Thursday, December 25, 2008

TOS Review: All About Spelling

All About Spelling is a complete spelling program from beginning non-reader to high school level. When complete, there will be 6 levels of the program. Currently there are 4 levels available with a new level planned each year. All About Spelling uses Orton Gillingham Approach to teaching spelling. This program works well with non-readers to children needing remedial spelling help, to everyone in between. The program is not dumbed down, so an older learner or even adult will not feel "babied."

What is Orton Gillingham Approach and why is is more superior method of teaching spelling? Here is info from the website (click here):

Multisensory—it is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Students learn best when we teach using all the available pathways to the brain: seeing, hearing, saying, and writing.
Sequential—students are taught concepts in a logical sequence.
Incremental—each lesson carefully builds upon the previous lesson. Lessons progress from simple to more complex.
Cumulative—the method integrates constant review of previously-taught concepts.
Individualized—to meet the unique needs of each student.
Based on phonograms
—the student is taught what he needs to know in a direct manner.

You can learn more info about Samuel T. Orton on the All About Spelling Website or at Wikipedia.

The components of the program consist of for each level:

Teacher Guide Book for each level. A necessary component of the program. Tells you want to do with each lesson. No prior knowledge needed. Read through the introduction and some helps and your on to lesson one. Each lesson spells out specifically what to do with each lesson. What is new and what is review. More on this later...

Activity Material Packet for each level - includes Phonogram Cards (for visual and verbal review) used for each level, Sound Cards (aural and tactile review), Key Cards (reinforce new concepts), and Word Cards (aural, verbal, and tactile review.) Plus some additional items depending on the level.
Duplicates only needed if more then one student will be working on a level at one time. However, when I was doing level two, I had to use the phonogram cards for review from the level one. So if you begin after level one, you may need to purchase additional phonogram cards.

***Your initial purchase of the All About Spelling Set for each level includes the Teacher Guide and the Activity Materials Packet.***

Spelling Tiles - A necessary component of the program. The tiles of each phonogram are color coded to help them learn the phonograms faster. Also available, to purchase separately, are magnets to put on the spelling tiles to help them to stick to a magnetic board (store bought or home made.) The magnets help anchor the tiles to the board when working and are a helpful addition.

Also of help, but not necessarily required, but highly recommended:

Phonogram Audio CD-Rom - Consist of a screen with all the phonograms listed in their proper colors. When you click on them they say their name(s). I was pleasantly surprised with this simple tool. I left it up on the computer and they would stop by several times a day and just sit and listen and say the sounds. My older children got in on it also. This was a great help in them mastering their phonograms.

Also available as an optional purchase is Phonogram Bingo to review phonograms and Phonogram File Folder Games to review Phonogram Cards, Sound Cards, Key Cards, and Rule Cards. This are available in PDF format for immediate download after purchase.

Set up for the program consisted of cutting up the phonogram tiles and the activity cards. Then we set up the Spelling Review Box.

Next, you need to learn the phonograms. Having used a similar program in the past, I was familiar with the phonogram as was my son, who I am working through the program. But if you don't know the first 26 phonograms you need to learn them before starting step one, where you will introduce these. You will learn all the sounds a phonogram makes right from the beginning (c makes /k/ and /s/ sounds.)

Then we learned how to set up the Letter Tiles for the lessons. We only put down the initial letters A to Z in step 3. I like this exercise and have my son set up the tiles for each lesson to help him learn the letters and put them in alphabetical order. We use a homemade black board that we had painted with magnet paint before putting on the black board paint. As the program progresses you add more phonograms to the board when setting it up.

Having used a program similar to this before that required a lot of teacher preparation, I was pleasantly surprised at how user friendly this program is. Each step is specifically laid out so that after the initial prep work, you can just pick it up each day and use it.

A basic lesson (or step) would go like this:

-Review of Phonogram Cards, Sound Cards, Key Cards and Word Cards.

-New Teaching: Here new information is taught and what you need to say is written out for you and also explained. There are often extra teacher helps to help you with new concepts.

-The child spells a list of words from tiles, then on paper. More words are available for reinforcement for each step.

