Friday, September 30, 2016

In the Name of Growth

There are times in life when we have to double down and regroup.  Whether by choice or compulsion, we retreat and reconsider where we are and where we want to be.  Sometimes these moments are scary.  Failure might be glaring us in the face.  The thing we must remember is that these days are necessary.  Growth requires sacrifice and death.  When things must change, instead of resisting it out of fear, let's embrace it in the name of growth.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Spencer Learning: A Phonics Reading Program Review

Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}

Like most milestones in our children's lives, few skills are mastered over night.  Learning to read, as is with walking or talking, is a process of starts, stops, and adjustments to the child's body of knowledge.  This month through the Homeschool Review Crew we reviewed the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program from Spencer Learning. If you have a new or struggling reader in need of any kind of adjustments, this software program could be a great asset to you.
Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}

What is it?

Ultimate Phonics is a software app designed to aid and teach students to read with phonics.  It contains over 7,000 pages for a total of 262 lessons covering all the phonics sounds and rules of the English language, with each lesson containing 6 types of pages:

1) Pattern pages 

2) Idea pages 
3) Word List pages 
4) Word pages 
5) Sight Word pages 
6) Sentence pages

 Jumping around to different lessons or pages is simple.  When we first got this program my son was already reading well and definitely didn’t need the first 100 lessons.  So we skipped to lesson 100 and started from there.    A full lesson reinforces the element in multiple ways but as we went along there were some elements where we only focused on the words or sentences.  It was very easy to pick and choose only what he needed.  Another handy feature is the find tool where you can search for a certain word or pattern when you are in need of specific help.  A nice element of this program is the different senses it can activate.  For auditory, each page will be read to the student by clicking on the speaker icon or by moving the mouse over a word, which incorporates hand-eye movements and the entire exercise is a visual experience.

Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}

As you can see in the pictures, this isn't a cartoon or heavy on the colorful or fun program.  Instead it is a serious tool to highlight specific phonic issues and completely equip readers for all elements they will encounter.  At first sight of the less than colorful landscape, I began to have reservations as to how useful this was going to be, because it just looks boring.  And to be fair, if students were required to spend 30 minutes or more, most kids would drag their feet, if not go on strike.  Thankfully, Spencer Learning wisely designed each lesson to take about 10 minutes.  We would use it 2 or 3 times a week and that small amount of time was effective, but if a child really needed a lot of help, 10 minutes every day is totally doable!

Is this a program for you?

In homeschools or public classrooms, if you have struggling or new readers this would be a wise investment.  ESL and Adult Literacy programs should consider this as well.  If you expect to homeschool more than one child (who are at or below reading age) it could be especially wise.  This program is a downloadable app that will always be yours and could be a great asset in correcting reading problems before they escalate or properly equip new readers.

Keep up with Spencer Learning on Social Media:
Twitter: @spencerlearning

Check out what other reviewers had to say:
Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, September 16, 2016 A Printables Website Review

Help Teaching Pro Subscription {}
I know all of you lesson planners out there NEVER need a supplement worksheet or activity at the last minute and have found yourself scrounging for something on the internet only to be frustrated and wasting a lot of time.  I'm sure I'm the only one. ;)  In the event that you've ever had the experience or could just use some reliable extra resources, our experience with the Help Teaching Pro Subscription from might be helpful to you.
Help Teaching Pro Subscription {} is a resource website full of custom and pre-made full-color worksheets, tests and  online lesson and activities for all subjects K-12.  As any teacher worth their stock knows, worksheets and tests don't automatically translate to a well-rounded education, but they are certainly needed and useful at times.   For all of those times, having a complete library of resources and a customizable testing platform at your fingertips is pretty handy.  The more grade levels you teach, the more useful it becomes as well.  For this review we focused on Pre-K to 1st grade resources but there are loads of options for every grade level.  

Help Teaching Pro Subscription {}
As you would expect from early education level subjects, there are lots of options in color matching, tracing, cutting/scissor training, alphabet, numbers, and early reading activities.  With Miss Z, my 3 year old, we have just started focusing on a letter a week and it has been very helpful to have different types of pages that reinforce the letter she's learning.  With J, my almost 6 year old, we tried out some of the online video lessons and questions for math, along with some some customized word searches.  In addition to what it automatically generated, I was able to add in my own words.  He enjoyed finding all of our names!

Of course, worksheets have their place, but they can get so boring if you aren't creative with them.  Some of the fun ways you can use many of the worksheets are scavenger hunts, adding manipulatives for matching and sorting, gluing/decorating (with glitter, beans, cotton, etc.), and of course coloring and drawing on the back.  One irritation I had was that when printed many of the worksheets were slightly off-center.  Not a huge deal, just irritating.  Overall, I found the website very useful and the price a good value for all that was made available.

Help Teaching Pro Subscription {}
If this website sounds like something you could use, note that there are 3 levels of membership.  With the free membership you have access to the test maker, but a limit on the number of questions on each test and limited access to worksheets.  The membership I was given is the Pro Membership which runs $24.95 a year and gives you unlimited access to everything they offer.  There is also a Group Membership for schools and businesses for $199.95 a year.  Something for everyone!

