Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

Discovery Studies: Foreign Language

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 13 (part 2)

WholeHeartedI think most of us have heard about the benefits of learning a foreign language when you’re young, and the Clarksons addressed that a bit in this chapter on “Discovery Studies.”

“Scientists believe that the first ten years of a child’s life are the peak time for learning language.  A child’s brain in those years is wired by the sounds of language–neural pathways are constructed from what is heard and used, and other factors contribute to make learning a foreign language easier and more natural than at any other time in life” (page 253).

I was fascinated by the German language as a child.  One of the teachers at my elementary school spoke German, and even though I was in the other fifth grade class, I was allowed to go over to his room when he did German lessons because he knew of my interest.  He also gave me a set of audio cassettes with a lesson book and dictionary.  I used to listen to them over and over again, repeating the phrases after the speaker.

I ended up taking four years of German in high school as well, but you know what?  The sound of those simple phrases on the cassettes stand out more in my memory.  There really is something about hearing and learning to speak a language when you are young that sticks in the brain differently than when you are older.

I’ve never fully learned a second language.  In spite of those four years of German class, my abilities were always more in reading the language than being able to participate in a conversation.  I lived in Kenya for a while and learned quite a bit of Swahili and a little Maasai, but while I could understand fairly well, I would never have considered myself fluent.  I also have a fair amount of Spanish floating around in my head, mostly just as a result of living in Southern California.  One time I even had a dream in Spanish, but I’ve never really spent time learning it intentionally.

Until this last year, that is.  I am determined to help my children have more success when it comes to learning languages.  I’ve read controversial articles among homeschoolers about why Spanish isn’t the best language to study, but I think where we live it is an essential skill.  By the time my children grow up, it may be a real hindrance in getting a job if they don’t know Spanish.  I’ve driven through neighborhoods where there are more signs in Spanish than English, and there have been multiple occasions when I’ve been unable to help someone because I don’t speak the language.

“If you want your children to learn a foreign language, you should create a reason for them to want to learn it” (page 253).

While I do hope to inspire my children with mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries, I think just living in Southern California might be reason enough for them to want to learn it.  Our neighbors speak Spanish (though the children are bi-lingual) and while Ian is shy about using what he’s learned with them, he’s also quite proud to tell them, “My mom is teaching me Spanish.”  (If only they knew how incompetent I am!)

I may not know enough to help them become fluent, but I try to make it as fun and appealing as I can, and I hope than by exposing them to the language they will naturally be drawn to learning more on their own.  Actually, I hope that I am just lighting a spark that will ignite a love for foreign language in general, and that all my children will choose to go beyond learning Spanish and dive into German, French and/or other languages as well.  And I think that’s what Discovery Studies are all about!

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

Discovery Studies: The Arts in Homeschooling

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 13

WholeHeartedThere are many different parts to what the Clarksons call “Discovery Studies,” and I enjoy helping expose my children to all of them, but my favorite is probably the arts, just because music, dance, visual arts, and theater have all been important parts of my own life.

Ian took a couple years of Yamaha music lessons, but for the last year I’ve been teaching both boys piano on my own, which is rather isolating.  I want them to know the joy of making music with others, however, so I’m so thankful that this week my boys have a chance to spend their mornings at music camp.  Both camp and their Friday music classes this fall that will give them a chance to sing in a choir and play hand chimes as well.  I hope they will love being a part of creating something beautiful with their friends.

In the last year, Ian has also starting enjoying artistic expression.  He loves to draw, and we’ve gotten several books that show him step by step how to draw specific things.  This afternoon he created a game board, and all three older kids had a great time rolling a die and moving their game pieces around the board, landing on monsters that sent them back to the beginning.  Then he told me he want to make his own book, “Because lots of other people have made their own books.”  I cut some paper and stapled them into a book, which he then spent the next hour or so filling in with pictures on every page.


I want to make sure I make it a priority to allow him the time for things like this.  He may never be a professional artist of musician, but I hope the arts will always be a part of his life.

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

UberSmart Math Facts (Crew Review)

UberSmart Collage
There are few things that can hinder a child from moving forward in math more than not knowing their basic facts.  It’s the one area I’ve felt like Ian really needs some extra practice, so I was thrilled to be given the chance to review UberSmart Math Facts (from UberSmart Software).

What is it?

UberSmart Math Facts is a Windows based software program that helps students learn their math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) through what is essentially a virtual flash card system.  Because it is software and not Internet-based, there is no need to be online once the user has downloaded and installed the program.

