Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

It's been a chilly spring here, and it's hard to believe it's almost May! For those of you who still have snow, here are some pictures to brighten your day.

Tiny Violas, growing wild in the yard
The Dogwoods are Almost Done
Coral Bells are Getting Ready to Bloom
Pinks are Pinking
I can't believe the rose bush already has blooms!
Separated the iris in the fall, and wasn't expecting flowers this year!
Even a bud on the peony!

Is there anything better than fuzzy dandelions?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

REVIEW - Math Rider

My girls LOVE horses. Love them! The oldest started asking to ride a horse at around age 3, brainwashed her sister, and the mania has yet to leave our household. This same oldest child of mine hates math, and has had a terrible time memorizing math facts. We've done worksheets, copywork, flash cards, Math Shark, Little Professor, computer games, board games, and sing-a-long songs. I even snuck a math game onto her Amazon wish list for her Nintendo DS, which her grandmother purchased, and said child hated. She just hasn't been able to get her math facts committed to her long-term memory.

When the opportunity came to review Math Rider, I was cautiously optimistic. The horse part sounded good, but after all our other trials and failures into the world of math fact memorization, I just didn't see how it could be any more effective than the other things we'd tried. Still, it involved horses. There was a glimmer of hope. The program is aimed at children ages 6-12, or older children who still need to master their math facts. The game accommodates up to 8 players. Thomas Brand, the creator of Math Rider, developed the game because his own children were struggling with math.

Wonder of wonders: It has been easy (gasp) to get my girls to practice their math facts. They *like* it. I never thought I'd be able to say that! My math-loving daughter has already made her way through most of the levels on all four operations. My math-hating daughter is taking a slower pace, working on the easy levels first, and getting ready to move on. They have both shown improvement when I've worked with them on their math.

Each operation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) has four levels, from "Easy" to "Master." Each level involves a different quest. For example, the "Easy" level involves the rider's mom having the flu, and the rider is told they will have to fix all meals until their mother gets better. The only cure is the Pythagoras Flower, so the rider sets off on a quest to find it. The four quests are the same across the operations, with a different reward for each quest. There are thirty questions, and thirty jumps, for each section of a quest. Each level requires a certain number of points for completion. The Easy level requires 500 points, Medium requires 750 points, and so on. You do have to complete each quest before moving on to a new one, which makes sense. You can't start doing addition and switch to another operation before your current quest is completed.

I signed myself up as a player so I could understand how it works. The game controls are simple, which is a deliberate part of the design - Mr.  Brand did not want to see a child unable to succeed because of the game controls. When you're answering questions, you use the number keys on your keyboard to type your answers in, and then hit "Enter." When you answer correctly, your horse goes over a jump.  If you enter your answer correctly, you hear a note or a "star" sound. If you answer incorrectly, your horse snorts, and you can re-enter your answer. If you hit a key by mistake, you can hit "Delete" and re-enter your answer, as long as you can do it before your horse gets up to the jump. You can pause the game by hitting the Escape (Esc) key, and turn the music on or off by hitting the "M" key.

The program is "smart," so it adapts to each player. Each student practices the problems they don't know as well but not the ones they have mastered. Each time you complete a portion of the quest, you see a screen that shows whether you've answered the questions correctly or not. There are green bars indicating correct answers, and yellow and red bars which indicate slower or incorrect answers. There is a statistics screen where you can see your overall progress.

The program uses Adobe Air, which means it runs on both Windows and Mac operating systems. This was a huge point in its favor, as we use Macs at our house, and so many programs are written for only Windows. You can see the complete list of system requirements here.

What I like:
  • My children enjoy the game, so it's easy to get them to practice math facts.
  • The statistics screen to monitor progress
  • The adaptability of the program to meet the needs of each player
  • The positive reinforcement when they complete quest, telling them they are a "master of addition," etc. 
What I like less (small details, and not ones that would prevent us purchasing the product):
  • Although you can turn the music off, you have to turn it off each time you play a new section of a quest. I would prefer to turn it off, and then opt to turn it back on myself. I did mute the computer, but then I couldn't hear the horse snort when I answered incorrectly.
  • At the end of each section, you have to watch your points count out. I would love a way to be able to skip over that.
My child who "doesn't like math" is simply a child who struggles with it. This game has been so good for her, because she wants to play. What she needs most is consistent practice, and she's getting it now, and I don't have to make her do it. That, I believe, is the key. While I am not always an advocate of more screen time, in this instance, I will make an exception, because I can see how much it's helping her.

