Wednesday, February 24, 2010

All About Spelling - An Added Bonus

You may remember a while back reading my review of the All About Spelling program. If not, click here to read it. A few weeks ago, I received the Beehive Reader. This reader, which sells for $19.95 goes along with All About Spelling Level 1. It is a collection of 10 cute little stories using the words that your kids are learning how to spell.
I cannot really give you much of a review from my children's perspective. They are 7 and 11 and have been reading for quite some time. So I will tell you my impressions from looking it over. Honestly, I wish I would've had this complete program when my children were first learning to read. It would have been very useful in cementing the phonetics in the beginning thereby helping them down the road. I loved using the All About Spelling program without the reader, but we were doing it late and after my children already knew how to read. If you are starting it in the beginning, I think the reader is a great addition to the program. It really makes it a more complete program for kindergarten or 1st grade language arts. The reader can also be used on its own, apart from the All About Spelling program. I was a little disappointed to find that this is the only reader. I was hoping there might be more to go along with the other levels.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Musical History

Being part of the TOS Review Crew this year, I have received many interesting books, lessons, resources, and more. We were able to see the list of upcoming companies at the beginning of the year. Some of the companies I was familiar with, and some I had at least heard of. I did not know what to expect from Zeezok Publishing. When the package arrived, I was very curious as to what might be inside.

We received the Handel/Schuman Great Musician Set. We have studied some composers briefly before, but not like this. The set contained two story-style books, one about each composer. Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff and Handel at the Court of Kings by Opal Wheeler are chapter books that I would gage at about a fourth grade reading level. They really go into detail about the story of the composers lives. We did them together as a read-aloud with my 1st and 5th grader. I would only read one chapter a day, but they didn't want me to stop. I did anyway. It is better to leave them in anticipation. In the middle of the stories they include the sheet music from what was composed at that point in the story. Then, to top that off, a CD came with the set. When they put the song in the story, we would stop reading and play that song from the CD.

Finally, the set included two study guides to go along with each book. The study guides include maps of places, timelines, reading comprehension questions, and other tidbits of interesting information. I really enjoyed the program, and so did the boys. The set is available here from Zeezok Publishing for $35.80. While you are there, be sure to check out their books for the other composers and also many more great resources. I look forward to studying more composers in the near future.

"The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling"

When I found out that I was going to review a product from Apologia I was so excited. I have used two of their books for science and absolutely loved them. I was thrilled to have the chance to write about it. When I opened the package in the mail I found something totally unexpected. I found "The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling" by Debra Bell. I didn't even know Apologia had books like that. I was thrilled to have this book. I have started working with new homeschoolers, helping them get started and choose curriculum that will work for their family. I thought this would be a great resource to help me help them. If I could point them to a book that would break down for them all the finer details of homeschooling, it would be immensely beneficial. I would've loved to have something like this four and a half years ago when I started homeschooling.
That was all before opening the book. Needless to say, my expectations were very high. I knew the quality of Apologia and expected nothing less from this book. I was not disappointed. In fact, I was a little surprised. I thought that I would just read the book to help others. I didn't think they could put anything in there that I didn't already know. After all, this is a book for beginning homeschoolers, right? Wrong. It definitely is useful for new homeschoolers, but has much good information for us more seasoned ones as well.
The book is broken into ten parts. Part 1 breaks down the pros and cons of homeschooling. So, if you know someone who is thinking about homeschooling, this book is great for them too. Part 2 is about choosing curriculum. I know that can be the most overwhelming part for new homeschool families. Even preparing for our fifth year, I am still trying to figure out what will work best for us. Organization and planning are covered in part 3, and part 4 talks about preventing burnout. Part 5 breaks down what to teach and when. It is filled with resources and strategies. Part of the beauty of homeschooling is that we can offer our kids practical, real life experience that they cannot get in a school setting. This section breaks down some of the how-to's of that. It tells you what is truly important for your child to know when they graduate. Part 6 talks about homeschooling your teens. Part 7 goes over computers, what's necessary, what's nice to have, and what is really not needed. Parts 8 and 9 cover some of the extras like other challenges, how to know if you are succeeding. Part 10 is a fabulous resource guide. They give data on organizations, suppliers, publications, academic contests, and more.
The book sells for $20 here. While there, be sure to check out the rest of Apologia's great products, especially the science. You can read some other reviews here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ray's Arithmetic

Really, the picture above says everything. If you are looking for a curriculum that you don't have to spend a lot of money on, you can't do better than $59 for a CD-ROM of math curriculum that covers grades K-12. Ray's Arithmetic really is all it says. The CD includes: primary arithmetic, elementary arithmetic, algebra and higher algebra, geometry and trigonometry, bookkeeping, practical arithmetic, differential and integral calculus, elements of physics, and elements of astronomy. View a complete list and description of each book here. All the books are in an easy-to-use PDF format. This allows for easy viewing and printing from your computer. It is also great that you only have to buy the program once, and then can use it for all your students.

