Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {a review}

Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}
We have two readers in our home that I had thought to be pretty advanced for their age, thus not needing any help.  I had them take the free Reading Test over at Spencer Learning.  My fourth grader passed the test easily, so I moved on to my first grader.  I haven't really spent a whole lot of time teaching her phonics because she reads so well.  However, lately I have noticed that even though she can read well, her comprehension and accuracy were lacking.  She didn't pass the K-1 Reading Test, making her a perfect student for remedial action that the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program offers.
What is Ultimate Phonics Reading Program?
Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}

Ultimate Phonics Reading Program is a downloadable software app that teaches students of all ages to read with accuracy and with good comprehension.  This is accomplished by presenting all phonics sounds and rules in a systematic and direct manner.

Phonics decoding skills are taught up to the 5th grade level, ensuring that the students then are prepared to advance and decode on their own into higher grade reading.

How it works

This easy to use app has 262 lessons in total, with each lesson presented in 4 parts (shown below in bold).  There are 6 types of lesson pages within those 4 lesson parts (shown below in italic).

First the pattern or idea is presented; such as, a new phoneme or concept.  Here the new sound is introduced or the new idea is explained.

Second is a word list page.  Here words are listed that have the new pattern or idea that was presented in part one.

Third is a word page.  The "word page" is different that the "word list page" in that each word or sight word is presented alone.  Words are shown and then broken up by each individual sound.  Sight words are shown as a whole, and should be memorized.

Fourth, and finally, are sentence pages.  Here the student will read a series of sentences that include the words from the current lesson as well as any past lesson(s).

Ultimate Phonics Reading Program is interactive.  Hovering over any word or pattern will then allow the student to hear the sound or word spoken.  Right clicking on any word will bring you to the "word page" type of lesson page.  In the same, right clicking on any sound on a word page will take your student to the lesson of that particular sound or pattern.  For example, if I clicked on "e" in sled, it would take me to lesson 9 to review the short "e" sound.  Clicking the back arrow will take you to the previous screen.

Who is it intended for

Ultimate Phonics Reading Program benefits
  • young readers
  • struggling readers (of any age)
  • dyslexic students
  • ESL students
It really is for any age (yes, even adults) because it isn't disguised as a educational program within a game.  It is strictly an educational tool with no bells or whistles.  There is nothing to distract and nothing childish to embarrass or dissuade an older student.

This program can be used as a full phonics program or as a supplement.  There is a handy search bar where you can look up any pattern or word that a student needs to learn, or needs help with. 

So, for example, say that I am working with my youngest, who is just starting to learn sight words.  We worked on "away" this week, and I can just click on "find", then "words" then scroll or type in the work I am looking for.  (As a note, "away" is not one of the 113 sight words that Ultimate Phonics teaches, because it can be learned phonetically)

How we used this program

I used this with my 1st grader, who as I explained earlier, didn't pass the Reading Test beyond grade K-1.  We started off at the beginning, Lesson 1, just to be sure she didn't miss anything important.

I sat with her (although this could easily be independent work), and listened to her read word lists, words, and sentences.  If she'd get any wrong I'd help her hover over the word to listen to it spoken.

What I noticed that I hadn't noticed ever before, is that she tended to add in words that were not there when she read from the sentence page.  Or she would drop ending sounds when reading from the word list page.  For example, she might say something closer to "ged" instead of "get".  She also would add "uh" after many sounds, like "ruh" for the "r" sound.

With this program I was able to help her hover over sounds or words to help her enunciate and articulate correctly.  She has also learned to properly break up (decode) words without adding to or slurring sounds.

This is an easy and straight forward program that my 1st grader happily uses, and will now become part of our regular schooling.

I would eagerly recommend this for any family with a young reader, or a struggling reader.  Upon purchase, the program is yours to use for life, with free upgrades and no monthly fee!  That's an excellent deal for what this program offers!

Too see additional reviews, of the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program, click the banner below: 
Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}
Crew Disclaimer

Preschool Letter V

My littlest doesn't often agree to "do" school.  He prefers to just play and listen in on his older siblings lessons.  As such, he still doesn't know his basics at age 4.  (which is completely fine and actually normal, but having had 2 early and eager learners before him this is new territory to me).

Sammy spent his mornings one week watching disaster documentaries (hurricane, volcano, tornadoes).  Suddenly everything he walked on was hot lava and every cloud could be a tornado.  He even borrowed his sister's princess dress up shoes one day declaring them volcano shoes. They allowed him to walk on volcanos, make tracks, and cut volcanoes. Not only that, but the volcano would say "thank you!"

To try to squeeze in some basics (but really, who needs basics when you are a 4 year old volcanologist!?!) I made him a letter V is for Volcano and set him to work decorating.

Next we travelled upstairs (please forgive my iPhone photos, busy preschool life doesn't allow for mom's photography hobbies very often).  I made him some playdough and colored it orange, yellow and red and found our old burger king toy.

Finding printables for him proved to be a daunting task - but I did find a couple!.  1+1+1=1 has a Letter V pack we used, and 3 Dinosaurs has a couple volcano papers in the dino pack.


Kids Email {a review}

KidsEmail.org Annual Subscription
Technology is something we are quite strict on in our home.  We allow our children 0 access to many things like personal email, personal iPods, personal iPads, etc.  In saving their precious hearts from the foolery that can be found online we are also restricting any positives that might come along, like communication with their extended family. 

We do live in an area with no family close by so communication is important to us.  We started allowing them supervised iMessages with their cousins, and most recently we have allowed them their own kids email!  They have been building precious relationships with distant relatives with an Annual Subscription from KidsEmail.org.
What is KidsEmail.org?
KidsEmail.org Annual Subscription
KidsEmail.org is an email service with several unique features which allow children to communicate with their friends and family in a safe environment. 