Main Menu

The menu bar offers several different activities to help students work toward mastering their math facts:



This mode allows the user to work through a set of facts using dot cards (more on this in a minute) and/or numerals without being scored.  The student just tries to figure it out and then clicks “Show” to reveal the correct answer.


This mode is similar to the “Learn” mode except that now users select an answer and the program keeps track of how many they get correct.

There is also an option for practicing Keyboard Entry, excellent for students who may not type as quickly as their minds come up with the answers.  Since the tests are timed, it is a helpful skill to develop.


There are two options on the Test menu:

  • The assessment test is for students who are new to UberSmart Math Facts or want to check their progress.  It tests more than just math facts.  The first section is not timed and covers counting, number sequencing, greater than/less than, and odd/even numbers. Then the timed section covers keyboard entry and math facts.  If the student starts to struggle, the test ends without moving on to the next section.
  • The mastery test shows how well students have learned a set of facts.

Students can compete against others from across the globe in a race to see who can answer fastest.  (An Internet connection is required to use this feature.)


Parents (and students) can view and print progress reports showing what facts students have mastered.


This is where parents can add students, adjust settings, change the Administrative password (required for any student adjustments), and check for program updates.

For Beginners

There are several options that allow you to customize what is shown.  For beginners you can use “dot cards” rather than numerals, which provide a visual representation to help develop number sense.  These problems are in a multiple choice format.

UberSmart Math Facts Review
Students who are already comfortable with the concept of addition can use traditional flashcards.


How We Used It

I only used UberSmart Math Facts with my oldest son Ian, who is 6, so we didn’t really plunge into the depths of what the program has to offer.  Elijah (4) asked to do it once, so I added an account for him, but then he never asked again.  Ian used it several times a week to supplement his regular math curriculum.  He didn’t ever request to do it on his own, but neither did he complain when I asked him to use it.

We had a little trouble getting started.  The first thing I had him do was take the Assessment Test.  He missed a few question about odd/even numbers and didn’t type in the answers very quickly, so the program recommended having him just start with Keyboard Entry.

UberSmart Math Facts ReviewI took the suggestion, but within a matter of minutes he was complaining about how boring it was, and I agreed.  It would show a number and he was supposed to type that as quickly as he could.  It might be a useful skill, but it wasn’t what we were there to learn, so I decided to let him move on.

We tried to use the “learn” feature first, but we both found it frustrating that he couldn’t select the right answer.  I suppose the purpose is to allow the students to guess the answer and see if they’re right without having wrong answers marked against them, but Ian was already reluctant to spend time on the program so I just moved on to “Practice.”

This was definitely the right place for Ian, but it took some adjustments to make it work well for him.  He’s a “beginner,” so I started him with dot cards, but then he was spending so much time counting the dots, I felt like it was defeating the purpose of trying to learn facts automatically. Since he already understands the concept of addition well, I decided to switch to using the numbers.  He did okay on that for a few days, while he was mastering the 0’s and 1’s. (My laptop’s touch pad must be really sensitive because occasionally answers would be selected without Ian intending to click anything, and it took a while to get through an entire set with no mistakes.)

Capture5As the numbers started getting bigger, however, it seemed like he needed something more visual, so I went back to the dot cards.  Of course then he went back to counting, which was why we had stopped using those originally.  Finally I checked “show numbers” so he had both the dots and the numerals, and that was when things really seemed to click for him and he was able to work consistently without the frustration he had been experiencing.

Once he settled in, Ian did pretty well with the program.  He tends to be a bit of a perfectionist, so once he missed one problem he would want to start over (or quit).  With encouragement he pushed through, and he did find it very satisfying when he was successful.  He was so proud the day he could come to me and tell me he had learned his 2’s.

Ian is very competitive, but he gets discouraged very easily when he’s not doing as well as he’d like, so I decided he wasn’t ready for the competition part of the program.

What We Liked

There were many ways to customize the program to work for Ian.  In addition to the options for using the dots and/or the numbers, I was able to increase the amount of time he was given for each problem.  In addition to being slower at typing than the program wanted, his mind tends to process things more slowly than many kids, and he would have been frustrated to the point of giving up had he been expected to get everything quickly.  Once he’s feeling more confident I’ll go back to the shorter settings, but for now I’m thankful that I have the option to give him a little extra time so we could just work on the facts.

The window for the game doesn’t take up the entire screen.  At first I worried that Ian would be distracted by everything else he could see on my desktop.  Then I discovered the “full screen” option, which blocks out everything but UberSmart Math Facts.  That was very helpful for keeping him on task.

