Curriculum!!!

It’s that time of year, when most of us homeschool moms start thinking about curriculum for next year! I, personally, have a whole notebook devoted to ideas/wants etc. for next year. Just when I think I’ve made a decision, something else pops up that makes me reconsider….why is this so hard??

I HATE second-guessing myself, but I feel such a HUGE responsibility when it comes to educating my children. Today I was at a friends house and she showed me a box of stuff she had gotten on ebay, and a lot of it looked good. The thing is, I am on a serious budget, so I have to make choices very carefully.

I know that God has directed me to homeschool, and  I know that He will lead me in the right direction, but I have such a hard time when it comes down to choosing between curriculum A and curriculum B. I research, pray, think etc….then spend  more time on the computer  and change my mind!! I am planning to go to my state homeschool conference this year, and I hope that by “seeing” things first hand, I will get some clarity.  Until then, I am going to try to take a “break” from researching. Sometimes I think we can spend a lot of time OVERTHINKING things, and we just need to back off for a little while. 🙂

Advertisements

Big IQ Kids

Big IQ Kids is a web-based program that offers practice in spelling, math facts, vocabulary, and U.S. states/geography. Some of the programs are free, while others require a “premium” membership. Both of my boys, (4th and 7th grades) really enjoyed using this site. Here is a link to a video about Big IQ Kids:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8pxUQfEn_k

We are studying U.S. history right now, and we used the states program A LOT. It teaches state capitals/locations/spellings etc. When your kids sign on, they will create an “avatar” from a selection of hair styles, clothes etc. My boys really enjoyed this part. After that, they can access any of the programs.

Each program has a virtual “tutor” who walks the kids through using the program. For the spelling program, kids can use pre-selected words based on their grade level, or you can add your own words (the same is true for the vocabulary program). With the math program, you can modify how many of each type of problem a student can have (i.e. 3-digit multiplication, 20%, 2-digit multiplication, 50%).

As kids go through the program, they earn coins which allow them to play games when they are finished. Certain games cost one coin, while others cost more. I had one child who saved his coins to play games, and another who used them right away. Generally, a lesson takes about 20 minutes.

We really enjoyed using this program, and I am looking forward to continuing to do so. In the summer, we do “light” schooling. I know both of my boys need to keep up with their math practice (the youngest is still mastering his facts), and I can see Big IQ kids as an “easy” way to get them to do this (translated: no arguments or tears 🙂 ) I am simply going to ask them to log on to Big IQ Kids once a day to do their math, and because they enjoy it, and it doesn’t take very long, I don’t expect it will be a problem. Big IQ Kids does have parts for the sight available for free, but there are benefits to the premium program. This video will help explain the difference:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEl6CMBTy4M&feature=related

I am always looking for ways to make learning the basics fun, and Big IQ Kids is a great way to do that!! The site does give you a 7-day trial for free, so you can check it out before you buy it (I always like that).  Access to the site for one-month for all programs (math, spelling, vocab, and U.S. states) will cost you $19.99 or 99.99 for 12 months. That’s pricey, I know, however, they also have rates for individual programs, the spelling will cost you $7.99/month, or $39.99./year, and the rates for the math are 9.99/month and 49.99/year. If I had to I would definitely pay for access to the math for the summer at least!

You can check out the website here:

http://www.bigiqkids.com/

This has been one of the most fun programs I have reviewed so far!

*** As a reviewer for the TOS Crew I was given free access to this website for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Great Books For Boys!

In a continuance of my previous post, I have another book I would like to recommend! I chose this book as a read-aloud for my reluctant- reader 4th grade son. It is co-written by Dave Barry, a humorist who has written many books that I have enjoyed, although this is his first book aimed at children.

The book tells the story of Peter Pan, and is the first in a series of books on Peter. As a child, the Disney movie of Peter Pan was always one of my favorites, and I’ve read the original book several times (and it makes a great read-aloud too). In choosing to read this book to my son, I was hoping to whet his appetite for more, which could (hopefully:) ) lead to his reading the rest of the series on his own.

