Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: If You Were Me (Away We Go Media)

My most recent review turned out to be a pretty cool way for young kids to learn about far away places and cultures.  Carole P. Roman with Away We Go Media has written a series of children's books titled If You Were Me.  Each book shares what life was like in various places.  For our review we received the books:

If You Were Me and Lived in...Mexico
If You Were Me and Lived in...South Korea
If You Were Me and Lived in...France
If You Were Me and Lived in...Norway

What I loved about the way these books were written was that it wasn't just explaining what they do in that country.  Instead they try to get you to imagine what it would be like if you lived there. The first page says something like "If you were me and lived in France, your home would be here in Western Europe."  Then they show the illustration that is on the cover where they are pointing to that place on the globe.  To make sure Gess got this we had her find it on the globe too.

Once she did that we went on to learn more.  Each page would have a description about something in that country and a nice illustration of whatever it was.  The books are 22 to 28 pages in length and the print is  nice and large which makes it easy to read.  Still, there will definitely be words that are unfamiliar to you, which is the point of the book in the first place.  To help you with that they have a pronunciation page at the end of each book so you can say these new words correctly.  For example Hanbok which is traditional clothing in South Korea is pronounced han-bow while Birgette, a girl's name in Norway, is prounced is BEER-git

If you were me (the person narrating the story) and lived in one of these places you find out what your name might be, what kind of food you might enjoy, what city you might live in, and what you might like to do for fun.  Gess seemed to enjoy reading about all of these things.

Her favorite of the four books was If You Were Me and Lived in...Norway because she loved the Kirkenes Snowhotel which was made entirely out of snow and ice. While I disagreed with her because I dislike being out in the cold I did agree that it would be cool to see the aurora borealis there.  We also liked that your name might be Anne which is how I spell my middle name and part of Gess' middle name as well, Leanne.

Gess enjoyed learning about the other places too.  She got really excited to learn that people often ate crepes for lunch in France.  We watch a cooking competition show where the contestants often make crepes and she recognized that right away.   I guess we will have to try our hands at making them too.

Here is a short video to give you a glimpse of If You Were Me and Lived in...Mexico so you can see for yourself some of the illustrations and learn a little about the purpose behind this series.

The If You Were Me books by Carole P. Roman with Away We Go Media are for ages PreK- 8 years old and sell for $8.99 each.  While Gess is 11 and can read above that level because she has special needs I know she still enjoys having books that are easier for her to read on her own.  She seemed to enjoy them and did discover something new about unfamiliar places.  I liked that about them.  To learn more about these books visit the vendor website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about them by clicking on the banner below.


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Monday, October 28, 2013

Making A Minecraft Castle

Gess had to make a castle for her Bridgeway Academy final class project and I wanted to share more about the process she went through in designing her castle.

We began our class reading the Magic Treehouse The Knight at Dawn.  I don't know why we haven't read more of these books but it was really great.  It also did help to stir Gess' interest in the middle ages.

As we began to talk about castle design we had Gess read more about castles.  Here are a few books that she chose.

This last one If You Lived in the Days of the Knights actually had a really great page that showed a castle and labeled many of the different parts of the castle you might find.  I wish I had taken a picture of it when I had the book at home, but it was really helpful in showing Gess what features would be good to have in her castle.

Since using Minecraft was an option Gess was really eager to get started.  Minecraft is a great game, if you haven't tried it, you should.  Kids can learn a lot while playing.  Gess has made some amazing things before like pirate ships, roller coasters, water slides, mines, farms, towns and so much more.  Now she was ready to start her castle, or so she thought.

Daddy wanted her to really think about what she wanted her castle to look like first.  He suggested that she draw it out.  Well, she ran to her desk and spent about the next hour doing just that.  After she handed us this, she was loading up Minecraft!  I found it funny how she misspelled castle (cattle) when she wrote it in cursive on the front page, but spelled it right in print on the second page.  I guess she tries so hard to properly write the letters in cursive that she doesn't really concentrate on how its spelled!

Now she was finally able to start working in Minecraft!

Here are some screen shots from when she was all done.

And here is the video tour she submitted to her class!  It was a really fun project and Gess learned a lot by doing it!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Free Friday: Health Care Information for Children with DS

Since October is Down Syndrome awareness month I figured it was as good a time as any to share this resource.  Here is a PDF for families of children who have Down Syndrome that tells you all the health care needs your child should be checked and treated for at various ages.  It's a really handy tool to take to your appointments to make sure they are checked for things that are common among persons who have DS.

Visit Healthy and click on the link that says:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: VocabularySpellingCity

I have been using VocabularySpellingCity for my spelling for awhile now but I was just using the free aspects of it.  When I had the opportunity to review the Premium Membership again I was thrilled.  I was thinking about getting it myself but trying to determine if I should.  After reviewing it for this last month I can say without a doubt I am glad I did. 

