Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Abraham's Journey


Inspiring the American Dream is working to help instill the passion for living the American dream in our children and grand children.  Let's face it, the American dream is in jeopardy because our current generation either does not understand that they can achieve it, or does not have the drive and determination to try.  Whatever the reason, the result is the same, our future generations need to be inspired and encouraged to live the American dream.  That is exactly what Inspiring the American Dream hopes to do through their children's book that I was given to review; Abraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream


Abraham's Journey takes place during the Great Recession (which I suppose is the here and now).  It is Christmas time and Abraham finds out that because his parents have recently lost their jobs they will not be getting any presents at Christmas.  I have to say that I was immediately impressed that the book would start this way.  Our society seems to think getting presents at Christmas is a necessity, not a luxury.  I love that they tell the kids, there are no presents, rather than trying to find a way to get presents for free.  There is none of the "we deserve something no matter what the circumstances" mentality in this book.  I truly loved that. 

Abraham decides he wants to try to help his family have a special Christmas by buying presents himself.  Since he has no money, he has to find a way to get some so he begins texting his friends for help and this is where his journey begins.  Abraham finds himself warped into a virtual world at the hand of another very famous Abraham from the past.  Through his journey he meets great heros from the past and some famous business persons from the present like Martin Luther King Jr., Norman Rockwell, Amelia Earhart, and Bill and Melinda Gates.  Each person Abraham meets adds another point to his lesson about how to use entrepreneurial, free market principles to save Christmas for his family.

At the end of the book there is additional information about each character that Abraham meets along his journey.  I personally wish you could have learned more about them during the story.  It's hard to feel how truly inspired Abraham was by meeting these people if the reader knows so little about them.  I would also have preferred that some of his inspiration would have come from his faith in God. While faith may have been implied as important, I did not quite feel that it was really stressed and to me the American dream is not complete without it.  Still, it was a touching story with a sweet ending.  I did like how they share that the American dream is not realized until we share the dream with others.

The book is about 30 pages long.  I would say that this would be a good book for kids in upper elementary school, like Gess, although I am sure any child would love having it read to them.  The font in the book was fairly standard size.  Gess was able to read it even with her vision problems but preferred it when she had help. Here is a sample so you can see what the font looks like on the page. Usually if there is this much text on one page the next page has only a graphic.


When I asked her what her favorite part of the book was Gess said "when he wanted to save Christmas."  Yep, I am sure all kids would love a story where someone saves one of the most endearing holidays of all time.


Abraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream can be purchased for $14.99. I personally would not choose to pay that much for such a short book, but it does have a message that is not readily available in books at your local book store or library so that may make it more worthwhile to some people.  To learn more about the book visit the Inspiring the American Dream's 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 in accordance with FTC Regulations: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a copy of the book Abraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream for giving my personal, honest opinion and assessment of it in my review. It was not required to be a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change

Monday, February 25, 2013

Earning Gems - Rewarding Good Behavior

My son Tim is off at college and so his girlfriend Chelsie.  Chelsie took a semester off awhile back to be a nanny in Alaska.  It was quite the adventure and was a great experience for her.  Now that she is back in school she is continuing to earn extra money by being a nanny, or sitter, part time for a couple of families.  She is really great with the kids and has many wonderful ideas about how to raise and educate them and knowing that I homeschool Gess she often shares them with me.  She gets these ideas from various places, some are from the families she works for, some from school, some are from research and others are from her own creative mind. One time while we were visiting her on campus she shared something one of the families were doing with their kids.  I loved it and have recently began implementing it with Gess.

One of the things we emphasize with Gess is that it is not obedience if you do not obey the first time.  There is no counting to three, no begging or pleading, or any reminders in our house.  If you do not obey the first time, it really is not obedience.  Now that does not mean Gess gets in an awful lot of trouble if she doesn't immediately obey, but we do try to teach her that is the goal.  Well, one of the families Chelsie works for had her child earn a marble or something to place in a jar each time he got ready for school without having to be helped or asked.  I thought that was great and would be a perfect way to help teach Gess obedience!  So here is what we do.

