Monday, May 16, 2011

WonderMaps - TOS

Homeschoolers know that even though there are a lot of products on the market that are very useful for teaching, there are still holes out there that need to be addressed with new products. Foreign languages are still hard to teach without a tutor or live class.  High school science is a bear if you do not want to use Apologia.  And history can be overwhelming, because there are different viewpoints and textbook makers that like to alter history to fit state standards.

We have found foreign language classes (currently Spanish, Greek, and Sign Language) to go along with the Latin program we do at home.  Science is a bit of a mish mash of textbooks, non-fiction readings, software, and hands-on science clubs.  History is covered with a series of books, documentaries, and field trips.

But one of the most frustrating parts of history to teach is the visual part.  The parts where battles are discussed or when land had different political lines than it does now, or even how a river made all the difference in a group of people's lives.

I have spent hours looking for maps that will illustrate what I am trying to explain so that these things will stick in the head of my visual children.  And the most frustrating part is, after you have spent hours finding maps and altering them for your purposes, it often takes only minutes for the information to be learned and you are ready to move on to the next map, the one that you still need to spend a lot of time preparing.

Bright Ideas Press has come up with a product that helps to fill in this particular hole --WonderMaps.

This software is filled with nothing but customizable maps. Over 350 of them covering the World, the US, Historical Maps, and Thematic Maps.

  • The World - includes a list of countries, along with a list of regions/continents
  • The US -  maps for each state, US territories, 10 regions, and a full country map
  • Historical Maps - 38 Ancients Maps, 28 Middle Ages Maps, and 25 Renaissance Maps
  • Thematic Maps - maps grouped in themes -- Biblical Maps, Chinese Dynasties, Native Americans, Explorers, American History, World Wars, and 20th Century Treaties

With each map you can zoom in or out and add or take away layers.

I love the layer part.  I did not realize how many rivers surrounded us until I took the other layers off our state map.  I also love the black and white layer to save on printer ink.   And as a visual person, the layers feature allows me to get the most out of this software, adding and subtracting details until I have just what I need, and more importantly, nothing that I don't need.

Instead of using this software for formal schoolwork, we tend to sit at the computer and pull up the maps for whatever our interest was at that moment, including Revolutionary War battles, the location of Samoa (which we heard on NPR wants to change its time to jump across the International Date Line) and the area in Australia where one of our favorite TV shows takes place. 

This software is the best I have seen in allowing you to make a map your own.  It is not perfect, as it is definitely from a US stand point (no other country but the US has its own history section, for instance), and at times it cannot get as detailed as you like (it has limits on how many small towns/cities will show up or information about the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines).  So while it it is very useful for US history, it has its limits with geography and detailed history from other vantages.

Included is also a teacher's guide, filled with ideas on how to use WonderMaps beyond the obvious.

This software is available for $49.95 and runs on Adobe Reader, a free download.  There is also a 6 minute tutorial that gives you a good overview of what WonderMaps is all about. And if you read The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, keep your eyes peeled for a 20% off coupon code located in the magazine.

If you have the money available, I would consider this software a good investment.  It is one of those items you can use for multiple children for years and years, no matter the curriculum used.   That allows it to pay for itself, not only in usefulness, but in the amount of time it gives you back today, and also by extending your life expectancy due to stress reduction.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Greek 'n' Stuff - TOS

It is well into April, and one of the things I often hear from my homeschooling friends is how they feel like they are running out of time to get everything done that they had wanted to do.  Homeschooling parents want to give their children an excellent education, and sometimes there is just not enough time in the day, let alone the year, to do it all.

Because of this, things get pushed aside.  Math and reading get done, but history, science, and everything else can get shoved aside, especially when you hit a rough patch with one of the big two.  And by the time a parent covers the important stuff with all of their children, it can be so easy to say, I will get to that tomorrow.  But tomorrow doesn't come.

Hey Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek by Greek 'n' Stuff is designed for the overbooked homeschool.  It is an extremely gentle approach to learning a foreign language - in this case, Biblical Greek.

I was provided with the Level Three Worktext, Worktext Answer Key, the pronunciation CD.  I turned the materials over to Dragonette and let her go.

The program is designed for the student to do one page each day along with practicing flash cards that you can buy or that the student makes.  The book starts off with the alphabet, accents and breathing marks and progresses into words, accusative case, present active tense, genitive case, third person, nominative case, sentences, and dative case.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to do this program.  A page a day is an easy way to add language to your homeschool.

Dragonette, 14, was excited to try this program.  She enjoys languages of all type and worked through the book quicker than one page a day.  She mastered the Greek alphabet in 2 days and moved into vocabulary quickly.  She made her own flashcards and hung them at the end of her bed where she could constantly review the cards.

But as a word and language person, she had some struggles with this program.  Accent rules are not covered until level 4, but she felt she needed the rules in level 3 to help her remember why an accent was where it was in each word.  She was also frustrated with how slowly vocabulary was introduced in the book. 

However, this program introduced her to Greek and she is now signed up to take a high school level Greek class in the fall.  It has given her a jump start on her class, as she knows the alphabet and some vocabulary, along with some of the things you expect to find in Greek, like accents and breathing marks.

I would recommend this program if you are looking for an easy, gradual course into Biblical Greek.  It would work well with younger children, for an older child that wants to try out a new alphabet/language before they jump into a fast moving high school course, or any child that likes a gentle, methodical approach to a language.

Greek 'n' Stuff offers 8 levels of Hey Andrew along with 6 levels of Latin's Not so Tough, 2 levels of Greek for those who speak French, and Bible Study materials.

If you are interested in this curriculum, you can visit the Greek 'n' Stuff  webpage and click on the "more info" link for each level.  You can read these descriptions and take quizzes to determine which level might be best for your student to start with.

