Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Changes are Coming

Just a sneak peak at things to come . . .

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Safety Scissors & Pencil Grips (review)

I've talked quite a bit about The Pencil Grip, Inc., and their art supplies, but today I am reviewing something completely different!  We were recently given the opportunity to try out two other products.  The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors and The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit are both training tools for children.

This post contains affiliate links.  

The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors are designed for children 3 years old and up, but are specifically designed with an additional protective element that I have never seen before.  Most toddler safety scissors are dull or have the raised plastic sides, making clean cuts nearly impossible.  These scissors have the spring for children with limited strength or coordination, or those just learning to use scissors who need more controlled movements.  However, what makes these scissors unique, is that they have regular "big kid" blades, but these blades have a plastic safety shield that encases them.  You slide the paper into the small opening, and use them as you would regular scissors.

The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors

My 4 year old found these a little cumbersome to use and asked for regular scissors.  I used them to help her finish her project one day, and found that while they do cut well, they don't "turn" smoothly, due to the plastic case.  It does take a little extra effort, which can frustrate a child who already has decent scissor skills.

I can see how these scissors could be highly beneficial for children who might have motor control issues, or those who lack impulse control.  The plastic case eliminates accidental cuts, because fingers can't get between the blades.   I can see them cutting down (pun intended!) on other scissor accidents from curious kids - it would be too difficult to cut clothes or hair without very careful and intentional work to feed the item through the case.  It won't completely deter a determined toddler, but it might slow them down!

The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit includes three grips in different styles for different stages.

The Crossover Grip is for training, and is best used with adult supervision, for gentle reminders.  It has a "superhero cape" that provides more structure.  The Pinch Grip is the transition grip, and it has the partial wings for continued structure, but allowing some freedom.  The final stage is the Pencil Grip.  This kit is great for children who are just learning to write, or those that have fine motor issues and need more guidance in pencil/pen grip.  The grips can help with proper finger positioning and for the child who perhaps holds too tightly or presses too hard.  The grips literally forces a correct pencil grip to aid in various ways, as I tried them out myself and had to readjust the way I was writing.  I found the regular Pencil Grip to be the best fit, but it wasn't easy to get used to.  My kids don't have significant writing issues, and don't do well with transitions, so although they thought the grips were neat, I found them coming off the pencils regularly.  It's hard to break old habits, but I think younger kids shouldn't have this issue.  The kit comes in assorted colors, and the grips are available individually for purchase.

Ultra Safe Safety Scissors & Pencil Grip Training Kit {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}
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©2011-2017 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, October 17, 2017

Reading Eggs Review

Recently we had the opportunity to review Reading Eggs which is an online reading program designed to help children learn to read.  It is full of games, activities and songs to make reading fun and interesting.  I have been using it with my 4 year old.  While I don't require any school subjects at this age, all of my kids have been interested in learning to read around this age, and she is no exception.  She's quite precocious and enjoys learning activities while her big siblings are doing school, so this seemed like a good fit for her.  We also received access to Mathseeds, and I'll address that learning area as well!

There are three major components to Reading Eggs, each targeting a different reading level.

Reading Eggs Junior is for ages 2-4 and and has toddler games and preschool activities.  It provides exposure to words, sounds and letters through read-aloud books, alphabet games, songs and other phonemic awareness activities.  Eleanor spent some time in here, and I felt like it is definitely for the younger crowd, if you allow screen time at that age, or older children with no exposure to the alphabet yet.  It is slow paced and gentle.

Reading Eggs, for ages 3-7, is designed to help children learn to read.  It utilizes the five essential keys to reading success:
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Vocabulary
  • Reading Comprehension 
  • Fluency
Reading Eggspress is for fluent readers and is targeted at 7-13 year olds.  The focus shifts from learning to read, to reading to learn.  Activities and games help children build their reading, comprehension, spelling, vocabulary and grammar skills.

Reading Eggs Lessons

The original Reading Eggs is where Eleanor spent most of her time.  When you start the program, you can take a placement test.  Eleanor knows her letters and sounds, but isn't actually reading yet, so I wanted her to start at the beginning to get used to the program before getting to any new material.  The placement test determines which "map" they start on.  There are 12 maps, with 10 lessons each, for 120 lessons.

The maps represent a broad level, with 40 lessons in each level.

Level 1 Starting Out in the Zoo
Maps 1-4 are for beginning readers or those with little reading skills.

Level 2 Beginning to Read in the Playground
The next group of lessons (maps 5-8) is for emerging readers and focuses on short vowel words and more high frequency sight words.

Level 3 Building Confidence at the Theme Park
For early readers, maps 9-12 cover long vowel words, builds fluency, and helps children read for meaning.