We wait for Gess to obey the first time she is told something and when she does we tell her what a great job she has done.  Then we give her a gem to place in her jar.


Once the jar is full she can cash them in for something really cool.  We decided not to place a dollar value on the jar or gems.  If she fills her jar we will let her do something special.  It could be going to the movie theatre, skating, or simply playing tennis at the park.  Sometimes we may buy her something special instead.  The key is to let the reward be something truly special that they love to do and keep it within your budget.  Gess absolutely loves playing tennis with us and we really don't get to do that very much.  She would gladly cash her gems in for a day like that and it would not cost us a dime.   Of course if I can afford it we might go off to the zoo or science museum instead.  Whatever she wants that is in reason.

Now there is one important rule she must follow.  Gess can not ask for the gem.  Even if she obeys the first time, the reward is not guaranteed and can not be asked for.  Even if we would have given her one, if she asks before we do then she gets none.  We do not want to turn obedience into getting paid for behavior that should be expected anyway.  While we generally use this for obedience we also give her one when when she does something exceptionally well.  Any time there is something positive that we want to acknowledge, we will give her a gem.  Recently Gess has gotten gems for:

1. Getting off the computer immediately when asked, instead of waiting until her level is done.
2.  Helping daddy with a task when it took him longer than he thought and she was helpful and well behaved the whole time. 
3. Sweeping up a mess in the kitchen when no one asked her to.
4. For stopping herself from getting angry before she did something that would have gotten her in trouble. 

Gess actually gets quite excited about getting a gem and she hasn't even filled one jar yet.  Getting something pretty and shiny is fun for a child, even before it's exchanged for a prize!  It's a really great way to teach behavior in a positive way.  While punishment is sometimes necessary, it's so much better to give the good behavior lots of attention too.  That way children won't feel like the only time you pay them any attention is when they are doing wrong and when they want your attention, they will know a way to get it that will make you both very happy!

Thanks Chelsie for sharing these wonderful gems with us!  You are quite the gem yourself!  This is one of my favorite pictures of Chelsie and Gess together.  You can certainly see that they are very happy when they are together. 


Chelsie has had some other great ideas I hope to share with you soon.  I just have to get around to using them!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Snow Days

We got quite the snow storm this past week.  Our local weather man referred appropriately to it as thundersnow.  It was really weird for me to hear a thunderstorm and see snow falling instead of rain.  Of course we were in the area that got more of a thundersleet storm.  What snow we got was packed tightly beneath a solid sheet of ice.  There was about 21/2 to 3 inches of it but it was all solid ice.

The thunderstorm apparently scared Gess.  My husband woke up to her standing over him with her safari adventure vest on.  When asked what she was doing she told him that she was wearing her armor because of the lightning.  The one thing that kept her courage up was the fact that it was snowing.  She really wanted to make a snow man, but because of the ice that never happened.  Poor kid.  She kept looking at the snow not understanding how come I said she wouldn't be able to make a snow man, so she went out to play and figured it out.  This snow wasn't going anywhere, but the icicles were cool!




Gess loves watching the weather and during the updates of the storm she noticed that schools were closed.  When we went to do school that morning Gess informed me that school was canceled.  I had to explain to her that was because kids who go to school could not get there due to the weather, but we were already at school so we would be doing it.  However, I said that we get an extra bonus.  Since we don't use any snow days at our school I give us what I call sun days.  On a particularly nice day when we want to play instead of work, we will do so.  I can't wait for spring so we can find that wonderfully beautiful day and decide to go to the lake, park or zoo instead of doing school.  

