Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Perfect Program

A very good friend of mine created a post, The Perfect Program, on her blog, and posted to the Homeschool-MovingOn list too.  She & I had been talking about some of these issues, and I had just posted on the list about how “perfect” All About Spelling is, so I had to tease her a bit about criticizing me :)
You were directing this at me, weren’t you, Tess?
It is hard, sometimes (uhhh, most of the time?) to not get caught up in how fantastic what you are using is.  Especially when you are trying to rationalize the cost of something, I'd have to say.  I always figured the MUS, RightStart, VideoText and Teaching Textbooks users (and I fall in two of those categories) really had to get worked up to an almost religious fervor about the merits of their programs in order to justify the expense...  I know I have to.
Take Right Start.  I do believe it is about the best math program out there.  I have to, or I couldn't rationalize spending the money.
Do I believe it is the perfect program?  Nope.  For one thing, the perfect program would cost a lot less :)  But a bit more seriously, I know Right Start Geometry was a total failure for my oldest (that being the *only* level I've purchased new, LOL, so it has to be the one that didn't work).  I don't know if it is the program, or my kid... so I am keeping it around for my younger guys.  I don't know if the rest of Right Start would have been a good fit for him or not.  Parts of it would have.  He thrived with Singapore as his main program though.  
Do I think Singapore is perfect?  Well, obviously not, or I wouldn't be shelling out money on something else for my next guys.
All About Spelling, well, I do believe it is close to perfect :)  But there would be some caveats there.  For kids who really don't need a spelling program, I think it is way overkill.  Especially when you add up the cost of all the levels.  For all but the kids who just "get" spelling, I think roughly 90% of the programs out there are a total waste of money though.  Yes, that is a strong statement.  And maybe it is colored by the fact that I've never had an average speller (though I am one).  I do believe that most of the spelling programs out there, though, are designed for either a) excellent spellers, or b) the convenience of the teachers.  
But yes, I do need to tone down my rhetoric sometimes :)  
I get the same way when I hear people talk about BJU history, or Abeka history, or whatever textbook history.  I want to shake them and scream, "but textbooks are so horrible!  Get real books!!!!"  I know, on some level, that some families are better off with textbooks.  But I am also learning that even if you do find the "perfect" program for your family, it isn't always going to be feasible to use it.  That's where I am in math right now, for all of my crew.
Connor has thrived with VideoText.  We don't have the money to get Module D, so Connor made the decision to do something else for awhile instead of starting Module C.  I know he did it so that I wouldn't be stressing out about how to get D.
William & Thomas have thrived with Right Start.  However, with the extra time I'm putting into reading and spelling issues, something had to give.  That much one-on-one for math was the most logical place.  Both of them pick up math concepts pretty well, so something less teacher intensive for a year, anyway, gives me the ability to focus on where they *really* need the personal interaction.  So, I'm spending about 20 minutes a week with each of them to present a math lesson, and otherwise, they are learning from the computer with little animated teaching sessions.
So, to my earlier comments about All About Spelling, I would have to say that I still think it is the best thing out there for kids who struggle with spelling.  And reading, for that matter.  And I think that is true for average spellers too (I know *my* spelling has improved!) but especially then, I can see good reasons for doing something less teacher-intensive.  AAS *is* teacher intensive.  Virtually the entire lesson is mom-time.  