Math Rider is available as an instant download for $47, which includes free software updates for life. If you would like to try before you buy, click here for a free 7-day trial.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Looky, Looky What I Found!

We were able to visit family in Michigan recently,and one thing I got to do was stop at a lovely little book shop in East Lansing. Lightning didn't strike me, so Sparty must have been on vacation to allow this die-hard Michigan fan to sneak onto his turf.

I took my niece to her guitar lesson, and Googled book shops when we left, thinking we could make a "quick" on our way home. It WAS a quick stop, when you consider what I'm usually like in a book store, so there!  The one I found that I could get to without getting lost is Curious Book Shop. It's a lovely little shop on the main drag, right across from campus, and it is filled with books from the floor to the ceiling! I wish I'd had days to spend there among all those lovely books, and unlimited funds, but I only had a few minutes and decidedly limited financing.

I did come home with three books. They had history books, such as Landmarks, in one section up kind of high. When I came across The Story of Pocahontas by Shirley Graham, I showed it to Emma. We had to bring it home, of course. It's a lovely biography of Pocahontas. It's on the easy side for Emma to read, but it's well-written and she will certainly learn from it. I loved to read about Pocahontas (and Sacagawea) when I was a girl, too.

Then, I found Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla:

Mr. Bulla is a fairly new author to me. I have a few of his books, and am still discovering more titles. I learned about him from my friends Liz and Emily at Living Books Library. You can read Liz's blog post about him here. She also recommends him as one of her Top 10 Picks for Reluctant Readers. I am looking forward to reading this book with Isaac, and including it in my library. This book is still in print in paperback. It's a neat story about a Viking boy who lived about 100 years after Leif Ericsson. His father has taught him how to fight, and has trained him to be strong, and all he wants is adventure. He has an opportunity to learn to read and write, but turns it down, because he thinks it has no value for his life - until he finds he has things he'd like to write down so they won't be forgotten. This is a wonderful story, and I enjoyed reading it, even though it's written to be easy-to-read.

I was delighted to find And There Was America by Roger Duvoisin! I had not heard of this book, though I love several of his others. The illustrations in "America" are lovely, and it's a simply-written book for young readers. There are several stories, each one about a different explorer, such as Leif Ericson, Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, etc. 

The last book I could not leave in the store is called Little Garden People and What They Do by Ann Pearsall Sharp.

Published in 1938, it's a book about insects, written as a grandfather talking to his grandchildren as they walk through his garden. It is a lovely book, truly living, with beautiful illustrations.

This was another new one to me - I had not heard of it, or the author, before coming across it in the shop. It appears to be Ms. Pearsall's only book, and my Google search didn't turn up any other information about her. I'm still thrilled to be able to include her book in my library.

It was a successful stop, don't you think? I look forward to going back there next time we're in town!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

REVIEW - Progeny Press

Progeny Press is a family-owned and operated company that sells literature guides for grades K-12. Mike and Regina Gilleland started the company in 1992, when as homeschooling parents, they were unable to find literature guides that taught "classic cultural literature from a Christian perspective." They now publish guides for over 100 books.

We received a downloadable copy of the Eagle of the Ninth Study Guide and answer key to review, which is one of the guides Progeny Press offers for middle school (grades 5-8). It's interactive, which means that the PDF file allows the student to type their answers into the answer fields and save them. I printed out copies for the girls, because I'm mean like that. (Actually, we only have one computer in the school room, and they aren't very good about sharing it.) I've wanted the girls to read this book, and perhaps the entire trilogy, since it goes along nicely what what we're studying in history this year. I hadn't gotten around to assigning it, though, so this presented a great opportunity to do that and see how we would like using a literature guide.

