Sunday, August 18, 2013

TOS Review - Reading Kingdom - Redux

Last September, we reviewed Reading Kingdom - an online reading and writing program (you can read about it here), and it went pretty well.  When the opportunity arose this time around, I thought it might be interesting to review it again to see how Julianna had progressed in the program.  
Reading Kingdom was created by Dr Marion Blank, the Director of the Light on Learning Institute at  Columbia University. From the Reading Kingdom website:
Current reading education typically teaches a phonics approach, a whole language approach, or a combination of the two. But the simple fact is that the vast majority of words in the English language cannot be sounded out. This is true even in a classic phonics book such as Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" which begins with:
The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. 
So we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.

In this text only 8 of 23 words (the bolded words) can be sounded out. The other 15 (or 65% of the total) cannot. In order to overcome the problems inherent in sounding out, phonics relies on children memorizing almost 600 rules, such as the "silent e" rule, the double vowel rule, the consonant combination rule and on and on. Remembering nearly 600 rules is impossible for a child - or even an adult for that matter. What's worse is that the rules themselves are riddled with exceptions. For better or worse, in English, irregularity is the rule. To put it simply, if phonics worked as advertised to teach a child to read it would be spelled "foniks". 

Whole language has had even poorer results. It provides very little structure for learning and as a result, children are overwhelmed with unfamiliar words and sentence structures - and reading failure often ensues. 
Reading Kingdom uses a 6 skill model of reading instruction (sequencing, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar and composition) that incorporates elements of phonics and whole language while teaching additional skills required for reading and writing success without requiring kids to learn any complicated rules. 

By focusing on these skills, Reading Kingdom teaches a children 4-10 years old how to read and write on a third grade level.  

When you begin the program, your child will complete an assessment to place them at the appropriate level.  There are 6 levels to work through - Letter Land, Reading and Writing Levels 1-5.  Once the child is placed in their level, they will work sequentially through the program.  

My musings:
I still like the Reading Kingdom program and think it works okay for Julianna.  I decided to continue at the level she ended the last time (Level 3).  I had asked that she be bumped up a level (to Level 3) at the end of our last review because I felt she was getting bored and frustrated at the lower level.  Beginning this time, I had thought about doing a reassessment, and in hindsight maybe I should have, but we continued with this level.  We're plodding through and she's doing well, but recently it has been with more complaining.  Each lesson tends to be similar in the activities that are done and I think a varied approach might keep her attention better.  She makes silly mistakes because she's just trying to rush through.  

Pros of the program:
*  Julianna can work on the lessons independently.
*  Progress reports for each reader are sent (periodically by email) to the parents/teacher.  You can also sign onto the program and download a report at anytime.  
*  Teaches keyboarding skills.
*  A progress meter (with the percentage completed of the level and program) is shown after each lesson.  

Cons of the program:
*  While the progress reports are nice, it doesn't really give me a "real world" level that Julianna is currently working at.  For example, she is working at Level 3, with an excellent performance, but what does that equate to?  Completing the program is supposed to have the child reading/writing on a 3rd grade level.  I would like an equivalent score for the current progress - Level 3 is a Grade X level, etc.  I know as a homeschooler I'm not supposed to care about grade levels and such, but I do.  I don't have any other children to compare her too, so I would like the grade references.  
*  I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get the actual keyboard to work with the program!  I'm sure this is just a glitch on my part.  The mouse and keypad work fine, but it would be great if the keyboard could be used as well.  I probably missed something during the setup.  
*  The subscription is kind of expensive.  They offer a free trial (see details below), but then you have to pay a monthly or yearly subscription.  Subscription scholarships are available. 

Overall, I still really like the Reading Kingdom program and we will continue (I'm sure some days kicking and screaming) using it through completion.  She's over halfway there.  Woohoo!  

If you have a child in the 4-10 year old range that may be starting out in their reading journey or may just need a little extra support in reading/writing, check out Reading Kingdom.  

When you sign up for the Reading Kingdom, you receive a free 30 day trial. After that, subscriptions to Reading Kingdom are $19.99/month (with no monthly minimum), or $199.99 per year (20% off). Additional children in your account get 50% off ($9.99/month or $99.99/year). You can cancel your subscriptions at any time. 


