Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's Raining, It's Pouring

We are having some crazy rain here on the homestead.  It's been raining a couple days a week all month.  Mabel the Marvelous Dancing Jersey Milk Cow has been through the fence twice, and is currently on timeout in her corral.  The roof is leaking all over my closet, that's what I get for a fear of heights.  On the other hand, we have some wonderful green grass coming up all over the place.  Need to fix the fence so we can let the animals out to graze on it.

Princess, the crea, comes to sniff my ears and my tea in the mornings, when the weather is nice enough to sit out in the back yard for a few minutes.

In the sewing room, we're replenishing the winter wardrobe with jeans, jammies and flannels.  In  the kitchen, we're trying new recipes for whole wheat cinnamon rolls - yummy - sourdough starter and hamburger buns.  We've sold out of oatmeal and castille soap, so it's into the workshop to make a couple batches for holiday orders.  We also need to finish getting our wood in for the winter.  There's nothing like a cozy fire in the woodstove to warm your soul on a gray day.

Hope you're getting set for an enjoyable winter, too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Talking Fingers - Learning to Read, Write and Type


I taught myself how to type on dad's old Royal portable typewriter using an ancient college typing text. I was about fifteen years old and I remember how much it hurt my fingers to strike those keys. Now I tend to type too fast for the computer to keep up. (Ya, that's it, not my accuracy problem, the computer's.) My son has been using the computer, under supervision, of course, for at least two years already. So that makes him ten years ahead of me there. Still, he is benefiting by leaps and bounds with Talking Fingers.

Talking Fingers “Read, Write, Type” is an online program that teaches proper qwerty hand position and typing technique through interactive games and stories. At the same time, children learn letter sounds, spelling and reading, as well as composition. My son is reading well above his grade level, but does not get bored. He looks forward to his daily session on Talking Fingers and proudly prints out every certificate he earns.


There are 40 levels for students to work through, learning finger placement, building sentences and stories, with certificates awarded for every 4 letters mastered. The program keeps track of each student’s progress and starts them where they left off at the end of their last session. Parents can sign in and print out progress reports and see where their child is in the program. Students and parents sign in with separate usernames and passwords (student’s account is set up by the parent), so multiple children can each have their own record. Younger children may need help signing in, but should be able to work independently from there, as the animated characters guide them through everything.


Two options are available to take advantage of Talking Fingers. Online license for 1 student and parent is $39 and includes unlimited usage and printable reports. The Home Edition is $79 and is good for all children in the family, and has the same great games and interactive instruction as the online version PLUS progress reports, printable stories, clip art for stories, activity book, laminated practice keyboard and 2 sets of stickers. We test drove the online version and were very pleased, although being able to print out my son’s stories, which is a feature of the Home Edition, would be nice. For more keyboard-shy children the Home Edition would definitely be an advantage, though, as it includes a practice keyboard and other offline activities. Also, the Home Edition would be better for anyone with more than one child using the program, or families that would want to use it for several years, thereby saving the yearly license fee.

Once a child has mastered all the levels in Read, Write, Type, he is ready to move on to Word Qwerty, another program available from Talking Fingers. If you wish to purchase both programs, a K-4 Reading Bundle is available. Jingle Spells, songs to spell by, sounds like a great CD to have in the car for road trips.

One final feature of all these programs is the ESL option. Students learning English as a Second Language can click on a yellow balloon on screen for clarification of any portion of the program in Spanish, Arabic or Bahasa Melayu.

I am proud of my self-taught typing skills and look fondly at old portable typewriters in second hand stores, but I am ever so grateful for the light touch required of my computer keyboard. Talking Fingers has come along at just the right time for my son and I am glad that he is enthusiastic about Reading, Writing and Typing!

We received one free one year online license for the above product, for the purpose of using and commenting on it. No other compensation was received.

To see what other Homeschool Crew members are saying about Talking Fingers click:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Digital Frog - Luring Children Into Science

Digital Frog is a Canada based company that produces award winning CD's using virtual reality software.  The name derives from their first project, a virtual frog dissection.  We received their Digital Field Trip series to review and were, words fail me, delighted.  According to Digital Frog, "Our computer-based LEARNing tools:  •Lure the user into the subject
                                                   •Encourage inquiry, exploration and discovery
                                                   •Actively involve students in meaningful learning
                                                   •Reinforce with positive feedback
                                                   •Nourish a lifelong love of the subject." and they sure do a good job of it. 

We tried running the programs off the CD, but the pictures were very pixellated and we did not get the audio.  So we installed the CD on our hard drive and then proceeded to run the program and were quite pleased.  The program is user friendly and full of features.

Our first virtual Field Trip was to "The Wetlands".  This fit right into our Tour of the Continents, as we are currently studying North America, and the wetlands we toured was at Cloud Lake, in Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada.  We were able to study the maps and geographically locate first Canada, then Ontario, the park, and Cloud Lake.  Once at the site, there were numerous "posts" to navigate and explore.  We could click on almost any word in the "field notes" for definition, and on blue highlighted words for expanded information.  Some screens have snapshots of plants, wildlife and landscape to click through, others have videos to watch.  The part with the wolf had a wolf howl audio that had us howling with delight!  We clicked on pictures to see larger versions.  In addition to each field trip, there are games and other activities.  We played the "Bog Food Game", which reinforced learning about the food chain and interdependence.  My second grader was able to come back and review his favorite parts of the field trips independently, so I venture to say that an average seven year old could enjoy each field trip with very little assisstance.  I found them so interesting that I really enjoyed sitting and doing some navigation myself. 

The Digital Frog Website also offers a FREE "Frogger Club", whose members can get free demos, discounts and extra printables, in addition to other goodies.  The Frog Blog, also freely available at the website, features additional pictures, posts, videos and more.

At $60 each or $125 for all three field trips on CD, this series is a bargain.  Each field trip can be a Unit Study in itself, with a little math supplementation.  They can be adapted for all ages kindergarten through high school, using more of the features for older children and less for younger.  Each field trip has loads of pictures, descriptions, videos, animation, interactive games and field notes.  They can be used year after year to add depth and breadth to your student's studies.

Other products available from Digital Frog are the frog dissection CD, Digital Frog 2.5 for $85, and Science Matrix: Cell Structure and Function CD for $40.  Keeping their focus on biology and ecology,  it's likely that Digital Frog will continue to make science addicting for students for years to come.

We received one CD with all 3 field trips for no charge, in exchange for publishing our opinions.  No other compensation was received.

See what other Homeschool Crewmates are saying about this product:  Digital Frog - Homeschool Crew