The weather service has issued another storm warning for Monday.  I have heard that we may get 3 to 6 inches of snow or we may get only rain.  If we get snow I hope that its not all ice and that we get enough to make the snow man Gess is longing for.  If we do, I will share it with you!  If not, at least we are getting some moisture.  It's something our drought ridden state desperately needs.  So while I am personally not a fan of snow and cold, I know that we need the moisture so I will find a way to enjoy it either way.  However, we will still have school and patiently wait for the right sun day to come along before we take a day off!  What about you, do you take snow days off and play in the snow or wait for a nice sunny day instead?  Of we do not take have to take any days off at all, but where is the fun in that?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Free Friday: Super Duper Inc Apps and Worksheets

Super Duper Publications is an excellent site for educational and therapy resources.  My speech therapist uses some of their products and I have found them to be quite helpful myself.  Well, they do offer a few resources for FREE that I wanted to share with you.

First are the FREE APPS.  While most of them are for the IPAD they do have a few for Android based tablets.  You have to scroll down to the second section to find the FREE ones.  The first section is new apps, the second lists the free ones.


While they don't have very many apps for us Android users what I do use a lot are their FREE Worksheets.  In order to get those you have to be one of their Facebook friends.  Then each week on Facebook they will post a FREE Worksheet to be downloaded.  It's only up for a limited time so I can't link you to any specific page, but if you click on their image it will take you to their Facebook page.  Once you click like and start following them you  will soon find them sharing their FREE Worksheets.  What I do is print the ones I like and file them away and when I need something to do for therapy that week I work it in. 

Below are just a couple of examples of the fun worksheets we have done.






Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: A+ Tutorsoft

What to do about math?  That's a question I keep asking myself every year.  My daughter has Down syndrome and math is where she really struggles.  I have finally settled on letting her use manipulatives and sometimes even a calculator just so long as she is learning the concept.  It is so tedious though, to have to help her with each and every activity.  That is why I was excited to get the opportunity to review a math program from  A+ Tutorsoft, Inc. While it is not geared towards children with special needs, it has been helpful for me as the parent/teacher as well as Gess, who is the student.

A+ Interactive Math is a multi-sensory interactive math program that uses audio, visuals and text with interactive lessons, step by step instructions and instant feedback for 1st - 6th grade, Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1.   They offer a Homeschool Premium Software Edition available to purchase on CD as well as a Homeschool Online Edition with subscriptions that can be paid monthly, quarterly or yearly.  They also have an online school edition as well.  For the purpose of my review I was given a one year subscription to the 2nd Grade A+ Interactive Math, Homeschool Online Edition.

 Gess was already in a 2nd grade math level curriculum so we did not have to start on day one, though we did some of the early lessons for review.  Because of that we actually got to get a feel for a larger variety of lessons.  After reviewing the lessons on number sense, we completed the entire unit on addition, including the chapter exam where she scored a 92%.  After that we moved ahead to the unit on money and are almost done with that.  From there we will continue on to time, then go back and catch subtraction and stay in order from there.

I love the interaction portion of the lesson.  The audible instruction is pleasant and pretty clear and the visual examples do enhance the lesson quite a bit. In fact greater than and less than was something Gess always struggled with.  She knew which was bigger, but could never get which arrow to draw.  I always told her to picture the gator mouth, but saying it and seeing it are two different things.  The gator images they used in their example finally made it click for her.


After the instruction is given there is an interactive quiz that I also really like.  Instead of just typing in your answer you click submit on this little frog. Then if you get the answer right you get this fun response. 


 If you miss the problem they will not only show you what the answer should be but work the entire problem out for you using audio, visual and text.


At the end of interactive quiz you get a final screen that tells you how well you did.


The one thing I do not like about this part is that it does not permanently keep that score for you.  They say that this is practice and they don't want the children worried about how well they do, but I still don't feel like it would be too difficult for them to record it for the parents.  They do have an option that lets you insert that information yourself if you want to keep track, but since I let Gess do it independently sometimes I might miss the score if she closes the program before I have a chance to see it.