The Eagle of the Ninth is a book about a young man named Marcus, who becomes a commander in the Roman Legion in Britain, hoping to discover what happened to his father. The literature guide begins with a list of suggested pre-reading activities, which are excellent. Since we've read quite a bit about Roman Britain, though, we jumped right in to reading the book. I tried having the girls read on their own, but they really preferred that we use it as a read-aloud, so that's what we did. The guide is set up to cover three chapters of the book at a time, so we read the first three chapters together, and then looked at the questions.

Each section of the literature guide is organized like this:
  • Vocabulary - Different activities help the studentes think about the words in different ways, including multiple choice, finding synonyms and antonyms, matching a word to its definition, etc.
  • Questions - Narration questions
  • Thinking About the Story -  Draws attention to literary elements, and important details of the story
  • Dig Deeper - Students are asked to consider how the main character is feeling or thinking and why, and consider the situation through the lens of Scripture 
Sometimes, at the end of a section, there would be a Classroom Discussion question, or Optional Activities, such as a writing project. a research project, or a demonstration the student could do. Some of these activities were better suited for a classroom setting, but most worked in a homeschool setting as well. At the end of the guide is an Overview section, a list of possible Essays and Projects, and finally, a list of Additional Resources, including other books by the same author, other books related to the same topic, and relevant movies with their ratings so you could choose what is appropriate for your family.

This was a challenging activity for my girls. We haven't done much with formally identifying literary elements, such as hyperbole, foreshadowing, allusion, etc. It was good for us to define them together and identify them in the story. I also liked that the "Digging Deeper" questions gave Scripture references and asked us to think about how we, as Christians, might respond differently to situations encountered in the story. I found that it was better for us, at least this first time using a literature guide, to discuss things together rather than have them attempt to answer the questions on their own.

This is an excellent literature guide. If I were teaching in a classroom or co-op setting, I would much prefer to use something like this over assigning a standard book report. I thought the discussions generated by the questions in the guide were wonderful, and I enjoyed looking at the literary elements with my girls. I don't feel that the guide analyzed the book to death, or told the girls what they were supposed to think about what they were reading, which is a concern of mine. 

I would probably use this as a tool for me, the teacher, in my homeschool, rather than assigning it to my students.  I could see using the questions to bring out more discussion if I felt they were missing key points after hearing them narrate, and perhaps pick and choose from the optional activities if I thought there was one that would be particularly helpful to them. Charlotte Mason taught that students need to make their own connections when reading a book, and as the teacher, I should not come between the student and the author. They've practiced narration for so many years, they're quite good at it. I don't feel this is something we need at this point, but I might want a tool like this as we get into high school studies.

The Eagle of the Ninth Study Guide is available from Progeny Press for $16.99 for the digital download or CD, and $18.99 for the printed booklet. 

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

REVIEW - Supercharged Science

Have you ever heard of Supercharged Science? I have heard a great deal about this company over the last few years, and have been itching to try their e-Science program. Aurora Lipper, author of the program, has a Master's degree in mechanical engineering, taught as an instructor at Cal Poly State University and worked at NASA on rockets and jets. She is a ROCKET SCIENTIST - for real! She was struck by how bored students were with science, and couldn't understand it - until she learned how most of us are taught about science in school. She set about creating her own lesson plans for science, and after teaching her first lesson to a group of local elementary students with great success, she went on to have a science camp. All this gradually evolved into Supercharged Science - a program that is fun for children and easy for adults to implement.

Aurora's approach is to teach science "from the inside out" - let children do some experiments, see how cool the results are, and then teach what's behind it all once they are hooked and excited to learn more. You don't just throw supplies at them and let them have at it, either. She encourages students to keep a science notebook, and carefully record what they do along with their results. She teaches them how to work with the scientific method and do things correctly. Here is a list of topics covered in the program:

Scientific Method Energy Light Thermodynamics Earth Science
Mechanics Sound Electricity Electronics Science Fair Projects
Motion Astrophysics Magnetism Life Science Mathemagic
Matter Chemistry Alternative Energy Biology

Would you like to see some of the things we did? I knew you would! Let's take a look, shall we?

