Our Top Pick Review Products

As we approach the half-way point of the school-year, and as I have wrapped up my stint with the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I thought I’d go back and let you know which products made the daily cut, the ones we are still using on a daily basis.

I must say that I loved many of the products we reviewed, but we all know that there is just so much time during a school day and not all of our ambitions and intentions get checked off the lesson plan. So, in utmost honesty, I’m disclosing which ones we continue to use.

Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Primary Art of Language

This program is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. It involves a lot from the teacher, and as well as a lot from the student. With that said, I’m no longer using the reading portion of the program. We are back to A Beka, slowly taking our time through the last of K4 and long vowels.

I’ve also stopped using the writing portion with Middlest, though I will continue with it in the future. I felt that there really wasn’t enough practice for her, especially with capital letters, that she could do independently (as in, without me dictating each letter). I’m using some leftover pages from the A Beka K5 manuscript writing book that I used with Oldest.

However, I am still using the writing program with my Oldest, and loving it! We are also keeping up with our Class Journal; it’s been a great tool for teaching writing as well as reinforcing spelling and grammar principles.

ZooWhiz

This is a surprise for me actually, even though it is a fun program. Middlest can work through the reading portion of this program on her own; occasionally I’ll sit with her and go through the math. But this, really, is my opportunity to keep her engaged and learning while I work with her brother. And she loves purchasing the animals or playing the arcade games with the tokens she has earned.

I also have to put a plug in for their customer service. Middlest had worked very hard to earn 5000 tokens to purchase a dragon, but then she had mistakenly selected the Sasquatch instead. Oh my goodness! The tears we had that day, and understandably so—5,000 tokens is a lot for a four year old. I emailed the CS just to see if perhaps there was something that could be done on their end, an exchange or a refund of tokens, etc. Within a day of my emailing them, they had removed the Sasquatch and replaced it with her dragon. Needless to say, she was overjoyed when she noticed! And I was very thankful that they took the time for such an insignificant issue.

Music Together

I must say, this is probably the greatest surprise of all to me. Honestly, when I first received this product, I didn’t know how much we’d use it or even if we’d like it. Once I started using it with the kids, we fell in love and to this day it is an absolute favorite with all three of the kids, even Littlest brightens up when he hears his favorite tunes. It’s a fun rainy day, grumpy day, “let’s wiggle and dance together” activity.

Family Time Fitness

We haven’t been able to use this product as consistently as I would have liked. (Some of my great ambitions this school year have not come to fruition, but that’s another post for another day.) However, this particular product is the single most-asked-for activity. My kids still love it, and I still love to have them exercising. And I have every intention of making this a more regular part of our routine (though most of my intentions lately haven’t gotten much further than just that).

Dayspring’s Pilgrim Story

My son loved this, even though a lot of it was meant for a much older student. He loved the interactive elements of the power point, the maps, and the “draw-and-caption” assignments that I gave to him. We finished it up right before Thanksgiving, skipping a few of the less relevant lessons to be able to pull that off. It was a fun introduction to the history of our celebration and was perfect for notebooking.

 

And that’s it folks! Our list of top 5 review products, the ones that made the cut for what actually fits into our day.

Primary Art of Language Review: a reading and writing program for K-2nd grade

Primary Arts of Language review

 

Primary Arts of Language, produced by The Institute for Excellence in Writing is a reading and writing program for K-2nd grade. This program is absolutely immense! So let me break it down for you and review it in chunks.

Institute for Excellence in Writing

Primary Arts of Language Reading

review

The Primary Arts of Language reading program, written by Jill Pike,  is based on Anne Ingham’s method of blended sight-sound. Basically, it’s a mix of both phonics and sight-words that is very multi-sensory and layered. One of my favorite parts of this program are the stories that help to anchor the special sounds. Every letter of the alphabet and every special sound is illustrated with either a story or an image that helps the beginning reader to connect with the material.

Primary Arts of Language review

The Phonetic Farm is a folder with stickers that the child uses to further anchor these phonics blends. A silo holds the stickers for all the phonics sounds with a long “o” sound; there are fruit trees for all the “oo” sounds, clouds for all the “air” sounds, sheep for the “aw” sounds, etc. The mental picture helps the child to recall exactly what the letter blends and combinations say.

In addition to the Phonetic Farm are 35 folder games that help to reinforce both the sight words and the phonics concepts. The games offer a ton of variety and an interactive review. A couple of our favorites included feeding the dog Mugs his bones which had letter sounds and phonics blends written on them. We also fed the “word monster” our sight words. Magic-e was another favorite for teaching long vowel words that ended in silent e: a short vowel word was pasted into the folder and a wand with magic-e was provided for turning that short vowel into a long vowel.