-Words taught follow a similar pattern. For instance short "a" words are taught together in one lesson (at, bag, hat, map, etc.) In another lesson later on, plurals are taught in one step. You can spend more time on a step as needed for your child to master the topic, but they also will be reviewing the material at each step. At the start of each level the child is brought through a quick review of the previous level book.

-Then by the end of level one, the child will be dictated phrases, then on other levels sentences are dictated with each step.

-We filled in the honey comb spelling progress chart for each step as we completed it. Which we kept hung up on the wall.

I did email the author and asked about what they use to teach reading. She explained that is program was exactly what she used to teach reading. It is not called a reading program because of the lack of reading material. However, they are in the process of developing these. After spelling the words, I would have my child read me the word cards. We also used McGuffey's Readers to supplement this program for the reading aspect and he did well.

Like I said previously, I enjoyed the fact that I did not have to take a class, watch a video, or read an entire book before being able to begin with my child. Everything you need to do with each step is spelled out completely for you, no guessing or worrying you forgot something. The steps are incremental and I could see progress and a smile on my son's face as he got each lesson. It made more sense to do each lesson on the same theme then isolated words with different rules you needed to mark. Review of the rules is built into the program on the key cards. You just need review the rules already covered.

We hope to continue to use this program all the way through and look forward to the next levels as they come out. This is the best, most complete and easiest spelling programs we have used!

You can find tons of information, articles, and spelling helps at the All About Spelling website regardless of what spelling curriculum you use. They also offer free weekly spelling tips sent to your email box. Plus you can get a free report "20 Best Tips for Teaching Spelling" when you sign up for the spelling tips.

TOS Review: Puppetools

If you have an interest in puppets, whether for yourself or church group, you can get a ton of information on the "science of puppets" and imaginative play with children at The author had put in hours of videos, patterns, and other things to get you and your child thinking about how to have a ball with puppets.

Basically you learn a basic puppet paper fold then children are encouraged to come up with there own ideas to make puppets. There are patterns there as well for those of us born without a creative gene. You can use these ideas for supplementing your curriculum by acting out a story or re-telling a history lesson. The uses are endless.

There is a 60 day trial available for $20, which should suffice most families, however the author of the website states he plans on offering an "individual" membership for $20 a year. That has not as of yet made it to the website, so you may have to email them for more information.

This website includes tons of research done over time by its' author. He definitely has a passion for this tool. His enthusiasm just bubbles over throughout.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

TOS Review: Aleks

Aleks is a complete online web-based math curriculum for grades 3 though high school. Aleks' website calls itself "an artificially intelligent assessment and learning system." There are basic math, middle school math, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, business math, accounting and more available. There are no textbooks. Everything you need, including the calculator is available online. You do need to have pencil and paper handy for basic math work when you can't use an available tool.

Aleks is different then other online/computer curriculums that I have seen, in that they don't use grades. You take an initial assessment for the program you are signed up with to see what you don't know and what you do know. To picture how this works: You are given a circle pie which basically represents your brain or your knowledge in an area. The areas you know are colored in. The object is to learn the things you don't know to completely fill in the circle. You are not given grades, since knowledge /mastery is more important then an actually letter grade. The lessons only stress areas you need to work on to fill in your pie. It is a very custom program.

Also, I noted in the program is a build in "frustration preventer" (for lack of a better way to state it.) When you get stuck on something, it tries to explain it several times, then goes onto other topics you need to work on. You can stop a lesson at anytime and it automatically picks up where you left off next time. Reports are emailed to the parent weekly to see how the child is doing. You can also access assessment information anytime on the website.

Aleks is easily accessible to any computer with Internet access, 24/7. The curriculum is individualized, so you know always what areas your child is weak in or excels in. Aleks makes a great supplement or even a stand alone math curriculum, depending on what you are looking for. Price per month is $19.95 month. $99.95 for 6 months and $179.95 for 12 months subscription. Family plans are also available. The lessons I did are straight forward teach and learn. I did not see any games. There are no multiple choice questions, so there is no guessing allowed!

Friday, December 19, 2008

TOS Review: Core Learning

Core Learning is a publisher of software, books, multi-curricular projects and on-line learning applications. The products they sell seemed to be geared to the educator both at home and at school. The programs seem to be secular but did not see anything offensive in what I viewed.