Thursday, February 19, 2009

All About Spelling

I wrote a recommendation today for All About Spelling, and thought I’d put it on here too.
Well, my favorite thing for spelling is All About Spelling.  I cannot possibly say enough good things about this program.  It is more mom-intensive than some options out there.  But it isn't bad.
All About Spelling uses an Orton-Gillingham approach to spelling.  The program is multi-sensory, incredibly easy to just pick up and go, and very intuitive.  It is scripted, which can be stilted at times, but I’ve never had much of a problem taking something I understand and using my own words.  It is nice not to have to though, too!
I spend about 10-15 minutes a day, four days a week doing spelling with each of my older two.  They are significantly 'behind' in spelling though, so I spend more time with them than I necessarily would/will with the rest of my crew.  For my oldest, the time is "just" spelling.  For my second son, we are also doing reading work in that time, making sure that he is fluent in everything he can spell.
With my 2nd grader, though, I'm doing about 10 minutes, 3 days a week with AAS.  When I start my youngest son, I plan for only 1-2 days a week "officially" doing a lesson, and a few minutes of "just" reviewing stuff.  
So, AAS works by having the kids learn all the sounds of each phonogram, it has them truly listening to the individual sounds in words, it teaches them the explicit rules for various patterns (like when to use c, k, or ck), and it does so in a multi-sensory, logical way.
AAS is great for kids with learning issues (dyslexia, for instance, that being the one I care about!).  AAS is great for kids without learning issues.  
Once you get past the first few lessons, a typical lesson (which you can do in one day, or spread over a few) has you reviewing past phonograms, words and rules.  There is usually a teaching segment that you do with tiles.  You generally have the kid doing some work with tiles.  And there are 10 spelling words.  There are a bunch of additional words that you can use for additional spelling practice, or for reading practice, or you can ignore them entirely.  There are phrases and sentences to be dictated, which consist only of words the child should be able to spell based on lessons completed to that point.  There are also additional interesting little facts in the book for the teacher dealing with exceptions (like the rule that English words don't end in the letter u has an entry about the word 'thou').  For younger kids, it is interesting for you.  For older kids (my 6th grader and 4th grader), it is great to share with them too.
See my post “The Perfect Program” for more comments on All About Spelling too.

Comments from my old blog:

Jenny Bergren -

Thanks for the review, Debra.  I've been waffling on what to do about spelling.  Sequential Spelling was a nightmare this year.  My daughter hates writing so 25 words a day was frustrating for her.

Your review was thorough and very helpful. I placed my order on Sunday and can't wait for the pacage to arrive.  Ah, I hear the mail truck now! But it's only Tuesday, it can't possibly be here already.

Does your mil still live by me?  You're always welcome to stop by -)

Jenny in MN

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - 09:48 AM
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lincoln vs. Darwin -- 200 Years after their births

The Old Schoolhouse had a give-away last week (I know, if I were more on top of things, I would have let you know early enough that you could have gotten it too!)  of a book on Lincoln and Darwin (Lincoln vs. Darwin: What’s the Difference? by Deborah Wuehler) and since I did want to do something to address Lincoln and Darwin’s 200th birthday last Thursday, I was quick to go and download this.

This is part of what is apparently a new “line” of e-books, called WeE-books (because they are nice, short little e-books) that they are selling for $1.95.

What a fantastic little resource!  Free was great, but it would have been worth the $2, too.  There were four pages of text that I read aloud to my kids.  We had some great discussions about what we were reading, suggested by the author.  Eugenics, slavery, freedom... and Bible verses to read, think about, and then discuss what we think of these two men in light of what we just read.

The WeE-book also included three pages of copywork, which was really most appropriate for my 6th grader.  We did discuss the quotes though.

The other resource we really enjoyed was a podcast:  Answers... with Ken Ham.  He spent all of last week talking about Darwin, but his Feb. 12 podcast addressed Lincoln, too (Two famous birthdays -- two different legacies).  

I do have to add, though, that these did lead us into another discussion or two.  My older boys did point out that this book was rather unfairly flattering to Lincoln as far as his position on racial equality.  Having studied Lincoln a fair bit last year, they knew the Lincoln presented here differs a lot from the historical record.  My oldest also questioned some of the statements about Darwin, as it seemed to him that the book was giving Darwin credit/blame for attitudes that had been going on since long before Darwin came on the scene.  Still, the above resources led us into some interesting conversations, and connections I would never have thought to make.

What a great break from our regularly scheduled school, where we have been busy learning about Antarctica.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Reading Victory -- Ricky Ricotta

Last summer, William decided to read through the Ricky Ricotta series.  We got through most of the first book, but it was slow and painful for me.  And while he really wanted to be reading the book, he got really frustrated as well.  

