  It begins by having them take a placement test.  Unfortunately Gess tested at the earliest level, even though she is a great reader.  I am not sure why that was.  It may be because of the typing required.  Gess is a great typist too, don't get me wrong, however when she made a mistake that she was aware of she hit the back space.  That unfortunately moved the cursor to the next word.  Before Gess noticed she was still trying to type the word she originally got wrong.  This put her into a frenzy and by the time I intervened the entire sentence was wrong.  Anyway, I later discovered that you can email them to get your child moved ahead, so about halfway through the lessons I did just that.  They were pretty quick to respond and had her moved within a few hours!

I did like how the evaluation process worked.  I also like that the program immediately addresses any mistakes your child makes.  If the child does not understand or misses a word or other problem they go straight into teaching it before moving on.  They have several activities to teach and test your child.  This was one of my favorites, maybe because it is one I had not seen before.  The child has to spell the word by finding it (in order) among random letters. 

Here are a few other activities your child gets to do.

Gess did seem to enjoy the activities and books that she read.  Here is Gess playing one of the reviews where birds fly and you have to figure out which one will properly spell your word or phrase.

For incentives you are working on making your own Reading Kingdom Book.

 After you complete each activity you earn points.  When you reach a certain amount of points you get a passport to open up a new page in the book.  Each milestone makes the page do another interactive activity.  Once that level is completed you move on to a new page.  Here is one that Gess completed.

Since they have your child work alone they do have reports fort he parents so that you can know how your child is doing.  They email them to you weekly and can be accessed anytime online.  You can see how your child is doing overall and then as you click on each section it will break it down even further.  Here is the main page of our report so you can see what it looks like.

 I confirmed that writing really was the area holding Gess back because when I viewed the breakdown of each activity she always had a "Needs Attention" icon for the "Write In To Read" section while she usually got an "Excellent" or at least "Very Good" for the other sections.

All of the activities Gess did were pretty easy for her.  I probably should have had them jump her ahead a few more levels but because she needed to learn the typing/writing section I did not.  In fact, Gess was still struggling with writing issues and often kept forgetting to capitalize words in a sentences.  There were times when the instructions seemed somewhat vague to me so the child had to know from what was on the screen what was expected of them.  For example this would be on the screen.

The audible instructions would simply say, "type Am" however the cursor was in the first word of the sentence and was flashing.  So while visually a child should understand that they were typing the first word in the sentence the only instruction they received orally was, "type Am."  Typical kids probably understand that this means to type the word with a capital letter but kids with special needs do not necessarily get that. Gess certainly didn't which meant she usually got it wrong the first time unless I was sitting there and saying, "Ok, look at the sentence and type the first word Am" (or something like that.).  I think if they would start that screen by saying "OK, now we are going to write the sentence.  I will tell you each word to write.  Type Am" it might have made more sense to Gess.  They also started having her place commas in the sentences and she didn't always get that she was supposed to do that either because the blank for it was the same color as the space bar blank.

Other than the writing aspect of it, so far the program is still under Gesserine's reading ability, however that usually is not a problem.  She still has some favorite preschool games she plays which I think is because she enjoys being able to get things right without a struggle.  We all want to be successful from time to time.  Unfortunately she really did not care for this program much at all.  I think part of that was due to how sluggish it seemed.  I realize this was for younger kids so they might have wanted to keep the pace slow, but this just seemed to drag on and on.  It wasn't that they did too many repetitive problems or that they weren't fun, but it seemed to take too long to move from one screen to the next.  At the end of each activity there were reward screens where something fun happened, but it moved way too slow for us.  Something fun would pop up, then you would wait, then a button would finally pop up that you would click on, and then you would wait, and then you would finally get the arrow to move on to the next activity which you would push, and then you would wait as the next lesson loaded.  We have very fast machines that run some of the most powerful games, so it was not because my computer couldn't handle it, so it appeared that they made it to work that way.  It just seemed to kill the flow of the activities and while trying to make it fun I think it frustrated both of us.