Folder Games
Color Palette, teaching the color words
Folder Games
Letter Stories, reinforces the letter stories and helps child to match upper and lower case letters
Folder Games
Magic-e, teaching the long vowel/silent e combination

Playing the games and learning to decipher words using the phonics concepts was all part of phase 1. I used this phase with my daughter, who is four but had finished most of K4 reading skills. She loved the games and interactive lessons. The worksheets that were provided as a printable PDF were also very multi-sensory, allowing her to cut, paste, color, and read to reinforce her lessons. She did struggle some with the sight/sound method. One of the key struggles that she had initially is that most of the phonics blends that are taught are those sounds found in the middle of words. Because she had not learned many of the consonant blends (bl, gl, br, dr, etc.) at the beginning of words, she did much more sight-reading than deciphering, which I was uncomfortable with. I did end up pausing to teach her those beginning sounds first, and she caught on more quickly after that.

The program is designed for you to customize as much as you need, with detailed lessons provided that show you how to include all of the elements from the reading and writing program. To use every element of the program every day does take a great deal of time. It was taking us about 3 hours to get through school, and most days I was not able to get to her math before I called it quits. To help alleviate some of this burden, I broke down one lesson into a couple of days worth of lessons. This gave us time to really reinforce the sounds and words she was learning without rushing on to new material too fast. It also allowed us to do something different every day, choosing one of the many elements for each day’s lesson. I loved this routine, and my daughter adapted very well to it.

We also customized some of the games. For instance, my daughter would frequently become discouraged with her word cards during the “feed the monster” game. So we have started using the cards to make silly sentences instead. This has also helped her gain confidence in reading sentences, and she is excited to decipher the words so that she can giggle at the funny sentence she has made.

Folder Games
Silly Sentences

Phase 2 of the program is called the Discovery phase and provides 30 sets of cards with words to decipher. This is the phase that I started with my son. He is a five year old first grader, and he flew through the majority of these cards. Every few sets there would be a word or two that he was unfamiliar with, but he quickly mastered most of them. We’re quickly working through the last of the cards. The last phase of the program is the Library phase that includes a list of suggested library books for the student to read. Many of these include old favorites like Frog and Toad and Amelia Bedelia.

Primary Arts of Language Writing

review SchoolhouseTeachers.com

Of course, one area for which IEW is famous is their writing, and PAL’s writing program did not disappoint. I was extremely pleased with every element of this program. Again, this program is broken into three phases. I started my daughter at the very beginning of Phase 1 and had my son working through Phase 2.

Each day for every phase, the lessons begin with the class journal and a story summary. We LOVED the class journal element. Every day, I would get out our composition notebook that we used for our journal, and we would write 2-3 sentences about our day or the previous day. Sometimes, the kids would suggest a prayer for us to write down. Other times, we would record a fun memory or an event we were looking forward to. But this wasn’t just an exercise in journaling. Through the process we talked about the special sounds my daughter was learning, the punctuation and grammar that my son was learning, and other special writing and grammar elements that came up. Capitalization rules were very natural to discuss, as were end marks and sentence structure. My daughter saw that the words we spoke were the same as the ones we wrote down and then read. The connections were incredible, and I discovered that I LOVE teaching with this method.

For story summaries, we would read a story and then work through the provided questions to help the kids think through the structure of a story. Again, this was more than just a comprehension exercise. Both kids learned what characters were and how to listen for the details of characterization and setting. We discussed the plot or “problem” within the story and how it was resolved. For clincher, the chart often had the children looking for a moral; because I personally do not believe that fiction is intended to always have a moral lesson, I included this question at my own discretion.

Phase 1 introduces writing with letter stories that teach both the sounds of the letters and how to write them. Phase 1 taught the formation of the letters without lines; a box was provided for the child to write inside. I immediately saw an improvement in my daughter’s handwriting as she was allowed to focus on one thing at a time, just the proper formation. The lessons begin with the lower-case letters, continue with upper-case letters, and then teach writing on sets of lines. Each day’s lesson also ends with a “spelling test,” where the child is asked to write the letters that “spell” the sounds that you give. My daughter, who lives to be like her brother in every way, loved that she had spelling tests just like him. And I found these to be effective ways to both evaluate and reinforce what she was learning.

Phase 1

Phase 2 introduces copy work and All About Spelling Level 1. I love the idea of copy work, but up until this point had not found an effective way to incorporate it. My son loved these exercises and often stated that it was his favorite part of our school day.