For Math I previewed a demo lesson on fraction and factors. It sounded I like I had a sweet older teacher reading me information on the screen. The explanations were detailed with plenty of examples. There are no bells and whistles with this program. It is straight forward teaching and learning and quizzing.

For English Grammar II demo, I previewed a lesson on adjectives. It was very detailed with great explanations. At the end was a opportunity to print out worksheets on the topic and to complete a quiz. This is straight forward teaching and testing. Little bells and whistles. I did not notice any games.

For the above two programs there is a teacher chart which tells you time spent on the lesson, how they did on the lesson, and the ability to preview the actual quiz taken.

Also available for math is a series on Calculation Skills, Math Skills Builder and 4 math courses (decimals, geometry, measurement besides the fraction one above.) For English there is level I and level II.

I did enjoy both the math and the English grammar demos. They both taught with great detail and had excellent examples. I even learned I am not suppose to say "beautifulest", but rather "more beautiful" or "most beautiful."

From the Health Series Demo I previewed the human body we watched a few short videos that went through the parts of the mouth: the teeth, tongue, epiglottis, etc. These videos tend to remind me of "Magic School Bus" type. There are interactive quizzes that go along with the video segments. There is also a section on explore the body that has go through different systems of the body. This section is not a video but it is point, click and read. For example for the digestive system you click on the different sections as the boy swallows the food. There are clickable pronunciations of the parts of the digestive system. But the rest of the information is read by the student. The pronunciations are English (UK). They are definitely written from a modern kids perspective with common slang words for bodily functions. There are two main series available for health: Family Health Series and Health for Kids Series.

We also reviewed Crayola Art Studio. After installing it and watching a short online video we were anxious to see what we could do. You are given a blank screen to work with and the option to use 12 different mediums such as paint, pastels, crayon, and markers. There are special effects and "stamps" you can also add to your picture in several topics (animals, make a face, backgrounds, shapes, etc.) I guess with a little practice we will be able to make invitations, decorations, and greeting cards.

To say the children fought over the computer to play this was an understatement. They played this until bedtime then when they got up in the morning they started over again. They enjoyed making all kinds of pictures (we didn't save but a few.) From drawings to picture scenes they had a ton of fun with this. One of the boys commented, "I can paint with no mess!"

Here are a few of our pictures (you can save them in several different formats):

They also have a more advanced art program, Corefx- Three Level, with pictures and animation. There are add-ons for it and an activity guide to give you more details on how to animate your pictures with it.
You can find demos of some of the products by visiting their website at:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TOS Review: Trigger Memory Systems

I have to admit that I am domestically challenged. I can cook a dinner, do laundry and clean the bathroom. Outside of that I never seem to be able to stick with a system.

Thankfully was given the opportunity to try out Clean 'N' Flip: Zone Cleaning for Kids, Laundry for Kids, and Bedroom Cleaning for kids.
Laundry is not a big issue for us. Yes it backs up, but we all know how to do that. We sort our laundry right in the bathroom with colors, whites, and towels. We don't really understand how it happens, but the laundry doesn't seem to always make the bags. Then we must send someone into the bathroom to sort them into the proper places. This is one we have down to a science.

The Laundry for Kids book uses "Easy to Follow Pictures, Great for All Ages." It gives step by step directions (with pictures of course) of each step of the laundry process: Sorting, loading machine, setting dials, etc., with specific instructions for choosing load size, temperature and cycle options. Each step has a check mark that you can use a dry erase marker (only!) to check the steps you want them to do. If there is a step you want them to skip - like adding chemicals to the washer (I am not ready for that with some of my children) then you would NOT check the box for the one step.

However, I admit, I don't fair too well when it comes to bedroom cleaning and zone cleaning. I did hand over the zone cleaning Clean 'N' Flip to my daughter (15) and asked her if she thought it was helpful. She recruited her brothers (6,7 &8) to help her and they flipped through the steps of cleaning the kitchen with them. They really enjoyed following the directions and the got the kitchen clean. My daughter said the only thing missing was "shining the kitchen sink." I reminded her that there were spots to add in their own chores that they needed to do.