Last week, William decided to check book #1 out from the library, and since they didn't have book #2 available, he asked me to put it on hold.  I did so.  Unwillingly, I'll admit, but I did it.  I have horrible memories of going through the book last time, and I just didn't want to deal with it again.

Well, Dale promised William that he would listen to him read every night.  William finally held him to that promise this evening.  I was really freaked out, remembering our 15-20 minute sessions to get through a chapter (if you have looked at one of these books, that ought to be enough for you to know just *how* painful the process was for me) and knowing Dale was going to be very, very frustrated as he was ready for bed.  For the record, if you are *not* familiar with the books, check Amazon and you can read the entire first chapter in Look Inside.

William sat down AND READ THE CHAPTER.  Not super fast, but at a decent speed.  He struggled twice... it took him a couple attempts to sound out "Squeakyville" (but he did do it!)  Also, the last two sentences have you read "some" (he did, no problem), and a few words later is "so," which he kept seeing as "some."

That was it.  It was *maybe* two minutes to read the whole thing.  Six months ago, he would have read:  "There once was a mouse named Ricky Ricotta who..." in that same two minutes.  And that was even *after* I had read the chapter to him first, so he knew Ricotta without sounding it out.

I can't believe it.  I have felt for SO LONG like we are getting absolutely nowhere, and I just wasn't seeing progress.  This was glaringly obvious.  He has absotively, posilutely :) (no, I don't say things like that to my kids... they mess words up enough without me making it worse!) made fairly significant progress.

I want to cry.  

I am seriously thinking it might be time to pull the Sonlight 2 readers back out.  We stopped doing those to do Ricky Ricotta, and they were equally painful back then...

I'm not rushing.  He can read the entire Ricky Ricotta series first.  I know, it isn't exactly quality literature and the temptation is to stick up my nose and sniff 'twaddle' but hey, he is reading, he is enjoying it, and no matter what any of the purists think, that is worth something.  He listens to plenty of quality literature.  Ricky isn't harmful (I'm not going to say "at least he's reading" if he is choosing something that attacks his faith or morals... I mean, really, as far as kids' stories go, this character has a mother *and* a father who live together, appear to love each other and him, and the stories are pretty clear with good vs. evil... that's way more than I can say about virtually everything else out there.)

And I just checked the author's website and his cartoon format biography made me cry...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Building on the Rock - My First Week

Back to my experience so far: 

It was a rocky start.  I went to begin it on Monday, and the CD that has the power point and pdf stuff was nowhere to be found.  I searched and searched and searched, gave up, and we didn't do it on Monday at all.

On a whim on Tuesday, I checked the drive of the desktop computer.  Voila!  There it was.  So, on Tuesday, I put the CD into my laptop, grabbed my cute little remote, and we did two days worth.

It went so well, and the kids enjoyed it.  Having the PowerPoint thing made it SO EASY.  I don't understand why I didn't grasp that this was there.  Probably because I was totally overwhelmed by the pages and pages and pages (and pages, and pages, and...) of documentation they give me.  

In reality, yes, I read the pages of documentation about a year and a half ago, and felt totally overwhelmed and unwilling to start it.  So maybe that helped, I don't know.  But how it worked in real life?  I opened up the teacher book to the page where I was supposed to start, I started clicking my little remote, and I read from the book and/or the slides.  It was fast, it was easy, I felt competent, and the kids had fun.  That was the first day.

