Sunday, March 8, 2009

Heads Up!

Some children need to use tools to help them focus on a task, either due to a special need or just a tendency to become distracted easily. Heads Up! offers a variety of tools to help a child successfully focus on assigned work. Quoted from the Heads Up! website:

Heads Up! is a company designed to provide expert information and products for special needs children. Our items have been selected to accommodate various learning styles and strengths, regardless of curriculum used. These special needs products have been found to be especially helpful for children who are distractible or hyperactive.

Our goal is to provide materials and information for homeschooling families, occupational therapists, speech therapists, teachers, and specialists who work with children who have developmental delays, learning disabilities, or other special needs. Professionals, as well as parents and families interacting with special needs children, need materials and teaching tips that will be effective in promoting successful learning experiences while reducing frustration for children, teachers, and parents.

I was able to try out a variety of frames: tinted, transparent plastic frames that can be placed over a page to highlight and box-in specific parts of the printed material on the page. These are listed under the heading of "Reducing Distractions" on the Heads Up! site. They are also listed under the "Reading/Visual" product category along with a handful of other reading aids that I was able to take a look at. Single and double line tinted strips of plastic, again placed on top of printed material, help to keep the reader focused just on the highlighted line(s). You have the options of choosing strips that have opaque gray areas above and below the highlight or just below.

My final verdict: My child, who does not have special needs, found the highlighting frames and strips to be novel, but not of much use. In fact I think they did more to distract her as she wanted only to play with them. BUT, funny enough I found a use for the strips that I really appreciated: using them to focus on one line of information in a spreadsheet. I am guessing though that these products would be immensely useful to children who do have trouble focusing when confronted with an entire page of information: math problems, lists of items, reading sentences on a book page. Heads Up! has lots of helpful products in addition to the ones I got to review. Among other things they offer handwriting aids (I'm thinking I may purchase some of the unique pencil grips), time management helps (timers of all kinds), and fun learning materials (games!). If you have a special needs child, Heads Up! provides products helpful for children with ADD/ADHD, Aspergers and Autism, and Sensory Issues. The website also has useful articles, resources, and links to the following topics: ADHD, Education, Homeschooling, Special Needs, and Speech and Language. Take a closer look at Heads Up!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Before Five In A Row

My daughters are 6 years old and 22 months old. I received Before Five In A Row to review. After taking a look at it I decided that the story selections were a bit too young for my oldest and too old for my youngest. I enlisted the help of a fellow homeschooling mom who is a big fan of Five In A Row but had not had the opportunity to use the preschool edition. This is Susanne's review:

I really love Before Five in a Row. It’s a curriculum meant for preschoolers. My daughter is kind of in between pre-k and kindy (she JUST turned 5), and I think it was a little too simplistic for her. BUT I will be purchasing this book and using it for my youngest son when he turns about 3 or shows more readiness for this book.

Reasons I LOVE this book:

1) It involves the “rowing” process I’ve come to love with Five in a Row (you use one book, read it daily for a week and pull your various lessons from those books). We used Corduroy to try this book out. I picked it since its one of the ones we already had (although I have to mention you can almost ALWAYS get all of the books at your library) and I love this book. We would start out each day on the couch, my 1st grader, my pre-k/kindy gal, and the toddler all on my lap/around my lap listening to the story. And we really loved talking about how we would use our manners and be polite like the little girl in the book. And we discussed saving our money like she did too. We counted the buttons in the story, the stuffed animals beside Corduroy (while holding the Corduroy we have-told you I love it.
2) It comes with a Bible verse that Five in a Row does NOT have, so that was something very neat to see (I don’t do those as often as I should). You don’t HAVE to use it, and I know several secular homeschoolers that would appreciate that flexibility. Some of the books on the list ARE religious but can be skipped if you want.
3) It's flexible. Anyone with children knows how important that is. You cannot be tied to one schedule. It just doesn’t work. When you try, one kid gets sick, another decides to fight you, and a friend needs help with something on the phone while you are trying to clean. So the flexibility of it all is invaluable to me.
4) It has an entirely separate section that helps you figure out what kind of games to play with your preschooler to get them to learning readiness. It’s filled with a bunch of great advice, some of it you will know, some you will appreciate as support for the way you’ve been thinking, some that will seem difficult to deal with (especially the suggestions for what constitutes a good toy) but all of it wise and good to hear even if you don’t follow it.
5) It’s CHEAP. I am NOT dropping 300 dollars on curriculum for my 3 year old to learn how to cut, paste, and color his ABC’s. The teacher manual is $24.95. You can use the library to get the books you need. And after that you will only need to purchase some paper, glue, scissors, and crayons for your preschooler to use. That’s fantastic! This is perfect to use to see if you want to do this whole homeschooling thing.

I am definitely going to use Before Five In A Row when my toddler gets old enough and recommend it for anyone else looking to home school their preschooler with a complete and inexpensive curriculum.