So over to the living room, where we met resistance from the 6 & 7 year old. They don't like cleaning at all!! But with a little push from me they were busy putting things into the basket we left at the door to go later to other rooms, as recommended in the Zone Cleaning Clean 'N' Flip. Before I knew it the room was picked up and my 8 year old vacuumed it. Each day there is a chore that can be done, so you don't have to do it all in one day (for example, dust, vacuum, etc.)
My job was the bathroom. Maybe because it is small and easily accomplished, I like that. I tidied up, disinfected surfaces and did my day of the week chore - scrub toilet. There are other chores to do each day like sweep and mop, scrub tub, etc.

Lastly we have the bedroom and thankfully there is a Clean 'N' Flip for that too. Again I handed this to my daughter and told her - "Clean your room!" She really enjoyed the system that broke things down for her to make it so much easier for her to work. Maybe with some encouragement from me and these Clean 'N' Flips, she won't have a problem being as domestically challenged as me.

Lastly, I have to mention Times Tales per the website: "Times Tales is a creative, innovative mnemonic-based program that makes it fun and easy to memorize multiplication facts." Children are suppose to be able to learn higher level multiplication facts in about 45mins and remember them. This does not, however, teach the concept behind multiplication. I had difficulty with this product because I do not learn this way, and neither do my children. I did get what they were talking about and the relationship of the numbers to the stories but to me it was the long way of going about it.

I did write out the process of this program then decided that I could not do it justice explaining how it worked. You just have to go to the website and read the authors explanation of the program to fully understand it. There is also a sample story. So if you CLICK HERE, that will take you to their website.

The author says that if you follow the directions in the instructor's manual it will work. This program has gotten many rave reviews on how well it works, especially for those who are truly struggling with remembering multiplication facts. So if your child is struggling with learning math facts, this may be the product for you.

Also now available is uppers 3's and 4's supplement to this program. Included with the set are multiplication and division flash cards.

Monday, December 15, 2008

TOS Review: Time 4 Learning

Time 4 Learning calls itself : "Homeschool Curriculum, After School Learning, Summer Use For Preschool, Elementary, & Middle School Students." Curriculum is available for grades Preschool through 8th grade. They combine online learning with "fun educational and teaching games." The Language Arts and Math cover state standards for each of the grades. This is a secular homeschool provider.

I did a free trial with grades: K, 1, 3, and 8th. My daughter did find the 8th grade math difficult so I had her do the 7th grade math. The language arts she found just right academically. My daughter did not like the language arts because of the language and slang used during the lesson. One time the girl said OMG! Taking the Lord's name in vain. She got to the point in it that she muted the sound and was still able to answer the questions correctly. We do Switched on Schoolhouse, and she is always muting the computer programs, so that is not uncommon for her. She did some science and history and skipped the evolution topics.

For Kindergarten and 1st grade, I really liked the program. They followed public school standards (I checked) teaching phonics progressively. I like how they slowly introduced each letter. The only thing on this level is that if they don't do well, it still moves them forward to the next lesson. This is were parents come in to watch carefully how they are progressing and repeating exercises as necessary. The math was done well too. I do felt if was a little slow in making progress, but good overall. The boys did well. They learned fractions, counting money, telling time, addition, measurement etc. There is no science in Kindergarten, but in first grade there is. The problem I have with it is for a non reader, the quiz is not read to them, so if he does not tell me when he comes to the quiz, he does poorly on them.

For 3rd grade, I was a little disappointed. I was pleased at the educational aspect of it. But some of the stories my son could not relate to (detention) and some stories I felt were encouraging students to disrespect adults. The comprehension section has been helpful for him. The math section has challenged him (in a good way.) They do have science and history at this level. These are not automatically read to the student and you must have a plug in if you need it read to the student. On one computer we used we were unable to download the plug in.

My boys have really liked using this program and have asked numerous times and even on weekends to do "school on the computer." I do plan on continuing it with them for as long as I am able to afford it.

Like I said, this is a secular curriculum. So you have to deal with evolution, bad attitudes, and the rare discussion of bodily functions (animal and human.) I did not see these at the k and 1st grade levels. Time 4 Learning I do believe is trying to make this as homeschool Christian friendly as possible. They have a parent forum and have started a discussion just for this topic. I always tried to be in the same room with the students when they were using the program. We skipped any lesson with evolution in it. Evolution doesn't scare me, because they do understand the truth. However I am cautious at the upper levels of the program. Starting to see some attitudes, etc, I didn't like in 3rd grade.