Phase 2

All About Spelling, however, he was not as thrilled with. Technically, he is advanced beyond Level 1 of this program and is already learning to spell much more difficult words in our current program. But there were several elements to the program that I thought would benefit him. What surprised me, however, was that the part of the program he disliked the most was moving the letter tiles around, which is obviously the most distinctive feature of this program. He continually told me that he’d rather “just write out” the words, which speaks volumes about his learning style. After giving this a try for a few weeks, we reverted back to our other program.

Phase 2 also begins to incorporate quite a bit of grammar, including end marks and parts of speech. Again, I was extremely pleased with how this was handled. The presentation made sense and the activities were very appealing, especially since much of it resembled notebooking (of which I am a huge fan).

Phase 3 continues with more copy work, some dictation, and some story writing elements. I do look forward to continuing with the writing elements of this program for both my children. Having a degree in writing and having taught English grammar at the college level, I am very particular about this instruction and have honestly found it difficult to find a program that I can enthusiastically use with my kids. However, I have definitely found that program with the Primary Arts of Language Writing.

Summary

Both the reading and writing program come with extensive video and audio training, as well as very detailed lesson plans. The Primary Arts of Language complete reading program is available for $69, and the Primary Arts of Language complete writing program sells for $89. Though the program is an initial investment, 2 factors made this price very affordable: first, it is a multi-level program that can be used for more than one grade; second, many elements of this program are non-consummable, including the student workbooks provided as printable pdfs.

Another beautiful thing about this program is the effort that IEW has made to give you a good idea of all that the program contains before you purchase. (They also stand behind their products with complete money-back guarantees if you are dissatisfied.) IEW provides videos, webinars, and samples to download so that you will know exactly what you are purchasing.

Bottom line, there are many elements to this reading and writing program that I absolutely love. My daughter loves this program, and I will continue to use it while mixing in elements of our current phonics program. And without a doubt, I will continue through the writing program with both of my children. This is a quality program that appeals particularly to the kinesthetic/hands-on learner, written by an accomplished instructor and homeschool mother with vast experience in teaching children with dyslexia and other reading issues. And, it is a program that comes with lots of instruction and support. Depending on the family and learning styles, I would definitely recommend this program.

Want to find out even more? Read what others from the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought and how they used the program.

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine.

 

Dayspring Christian Academy Review

  review SchoolhouseTeachers.com

Thanksgiving is a big deal at our house. We place a huge emphasis on the holiday, beginning our traditions at the very beginning of the month of November. Thus, after watching the video preview of The Pilgrim Story online course produced through Dayspring Christian Academy, I knew it was something I wanted to try even though my children were considerably younger than the recommended 3rd through 6th grade.

  Dayspring Christian review

I began going through the course with my kids in the afternoons once or twice a week. My daughter, age 4, was only moderately interested, but my first grader was extremely intrigued. He loved the video presentations and the interactive slides, and he loved that he could ace the review questions at the beginning of each lesson.

The course is set up for a student to create his own notebook with vocabulary sheets, fill-in-the-blank notes sheets, Principles sheets, and various other activities. Much of this was obviously above my son’s ability, so I took the general concept and modified it to fit my child. We did create a notebook, and I printed off the Principle sheets for his notebook. Then, I had him color a picture about each lesson and narrate the lesson back to me from the details he included in his picture. He retained a lot of information this way and loved drawing the pictures!

narration

 

narration

Dayspring Christian takes a “principal approach” to history, relating the events from the perspective of God’s sovereignty and the principles that can be seen throughout history. These include “liberty of conscience,” “diligence and industry,” “Christian character” and many others.

Pilgrim Story

The video presentation narrated the story of the Pilgrims in great detail, including many quotations from original sources such as William Bradford and William Brewster. Though my son loved the story and could easily navigate through the slides, we always listened to the story together, and there were often times when I had to paraphrase what had just been said. Still, when it came time for the questions at the end of the lesson, he nearly always got them all right.

TOS review

This self-paced course consists of 5 units or a total of 17 lessons. Currently, we are about half-way through unit 3 and have completed 10 lessons. As we continue to work through the course, we will include as many activities as my son is capable of doing and will continue with our own method of draw-and-narrate. And, as we get closer to Thanksgiving, the course also includes a virtual tour of Plymouth, an activity that we will invite the whole family to participate in, I’m sure. Overall, this was a great experience with online learning and an opportunity we might not have otherwise afforded. My son and I are learning a ton about the Pilgrims! And I expect this year’s Thanksgiving celebration will mean a lot more to him.