Still, I do love how the program works and it might have been better for us if we were starting at the beginning and if Gess did not have special needs.  I love the concept of the program and how it covers the materials from so many different angles.  I think the system has great potential to lead to success for many students.  I just think they need to speed up the movement of the game to keep the flow of learning moving and maybe be a bit more clear on the instructions.  The activities themselves were enjoyable and easy to learn from and once I got Gess started she did enjoy the activities she got to do.  If you are looking for a reading program to start with I would recommend giving it a try as they offer a 30 day free trial which is a great way to test to see if it works for your family!

After your 30 day FREE trial Reading Kingdom subscriptions are $19.99 a month or $199.99 per year and additional children are $9.99 per month (or 50% off the annual rate).  They are also currently offering a special for homeschoolers.  If you sign up right now you will save 25%.  To learn more about The Reading Kingdom visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a a one year license for an individual reader account to The Reading Kingdom for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our Schedule

Many people want to know what a typical homeschool day looks like for us.  Well, OK around my house no day is generally typical, but here is what we strive for.  So far it has worked out to where I am only ahead by 10 to 20 minutes, so I think this works great for us. I made this visual schedule to put up in the classroom.  This way Gess knows what to expect and when we get to do her favorite subject.  Otherwise she is constantly saying, "science now?"  While Gess generally likes school, every once in awhile she just doesn't want to stay engaged.  When that happens this visual tool also works as a gentle reminder of what she must do before she can stop.


What does your homeschooling day look like?  Find out how other families are fitting it all in by hopping over to the Schoolhouse Review Blog Cruise.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Fostering Independence: Success With Dishes!

I have done a few blogs about things I do to teach skills towards fostering independence in Gess. Last year I told you about things that I have done for Gess in the kitchen when she was younger and last April I shared how Gess was learning to do the laundry and other chores. At that time Gess was washing her play dishes because I worried about her breaking glass and I wanted to make sure she learned to do a thorough job.  Well, she has mastered it!  There are still a few flimsy dishes I set aside but if I need dishes done, all I have to do is get the water ready and put her to it! I can't tell you how helpful it is to have a child old enough and skilled enough to help with the dishes!  (Yes, we still live in the stone ages and therefore don't own a dishwasher!)  Here is my girl working hard.  I am so proud of her!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Our Classroom

Well, we are starting school today.  We are both really excited and anxious to get back to some regularly scheduled learning.  I am even more excited because this is the first year I actually have an entire school room!  Usually I have a corner or section of a room but since my son moved off to college this year we rearranged some things to permanently open up the small room into a classroom/office.

Here is the office side.  I will use this for teaching of course but my husband and I will both use it for other things as well.  It's nice to finally have some quiet place to go to study and write.

And here is the view from the other direction that also shows my white board.  That is my other great addition to this school year.  I had a very small white board that I used to use, but this year I get the real thing!  (It's used but it's in good shape.)

I want to thank my son Timothy for inspiring me to have the office for writing/studying and the crates for bookshelves (in the next photo).  I miss him and will think of him each day I sit at his old desk!  And here is the other side which has the "school" stuff.  As for Gess' school desk, we have had this for years but it was really wearing down, so we painted

Yesterday before church we took some pictures of Gess in the room.  I think this is the one I will use for her "school picture."

Well, I am off to get Gess up, eat breakfast and start our first day!  Here's to a happy and successful school year for all of our kids! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Apologia's I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist Curriculum

Apologia Educational Ministries has just introduced their first apologetics curriculum for high school students and I get the pleasure of telling you all about it.  In fact I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist Curriculum is a study that is not only good for teens but it is also great for adults as it will help them defend their faith against atheism by tackling issues such as truth, moral relativism, postmodernism, and many others.

This curriculum is a companion to the best selling book for which it was named I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek.  (You will need both the book and the curriculum for the study.)