Ray's Arithmetic is part of the Eclectic Education Series (EES). EES was the U.S. standard of education from 1865 through 1915. You can read more about that here.

I received this CD-ROM to review. In the short period of time I had to review this CD, I was not able to go through every detail of each "book" included. I picked one book to test with my first grader, so that I could at least get a feel for the program. I used the Primary Arithmetic, but started at lesson 38 (multiplication). I should mention that my first grader is currently working on 3rd grade level math. He is very gifted in math and has no difficulty understanding new topics. In fact, he usually figures them out on his own without me teaching him anything. This program, he had a very difficult time understanding. I think part of it had to do with the old style language. All the problems are written out in words, even if they are not word problems. Example, "How many are 3 times 3?" The important thing to remember, is that math is math, no matter how you teach it. As long as the student understands that 2 plus 2 is 4, it doesn't matter which program they used to learn it. The key is to find what works for you and your student and gets them to understand. This one did not work for us. But if you like the classical style of education, you may find this very favorable. I do believe that it is a good value for the dollar also. Normally, math books will cost at least that much per level, and that's at the low end pricing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Math Tutor - DVD

One of the struggles I hear about most often from other homeschool parents is about trying to teach their children math. That's probably why there are so many math-help products out there to choose from. That in itself can be overwhelming. In my house, we have an interesting struggle. My brain works in numbers, and I am very good at math. I've taken college calculus and statistics. You would think I would have no problem teaching math. Well, that is half true. My 7-year old has a brain that works exactly like mine. Let me tell you, that is a homeschool parent's dream. It makes it so easy to teach them, because they just "get" what you tell them. My 11-year old, on the other hand, is very artistic. His strengths are in art, music, and video games - not math. It can be very frustrating for someone who completely understands something to teach it to someone that just doesn't understand what you are trying to have them do.
MathTutor DVD is one of the companies out there that is trying to help. However, let's be very clear that their DVD's are not just for homeschoolers. They are for any student struggling with math. They have levels ranging from learning to count through Calculus, and even Physics. I received two of their DVD's to review. The first is "Young Minds, Numbers and Counting". The second is "The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor, 8 Hour Video Course". I will go through them one at a time.

"Young Minds, Numbers and Counting" teaching counting from 1 to 10 through engaging photographs, classical music, animals, and everyday objects. My kids are both beyond that level, but I watched it anyway. It's hard to say whether small children would enjoy it. The photography is quite beautiful. It is great that the children can learn to count by using real life photos, many of animals. They are not only learning to count, but also learning vocabulary. The program is narrated by a child, and each new number uses a different classical song in the background. The DVD also contains a few bonus features: repeat play, guess the animal, connect the dots, and picture puzzles. They are not interactive, just demonstrated on the screen. This DVD sells for $24.99.

"The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor" was perfect for my children. My fifth grader especially struggles with word problems. The program is 2 discs, and 15 lessons. The lessons are broken up by operation. Disc 1 contains adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing whole numbers, and then decimals. Disc 2 covers fractions, percents, ratios and proportions. The DVD is set up to be able to choose which lesson you want to watch. Altogether, there are about 8 hours of lesson time. The teacher on the screen explains and breaks down each sample problem. The problem is printed across the bottom of the screen (see sample). He teaches students the key words to look for that determine which operation to use for the problem. That is the most common problem I see in math students. They do not know which operation to choose for a word problem. If you are looking for something exciting that is going to entertain your kids, this is not it. It is a math class after all. However, I feel the instructor, Jason Gibson, does a good job of presenting and breaking down the material. Click here to learn more about the instructor. This DVD sells for $26.99. This is definitely a program that I will use over and over again with my boys.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Math Mammoth

The people of Math Mammoth were kind enough to offer to me my choice of curriculum to review. The were even kind enough to help me decide which book I should choose for my son. I decided to choose something for my 7 year old for a couple of reasons. First, my 11 year old has fought any attempt at learning math for the past 5 years. We have finally settled into a routine with minimal argument. I did not want to mess with that. Second, my 7 year old first grader is moving so quickly through his math that I cannot keep up. He was nearly finished with his 2nd grade book. The only thing we had not touched on was subtraction with borrowing. That's a long explanation to say that I finally decided to review Math Mammoth's Third Grade curriculum. This is a full and complete program.

