Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Activity Bags - Sceince Experiments and Travel Binder

Have you ever had that moment where you needed to keep your child busy while you were doing something else like chores, talking on the phone, or teaching your other children?  OK, silly question.  What mother hasn't had that problem?  Well Activity Bags is a really inventive solution for keeping children occupied so busy moms can get things done.

Activity Bags are just what they say, they are activities inside a bag.  All the bags are organized ahead of time so the mom just has to grab it and hand it off to the child to keep them occupied so the mom can handle whatever chore or catastrophe awaits her at the moment.  So when you get that phone call that you just have to take and can't get your preschooler off your leg just "grab a bag" and give it to them.  This should keep them busy for awhile because they now have something to do that they haven't done a million times already because you aren't handing them a toy they play with all the time, but some new interesting activity.

Activity Bags come in a variety of age groups and study areas.  For the purpose of my review I was given their Science Experiments in a Bag ebooks 1, 2 and 3 as well as their Travel Activities in a Binder ebook.


For those who know my daughter you will know that science is her favorite subject and experiments are her most favorite thing to do.  Now, while the Science Experiments in a Bag are handy to have, many of these are not the kinds you want to hand off to a child to use unsupervised as you might the Preschool or Math Games Bags, but they sure are handy for when we are looking for something fun to do at home.

Activity Bags do require a lot of time, effort and a little expense to create, however they have a really neat solution for helping with that too. Each Activities Bag book explains how to coordinate a swap.  In a swap you can gather up to 20 other friends who each take part in gathering the items for the bags.  Then you give each parent about 3 weeks to make bags for their activity or experiment.  Instead of having to assemble several different experiments as I did, you just focus on one or two but make several of each.  I can assure you that this would be easier and faster than what I did by myself.  It would also be more fun.  They do give you everything you need, including very clear instructions and printouts, for you to organize a successful swap.

So here is how they work.  I had 3 different Science Experiments in a Bag ebooks to review so instead of making all of them for my own use I chose some experiments from each of them and made one Science Experiment Bags bundle.


The Science Experiments in a Bag is geared towards grades K-8.  Book 1 includes activities in Biology, General Science and Nature. Book 2 includes Chemisty, Human Body and General Science while Book 3 is all about Chemistry.   I assembled various experiments from each book and placed them in my basket.  Now, when we need an experiment to do we can just grab one.  In fact, one weekend when Gess was looking for something to do we said, lets do an experiment!  We took her to the box and let her look them and choose one.


She chose "Lots of Lava" from the Science Experiments in Bag Book 3.  This was a really fun and messy experiment that we all enjoyed!   Each experiment bag is labeled with what is inside, what you will still need and any warnings such as not intended for children under 3, etc.  They offer print outs of the labels for your convenience.  Inside each bag you will find components that are prepared for you as well as experiment logs and answer sheets that you print out on card stock (since these were for myself I used regular paper). 


Then the child opens the bag and gathers the ingredients and begins reading the directions.


 Ours had 2 parts.  First we had to make a volcano out of a flour, salt, cooking oil and water.



Then we had to set that aside and let it dry for a couple of hours.  We had some books about volcanoes so while she waited I had her read them and look up some videos about them.  Once it had dried we were ready to complete the experiment.  It wasn't completely solid but held together enough for our purposes.

You are given a bottle in the bag that has dish soap and food coloring in it.  I prepared it according to the instructions.  You add to that pre-measured baking soda (in the bag) along with warm water.  You then add vinegar until you start to see the reaction.  Ours was rather unimpressive.


Not only did it not erupt very well, it was slightly pink, not red at all.  So my husband and I added more baking soda and tried again.  Once we got the reaction we liked, we added more red food coloring too.  We finally got the results we were looking for.


Not all experiments are this detailed, messy or require as much work.  Some are rather simple.  They all seem to be really interesting, though with some like this one you may need to alter some of the directions.

I also reviewed Travel Activities, which is actually Travel Activities in a Binder.  These activities are geared towards elementary age children though they even have some pages labeled preschool.  These are really great activities for children to do in a car which is why a binder makes way more sense than a bag.  Here is the one I made for Gess.