Prices vary, so I have provided the price list for level 3 to give you an idea of the program's cost. We found the minimum you need is the Student Workbook and an Answer Key. The Pronunciation CD or cassette is helpful and covers 2 levels of the program. 

Greek Level Three Student Workbook ($21.95)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Answers Only" Answer Key ($4.00)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Full Text" Answer Key ($21.95)  More Info
Greek Level Three Quizzes/Exams ($5.50)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Flashcards on a Ring" ($8.00)  More Info
Pronunciation CD for Greek Levels Three and Four ($10.00)  More Info
Pronunciation Cassette Tape for Greek Levels Three and Four ($8.00)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Short" Set ($39.45)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Full" Set ($57.40)  More Info
Bible Copybook - The Gospel of John ($25.95)  More Info
Sheet Music for The Greek Alphabet Song ($2.95)  More Info
Set of five (5) Koiné Greek Alphabet Bookmarks ($6.00)  More Info

Friday, April 22, 2011

See the Light Art Class - TOS

Any subject you do not feel comfortable with is hard to teach.  This is the subject you usually spend money on, especially if it is a core subject, so that not only do your kids get a solid education, but also so your kids can develop their own phobias instead of just picking up yours where you left off.

With that in mind, See the Light has developed a set of 9 DVD's that covers Art for parents who do not feel comfortable teaching this subject.  Hosted by Pat Knepley, a Children's ministry director who is also degreed in art and art instruction, 36 lessons are covered (4 per DVD) and it seems the material covered would equate to a beginning art class.

I was provided with the first DVD, which covers lessons 1-4 with a bonus lesson for a chalk drawing.

Tools of the Trade - This lessons covers what materials you will need throughout the entire program.  The tools range from a #2 pencil and paper, to pastels, a charcoal pencil and a kneaded eraser.  All of these thing are easily found at a craft store.

It All Starts With a Line - You learn how to grip your pencil, how to draw straight vs curved lines and by changing how hard you press changes the darkness of your lines.

Contours and Compositions - How to place you picture on the page is covered along with how different mediums make different lines and effects.

Drawing What You See - This lesson covers drawing a shoe and what you should look and think about as you do it.

Chalk It Easy Chalk Art- You draw a detailed scenery picture in chalk with a hidden glowing part visible with a black light.

My children are 10 and 14 and they were very frustrated with this program.  Both of them found the lessons to be extremely slow, with lots of talking and very little drawing.  And each lesson was tied to a Bible verse or lesson, but Dragonette felt there were forced connections between the art and the Bible lesson. I realize that some programs start out slow and end up fantastic, but since I did not have access to more of the program I do not know if that applies here.  The descriptions of later lessons sound interesting, but if I had to base my decision on whether to buy this program based on the first four lessons, I would not.  From what we have seen, this program would be more appropriate for 3 - 6 year olds if they do not mind sitting and listening instead of doing.

The bonus chalk lesson was very fast paced, but it was very much a "do exactly what I do and don't ask questions" kind of lesson.  While you ended up with a cool picture, you never learned why she did what she did to apply the techniques to other pictures.

You don't have to take my word on what is in the lessons.  The first three are available on the website for you to watch, along with the chalk lesson, or you can request the same DVD that I received

If you find you like the style of these videos, See The Light has a $10 monthly subscription where 4 lessons are unlocked for you to watch each month or in a bundle of DVD's for $99, along with videos that tie into Easter and Christmas and a store with some of the more unusual art supplies you might need.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Write Foundation Lessons 16-30

I was given The Write Foundation's Essay Writing Lesson 1-15 to review for TOS.  The author, Rebecca Celsor, then offered the second half of the curriculum, Lessons 16-30, for use and review.  She completed a major edit of her curriculum and was eager to share the changes.

Just like I did for the first half, I received a set of student worksheets ready to be put into a binder and a spiral bound teacher's manual that has instructions for use, answers for the worksheets, a step-by-step guide for each lesson, and an assignment page that sums up that week's work.

Lesson 16-30 are much more on par with the level of curriculum that Dragonette is ready for.  It includes 5-paragraph essays; how to set up, research, and execute research papers with works cited; and timed essays.

Since the edit, the instructions in the the teacher's manual are more clearly written and the typographical errors are gone.  Some of this may be that I am more familiar with how the program works going into it, as this is a complex program.  But nonetheless, the explanations are much more organized and are arranged to be more pleasing to the eye and therefore much more easily searched and reviewed.  

While this is still a Christian-based program, it no longer hits you over the head in religious rhetoric, and for that I am truly grateful.  The examples in lessons 16-30 are everyday sentences and adding in Biblical references and topics is much more easily adjusted to your personal needs.

I like the way this curriculum takes you step by step through essays and research papers.  This can be a tough topic to teach because it often has to be broken down for a student which can lead to a lot of frustration for the teacher/parent.  Breaking things into small steps is something this curriculum does well.  I was able to use the steps and apply them to the topics Dragonette needed to write about in her literature curriculum.  The two curricula dove-tailed together very nicely.

The timed writing in this program has been valuable, too.  The ACT and SAT tests now have writing components, as do many AP tests.  This is a skill that is often overlooked in many subjects written for homeschoolers.

If the first 15 lessons of this curriculum have been edited to a product similar to the last 15 lessons, this curriculum is now worth a serious look.  If you are teaching a co-op it gives you a good framework for a class.  It can be used at home, but as with most curricula, it moves a bit slowly for us in places.  But we were able to skip thorough things that we needed to easily.

The price has also been adjusted with this curriculum.  It is no longer sold in stores, so the writer was able to adjust the price to a more family friendly amount.