The introduction gives an overview of where the book is headed and why it is necessary.  Basically there are three major religious worldviews which are discussed and defined in the beginning.  (Agnosticism is also addressed)

All religions try to answer the most consequential questions in life. Where did we come from?  Who are we? Why are we here? How should we live? Where are we going?  The answers to the questions depends on the existence of God.  However, science also attempts to answer some of these questions.  Where did the universe come from? Where did life come from? Since all religious worldviews (including atheism) make truth claims the authors propose that when you examine them scientifically, looking at the data using both reason and intellect, you will conclude belief in Christianity is the most reasonable outcome. The outline for the rest of the book and study guide follows the 12 main points they use to make that argument.  They "proceed logically from the question of truth all the way to the conclusion that the Bible is the Word of God."

12 Points That Show Christianity is True

1.  Truth about reality is knowable.
2.  The opposite of true is false.
3.  It is true that the theistic God exists.  This is evidenced by the:
     a. Beginning of the universe (Cosmological Argument)
     b. Design of the universe (Teleological Argument/ Anthropic Principle)
     c. Design of life (Teleological Argument)
     d. Moral Law (Moral Argument)
4.  If God exists, then miracles are possible.
5.  Mircales can be used to confirm a message from God. (i.e., as acts of God to confirm a word of God).
6. The New Testament is historically reliable.  This is evidenced by:
     a. Early testimony
     b. Eyewitness testimony
     c. Uninvented (authentic) testimony
     d. Eyewitnesses who were not deceived
7.  The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God.
8.  Jesus' claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by:
     a. His fulfillment of many prophecies about himself;
     b. His sinless life and miraculous deeds;
     c. His prediction and accomplishment of his resurrection.
9.  Therefore, Jesus is God.
10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

Now realize that they are not saying these truths are true by definition alone.  They actually spend time on each point in the book giving evidence proving each specific truth.  It then builds from one truth on to the next truth.  For instance you can't really prove that point 12 is true until you have first established that truth is actually knowable which is point 1. 

Each chapter of the I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist Curriculum begins by telling you exactly what part of the book you should read first before beginning, including both the chapter number and page numbers.  (The book chapters do not directly correlate to the study chapters.) Then it tells you what part of the 12 points listed above are addressed in this section.  You are then given key topics that you will be learning and key terms that you should be able to define from your reading.  After that there are 4 basic sections to each study chapter.

Hook - This section is a brief reminder and review of what you read and often includes questions to start your study off.

Book - This section goes deeper into the study and issues addressed in the book and will have comprehensive questions to test your knowledge.

Look - Here they want you to go beyond what they have taught you and to look some things up for yourself.  You are also challenged with various assignments that help you put what you learn into practice.

Took - This is a summary of the lesson that helps you apply what you learned to your own life and witness for Christ.

Each chapter also has two highlighted sections that tell you about a specific person, object, or theory that has impacted the topic you are discussing.  Each time they address someone or something from each side of the argument.  For instance the introduction tells you about Carl Sagan and C.S. Lewis while another chapter highlights the dead sea scrolls and Rashi whose commentary on the Talmud is still in use today.

I am absolutely loving this study. I have to admit that I am not real great when it comes to the scientific evidence and was pleased that they present it in both a fashion that is understandable to people like me and at the same time detailed and proficient enough to be taken seriously by people who are in the scientific community.  For instance I loved how they followed the Apollo 13 story to really illustrate how highly precise and interdependent environmental conditions are necessary for life to be possible.  These are known as anthropic constants which make up the Anthropic Principle.  These terms are technical but their illustration made them easily understood and enjoyable to read about.

I have also enjoyed the workbook questions.  I am really trying to get these facts down and moving slowly as the guides suggests.  The assignments have been fun as well.  Recently we were asked to look for self-defeating statements in the media or on the Internet and then to write about it. That was an easy assignment for me.  All I had to do was log on to Facebook.

Recently the issue of gay marriage was all the rave and Christians were constantly being told not to be "judgmental." I pointed out that the argument "do not judge" is a self-defeating argument because it is a "judgment" to state that someone else is "judgmental."  The argument immediately breaks down because you are doing the very thing that you are saying is wrong.  Being hateful in your outrage of somebody else that you have deemed to be "hateful" removes the credibility from your argument. Christians (in general) are not being hateful to the gay and lesbian community.  They simply disagree with them.  While you can find hateful and judgmental people on both sides of the aisle, the argument needs to be about facts, not emotions. Should marriage be between a man and a woman or does it matter?  That is why it is important that we are able to show that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore it must be followed.  That conclusion should not be based upon blind faith or emotion, but reason, intellect and evidence.

