Friday, January 21, 2011

Speekee Spanish for Children

Speekee logo


I have been attempting to teach my son Spanish since he was preschool age.  Not being fluent myself, I don't quite have the whole converstional thing down, and so far none of the programs we have tried have quite clicked for us.  Until Speekee.  Speekee teaches Spanish through total immersion, using fun puppets, catchy music and children who look like they're really having fun.  Speekee captures a child's (and a mom's) attention  using only Spanish, no back and forth to English.  Subtitles in both Spanish and English appear on the screen. 


The program is basic Spanish from Spain, and it doesn't enter into regional dialects or Mexican or South American variations.  Designed for children ages 2 to 10 years old, Speekee can be enjoyed by the whole family, especially when the songs are learned and sung later.  Each lesson episode runs about 15-20 minutes and also has printable activities to supplement the videos.  With topics like "El Parque", El Cafe" and "El Zoo", children are learning and reinforcing many everyday words that can be used in conversation immediately.  My son looks forward to watching Speekee and we walk around singing the songs while we're doing our chores and while running errands.

Speekee is available on DVD, but as it is produced in Spain, the DVD format may not play on U.S. players.  So the best option if you're in the U.S. as we are, is a subscription to Speekee TV.  For a low $7.50 a month, you get unlimited access to all 10 episodes of Speekee, plus the printables and the first two weeks are FREE! 

The only problem I have with Speekee is that there are only 10 episodes.  I would like to see alot more, enabling families to build on the foundation set up by the first 10.  Also, I would like to be able to use it in DVD format, if the company should decide to produce a version for the U.S.

See what other Homeschool Crew members are saying about Speekee.

We recieved a two month subscription to SpeekeeTV to use and review in our homeschool.  No other compensation was recieved for this review.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Teaching Love For Music - Peter and the Wolf by Maestro Classics


I remember listening to Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" with my mom when I was small.  I don't recall if it was narrated or if mom told me the story while it was playing.  All I know is that it was the beginning of a lifetime of music appreciation.  Maestro Classics goes far beyond the basics of listening to and enjoying music by using simple exercises to reinforce musical abilities and train the ear, such as identifying instruments, recognizing themes and telling the composer's own story.  The piece is also performed in several different styles.
My son and I enjoyed listening to Peter and the Wolf, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra with Stephen Simon conducting and Yadu narrating.  After the first session, my second grader plunged into the accompanying workbook with vigor, enjoying the colorful illustrations and completing the puzzles as he listened to the story again.  I perused the program myself, to read more about Prokofiev, the Trio Voronezh (a Russian folk group who plays a version of Peter and the Wolf on the CD) and traditional Russian folk instruments. 

Stephen and Bonnie Ward Simon, who produced and conducted the story, also created a "Stories in Music" concert series for children and parents at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.  Many of these concerts are now available along with Peter and the Wolf  at Maestro Classics.  All the "Stories in Music" CD's are designed to be enjoyed by parents and children of all ages together.  If you feel challenged by the very thought of teaching music appreciation, Peter and the Wolf will make it feel like child's play.  In addition to the music and story, each CD has a story about the composer, what to listen for in the music and a fun participation track, like a sing along or dance along. 

Other Stories in Music titles include Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Casey at the Bat and Swan Lake, as well as several others.  A superb tool for music appreciation, the Stories in Music are only $16.98 each for CD and program/workbook; Casey at the Bat and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel are also offered with a large program or as gift sets and have lesson plans available on the website.

As a lover of great music, I highly recommend this series to develop a well rounded appreciation of music in your student, as well as spend some great old fashioned family time together, listening, learning about and having fun with music.

See what other Homeschool Crew members are saying about Maestro Classics.