Sunday, August 11, 2013

TOS Review - Bible Study Guide for All Ages

I usually don't have a problem finding curricula that I's usually the opposite - I WANT IT ALLLLLL!  With one exception:  Bible.  Now, you'd think that this wouldn't be too difficult to find, but, for whatever reason, we have always seemed to strike out.  I'm not saying the Bible devotions or studies we've used have been bad, but they've just not been a good fit.  Well, we might have found a winner:  Bible Study Guide For All Ages.
From the company's literature:
The Bible Study Guide is a Bible curriculum that covers the entire Bible in 416 lessons, studying some Old Testament and some New Testament books each year.  A simple timeline and maps (for ages 1st grade and up) are used to help students understand the context of everything they learn.  Students learn the "big picture" of the story of the Bible, in-depth knowledge of the Bible and, best of all, how to apply it to their lives.  The curriculum is not dated and can be begun at any time and at whatever pace you choose.  All ages can study the same text at the same time if desired.

For the review, we received the Intermediate Level Student Pages (Les 1-26) ($5.95 per set of 26 lessons) and The Bible Book Summary Cards ($24.95.)

My musings:
I really liked this Bible Study!  So much so, that I'm thinking of buying the next set to see if we continue to have success with it in our new school year.  It was easy to use - essentially no teacher prep. It also has enough of a variety in activities (timelines, fill in the blanks, etc.) on the student pages to keep my girl would that be the case for the remainder of the curriculum?  Not sure.  She sometimes burns out of I'm willing to try, though.  I like that it doesn't go in order from Genesis to Revelations.  Julianna is a visual learner, so the Bible Book Summary Cards work well for her.  Each page has picture representation of events in the particular book of the Bible.    It makes it easy to remember what book it is as soon as you learn what the pictures stand for.

Here are a few pictures of the Bible Study in use:
Bible Study Card - Genesis 
Student Page - Intermediate (one side) 
Student Page - Intermediate (second side)

Filling in the timeline. 
Student Page 
Julianna felt that the Joseph drawing needed some hair.  Lol

The Bible Study for All Ages products range from Preschool to Adult.  If you're in the market for a Bible Study to use with your family, look at what this company has to offer.  Along with the items I posted before, they also have other things:  timelines and maps, CD of Children's Songs and a Teacher's Unit.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

TOS Review - Legacy Documentaries

Like everyone else at the time, I watched Little House on the Prairie growing up, however, as an adult, I would not look back and say I was a fan.  
I didn't like Pa Ingalls.  I think it was his hair.  
Now that Julianna is getting older and growing out of a lot of the younger programs, I wanted to look for something wholesome that we could all enjoy.  Full circle back to Little House.  Julianna loves them and I will admit, I am enjoying them much more now than in my early years.  The sad thing is, a show like this, which is easily considered a classic, would not be made for today's TV viewers.  Not necessarily because they wouldn't want  to watch it, but that the production companies wouldn't make it.  Just confirms our decision not to have cable.  I digress.  ;-)

Dean Butler was one of the Little House actors. He played a minor character named Almanzo Wilder. (Just kidding!) Considering that Laura Ingalls married Almanzo Wilder, he played a pretty big part. He now has a production company named Legacy Documentaries that has created three DVDs honoring the heritage of Little House: Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, Pa's Fiddle: The Music of America and The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder (available through the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum website.)  Laura's DVD is what we chose to review.

My musings:

The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a well done documentary.  It has a nice blend still photographs, live action reenactments and beautiful art and music throughout.  The story begins after Laura is already married to Almanzo Wilder and focuses on how Laura and Almanzo began their life together and all the hardships they faced....physically and financially. She actually begins her professional writing career as a columnist in a local newspaper writing about topics from a farmer's wife point of view.  She developed her writing through journal entries begun as her family (while she was growing up) was traveling across the West and through letters written to Almanzo when she was visiting her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, on the West Coast.  Rose and Laura had a rocky relationship, but, through her literary connections, she did help get her mother's foot into the publishing door.  It was through these connections that Laura's first book was published as a children's novel, Little House in the Big Woods.  It was quite a success and Laura was even signed to a three book deal.  
Her second book, Farmer Boy, was rejected on her first draft.  During this time, one of the greatest difficulties in her relationship with her daughter was faced when Rose used, without permission, her mother's ideas and characters from her first failed publishing attempt, Pioneer Girl, in a work of her own.  It never said how Laura reacted to this, but only that Rose realized that she hurt her mother and tried to make amends by helping with research for the revisions on Farmer Boy.  The remainder of the documentary highlights how the rest of her books came to be and how the series ended.  As well as, the awards and accolades achieved and then the deaths of both Almanzo and herself.  
Unfortunately, Julianna wasn't really interested in the documentary, but both Michael and I found it interesting.  I would definitely say it would be best for older elementary school aged students and above.

The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder DVD is around 75 minutes and includes bonus footage:  Director's Diary and trailers for the Almanzo and Pa's Fiddle DVDs.  If you are a Little House fan, I would recommend that you add this documentary (and maybe the others too!) to your library.