Inside the lessons, you have a series of activities to complete.  The activities are locked, and you must complete them in order, but once they are unlocked, you are free to go back and repeat activities or to return to previous lessons.

 The activities this early in the program typically revolve around one letter at a time - clicking on the /n/ sound (as it hopped around the screen, then in short words), identifying the letter N in different fonts among a grid of other letters, or dragging words that start with n (like nest) to a picture that matches.

As a lesson is completed, the student earns a little character, which hatches out of an egg with a rhyme and dance.  There is a book that shows the collection of each character, where they can watch the videos again.

Most of the activities are very easy for my 4 year old right now.  The computer skill required is minimal - usually point and click or sometimes drag and drop.  There is an app too, which might be more beneficial to children who can't quite use a mouse or mousepad yet.

One small issue we had with the actual activities is one that asked the student to choose the capital and lowercase letter that matched from about four letters.  One round of the game gave a capital I (Ii) and a lowercase l (Ll) but the font used made them look exactly the same, so she couldn't figure out which combination (along with the lowercase i) that she was supposed to match up.  It just seemed like a poor choice of combinations for the purpose of that activity.  Otherwise, her main issue seems to be not hearing the instructions, and not being able to find a "repeat" button so she can hear them again.

A few lessons in, students are introduced to CVC words like Sam and cat, and words like "I" and "am" so that they are building and reading sentences like I am Sam or I am a cat.

Because of this, I feel like a child needs to have a lot of experience with identifying sounds, with word play and with early reading skills in general.  Otherwise, blending, identifying sight words, and making sentences could potentially be difficult or frustrating.  There is a playroom in Reading Eggs and now the Reading Eggs Junior section that can help with some of this, but I am glad that Eleanor was already to this point.

She was so excited when she read her first few words, so if a child is ready, this can be a very rewarding program!

Each map also ends with a quiz where the student can earn a certificate!  If your child is motivated by rewards, this is a nice feature.  There are also different areas of the program where the student can play games, buy items for their avatar, listen to songs, read books, and do other fun activities outside of their lessons.  Storylands, Spelling and Driving Tests allow the child to continue learning outside of the standard lessons.  The games and store, possibly more, require the use of "golden eggs" which are earned during the lessons.  It's pretty easy to navigate, and once they learn their way around, you might have to keep an eye on the child to make sure they are doing lessons, and not just playing.  

For the Parent

When you login in to your dashboard, you can click on a tab for each child you have on your account,  then the program, and it shows you their progress.

You can also access a Parent User Guide, if you need a visual walk-through of how to use the program.  As the parent, you can also print out Activity Sheets, which give you a list of learning objects and worksheets to share with your young child.  There are color worksheets available as well.

New to the program is the Homeschool Program, which is a 36-week outline for K-2 Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies.  It details the online lessons, books, quizzes and assessments available in the program, putting them in a logical order, so you don't have to create your own lesson plans.

Depending on your child's age and your homeschool style and philosophy, you could easily use this as a complete curriculum, or use it to supplement another primary curriculum.


Also, as part of the review we received access to Mathseeds.  My daughter has loved this area as well!  Mathseeds is for children 3-9 and is a similar set up as Reading Eggs.  The main avatar is an acorn, and golden acorns are earned for lessons, which can be spent in other areas.

I did let her take the placement test for this, because she's been doing K level math for awhile now.  She placed in map two, as there were a lot of number words involved, and she's only 4 and just not reading yet.  She was just thrilled to begin what she calls "my math" and begs to play daily.

The biggest difference I have seen between Reading Eggs and Mathseeds is that Mathseeds has less lessons per map (Reading Eggs - 10, Mathseeds - 5) but considerably more activities per lesson.  Where Reading Eggs only has 10 activities, give or take, Mathseeds can have around 20 activities in one lesson.  This means that sometimes she is "done" in terms of attention-span, well before the lesson is complete, so she has to resume another day.  The lessons are cute and interactive though, and she really enjoys them.

Final Thoughts

Reading Eggs has grown considerably since I first used it with my now 5th grader.  The additional levels, the activity sheets, the homeschool program and even Mathseeds helps make this program more comprehensive and accessible for even more children.  Overall, my daughter is in love.  For our family, this is a fabulous early learning activity for the precocious preschooler who just wants more, and I think it is a fabulous supplement for older students!

There are varying purchasing options (monthly, 6 months, 12 months) for both Reading Eggs and Mathseeds, so you can choose the subscription that best meets your needs.  You can sign up now to receive a free four week trial.  This offer is good through November 30, 3017.

Reading Eggs

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©2011-2017 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.