Monday, November 17, 2014

Blue Ribbon Winners and our Favorite Schoolhouse Reviews for 2014

It's that time of the year again where we take a break from reviewing for the Schoolhouse Review Crew and enjoy the holiday season . . . BUT FIRST!  Reviewers were asked to vote on their favorite products from various categories.  It's a fun way for us to share our final thoughts about the year, and give thanks to the vendors for their generosity!

So here I am, trying to share some of our favorites.  It turned out that it was really hard to narrow it down, but these are the ones we're still loving and using!  Several of our favorites were also blue ribbon winners, and I tried to note that wherever possible.  This list is not in any specific order, but you can click on the title of the product read the full review.

Spelling You See
This is from Demme Learning, of Math U See fame.  Math U See was one of our personal favorites last year, and I'm not shocked that we enjoyed Spelling You See as well.  It's definitely a different approach to spelling than the traditional memorization of rules and spelling lists, but it is Charlotte Mason friendly with the use of copywork and dictation.  Perhaps that's why we like it.

Spelling You See
This is a fun online K-2 science curriculum full of interactive videos and lessons for the student, and full of lesson plans, worksheets and more for the teacher!  What I loved was all of the hands-on activities that encouraged exploration and investigation, as that is the key to science!  Elliott loved this program, and still asks for it often, and that is why it's a winner in our house.  This was actually Elliott's runner up for his Kid's Pick vote, but he did vote for it in other categories.

ARTistic Pursuits
WINNER!  This program won for favorite Fine Arts Product/Curriculum!  
This was Elliott's top pick for Fine Arts, and it was one of our top five favorites last year as well.  This year we were blessed to review Book 2 in the Elementary K-3 series.  It is a great combination of art history, art appreciation and fun art projects to try.  I'm not artistic, but the boys love art projects, and this curriculum gives me enough information and background to help them develop different skills.  They have everything from Preschool to High School, so I definitely plan to keep it on our rotation for years to come!

ARTistic Pursuits review

Maestro Classics
For me, this was tied with Art for Fine Arts, and for good reason!  These quality productions are absolutely my favorite way to incorporate music now!  I was always scared of music education before, but Maestro Classics makes it so easy.  They combine narration of great stories, orchestra music, composer studies, and music appreciation all wrapped into an educational and entertaining CD.  The activity booklets are a nice bonus.  We reviewed two titles, I've already purchased two more titles, and the rest are on our wishlist!

{By the way, Maestro Classics has sent me a unique coupon code for my readers as a special thanks to homeschoolers, so check out the full article for specifics!  These would make great stocking stuffers, and are fantastic for car rides!)

Clued In Kids
WINNER:  Kid's Choice
After much deliberation over his favorites from the year, this was Elliott's pick for Kid's Choice!  These are treasure hunts that are fun AND educational.  Need I say more?  I love the ease and preparation, and the kids just absolutely went crazy over these!  I'll probably buy more throughout the year as a fun surprise for the boys!

WINNER:  Favorite Language Arts Supplement
Both of the boys actually use this frequently for math practice and review.  I find it more than enough for my 5 year old, and it's an excellent supplement for second grade.  It's computer based, but also available on mobile devices.  When I find my kid on the iPad "doing school" without me even asking, I know the program is a keeper!

Learning Wrap-Ups
WINNER:  Favorite Math Supplement
We loved the learning palettes and the wrap-ups that we reviewed.  It's a great way to practice math and reading in an informal and hands-on way, which is definitely our style!  In fact, Emory just saw this picture and asked if he could play it.

Motivated Moms
I'll be honest, I wasn't sure about this one in the beginning, because I'm not a checklist kind of person.  However, this has been a GREAT chore planner for me, and I can definitely tell a difference in my motivation when I have it out and use it regularly.  I don't know why this one is so different than other checklists/planners that I've tried, but I really like it.

Under Drake's Flag 
WINNER:  Favorite Book, Audio Book or Audio Drama
This is a captivating audio drama that we all loved!  It has great voice acting, dramatic sound effects and it was all around fascinating.  I was not even allowed to pause it during our car ride.  We are definitely looking forward to more productions from Heirloom Audio Productions!  

We Choose Virtues
This is a fun character training program.  We still use it alongside our Five in a Row studies whenever it aligns, and the boys look forward to which "kid" we will be learning about, and when my kids ask questions and look forward to a program, it is definitely worth mentioning!