We started out with the Scientific Method unit, because we've done very little formal science and I don't believe we've ever discussed it. The first thing they did was see how many drops of water would stay on top of a penny before it all splooshed out. Using an eye dropper, they counted the drops as they went along. It was interesting to note that Emma got quite a few more drops to stay on her penny than Abbie did.

After that, we decided to start with Unit 1, Mechanics: Force, Gravity and Friction. We had most of the supplies around the house, so it was a good place to begin. First, we read together the unit overview, vocabulary words, and text, and then I had them do some experiments. First, we looked at magnetism.

I decided that we would look at eletromagnetism using a balloon and a cat. Aurora didn't tell us to do this experiment, I promise, but it was a great deal of fun and we laughed a LOT. (No cats were injured while a balloon was stuck to them.)

Then, we went outside with a compass. I have never used a compass, and wouldn't know how to get myself anywhere with one, but they work because the magnet inside can detect the earth's magnetic field, and it makes the needle in the compass always point to the north. (The experiment was to show us that the earth *has* a magnetic field, not to understand exactly how a compass works.)

We also looked at magnetism in o-shaped cereal. It turns out that if you put some of the cereal in a bowl and stir them around so they have to move away from each other, they attract back together into a group.

Next, we took a look at gravity. This was highly entertaining for me. First, I had the girls jump into the air to see if they would come back down. Guess what? They DID! I had them repeat this a few times to make sure our hypothesis was sound. Then, we tried it with a rubber ball, and learned that, indeed, gravity still worked.

Gravity works! :-)
We moved on to find out whether an object thrown horizontally will fall at the same rate as one that is dropped (it does, much to my surprise), and then did another experiment to see if weight figured into the equation (it doesn't seem to - opposite of what I thought). These were all simple, but we had FUN while we were doing them, and they had to think about what was happening and why. After we did the experiments, we completed the corresponding exercises in their science journals.

The way the program works is this: you sign up for a monthly subscription, which costs $37 per month for grades K-8, or $57 per month for grades 9-12. For the first month, you are given access to the first seven units: Mechanics, Motion, Matter, Energy 1, Energy 2, Sound, and Astrophysics. Each month after that, you will receive access to two more units, in the order given on the website. If you see something else you want to try sooner, you can email them directly and they will give you access. Also, they have conversion charts available that show you how you can use the program in conjunction with several popular homeschool science programs. As you consider signing up for the e-Science program, be sure to read their terms of service (as you would for any other subscription program). They do have a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. If you'd like to try it out before you subscribe, you can sign up for some great free stuff and try it out.

There is a TON of information on this website. It feels a little overwhelming at first, actually. However, once I took a deep breath and started really looking at what was available, I was impressed. I like that there is so much hands-on learning to engage a child. Even the "textbook reading" is very well done - it's written in a conversational tone to the student. Aurora Lipper is passionate about science, and it shows in all aspects of the program. She is also available to answer any questions you may have.

The girls and I *loved* using this program. It really is accessible for all ages. There was a lot that Isaac could do and understand along with us. They appreciated the hands-on learning and looked forward to doing science. This program is a great example of living science and worth considering for your homeschool.

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REVIEW - Timeline Builder App from Knowledge Quest

I have been a fan of Knowledge Quest products for years now. I'm pretty sure I own most of them! 

I already owned the Timeline Builder iPad app when the opportunity came up to review it. It was a great opportunity to finally put it on the girls' iPads and see how it worked.

I love the idea of timelines. I have attempted to do timeline books with the girls. I've printed my own, and I've used bound books (the ones from Knowledge Quest, incidentally, are lovely). However, it's just not something we remember to do regularly. It can be time consuming to look up the images and make sure they're all ready to go in the book. Also, I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and my girls have inherited that trait, the poor dears. We actually bought a book with suggestions of where to put the figures in our timelines, because we were so concerned about messing them up. (It was good to know, actually, that there is enough demand for someone to create that resource. We're not the only ones! Ha!)

