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).