Keep up with on Social Media:
Twitter: @helpteaching

Check out what other people had to say:
Help Teaching Pro Subscription {}

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Friendship is Worth the Fight

The kids opted to have their breakfast on the back porch that of course turned into a game of baseball.  I watched them through the window and couldn't help but love them more and long for their friendship to never end.  They squabble and scream with the best of them, but every time she runs after one of his balls or he sets up her tee, I'm reminded of how much they love each other.

Friendship, whether through blood or circumstance, is worth the fight.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Buyer Beware: Affiliates Among Us

I've been writing on this blog in some capacity for 5 or 6 years at least and its main purpose was to be a creative outlet for me to sift through my thoughts and feelings.  Documenting family events, pictures, and any business ventures were largely secondary.  One of my loftier long term goals has been to write/blog for profit in some capacity, especially as we have chosen to live on my husband's income so that I can stay home.  While that may not happen quickly or directly, it is something I'm pursuing to help support our family.  About a year ago, I applied to the Schoolhouse Review Crew and was given the opportunity to try out different educational materials for free with the assignment of writing about our experiences.  As a result, my curriculum library has certainly grown, but I've also developed some profitable relationships with many of the curriculum vendors, also known as becoming an affiliate.

Becoming an affiliate usually just means that if anyone purchases something through my link to a company, I'll get a percentage of commission off of it.  It doesn't mean you would pay more or have to pay differently somehow.  It just means I get a small kickback.  I'm sharing this with you so you can know and understand the circumstances.  All of the companies that I participate with have products I have tried in my own family so they aren't just random.  They also will come with a review that shares what I think of the products - what I liked and what I didn't - to help you determine if it is a good fit for your situation.

My hope is that if any of the products I review and share with you are something you choose to buy, please be mindful to use the affiliate links I provide (when available) because it will support my family directly!  There is also a new blog page just for all of the companies I am an affiliate of where you can access them directly.  If you ever have questions about a company or products, please feel welcome to contact me.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Exploring Creation with Astronomy: An Apologia Review

Apologia: Exploring Creation with Astronomy Review

If you spend any time looking into creation-based curriculum, Apologia Educational Ministries is going to be a major player.  We had the pleasure to review Apologia's Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition and before the books even came in, I knew by reputation that we were getting high quality materials!  Since my only serious study of astronomy was a super-boring class my freshman year of college and a couple of planetarium visits at the Science Museum, I was looking forward to something a little more interactive this time.  Apologia was extremely generous in the number of resources they gave us and truly provided a very interactive and well-rounded educational experience.  My son certainly liked it!

As you can see in the picture below, we received 4 different physical resources: 

1) Student Text - A full color, nice quality textbook with professional photos, suggested activities, and a wealth of Bible references.
2) Notebooking Journal -  This is an interactive tool that kids can take notes, illustrate their favorite concepts, and create all kinds of keepsake art.  Intended for 3rd/4th grade students and up.
3) Jr. Notebooking Journal - This junior version is geared toward new readers and writers so there are more coloring pages and larger lines for writing.  Intended for K - 3rd grade students.
4) Audio CD - This is a the audio recording of the text Exploring Creation with Astronomy read by Jeannie Fullbright.   If you have auditory learners, slow readers, any learning disabilities, or just need to encourage some independent learning, this is a fabulous resource to engage with the content.  

Apologia: Exploring Creation with Astronomy Review

In the front of both Notebooking Journals, Apologia has provided a suggested dailyschedule that includes the text, the journal and the optional Apologia Science Kit (which is on sale right now!).  While we didn't have the kit, there are still fun projects in each lesson that the books guide you through like building your own solar system, a solar eclipse, or a volcano!  One of the first things the student does is cut out a bookmark that has places to takes notes on it.  It must have encouraged ownership in my son because he became really excited about that part.  The new vocabulary the text introduced was fun to witness in action too.  We had an entire dinner conversation about gravity one night.  I think we impressed Mr. Butler with that one. ;)

We recently moved out of the metro and a little more into the country, but we hadn't taken much time to really enjoy the night sky.  One of the first things we did after the curriculum arrived was head outside before bed with a set of binoculars.  After the first night, miss Z would ask regularly to do it if we missed a night.  This act alone was a great family experience and created lots of teaching moments about all kinds of things, not just astronomy.  Every lesson has several scriptures highlighted throughout where astronomy doubles as Bible study!   I love the beauty of God's wisdom and creation as a driving force in education.  As I eluded to above, Apologia has produced a high quality curriculum that, from an educational standpoint, is top notch.  Still, the most valuable part of this program, and likely from all of their products, is the constant demonstration and appreciation of God's power and will in the world around us.

Keep up with Apologia on Social Media:
Twitter: @apologiaworld

Check out all the other reviews through the link below:
Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, September 2, 2016

People can change.  Many people won't change, but let's never accept that people can't.  Life gets complicated and hard very quickly.