Saturday, February 28, 2009

Prairie Primer

I've always been intrigued by unit studies, but never been brave enough to try one. When I received The Prairie Primer by Caldron Creek Publishing I was amazed, and a bit overwhelmed, by how many activities it offered. The Prairie Primer is a very comprehensive unit study based on The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The softcover book is over 330 pages, broken into sections for each book. You could cover one book per month to complete the series over a school year, or take it more slowly. It is intended for third to sixth grade, but many of the activities were easily adaptable to my younger children, even my 3 1/2 year old enjoyed them.

The Prairie Primer includes activities for Literature, Science, Writing, Living, Art, Bible, Manners, History, Character, and even a little Math. While it isn't a complete curriculum, it does a great job integrating a wide variety of topics into your learning and is a very in-depth literature study. There is a section of the Caldron Creek website where you can see lots of samples, like the planning guide and study guide for the first week and a list of topics covered. You can find it here.

At first I found the huge list of activities overwhelming. I had to remind myself that we don't have to do them ALL. I picked only a couple of activities per day and sometimes even handed the book to Ryan (my 8 year old) to choose the activities for the next day-- although he usually wanted to do more than I had time for.

We only did activities from the first book, the Big Woods and only did 2 days a week instead of 4. Unit studies are not my style of teaching and I had a hard time incorporating everything I wanted to while still doing reading lessons, taking care of the little ones, keeping the toddler out of trouble, and keeping the house presentable. I think it could be a great resource/study guide if my kids were a little older-- my oldest is a third grader, so we were at the young end of the recommended age range.

I did feel it had plenty of "boy" stuff included to keep my boys interested. There were also activities for all different learning styles and plenty of hands on activities that the kids will remember.

1 This book has a TON of activities and ideas.
2 It is from a christian viewpoint with a healthy dose of Bible activities mixed in.
3 It includes comprehension questions if your child is reading the chapters on their own.

1 Some of the activities weren't practical for us, even though they would be fun. Like collecting sap.
2 You have to collect or buy books and items for each chapter. This was sometimes a problem for us as our interlibrary loan can take awhile and I would sometimes forget to request things early enough. (This is more a mom issue than a curriculum issue, but if you are used to pick-up-and-go, it can cause problems.)

Caldron Creek also has literature based study guides for the Narnia books and the Anne of Green Gables books. The Prairie Primer sells for $50.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Math Tutor DVD

This is what Ryan (age 8) reported to his dad after watching part of the Algebra 2 Math Tutor DVD's I was sent to review:

Dad: "What did you learn today?"
Ryan: "I learned algebra. Well, actually Algebra 2. And it was easy."

He then had me write him some equations, like y=4X-6, so he could demonstrate how to graph a line.

Then, Ryan: "And there's only 15 parts on the movie, so I'll learn all the rest in, oh, about 2 weeks."

Wow!!! Any math program that can make Algebra 2 interesting and understandable to an 8 year old is amazing. Not only did Ryan LEARN how to graph a linear equation, he remembers it and is excited about it. He also asked me to buy some of the other ones for him to watch and learn "for fun."

I received two Math Tutor DVD's to review: Basic Math Word Problems and Algebra 2. click me The word problems DVD covers adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing whole numbers, fractions, and decimals, plus sections on percents and ratios. Ryan has always been good at math and he sat on the floor playing with magnetix while the instructor worked explained the problems. Then when a new problem was introduced, he would sit up, figure the answer and go back to playing. He was so excited to get it faster than the instructor. I had only planned to watch one section at a time, but Ryan kept asking for more. He watched several sections, including topics we haven't covered as much and was able to follow along and understand very easily. This one DVD covers most of the topics students learn through elementary school and would be great for kids struggling with word problems.

Pros: I would recommend these for students who are struggling with math or students who are gifted in math and would like an early introduction to advanced math topics, but still need practice on skills like long division. They are only $26.99 for 6 to 10 hours of instruction, much cheaper than a regular tutor. These would also be a great refresher course or introduction to go along with any public school or university math program.