Now you can probably tell I recycled an old binder. You of course would not want to do this if you were making it for a swap.  However I am making this for a road trip we are taking next month so I used what I had.  It's really great.  Inside you have a nice pencil holder with dry erase markers, some felt for an eraser and some dice.


Then you place printouts inside of protective sheets.  This way the child can do them over and over again.  They have all sorts of activities from travel games, board games to mazes and puzzles.


I don't have any pictures of Gess doing this yet because I am saving it for our trip.  We will be on the road for 12 hours so she will certainly love having new activities to do!  I chose things she could do alone since she will be the only child in the car but I also threw some games in there that we can maybe play in the hotel room.  It only called for 2 dice but I went ahead and put a whole pack in there since that's what I had  (you know in case you lose some).

We really enjoyed these products and while they do take quite a bit of work, lots of printouts and some expense I think once the work is done it's worth having them around and in the end will ultimately save you time when you don't have it. I think I may try to get a swap going locally to get some of those experiments I haven't done yet or try some of the other books I didn't get to review.  The Travel Activities in a Binder ebook sells for $15.00.  The Science Experiments in a Bag Book 1, the Science Experiments in a Bag Book 2, the Science Experiments in a Bag Book 3 sells for $15.00 each or you can purchase all three as a bundle for $39.00.  They are also offering a FREE Activity Bag Sampler when you sign up for their email list and fill out a quick survey.

To learn more about these and their other products visit the Activity Bags website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about them by clicking on the banner below.

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Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received the Science Experiments in a Bag Books 1, 2, and 3 ebooks plus the Travel Activities in a Binder ebook for giving my honest opinion and assessment of these products in my review.  
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Puberty, Menstruation and Special Needs

That sure sounds like a fun topic, does it not!?  Well no it's not and it's very sensitive, but for those of us with special kids it's also a very real concern.  My Gess turns 11 today!  She is becoming quite the young lady and impresses me each and every day at just how "grown up" she is becoming.  Still, she does have Down syndrome and there are some areas in which she is still unable to experience some things that most 11 year old kids do.  For instance she can't run down the street to her friends house alone or go to the store by herself.  If she went school, she wouldn't be walking by herself there either.  She just isn't quite ready for that amount of independence as she easily gets distracted and could end up lost or worse yet, injured.

Unfortunately puberty comes upon a person biologically without any consideration to their mental state and can sometimes exasperate things.  I noticed early signs of puberty about 2 years ago and immediately talked to her doctor.  She told me those signs probably meant that my daughter would be starting menstruation in about 2 years, by age 11.  Are you kidding me?!  Well, she wasn't.  Gess had her first cycle a little over a month ago!  Thankfully they will probably be irregular for awhile and it may even be months before she has another.  Still, I am glad that I took notice 2 years ago and began diligently preparing my daughter for what was about to happen.  It seemed to work for Gess' experience went smoothly, without incident or emotional turmoil, and that's hard to accomplish with any girl! 

This is a sensitive subject and I really sort of cringe at sharing something so personal about my daughter.  I am actually somewhat of a prude and rarely talk about feminine issues publicly anyway.  I won't even joke about how cranky, irritable or bloated I feel. However, I also know that I found very little talk about how to help a child with special needs handle this issue and to be quite frank, we need help!  I will say that there are may philosophies out there about how to handle certain issues and many I disagree with.  I think each family needs to make some of those decisions on their own.  You may or may not agree with my approach, but just know that it worked for us.

While I do not talk about these sorts of things publicly I do feel comfortable sharing information with my immediate family and knowing that Gess needed to be free to express her concerns to me I have always tried to be open with her.  When I realized she would be headed down that path sooner rather than later I made a decision to become more vocal about my own experiences.  As I began to share things with Gess I was very careful to make sure that my tone was always positive, relaxed and normal!  I think that is very important.  Kids can sense when you are uncomfortable about something and since this was my daughter who needed my help it was easy for me to just be myself.  So here are some things we did.