Chose from Sentence, Paragraph, or Essay Level. Three different packages are available from the The Write Foundation for each level:

Curriculum Package 1: Lessons Complete 1-30  $69.95 + tax and/or shipping. 
            Spiral Instruction Manual Lessons 1 – 15
            Spiral Instruction Manual Lessons 16 – 30
            Student Worksheets Full Set Lessons 1 – 30
            Essay Additional Resources (download to your computer immediately after purchase) 

Curriculum Package 2: Lessons 1-15   $39.95 +  tax and/or shipping. 
            Spiral Instruction Manual Lessons 1 – 15  
            Student Worksheets Lessons 1 – 15
            Essay Additional Resources (download to your computer immediately after purchase) 

Curriculum Package 3: Lessons 16-30  $39.95 + tax and/or shipping. 
            Spiral Instruction Manual Lessons 16 – 30 
            Student Worksheets Lessons 16 – 30  
            Essay Additional Resources (download to your computer immediately after purchase) 

Instruction Manuals Only are available separately for a cost of $29.95 each for Lessons 1-15 or 16-30 + tax and/or shipping.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Latin for Children - TOS

If you have looked at the About Me section to the right, you will know that I am a long time homeschooler who is always looking for great curriculum.  Usually I have to modify curriculum to work for my family, but every now and again, I stumble upon a product that is perfect just the way it is.  Latin for Children by Classical Academic Press is my latest find.

I will start off by saying, I know no Latin.  I took French in high school.  While I always like to learn new things, in practicality, I don't really have the time to take on an entirely new subject just for the heck of it.  Dragonette chose Spanish for her language and I am able to farm her out into classes fairly easily.  But Flower is my science child and when she learned that Latin is the language of science, she decided that was the language for her. Period.

Most places do not start teaching Latin until high school.  And many Latin curricula out there assume the teacher has Latin experience.  We run into this kind of problem fairly often, where the curriculum does not want to be thorough enough to teach, and when it tries, it is so watered down that it is nearly worthless to us.

I am very impressed with how much information is covered in each lesson of Latin for Children.  Not only is it not watered down, but it is designed for kids to do on their own with no help needed from mom.  And it is repetitive enough to cement the language, but that repetitiveness is so well hidden in the fun activities that I never ever hear "we already did this!"

The first decision we had to make was Ecclesiastical or Classical pronunciation.  Each is explained and available to listen to on the DVD's and CD's that came with the set we received.  I let Flower make the choice and she chose Classical because Dr. Perrin explained Classical pronunciation is used most in high school and college classes.

From the first lesson, verbs are conjugated and verb tenses, nouns, and the Latin roots of English are introduced.  Singular and plural come up in lesson two and lesson three covers noun declensions. Lesson four covers case and by lesson five you are reviewing ten verbs, thirty nouns, and derivatives.  By chapter 15 you add in the history reader for practice in reading Latin.  After completing Primer A, your child has learned 240 of the most frequently occurring words in Latin
Let me just say right here, Classical Academic Press, the makers of Latin for Children, gets it.  They take a hard subject, jump right in, and teach.  It is rigorous.  It is fun.  The kid loves it.  And Mom doesn't have to do a thing.

A few people have made comments to me about why bother to learn Latin since it is considered a dead language.  As I said, the original reason Flower become interested was Latin's use in science.  I was interested because I knew it would help with vocabulary words, and since she is a visual learner, the more pictures she could create the stronger her vocabulary would become.  But what I didn't expect was the amount of grammar terms and uses she would learn.  Since we have not done a lot of formal grammar past nouns, verb, adjectives and adverbs, this was a most welcome side effect of Latin.   I think she will have a much easier time with English grammar.

Included in the Mastery Bundle is:
  • a softbound textbook that is made to be written in
  • a softbound activity book with games and puzzles that is also made to be written in
  • an answer key for the text book (activity book has the answers in the back)
  • a Latin History Reader (corresponds with lessons starting at about Chapter 15)
  • 3 DVD's and 2 chant CD's (starring Dr. Christopher Parrin and a group of kids)
We worked out a schedule that allows Flower to complete a chapter a week.  There are 32 chapters, so even with breaks, she can complete Primer A in one year.

 - watch DVD
 - read first two text pages
 - start text worksheets

 - finish text worksheets
 - start pages in Activity Book

 - finish Activity pages

 - do Quiz in Text

The chants that are introduced on the DVD are also on the CD.  Flower listens to the chant CD whenever she has a chance, so I didn't put them on the schedule.  This schedule has worked well for her and she always willingly sits down to do Latin.

After Primer A, Flower will be able to continue in Latin using Primer B and Primer C.  And I don't have to worry about this subject for about 2 more years!

Classical Academic Press also has products for Greek and Spanish in their "for Children" line. which is marketed for 3rd to 5th grade.  Older children would also enjoy this line, if Dragonette is to be believed.  Even as an 8th grader, Dragonette is a bit jealous of all the puzzles and games that Flower gets to do.

If you think your child is a bit old or even a bit young for the "for Children" line, Classical Academic Press also offers Song School Latin and Song School Greek for kids K-2 and Latin Alive for kids 6th-12th grade.

Classical Academic Press doesn't stop here.  On their website, they have an entire free area for kids devoted to videos, stories, and games to help with retention called Headventure Land.  On the Free Page they have errata posted, along with flash cards, free mp3's, coloring pages, and articles to help you make good choices for your family.

The homeschooling world has a lot of curriculum options for Christian homeschoolers.  But I have friends that are Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist, and they have a hard time finding curriculum that they feel is appropriate for their children.  As a Christian, I even have trouble with a lot of curriculum out there, as it becomes more of a preaching tool than a teaching tool.  But I am happy to say, at least in the Latin for Children Primer A, the only biblical references I have seen have treated the Bible as a piece of literature, quoted like any other book.  I would feel good about recommending this curriculum to non-Christians.