Cons: If a student is already strong in an area (and not needing a tutor) these would probably be boring and the repeated explanations would be overkill. The DVD's are also not real exciting visually, basically a white board with a voice explaining how to work the problem. (This is also a plus because my son wasn't distracted and could focus on the math instead of cute visuals.) Also, this is not a complete curriculum and there are no practice problems on the DVD, however, worksheets are available at several levels that would make it more complete.

Overall, if you have a student struggling with any level of math, I would give these DVD's a try. They go through advanced calculus and advanced physics. I plan on buying more for Ryan to watch and learn from "for fun" so that when he reaches that level of math it will already be familiar to him. It also helps show him "WHY" it is important to practice the basic math skills.

There are several sample videos on the website.

Heads UP!

If you have a special needs learner, an wiggly learner, or even just a regular active child, you need to check out Heads Up! They have some AWESOME products!!!

From the company website: Heads Up! is a company designed to provide expert information and products for special needs children. Our items have been selected to accommodate various learning styles and strengths, regardless of curriculum used. These special needs products have been found to be especially helpful for children who are distractible or hyperactive.

I was sent several products to help with reading. Top of the Line and Double Time are reading aids with a highlighted strip (Blue or yellow) on top of a grayed out area. This lets you focus on one (or two) lines at a time. They are $1 each.

Colored frames come in a variety of colors and help focus the eyes on a certain area of the page so it isn't as overwhelming. They come in two sizes and are also $1.

The final product I was able to test were Heads Up! readers. These are about the size of a regular bookmark, with a highlight strip of color between two strips of gray. They come in 6 colors or clear and are $1 each.

These products were especially helpful for my son with sensory integration disorder and possible dyslexia (but both of the boys liked using them). In the past, he has complained about his eyes burning when he reads or that the letters are "moving." Depending on the light different colors worked best, but he seemed to gravitate toward the blue and red/pink colors and away from the yellow.

I have also gleaned several other great ideas from the Heads Up! website and have several items on my wishlist for the future. If you have a child who is struggling to read or dislikes reading, I highly recommend trying some of these readers. (My fluent reader liked them also).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Homeschooling ABC's

I know so many families who would love to homeschool, but find the idea overwhelming. Others who have jumped in with both feet and are just trying to stay afloat. If either of those descriptions fit you, OR if you are an experienced homeschooler who would just like some encouragement/support/advice (and lots of free curriculum to try), check out Terri Johnson's Homeschooling ABC's. It's like having a personal homeschool tourguide as you navigate this exciting new world!

Terri Johnson has been homeschooling for 11 years and has written a series of step-by-step weekly emails to help you set up your homeschool and figure it out. This is a subscription service and it is $10 a month for the 6 months, or about $2.50 a week. She includes weekly freebies that would cost over $200 if you bought them from the publishers. She also has a 60 day money back guarentee, so you can give it a try and see if you think it is worth it. I honestly think that after the first 5 or 6 weeks you will have a pretty good idea of the program. There is a 5 lesson mini-course that is free here that you can try first.

This program is geared towards families with elementary age children, especially families with more than one child. But, I enjoyed the articles and freebies even though I've been homeschooling for 4 years. When we decided to homeschool, I read every book I could get at the library, visited over a hundred websites, and spent a good deal of time researching. Terri has done a lot of that for you and broken it into bite-size pieces that aren't overwhelming and can be referred to again later. Each week you are given "homework," an idea to implement into your current homeschool along with resources to do it. I'm a cheapskate, but if this had been around when I started, it would have sure been handy.

And even though I've been doing this for awhile, I collected quite a few ideas and enjoyed the lessons I've received and read. Initially I felt like I would want it all NOW instead of waiting patiently week by week. However, getting the whole kit-and-caboodle dumped at once would be so overwheming I wouldn't get as much out of it. This way you can focus on one area and idea at a time.

I would highly recommend this for anyone just starting to homeschool or struggling with homeschooling (especially families with multiple children)!!!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rocket Phonics

Rocket Phonics is AWESOME!!! This is a reading program with "helpers" so kids can become confident readers without guessing. My "reluctant" reader is now asking to read and even picking up the book to re-read the lessons when I can't work with him!