Whenever I had my cycle I would mention how I was on my "period."  Gess always does the shopping with me and when I got to the pads I would say "oh I have go get pads for my period."  I would even mention that I had to change it from time to time.  Then I introduced Gess to what a pad was.  I first explained why I needed them.  Yes, you will get the "Eww" when you describe what's happening and where.  Again, just speak calmly and keep your tone and mood normal.  Yep, it happens to young ladies and women.  It's just a fact of life.  It's also a good thing to talk about the cramping and down side but be sure not to whine and complain during your own cycle in a way that might scare the child!

I also demonstrated what a pad does.  Just get some water and add some food coloring.  Choose your color, it doesn't have to be red!  Then let them watch a pad do it's thing.  Kids who have younger siblings might be able to make a diaper comparison.  Gess had no real experience with that.  Gess actually thought playing with them was fun and that sort of fascinated her with it. Do that as often as you like.  Letting them get comfortable with the product is a good thing.  The doctor at the Down syndrome clinic even suggested letting the child watch the parent change their own pad so they can see exactly how it looks and works. 

Then it was time to introduce the bra.  Gess has terrible texture issues but I was thankful that I found some with very soft material that she took to rather easily.  These don't yet have clasps in the back.  We may never try those kind.  Over the head bras are great.  We may try a sports bra one day but these are much thinner, lighter and more comfortable so for now that's what we use.  It's a good thing to begin introducing them before they are necessary to give them some adjustment to the comfort. I also gave Gess her own deodorant and had her put it on every morning when she put her bra on.  Starting the routine is important as kids often find much comfort in that.

As Gess began to really near the time when it was most likely she would start her period we began practicing actually wearing a pad.  Finding ones that fit was the hardest part.  I prefer Always brand myself and one thing my doctor stressed was that it is important to have ones like those that really keep the fluids away from the skin.  She's right you know.  Gess can't stand to have a drop of water on her shirt so finding a good pad was essential.  We finally settled on Always Radiant Infinity Totally Teen pads.  I actually hated that they had wings because that makes placement harder but it also keeps it in place better so we stuck with it.  She actually learned how to do it without a lot of trouble.

Kids with texture issues, which Gess definitely has, will need some time to adjust.  At first Gess didn't like keeping it on very long.  My goal was to have her wear it for 2 hours every day.  Eventually she got used to it and kept it on longer.  Then one day she called to me from the bathroom and said, "mom I have blood."  I actually had this happen once before it and it was on her finger from a cut.  This time however, it was the real thing!  Thankfully we were "practicing" and she noticed it on her pad so there was no mess to clean up!  I handled it really well.  I went to that very calm, matter of fact, natural voice and told her that she had started her period.  (I then left the room and had my freak out moment when she wasn't looking!)

Because my daughter has a high tolerance for pain and discomfort I gave her an ibuprofen a couple of times a day just in case she was cramped or her head hurt.  My doctor agreed that it was a good idea.  While Gess didn't complain of anything she often will be very sick and never complain.  Her bleeding was also very light so we never had to deal with any major issues when changing a pad.  The doctor recommended getting a watch and setting the timer for every hour and a half so she could check and change often enough.  I still haven't gotten one but do plan to, especially when they begin to become more regular and her bleeding increases.

I know there are many people today choosing to do some hormone treatments to delay puberty but I personally feel that anything that keeps the body from doing what it was meant to naturally do is not generally a good idea.  I personally would leave that for a last resort treatment.  I am glad I allowed Gess to give it a try first because she certainly seems ready to deal with it and even is a little proud of it. 

I have also stressed that this is something we don't talk about to just everyone, especially boys.  Since we homeschool and she doesn't have a "school nurse" resource to speak to when I am not around I gave her the names of some safe female family members she could also talk to.  It was fun to have some female chat about our early experiences with Gess.  I am glad I have family that understands her needs that way!

Of course it's always important to share abuse awareness and safety during the procedure.  I often made comments that not just anyone could help her with this.  Long before puberty discussion we already began to address modesty and how no one should be seeing or touching her private parts unless they were a doctor or female family member helping her with medical or menstrual issues. 