The book is full of familiar characters like Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, and the Indians, but it also introduces new characters while telling the backstory of how Peter came to “Neverland”. My son loves Pirates, and he really enjoyed listening to me read about Hook, Smee, and the others! There were MANY times in this book when we both laughed out loud!

The story is well-written, and does a good job of explaining how Peter is able to fly, where the mermaids came from, and how Hook lost his hand. The chapters are written in tandem, going from the point of view of the Pirates, Peter and his friends, the Indians etc…all the while weaving a compelling storyline.

By the time we were finished, my son was already begging for more, and I have book two (Peter and the Shadow Thieves) on reserve at the library now. There are rumors that Disney is going to make this book into a movie, but as I tell my children frequently, the book is ALWAYS better! I am happy to see my son so excited about reading a book, and I would highly recommend this one as a read-aloud or read-alone for kids 4th grade and up who love adventure!

Reading Kingdom

Reading Kingdom is an online program designed to teach children ages 4-10 to read and write to a third-grade level.  The program was created by Dr. Marion Blank, author of The Reading Remedy and the Phonics Plus Five Reading Program. Reading Kingdom actually follows the Phonics plus five approach, addressing the “6 skills needed for reading and writing success”.

The idea behind this approach is that phonics by itself is not enough to teach a child to read, largely because there are so many “rules” and often, the rules can change from word to word, which can be very confusing for someone who is just learning how to read. The Reading Kingdom website has a great PDF detailing how this program is different from other reading programs, and I would definitely suggest looking it over if you want to know more:

http://www.readingkingdom.com/How_is_Reading_Kingdom_different_from_other_reading_systems.pdf

I have to admit, as a reading teacher, I’ve never been completely sold on a “whole-language” approach to reading. However, I have a 4th grade son who still struggles in this area, and phonics alone has not be enough for him, so I really wanted to give this a try.

We started with the skills survey, which took my son about two sessions to complete (he probably could have done it in one, but reading frustrates him, so I try to keep lessons short and sweet). This survey helps to customize the Reading Kingdom program to your child’s unique ability. After completing the survey, your child is placed at the appropriate level to begin the program. The first level is sequencing, but my son actually began at the next level up, Letter Land.

At this level, children practice finding letters on the keyboard, and also practice typing both upper and lowercase letters. This skill is important for the rest of the program, as children will be expected to type, as well as click on, answers.

We spent about two weeks in Letter Land, and from what I understand, the time spent at each level really depends on the child. In general, sessions are designed to be about 15-30 minutes, which was good for us, because with that amount of time on the computer, plus an additional 30 minutes reading with me later, it gave my son about an hour of reading practice daily.Since it was broken up into smaller “sessions” it was easier for him to handle and less frustrating for the both of us! 🙂

While your child is going through the program (and by the way, the “host” of the program is an Owl, which my son loved :)), you can keep track of how they are doing by clicking on the section they are on from the menu, and scrolling to the bottom of the page. Here you will see a graphic detailing their progress:

This made it easy for me to keep track of how he was doing. I tried to spend as much time as possible in the room while he was working, but I found it difficult not to jump in and “help” when he was working on a question, so now I try to listen from outside the room where it’s not so tempting to answer questions for him!! The instructions are very clear that parents are NOT supposed to help their child answer questions, because this makes it harder to truly customize the program to the child’s level. After completing Letter Land, there is another skills survey and then your child will move onto the reading levels.

We have most recently moved on to Reading Level 1, and so far, it is going well. The program can be repetitive, which my son finds boring once and while, however, he enjoys the computer animation and since the sessions are short, it doesn’t bother him too much. So far, he’s had practice reading and spelling basic words (i.e. boys, kids, pet, some etc). Usually he will be shown a picture, and will be given a verbal prompt to click on or spell a word. Other times, he will be given a word and have to fill in missing letters.