You can buy Latin for Children by the piece, in a Basic Bundle for $76.95 (text, answers and DVD/CD set) or as a Mastery Bundle for $99.95.  I recommend the Mastery Bundle, because it includes not only the pieces in the Basic Bundle, but the pieces that make this program so fun (activity book and reader).

Samples for each component are available on the website.  Just click on each individual piece to find the sample link.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

English Is Not My First Langauge

I was born in America and attended school in a Midwest farming community.  My parents and their parents and on and so forth for generations were born in the United States.  My genetic makeup includes ancestors from England, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and two of my grandmas from way back were American Indians from different tribes.  Professions and class structures of my ancestors are as varied as a mayor, an indentured servant, and a family of pioneers that battled with Native Americans over land in Pennsylvania.

I am about as red-blooded American as you can get.  And I am Yankee to boot.  But English is not my first language.

I have to translate every word and sound that comes into my ears into my native tongue and re-translate to give you an answer in English.  And I didn't even know I was doing it, or better yet, that everyone else didn't do it, until I was in my 30's.

I am a visual learner.  That means I think in Pictures.  Every word I hear has an associated image.  So every time a word goes into my ear, I have to translate it into my native tongue, Pictures.  For me to relay a word back to you, I have to form an image, find its matching English word, and then speak.

Sometime I can do this quickly without a lot of conscious thought, because some words and phrases are used so often in English.  But when I am tired or uncomfortable, such as in a room full of people, the translation slows to a crawl and I find it so much easier to remain silent.  Math is difficult because my images often do not apply to a math setting.  Analyzing literature is an agony of words, words, words without a lot of meaning (aka pictures).  Let's not even discuss spelling and the idiosyncrasies of the English language.

Instead, I have developed my own arsenal of skills. 

I can manipulate images in my head and go back to just about anywhere I have ever visited once, from only memory.  Drawing blueprints from any angle is easy and I can pack a car more efficiently than anyone else in the house.  I can often eyeball a measurement, whether for building or cooking, and be dead on.

My husband, however, is a native English speaker.  Frustration used to reign supreme in our house whenever we would work on a project together.  How could he not see what I meant!  And one day, I discovered that was the problem.  He really could not see what I meant.

The day I discovered English was not my native language was a wonderful day.  It was the day I started to really understand who I was.

Today, my husband and I work well together.  I draw the pictures he talks about, and we work at it till Pictures and English are precisely aligned.  He now understands my need to say things a variety of ways until my English matches his English, and he is more than patient in repeating something until I have fully translated it.  I understand why he cannot always understand my English and why illustrations are so invaluable in our communications.  He is no longer self-conscious about delving into writing Pictures for me and doesn't tune me out when I need to talk a problem out in English.

Dragonette is an amazing hybrid and is a native speaker of English and Pictures although some subjects go over better in one language than another.  Flower is definitely a native Picture speaker, so I have worked hard to help her become a nearly native speaker of English too, so she doesn't repeat the learning curve her mother had to endure.

I spent so many years thinking there was something wrong with me because I could not think on my feet, but I realize now that I was trying to do the wrong kind of thinking on my feet.  If only I had know that Pictures, not English, was my first language, I could have saved myself a lot of heartbreak and dents to my self-esteem.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Odd man out...again

When Dragonette was two, she spontaneously started reading.  By the time she was four, not only was she a voracious reader, she knew the names and locations of the body's organs and the planets in order.  I suspected public school would not work for her even though we lived in a highly regarded school district and began researching private schools in the area.  During my research, I stumbled onto the idea of homeschooling, a concept that I had never heard of before.

The more I read, the more I knew this was the only option if I was to keep my happy little girl a happy little girl.  There is nothing like shoving a love of learning into a square box to create dissonance and discord.

My husband was completely on board and trusted my instincts.  My mother was happy as long as her grandchild was happy and thriving.  My oldest friend's weak protest included me giving up my life, but he, a childless man, did not understand I had done that the day I decided to have a child.

In the first few years, I read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling: books, articles, email lists, websites.  I learned about homeschooling philosophies, organization, curriculum approaches and how the library was my best friend.  Even though I became well versed in homeschooling and learned how to best fit teaching with how Dragonette and Flower learned, I still had two main obstacles: a lack of any kind of support system outside my home bubble, and a secret worry that I was ruining my child's life.

In the small Ohio town we lived in when I started my homeschool journey, we stuck out like sore thumbs.  Most people loved the school district because it was very well regarded. Of the locals that did homeschool, most began their homeschooling journey due to a child's disability.  We were also transplants to the area, didn't follow a school at home philosophy, or do school in the morning. (Dragonette is most decidedly a night person.)  Talk about a quadruple whammy!

I am sure this lack of support played into my concerns over whether or not I was ruining my children's lives.  It is hard to be a pioneer and back-to-school time was always the worst.  But over time and with repetition, I slowly learned my children would excel despite me.

When we relocated to North Carolina, instantly we found a wonderful homeschooling community with people from all over the world. They brought different ideas and experiences with them and it was truly a breath of fresh air from that small suffocating Ohio town. I finally had no worries about ruining my children's futures and had friends around who didn't think my brand of weirdness was all that strange.

But lately, I have been feeling like the odd man out once again.  High school has either begun or is on the horizon for many in my children's peer group.  Parents are facing new fears on how to educate their children and I myself went through another worry time, similar to the one I went through a decade ago.  I researched and read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling high school and what colleges look for.  Eventually the worry subsided and I knew we were still on the right path for our family.

But kids we know are dropping like flies, being sent in droves to the infamous brick and mortar school.  The ones that are left don't go to the park anymore to meet up, and mornings are only for school work.  Play time is not allowed unless it is academic in nature and there are no teen groups that meet our needs and no field trips.  Our well loved support group where we found so many friends is now extremely bottom heavy, with parents of three year olds joining and prospering.  While I am glad there is such a strong support network for them that was never available to me, I am melancholy for the old days.