Math Tutor

If you've struggled with math in your own past, the thought of trying to teach it to your children may send you running from the room in a panic. Thankfully there are numerous resources available to help explain math concepts to your kids...and help keep you in the same room.

Math Tutor provides a set of DVD courses that range from the very basic (addition and subtraction of whole numbers) all the way through to the very advanced (calculus 1,2, and 3). I was able to take a look at two, 2-DVD sets: The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor (8 hours of instruction) and The Algebra 2 Tutor (6 hours of instruction).

The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor starts off with simple addition and subtraction word problems, then ones that involve multiplication and division, and finally word problems using decimals with those same four math processes. It is straightforward and no-frills. It's just the instructor working out word problems from start to finish giving explanations as he goes. The second DVD goes through word problems using fractions, percents, ratios, and proportions.
The Algebra 2 Tutor goes over graphing equations, slope, writing equations of lines, graphing inequalities, and then solving systems of equations by graphing, substitution, or addition. The second DVD explains solving systems of equations in three variables, working with radical expressions, fractional exponents, solving polynomial equations, and the quadratic formula.

My final verdict: I am not struggling to explain basic math and related word problems to my daughter (doing simple addition and subtraction right now), so I haven't gotten to really "test out" these tutors on a student. The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor seems pretty much what I do for my daughter, just with someone else explaining it and working it on a dry erase board. There is a small audio glitch in my first DVD where the sound disappears for about 2 seconds, but other than that I have no issues with the recording quality.
Admittedly the Algebra 2 set does not cover all topics that would be included in an Algebra 2 course. The instructor covers the ones he feels are most important to understand. If your student is having problems in a particular area, be sure to see the website to get a complete list of areas covered by the DVD tutor.
I actually enjoy and understand (for the most part) math concepts taught through the high school level. I'm not sure I will use the Math Tutor DVD's very much, but I am just starting out in homeschooling. I may discover that my daughter struggles to understand my explanations of math later on, especially as the explanations get more lengthy and complex. I think the Math Tutor instructor gives a simple, though a bit dry, walk-through of concepts. I like that he works through example after example so that the student can see the concepts illustrated clearly and repeatedly (and it's on DVD, so of course we can replay at will). I can see Math Tutor being a valuable asset for someone who is uncomfortable at explaining math concepts to their children or who maybe is at a loss to know where to start because math is not their own strong point. The price seems a bit steep to me (about $27 per DVD), but I suppose if you figure in what a private tutor would cost then the price is immediately reasonable as long as your student will benefit. Math Tutor has a limited time bonus available: every new Math Tutor DVD customer will receive 60 minutes of FREE online tutoring available 24/7 through (valued at $35.00).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Homeschooling ABCs from Knowledge Quest

Homeschooling can be a lot of things...exciting, adventurous, and a whole lot of fun. It can also be frustrating, confusing, and downright intimidating. Without a plan, some wise advice, and a little bit of hand holding starting out in homeschooling can seem overwhelming. I am blessed to live in a location that has an extensive community of homeschooling families. I am able to ask questions and receive answers and help whenever I am in need. But even so, this very first year of homeschooling has had its moments of doubts and tears. Where can I get help at answering questions about getting started in homeschooling when sometimes I don't know enough to know what questions to ask? Terri Johnson at Knowledge Quest has put together a 26-week resource called Homeschooling ABCs to fill this very need.

Homeschooling ABCs is a weekly PDF lesson sent by email on various topics useful to both the just-getting-started and the already-done-this-for-a-few-years homeschooling families. Each of the 26 lessons, labeled A through Z, are about 10-12 pages in length. The first six lessons give a good explanation of how to get your homeschool started: basic supplies, setting up a space in your home for learning, understanding your children's learning styles, determining your education philosophy, and finding curriculum. From there Terri takes you through steps to make homeschooling a successful experience: getting in touch with other homeschoolers for support (either local or online), incorporating hands-on learning in each subject, developing research skills online and at the library, how to establish and guard homeschooling time, teaching Kindergartners and Preschoolers, and juggling house maintenance, daily living, and learning all in the same space. Terri goes on to get more specific in certain subjects: making math fun, how to plan science over the 12 years of schooling, teaching reading and spelling and phonics, planning field trips, why music is important for children to study, and helpful information on teaching special needs children.