We are also going to begin working on appropriate contact.  Gess is very loving and loves to hug people.  Now that she is a "young lady" we talk about how it's not appropriate to hug someone very long.  I might have her start counting to 5 and then end the hug.  I know it may sound extreme but our children really are more at risk of being taken advantage of.  There are also some issues we had last summer.  Gess was going around trying to kiss some boys at the pool and went and kissed some stranger's shirt at a garage sale because it had Mario on it!  She now knows you don't kiss strangers but she also needs to know that even people you do know have boundaries.  I would rather be safe rather than sorry.

So Gess turns 11 today and is already a "young lady."  She certainly does express a good deal of maturity.  She is very helpful around the house with chores, uses her manners most of the time and embraces more responsibility with maturity. People are certainly noticing and complimenting her all the time on how "grown up" she is becoming.  When I wished her a happy birthday this morning she hugged me and said "Thank you!"  While I want my Gess to be mature and safe, I also want her to be herself.  I pray that she learns how to be safe and handle her body changes while still being herself.  It's a self that brings life, light and love to the world and one I thank God for each and every day.

So moms, don't freak out (at least not in front of the child)!  Know you can do this and if you take the time, care and trouble to prepare them it may go better than you expect.  Of course each child is different and even if you follow of all of these steps your child may not take to it well at all.  I still think preparing them will have to help at least a little.  But in any case it will at least prepare you for that moment when you hear your daughter holler she has blood.  It's not a pleasant sound, but it's one that is going to happen ready or not.  That's something to think about anyway.  (And just so you know, Gess gave her consent to me addressing this matter on my blog.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Samson's Classroom

Gess is a really good reader but she does struggle a little with spelling and comprehension so I am continually looking for ways to improve those areas to strengthen her overall reading ability.  Recently we got to meet Samson, a cute little dog that Gess got to play some really fun reading games with.  Samson's Classroom is an online reading program for grades K-5 that focuses on three areas of reading; sight words, spelling and comprehension.

Each section of Samson's Classroom works independently of each other and each has their own motivation and reward system.  The sight words category is really fun because you work along with Samson to earn your "black belt" in reading.


There are 28 sight word lists and every time you master a list you get a star.  For every 4 stars you get a new belt.  Once you have completed all 28 lists you have earned your black belt!  Here are the belts by progression.


The great part is that Samson's Classroom makes working towards those belts playful and fun.  In fact the sight words section was Gess' favorite and I would literally have to stop her from playing it so we could move on to explore other parts of the program.  That was partly due to the fact that she started from the beginning with lists she already knew.  I tried moving her ahead and starting her on level 3 but she would have no part of that.  I think she liked being successful most of the time and she also liked going in order.  You can't blame her there.

Sight words first introduces you to the words and then has you play games where you search for and find the correct sight word.  Here are screenshots of a couple of the games.  Gess really enjoyed all of them.



There are also some neat worksheets you can print off to go along with the sight word section of the program.



Spelling with Samson focuses on traditional spelling words. They have several lists for you to choose from or you can create your own.  I chose to create my own list as I have found it fun to make lists relevant to what Gess is doing or experiencing at the time.  For instance her birthday is this week so last week we did a "birthday" list.

The Spelling section starts by introducing you to the word.


Then you play some fun games where you karate chop the words, run from a spider collecting letters that you then have to use to form the word, and finally there is "Crunch Time" where you have to keep Wally the Walrus from knocking you off the ice by spelling the word.  I really loved teaching spelling this way because it seemed to work with Gess' strengths.  Because Gess has Down syndrome she often finds spelling the word difficult.  Pulling out those letters without clues can be quite taxing but she is really good at noticing the correct way to spell a word when she sees it.  By playing games that allow her to do that first she has a better chance at spelling independently later.  Here is Gess playing the "Missing Letters" karate board game with Samson.  A couple of letters were missing and you had to choose the correct ones.  If you did, Samson would chop the board in half.  If you were wrong poor Samson just hurt a various part of his body like his head or elbow while trying to crack the board.