I know how to make a transcript, design courses, and facilitate my children's learning.  Entering school when they are excelling at home makes no sense, so we have no reason not to homeschool through high school.  But like we started this journey, it looks like we will make it to our destination alone.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Coming Out of the Closet

Everyone has a secret.  They try to keep it hidden from prying eyes.  Sometimes those eyes belong to strangers and family alike.  Some secrets are embarrassing and some will send you to jail.

When you have a secret, you go to great lengths to hide it.  You make up stories, omit parts of the truth, and if necessary, you change parts of yourself to protect that secret.

Sometimes, the secret becomes bigger than you are.  Involving multiple people, it becomes a delicate balancing act.  Who knows what, who is going to slip up, and what repercussions will it have?

You start to forget who you really are, because all that matters is protecting the secret.  And when  alone, you get angry at yourself, because the secret becomes more important than being true to yourself.

What secret, you may ask, could I have that is so damning?  What is this secret that eats at the very soul of my family?   What thing makes us stammer, and aloof, whispering in the shadows with co-conspirators?

Occasionally we find others with the same damning secret.  They become our allies against the world.

My secret lies buried in this sentence...My children are incredibly gifted athletes.  Does that make you cringe and look at me like I am alien? Are you interested enough to wonder which sports they are best at?  Did you relax when you found out this was all I was hiding?  Okay, then let us take away the hidden code and examine the naked truth.....My children are incredibly gifted.  There, I said it.

Your whole perspective has changed, hasn't it?  I am now repulsive, with a large ego.  How dare I think my kids are better than yours.  How dare I look down my elite nose at you.  Funny how leaving out 1 little word changed everything.

I do not homeschool because of religious beliefs.  I do not homeschool because I am afraid of what my kids will pick up from school.  I do not homeschool because I want to control my children and brainwash them.  I do not homeschool because my children have disabilities that make learning challenging. I do not homeschool because I am afraid of school violence.  I do not homeschool because I want to sleep in.  I do not homeschool because we are wealthy. I do not homeschool because I am lazy.

I homeschool because my children forced me into it.  I homeschool because schools cannot handle their abilities.  I homeschool because I had no choice in the matter.  And as I homeschool, I hang on for dear life, bewildered, as my children drag me along.

If my children went from high school to professional sports, you would probably support them and even hope for some comped tickets.  Perhaps you would seek out their progress in the sports pages and the TV news.  Maybe you would let it slip to your friends and co-workers that you know them.  After all, some kids just have the gift and they should go for it.

Some kids go from elementary school, pause briefly in high school and then are off to college.  But you say they are pushed by parents or are freaks. They are rich and have unfair resources available to them, unreachable by the regular blue-collar worker and his family.  Never could it be that their gift is just as creator-given as the professional athletes'. 

I have stories to back anecdotally what I say.  Test scores and awards given by impartial third parties for tests, taken years before they are supposed to be taken, litter my files.  One child won a scholarship that pays for her high school expenses and most likely her college and graduate school tuition, earned years before she reached high school age.  The other is beginning to display skills that are just as incredible but uniquely her own.

"Bragging!" you say.  "A swelled head!" you proclaim.  "Elitism!" you shout.  "Knock her back to her station in life!" you insist. Do you look at me in disgust?  Are you talking about me behind my back?  Are you challenging me and my "exaggerated" stories?  Do you direct barbs at me and my children, disguised as what you think are clever questions?  Why?

There is pain in my heart as I watch my children come home, exhausted from hiding.  Age and experience allow me to cope better, but I too come home exhausted from never being able to honestly speak.  Tired from watching every word, every slip of the tongue, every reference, for fear that someone will take me as a braggart or treat me as an untouchable.  I can never admit all that I really know.  Never sharing the excitement of what my kid did today, like every other parent.  Never posting their accomplishments or their witticisms on Facebook.  Allies are few.  We can only uncloak in front of a small group of people.  It is the only time I can slip out of the shadows and the walls around me.

But I have finally done the unthinkable.  I have come out of the closet and I am only telling the truth.  Can you handle it?

Monday, February 7, 2011

VocabAhead - TOS

There is nothing like a coming across a word in a book, in a conversation, or on a test that you don't know to make you feel, well, uneducated.  The average college graduate is thought to have a working vocabulary of about 20,000 words.  A person starts school with 4000-5000 words and adds about 1000 a year through college.

But just like trivia, not everyone knows every word that everyone else does.  The English language is thought to have around a million words!  So what is a person to do to be prepared for things like SAT vocabulary analogies?

The sensible approach is to add a core group of words to your vocabulary.  You know, the ones that are most likely to show up in places where you need to know what is going on.  And while making flash cards of each word and their definitions is doable, it isn't necessarily the easiest or most time effective way to increase your personal word bank.

VocabAhead has a variety of products designed to address this conundrum. The product I tried is the 1000 SAT Vocabulary Videos and mp3s.

This DVD-ROM contains both auditory (mp3s) and visual (cartoon) aids for increasing your vocabulary.  After inserting the DVD-ROM into my computer (it wouldn't work in my DVD player) and I could watch or listen to the files, which were listed in alphabetical order.  You can also download both the video and mp3 files onto an iPod, iPhone or iPad, but we own none of these, so I could not give that a try.

The mp3 files worked best for our family, as they could be put onto Dragonette's mp3 player and be mixed up with her songs.  She gets a word here and there, continually, instead of trying to memorize a long list at once.  About half of the word list she already knew, so she did not download those files.  She takes words off her play list as she learns them, allowing the ones she was struggling with to have maximum play time. 