Is this a complete curriculum? I don't think any curriculum could truly call themselves complete. However with some supplementation (handwriting, journaling, math drill, daily reading, etc.) this could definitely be good base. There is a lot of support for homeschoolers to use the curriculum. There is also a parent forum to discuss anything from supplementing to discussing material covered to parent support for homeschooling. Visiting and posting on the forum is free and you don't have to be using the curriculum to check it out and ask specific questions about the website.
Time 4 Learning cost approx. $19.95 for the first student and approx. $14.95 for the second. If you email them they do offer discounts if you pay quarterly and by the year.
My contact with Time 4 Learning has been positive. They are eager to work with Christian Homeschoolers.

TOS Review: The Little Man in the Map

The Little Man in the Map with Clues To Remember All 50 States is a rhyming book that tells the story of a class trying to piece together a map of the United States. The children begin by putting together the man in the middle of the map (states) when he (magically) comes to life and teaches them how to find/name the rest of the states as it relates to the man in middle.

The man in the map is made up of the 5 center states: Minnesota (giant hat,) Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana (boots.) The united states is then divided into 5 different sections (Northeastern, etc.) to help learn one section at a time using rhymes, acronyms, and picture clues.

One thing I found missing in the book, which I would have found helpful, would have been a completed map of the US with states labeled. Sometimes it was not clear by reading the book what states were what. This was particularly true when it came to the western states. My children were a little confused with that. We do have a map in the living room where we read, so we used that.

My children (6,7, & 8 years) were better able to distinguish many of the states after reading this book. I do believe with repeated readings, naming the states locations will be a cinch. They are always pointing out the man in the map whenever we see a US map and all the states they know.

If my recommendation is not enough, this book comes with several awards: Moonbean Children's book awards, Independent Publisher Book Awards, Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist, and ForeWord Magazines Book of the Year Finalist.

The book is published by Schoolside Press. An activity book to accompany this book and a new book to help learn the state capitals is also in the making. A preview of the activity book includes writing activities, math problems, a sing along song, games, art, and of coarse geography. Just for your info: there are some pictures of elves for a few of the states, if you don't like that sort of thing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

TOS Review: Salem Ridge Press

Salem Ridge Press is a publishing company that republishes children's books from the 1800's and early 1900's. That take seriously there job and want to only publish those books that are appropriate for children to read. They have a very high standard of purity and will take the liberty to carefully edit out any kiss or embrace. They will also edit any derogatory comments that are "unnecessary" or "offensive." Pictures are always "modest" and "appropriate." Any changes made are minor and don't effect the story. They want to be known as a trusted source for books, that parents can confidently give their children to read or read to their families. (Words in quotes come from Salem Ridge Press newsletter)

The books we reviewed were all excellent and received rave reviews from my children. The books were easy to read and one of the books contained definitions of unfamiliar words at the bottom the pages.

The first book we read was Mary Jane Her Book. This is first in a series for children 6 years to 10 (but can be read aloud and enjoyed by younger, I am sure.) We loved this because it told of the adventures of a 5 year old. From watching ants, birds in a nest or story about her broken doll, my 6,7,8 year old BOYS, loved these stories.

The book my daughter read was Glaucia the Greek Slave she said it was very easy to read and she could not put it down. The story is about a tale in Athens in the first century. The book begins with historical notes which help you get focused on the historical setting. My daughter (15) said the story always points to Christ. She is looking forward to reading more books in this series.

In the last book, The White Seneca, the author, William Ganfield, tries to accurately portray Indians and to rid the reader of myths. The story is about a 15 year old, captured by the Seneca, who becomes one of them. Later he is captured by another tribe and must use the skills he learned from the Seneca to escape. What I liked is the story is told from the standpoint of Henry the main character telling back the story as he recalls it. I thought it was easy to read. My son (17) loved this book, and can't wait until he can read the second book.

Salem Ridge Press wants to be known as a family friendly publishing company, and from the books we read we feel comfortable recommending the company. We would trust that other books they publish would have the same high standards that these books have.