The TimelineBuilder iPad app makes the entire process SO much simpler! Here's how it works:
  1. Open the app, and click on the "New Timeline" tab at the bottom of the screen (it's yellow).
  2. Give your timeline a name by tapping in the "Timeline Name" field, add a description if you like, and enter the starting and ending years. You have the option to choose BC/AD or BCE/CE, whichever appeals to you.
  3. Select a background for your timeline by tapping on the "Select Background" button. 
  4. Voila! You have a lovely blank timeline! In the upper left corner, you will see a button that says "New Event." Click on that. Tap in the fields to bring up the keyboard so you can enter the information. 
Creating the Timeline

See there? That's all there is to it! Once your events are entered, you can use your finger to tap and drag your pictures where you'd like them to appear on the timeline.

I started out by making my own timeline. I thought I'd just go from the beginning of history until present day. That may have been overly ambitious, so I revised my plan. I decided to start out more simply and make a little timeline for my son. First, I created the timeline. I added his birthday, when he started preschool, his broken leg with a graphic from the internet, and picture of him digging for treasure in our yard, with a picture my daughter took with my iPad.

When you want to add an image to the timeline from the internet, the app automatically takes you to Wikipedia, but you can go from there to anywhere else. The timeline app will close when you do this, because of the way the iPad works. Once you've found the image you want to use, the key is to keep tapping it until it's the only thing you see, and then hold your finger on it until the "copy" menu comes up. Then, you will exit out of the web browser, go back into the app, and select "Import from Pasteboard." Choose the pixel size of your image, and then you will see it in your timeline record. It took me a little playing around to figure out the "Import from Pasteboard" button.
Adding a graphic from the internet
Adding a picture from the camera roll on the iPad is quick and simple. First, click on the button that says "Import Image from Library" It brings up the little screen you see below on the left, with the photos  you have available. Tap on the one you want, and it will take you to the resizing screen (above left). Once you choose your size, your picture is there and your event is ready to go!

Adding a picture from the Camera Roll on my iPad
When I was ready to have the girls create timelines of their own, we decided to make one to go along with a book we're reading,  Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall. We've been reading it over the last couple of years, and they've enjoyed it. It's been one of our favorites. Conveniently, the version of the book we have includes timeline dates. They add images when we can find them, but it's not required. It's an ongoing project, and we're all having a good time with it. They love to be able to work independently of me and not having to do lots of cutting and pasting of paper. I would still like to do a hard copy timeline book, but perhaps we will make it a family project instead of everyone doing their own. My plan going forward is to have them create a timeline for each year in our history cycle.

The only very small detail I didn't care for in the app was the way the images are sized. They automatically become square, so they are a bit distorted. You really don't notice it much when you look at your timeline, but if I had my "druthers," I would be able to choose the portion of my image that would fit in the required spot in the app, and be able to maintain the original proportions.

When I first got the app, the application that came to my mind was to use it as a tool for our history studies. It has proved to be excellent for that purpose - but you can do so much more with it! You could use it for many subjects, including science and literature, as well. I love the idea of making a family timeline. I love genealogy and thought it might be fun to make a timeline of my grandmother's life. I'd like the girls to consider doing one for their own lives. It has business applications, as well. You can even share your timeline via email or with other users of TimelineBuilder.

The app is intended for all ages. I would think any child who could read could use it easily. I am sure my 5-year-old (not reading quite yet), could use it as well, but I would have to do the data entry for him. It's available for the Early Bird Special price of $4.99 (reg. $6.99) on the iTunes App Store. Definitely check it out! They have lots of images with ideas on their website.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

REVIEW: Margarethe from Salem Ridge Press

It's no secret that I love living books. I love them so much, I'm working on starting a library so other people can enjoy them with me. I've heard good things about Salem Ridge Press and the books they publish, and was delighted to receive Margarethe to read and review with my girls.

Salem Ridge Press was established in 2005, with the mission to reprint quality children's books from the 1800's and 1900's. I've heard a lot about their books from homeschool librarians, and have wanted to read one. When our copy of Margarethe arrived in the mail, I started looking it over in preparation for reading with the girls, but quickly absconded with it and spent the weekend reading the entire thing before beginning it with them. Our book is a nicely bound paperback, and is also available in hardcover. The font is a nice size for easy reading (this has become more important to me now that my eyes are, ahem, getting older), and there are words, possibly unfamiliar to the reader, defined at the bottoms of the pages. This is a great feature - I present vocabulary to the girls at the beginning of any reading, and this made it easy to do that. The book also includes historical notes, a timeline of important dates, and a map of 16th-century Germany. The story was written over 100 years ago, so the language is a little different than what we read today, but we had no difficulty with it.