I really like how it turned learning the words into games.  That sure beats flash cards and writing the word over and over again.  Even when you spell the word for the test you are playing a game.  There is a timer in the game but even with her special needs Gesss had plenty of time to complete the word and jump across the ice block.  Another incentive they have is that they allow you to compete with other children in your classroom.  Well since we homeschool and only have one student Gess became the "Champion" after every lesson.  She actually loved that so I never told her that it was because she was the only one competing.  Here is her championship belt.


The last section was reading comprehension and it was the most difficult for Gess, which is pretty consistent for her.  Still, if I would sit with her and remind her to take time to think about or even search for the answer she could generally do pretty well.  In fact she often just knew the answers so she definitely did pay attention to what she read.  Another nice feature of this program was that when you do get the answer wrong it then highlights the part of the story where the answer can found and it lets you try again.  That was really helpful.


Once you mastered a lesson you earned some points to spend playing "Hammer Time" at the carnival.  This is something you can also compete with against other players.  You can even see what some of the high scores are.


The parent Dashboard lets you see how your students were doing. You could see the date, time, number missed and percentage.  I did like that the children could redo lessons and improve their scores.  That really helped Gess because she hated seeing any red marks on her screen.

There were a few things about the program I had some issues with.  First of all one of the games, (Spelling Scramble) was a little quirky.


Here you run around trying to collect letters while trying to avoid being attacked by the spider.  Once you get all the letters you use them to spell your words.  This game uses only the left and right arrow keys based upon which way you are facing.  It was very difficult to get a feel for and often led to Samson crashing into the walls.  Even after Gess got used to it and navigated the game better it seemed she was never able to avoid being attacked by the spider.  Gess actually does very good at computer games and plays quite a few of them and never really had this much difficulty navigating around or winning.  It did seem that after the spider got you and spun you up you were free to collect the letters after that so she was at least able to finish the goal of the game. Good news!  They just updated the game and changed the controls that now use all 4 arrow keys.  That makes the game much easier to control (updated October 31, 2012).

I also had a couple of spelling words that I wanted to add that were not in the list.  You could click to add them to the list but that meant you had to wait for it to be added and I generally wanted my list immediately available.  (Yeah, I was not good at planning ahead.)  Two words I attempted were voting and testing which shouldn't be that uncommon.  There are also issues with different words that use similar spelling.  For our birthday list I wanted to use word pres-ent (a gift) but the program used the word pre-sent (to show).  I think there should be an option for us to choose which word we were wanting in cases like that.  Maybe as the program progresses they will be able to expand their list and options.

Samson's Classroom is available for $30 for an entire year for one student or $50 per year for a family (up to 4 students).  That's actually a very reasonable price when you consider that many programs want a substantial monthly fee.  The game quality and content is very well done and truly does make learning fun. In fact Gess enjoyed it so much when we went to the library to check out books I asked her what she wanted to read about.  She replied, "Samson!."  I told her that I was sorry but they did not have any books about Samson...yet.  I believe this would be a great companion for just about any reading curriculum.  To learn more about Samson's Classroom 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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Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a family subscription to Samson's Classroom for giving my honest opinion and assessment of it in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Reading Rulers


Crossbow Education is a company that specializes in providing teaching aids for people with dyslexia and visual stress.  One of those aids is the Reading Ruler. Since Gess has vision problems that are not completely corrected with glasses I was eager to give them a try and see if they would help her too. 

The Eye Level Reading Rulers are a covered overlay text highlighter that helps you reduce page glare and blurring text to give you an easier, visually stress free reading experience.  Each ruler is about 6 inches in length and they come in various colors.  We were given a package of 10 that included one of each color for the purpose of our review.  That gave us the opportunity to actually see which color worked best for us. Reading Rulers come in the following colors: yellow, celery, grass, jade, aqua, sky, purple, magenta, pink and orange.


We seemed to find that the lighter colored ones worked best for us.  I say "us" because I have found that I enjoy them too.  While I don't have any visual problems (that aren't already addressed with corrective lenses) I noticed that I avoid reading books with smaller to average print.  By using a light colored ruler such as yellow, orange or pink I find that that size of the font is no longer an issue.  The rulers really make the text stand out and bring it into focus. 