Wednesday was even easier.  Thursday, the kids decided that we did need to use the posters, so they dug them out (they were hiding behind the cookbooks) and found the appropriate posters for what we were doing.  Again, it was easy, straightforward, and I LOVE my remote :)  

Friday was long.  So I've found one thing I don't like about the program... the first four days took 10-15 minutes each.  Today was a half hour, easy.  Which is fine, except I expected no more than 15 minutes.  I loved it though.  Specifically, we were learning about obedience.  What mom doesn't appreciate a well-written lesson about why you need to obey your parents?  :)

The kids wanted to know if we have to wait until Monday to do it again.  They think we should do this every day of the week.  I may 'indulge' them in this!  I just wish I had started earlier.  So I guess that is TWO things I don't like.  The materials are overwhelming.  Very easy to use when you start, but incredibly overwhelming to just look at and grasp.  I very nearly called Summit to beg to come in and have *them* do the first lesson with my kids, I was that overwhelmed by the whole thing.  I know very few of you would have that option, and sometimes I think I should have...

Anyway, I think that when I get a bit further, I am going to contact them and volunteer to put together a "quick start guide" for homeschool moms.  If I had a couple paragraphs of suggestions, I would have started using this 1.5 years ago, when I intended to do it.  Maybe it would take more than two paragraphs, but certainly a single page.  

Building on the Rock - Overview

Building on the Rock is the Worldview Curriculum put out by Summit Ministries.  I purchased the second grade level about 1.5 years ago, intending to use it with my 3rd and 1st graders that fall.  Well, I finally got going -- with my 4th and 2nd graders -- just this past week.

Someone asked about the Summit Ministries programs on one of my  yahoo groups (Homeschool-MovingOn), at just the right moment.  I was planning to start last week, but the question prompted me to pull it out and try to answer their questions.  And I said I was going to start it to all these hundreds of people, so I had to follow through.

A basic overview:  There are five levels currently available (grades 1-5), with the grade 6 material due out this summer.  Summit also has materials available at the junior high and high school levels, but I do not have any experience with those yet.

The program is split into two parts.  The first 2/3 of each year is a worldview course, meant to help the students look at life from a biblical perspective.  The final third of each year is more actual Bible study, but integrating the “stories” of the Bible into what they are learning in the worldview portion of the curriculum.

The program is definitely written for Christian schools, but they have adapted it some for the homeschoolers too.  

What I like about it:  I love the idea of teaching worldview at this age, and I like their materials.  I love how you are working through knowledge of the scripture, and applying it to the real world.  I'm very impressed with the materials.  I like that they do have separate packages for homeschoolers instead of having to do the whole school thing.  The price is certainly better this way!  I love the very extensive samples available online... but I have to add that I found the samples far more overwhelming than I found the materials when I actually tried to use them. (see my next blog post, on my first week)

What I don't like:  there is SO MUCH material, and it is intimidating.  I stared at it for ages trying to figure out where to start.  It is definitely written for a school setting, with modifications on stickers for homeschoolers -- but some aspects of the "school" point of view are still there.  It is a fair amount of money, but you get a HUGE stack of material, so in terms of dollars per page, well, you are getting a bunch for the money.  I'm not hugely impressed with the student workbook, and I'm glad I decided that my two could share... I do need to add that I am impressed with the older level workbooks (4th and 5th grades) though, from the samples on the website, and I probably will get a second workbook for level 3, as that one looks okay.

My other issue was that when I did finally try to start using it (I've tried starting it twice), I got completely thrown off by some of the things I was supposed to be showing the kids.  I thought I had to find these things myself, so I just couldn't get through a lesson.  But when I tried yet again, I discovered that these pictures I thought I had to search for were on a disk and I didn't have to do the legwork.  The issue is that with the overwhelming amount of information they present, I completely lost track of the fact that I even had some of these resources available.

Did I mention in here anywhere that I found the materials to be overwhelming?  Hopefully, I didn’t totally scare you off, and you’ll read ‘the rest of the story’ (or at least the first week of the rest of the story).

We've watched the Truth Project as a family.  I'm leading a Bible study group in going through The Truth Project now.  I've gone through Truth Chronicles with my kids.  I have to say... the material in here dovetails so incredibly well, and it really is age appropriate.  I fully intend to be continuing through these.  We may not do 7 days a week, but we are likely to continue year-round.  I wish, I wish, I wish we would have started this before now...