This program is a great value for larger families like ours.  Everyone’s going to need to learn their math facts at some point, and I appreciate being able to just add new students as needed.

What Could Have Been Better for Our Family

UberSmart Math Facts is designed to be a flexible tool.  With so many ways to customize it, you can really tailor the program to fit your students’ needs.  However, I could have used a little more guidance as to the best way to use it with Ian.  As I said before, the assessment test said he should work on keyboard entry before starting on math facts, but since the whole reason we were using it was to learn facts, that was rather discouraging.  So then I just felt like it was up to me to figure out what to do next.

Another frustration I had was that the program only drilled one set of facts at a time.  I was hoping once it marked that Ian had “learned” a specific set that it would occasionally quiz him on those as he continued working toward the next level.  That way he would not only keep those facts in the forefront of his mind but would also be able to feel successful in the midst of the frustration of learning new facts.  Unfortunately I was never able to figure out how to do more than just the current set.

Although I didn’t have Ian do any mastery tests, I did one myself just to see how that feature worked.  I found it really distracting to have three problems at a time on the screen.  It took a lot of mental discipline to keep my focus only on the problem in the middle when my peripheral vision was seeing the previous and upcoming problems as well.  I wish there was an option to show only the problem being tested, because I know Ian wouldn’t be able to block all the extra numbers out given how intentional I had to be about it.


My Overall Impression

If you’re looking for a no-frills way of practicing math facts then I think UberSmart Math Facts is very helpful.  I know some kids do best without distracting graphics, but Ian is not one of those kids.  Without a “fun” element, he had a hard time staying on task and finding the motivation to spend time on the program.  I did see definite progress over the period we were using this program, but as he continues to work on learning addition facts, I think we’ll try to find something that incorporates more games and entertainment.

Just the Facts

  • Requires Windows 7, 8, XP or Vista
  • For grades K-6, but any age that needs math facts reinforcement can utilize this.
  • 30-Day Free Trial available
  • Download for home use – $24.95
  • Use discount code “v4 Early Bird” for a 30% discount until September 30th.

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Happy Kids Songs (Crew Review)

Looking for a fun way of teaching character education?  You might be interested in the children’s music we recently received from Happy Kids Songs.  We were given three albums to review: Friends & Sharing, Manners & Character, and Happiness & Attitude, as well as the Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills.

Happy Kids Songs Collage

What is it?

Happy Kids Songs is a series of children’s albums created by Don MacMannis (aka “Dr. Mac”), a child psychologist and award-winning songwriter.  The songs are intended to teach character as well as social and emotional skills that will help kids make choices that will lead to happiness and success. The website has links to download the music through either iTunes or  Each mp3 album contains 5 songs (downloadable separately or as a set).  Here are the songs on the three albums we got a chance to review: Happy Kids Songs ReviewFriends & Sharing (#1)

  • Sailing on the Seven C’s
  • Everybody Wants to Find a Friend
  • Sharing Friends
  • Happy as Happy Can Be
  • Together

Happy Kids Songs ReviewManners & Character (#6)

  • H-o-n-e-s-t-y
  • Quirks
  • Six Little Kids
  • The Golden Rule
  • The Magic Word

Happy Kids Songs ReviewHappiness & Attitude (#7)

  • Be Good to Yourself
  • Better Together
  • I Don’t Understand
  • Shake It Out and Dance
  • Who Knows What’s a Kudo?

Other albums in the series cover Social Skills & Bullying (#2), Feelings and Fears (#3), Practice and Success (#4), Talking and Listening (#5), and Respect and Responsibility (#8). Happy Kids Songs ReviewThe companion workbook goes along with the songs from all the albums and has two main sections.  The first includes lyrics to the songs as well as activity pages (e.g. word searches, dot-to-dots, and coloring pages). The second part of the book contains suggestions of other learning activities related to each song, mostly designed for larger groups of children. The copyright allows you to reproduce the workbook pages for a co-op or in a classroom. Everything in the softcover workbook is actually available for FREE on the Happy Kids Songs website, but purchasing the workbook saves the trouble of downloading and printing the 80 files individually.

Our Experience with Happy Kids Songs

At first, we just listened all the way through the 15 songs we were given.  Dr. Mac talks about “seeding” the songs with kids, just getting them familiar with them before discussing the meaning.  After this initial exposure, we focused on just one or two songs at a time to addressing specific things that came up with our kids.

