Monday, January 26, 2009

All about homophones

My kids and I LOVED All About Spelling, so I was excited to receive All About Homophones by the same author. In case you've forgotten what homophones are, they are those tricky words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.


So many kids (and adults) have trouble knowing which word to use when. All About Homophones makes learning them easy. They've broken all of the homophones into general grade levels and provide graphic organizers, worksheets, crossword puzzles, and games for each group of words. There are fun riddles and plays on words sprinkled throughout. My 8 year son did the 3rd grade words and then wanted to keep going because they were fun. The 6 different card games make practicing and reviewing fun and the right usage gets cemented into the brain.

I also liked the mega-list of homophones at the back of the book (6 pages with 4 columns per page) and how each word in the book is indexed telling you what pages it is used in. So if you are having trouble with assistants/assistance, you can look in the appendix and see exactly which pages will help practice those words.

The softcover book is $29.95 and the ebook is $27.95. (But for the next few days, you can get $10 off by entering the coupon code "FUN" in the customer code box during checkout. The coupon code is good until Monday, February 2, 2009.

And if you just want to have some fun with homophones, try the Homophone Machine. It's free and I'd love to see what crazy sentences you can come up with.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spears Art Curriculum

I am not talented at art. I took one art class in school for 8 weeks in junior high. I walked through the art museum a good bit in college because it was a shortcut home. I do have pictures of Christ, temples, and scripture stories throughout our home, but that's it. As a result, most of the art my kids have been exposed to is through co-op classes or just free exploration with the art supplies here at home. Teaching art was too intimidating and time consuming.

Then I received the Spears Art Studio to review. The entire K-8 curriculum comes on a CD-Rom with different levels of projects for different ages. The projects are laid out by month, which gave me a place to start. Each concept has project ideas for different ages and abilities. We used the K level project for our snowmen and used some oil pastels I was given several years ago for the first time. I liked that it gave me step-by-step instructions to follow. I had the kids follow the instructions the first time, then they could do another will any changes they wanted to make. The snowmen turned out cute. Another project had you trace 7 circles on your paper over lapping randomly then color each section with a different color or pattern. The boys really enjoyed this one too.

I feel like these are projects that are doable. I did have a little difficulty finding the art images it references. I would like to just have a set of postcards or a website with them all compiled for me, but that is just because I am so lacking in art. I didn't even have a clue where to start looking for a given painting in books at the library, but there are some nice samples on the Spears Art website and most projects show a sample of a completed project.

Spears Art Studio K-8 costs $39.95, shipping included, and can be used year after year with children at different ages/abilities. They also have a high school level art program.

Try some free lessons here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Kinderbach--online piano lessons

I want my kids to learn to play the piano, but lessons are SO expensive, especially when you multiply that by several children. (especially if they don't practice regularly, like me growing up.)

One of the programs I was given the chance to review, Kinderbach, is a realistic solution. Kinderbach offers 2 years, or 60 weeks, of online music lessons for children ages 2-7. We've completed the first several weeks of lessons and I'm impressed so far. Jeanisha, who is 3 1/2, has started recognizing beat and it thrilled to be able to play a couple of songs on the piano like her big brothers. Tyler is 6 1/2 and loved the lessons. This was the first time he had shown ANY interest in the piano. Ryan is 8 and the only one who has had piano lessons. Having the other kids wanting time at the piano also made him want to practice more.

The lessons are short, cute, and interactive. Each one has something for the kids to do along with the video. It may be a coloring page you print out, or using rythum instruments to count out the beat, or a song to practice on a keyboard or piano. My kids loved this and learned a good bit. We tended to do a weeks lesson in one sitting, instead of breaking it into 4 parts. When I would start it, all of the kids, including Ryan who knows how to play the piano would want to watch.

The program is reasonably priced, at $14.95 per month or $85.95 for a year (which is only $7.16 per month, cheaper than one weekly lesson in my area). And one subscription is all you need for your whole family, just keep track of which lesson different children are on.

Check this one out, you can try the first two weeks of lessons for free here.

Peterson's Handwriting

Peterson's Directed Handwriting is a handwriting program with a lot of promise. It would probably work very well for many children, but it didn't work well with my boys right now. I was given Level One printing and Level three cursive to review. The program has a well written teacher's manual which breaks learning handwriting into bite-size pieces. I liked how it broke the strokes down by color and you knew the order was always green, black, red.

Tyler liked the finger tracing but struggled when it came to writing the letters. The student book is a separate book that you put above your paper and copy from. Tyler has many of the characteristics of dyslexia and really struggled with transferring the letters from the book to his paper. Letters tend to swim and move and having to move his eyes that far was challenging. He ended up frustrated and discouraged. He did much better with our other handwriting program where the letters were on the same line, on both sides of where he was supposed to write. It wasn't as hard for him to transfer his eyes and write the letters.

I started working with Ryan on the level three cursive book and realized he had developed several bad habits with his printing. Like starting at the bottom or doing the strokes in a backwards order. As I started introducing the cursive strokes he tried to add them into his regular writing and it became unreadable. So I had to put Peterson's aside and refocus on his printing. I should also note that this year I am requiring a lot more writing from him instead of narration, which could also have contributed to his resistance.

I didn't find the Cd songs or CD-Rom with animated letters helpful either. We have some ABC DVD's that show the same thing as the animated letters and they move from one letter to the next by themselves. The songs were annoying to both me and the boys. The full kit with the CD and CD-Rom is also quite expensive for handwriting, $38.55. The basic kit is $15.05 and both are non-consumable.

While the program didn't work for us, and will probably never work for Tyler, I plan on trying it again in a few months with Ryan and saving it to try with Jeanisha. She love's writing pretend notes now and I think the color and rhythm with work well with her. She also loves to try copying things and doesn't seem to have the hand-eye issues that Tyler does.

If you are looking for a handwriting program, I would suggest you read some of the other reviews here.