The video files did not work nearly as well for our family.  The only medium we have to access these is a desktop, and it just was not practical to sit down and review words this way.  These are not moving videos, but instead a cartoon that was overlaid with the corresponding mp3 track.  For us and our available technology, a book would have been a more useful visual tool, as it is much more mobile.

Products Available:
Book containing 300 SAT essential words with DVD-ROM - $12.95 on Amazon
DVD-ROM with 1000 SAT words - $24.99 on Amazon
An app for iPhones and iPods available on iTunes - I am not able to access iTunes from my computer, so I could not look up the price for the apps

If you are looking for an SAT vocabulary resource that does not involve the internet, the DVD-ROM would be the VocabAhead resource to look at. However, if you do not want a book, mp3 files, or the ability to use on an i anything, many of the words are available for free on VocabAhead's website.  You can watch the videos, hear the audio, and in the Teachers' section you can set up custom word lists, use widgets, and make your own vocabulary videos.  The Study Room has quizzes and flashcards. And on the main pages you can sign up for a word of the day to land in your email each day.

VocabAhead provides a variety of ways to increase your vocabulary.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Roman Town - TOS

See below for coupon code.
Computer games play a very large part in the schooling of my kids.  With someone other than Mom challenging them, they look up answers and try, try again to beat the computer. They are exposed to not only the three R's, but to logic, perseverance, and thinking outside the box.

But with Dig-it Games' new award-winning title, Roman Town, kids are exposed to a concept that is generally only taught in a hands-on way, if it is taught at all: archaeology.

This game is set in 79 AD, the time period when Mount Vesuvius erupted.  Dragonette played the game all the way through and has wrote the following description.

"In Roman Town, you are helping the professor to excavate an ancient Roman house in the town of Fossura.  There are six dig sites, and once you choose your site, there is a dirt area where white flags will pop up.  Highlight a tool in the toolbar and click on a flag to make your stick people start excavating.  When a person finds something, a green speech bubble will appear.  Click on it before it turns red and disappears.  Then you'll get to use your trowel-cursor to uncover the object.  The professor (and /or his two ancient Roman friends, who lived in the house) will tell you about the item. You can find the same thing several times over (i.e. there were oil lamps in all of the rooms of the house).
Men Digging

    When you run out of new flags and all your men finish digging, you will sort your artifacts into four different boxes.  You'll then be taken to the lab--the professor's dig site tent--where you'll be able to play Calculi (an ancient Roman game), reconstruct mosaics, frescoes, or 3-D pottery, match the old Roman items to modern ones, or find what doesn't belong in the room.  The lab activities change depending on what you excavated.  You can also look back at what you found.  When you're finished with the activities, you can tour the room you just excavated as it might have looked in its prime.  After that, you help the professor with his dig site report by dragging words to the correct blanks.  Then you can start on the next excavation."       
Using the trowel-cursor to find object

The ages targeted by this game is 5th-8th grade, but that has nothing really to do with skills necessary for this game, as much as it has to do with education standards.  If you have a child that is interested in what archaeologists do, or has ever asked about Ancient Rome, this computer game will fit the bill.  It has very little sound effects and is reading intensive, so if you have a child that does not read well, you will have to sit with them.

Both my children learned more about the daily life of Romans with this game. Dragonette (14) enjoyed the games and while she did learn things, felt she was a bit old for it.  She feels she would have thoroughly enjoyed this game had it been available a few years ago. It was right on target for Flower (10), and while she did enjoy the parts she completed, she is not a big History buff and lost interest in the game before completing it.  It has nothing to do with the quality if the game, as it has to do with her interests (aka math) and personality.

In an age where so many things are available on-line,  it is nice to see a company that is still making quality educational software on disc.

Roman Town is available for $39.95 normally, but as a reader of this blog, you can get a large discount if you order before February 21, 2011.

If you enter in the coupon code TOS2011 while ordering you will bring your price down to $19.96.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Virtual Nerd pricing update -TOS

Virtual Nerd is a program I reviewed a few weeks ago.  The company is in the process of learning how to work with the homeschool community and I give them kudos for making the effort. :o)

Here is the latest email from the company.  If this was something you were interested in and the price was just too high, this may be the incentive you needed.

Thank you for your interest in Virtual Nerd!

The free-offer for Educators is intended for classroom-based teachers. We defined this approach because classroom teachers use our service as a supplemental teaching tool and then refer students (and parents) to our site, and they become paid subscribers. These referred, paid subscriptions provide the income we need to sustain our business.

We appreciate that homeschool parents are teachers as well, and want to establish a discount program for homeschool teachers that enables us to sustain our business. We are working diligently on partnering with homeschooling communities and co-ops around the country to offer special rates to homeschoolers. If you’d like us to consider your organization in our program, please respond to this e-mail with the name and contact information for your organization.

In the meantime, while we finalize these arrangements we want to ensure that you have the benefit of using our service. For a limited time, Virtual Nerd is offering 50% Off Monthly Subscriptions to homeschool families. When registering for service, please use the following promotion code:


Please note, this offer is exclusive to families who are homeschooling their children. So spread the word!

Thank you for your patience and continued interest. We look forward to seeing you online.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I have never been a fan of time travel.  You end up spending your time thinking about what should've, could've, would've, instead of experiencing this daily life you already have.  And if you could time travel, imagine all the new decisions you would face; what do you change, (after all, why relive the past if you can't change it) and what consequences is it going to have?  There is also the dread of knowing what is going to happen.  All the life would be sucked out of life.

With that being said, sometimes I do get a little wistful.  And Speekee, a Spanish program for younger kids, is definitely a wistfulness instigator.

When Dragonette was 2, she was already a master of the English language.  She could talk your ear off and if that got old, was not beyond reading your other ear off.  So I, her earless mother, was always on the look out for something to pour into that head of hers.  I tried to interest her in French, after all, I had taken four years of it in high school and her father had taken two, so I figured we could handle the basics. But that stubborn streak (I won't mention where she got that) was a mile long and dear little Dragonette insisted upon Spanish.