Letters that follow the rules of phonics are in blue, others are in gray and have helpers underneath them, so the child doesn't have to guess when a word doesn't follow the rules.

The readings consist of riddles, games like Simon Says, and silly kid sayings.

I have an 6.5 year old (Tyler) who is reading at about a 1st grade level and an almost 4 year old, (Jeanisha) who has been wanting to learn to read very badly. She has just learned most of her sounds with Letter factory and bingo. We've been playing the bingo game regularly and she loves being the "caller."She has been SO excited as she's been able to read words. The first few times, she would jump up and down and give everyone in the room a high five when she figured it out. It was so much fun to watch. She asks constantly for more reading lessons and walks around the house with a book all day "practicing".

Rocket Phonics includes a supplement with over 20 games just for learning letters, sounds, and beginning blending. The games are fun enough that ALL the kids want to participate, but easy enough that my 8 year old can facilitate and they can keep playing long after school time is done for the day.

Reading for Tyler has been more of a struggle. He has many of the signs of dyslexia, his eyes "burn" after he strains to read (the blue and gray text used in Rocket Phonics seems to be easier). He is a very active, yellow personality---motivated by fun and silliness, but hard to keep focused--boy. We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and additional books by the same author plus lots of other readers. He does fine when the words follow the rules, but struggles otherwise. He would read with me each day because it was just part of school and he would spend a lot of time looking at books making up his own stories, but didn't initiate reading lessons/practice very often. I introduced this book as a book of reading games. We started with the "new" sounds playing bingo and he enjoyed that.

For the thinking games in Section 1.4, I called them hidden pictures and he liked reading the word and finding it in the picture. The next group had sentences that were either true or false based on the picture. This was great because he couldn't just guess at the words based on the picture. I called these trickers and told him that they had hidden some wrong sentences and it was his job to be a detective and figure out which ones didn't match the picture. He loved this! He thought that was hilarious and that "the people who wrote this book are so silly."
We started section 2.1 which I had told him had jokes and games. And he kept asking to read more! Usually he is asking "how much more do I HAVE to read." Tonight he was saying, "Please, just one more, just one more."

I'm excited to see what the next few weeks bring, but I am extremely pleased so far! I will be posting follow-up reviews as I continue working through this program. The program sells for $160 at and is so much better than other phonics programs I've looked at for a struggling reader or an older reader who needs practice.

PS. If you are local, I'd be happy to meet you and show you the program.


If you've ever heard the words "I don't know what to write about," the WriteShop StoryBuilder Cards might be the solution for your kids. Appropriate for kids k-12, the StoryBuilders are printable cards in four categories, (characters, traits, setting, and plot). The cards are sold in an e-book format that you print on cardstock and cut out. Different colors are used for each type of card (either different colored paper or different colored font). There are four different sets, Animals, People, Sports, and Christmas.

I received the Christmas and Animal sets. The Christmas set has 92 cards (all non-religious things like snowman, reindeer, old woman) and the Animal set has 192 cards, plus some blank ones to add your own words. We used the cards several different ways. Sometimes we drew cards from each deck randomly, sometimes I let the kids look through and choose different story elements. Sometimes we wrote out the stories, sometimes we told them out load, and a few times the boys even worked together to make a story and tell it to us with puppets.

These have been great for getting the creative juices flowing and helping my boys branch out from the same story elements that they use over and over (like someone getting shot with a bow and arrow or eaten by a dragon). As we've used them, I've noticed Ryan (8) pulling some of the character traits or ideas into his writing from previous days or taking his story in a completely different direction. His favorite story was supposed to use boa constrictor, daring, forest, and learns to fly. You can read it here. This is great improvement for a boy who thought 50 words was a lot for a story back in September. (This one is 126 words.)

You can access Writeshop's store here where the StoryBuilders are sold for $7.95 for the animal, people or sports set and $3.95 for the Christmas set. The sets are completely different and can be combined. However, I found that one set gave us plenty of ideas to work with.