VocabularySpellingCity Premium Membership offers so much than the basic program. Invaluable tools such as record keeping, progress tracking, student log in, and extra games and activities make it well worth the additional $29.99 a year.  As a parent trying to give her special needs student some independence the tracking tools are essential.

The thing I loved the most about VocabularySpellingCity is how easy it is to make and modify spelling lists.  We have a curriculum we are using for English that incorporates the spelling words with the grammar you are using so it is important to be able to make up my own list.  Making a list is super easy.  Once you go to create list you get to this page.  You start with 5 words and can add 1, 5, or 10 more words to the list with one click.  Then you simply title your list, select the grade and type your words in.

Once you have your list you get to choose from several options for which definition and sentence you want to use or you can add your own.  It is defaulted to the most common usage of the word so that step usually goes smoothly and quickly.  After that your list is ready to be accessed. 

Once you have your list you also have the option to print off handwriting worksheets that come in print, D'Nealian, cursive or sign.  You can choose to have the print small, medium or large, use capitals or lower case letters, align to the left or right and turn the arrows on or off.  I loved the ease of making these worksheets.  Gess is working on cursive but she still requires a large area to write on so I chose cursive with no arrows in large print.  Here is one page from one of her lists.  Notice how she got tired of cursive and went back to print.

The next thing I would do was to assign specific lessons to the student, in this case Gess.  The hardest part was picking what assignments to do.  There were so many cool activities that Gess would not be able to do them all in a week so I varied it from week to week.  The flash cards were a nice introduction.  They showed the word on one side then flipped over to show the parts of speech, how it was used in a sentence and stuff like that.  I liked that much better than the Teach Me option.

I believe Word O Rama was Gess' favorite game.  It was a great way to check her knowledge of the meaning of the word.

Letter Fall was a fun game too, but with Gess' special needs she sometimes lacked the motor skills to move the mouse quickly enough.  You are trying to catch the raindrops that spell your word.

One of the premium items that I really appreciated was the writing activities.  Gess struggles so much with handwriting so typing is a great alternative.  Now she can practice writing her own sentences and I get to see it and grade it myself in my Parent ToolBox.  I can give it a score, use an emoticon like a thumbs up, light bulb or smiley face, and make comments about it.  Then Gess can go to her records and see for herself how she did.

Another feature I love about the premium membership is the Teacher Resources page.  It has tons of helpful information from language arts video lessons to show your kids, helpful words lists, tons of articles and so much more.

The student needs to be logged in and working on a teacher list assignment for it to actually track the information but that was always easy for Gess to access and find as it is apparent across the top of the page.  I had to show her how to find it the first couple of times but after that she knew right where to go.  Otherwise we found VocabularySpellingCity Premium Membership very easy to navigate and a great tool for spelling practice.  In fact I give all my tests here too since it saves me so much time and hassle!

VocabularySpellingCity Premium Membership is $29.99 for an entire year.  This can be used with any student from K-12 grade.   It comes with many additions to the free basic program. Here is a chart showing all the additional features you get.

To learn more about VocabularySpellingCity visit their website or read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew by clicking on the banner below.


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Monday, October 21, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Bridgeway Academy

While I love the philosophy of homeschooling there are times when I wish Gess had more class experiences.  I have had the opportunity to join a co-op but our schedule really doesn't allow us to commit to three to four hours each and every week, especially since members have to help prepare for those classes too. I just don't have the time.  However, I found a wonderful alternative by using an online classroom through my latest review.  Bridgeway Academy truly does provide homeschooling help by offering an entire homeschool program or for those of us who just want some extra material and class experience they offer learning labs an online homeschool co-op which is what we reviewed.

The Bridgeway Academy Learning Labs offer 9 weeks of in depth learning in various subjects and grade levels that change each semester. Their pricing varies by grade as well.  We chose to review the course Social Studies Through the Magic Tree House – Middle Ages (Elementary). In this course we discovered fascinating information about this time period as we learned about knights, castles, lords, and kings.  We discovered what life was like in the farms, villages and towns.  From the food they ate, to their entertainment, work, plagues and wars we discovered that life was much different then than it is now.

As my readers know, Gess has Down syndrome and teaching her about history is often difficult because she is such a concrete learner.  It's hard to explain how something was in the past without her seeing or experiencing it for herself.  That is one reason I chose to do a social studies class with Bridgeway.  I felt that the interactive classroom learning experience would benefit both her learning and interest in the subject.  That proved to be right. 

Trying to get Gess to read about the middle ages before the class was a challenge, but once class started she really began to get interested.  Starting with the Magic Tree House book was an excellent idea.  The book was a fun way to jump back in time.  From there we remained back in the past and began learning.

As with any class the kids need to learn the rules first but in this class they also need to learn how it works.  To help with that we had an open house before class began to help teach the students how to use the various tools in the classroom and test their microphone and sound systems.  However, we had a pretty young set of students so the first few classes did move somewhat slowly as we continued to learn how to navigate all the aspects of the classroom.