You should be able to complete the  I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist Curriculum in less than 9 months so it is a perfect fit for any homeschool.  If you have high school students I highly recommend having them do this study.  In fact I highly recommend every Christian adult do it too.  Since Gess is not in high school yet, I have used this on my own and am anxious to try and start up a study with other adults or high school students, either at church or in my home.  For now my husband is going to join me in it.  I am really enjoying it and learning a lot.  It is also grounding me in my faith (which was pretty grounded to begin with).  God has called us to reason with Him (Isaiah 1:18) and to demolish arguments against God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  As they say in the book, "Christians don't get brownie points for being stupid."  Instead we need to love God with our heart, soul and our mind. (Matt 22:37).  This book encourages you to use your mind, your reason, and intellect to stand firm and defend your faith against those who oppose it. 

You can purchase the I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist Curriculum for $33.00 and the I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist book for $16.00.  While you can learn so much from just reading the book, I have found the curriculum provides many additional facts and resources and it has truly helped me to retain the information and put it into practice. I would definitely want them both. To learn more about this curriculum and the book visit their website where they have a sample chapter and table of contents for you to preview.  You can also see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a copy of the I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist Book and Curriculum for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Vocabulary Spelling City

Vocabulary Spelling City is an online tool for learning vocabulary and spelling, just as the name implies.  Many of their resources are free but I was given the entire premium membership for the purpose of my review. 

The program offers several ways for your child to explore their vocabulary and spelling lessons.  You can enter your own customized list or use some of the lists already available through the website.  There is a Spelling Test, Vocabulary Test, Teach Me, Flash Cards and Play A Game button at the top and bottom of each list.  As you can see there are also links to print the list, handwriting worksheets and an option to have them teach you word by word.

When I first logged in as the teacher and went to set up my lists, I found the site a little overwhelming and hard to navigate.  They do, however, have a very thorough Videos - FAQ's page that was very helpful.  After watching some of the "getting started" videos I was able to jump right in. Since I do not currently have my own spelling word list I thought I would try some of theirs.  The first one we did was from their Monthly Holiday Lists titled Summer Sports.  I thought that would be fun since Gess had participated in some of those sports and was just getting ready to head to football camp.  The program starts by teaching the words. They then have flash cards that say and spell the word on one side then flip over to give the definition, part of speech and use it in a sentence. 

 Then there are a variety of games and activities.  Gess' favorite was Word O Rama.

Here are what some of the other games look like.

The parent/teacher dashboard has tons of resources that not only let you choose lists or make your own, but they let you make assignments for all students or on an individual basis.  Because there so many activities to choose from I found making assignments really helpful for Gess. This ensured she got the activities and games that were best suited for her (because she has special needs).  As they progress, you can see on the reports what assigments have been completed and what scores they got on the tests.  The Student Records section has a Gradebook, Assignments, Student Activity, Writing Practice, and Students tab.  On her first test Gess misspelled two words (though I think at least one was a typo because she spelled it correctly orally) and she only missed one on the vocabulary test.  Here is her Vocabulary Test Report and a sample of her Activity Report. 

You can also print off certificates after they take the test but it appears you must do that at that time because I have not found a way to get back to them again.  Of course I have not tried that hard so I may just be missing it.

After doing one of their lists I thought it might be fun to make our own this time so I made up a list to correlate with our VBS theme to use the week after it was over.  VBS is one of Gess' favorite things to do over the summer and she absolutely enjoyed this list because it reminded her of it.  Here she is playing one of the games from this list.

Then it was time for the Olympics so we made a list about that as well.  The only word she got wrong on this test was London and that was only because she forgot to capitalize it. Here was her handwriting worksheet for this list.   I loved the way you could choose how to format these.  You could choose style (print, cursive, etc.), whether or not to have arrows, font size and whether or not have upper or lower case letters.