The Pilgrim Story is available for $99 for 6-months access to the course. Visit the website to read more about the course or watch the video preview (scroll to the bottom of the page) to see for yourself the quality of this course. Then, read what others on the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say.

 

homeschool product reviews

 

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free 6 month subscription to this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine.

 

Kinderbach Online Review

Kinderbach Online review
Kinderbach online music My children love music, and my son especially has been wanting to learn an instrument for over a year now. Kinderbach has been a perfect fit for my kids. Kinderbach is an online music program for young children, ages 3-7. The creater and teacher, Karri Gregor is excellent with young children and has a real passion for communicating music to them. Using fun interactive video lessons, colorful characters, entertaining stories, and corresponding printable activity sheets, children learn note reading, rhythm, singing, and composition.

activity sheets
review
review

Both my kids (ages 4 and 5) absolutely loved this program and literally squealed with delight when it was time. Each week of lessons includes four sessions that are about 5 min. long. We worked through all of the sessions at one time, once a week. Watching the videos and completing the activity pages for an entire week took us about 20-30 min. And the kids were never ready to quit!

 

 

I do not own a keyboard or piano at my house, but we are often at church early or late because my husband is an associate pastor. This extra time was our time to practice what we had learned through the videos. The kids would take turns sitting down at the piano and practicing their lessons; it worked out really well for us. The fun stories and memorable characters made the abstract music concepts very concrete and enjoyable for them.

 Kinderbach music review
Kinderbach video lessons

Kinderbach has a couple of opportunities for you to try the lessons yourself. Try them for free or take advantage of the 30 day money-back guarantee. The online lessons, which is what I used for the review, are $19.99/month or $95.88/year. Kinderbach is also available as DVDs and as an iPhone/iPad app (which includes a keyboard on the app screen). And multiple children can use the program at the same time or at different times!

When you consider the cost and time of music lessons, Kinderbach really is a no-brainer! Quality music instruction on your own schedule and in the convenience of your own home—I am definitely a fan. And my kids are learning so much while having a blast.

Visit Kinderbach to watch the videos and read more about the program, or read what others on the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about Kinderbach online and the Kinderbach iPad app.

 

homeschool product reviews

 

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free 6 month subscription to this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine.

 

ZooWhiz review

ZooWhiz review
I love getting the opportunity to review online programs with my children. Not only does it provide a fun, yet productive break from our “heavy” learning, but it also frees me up to devote some one-on-one time with the other child while they are still relatively dependent on me for learning. Not to mention the great computer skills they learn in the process!

One of the programs I recently was able to review is ZooWhiz, an Australian-based online learning tool for children 5 to 15. ZooWhiz covers math, reading, language and word skills, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and some phonics with over 17,000 different activities. The learning activities are grouped into three different subjects: math, words, and reading. Once the child selects the subject, he then selects the age range for the activities. Parents can set the “age floor” to ensure that children do not select activities below their age ability, and in the future, ZooWhiz is hoping to add more parental controls for choosing your child activities.

 ZooWhiz review

Children are given a series of questions/activities; a progress chart appears after 10 questions are answered correctly, charting the accuracy for that series of questions. The child is then asked if they would like to continue. To complete a set of questions took my children roughly 10 to 15 minutes. For 4-6 year olds, reading is the only activity provided, and at this level the questions are narrated for the child. These activities consisted largely of pre-reading skills: patterns, matching, identifying sounds, etc.

preschool

preschool activities

The math and words subjects began at an age range of 5-7 years; and these questions were not narrated. Because of this, Middlest was not able to work on these subjects unless I was with her to read the questions. Oldest worked through the beginning levels of all three subjects independently, at least most of the time. Occasionally, he wouldn’t understand the directions to an activity, or the Australian pronunciation of a word would give him trouble. And there was one instance where the activity was actually programmed with the incorrect answer. (He was asked to spell the word “tilt” but the correct letters were not given to spell the word and “tilp” was recognized as the correct answer, particularly frustrating for my perfectionist son.)

ZooWhiz review
Math
ZooWhiz review
Reading
ZooWhiz review
Words

In addition to the learning activities, children earn tokens for correct answers (plus 100 bonus tokens for logging in at home). These tokens can be used to purchase playing time at the virtual arcade or to purchase animals for their own zoo. The animals range from your typical zoo animals to mythical and extinct creatures like the unicorn or dinosaurs. Though it would have been nice to see these “purchased” animals in a zoo setting, the animals were really more like stamps that the children added to their collection on a page. But my kids didn’t mind; they are still at the age where stickers are all the rage, so a unicorn, dinosaur, or bison sticker was just as thrilling a reward as an actual virtual zoo.