We recieved one copy of Peter and the Wolf with accompanying program from Maestro Classics for review purposes.  No other compensation was recieved for this review.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Easy Classical - Classical Education, Charlotte Mason Style

The Easy Classical program offers a full 36 week set of lesson plans, or "schedules" for teaching a classical curriculum using living books, as Charlotte Mason proposed.  The system seems to be built around Susan Bauers' book,  "The Well Trained Mind:  A Guide to Classical Education At Home", which is recommended reading before starting the program.  I have not read this book and it was not included with the review materials, but I am familiar with the Charlotte Mason method of using living books, and this seems fairly similar.

Our review packet was the Early Modern History Schedule, specifically, American History, beginning with pre-Columbus America and continuing on with Explorers through 1820.  This schedule, designed to use one year during the kindergarten through 6th grade years, and repeating one year in the upper grades, includes daily reading and writing assignments, art lessons, and suggested projects.  It incorporates everything but science and math.  (Although Easy Classical offers a Complete Schedule that includes more Language Arts and also includes Science. Saxon is suggested for Math.)  The schedule is heavy on reading and writing, and the quizzes require a higher level of comprehension, so I don't think I would be using this particular curriculum until my son is older, say 5th or 6th grade. 

I really like the lesson plans laid out for you, and suggested books for the reading and study part.  I find I am not able to get alot of these books from our local inter-library loan, but it helps to have the list for searching for other books to use.  I also really like the method of using living books to bring history and other subjects to life.  I think it aids in retention and actual learning, not just "learning to pass the test" and then forgetting it all.

Using the schedule "as-is" will require a very structured school day and a very focused student. However, as homeschoolers, we do have the freedom to tailor our curriculum to the needs of our students. Hence, we can do much of the reading out loud, together, and modify the writing assignments to suit. The art lesson can be followed step by step for older students, or just colored in by younger students. Older students can do more in-depth study on each topic, younger may just get an overview. and the quizzes may be eliminated altogether for younger students.

The schedules list other Easy Classical resources for writing and copywork assignments, however, as these were not provided, I am unable to give an opinion on them. The sample pages available on the Easy Classical website, do offer a glimpse of whether they might work for your particular student. It would be easy enough to assign appropriate topics for each lesson without them.

Although we do not use Easy Classical schedules in our classroom, we do use a curriculum whose yearly lesson plans are in a very similar format, and I can tell you, it saves so much stress and work.  For only $29.95 you can download the Digital Version of the schedule, and for $35.95, Easy Classical will print it out and send it to you in a handy notebook.  It is a wonderful thing not to have to make up lesson plans from scratch, and easy enough to modify ready made lesson plans when an interesting learning opportunity presents itself.  I highly recommend you check out Easy Classical and see if this might work for you and your students. 

See what other Homeschool Crew members are saying about Easy Classical.

We received one digital copy of the Easy Classical Early Modern History Schedule for this review.  No other compensation was received.

Friday, January 7, 2011

See N Read - Reading Tools That Rock!


See-N-Read Reading Tools are simple, effective aids to reading.  Just lay the small, gray plastic guide on your page and line up your text in the window.  See-N-Reads can benefit anybody, from beginning readers, to adults struggling to get through all the fine print in a contract.  My son was so excited about the See-N-Read tools that he usurped them all for himself.  His favorite is the document size See-N-Read, I suspect because he doesn't have to move it so much.  A fringe benefit of See-N-Read is that it can also act as a bookmark in between reading sessions.  My son is now sitting down to read, just so he can "play" with his See-N-Read. 


When I finally did get my hands on the See-N-Read Memory Mark, I found it just as beneficial for myself.  The gray tint surrounding the reading window filters out distractions on the page and helps me stay focused on what I'm reading.  Memory Mark has the window cut out, so I can mark passages of text that I want to highlight, or otherwise make note of. 

For such a simple tool, an amazing amount of research went into See-N-Read.  I didn't understand alot of the 20-page research packet that came with our tools, but I did gather that they were tested extensively in schools, and that several reading experts and teachers had alot of good things to say about them.  I know this - they work GREAT!