TOS Review: Spears Art Studio K-8 Christian Art Curriculum

I am reviewing Spears Art Studio, Inc. K-8 Christian Art Curriculum. This is a God-honoring complete art curriculum for K-8. What I like most of the curriculum is that it is divided by months and each month is centered on a topic. You will not find jack-o-lanterns here or Santa Claus, thankfully.

The version I have is in PDF form. There is a printed form available too, as an option. The PDF form is great because you are able to print out enough copies that you need for your family.
The curriculum gives a great introduction, scope and sequence and appendix, which is very important to read through before beginning the program. The introduction gives in depth directions on how to do many of the projects (such as how to set up a still like or how to watercolor paint.) The scope and sequence is very detailed for each grade level. There is a visual art glossary and supply list in the appendix. I really appreciated the student evaluation criteria supplied as I never really new how to grade art projects. It also helps you to see if you are meeting your intended goals for the project.

Each month is grouped into one PDF file. There is a table of contents for each file with a months worth of activities. Each week/month is based on a theme. There are ten more or less activities for each week grouped by grade. Some activities were grouped together. For example in September week 1 there are a few activities for ALL levels to do together, then grades k, 1, 2, 1-2, 3, 4, 5, 3-5, 6, 7, 8, 7-8, etc.

This is one of the few Christian art curriculums where I have found that you begin the lesson with a bible lesson. We did the month of October for this review. An example of how our lessons went: for week 1 the bible verse was Mark 4:3-20. This lead us to a discussion on the sower. There is a lot of support and encouragement in bible lesson for the teacher. We then looked up the art paintings suggested online and discussed those. We all (including me!) worked on the same grade level for the project we did. We are really art challenged here, so we did a lower level project.

For December there is a Advent Calendar Project for all grade levels we are working on. There are many craft and gift ideas included for the month of December as well. Topics for March include Spring, Wind (making a weathervane, a Spiral Wind Hanger etc.,) and Easter (making Easter cards, banners, etc.) Other months include activities with sculpting, weaving, graphic design, mixed media painting, color blending, sewing, origami, and more.

Overall I felt confident to teach art using this program. The author does recommend some outside books if you want to supplement some drawing lessons. We have utilized some books to help with simple drawing techniques which have been helpful.

Spears Art Studio K-8 Christian Art Curriculum would make a great addition to any homeschool. The lesson plans are simple and easy to follow, telling you exactly what you need and what to do. Also, this would probably be all you would need for grades K-8 as each year you would do the next level activity, which is different from the year before.

K-8 Christian Art Curriculum
A Teachers Manual

  • 35 Weekly Themes
  • 269 Art Activities
  • 137 Patterns and Display Posters
  • 497 Pages
  • Scriptual Connections
  • Art History Connections & More

(((Spear High School Review I will add on here ASAP.)))

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TOS Review: "Rime to Read"

Rime to Read calls it self a beginning reading program. These are a set of 20 beginning readers that progress in difficulty. “Rime” based on word families that sound and look alike vs. "Rhyme" which are words that sound alike but do NOT look alike. The books do use short vowels, some blends, and introduce 35 common sight words when needed. There are suggestions with each book on how to use them.

With the lifetime access after purchasing the books, you have the opportunity to read these online or print them out from a PDF version. The online version includes clickable words that the child can click on to hear read to him if they are stuck on a word. Both versions are color coded to help with telling the words apart and develop phonological awareness. The drawings are simple drawings and do help give a hint as to what to read.

The author of the books is professor at Hunter College in NY with a PhD in special education. The co-author was a first grade teacher, taught in several schools, and has a masters degree in reading.

My youngest who is just beginning to read was easily and confidently able to read the first few books with just knowing the letter sounds, some blending techniques, and with help with the sight words. My struggling to-learn-to-read-child enjoyed the stories and helped him gain more confidence in his reading. Many of the early readers we have, have big words which the boys struggle to read. There are very few early readers that take into consideration the beginning reader and their challenges.

Overall I did like these books. The progression is done very well. I do like the option of printing them out, because I like to have something to actually hold in my hands. I did have an occasional problem with slow loading, but that could be me. Also, I could not always click on the word to have it read to me. Sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t, however, I believe the owners are working on improving this.

You can buy a vowel set of 4 books for $9.99, or the entire 20 book set for $44.99. You can also request a free sample book to look at on the website.