Now let me just begin that a decade ago in a small town NE town in Ohio, Spanish was not in abundance.  Not in the stores, nor the population, and definitely not the library.  The few videos available were, to a 2 year old, insipid.  Needless to say, other than what Dora the Explorer taught, Dragonette did not learn Spanish.

What I would have done if SpeekeeTV had been available to us like it was these last few months!  Imagine a Sesame Street that teaches Spanish instead of English.  Complete with puppets, kids, colors, numbers, subtitles in English and Spanish, and catchy songs.
Speekee, Dino, and Lupi

Speekee is program that currently has 10 episodes that are 15-20 minutes long. There is a host puppet, Speekee, along with sock puppets Lupi and Dino, a human man named Jim, and a cast of human kids.  There is a loose format to each episode, where opening and closing songs are sung, along with visiting a new place each episode (the store, the playground, the zoo, the school, etc.)  Vocabulary is covered for each place, as is a review of numbers, colors, and vocabulary from earlier episodes.  Common phrases (like "Where are we going") are used repetitively and everything is captioned on your computer screen in English and Spanish.  That is very convenient for visual learners who need to see what is being said, and for parents who don't have a clue about Spanish.
10 episodes available

Activities to download/print
But what really sets this program apart is the activities found with each episode.  There are not only recipes and activities you can try, but worksheets to reinforce what is being said.  Some writing, some drawing, some coloring, but most importantly, you are learning how to write the language as you learn it.  I wish high school language classes had been this fun.

Now the suggested ages for this program is 2-10 years old.  I don't have any little littles around anymore, but I signed up for this program because Dragonette has finally got her wish and is enrolled in Spanish 1 and I was intrigued about what she would think about the songs.

We started watch on the computer, but four of us crowded around the monitor is not a pretty sight.  We were thrilled when the Wii option was added, as watching on our TV was much more comfortable. On the Wii, Speekee was more challenging, as there were no subtitles.  This would be true immersion for first time viewing, or a good way to test if you really are picking up the Spanish. If I had young children, I would have definitely let this run often during the day, but as a family with older kids, we often found ourself waiting for Dad to get home so we could watch as a family.  What other puppets do you know that inspire a whole family to sit down and watch?

Speekee and Jim
I like the puppets; I like that it is not dumbed down; I like the subtitles; I like the worksheets; but most of all, I love the songs.  All four of us walk around the house singing these ditties because they get stuck in your head. My Latin learner and my jobsite Spanish speaker are totally into it with Dragonette, and are always having to coach poor Mom, who gets her English, French, and now Spanish very, very jumbled in her head.

So if I had a time machine, I would definitely take Speekee back to that small NE Ohio town's library and deal with the consequences. 

Speekee is available in 2 formats, DVD and streaming (SpeekeeTV).

  • The Speekee DVDs are produced in Europe and use the PAL format for colour encoding. US / Canadian systems use the NTSC format as standard. Many, but not all, North American DVD players are capable of playing PAL media. If you are based in North America, please check your equipment before purchase. Alternatively, subscribe for Speekee TV
  • 4 DVD video discs, 34-track audio CD plus 70 page guide
  • 30 money-back guarantee
  • The price is in British pounds (95.00) so your price will depend on the current exchange rate
Speekee TV
  • All 10 episodes plus the activities
  • can be streamed on your computer with the subtitles or through your Wii's Internet channel without the subtitles (great for practicing to see if you really know what is going on)
  • can subscribe monthly for $7.50 and yearly for $75.00
There is a free two week trial for SpeekeeTV.  You do have to enter your credit card number, but customer service has been excellent for the Review Crew, and not only put prices in American dollars with a yearly option at our request, but also talked to their tech guy and within a few days of being asked, had figured out how to make SpeekeeTV available on the Wii. I have very high praise for their attention to their customers' concerns.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Old Fashioned or Old Fogey

    More and more, I am feeling very old fashioned.  Not Little House on the Prairie old fashioned, although I have daydreamed of living on my 140 acres off the grid, but old fogey old fashioned.  I like my news 7 days a week in my paper box on the street, listen to "oldies" from the 90's, and watch TV shows on Netflix way more than broadcast TV.

    But it wasn't always this way.  I got my first computer when I was 17, a Zeos that only showed orange on the screen.  I used shareware to type things up for school and I jumped onto the 'net  a computer or two later with dial up about 1994.  I had two VCR's (both 4-headed!) for dubbing tapes and a camcorder that used VHS-C so you could stick the tapes straight into the VCR.

    Today, I am a die hard fan of email, am subscribed to over 20 email loops, and spent two hours this December just to organize my bookmarks.  I started blogging in June for TOS and I joined Facebook reluctantly in November, after finding out it was the way to find out what my 27 first cousins and all their offspring are up to.  While I have a cell phone (I know homeschool moms that don't), the only smartness my phone has is to call the people that I tell it to.

    So I guess my whole point here is that even though I don't Tweet and Facebook my every move, I am still in the loop.

    Using my old fashioned methods, I am in touch with thousands of homeschoolers, locally and internationally.  I can suggest a curriculum or answer a question, without a stat counter or a blog follower.  I can tell you what worked and what didn't for us and our learning styles, tell you about new books, sites, and products I have heard about and who liked/didn't like them.  I can answer questions precisely and in real time, without you having to subscribe to something that might talk about everything else except what you had a question about.