It was really helpful to have the lyrics so we could follow along and break down the songs during our discussion.  Once we talked through the words, my kids (well, the 4- and 6-year olds, at least) were able to listen more carefully and sing along.

I think Happy Kids Songs are a wonderful resource for parents (or teachers).  Each song teaches a valuable lesson, and the albums are a great addition to any character education program.  Here are a few of my favorite songs:

  • “6 Little Kids” tells the story of 6 children who close their eyes and try to describe an elephant based on what they can feel in front of them.  Each one describes something very different.  Sometimes it is tempting to think someone is wrong for seeing a situation differently, but it’s important to remember that we each have a unique perspective.
  • “The Golden Rule” relays Jesus’ classic advice to “Just do to others what you would like them to do to you.”  How many times a day do I remind my children of this?  Having a song to sing helps me keep the message fresh so they don’t just tune me out.
  • “Shake it Out and Dance” addresses the issue of “I can’t.”  I have one child who says this constantly, and I’m working really hard to break the habit.  The song is a fun reminder that it’s better to try than to just hold back by saying, “I can’t.”

I also really like the workbook.  My kids love the activity pages in the first section, but I found the second half of the book to be most valuable part of the whole program.  There are so many great suggestions for helping teach the lesson of each song.  For example, here are some of the ideas to go along with “Who Knows What’s a Kudo?” First you see the main point of the lesson:

Focus: Giving and receiving compliments

Social and Emotional concepts:

  • Seeing the best in others
  • Focusing on the positive
  • Thanking people for their efforts

Then there are several suggestions for activities (which I’ve just summarized here):

    • Pair the children up and have them each say three positive things about each other.  Then write those things on a cards and have the larger group try to figure out who each card is describing.
    • Make acrostics of each child’s name having them think of positive words to go with each letter, like these that the boys and I did together.  (They really enjoyed this and wanted to do one for Arianna, but I wasn’t sure I could come up with three positive “A” words for a 2-year old so I said we’d hold off on that!)


  • Make “friendship soup” by having the children brainstorm different friendship traits and write them on separate cards.  Then put all the cards in a bowl and stir them up with a big spoon.  Have the children each draw a card, read the trait, and name another person in the group who demonstrates that trait.

There are ideas like this for each song.  While most of them are designed for a classroom setting, many are easily adaptable for families to use as well.

Just the Facts

  • This is geared for ages 4-8, but my younger children also enjoyed the music.
  • Songs – $.99 each (available to download individually)
  • Albums (5 songs on each) – $4.95
  • Happy Kids Songs Workbook – $12.56

Final Thoughts

I don’t plan to continue using Happy Kids Songs on a regular basis, though I might pull some of them out again at some point.  For one thing, I’m rather fussy about musical styles, and these songs weren’t to my particular taste.  (I never heard any complaints from my kids though, so I think they enjoyed them.)

However, the main reason I don’t see them as something our family will use is because I prefer to keep our character education rooted in the Bible so my kids will be able to connect decisions about their attitudes and behavior with God’s truth.  Many of the lessons taught in Happy Kids Songs stem from biblical concepts, but I would be more inclined to use them if I had an quick reference that listed Bible verses to go along with each song.  If I ever end up back in a public school classroom, however, these would be a great resource!

Connect With Happy Kids Songs on Social Media:

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The Heart of Homeschooling: Discussion Studies

Educating the WholeHearted Child: 12

WholeHearted“If Discussion Studies are not the constantly beating heart at the center of WholeHearted Learning, pulsing the life-blood of new thoughts and ideas to every part of the model, then the life will soon go out of your homeschool” (page 211).

I have always loved to discuss ideas.  One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that I get to engage my children in discussions about things I love: the Bible, literature, history, theology, art, music…

There are things to enjoy in each stage of homeschooling, but I am really looking forward to a few years from now, when I can start discussing some of the favorite novels of my childhood with my children.  There are so many “friends” I’ve been eagerly waiting to introduce them to: Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox and Dickon, Johnny Tremain, Heidi, … There are times and places I long to take them as we snuggle up on the couch and spend the afternoon reliving history in our imaginations.

I don’t think we’ll have any problems keeping Discussion Studies at the heart of our homeschool.  There are so many wonderful things to look forward to in the years to come!

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

Wizzy Gizmo (Crew Review)

Wizzy Gizmo CollageWe are always on the lookout for new audio entertainment, so we jumped at the chance to review Wizzy Gizmo‘s Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?, which takes the listener on a creative, sensory journey through the first chapter of the Bible.

What is Wizzy Gizmo?