Middlebury Interactive Languages 
WINNER:  Favorite Foreign Language Curriculum
This is an online foreign language program.  They have various languages for different age/grade ranges.  We reviewed K-2 Spanish, and we're still using it in our homeschool!  It is immersion based with authentic stories, interactive exercises, cultural lessons and speaking practice.

More Winners
These are other blue ribbon winners that we reviewed that maybe didn't make our personal favorites list for this year, but were still enjoyed and are still fantastic products in their own right, as shown by their blue ribbon status!

Moving Beyond the Page:  Favorite Language Arts Curriculum, Favorite Middle School Resource

CTC Math:  Favorite Math Program

Preschoolers and Peace:  Favorite Preschool Program (This did get our vote!)

Logic of English:  Favorite Elementary Resource

There were even more winners that covered other categories and age ranges, so be sure to check out the FULL list of Blue Ribbon Winners and find out which products other crew members voted for this year.

©2011-2014 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Random 5 on Friday - November 14th

1.  It was snowing last night.  Nothing significant, but snow nonetheless.  The kids were excited.  The adults (and the dogs) however, are not so impressed with this change in weather.

2.  I can't believe how fast this year has gone.  The holidays are almost here, and I'm due in about 8 weeks!

3.  We've been having a lot of fun with our school lately.  The boys are loving Five in a Row, and we've even created our own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle unit study.  Think turtles, Renaissance art, pizza, and comic books!

4.  The Schoolhouse Review Crew is coming to an end for the year, but next week I'll be sharing some of our favorite reviews for the year when the Blue Ribbon award winners are announced!  That's where the crew members voted for their favorites across a variety of subject areas, so be sure to check it out!

5.  We transitioned Eleanor's crib to a toddler bed several weeks ago to see how it would go (nearly perfect!) and then we officially moved her to a real bed this past weekend, so the crib is reassembled and waiting.  Eleanor looks so tiny in her twin bed but the funny thing is, of the three kids, she was the oldest to start making any of these sleeping transitions.

The Pebble Pond

©2011-2014 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Math and Language Arts with {Schoolhouse Review}

You may know by now that I like supplemental materials in our homeschool.  Having a variety of ways to practice and reinforce what we are learning is important to me.  It presents information in a different way and it breaks up the monotony of using a standard curriculum day in and day out.  We were given another opportunity to review, and I was given a full year access to both IXL Math and IXL Language Arts sections. review

What is IXL? is a subscription-based website for math and language arts practice.  They currently offer Pre-K through high school level math, and 2nd-8th grade language arts.  We reviewed last year, but this year we're getting so much more out of it and are enjoying different features.

How does the program work?
Once a student logs in, they choose the subject and grade level to work on, but they do have access to all grade levels at all times, which is ideal for allowing children to work up or down if their ability varies for different skills.  Then they choose a specific topic and start practicing!  As the student answers questions correctly, they earn points, but if they miss a question they lose points.  As they continue to answer correctly the questions become more challenging, and questions are weighted so that students are given enough questions to master the material.  If the student answers incorrectly, the problem is explained immediately so it is still fresh in mind.  When they reach 100 points, the skill is considered mastered and there's a congratulations screen and a gold metal is added to the full list of skills.

Second Grade Math
Elliott is 7 years old and is focusing on 2nd Grade Math.  This level offers 24 categories with 247 individual skills.  I usually let him use this program however he wants.  Generally he works randomly, choosing a square on the awards board to uncover, and works towards his goal.  If he chooses a topic he hasn't learned in his primary curriculum, I give him a quick overview, and he's off! Sometimes we use it to practice whatever we're learning in our math curriculum instead of doing the workbook pages, but I find that letting him bounce around between topics {rather than only using it to supplement what he's doing in math} keeps all the skills fresh.  Since we use a mastery-based approach for our primary curriculum, it is nice to have this as sort of a "spiral" review for him.

Here are some sample questions taken from various 2nd grade skills he has worked on:  Patterns, Fractions, Estimation and Even/Odd Numbers. review

Overall, he really enjoys the math portion of this website, and it is has recently been one of his favorite "school" activities to do!

2nd Grade Language Arts
2nd Grade Language Arts has 34 categories, with 86 skills, and covers things like capitalization, synonyms, homophones, contractions, alphabetical order and various other common language topics.  We dabbled in a few sections last year, but it's definitely more appropriate for 2nd grade or slightly older kids to review.  We've been using this portion a little differently though.  I do usually choose the topic that coincides with what Elliott is learning about in language arts.  This is because we don't do as much "formal" language arts, so this gives him a way to practice, and gives me a way to assess his understanding.