While I like the lessons quite a bit, I do think that the instruction is rushed.  As they tell how to work the problem they will ask questions to the student to see if you know the right answer, however they do not pause to give the student any real time to guess.  Rather they immediately say you were right or "if you guessed _____" you were correct.  Kids that are first being introduced to a concept need at least a few seconds to respond.  Of course it is immediately followed by an interactive quiz where the child can take all the time that they need so it isn't a major issue, but with Gess' special needs sometimes she watches the lesson twice and I pause it to help enhance the explanation if I think she doesn't understand it. 

After each instruction and interactive quiz, there are online as well as printable worksheets and exams that you can take. 


My biggest frustration with the worksheet was the way it was laid out.  There is a large menu at the top that lets you do a lot of things which is good but as you fill out the worksheet you have to go up to that menu to go to the next problem.  You can not simply hit enter to go on.  I almost missed that completely because I usually expect that the the submit button (in this case next) would be at the bottom or end of the problem right where the answer is.  I think it is tedious and annoying to find it at the top.  It certainly stalls the momentum especially when you sometimes mouse over something else, opening up a menu, keeping you from hitting the next button.  Still, once we got the hang of how it was done, it wasn't too bad.

The main website itself is really "busy" and somewhat clunky.  I do not keep a small resolution on my screen like many people do so I found this floating menu on the site very annoying.  It covered up my launch button so I had to really hunt how to even start the program to begin with, and each time I log on, I have to first close it.  Once you get past that though, it's pretty easy to work with.

They have a few options for keeping records.  I mentioned earlier that it does not keep the interactive quiz score, but you can insert that information on your own.  They have two different categories in the Admin Panel: Automatic for online scores and Manual for you to insert printed worksheet scores and exams.  I really did not use the manual myself, because I felt the automatic kept enough information for me and quite frankly I used that more often. Below are a few screenshots of some of the progress tracking charts.  I think it is a great tool to use and love the information that it does keep for you. 




For those of you have special needs students, I wanted to show you how I adapted this for Gess.  I am so thrilled with how she has been enabled her to work more independently in math because of it.  The program already had great visual tools that it taught the children. One I particularly liked was the addition table.  It was one we had not really used very often but once she got the hang of it I decided to let her keep using it, even when she was not supposed to.   The lesson really did a great job at explaining how to use it.


After that I made our own copy for Gess to use on her desk so she could see it better because in the worksheets it is very small. It was also helpful to use in problems where she was not supposed to be using it anymore but needed to since she is still unable to memorize her math facts.   Here she is practicing a problem from the online worksheet on the board.  Notice how the addition table is taped next to it and she is using it to add the ones, tens and hundreds slots separately using the carrying method.  She did such a great job with this one little tool!  At least we know she has the concept down!


Of course sometimes she would do the problem at her desk as well. I just moved the table where ever it was necessary.


She also did a pretty good job on the printable worksheet too.


For money I let her use a calculator.  For this we are focusing on learning how to count money more than add.  It's a life skill she will need, even if she is never able to memorize her math facts.  (She does great memorizing but freezes once they are mixed up together.)  The important part of these lessons were counting the coins correctly.  I had her count the highest value coins first, put that total in the calculator and then count the next largest set of coins, add that total and so on.  She picked it up pretty fast.  I was impressed.  It's the best she has done counting money yet. I think having the lessons in visual, audio, and text really helped.




While I had to adapt some of these lessons to first teach Gess, I was able to let her do some work on her own.  I always had her watch the lesson again and repeat the interactive quiz if it was a new concept.  There were also many online worksheets I let her do alone.  She did the exam on her own as well, but I had to crank up the time allotted for it and make sure she stayed on task.  It was almost too long for her attention spam.  I love that the worksheets let you save and complete them later. That was really helpful for us to allow Gess to do a small number of problems at a time, otherwise her frustration really builds up. 

A+ Interactive Math can be purchased by visiting the A+ Tutorsoft, Inc. website.

The Math Curriculum Software CD runs $99 for the regular edition or $124.99 for the premium edition.
The Online Math Curriculum is $19.95 per month, $49.99 quarterly or $124.99 for a full year.