Wizzy Gizmo offers several products that are designed to help engage children in learning about the Bible.  In addition to Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?, they have two books based on Old Testament stories (the first tells the same story as the audio drama from Genesis 1, and the second moves on to Genesis 2), and a set of cards that teach about the books of the New Testament.  (Other members of the Crew received these products to review, so you can visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to see what they had to say about them!)

Wizzy Gizmo Review

The audio drama is much more than a retelling of Genesis 1.  The story features “Gizmovision,” an invention that “takes any book you have and creates a life-like world inside a bubble.  You not only see the story, but you can touch, taste, feel, and smell the story.”  Wizzy Gizmo, the inventor, and a group of children (along with a couple of silly sidekicks) embark on a journey into the biblical account of Creation.  Day by day, they hear the words of the biblical text (read from the New American Standard Bible) and then use all their senses to observe what it would have been like to be there.

There are several catchy songs interwoven through the story, some just silly and fun, but others very worshipful.

Our Family’s Experience

Before we listened to Who Created Everything?, I had some hesitations about Wizzy Gizmo.  I was afraid it was trying to add modern elements to the biblical story of Creation in order to make it more entertaining to kids.  Once we listened to it, however, I was reassured that this was not the case.  Instead, “Wizmovision” is used to help the bring the story to life, allowing the kids to think about how all their senses would experience the wonder of Creation.  More than once I caught myself thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s what it would have been like!”  It made the Creation story real to me in ways I had never considered.

I was impressed by the quality of the album.  Although at times the acting seemed a bit forced, the overall production was excellent.  (Audio samples are available on the website.)  The music was beautifully orchestrated, and I especially enjoyed the last few tracks on the CD that were just the soundtrack with no voices.

P1030666As for my kids, all I can say is that they have never all been so into any audio entertainment right from the start!  I first put it on in the car as we returned home from a morning out, hoping it would capture their attention enough that no one would fall asleep before we could get home for naps.  It sure worked!  They were immediately drawn in and spent the entire ride listening and laughing, especially when it got to the “Mango” song.  The boys begged to take the CD into their room when we got home, and I think they listened to it four more times that first day.  Arianna, who’s only 2, enjoyed it every bit as much as Ian, who is 6 and usually likes to listen to things beyond the attention span of the younger kids.  (The recommended age is 4-12, but I think some kids on the older end of that span might find it rather juvenile.)

I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into the production of the Wizzy Gizmo resources.  The “Who, What, Why and How?” page on the website shares a lot of the careful decisions made by the creators to ensure that the products are thoroughly biblical and wholesome.

[Note: The website itself seems to be still under construction.  In addition to several typos that made me cringe, we were unable to find any of the "games, puzzles, and other fun activities" the CD insert said were there.]

Just the Facts

Final Thoughts

We want more Wizzy Gizmo!  Since the CD is labeled “Episode One,” Ian’s been begging me to get “the rest of them,” but there aren’t any addition albums yet.  Our whole family enjoyed this one so much that we’ll be quick to purchase any new audio dramas that Wizzy Gizmo produces in the future.

Connect With Wizzy Gizmo on Social Media:


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Disciplined Studies (Math)

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 11 (part 2)

WholeHearted Back when I was in elementary through high school, if you had asked me what my least favorite subject was, I would have quickly answered, “Math!”  After my days of math class were behind me, however, I realized that it wasn’t really math itself I found distasteful; it was the way it was taught.  I thrived on the challenge of math, and because I grasped things quickly, I spent a lot of time waiting for the rest of my class to be ready to move on, which meant I rarely felt challenged.  I think if I had been homeschooled and could move at my own pace I would probably have found it one of my favorite subjects.

I actually really like most things about mathematics. I resonated with these reasons Clarksons give for considering a study of math worthwhile:

“Math is empowering–it strengthens logical thinking, which can contribute to real-life problem solving skills.

Math is rewarding–there is a certain feeling of pride and accomplishment in getting the right answers to challenging math problems.

Math is necessary–the bottom line of math study is acquiring abilities that enable us to function successfully and independently in society.

Math is affirming–the beauty, elegance, and exactness of math reflect the nature and faithfulness of God (unchanging) in contrast to the corruption and confusion of sin” (page 206).

I love the sense of order, knowing there’s a definitely right answer, and working my way through whatever I need to do to find that answer.  I get a lot of satisfaction out of solving math problems, and I see that same enjoyment in my children, particularly Elijah.  I could easily see him wanting to work his way all the way through calculus.