I will admit that he isn't enthusiastic about this subject in general (he is my math kid after all) and it is not as visually appealing without all the graphics.  There's also no awards board, so he isn't as motivated to get through the questions.  Because of this, we use this side a little more sparingly.  However, I really do appreciate that the format of the questions varies.  As you can see, there's multiple choice, typing in the answer, click and drag and highlighting.  This does keep it from being too monotonous. review

Pre-K & Kindergarten Math
Emory just recently turned 5 years old and although he used IXL here and there last year, he really didn't get into it at the time.  This year he is much more interested in "doing school" like his brother.  He could easily work in the Kindergarten section, but since he didn't use it much until recently, he wanted to finish his Pre-K awards board, so he is finishing up the Pre-K math sections now, which covers 42 different skills within 10 categories.  A lot of the material is easy/review for him, but at his age that is fine with me.

We really just use this for fun once or twice a week.  I do sit with him so if he needs help I can work him through the question.  He is happy to do one set of questions, but he's a typical 5 year old boy and wants to be on the go and is done after mastering a skill.

The progressive nature makes it appropriate for young preschoolers to start (with easier skills like shapes or counting up to 3 for example), for an older preschooler to gain confidence, and for a Kindergarten student to use as practice or review, especially since many of the Kindergarten skills overlap with the Pre-K skills anyway. review

With access to all grades, I can move him into the 129 Kindergarten math skills as soon as he finishes Pre-K.  Although many of the skills do overlap, once we move into Kindergarten there will be additional topics like skip-counting, addition and telling time to challenge him more.

For each grade level, there is a themed Awards board.  The Pre-K board is a toy theme, and the 2nd grade board is ocean/beach themed.  You can hover over any question mark to see the challenge, and virtual prices are revealed when the challenge is completed.  Challenges include tasks such as mastering specific skills or a certain number of skills, practicing for a designated amount of time, or answering a certain number of questions.  Once the more general milestones (like answering 100 questions) are reached, a new question mark appears with a new target number.  Also, if your kiddo needs a tangible award, printable certificates are awarded periodically for some of these milestones. review
Elliott's 2nd Grade Awards board early during the review period

The App
IXL offers apps for certain iPad, Kindle and Android devices.  We finally got around to downloading the iPad app this year, and the program is fully accessible!  I love that we can take learning on the go, or at least to any room of the house.  I think the boys find the app more visually appealing, and they love the 'scratch paper' that is available for math.  My 2nd grader loves the app, and often chooses to do his math on it instead.  I've even found him on the IXL app without any prompting from me! review

Parent Account
Initially I log in to my parent account, and then the boys can sign into their student accounts with a "secret word" and access their work.  They cannot access the program (except as a guest) without me signing in first.

My account allows me to control features such as allowing audio or displaying grade levels in the student accounts.  I can also view each student's awards board without going into their separate accounts, and sample the problems without it reflecting on their records.

Another great feature of the Parent account is all of the records and progress reports.  There are so many ways to filter the reports.  You can look at a skill and see how many questions it took for them to master the skill and how much time they spent.  You can even look at the exact problems they were given and the answers they chose.  It even tracks scores as related to your common core or state standards, if that matters to you.  Everything can be downloaded/printed, so if you need records for portfolios, you can find something to meet your needs.

  • Access to all grade levels
  • Program rewards all practice with acknowledgement of time spent and questions answered 
  • Compliments any math or language arts program 
  • The website is clean and there are NO ads 
  • Ability to control certain features from the parent account 
  • Extensive reports 
  • Multiple subscription options to meet your needs 

My only real wish is that there was a Language Arts awards board.  The lack of an Awards board means this subject, which is already my son's least favorite, is not as exciting for my kid that is motivated by seeing his progress in a very visual way.  I would love to see one added!

Final Thoughts
I like the thoroughness of the program, especially considering it is only designed as a practice website.  I like that I can put Elliott on there almost independently while I am nearby doing other things (helping Emory, dishes, laundry, etc), and I think it's great for those busy days when I just need an abbreviated school day--if we have an appointment or class out of the house, is a great way to get our math practice in for the day without me having to cover a lesson, check a workbook page or hover around him.

A subscription for one student is $9.95/month for one subject, or $15.95/month for both math and language arts.  Additional students are only an extra $2 per month.  Or you can purchase an annual subscription for one student for $79/ for one subject or $129 for both subjects.  Additional annual subscriptions are $20 per student.

You can check out or find them on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ for more information, or read more reviews!

Click here to read more reviews!

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©2011-2014 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.