This is a wonderful story, set in Germany and Switzerland in the early 1500's,  at the time when Luther and Zwingli were preaching the Gospel and speaking out against some of the practices of the Church at that time. The main character is, of course, Margarethe, a strong-willed German girl, daughter of a knight, who has decided she hates religion and will no longer participate in the sacraments of the Church. Her sister, Else, is sent to live in a convent, leaving Margarethe essentially alone in her father's lonely castle. Through a pamphlet her brother brings to her, written by Martin Luther, she learns the truth about God - the he loves her! She teaches the Truth to the people in the village near her castle, and goes on to spread the Word to others, even at the expense of her relationship with her father.

Here are some things that stood out to us from the book:
  • My husband was raised in the Lutheran church, so it was fascinating to read about Luther and how the Reformation began.
  • My family and I have recently started attending a local Moravian church. The brochure we received from them states that they have Protestant roots that predate Luther, and this book mentions John Huss, who preached 100 years before Luther; he sowed the seeds for what would eventually become the Moravian Brethren. Reading the little bit about him in the story inspired me to learn more.
  • My oldest daughter has been struggling with her faith. I loved that she heard about another girl of a similar age who struggled with the same thing and came to know the truth about God. I hope it will inspire her to seek to know Him more closely for herself.
  • We learned what a precious gift it is, to be able to read the Bible in our native language. Margarethe longed for a German Bible; at that time, the only thing available was the Latin Vulgate and the Church discouraged "regular" people from reading it. We've known some missionaries who work to translate the Bible into other languages for people, and this story illustrated very well why it's so important.
The author of the book, Emma Leslie, was an English author who lived from from 1837-1909, and wrote over 100 books for children. Margarethe is one book in her Church History series, a set of historical fiction books, intended for children ages 12 and up. To date, Salem Ridge Press has republished the first 12 books, which span from the time of Paul to the beginnings of the Reformation, and they hope to publish the remaining 12 titles, which will cover from the time of the Reformation through the Methodist revivals in the 1800's. They are written from a reformed perspective, meaning that the characters rely on the Bible rather than the traditions of men.

If this book is any example, I would love to read them all! I plan to look at more titles to see how they correlate with our history studies, and hope to incorporate them. If you would like to read more about the books Salem Ridge Press has to offer, check out their Complete Listing page. You will find the books listed alphabetically by title and author, as well as by time period and by recommended age range. These are lovely books and I hope you will take a little time to find out more about them.

Margarethe - $14.95 paperback, $24.95 hardcover

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

REVIEW: ABeCeDarian Reading Program

My little man is 3rd in line in our homeschool to learn to read, and I haven't been sure how to approach it with him. He knows all his letter sounds, but when we've tried word building, he hasn't been interested. It's been hard to tell if he's just messing with me (reading "CAT" as "FROG") or if he really doesn't understand how to read the letters in sequence. I'm pretty sure he just doesn't want to take the time to read them. He's so silly.

I was excited to try the ABeCeDarian Reading Program from ABeCeDarian Company! The ABeCeDarian program has four levels:
  • Level A - students reading at kindergarten through mid-1st grade level
  • Level B - students reading at mid-1st grade through 2nd grade level
  • Level C - students reading at 3rd and 4th grade level
  • Level D - students reading at 5th and 6th grade level
  • There is also Level A (Short Version) for older students (8 and up) who are non-readers or just beginning to read.
The pictures say 2006, but the program has been updated in 2013.
They have a handy placement test to see where your child needs to begin. The company has recently issued a combined-volume book containing levels A1, A2 and B1 for homeschoolers and tutors, which includes all student pages as well as the teacher's manuals. For our review, though, we received individual teacher and student books for levels A1, A2, and B1, as well as the Set of 10 Storybooks and the ABeCeDarian Aesop booklet. The teacher's books and student books are nicely coil-bound, so they lay flat on the table (less important for the teacher's manual, but definitely helpful for the student when they need to write). The pages in the student book are simple and uncluttered. The storybooks and Aesop booklet are half-sheet sized books with paper covers. The pictures are black and white, but cheerful. I like them MUCH better than some of the readers I've used in the past.