Gess used it for two different purposes.  One was when the font was small.  When I would try to get Gess to read books with small font she would say "I can't, it's too hard."  That made me think she just couldn't see it, however I found out by using the ruler it wasn't the font itself that was the issue.  Using the Reading Ruler Gess was able to read the size of the font without any background blurring, glare, or losing her place.  Here she is reading a Bible that she never used to use because the font was "too small."


She also used it reading books that had decent font size but a lot of text.  It simply helped her keep her place and her focus.  See how nicely the Reading Ruler highlights the passage?


She sometimes has trouble making the ruler lay on the page since it is longer than necessary but then again its length also allows it to double as a book mark making it readily available when you need it next.  I can see why they sell them in packs of 5 or more.  If you are like me you have more than one book going so it sure is handy to have enough Reading Rulers around.

I imagine different vision problems will make different colors work more effectively so you may want to start off with a pack that offers a variety of colors.  Crossbow does make sampling colors easy for you.  You can purchase the Eye Level Reading Rulers in packs of 5 or 10.  The 5 packs includes 5 of one color or you can choose one of each of the most popular colors.  Those sell for $9.45.  The 10 pack offers a similar choice, one of each color or 10 of one color and that sells for $16.95.  They also have Plain Window Reading Rulers available.  To learn more about the Reading Ruler by Crossbow visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about them by clicking on the banner below.

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Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a pack of 10 Eye Level Reading Rulers 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, October 15, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: The Pilgrim Story

I have shared how history is one of the areas I really struggle teaching to Gess (who has special needs) because she has trouble grasping things that are not relevant to her experience and surroundings.  Text books certainly are not a good way for her to learn history. Thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew I have discovered a method that Gess is enjoying and learning from!  Dayspring Chrsitian Academy offers a self-paced, interactive, online course for students grades 2 through 8 to learn about the The Pilgrim Story.


 The Pilgrim Story uses the educational Principled Approach which means the principles of God's Word are the basis for what they learn.  They also rely heavily on primary sources such as letters, journals, and documents that were written by people who actually lived in or close to the time period being studied.


 The Pilgrim Story is a narrated slide show presentation that allows for some interaction with note taking, activities, and quizzes.  There is an introduction followed by 5 units of studies and it ends with a virtual field trip of Plymouth Massachusetts.  It begins with some background on events that led to the Separatists persecution and impacted their decision to leave England and follows them through their journey to the New World, the establishment of their settlement and that first hard winter.  It ends by summing up the Pilgrim's next three years, the first thanksgiving, and their impact on the free enterprise economic system. 

Each lesson will follow the same basic format.  In each lesson you will find:

A list of components needed for activities
Documents that need to be downloaded
A description of what will be covered
A short review of the previous lesson
A list of vocabulary words
A note sheet that the student will fill out while viewing the lesson
Enrichment activities
A review of the lesson
Recommendations for further reading

There are also instructions for making a student notebook where you keep all the notes, vocabulary words, and activity sheets for each unit.  Tests are given at the end of each unit.  You can choose between taking an essay test that will need to be graded by the parent or you can take an interactive, multiple choice and true or false test that will be graded by the program and posted for the parent to see.  As you can see the program is very thorough.

I know Gess learns fairly well from movies but I wasn't quite sure if this interactive, slide show format would give her that same feel. It actually did.  In fact, having her engaged in note taking as well as interactive reviews and activities helped her better comprehend the material.  She seemed to enjoy what she was learning and she was always happy to do the study.  The lessons are fairly long though, so we often divided them into at least two sessions. At this pace it will definitely take us almost the entire 6 months of the course to complete it but that is still plenty of time, even with a child who has special needs.

The lessons were visually appealing and the content with each slide was about idea.  It didn't remain on each slide too long to lose the student's interest but didn't move too quickly as to cause them to miss important information.  It was also great that most of them had notes that needed to be taken from it and since you have to click to move on to the next slide you were never rushed in getting the information down on the paper.  Here is a sample slide from the lesson.  The underlined portion is what you write to fill in the blanks on your note sheet.  Below that is Gess taking her own set of notes.