I’ve written a lot in the past about some of my struggles in teaching math to Ian.  I want to be sure that I don’t drive him towards a dislike for math simply because I’m not teaching it in a way that works for him.  Right now I feel like we’re in a really good place, but I want to stay sensitive to his learning style and needs.  I’m not saying he has to love math, but I hope he’ll be able to enjoy it more than I did as a child.

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

Mathletics from 3P Learning (Crew Review)

PicMonkey CollageEver since my boys learned to read using, I’ve been hoping to find an online program that would be equally fun for learning math.  We jumped at the chance to try out a 12 month subscription for two students to Mathletics from 3P Learning, the company behind Reading Eggs.

What is Mathletics?

Mathletics is an online math program with a wide variety of activities that help students in grades K-12 practice math skills while having fun.  (Apps are available for iOS and Android.)  Although it is intended to be used as a supplement, there is so much here that I would feel comfortable using it as our sole curriculum, at least in the lower grades.

There are several features within Mathletics (shown on the right side of the student’ console):

  • Live Mathletics – where students can compete with other Mathletics users from all over the world
  • Activities – The main curricular component, where students complete lessons to earn gold bars
  • Problem Solving – fun games that students unlock as they earn their gold bars in Activities
  • Concept Search – an “encyclopedia” of math terms with video explanations
  • Rainforest Maths – a free play area full of different fun math activities
  • Times Tables Toons – music videos to help students learn multiplication facts

CaptureAs I said, the Activities area is where you find the core of the curriculum.  Here the student first selects a topic (see above), which opens up a list of activities within that topic (see below).  There isn’t any instruction, so if the student doesn’t know how to find the answer they’ll need to click on the help option to know what to do.  (I think this is the main reason the program is considered supplemental.)  When they achieve at least 95% on one of these activities, they earn a gold bar.


On the left side of the screen you see the two measures of progress:

  • Points are earned by completing activities and playing Live Mathletics.  The Student Console shows both daily and weekly accumulations.  It is recommended that students try to earn 1000 points each week (which earns them a Bronze Certificate).
  • Gold Bars show how many Activities have been completed (out of the total for that course/grade level).

Students can personalize the appearance of their Student Console by choosing a theme.  Neither of my boys spent any time on this, but the backgrounds automatically change from night to day, and we also noticed a fun background during the World Cup, so even without them doing anything it was never just a static page.  (They did enjoy creating their own Avatars.)

Parents can help guide their students’ progress through Mathletics in several ways by signing into the Parent Account to find the following:

  • Select your child’s course according to the standards you want their activities to follow.  Options include the Common Core and several different state standards.  (You can modify the course up to 6 times in a year with a home license.)
  • The Task Manager allows you to assign up to 10 activities for your child to complete.  (A pop-up will appear the next time they sign in and their Student Console will be locked until they complete the assignments.)
  • In addition to the online program, parents also have access to a full series of printable Instant Workbooks for every grade level (Series A-M) which complement the digital resources (downloadable pdf files).  The picture below shows what is available for Series A (Kindergarten).  As you can see, the list of workbooks is extensive (I combined several screenshots to view them all at one glance).  Each workbook is 30+ pages long.  The workbooks are one of the reasons I think it would be very feasible to use Mathletics as your sole math curriculum at this level.


How We Used It

I used this mostly with Elijah while Ian and I were busy with other lessons.  (He’s only 4 and not even going into Kindergarten this year, but he just adores all things math-related and I knew he’d have no problem doing Kindergarten level work.)   He usually worked independently, though occasionally I would sit with him just to get familiar with the program.  For the most part we stuck with the Activities, Problem Solving, and Rainforest Maths.  I only did a little of the workbooks with him because he hasn’t done a lot of writing up to this point.


Once Ian saw what Elijah was doing with Mathletics online he wanted to get in on the fun, so I showed him how to sign on as well.  At first he started in the 1st grade course, and he did okay on the graphs and base ten counting, but then it asked him to add 6+9+4, and he got overwhelmed.  Since we hadn’t started 1st grade yet at the time I asked him if he wanted to stay there or switch to the Kindergarten level.  He chose to go back to Kindergarten so he could do the same work as Elijah, and I figure it will be good for him to solidify those concepts and build confidence so that was fine.

(There is an button to click to select something easier or harder, but Elijah never needed adjusting and Ian didn’t spend very much time using the program, so we didn’t ever utilize this option.)

What We Liked

Mathletics is great for Elijah because he can work at the level where his brain is without being held back by his fine motor skills.  He was enthusiastic about doing the worksheets, however, so I may use those with him whenever he wants some writing practice.