    Today's world is so full of people wanting to tell me what they think before I even ask. With 20 minutes of commercials in every hour of programming, news channels that blow everything out of proportion, reality shows about anything but reality, web ads targeted to you, and a mailbox full of things I supposedly need, I cannot be the only one who values being able to ask before I get an answer.
    In other words, don't discount us old guys and our old fashioned ways.  We may snoop out the latest, and network it with thousands of people, quickly and concisely, in ways that cannot be measured by the latest google gadget.

    New Year, New Things

    I am fairly new to this blogging thing as it was thrust upon me if I wanted to take part in the TOS Review Crew.  The latest mandate from the powers that be is that I must have 4 posts a month, even if I do not have 4 products to review each month.  So I have been kicking this around, trying to decide what to do, without boring y'all and taking up your time with a bunch of drivel.

    I wanted to add a page, similar to the Books We Like page, to keep the TOS review separate from my own adventures.  However, if I divide things up that way, those posts do not end up in the Archives, but instead are just a list.  If any of my technology gifted readers out there have a suggestion, I am all ears, even though it does make me look kinda funny. But gravity is helping with that already.

    In the meantime, it looks like I am just going to have to mix things up willy nilly.  So from now on, if a post is for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Review Crew (TOS), it will say so in the header and my disclaimer will apply.  Otherwise, I will have received nothing for my opinion, except completing that four post minimum, and maybe losing the two cents I am sharing.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Virtual Nerd

    There is nothing like a being a mother to remind you that your brain has a limited capacity.  I used to be a fairly smart person, but for a few years my brain was full of things that the ordinary person did not want to talk about (diapers, potty training, tantrums, etc).  I was well read on the subjects, but had no one to engage in discussions with other than those I was practicing my knowledge on.  Now that my children are older, I am starting to have glimmers of the person I used to be.  Random facts come out of the blue and I have no idea where I learned it or why it has not been accessible for 15 years.  Just last week I realized that I really did know how to find the square root of 56.  Who knew! And I can still string together French words into sentences!  It is a very exciting time in my life, as I work on regaining my brain, although my kids think I am really losing it instead.

    One of the most wondrous things about the human brain is how it catalogs its knowledge.  Its search engine is un-replicated.   Memories are cataloged under sights, sounds, tastes, smells.  It can jump from one topic to another to another, till you forget where you started.  It can interact with other brains by a variety of languages, artwork, chemical pheromones, and body movement.

    So imagine when a parent is interacting with another brain and they are trying to recall something that was cataloged in their head 20 years before, and the frustration when they try to rely on tools invented by other humans to jog their memories. The tools want specific input and will only return specific output.  The tools do not understand how the human brain works and its associations.  Nor do they understand that a human brain can have parts of the solution and need the other parts found and returned to complete the whole memory.

    The ability to relate one topic to another and to another until understanding is complete is what makes Virtual Nerd, a new web based math assistance program, different.  Its input and output comes in many different forms and allows you to wander all over within a topic, until you find all the pieces you are missing.

    Let's look at input.

    With Virtual Nerd, you can search for Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 or 2, or Physics topics.  You can do this by keyword, an interactive flow chart, or in the case of Algebra 1, by the contents of 4 different math texts.

    Once you get in the ballpark of what you need answers about, you chose a topic, and are taken to a screen that is divided into three parts.

    The output for the chosen topic is in visual and auditory forms.  It is also search-able and relates itself to many other topics. 

    The Video:
    • uncluttered
    • readable handwriting
    • instructor is very well spoken
    • good volume
    The Diagram:
    • computer font
    • covers same info as video without extra written prompts found on white board
    • uses different colors for emphasis
    • writes entire worked problem neatly and succinctly
    • hover your mouse over this box and another pops up with related topics and definitions
    The Step-by-Step
    • a written script or "closed captioning" for the video
    • uses different colors for emphasis
    • fast forwarding and rewinding available by scrolling and clicking
    • hover your mouse over this box and another pops up with related topics and definitions

    This program is different from other math programs I have seen, because it has no limit of moving you sideways through a topic, giving you easy access to layers of instruction for each step made in a problem.  This effect is very similar to the human brain and how one thing can remind you of another....and another......

    I did find the keyword search at times to be not as detailed as I would like and sometimes it would bring up more subjects than I wanted to wade through.  I found the textbook searches to work best, even though we were not using one of the text books listed, when looking up a subject from a text book that Dragonette needed a clearer explanation of.

    I have very high praise for the woman on the videos.  I had no problems understanding her and she had no distracting "umms" or pauses, or mistakes while writing.  She obviously memorized the script and feeds it back to us flawlessly.

    This is not a full teaching curriculum and is not meant to be.  It is instead a tutoring tool that was created by two guys who wanted to share their love of math effectively.  The company has plans to add practice problems, quizzes, and the ability to get feedback along with more Physics, Chemistry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus.

    The company offers a variety of pricing plans.

    1 day = $5
    1 week = $19
    1 month = $49
    3 months = $129

    The company also offers a 2 hour free trial and a free membership to educators at accredited institutions.

    I think that if you are struggling with math, this program could be very helpful.  It is a powerful and intuitive tutoring tool, and is probably cheaper and less logistically challenging than hiring a tutor.  It could also be used for review before a big test.  But at our house, paying monthly for this service would absolutely break our homeschooling budget.

    I would like to see this company develop a pricing compromise for homeschoolers.  While I understand they are hoping teachers at accredited institutions will advertise their service to their students and provide them with free access to try out the program, I don't feel it is fair to lump homeschoolers in with the general public, since we not only pay taxes to support local school, but then turn around and pay again to educate our own children with no tax breaks, usually on one income.  Perhaps while the company is expanding its offerings, it will also research the homeschool market and learn about our needs, too.  To stay afloat in the competitive market of math helps, it would behoove them to befriend the homeschool community instead of using us to fund free services for teachers at accredited institutions and their families.

    I hope the company takes homeschoolers' needs in mind, as they have an excellent product that is well presented.