See-N-Read also has a PC version, that you can easily download and bring up on your computer screen.  I didn't think I'd like it, but I was pleasantly surprised.  After a few fits and starts getting it to the right size for what I was reading, and to a convenient size for my screen, I found it to be a great help to reading all the "fine print" stuff - EULA's, Terms of Agreement and so forth.  I found it also came in handy for reading lengthier blogs and articles, as it can be easy to lose one's place, staring at the computer screen.  My son really enjoyed using it for reading his e-books on the computer.

With all the work and testing and research that went into developing See-N-Read, it is surprisingly affordable.  The small sizes are only $2.99 each or 3 for $8.99, document sizes are $3.49 each or 3 for $9.99.  See-N-Read also offers larger quantities for special prices and combinations of several or all products for a special price.  The eSee-N-Read program is $29.99 and is available for immediate download.

See what other Homeschool Crew Members are saying about See-N-Read.

We recieved one set of See-N-Read and Memory Mark tools and a free download of eSee-N-Read for this review.  No other compensation was recieved.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No More Flash Cards! Math Facts Now!


My son has a love/hate relationship with math.  He hates it and tries to refuse to do any of it when he is struggling to grasp a concept.  Once he's got it and can fly through the problems, he loves it.  He loves addition, hates subtraction.  Loves word problems involving money.  Hates word problems that use subtraction and don't involve money.  Loves working out difficult problems orally, one by one, with mom (argh!).  Hates working on his own in the book.  Do we see a pattern here?  It's not that I think he should do it all on his own.  I enjoy presenting a lesson, teaching a concept, and reviewing.  It's the practice I get frustrated with.  I know he needs to practice to really internalize and learn the concept.  He hates practicing.


Enter Math Facts Now!2.0.  A simple downloadable program, also available on CD, that enables the teacher to customize practice sessions in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Lesson options cover numbers from 0-12, and allow the teacher to choose which numbers will be practiced, for instance adding or subtracting 0-12 with any combination of numbers 0-12.  Like 0-3 plus or minus 0-12, etc.  The teacher then sets a time limit for answering each problem, I give my son 10 seconds, as he is keyboard proficient and it keeps him focused without rushing him.  I have him write out missed problems 2 times each, that is also adjustable.  At the end of each lesson there is a reward, from a piece of candy, to 30 minutes extra game time, or whatever I feel is appropriate. 

Since he has been playing on Math Facts Now!, my son likes addition even more, and is warming up to subtraction.  One drawback I see is that you can only work with numbers 0-12.  I would like to see and option for practice with higher numbers, and with that, lower minimum number of problems.  The present edition of the program has a minimum of 50 problems per lesson, and a max of 200.  My second grader mastered 0-12 addition and subtraction last year, and has been working with higher numbers, though we have not gotten into borrowing yet.

Another thing I like about Math Facts Now! is that the teacher can print out a progress report, showing how the student performed on each lesson, including a detail of which problems were tested, how many times, and whether they answered correctly, incorrectly, or took too long answering.  This helps teachers to adjust the lessons to focus on problem areas, making them more or less challenging, according to student ability.

In conclusion, for $15.95 download, or $15.95 + $3.95 shipping and handling for CD format, Math Facts Now!2.0 is an excellent supplement to elementary math programs.  It's even better than the old standby, flashcards, in that it is in the more desirable (to most children now), computer format; parents can tailor the lessons, and bribes (oops, I mean rewards) can be used as incentives for students to practice frequently.  If you're like me and want to try before you invest in any extras, Math Facts Now!2.0 offers a FREE TRIAL available online or in download.  You just can't lose with an offer like that.  Go give it a test drive now.

See what other Homeschool Crew members say about this product.

We recieved a free, downloadable version of Math Facts Now!2.0 to use in our homeschool and give you our opinion.  No other compensation was recieved for this review.