Elijah really liked the way things were set up online.  He got great joy out of unlocking his “Problem Solving” games by earning gold bars.  I was impressed with the level of thinking some of them required, and he enjoyed the challenge.  I saw him go back to his favorites over and over.

Capture 3

I really appreciated the weekly reports (emailed for each student), which have a lot of helpful information:

  • Participation summary (how many times they signed in, how many minutes they worked on curriculum activities or Live Mathletics)
  • Total points earned
  • Record of Curriculum Activities completed (name of activity, score, points earned)
  • Gold Bar Progress

Suggestions for Improvements

Both my boys loved the “Rainforest Maths” section and spent quite a bit of time playing in those sections.  It seemed a shame that they didn’t get points for any of the time they spent there.  I understand that it’s an “extra” and that they want to encourage students to complete curriculum activities, but since the games all had some educational value it would have been nice if the time there helped them reach their weekly points goal.


Just the Facts

NOTE: When I signed Elijah up for the 10-day free trial, I got an email about a week into it offering 25% off if I purchased a subscription right then.  After I missed that window, there was an offer for 10% if I signed up by the end of the 10-day “Guest Pass” period.  So if you’ve decided after the first few days that you’re going to want to sign up, do so right away!

My Overall Impression

Mathletics was everything I was looking for in an online math program, with a careful balance of solid curriculum and entertaining games and rewards to keep them interested.  I don’t want to require any schoolwork for Elijah until he is at least Kindergarten age (still one more year to go), but this is perfect for him to work on according to his interest level.  And while I am happy with Ian’s current math program right now, if we need a break from it I would be very comfortable using Mathletics alone for his 1st grade math.

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Lightning Literature & Composition – Grade 1 (Crew Review)

PicMonkey CollageIt’s no secret that we have a house full of book lovers.  Literature has been one of the most important parts of our educational journey since I first started being intentional with Ian about “school” when he turned 2.  So I was intrigued when I heard about Lightning Literature & Composition: Grade 1 from Hewitt Homeschooling, and blessed by the chance to review the Teacher Guide and Student Workbook over the last four weeks.

About This Program

Written by Elizabeth Kamath, Lightning Literature & Composition: Grade 1 incorporates quality children’s literature into a study of English grammar and mechanics while also guide them in writing their own compositions, making it a very thorough language arts curriculum.

P1030534xThe 302-page Teacher Guide is a softcover book that clearly lays out the lessons for each day.  The Teacher’s Guide includes questions to ask about the literature being used that week (and a place to record the student’s answers), instruction about the grammar or mechanical concept being taught (while teaching a specific concept such as when to use capital letters or what punctuation goes at the end of a sentence (with the focus on one concept each week), and specific instructions for the planning or writing of that week’s composition.

Each week’s literature lesson centers around a particular children’s book and also includes one of Aesop’s fables.  The books used include some of our favorite titles.  During the four weeks of our review, we revisited Harold and the Purple Crayon, Madeline, The Snowy Day, and Caps for Sale, and the list for the rest of the school year (36 weeks total) is equally delightful.

P1030535xThe Student Workbook is over 450 pages long! (The last lesson ends on page 439, but then there is a section for the child to create their own “dictionary” at the end, with a page for each letter.)  Most of the pages relate to the story for that week, even the grammar worksheets, which not only help the student practice the concept being taught that week but also review the concepts previously covered.

The pages are printed in full color on high quality, fairly glossy paper.  Everything is written in a large font that keeps the appearance simple and easy for the child to read.  The pages are 3-hole punched and perforated, which is really helpful given the book’s size.  It would be much easier to tear out the pages before giving them to the child to complete and then collect them in a separate notebook as opposed to having him try to work in such a thick book (especially since some are double-sided).

Additional materials needed are the children’s books (all are well-known titles that should be available at your local library), a copy of Aesop’s fables (available for purchase from Hewitt Homeschooling, or there are several free versions available online), and a composition book (or 3-ring binder in which to collect the child’s compositions).

How We Used It

We usually read the book of the week early in our day, when we gathered on the couch to read several things together.  (The book is scheduled to be read twice a week, but we usually did it at least three times.) It was a cozy story time that all my kids enjoyed being a part of.  P1030438xAfter the story my little ones would go off to play and Ian and I would talk through any of the planning steps for that week’s composition.  Then as we got ready to head to our school room for “seat work,” I went over the grammar and mechanics lesson with Ian and explained what he would be doing in his workbook.