Right now A+ Tutorsoft, Inc. is offering a 50% discount through the end of March if you use the code SPOFFER50.  If you are interested in purchasing this product, you might want to do it before that offer runs out!  I think I may go ahead and purchase the 3rd grade level CD now myself, just to save me money for next year!


While at first I began to wonder if this curriculum would work well for us, in the end I found it extremely beneficial.  I will certainly continue to use it.  To learn more about A+ Interactive Math visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below. Many of my crew mates had opportunities to review this product in other grade levels as well as students who do not struggle as much in math.  I am sure you will enjoy reading their thoughts and insights as well.

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Disclaimer in accordance with FTC Regulations: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a one year subscription of the 2nd Grade A+ Interactive Math Homeschool Online Edition for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review. It was not required to be a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our School Room Calendar

When decorating our school room I really didn't put too much thought into what calendar I used.  I actually had a few calendars given to us, and one was very colorful and playful so I thought Gess would like it and put it next to her school desk.


However as we were working on our English rules, specifically referring to capitalization, I realized this was not a good choice.  Gess had to write the date at the top of her paper and did not know how to spell February, so I told her to look at her calendar.  It was that very moment that I realized the calendar did not capitalize the first letter of the name of the month!


While that looks all "cutesy" it is not very helpful in a school room, especially when the student has trouble remembering to capitalize certain words!

I became even more frustrated when I tried to find another calender in my home to replace it with because they capitalized all the letters in the word.  I did not have one calendar in my home that wrote the word correctly!  We ended up having to go purchase one, however since it is past the first of the year we caught them on sale at 50% off.  Gess found a puppy one that she liked.


That is much better (just don't look at the days of the week).


So now when she needs to know what the date is and write it on her paper, she is more apt to write it correctly!  This is something you might want to keep in mind when purchasing calendars to use at home as well.  I certainly did not think about it before!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

You can comment if...

OK so I learned that people were not commenting because they found Captcha annoying, which I understand.  It can be really hard to read and take several tries to get through, so I finally turned it off.  However, I wanted to explain a couple of reasons why I used both Capthcha and Comment Moderation at the same time.  Some people seem to think that one or the other is sufficient, but it's really not.

Comment Moderation allows you to make sure that comments made are appropriate.  I was on a board once where a very sick post was made that churned my stomach.  I never want my readers to accidentally find such a comment on my site, so I moderate.  This is especially important when you have a child with special needs as the focus of your blog.  The world can be so unkind at times.  Please understand why you will never see your comment immediately.

Captcha allows you to avoid spam.  If you turn it off your inbox fills up with so much spam it will drive you insane, so I kept it on for my own personal sanity.

Finally, I got some great advice from some fellow members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  Instead of turning on Captcha I changed my settings to no longer allow comments from unregistered users.  It is true that legitimate comments from anonymous users seems to be rare.  Most of the time they only leave spam.

Therefore, you can comment if... you are a registered user.  If you are not, it really doesn't take too much time to register with one of the accounts it accepts.  Please try to understand and thanks for taking that additional effort.   Believe me, it's a lot less annoying than Captcha!

It also seems to be working.  For the last few days I have had my settings this way and have not gotten any spam but have gotten some comments, more than usual for me!   So if you were one of those who used to want to comment but did not due to Captcha, please feel free to try again.  If you have a blog and wonder what's a good way to handle spam while keeping access to your readers you might try these settings yourself.  Either way, I wanted you to know what changes I have made so I can hopefully make myself more accessible to you.  Thanks for always stopping by, I do appreciate you all!