The classroom was really neat.  It had maps that showed you where each class member lived and a video screen where you saw and heard the teacher live.  The entire thing was interactive.  You could all write on the white board, note board and chat with a microphone, web cam or chat box. You could take a survey, visit a website outside of the classroom, engage other applications and of course the teacher could show a presentation.  There were also cute icons where you could send feedback using happy faces, sad faces and even one to raise your hand.  Here is one of the maps they used in class.  In the first one you can see the red dot where the teacher was pointing to places on the map.

Here is the map as some of the children were getting to mark certain places on the map as the teacher asked them to.  It was really neat to be able to "write on the board" just like you would in class!

Gess loved talking in class and raised her hand all the time.  I had to constantly remind her she was only supposed to raise her hand when she could answer the question!  The teacher was great though and always appreciated and recognized the children's comments and questions.  Here is Gess giving an answer in the microphone.   You can see the classroom in the background.  I was really impressed with the entire layout.

While part of the learning was sitting listening to the lecture, it was interactive enough to make it fun.  The teacher also had some really fun assignments.  In one assignment Gess had to identify what kind of food the villeins would most often eat.  To do that we decided to get a bit more hands on so one day for a snack Gess had the usual medieval meal of blackbread, cheese and ale which in her case was Ginger Ale.

Of course the most fun was making our castle.  Gess made hers using Minecraft!  Here are a couple of screenshots of it.  She will be making a movie of it for her final class next Monday.

The instructor was definitely well versed in the subject and great with the kids.  It takes a lot of patience to instruct the class and teach them how to use the interactive classroom.  We really enjoyed Mrs. Thomas and thank her for all of her hard work.  It was so nice to have one class that I didn't have to prepare for or teach myself this semester. I just got to sit back and watch and if Gess didn't have special needs I wouldn't have even needed to do that!  All the work was done for me and I really appreciated that.

The Bridgeway Academy Learning Labs elementary classes are 1 hour in length each week for a total of 9 weeks. The cost is $145 per course.  There is no credit offered for the course and no final grade.  I liked that part as I wanted Gess to focus on learning as much as she could rather than focusing on memorizing certain aspects for a test.  I think she learned quite a bit and now has a new interest in learning more. 

Bridgeway Academy Learning Labs also offers classes for middle school and high school and some do come with credits.  To learn more about these and other Bridgeway Academy classes visit their website or see what other members of the School Review Crew thought about them by clicking on the banner below.


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Special Olympics Bowling

Gess got to attend Special Olympics Bowling for the very first time!  Every October she gets sick and so far she has gotten sick when it was time to go.  This year, however, she has stayed healthy, at least until the day after. She is suffering from a cough and cold right now. 

Anyway, Gess had a great time and did very well.  I was impressed with how much she improved at throwing the ball.  Her biggest challenge was getting it all the way down the lane.  Here is a great shot of her doing just that.  This ball knocked down 8 pins!

Of  course there was a lot of waiting at bowling, but Gess did good at that too.  Between her joke book and tablet she was pretty content.

At the end of the day she ended up with the silver medal! She was very pleased!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rhyming Words

Since Gess has Down syndrome there are many things that she struggles with.  While she can identify rhyming words, it is often difficult for her to actually tell what word rhymes when she is not given choices. This week in speech therapy our therapist gave us a nice little tool to give her a visual clue for rhyming words.

Using a white board or chalk board or even index cards you make a card list using only consonants. You can also choose to leave out q and x if you want.

Then you ask the child to rhyme a word and write that word to the side.  "What rhymes with cat?"

To help aid them in seeing what they are looking for to make the word rhyme you take away the first letter and leave the other two like this.

Then you lead them to look at the letters on the side and see if any of those work to make words that rhyme.  When they choose a letter that doesn't make a word you just let them know that isn't a word.  You continue on writing down the words they come up with.

You encourage the right words by giving positive feedback with phrases like, "that's a great word" or "I like that word."  Gess really loved it when the therapist said that. 

After awhile the child doesn't need as much visual help.  You can drop the ______at and just write the word and eventually just orally ask for rhyming word using only the letters as clues.  Gess picked it up rather quickly and came up with great rhyming words which was great when without the cue she came up blank.  Oh, she can rhyme words like cat but once you start rhyming tougher words she just didn't know how to find the answers.  This simple visual aid is an excellent tool that helped her figure out what to do.  The goal is to not need it at all anymore.  Once they start thinking about the letters in their head they can do it alone, but in the mean time at least they know how to do it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Free Friday: Stossell in the Classroom

I found a really neat resource for junior high and middle school students.  While this isn't something I would probably use with Gess, this is totally FREE so I had to share it for those who might find it helpful.

Stossel in the Classroom offers FREE DVDs that have segments from his conservative television show.  Accompanied with a FREE Teacher's Guide these are excellent tools to help teach young adults about the free market principles that I believe are essential for freedom.

The 2014 DVD is now available.  Be sure to check out this incredible FREE resource by clicking on the DVD below.

And don't forget your Teacher's Guide!


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