ZooWhiz review

ZooWhiz review

The arcade had three different games that were considered age-appropriate for my kids. Each of these games worked on enhancing reasoning and computer skills versus learning skills. Both of my kids had an immediate favorite among these games—Paint n’ Play. For 50 tokens, the child can play for 3 minutes: selecting a black and white picture to paint, selecting elements and people to add to the picture, and selecting the colors to paint with. At the end of 3 minutes, the picture is saved for the next session of play or replaced with a new picture. Middlest found that she would rather spend her tokens on this game than collecting animals; my creative child, she spent hundreds of hard-earned tokens playing round after round of painting pictures.

I found each subject to have appropriately challenging questions. While it is not a curriculum-replacement, it is definitely a fun and challenging supplement to any learning approach. And my kids loved it as much as I thought they would! You can sign up for a free account that allows the child 15 questions a day up to 45 questions a week. An upgraded PREMIUM account (currently 75% off at $14.95/year!) allows for unlimited play and unrestricted animals to choose from for the zoo, with more features coming.

The program is still considered in the early-release stage and plans for added features are in the works. Check out the website, play for free, or read what others thought at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

homeschool product reviews

 

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine.

 

Music Together Review

Photobucket
Photobucket

Music Together is an early childhood music and movement program that teaches children birth through 7 years about music. Through the program, children learn to sing in tune, move to a beat, and enjoy the music of different cultures.

My kids immediately reacted to this music. It’s music you just can’t help but move to. And I loved that this was a product that I could use with my infant as well.

Photobucket The package I received came with the Music Together Family Favorites CD and Songbook combo. The music is very multi-cultural, and the activities are not your typical music theory lessons. In addition to the catchy tunes, I loved the ideas in the teacher manual and really appreciated the focus not only on different ages but on particular special needs as well. Within the teacher manual, sheet music is provided for each song as well as the activity ideas. Strengthening language skills, teaching harmony, recognizing different rhythms and several other skills are taught through each activity.

We opened every day with “The Hello Song,” greeting each other by singing out our names. I also used these songs as fun activities as we transitioned from one subject to another. Great for getting wiggles out, some of the songs went from very active at the start of the song to slow and soft toward the end of the song (“Riding in the Car” has several active verses and ends with “sleeping in the car” in a very slow lullaby cadence), while other songs had the kids absolutely worn out by the end.

Whatever songs we played with during our school day, the kids were humming and dancing to them all day long. Several of the songs allowed for the kids to create their own verses, which Oldest especially enjoyed. All day long he’d tell me new verses he’d thought up. The tunes are very catchy, and so much fun to move too. Sometimes we’d bang the rhythm out with wooden spoons or unsharpened pencils, use kitchen spices for shakers, or use whatever else was handy; other times we’d twist and spin, move and groove.

 

rhythm lessons

 

Music Together Review

Littlest enjoyed this time, too. I think he probably enjoyed being able to take part in the fun with the big kids. The activities for infants also helped me to adapt it for him. He wiggled and smiled and giggled with each tune.

Music Together Review
He was beating the spoon on the floor and kicking his feet to the beat. So cute!

For infants, some of the suggested activities were bouncing them on your knee, patting their tummy, tapping their feet, and more. Littlest did love this, especially to the tune of “Biddy Biddy.”

Littlest bouncing to “Biddy Biddy”

And just so you know, this is a SUPER rainy day activity. Just play the CD (I loaded them on to my ipod) and let them wriggle and jump and dance all that energy away!

rainy day activities

This product has been such a hit at our house, I can’t imagine our day without them. I would also recommend this product to anyone homeschooling a child with a special need. Though the teacher guide is written for a daycare/classroom setting, it is easily adaptable for home use.

The combo package, like I received, sells for $39.95 on the Music Together website. (Use the coupon code “Schoolhouse” to get $2 off the set.) There are also a number of other products (noise makers and rhythm instruments) and sets available for different price points. You can even download individual song titles for $.99 or the entire album for $9.99.

You can listen to samples of all 19 tunes and hear my kids’ favorites. (Littlest’s favorite was “Biddy Biddy”; Middlest loved “Riding in the Car” and “Playing in the Kitchen”; Oldest liked “Stick Tune” and “Obwisana.”)

Then, read what other reviewers thought at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

 

homeschool product reviews

 

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine.