Friday, November 25, 2011

A reading game from the author of Worldy Wise

Most of you know we love games at our house. So when I was given the opportunity to review a reading game, aptly titled, The Reading Game, I was excited to see what it was all about. In the back of my mind, I thought maybe Miss O, my emerging reader, may be too good at reading to benefit from this game, but never the less, we gave it a go.

The Reading Game comes with several decks of leveled word cards and a corresponding leveled reader for each deck. The player uses the cards to play a memory game. When the words on the cards have been memorized, the player then reads the book. During the course of the game, the child memorizes 180 of the most commonly used words in early reading. The goal of The Reading Game is to make learning to read fun for the student and to help give their reading skills a little boost in a low stress situation.

In the end, I was right about Miss O being too advanced in her reading skills for this game. She is already reading most all of the 180 words that were introduced, and the few she didn't recognize she memorized on the spot. So from an educational standpoint, this game was past its' prime for our household. Does that mean it's a bad game? Not really. It's just that since my youngest reader has already learned the words in the game, there was no real educational point in playing it.

In terms of fun factor, I wasn't particularly impressed. I was really expecting a reading game, something new and different, not just decks of word cards and instructions on how to play memory. Memory isn't the most exciting game, my kids have played probably dozens of memory games in their short lives, and it wasn't all that fun for them. Is this always the case? Probably not. There are probably kids who love memory games, and those kids would probably really like this game. For us though, it was a little dry.

Quality-wise, the game itself is packaged neatly and nicely in a little box with colorful decks of cards that appear sturdy enough to be used many times. The readers are paperback, printed in black and white on glossy paper. They aren't fancy, but they do the job. The Reading Game sells for $24.95 here. Free worksheets and assessment printouts are available here.

Please note: I was sent The Reading Game free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I am not obligate to give a positive review.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Math Mammoth

Have you ever wondered about Math Mammoth? I know I have. On the different homeschooling forums I frequent, whenever people ask about quality math programs, Math Mammoth is mentioned as both a quality program and an affordable one. I know all the talk made me curious. So I was excited when I found out I would get to review one of their programs.

Maria Miller, the creator of Math Mammoth worked with each crew member who was reviewing her products individually. She helped us choose just the right program for the particular learner in our home. Apparently this is a regular practice of her, so I give two thumbs up right off the bat for excellent customer service. Maria chose for me both her full 2nd grade curriculum (Light Blue series), and also her multiplication book. I was delighted with her choices and printed out the full 2nd grade text that night!

A little background on how Math Mammoth works may help those of you who are unfamiliar with its' format. Maria has different "series" or kinds of work texts. They are downloadable, so you can print them as many times as you want or need and this also keeps the costs down for you. CD or printed copies are available for those who desire them. Maria has full curriculum sets which are listed by grade level. She also has individual work texts which cover a particular topic--for instance I received one book just on multiplication. These are helpful for students who are struggling in just one area and need extra practice. Check out her FAQs page for more information on how these items are sold and how the grade levels match up to the topics.

In terms of pricing, as I said, Math Mammoth is affordable. I received the full curriculum for 2nd grade, and this runs for $34.00. The multiplication book I received is $5.00. Maria does not actually sell her products on the Math Mammoth site, but you can purchase them on Currclick or Kagi or Lulu. Learn more about that here where she gives direct links to her stores on each site.

Here are my thoughts. Neither of my kiddos are workbook kiddos. Some kids are, and some parents or teachers are. And that's great. But my son can take 30 minutes to do just one Math Mammoth worksheet filled with old concepts for review. Since Kinder we have been using a very hands-on approach that is really teacher intensive and very oral. Math Mammoth is a different approach altogether. It's much more of a paper and pencil math curriculum that requires the student to write quite a bit. There is very little actual "teaching" going on in my opinion, or at least in the way I am used to teaching. Short explanations and lots of practice seemed to be what I observed when using this with Little Bean. That works for a lot of people. So I'm not saying Math Mammoth isn't a quality curriculum. I'm just saying that for us, it's a little to worksheet oriented.

As for how math is taught, Math Mammoth leaves room for teachers to introduce their own manipulatives and make it more of a hands-on approach, certainly. The worksheets are colorful and make use of visual models to help the student understand the concepts. I'm a bit of a manipulative snob though; I believe only certain ones are worth using. I believe that just having a picture of ten balls in rows of two isn't necessarily going to help the student understand what ten looks like. Or counting out beans or plastic bears when adding isn't much of an improvement from using nothing at all. So I guess for me, some of what I saw on the worksheets was visual, but not necessarily helpful to the student. I hope that makes sense.

So is Math Mammoth worth it? Well, that all depends on what you're looking for. Take the Math Mammoth tour so you can get samples of the workbooks and decide for yourself if this is something you want to invest in.

Please note: I received my copies of Math Mammoth for free in exchange for my honest review. I am not obligated to give a positive review.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What's going on

I know, I know, I've been so MIA from my blog...but it's not for lack of fun things to share with you all! Recently we learned to play subtraction chain games in Right Start Level C. We made Spartan and Athenian magnetic paper dolls, we delved into creative writing with some fun projects and poems, we learned how bones and muscles work together to make our body move, and we played a neat fraction card game. All things I want to post about on my blog.

On the personal side, we are celebrating Little Bean's first loose tooth (and the adult tooth that is already coming in behind!), the baby's 3 month birthday and the piercing of her sweet little ears, Little Bean's amazing job selling popcorn for cub scouts (he came in 2nd in sales for his whole pack!), and the purchase of a brand new home, set to close in February!