It was interesting to get a math curriculum in e-format, but I really like it. I like to put all the boys' work into a 3-ring binder along with field trip materials, photos, certificates to make a kind of scrapbook of their year. I'll post about that another time. My point is that the e-format is much easier to add to their book than ripping pages from a workbook. I decided to print it one chapter at a time. That allows me the flexibility to change my mind in the middle of the school year (as I often do) without having printed a whole bunch of extra papers.

Now, to talk about the meat of the curriculum. It is difficult to really say if the program works or not in the short time I had to review it. I think I will post an update as we get farther into the book. For now, I will post my initial observations of Chapter 1. This chapter focuses on addition. Remember, my son is way ahead and has no trouble in math. Math Mammoth really focuses on mental math (doing the problems in your head). My son was getting very overwhelmed by this and would refuse to do the problems, saying he didn't know the answers. Just to clarify, he totally knew the answers and was just getting frustrated by the layout, having to do the problems mentally, and having so many problems on one page. Today, I decided to try something. I took all the two-digit numbers that he was supposed to add mentally and wrote them vertically so that he could add them on paper. He finished in 10 minutes. The other thing that seems odd to me is that there is not a lot of explanation of new topics. This is not a problem for me with this child, because his brain works the same way mine does. I can easily explain anything to him and he understands exactly what I am saying. That being said, I can make this curriculum work with him no problem. However, my older son would not be able to use this curriculum at all. He would get too overwhelmed by the layout.

Of course, you have to consider that no curriculum is a one size fits all children. It all depends on the child's learning style, your teaching style, and how much patience you have as a teacher. Math Mammoth does offer four different series of products available depending on what you're looking for.

  • I reviewed the third grade curriculum from the Light Blue Series. This series contains full curriculum choices for grades 1 - 5. Grade 3 is broken into two books. You can download the set for $29.70. It is also available in hard copy if you prefer. They have placement tests available here to help you decide which level you need.

  • There is also the Blue Series, which is worktexts by topic for grades 1 - 5. This is useful if you just need a supplement of one area, like multiplication for example. Prices range between $2 and $7 per book.

  • The Golden Series is worksheets by grade for grades 3 - 8. It does not teach the topics, but is just for supplemental practice.

  • Finally, the Green Series is worksheets by topic for grades 3 - 7. Like the Golden Series, it is for supplemental practice only.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Is it ever too early to introduce your child to music? I've heard research that says to play music to the child in the womb. I don't know how much of that is true, but I do know the joy on a children's face when they are enjoying music. The next question is, how early should I introduce my child to the piano? Well, KinderBach has lessons to introduce piano to children between the ages of 2 and 7. All you need to do the lessons are a computer with internet access and a keyboard or piano. It does not need to be a full keyboard. If all you have is a small electronic one, that will work just fine.

We received a three-month trial to review KinderBach. I tried it with my 7-year old. I think the goal is to do one lesson a day. However, he wouldn't quit. He just wanted to keep doing lessons. He would do a several weeks worth of lessons in one day. He would probably have kept right on going if I didn't make him stop. The program mostly teaches by video, but there are some PDF printouts to go along with most lessons. That is the only reason I would make him stop. He would just keep printing the lessons, and I was going through a ton of paper. It's a good thing we invested in that laser printer. I'm sure with a younger child they would move at a more normal pace. He is at the upper end of age for whom the program is designed and could just fly through the lessons.

The online membership for KinderBach starts at $7.99/month if you pay for the year up front. If you choose to pay monthly, the cost is $19.99/month. Before you decide, visit their website to check out the video explaining the program, as well as free sample lessons.

I received no other compensation for my review.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Saxon - Facts First

Here is an online math program that's great for the beginners. Factsfirst was designed by the makers of Saxon Math to help students become more automatic in the facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The goal is to make students more confident. It can be used in conjunction with a Saxon Math program, but does not have to be. You can use it to supplement any curriculum. The bright colors and cute pictures on the pages are great for the young students. Here are some sample pages.

The students will get a little character to dress up as they wish.

The lessons are colorful and fun. New facts are introduced gradually, to encourage mastery.

The arcade rewards kids for completing lessons. The kids just don't realize that they are still learning while "playing" in the arcade.

The parent page shows a matrix of the facts your child has learned.

I received a 90-day trial of FactsFirst to be able to review it. My first grader was easily able to navigate around and do the lessons. Of course, his favorite part was making the guy at the beginning. I love the smart technology. It builds off of what your child knows and becomes personalized to what they need to practice. You can go to the website to see more. A one year membership is $49.99.