There were many times that the notes were too long for Gess to fit in the lines because she still writes fairly large.  I tried modifying the note sheets but that took too much work, so instead I viewed the lessons with her and would write some of the longer answers myself while she told me what to write.

The interactive activities were pretty good and offered enough of a variety to keep them new and fresh.  Sometimes you had to drag the appropriate answer to the screen or click on something to learn more about it.  I liked the book about King Henry.  If you notice in the bottom right hand corner the page is flipped up. You actually use your mouse to turn the pages in the short story.  The story is read to you by the narrator but you can read along.  Gess always enjoyed these activities.


There are usually quizzes during and at the end of each lesson to make sure the student is comprehending the content.  Gess enjoyed these and did fairly well most of the time.  I think it helped that they kept the quizzes as visually appealing and engaging as the rest of the content.


The tests are pretty detailed and involved but not too complicated for a child without special needs however I did need to assist Gess (not with the answers but reading and making sure she understood what the question was looking for).  She got a 70% on her first test so I was pretty impressed with that considering how much content it covered.  Her biggest struggle was putting the events in the proper order but she got all but one of the multiple choice problems correct.

I really loved the sessions. Most students will be able to do this on their own but Gess could not do that and take notes well.  That didn't bother me though because the lessons were enjoyable and I even learned a few things myself.  I love that it teaches a child how important the bible is, not just in our own lives but in the founding of our country as well.  You can not read the words of men like William Bradford and doubt for an instance that they came to the New World in order to freely worship God.

There were a few minor things that I wish had been better.  In order to print off all the note sheets, vocabulary words, and activity pages you had to load up each lesson's video first.  There was a tab there with all the forms for that lesson.  I just wish you could access this content from the parent section rather than from the video itself.  It just becomes tedious when you are trying to prepare ahead.  They also have answers for the various activities but not the note sheets.  I would have loved to have some with blanks already filled in so I could have modified them easier for Gess.  The pages also had a beautiful border but that made them ink heavy in the printer.  I know many students and parents probably love this, but I would like to have an option to print with or without the border in order to save on ink.


Dayspring Chrsitian Academy offers  The Pilgrim Story for $99.00 which allows access to the program for 6 months and includes everything I have mentioned.  It really is an excellent program and is very helpful if you want a curriculum that your student can work at more independently (though special needs students will still need more help).  As a Christian I love knowing that my daugther is getting the whole story of what happened at our founding based upon accounts of people who were actually there.  The importance of their faith is enhanced, not glossed over and forgotten like is often done in text books today.  Because Gess really struggles learning history it would be worth the expense to me to have something like this which really captures her attention and desire to learn as this program certainly did.  To learn more about the The Pilgrim Story visit their website or you can see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.

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Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a 6 month subscription to The Pilgrim Story for giving my honest opinion and assessment of it in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Kinderbach

Gesserine just loves music!  What kid doesn't, right?  Well, Gess has been learning to make music with Kinderbach, our latest Schoolhouse Review.  Kinderbach is an at home piano instruction program for kids Pre-K through early elementary grade levels.  While Gess is 10 (almost 11) and in the 4th grade I found it to be a good fit for her due to her special needs. 

Gess actually has some sound sensitivity issues and doesn't care for most loud noises...except when it comes to music.  She can crank that very loud and loves to try to sing along.  She also loves to play her toy instruments as well.  She has drums, keyboards and guitars but because Gess has Down syndrome and has struggled with her fine motor skills I had not yet tried to teach her how to use them properly.  However her motor skills have improved greatly and when I was given the opportunity to review Kinderbach I was anxious to see her put them to use.