Now that we have the spelling down I want to really use some of the other features.  They have some language arts lessons that I like.  Here is a screenshot from the lesson on analogies and below that is Gess working on her antonym word list.

There is so much more I could tell you about Vocabulary Spelling City as it has a lot to it which is also what I did not like about it.  As a mother of a daughter who has special needs, busy sites with tons of options is not always a good fit for us.  Thankfully she was able to navigate the assignments pretty well, which kept her on task so it was doable.  However, with so much detail and information I often found myself struggling with where to find something or figuring out how something worked.  It just seemed like an awful lot of work on my part especially since I usually have to modify lessons anyway due to Gess' special needs. However if I had a large family I would find it more helpful.  I can certainly see how this would benefit teachers who had a large class to keep up with!  And for kids who work well independently this would probably be very enjoyable for them and they would probably love having so many things to do.

Keep in mind that you can use Vocabulary Spelling City for FREE although there are many benefits to purchasing the premium package which is only $29.99 a year for a family with up to 5 children.  Features such as the progress tracking, record keeping, vocabulary test, language arts, premium games and no advertisements are some of what you get with the premium membership.  To learn more about Vocabulary Spelling City visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a one year subscription to the Vocabulary Spelling City Premium Membership Family Package for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: This Week In History

This Week in History is an online subscription from A Thomas Jefferson Education that offers a unique way to tie history into every other subject like math, science, language skills among many others.  Each week they offer a daily guide to exciting events that happened on that very day in history and then help you explore those events more thoroughly.  They offer interesting facts, photos, video links, articles, craft projects, writing topics and many other ideas so that when your day is done you have had a full day of learning covering many subjects along the way.

You can access these resources two ways, via email or on their website.  Once you view This Week In History you can choose your topic for the week or do one every day.  Gess and I just chose to do just one a week.  It is summer so we are not quite on a full schedule so I thought that would be best.  So far we have had the opportunity to learn about Carlo Lorenzini (whose pen name was Collodi) the author of Pinocchio, how Nadio Comaneci became the first gymnast to receive a perfect score, the first man to land on the moon, and about the transatlantic cable that first connected the Old World to the New.

Here is how it works.  On July 27 we found the headline "1866: Transatlantic cable connects Old World to New."  I chose this event because I liked the fun hands on and interactive activities they had to go with them.  They also provide a little information about the topic and some photos.

We were then given some links to read more detailed information from a history magazine and the PBS website.  It then offers ideas for writing or discussion.  Gess seems to have a hard time grasping history so we simply discussed it rather than wrote about it.  Then came the fun stuff.

Gess actually got to learn morse code at this really cool website.  Here she is learning how to spell Gess using morse code.  We never got past the beginner stage but she had fun with it.

The Transatlantic cable was a huge step in our communication system and linking these continents to get information across the ocean was impressive.  This led us to talk about how we communicate today on the telephone and there were instructions on how to make a toy phone.  Here is the instructional video.

As you can see, and probably remember from when you did this yourself as a kid, it's fairly simple, but fun.  Look at Gess' face in the photos.  You can tell that she thought it was pretty neat that we could speak and listen to each other from a cup!

We really enjoyed some of these lessons and I think it really is a neat resource to have and use, however I do not think it's a great fit for our homeschool style.  Because of Gess' special needs and struggles I have to have a pretty structured learning day which is already quite a bit of work.  While this was fun, it was time consuming and took a lot of work on my part so I probably would not do it very often although it would occasionally be a nice way to change things up from time to time.  I do think this would be a great fit for families who have different learning styles or children who are able to work more independently.  As a child I would have loved this myself and would have gladly spent my free time exploring different topics each day.  If you have children who can do that then this would be perfect for them.

This Week in History is available for $9.99 a month which includes your weekly topics via email or the website, plus access to the entire year's archive which is searchable by date, topic and key word.  They also provide a sample week for you to view so you can see exactly what you get before you buy.  To learn more about This Week in History visit their website or check out what other members of the Schoolhouse Reveiw Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a one year subscription to This Week in History  for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.


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