new toy

July 21, 2013

We  used  the computer frequently to do online school last year, but I also have allowed her to use it outside of that–she has her own account on our computer with access to some kid friendly software and internet pages that I have bookmarked for her. She is allowed free reign but doesn’t take gross advantage of that–she  spends maybe 30 minutes to upwards of an hour in a week on the computer.  I have been interested in getting a tablet for her–I love how they are portable and their ease-of-use–but I could never justify spending what it costs for new or even older models of the iPad (the only brand I had been considering). Then I saw an android-based mini tablet on sale for under $100 and went for it.

When we first got it she spent considerably more time on it than she ever had on the desktop computer but her usage has finally leveled out in the last month to a couple hours per week. I plan to use it rather than the desktop for her school–for capturing stories, for ready reference, etc.  I also would like it to be one more way to strew things for her; this means searching for good apps, e books, etc. which I have realized is a bit more work for android-based devices.  So far I have only installed free things but those that we like I will likely upgrade.

Here are some of the favorites–

BrainPOP Jr. Movie of the Week

Moby and Annie were introduced to her through the online school. The videos are little bites of information about a given topic. They would be a good way to introduce a topic because I found many times that the info presented has lead her to ask for more.

KIDO’Z Play Mode-Safe For Kids

This is how she accesses the tablet b/c I’d rather her not buy me any 1962 Austin Healey Sprites. It comes with some preloaded games and videos but you can also add approval to any apps you have on your device, remove games you don’t want, add YouTube videos, remove and add links to web pages. I have really taken advantage of the ability to add YouTube videos and web links, adding things for fun and learning.

Eggy 100 HD

She laughs so much when she plays this. They have a 250 word app but I wish they had more.

Marley’s Math Farm

The favorite math app so far; it’s for doing addition and subtraction with money.

Minecraft – Pocket Ed. Demo

This is by far what she spends the most time on–on the building portion not the survival b/c the monsters are too creepy. I have to admit that I have had fun building, too.


I really don’t see a need to buy any e books. These are classic stories with beautiful illustrations, interactive features, and are narrated, too. Right now they are just right for where she is in her reading level.

Princesses Learn Spanish

She has fallen prey to the princesses. The app blends English and Spanish in story format and has coloring pages and interactives to go with each story.



Since I posted last time in July we have been busy, busy, busy. School started for Bug at the first of August and I started at the end of August. Both of us are doing school over the Internet and it has been interesting to say the least.

My virtual schooling is actually loads of fun. Discussions for my classes take place in a on-line forum format, which in undergrad was referred to as the sandbox but at times had the tendency to seem more like a litter box. I am happy to report that is not the case with grad school–I have had to really really think through some deep issues in answering questions my professors and classmates pose. In my tech class we don’t do as many discussions but instead work through a series of labs. One lab included an assignment to create a simple web page with html. I decided to include Bug because she likes to help and because it would be a great excuse to spend time with her when I usually don’t get to.  Here are the results.

Bug’s virtual schooling is going okay. How it works is that a virtual public school uses the national k12 curriculum.

For the most part the curriculum is fine. The only issues I have had so far is that we absolutely loathe the music curriculum, reading strategies for sight words are limited, and I am not to keen on the order of math lessons. 

  • The music curriculum is very baby-ish–I really just wish they would call a quarter note a quarter note and I might could stand the sugary simple songs they use. 
  • The reading was def a struggle when we first started in terms of sight words. Last year she learned with 100 Lessons, which had an effective strategy in introducing words that don’t follow the rules. The k12 reading program includes some words that can be sounded out  but many that cannot(at least with what sounds she has learned so far) but the only strategy it gives for memorizing these is one canned speech about “picture the word in  your mind” etc. We finally find our own way that works for her though.
  • My issue with the math curriculum is that they want her to memorize math facts before giving her strategies. With Right Start last year I feel like she was given a strong foundation to where she was able to see patterns and eventually memorize facts. With k12 I guess I am supposed to just drill the facts but this doesn’t seem like it leads to a full understanding and erodes what skills she built up last year.  I am not sure how I am going to deal with this issue yet beyond ignoring the lessons where it requires her to memorize because that doesn’t seem like a good strategy. We’ll see.

Otherwise the content of the curriculum seems fine and I do like how it is organized and accessible on-line. There were some connectivity problems earlier in the year due to the issue of heavier traffic than they anticipated, which made it difficult to access materials that exist solely on-line (even with the 70+ lbs of materials sent to us there are still several subjects that require the on-line texts to be implemented). If I prepare ahead of time I can print or make notes on the materials on-line so we can get away from the computer (we had school at the park one day) but for the most part we sit at the computer during the time we do her lessons (I might do another post that gives a glimpse into what we do in a day).

