Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Smartick {review}

As a homeschooling parent, I am always looking for new, interesting or engaging programs to introduce to my children.  Smartick is a math enrichment program for children ages 4-14 years old.  It combines math, reading comprehension, logic and reasoning into a personalized 15 minute lesson.  The program uses artificial intelligence that adapts to the student's learning style and individual needs, and claims that children who use the program consistently, increase their school grades and calculation skills.  We were given a six month subscription to Smartick math practice service, and have been using the app to supplement our math curriculum.

Initially, I had all of my children do the assessment, but I've found, based on our other homeschool lessons and homework from outside classes, the program gets the most use from my six year old!  It is recommended to use the program 4-5 times a week for 15 minutes per day for the best results.  We school four days a week on average (we take "off" for co-op) so this means she should get 4 days a week in when we're on top of things, which I think is more than reasonable for a enrichment/supplemental program.

My first grader does a workbook based math curriculum with me during our "table lessons" but then she is encouraged to do her 15 minutes of Smartick on the iPad while I work with one of the other kids.  This is the only screen time she does for school currently, and I find it is a great way for her to practice independent work, because it is actually encouraged that the parent not help the student.  I know she's only going to spend about 15-20 minutes on the app, because the lessons are timed.  After the lesson, she does spend a few minutes buying pets or things to care for them, but then she returns to me to let me know she's finished!

Stars or "ticks" are awarded through the program, and they can redeem them after a lesson.  PDF certificates are awarded occasionally as well, so if your child is motivated by little rewards, this program has a few.

The sessions are basically sets of questions, and sometimes an interactive tutorial lesson is included.  It's not an in-depth math curriculum, but the artificial intelligence should eventually target any weak areas and improve math fluency.

I appreciate that there is a sound icon so she can listen to the question/instructions.  She is still gaining reading fluency, and this reassures me that she will not struggle to understand the questions.

Smartick is not a parent-intensive program, but I can check my emails to see how her daily lessons are going.

Setting up the account, I do not recall assigning her grade, and I can only assume that she was assessed at an approximate grade level based on her age.  I do believe she has been placed accurately - some things are "so easy!" and some are right on target for first grade, and there is the occasional frustrated whine as she is doing work more challenging than usual.

Online in my parent account, I can get an overall picture of her progress.  By clicking on any of the icons, I can see more detailed information about the specific topic. As far as improvement, we don't grade work at her age, but I do think she is gaining fluency in calculation speed - if that's a direct result of this program or or maturity is yet to be determined.

Overall, she does well with the program.  It's easy for her to use and she enjoys it.  It's also easy for me to implement and monitor, and it doesn't add much to our homeschool day because it doesn't feel like a chore to her.  I would recommend this for parents who want to supplement their children's math program with a personalized math enrichment program.

To find out more about Smartick, find them online and be sure to read the other crew reviews!

Math Enrichment Program {Smartick Reviews}

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©2011-2019 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.  http://www.moms-heart.com

Monday, October 21, 2019

Creating a Masterpiece {review}

When it comes to art instruction, I always feel lacking.  I have enjoyed learning a little art history alongside my kids through the years, but I've always felt like I missed out on the foundational skills necessary to teach drawing.  Enter Creating a Masterpiece!  Created by master artist Sharon Hofer to teach children art, it is an online, video-based instructional program.  We were offered an opportunity to review a one year subscription to her Drawing Program.

The Drawing Program consists of a Beginning Drawing level and three more levels of progressively more difficult drawing tutorials for a total of 30 projects over four levels, in which Hofer teaches how to plan, develop and enhance projects.

This program is specifically designed to teach drawing techniques and related skills, and as children develop their skills through the tutorials, they should be able to demonstrate these techniques in their own art outside of lessons.

The great thing about this specific program is that since it focuses on a narrow skill set, it is limited to just a few mediums.  These are pencil, colored pencil and charcoal. You will need some different types of papers and erasers, and she recommends quality brands so you have quality output.  You can find the supply list broken down by lesson.

My kids are 12, 10, 6 with a 4 year old tagging along sometimes, so I was interested to see how the program would work for beginners of different ages.

Everyone started with Lessons in Pencil: Giraffe in Cartoon, but not all of children wanted their artwork posted, so I had to respect that request.

 Six Year Old - She felt the giraffe needed legs.

 Mom's Giraffe 

The four year old tried to tag along with this lesson . . . the giraffe on the right looked decent at first for her skill level, but then she got a little distracted and silly. (Big sister wanted to keep going, but she could have used a break during the lesson.)  She hasn't been particularly interested in trying other lessons with us, but I liked that she could follow along if she tried.