My final verdict: I have only received lessons A-R, but they have all been wonderfully helpful and packed full of great extras. I am confident that lessons S-Z will prove just as useful. I like how the lessons begin at the beginning helping answer the very basic questions like: How do I start homeschooling? I had never seen a homeschool day in someone else's home, so starting was almost the hardest part. It's great to have some handholding right in the beginning! It was also very, very helpful to read about the different teaching and learning styles. Before starting in homeschooling, I would read brief mentions about Charlotte Mason, unschooling, classical education, kinesthetic learners, auditory learners, visual learners...what did it all mean? Terri lays out the basics to quickly end the confusion. The other lessons that I've appreciated the most: choosing curriculum and living and learning at home. I am excited to see what the final 8 Homeschooling ABCs lessons will hold!
Terri Johnson has done a fantastic job making brand new homeschoolers feel more at ease about the decision to homeschool and making it happen successfully. Homeschooling families with a few years under their belts will appreciate the ideas that may help to refine certain parts of their homeschool. And everyone will love all the freebies that are included in each lesson when you sign up for Homeschooling ABCs. The cost is $10 a month for 6 months...that figures out to only $2.30 per lesson! I would highly recommend you check out Homeschooling ABCs from Knowledge Quest!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

StoryBuilders from WriteShop

When it comes to using imagination to think up a creative story, my daughter usually needs no assistance, BUT it can get even more fun (and funny!) using StoryBuilders from WriteShop.

My daughter and I used World of Animals StoryBuilders. It's a 63-page E-book that comes with instructions for using the card decks and provides enough inspiration to keep minds creating stories for a long time to come. You have the option of printing out black type onto colored cardstock or the color-coded type printed onto white cardstock for the four categories: character cards, character trait cards, setting cards, and plot cards. There are even blank cards provided to add your own ideas to the mix.

My final verdict: These cards are pretty versatile! Not only can they spark some fun story ideas for writing assignments, they can be used as a travel game just as easily. My Kindergartner came up with a cute story about a bashful shark (named Bernice) who always wanted to invent something. As the story developed-in my daughter's imagination-Bernice ended up inventing a dryer...because, well, everything is so very wet in the ocean! This is a great and affordable resource to help fight writer's block. StoryBuilders are available in four different E-books: World of Animals, World of People, and World of Sports- each only $7.95, and a Christmas Mini-Builder- $3.95. Take a close look at StoryBuilders and all the other writing resources available at WriteShop.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

All About Homophones

Brought to you by the creator of All About Spelling (see review of AAS here), Marie Rippel has now published All About Homophones. This 240-page workbook takes children (suggested grades 1st-8th) through fun activities while they learn and test their knowledge of common homophones--words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. For the teacher the book provides worksheets of different kinds of graphic organizers, a list of suggested children's books that are helpful in learning homophones (great idea!), answer keys, and a master list of homophones used in the book as well as a long list of others. For the student there are fun fill-in-the-blank worksheets, ready-to-print-on-cardstock card games, crossword puzzles, riddles, puns, and tongue twisters. Also provided is a simple worksheet where the student can record the homophones they have learned in one list.

My final verdict: It is a fun workbook that can get kids excited about a pretty neat phenomenon in the English language! My daughter (grade K) enjoyed going through the activities for the homophones for grade 1 and some of grade 2. She even explained to her dad what homophones are and then quizzed him to see if he knows the difference between "be" and "bee" and "see" and "sea." What a blast to see her learn it, review it, and then teach it to someone else! The book is available in hardcopy as a softback workbook for $29.95 or as an E-book for $27.95. ALERT: Special offer that is good only until February 2, 2009: get $10 off any order of All About Homophones with coupon code FUN. See some sample pages from the workbook.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Nana Star and the Moonman from ee Publishing and Productions

"It was a wonderful day for Nana Star to begin her journey to return the lost baby star to his home in the heavens." So begins the 26-page story of, Nana Star and the Moonman, by sisters Elizabeth Sills and Elena Patrice.

My final verdict: What I like: As children read the book they are asked to keep an eye out for a misspelled word. The explanation from the author in the introduction is that, "...we all make mistakes...only God can make all things perfect." I like how that immediately gives the child a reason to pay close attention to what they're reading, and I agree with the explanation.
What I did not like: This is the second book in a, so far, two book series. It is not a satisfying story on its own and reads more like a chapter rather than a book in its own right. A bigger issue than the quality of the story, for me, is its message. Once God is mentioned in the introduction, He is nowhere to be found in the actual story. Animal's are referred to as, "Nature's creatures, " and the moon is given the lofty responsibility of being Nana Star's guardian. "Do not be afraid, little Nana Star. Remember, I am the Moonman and I will be with you always. Even when you can't see me, I am with you, watching over you." This is walking a fine line between someone's idea of symbolism for God and elementary notions of New Ageism. The authors could have easily made sure that God was given the due credit as Creator of all creatures or as the One who can comfort Nana Star in times when she feels afraid. These are the truths that I am teaching my children in our home.

Though Nana Star, the Moonman, and ee Publishing and Productions have won quite a few awards, I am not a fan. I know that some may say that I'm reading things that aren't there. When it comes to my young children, I will not hesitate to err on the side of caution. The story sends a confusing mix of messages to young readers. When there are lots of God honoring choices in early children's literature available, I do not feel like I have to compromise by choosing a story like Nana Star and the Moonman.