At first, my son didn’t pay close attention to the letters (much like he doesn’t in his reading) but after missing quite a few questions, he has learned to look at ALL the letters in the word before answering. This is important for his reading, because my son often makes the mistake of looking at the first few letters and then just saying a word, which is often incorrect (example: misreads “these” for “then” or “there”). I have frequently tried to get him to slow down when we are reading together, and have even made him point to a word letter by letter to really make him look at it, but that usually ends with both of us being angry. I can say that after using Reading Kingdom for a while, I am noticing that during his oral reading, he is paying more attention to the words, which is a big improvement!!

We are hoping to move through Reading Level 1 soon, and then go on to Level 2, and I will likely update this post once we complete the full program. For now, I will say that it is going well and seems to be working. Reading still may not be my son’s favorite part of the day, but this program doesn’t reduce him to tears, and I feel like he is getting some valuable practice out of it. For a parent with a struggling reader who hates to read but still needs to practice, I would recommend Reading Kingdom.

The website offers a free 30-day trial, which you can use to check out the program. After that, a subscription will cost $19.99/month (with no monthly minimum) or $199.99/year. They do offer a scholarship program for families in need, and you can get that info on the website too. Check it out here:

http://readingkingdom.com/index.php

****Note: I was given free access to this program as a member of the TOS Crew for the purpose of writing this review. The opinions represented are my own. ****

More project ideas!

Last month, I posted some ideas for projects to do with books (Working with books) because I was cleaning out my file cabinet and found this great list I used in my classroom. I love books, but I find, the problem is, we often don’t know what to do with a child once they have read the book. Of course, there are the typical “discussion questions” and “book reports”, but how much do they tell us about how well a child really KNOWS a book….like understands the meaning, the characters, the events etc? I started using projects in my classroom because I found that they could tell me a LOT more about what a child understood about a book then a 5-paragraph essay! With that in mind, here a few more (random) ideas you can use when your child finishes a book. (note: I try to use projects that appeal to different strengths, i.e. art, music etc)

1. Letters to a friend (or enemy): This project is for those who like to write creatively! What I usually do is ask the child to compose a series of letters (3-5 depending on the age of the child), where two characters in the book “write” to each other while discussing the books events. (i.e. Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz could write to the Scarecrow or the Wicked Witch). I usually ask that the letters be about 3 paragraphs each, but you could adjust the length based on your child’s age/ability. I want the kids to write as if they were the character, so they should speak in the first person, and include details about how the events in the story made them feel (i.e. “I was scared when I first saw you in the farmer’s cornfield”). The letters should be an exchange, so the second letter should answer the first letter (“I was just happy to have someone to talk to after spending so much time with all those crows!”). When evaluating this project, I look for how much the child is aware of those intangible feelings the character had when describing the events of the story, I also look for how well they are able to assume each character’s point of view (i.e. if they were the Wicked Witch, were they able to defend her actions, or provide some explanation for them?) This project requires students to stretch beyond what is obvious in the book, and infer what might motivate a character.

2. Book Map: For those art lovers, I ask students to create a “map” of the events in the book. Typically, I ask them to draw a map and label 5-10 important “places” in the book. For this project, they really have to think about what the most important events in the book were, and where they happened. After they create the map, I ask them to label each place, and write 3-5 sentences telling where the place is, what happened there, and why it is important to the story. You would be surprised how much this project really causes kids to think. So often, when you ask for a “summary” of the story, you get a complete retelling. Why? Because kids have a hard time discerning the difference between important, and secondary, details. By asking them to pick a smaller number of places, they really have to focus on the plot, and what mattered most!

3. Video of the setting: for those budding movie directors, I ask students to create a short video of “places” in the book. For this, they have to decide which places are important, and what they will use to represent them (i.e. the forest near their house could be the scary woods in the Wizard of Oz). They take a short video of each “place” while recording an audio explanation of what the place is, what happened there, and again, why it is important. It’s sort-of a video project of the map above, but appeals to a different strength for the student. I’ve had a lot of kids enjoy this project before!

That’s all I have time for now, but I still have lots of ideas and will post some more soon. I hope you can use some of these to add some fun to your homeschooling!