The Teacher's Manual includes excellent information, explaining the philosophy of the program as well as how to use it. It explains what a child needs to be able to decode well, as well as why some children have a hard time learning to decode. The lessons are scripted, so I knew exactly what to say for each step. I wasn't sure I would like that, but it worked well and seemed natural. I don't think Isaac noticed I was reading instead of just talking with him. There is also a section on teaching handwriting, and the directions for forming letters are little sayings like "Curl back like a rainbow. Swing around." for the letter "c". Isaac had been rather resistant to handwriting, but he liked the sayings and would repeat them as he wrote. It seemed less like me telling him what to do, I think. I did write the letters using a highlighter for him most of the time in the beginning, but now he's more comfortable writing them on his own.

There is also excellent instruction on how to correct errors. For example, if Isaac were to read /o/ as /a/, I would simply say, "This is /o/. You say /o/." It's a non-confrontational approach, and since Isaac and I both lead toward the confrontational side, it helped keep the lessons focused on what we were learning rather than Isaac feeling as though I was telling him he was doing things wrong.

Since he's just beginning to read, we used Level A1. This level begins with single consonants and short vowels in simple CVC words,. Letters are referred to by sound rather than by name. Once he's mastered those, he will learn the two-letter combinations sh, ch, th, and ck. He will also learn the sight words the, as, is, of, to, and I in this level.

The first activity was Word Puzzles. This was so much fun! ABeCeDarian has free letter tiles you can download, print and cut out, but my printer is acting strangely, so we used some we already had. I told him we needed to spell a word, but the letters were all mixed up, and it was his job to put them in the correct order. He loved doing that. He was my little detective, solving the word mystery. We practiced writing individual letters while saying the sounds, and writing words while reading them. I would say a letter sound and he'd point to the letter; I would point to a letter and he would say the sound; I dictated sounds and he wrote them.

Once we'd built all the words and practiced writing them, we did "Tap-and-Say." Isaac tapped each letter on the page, saying the sound as he did so, then ran his finger under the entire word as he read it. Then, I would read the words in "Turtle Talk," sounding them out slowly, and his job was to translate them into "People Talk," reading them normally. I loved this and found it to be marvelously effective. He loved it, too, because I sounded silly reading in "Turtle Talk" and he got to correct me with "People Talk." There are also free word cards you can download and print for extra practice (see this page for their supplemental materials).

I've read a lot about phonics and reading programs, and one thing I wondered about was combining handwriting with phonics. I've read that reading instruction and handwriting are really separate skills, requiring handwriting could hinder a child in learning to read as quickly as they might. However, that was not the case with ABeCeDarian. The handwriting portion worked very well for Isaac, and was an integral part of the multi-sensory approach in the program. I used highlighter to outline the letters for him much of the time, because he's a boy and just not writing easily yet. There is a section in the teacher's manual with little sayings for teaching how to write the letters, and Isaac really liked those.

I have been impressed with this program. Isaac enjoys it, which says a LOT. He's so proud of himself when he reads! I love that it's multi-sensory; the varied activities keep him from getting bored. Having handwriting included not only helps the learning process; it's a nice way to sneak handwriting practice in, as well, without having to call it handwriting practice. If you have a child who is resistant to handwriting, you know what I mean! I appreciate that the student pages are simple with large print; we've looked at a couple of the phonics primers that are out there, and the pages were just too busy.

ABeCeDarian Reading Program Books:

(This is the combined volume with levels A1, A2 and B1. You would still need the storybooks and Aesop booklet.)

Isaac and I have really enjoyed using this program together, and I intend to continue using it with him. If you're looking for a reading program for a beginner, or a remedial student, check it out! 

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