Four Year Old's Giraffes

The kids decided they did not want to work together, so that they could each work at their own pace.
Each lesson is actually a series of short videos, and working separately meant they could pause where they needed, and move at their own pace.

The older kids would do lessons on a laptop or computer at desk in different rooms of the house, while I worked with the 6 year old in the dining room.

Lessons in Pencils: Hoot Owl 

As you work through the lesson, you mostly hear Sharon talking to you - but you usually only see her hands.  She shows you the finished project, so you know your end-goal, but she shows you step by step how to look at shapes, how to correct mistakes or make changes, how to shade, and more.  Also, I appreciate that she occasionally "messes up" or changes her mind and her drawing - seeing a master artist do this is good for the kid with perfectionist tendencies.

Occasionally, we need to break a lesson over two sessions, and the short videos make great nature stopping points.  The lesson page also has a Lesson Highlights section, that shows approximately what your project should look like at the end of each video.  This is a great way to "check" your work as you go.

My 12 year old does the lessons when they are assigned, while my 10 year old tends to enjoy them more.  While the 4 year old is a little young yet, she can participate and follow the instructions, so that shows they are easy to follow!  I think my 6 year old likes the lessons the most, but she's always been the one most interested in art.  She did, however, grow increasingly frustrated with the charcoal on vellum.  She refused to quit though, and I was really proud of her perseverance!  I found this one difficult too, but it was our first time working with charcoal and vellum.  As beginners, I wished we'd tackled several more beginner level lessons with just pencils/colored pencils, because there are a lot of vellum projects in this level.

Lessons in Charcoal: Baby Elephant 

Overall, we've enjoyed the lessons.  I like the variety - and that we're learning a lot of techniques with basic materials that can still translate to personal work and other art mediums.  I do think these lessons are great for all ages, and I think the projects come out looking nice when the student puts in the effort!

To find out more about Creating a Masterpiece, check out the website, find them Facebook, and be sure to read more crew reviews!

Learning to Draw {Creating a Masterpiece Reviews}
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©2011-2019 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.  http://www.moms-heart.com

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks

Brain Blox is a family-owned company that believes children should be free to play, free to explore, and free to express themselves!  They strive to empower families to be more conscious and intentional with one another, so they offer games, toys and journals to help families engage in meaningful play!  When we were given the opportunity to review the Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks, I knew it would be something all of my kids could enjoy.

We received the 200 piece set of natural wooden building planks.  They are sturdy, precision-cut pine, non-toxic and chemical free.  Brain Blocks suggests that the blocks help children learn math, physics and engineering, as well as develop problem solving, logic and reasoning skills.  As they only require balance and friction, children may also improve dexterity and spatial awareness.

They come neatly packaged with a full color booklet with building ideas, a red canvas drawstring bag for storage, and free online resources.  The storage bag is great, because in this house, once the Building Planks come out of the box, they don't go back in quickly and neatly for a four year old.

Truthfully though . . . there is nothing more suited to the imagination and whims of a child than a pile of possibility!

There is a great little booklet of building ideas to get you started.  It has about 15 different pictures, and tells you how many planks you'll need for the design.  It doesn't give you step-by-step instructions though, which might frustrate some little ones, but is great for problem solving!  The pictures all have an extra idea or challenge though.  For instance, the Table & Benches challenges you to build an entire room of furniture or a playground with a picnic table.

My older kids (10 and 12) prefer to just build complicated and tall towers, while my younger girls (4 and 6) liked to go through the booklet for ideas.  We spent time building furniture and bridges for dolls, playing with letters, talking about shapes and patterns, and building fun designs inspired by the pictures in the booklet, like flowers and simple robots.

We did find that harder surfaces were easier to build on than carpet/rugs, which is pretty standard with any building toys.  We've enjoyed playing and experimenting with the blocks, and I find these to be a great independent toy, as well as great for guided learning.  In addition to the booklet of building ideas, you can find a wealth of resources online!  You can find free build ideas in video ebook and printable card formats.  The Brain Puzzles are a quick way to add some fun, hands-on logic/critical thinking puzzles into your day.

Overall, I am very happy with these Wooden Planks.  They are great as a family toy, homeschool use, or in classrooms.  The open-ended use means they are ideal for all ages and skill levels.

You can find out more about Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks online and by reading crew reviews, and be sure to read my review of Fun Family Chess to see more of what the company offers!

Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks {Brain Blox Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

©2011-2019 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.  http://www.moms-heart.com