Ian gets frustrated with too much writing, so I usually only had him do the workbook pages and the final draft of his composition.  I wrote notes on all the brainstorming, planning, etc. that we did together, and he dictated the rough drafts to me.  Then on Thursdays he would copy his final draft.

The Teacher’s Guide leaves Fridays open for catching up or doing additional activities.  We usually had finished our work, so we either took Fridays off or did something extra to go along with the literature.

What We Liked

I loved the literature selections, and reading the books was definitely our favorite part of the program.  It is easy to use because every part of each day is clearly written out in the Teacher Guide.  I especially liked the suggestions at the end of each week for additional activities related to the books.


The other thing I really liked was the gentle approach to composition. It was our first time doing anything of this sort, but Ian enjoyed creating his own stories, and this program did a great job of guiding him step by step.  There was never an overwhelming amount of work on any one day, but instead the process was broken down into simple tasks to help him craft his compositions.  After seeing how much he enjoyed this I am definitely planning to get him a composition book in which to copy stories he writes.  I think he will really like creating a book of his own work.

What Didn’t Work for Our Family

While I appreciated the inclusion of Aesop’s Fables in the curriculum, I would have liked a little more direction in how to use them.  My plan originally was to have Ian narrate them back to me, but the very first week that idea was challenged by the selection of the fable.  Even I was puzzled by what the moral was supposed to be teaching, so I wasn’t really able to help Ian figure out what the story meant and we didn’t do much more than just read it.  Thankfully, the fables in the following weeks were clearer, but I still would have liked a little more guidance on including them in our lesson.

Aside from that, however, the overall approach of Lightning Literature & Composition just doesn’t really fit well with my philosophy of education.  I try not to use worksheets very often and don’t plan to spend a lot of time focusing on grammar and mechanics until my children are older, preferring to let them pick up the concepts more naturally through copywork and reading, and then address issues as they come up rather than through a systematic approach.

P1030545Even if I felt like worksheets were a productive use of my children’s time, I’m not a fan of consumable resources.  The student workbook is easy for students to read because it keeps things simple, but that also means there’s not a lot on each page.  It felt really wasteful when I had Ian complete pages that seemed unnecessary to me.

Not only do I feel guilty wasting so much paper, but with multiple children in our family, I lean more toward materials I will be able to use over and over again.  When I do use an occasional worksheet, I prefer something in pdf form that allows me to print only the pages I want and reuse them for each of my children.  I would be more inclined to use this program if the student guide were available as a downloadable pdf that could serve our family in years to come.

My Overall Impression

I know my methods of homeschooling don’t work for every family.  I tend to like a lot of flexibility and don’t usually follow curriculum the way it’s intended.  If you’re like the many who prefer to have scripted lessons and detailed plans, I think this is a great choice for 1st grade language arts.  You and your children will enjoy the wonderful literature, they will learn a lot about grammar and mechanics, and they will have the opportunity to grow as writers through the well-planned composition portion of the curriculum.P1030532x

Just the Facts

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Disciplined Studies: Language Arts

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 11

WholeHeartedMaybe it’s because I come from a family of teachers and have my own classroom experience, but I’ve never struggled with the insecurity I know many homeschool moms feel when they think of the enormous responsibility they have taken on as their children’s main teacher.  The only time I waver a bit is in areas when I’m taking an approach that’s completely different from the way something is taught in schools.

One of the main places I see this is with language arts.  Schools tend to use a systematic approach to teaching things like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and composition.  I feel those things are best taught through regular exposure to good literature.  The Clarksons have a similar approach.

“The more language your children are exposed to in the early years, the more they will naturally acquire good grammar.  Grammar rules, which will never by themselves make any child good at grammar, can wait until your child is writing easily and well at around age ten, and then only if they are needed” (page 199).

The same is true for things like punctuation and spelling.  Rules and word lists are not as affective as constant interaction with the written word.  We use methods such as reading aloud, narration, copywork, and dictation to teach the same concepts, and it feels so much more natural helping Ian pick things up as we go along.  I need to remember this when I start seeing what other people are doing and get worried.  I really appreciated this chapter because it reassured me I’m not being negligent by postponing the technical side of things.

In my college music history class I remember being struck by the knowledge that composers like Mozart and Beethoven grew up learning music theory and the mechanics of writing music by paying careful attention as they copied beautiful music of other composers note by note.  In the same way, I believe my children will learn how to write and communicate best by paying close attention to how other authors have used beautiful language before them.

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!

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