In terms of reviews, I've got some good stuff coming up, reviewing that aforementioned fraction card game, a reading card game, a book on healthy living and nutrition for preschool and lower elementary, a math curriculum, and lots of other good things!

So though the blog is a little quiet, I hope you'll stick with me in this very busy time. If you do, I know eventually you'll be glad you did because I have lots of good stuff in mind, all I need is the time to write it out!

How are things going with you??

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

A computer reading program that's fun!

Some of you may have gathered from previous posts that my Miss O is a little....technologically challenged. She and the computer, they just don't mesh. No matter how well-crafted or fun the computer game is, for some reason she always ends up in tears. Well, recently we had the chance to review another computer program, this time a reading program, called Ooka Island.
Miss O actually really had fun with this one! I was wary to begin with because of our failures in the past, but she really enjoyed this one, and I'm sure will continue to enjoy Ooka Island until our subscription runs out.

Here are some basics of the game:
Ooka Island is a reading program geared toward children in Pre K through Grade 2. The child chooses an avatar to take them around Ooka Island and proceed through several different learning games. Some of the games Miss O enjoyed were the sound cave in which the child listens for a sound and her avatar is moved forward on a little roller coaster ride in the cave, and a mountain climbing game focusing on jumping from letter to letter in alphabetical order. Once they reach the top of the moutain, the child's avatar can skateboard down!

After being guided through the activities for twenty minutes, the child goes to the popcorn library to read a book. At first the books are read to you. Later, it is my understanding that the child reads the books. How it works is that every child, no matter their reading level starts at the same point in the game, but by contacting customer service, your child is offered an assessment to place them at the appropriate reading level in the popcorn library. Though Miss O is reading well already, I chose to start her out at the very beginning for the purpose of this review. But the option to bump your child up is out there for those who need it.

Once you are done in the popcorn library, the child has 8 minutes of free time on the island and can repeat whatever games they like or visit the playhouse, where they can dress their avatar in different clothes or play with the Ooka elves and their toys.

It is my understanding that Ooka Island is a fairly new program, and thus there do seem to be some kinks that need working out. For one, the download itself is quite lengthy. They warned about this one the website, that since there were so many components to the game, the download would be long. But mine was over 2 hours, and even then I had to contact customer support for help because the program would not run right. Fortunately they were very helpful and I was able to get the program going. A second problem we encountered with Ooka Island was with the avatar. Ours was headless! And if my daughter entered the "closet" to change her avatar's clothes, the game would freeze up and we had to close it. Neither of these were a huge deal to me, but I thought I'd be honest and just say the game isn't "perfect" just yet.

Ooka Island runs by subscription. It's $12.95 for one month, $59.95 for 6 months, and $99.95 for a year. Alternatively, if you have more than one child who wants to play, you can take a look at their family account pricing, which is cheaper. You'll want to check out their website because it has lots of information and some video to help you get a feel for what the game is like. Also see the graphic below for a promo code to save 30 percent!
My opinion is that Ooka Island is a really fun, well put together program that most children will really enjoy. I think if the child is just starting out, they would be the ones who would benefit the most.

Please note: I received Ooka Island for free in exchange for my honest review. I am not obligated to give a positive review.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Memoria Press Reading Program

Memoria Press sent me a sweet little bundle of books to try out with Miss O recently. Memoria Press is a publishing company that publishes all kinds of classically-based curriculum for students of all ages. I received their phonics, reading and printing program, called First Start Reading, as well as their Classical Phonics book, which is a little book that has extensive words lists to be used alongside any reading program from K to 2.

Since Miss O is already reading pretty well (she can read books like Henry and Mudge or the Young Cam Jansen Mysteries), I wasn't at all sure what I could pull from this program that would work for her level.

I knew most of the phonics portion would not work for her. I'm not against phonics at all; nor am I a die-hard phonics person like some teachers seem to be. But First Start Reading is a phonics-based program that is pretty thorough, taking a child from not reading at all and giving them a great start toward fluency in reading, and Miss O for one already knows how to read, and for two, didn't respond to the phonics approach very well in the past. I did try out their Classical Phonics book for its' word lists, starting her somewhere in the middle of the book closer to her reading level. This is a nice little companion book, and for those who need it, it does have phonics rule explanations at the bottom of each page explaining the rule the child is practicing.

The First Start Reading program consists of three components--phonics, reading (stories) and printing. It consists of three consequtive workbooks for the student, and a teacher's guide that has scripting as well as a smaller copy of the workbook so the teacher can see what the students will be doing without having to look at the workbook separately. I went ahead and started in the beginning with Miss O, because although she knows how to read already, her printing isn't the best, and printing is an integral part of the lessons right from the beginning. This program uses the "ball and stick" printing you see in a lot of workbooks (as opposed to manuscript or something else). Miss O actually really enjoyed the workbooks, though they are really repetitive in that each lesson is the same format every day.

My assessment of this program is that is a well-thought out, no-frills program that would work well for parents who a) want a phonics approach to teaching reading, and b) who have children who thrive on repetition in learning. The First Start Reading Program is $29.95 and the Classical Phonics book is $14.95. Memoria Press also offers full curriculum packages, Latin and Greek curriculum as well as many other subject areas related to classical education.

Please note: I was given this program free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I am not obligated to give a positive review.

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