Kinderbach supplies you with just about everything you need to actually teach your child at home, except for an actual piano of course!  for the program you will need to have access to a piano or a keyboard that has the regular size black and white keys.  You will also need some rhythm instruments like drums, cymbals or you can make your own out of pots, pans, spoons, or even just throw beans in a jug.  Then you need crayons, paper, pencils and other items to complete the activities and of course a printer to print off the worksheets.  From there, Kinderbach supplies all the rest and does a great job teaching young kids how to play the piano and understand music theory.

Kinderbach focuses on six areas of musical development: Ear or listening skills, Sight or Note reading, Rhythm, Hand Position or technique (actually playing the piano), Singing, and Composition.  That sounds like and awful lot to teach a preschooler or young child but they do an excellent job of making it fun.  Gess would often want to repeat her lessons because she enjoyed them so much.  They really were entertaining but covered a great deal of important material.  There is also a section on music theory in the parents guide to help you understand it as you assist your child in the lessons.  Don't worry, nothing is left out!

Kinderbach offers their lessons online or via an Ipad app.  I reviewed the online lessons which came with the Parent Guide that I have already mentioned.  It is very helpful in explaining how the program works, what you will need for it, and covers some basic music theory for the parents. From there you just log on and complete your lessons.  The instruction is all done by video online so you don't have to prepare or actually teach anything to your child.

When you first log into the program you are taken to a screen that shows all of the levels.  Each level has 10 weeks worth of lessons for which there are 4 lessons per week.  The great thing is that you can work at your own pace.  We generally did 4 lessons each week but sometimes we hung out a little longer simply because Gess enjoyed the lessons.  I really want her to grasp and understand them so I am not in a rush and I am glad we have the option.  When you click on your lesson for the day this screen pops up.



Notice that there is a print button below the lesson.  This means there is a worksheet that goes along with it.  You will want to print that before the lesson because the child will do the worksheet as they do the video, it is not something you do later. (You can print the page right from the button but there is also a link at the bottom of the main page to the entire Activity Book for that level.)

Here is how one lesson worked.  In this lesson they were beginning to teach the finger numbers so you know which finger to play each piano key with.  To teach it you sing a song with the video.


Then it stops and tells you to color each finger a different color.  It will say "color finger 1 green."  The video teaches which finger is which number.  After you sing about finger 1 it pauses to let you color it.  Then it goes on to the next finger.


On this day it only focused on the first three fingers.  Here is her sheet after she finished the lesson.  She loved the song so much she did this lesson often which really helped her learn the numbers.


The videos are a lot of fun.  They mix in cartoon characters that help explain the piano with a lively instructor who teaches you your lesson each day.  Here she is singing a song about their donkey Dodi who lives between the two black keys.


And here is Gess playing the Dodi song herself.


Now, you might notice the piano is not near the computer where she did her lessons.  There are two ways you can do this.  One is to put the computer near the piano so you can use the piano (or keyboard) at the same time.  That is not an option for us so we do it the other way.  There is a printout of a section of the keyboard in the Parent Guide.  We printed that out and lay it next to the computer.  She will use it while she watches the video and then comes to use the piano when she practices the lesson on her own.


Gess is learning pretty well.  I am actually amazed at how easily she is adapting to it.  I do need to mention that I had already scheduled Gess to start piano lessons in September before I found out we were doing this review, so she has extra weekly instruction but I think she would do well with just he video lessons.

Of course I have only been doing this for a month and we are still in the early stages.  I cannot say for sure if she will progress all the way through or not but I do know that she loves doing the lessons and by the end of them has learned what was taught.  While she is struggling with rhythm because of her special needs I think the activities in these lessons are helping her tremendously.

The Kinderbach Online program is $19.95 a month or $95.88 a year.  You can even purchase a one day pass for $5.95 which allows you to access the entire program so you can really look and see if this is something that might work for you.  The program is also available for the Ipad and they offer a DVD version too.  Right now they are offering 30% off any order for homeschool, classroom, online or DVDs.  To get the discount enter the coupon information below:

Coupon Code:  TOS_crew2012
Expires: 12/31/2012

To learn more about Kinderbach visit their website or why not see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about both the online program and the Ipad app by clicking on the banner below.

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Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a 6 month subscription to Kinderbach for giving my honest opinion and assessment of it in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

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