I could get over all of the issues I mentioned if it were not for the new regulations put on the virtual school by the state. These regulations were not communicated to me before or during the enrollment process, in fact I didn’t learn about them until the first week of school. The new requirements concern attendance and learning from the teacher (at this school I am considered Bug’s learning coach and we are assigned to a teacher who monitors her progress). One component of the school is the elementary version of the sandbox called class connects (CC’s).  This year attendance at CC’s are required thirty minutes three days a week–she has to be at the CC at a specified time as they are synchronous versus before this year when they were a asynchronous.  In addition to this there are reviews and enrichment lessons with each CC (which are not required but Bug wants to attend), small group meeting once a week, and conferences with her teacher once a month.  All of this ties us to computer more than I like and keeps us from being able to have face-to-face interactions (for example CC’s are scheduled during the art class Bug attended and loved last year)  This and other issues have made me want to look elsewhere for school next year–kind of stuck with it for this year unless a real deal breaker comes along.  For me the cons outweigh the pros.

I am excited to tell you though that since we will not be doing virtual school for her next year I decided we will go back to hs’ing.  I have slowly started to get an idea of what we will do next year, which I will share through in a page on the menu–I think I may have lost you with the length of this post . 

TTFN, ta ta for now (Yes, we’ve been reading Pooh).

Planet Explorers New York City is full of fun facts about famous landmarks and the history of NYC. While it is written for tween tourists of the Big Apple, it can also be enjoyed by an armchair traveler to learn trivia about the city. I used it as part her geography lesson of NYC.

When asked what she thought of the book she said it was “older-ish,” which makes sense considering its intended audience—it is makes reference to popular culture and historical background that she did not get but a 10-year old probably would—and she still prefers picture books.

Still, I think the book is helpful in providing kid-friendly information, and I especially appreciated the links within the text of the guide and the list of NYC-related websites that help to explore the city further. As far as evaluating the writing style, you can get a good feel for by viewing the sample provided on Smashwords (the link above); I don’t feel that I can fairly judge this because I am not familiar with this genre of books—this is the first travel guide that I have read. I think that more pictures/images especially of maps would be helpful to get a proper view of the city—we used it along with interactive maps—but otherwise Planet Explorers New York City provides a fun look at NYC.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free to review. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

my new love

September 17, 2011

I noticed that I  mostly post about nature study and social studies so I thought I would spice things up by sharing a resource I found recently–

                        Follow Me on Pinterest

At first I thought it was just good for keeping up with cool books, toys, clothes, etc. but I eventually caught on that I can use it for our home school, too. Not only can I have a visual space for all the hs related bookmarks I’ve collected, but I can contiue to collect relevant articles, etc. by browsing through the boards of other Pinterest users.

I have to admit that I have spent much of my leisure time lately pinning and repinning, but today I made it worthwhile by actually doing one of the projects I pinned.

When we started school back in August Bug was so excited about learning to read, but now I am noticing a lack of enthusiasm when it comes time for reading lessons. We are using Engelmann’s Teach Your Child to Read, which I thought would work well for both of us, but every time we sit down to do it, she groans and I tell her if we just push through it we can move onto something else. This is not the attitude I want either of us to have.

Thankfully she has not lost that gleam in her eye when she picks up a book and she loves writing lessons. To make the reading lessons better I thought we could go beyond the Engelmann book with some hands-on activities. Thanks to Pinterest I found just that. Here is a link to the original post from the Filth Wizard blog. And here is a pic of her very own little set of Lego spellers that I made today (complete with the letters to build her favorite word–rat).

review: starfall

November 6, 2010

Internet resource review of Starfall‘s ABC practice for kindergarten–

This page provides pre-reading and computer practice for younger children.

 It is a great introduction to using the computer’s mouse–L has an easy time navigating within the page without moving to others since the lay-out brings the kids’ attention to the big bright bold letter buttons (and no distracting advertisements).

Within each letter page, the kids navigate by clicking on the featured letter (it sparkles if they haven’t done so within a few seconds) and arrows to move on to the next screen for the letter. At the end of each letter page, there is a simple game where the kids click once on a letter and drag and drop it into the correct place. All along the way the activities reward successful navigation with simple animations, which also help enforce letter symbol and sound recognition.

Along the bottom row, there are also short video’s with songs and a mix of animation and live-action that reinforce phonemic awareness.

Both the activities and  songs make this page a useful supplement when working on pre-reading skills.