~Lori

Friday, February 15, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: God's Great Covenant OT 1

We started the new year with a new bible curriculum from Classical Academic Press - God's Great Covenant, Old Testament 1: A Bible Course for Children.  You might recall that last year I reviewed God's Great Covenant NT 1 so I was already prepared to love this just as much.  I was, however, even more excited to get this one because Gess' Sunday School class is going through the Bible chronologically so this will give us an opportunity to really build upon some of the lessons she has been introduced to. For the purpose of our review we received the following:

 God's Great Covenant OT 1 Texbook


God's Great Covenant OT 1 Teacher's Edition


God's Great Covenant OT 1 Audio Files (MP3 Format)


God's Great Covenant OT 1 is a bible course for children starting at about a third grade level but I believe it would be good for students anywhere from third through sixth grade, depending on the child. It covers material from Genesis to Ruth including Job.  There are thirty two chapters divided into five units, each of which focuses on a certain theme which are: God's Power, God's Promises, God's Redemption, God's Provision and God's Faithfulness. In each weekly lesson you will have a memory verse, key facts, and vocabulary to learn.  You will also answer the question "Who Is God?" focusing on a different characteristic and perspective of God's nature so you can begin to personally apply the lesson to your life.  Each chapter has worksheets and a quiz.  There is also a review at the end of each unit.

As a parent of a child with special needs I am thrilled about the quality and format of the God's Great Covenant OT 1 Texbook.  Each page, while not in color, is visually appealing, beautifully illustrated and presented in a very neat and non-cluttered fashion.  The font is large, though not overbearing, which makes it very clear and easy for Gess to read with her vision problems.



The worksheets leave plenty of space to write the answers and offer a large variety of inventive ways of making the work fun.  You will fill in the blank, match, true or false, circle, number, draw a picture and sometimes they even have puzzles.  Gess really enjoys them! They certainly seem to help her retain the information for she is doing rather well on the quizzes.  There is a sample packet of the textbook on their website that lets you view the entire table of contents and a complete copy of the first few lessons. 




The God's Great Covenant OT 1 Teacher's Book offers an answer key for each page and additional information to help enhance the lesson. The information there is much more in depth and great for the teacher to study too, especially if they are not as versed in the Scriptures as they would like to be. It also lets you know what catechism for children questions are being addressed in the lesson in case this is something you use, though we do not.  There is plenty of room for the teacher to take notes too.  My favorite part of the Teacher's Book are the maps.  While there are only a few they are so great!  I took a picture and wish it turned out better, but you can see how twelve tribes are displayed.  It looks 3D!  These will certainly be helpful and has me thinking I will buy the companion Timeline and Map set they offer.  To see what the book really looks like you can check out the sample Teacher's Edition too.


I personally did not use the Teacher's Book much other than to check Gess' answers quickly.  For instance one time she filled in the blank God is ________ with powerful when they wanted merciful.  Both were true, but only one was part of the lesson.  The one thing I looked for that I found missing was an actual lesson plan.  In a Teacher's Book I figure that is standard, however I did find that they do have a suggested weekly schedule on their website but it will adapt to fit your own schedule as well.

Another great addition for me were the Audio Files.  The files, which are in MP3 format, are downloaded on to your computer and then you can have each lesson read to you.  This is a wonderful way to review, especially for kids who need to read the story more than once.  I generally have Gess read the lesson on her own the first day, but for the next couple of days she reads along with the audio before beginning her worksheet.  She actually loves doing that.  It is a nice way to keep the stories reviewed.  Whenever Gess needs some quiet time I will play a lesson while she is coloring, playing with legos or some other activity.  I also intend to put them on her MP3 player so she can take them wherever she goes.  They offer a sample of that too if you want to listen to it.  These are certainly an excellent deal for the price!

You can purchase this curriculum through the Classical Academic Press website.  


God's Great Covenant OT 1 Texbook is $22.95
God's Great Covenant OT 1 Teacher's Edition is $24.95
God's Great Covenant OT 1 Audio Files (MP3 Format) is $9.95
They also offer a God's Great Covenant OT 1 Bundle which includes all of these plus the maps I did not receive but am considering purchasing. 

If you want to know more about God's Great Covenant OT 1, OT 2 or their Song School Spanish check out 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 in accordance with FTC Regulations: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received the God's Great Covenant OT 1 Textbook, Teacher's Edition and Audio Files for giving my honest opinion and assessment of these products in my review. It was not required to be a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change

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