There are three different login options with KidsEmail.org.  You can login as a parent, child, or teen, using a desktop computer or any mobile device.
Some Features:
  • Mail Monitoring - parents have option to receive copies of all incoming and outgoing emails
  • Contact Manager - add or remove contacts and set restrictions
  • Mail Queue - allows parent to intercept any email that is not from the child's contact list
  • Time Restrictions - restrict access at any time or day
  • Block Senders
  • Ad Free
  • GPS Tracking - for those that use the mobile app with a GPS enabled device
  • Customize Mail Folders
One feature we don't quite need yet, but I really liked for older kids and especially teens is that the parent can see any deleted emails.  I found this after logging into my parent account and from there logging into my child's account.  This feature is especially nice for those sneaky kids that might be trying to hide conversations from you.

Our Personal Use of KidsEmail.org
Upon receiving access to my new parent account at KidsEmail.org I set up two child accounts for my 9 year old and 6 year old.  Then I set to work adding their contacts and applying our chosen safety settings.
My kids are younger, so I appreciated that they'd only be able to send and receive from the contacts that I added to their list.  They can not alter this list in any way from within their child accounts (since I selected "no"). 
Additional settings not seen in the above image: 
  • Allow Links
  • Allow Attachments
  • Allow Bad Words in Received Email
  • Allow Tagline at Bottom of Message - this adds a message at the bottom of emails letting the receiver know the email is from a child.
  • Send Email Sender a Notification when Email Goes to the Mail Queue - this is for senders not within the approved contact list.  They will get an automated message explaining their email needs parental approval.
Under Manage Contacts you can add a name, email, and even a photo.  You have the option to add this contact to just one child or all children.  I liked I could add a photo for contacts they might not remember by name but would remember to see, like Great Aunts or distant cousins.
There are over 30 backgrounds your child can chose (or you can choose for your child).   This adds a little personal touch when using KidsEmail.org from a desktop.   This setting doesn't show up on mobile devices.
Our Personal Opinions
Email is not something I considered for my children.  Even when offered this wonderful opportunity I wondered if my kids would even get any use out of it because (in my mind) most people just use instant messaging now.  I thought they'd only have maybe one person that they could email.  As I filled in their contact list I realized just how wrong I was. 
Beyond just their being able to email, I have greatly appreciated the option for them to draw and send art. 
In addition I have enjoyed showing them how to compose a letter - using a greeting, a message (using full sentences and punctuation, please!) and ending with a salutation.  Hello hidden language arts lessons!  I've explained to them that they can be a bit more lose with formality with child cousins and friends, but should use respect for adult contacts.
So speaking of adult contacts.  My greatest joy has been in watching them interact with their Great Grandpa.  Communication with Great Grandpa has been so wonderful to witness.  I've also enjoyed watching them interact with Grandma, their 2nd cousin that lives hundreds of miles away, and their Uncle (I cried laughing at one email when the copy showed up in my own email).
And another example of their received email:
I have loved that, even though we live so far away, they can build relationships in a safe environment.
My 9 year olds thoughts:
"I really liked it because you can talk to people far away like my Grandma and Grandpa, my cousins, my Aunt and Uncle, and my Great Grandpa."

To see additional reviews of KidsEmail.org click the banner below: 
KidsEmail.org Annual Subscription
Crew Disclaimer

Junior Kindergarten Curriculum Choices 2016/17

For this little guy we are doing Before Five in a Row (b4fiar) occasionally.  He's a young JK'er, having just turned 4.  Mostly?  He's going to play. 
We'll be doing child-led learning using the books he picks out from b4fiar, or themes he picks out like Garbage Trucks, volcanoes, or tornadoes.  (He's a funny little dude).  Our most recent theme was birthday.  He was pretty upset about turning 4 though.
We are also using Talking Shapes... very slowly, I might add.  Sammy isn't one that is eager to grow up and he mostly likes to play.  So I only try to teach him when he's willing.

He loves to play with B. Bristle Block Stackadoos, making planes, cars, and construction machines.  He's a smart little fella.

Getting Started with French {a TOS reveiw}

Years ago I took a semester of French in high school. I did pass the class, but the language was so difficult for me that I moved on to Spanish the following year, taking 2 full semesters. Fast forward to life with kids where I buy little French word books for the kids thinking I can teach them the very basics.  Spoiler alert:  I can't if I can't even pronounce the words!  See, in Spanish class we were taught the alphabet and the authentic sounds.  In French class we never had that training, so if I look at the word in a picture book I might know what it means, but I can not figure out how to pronounce it.  I thought it would help to enroll my daughter into a semester with an online French class, which was lovely except we were both still confused on reproducing the sound(s) of a lot of words we heard. 

After all our struggles I seen this book from Armfield Academic Press, called Getting Started with French, and to be honest thought there was no way I could self-teach or learn from just a book.  That is, until I previewed the book on their website and got the sample of Lesson 7.  You mean to tell me that garçon is pronounced like "gahr-soh" not "gar-sahn"!?  Goodbye American accent and hello French accent!

With this preview, showing that the author uses phonetic spelling to help us understand, I was practically begging to be allowed to review Getting Started with French.

Getting Started with French

There are 172 short lessons in this non-consumable book, with each lesson taking only a few minutes.  Throughout the lessons there are exercises provided so the student(s) can practice and translate new vocabulary learned.  This is done either written or narratively, with the answers provided for us in the back of the book.

French expressions are also sprinkled throughout the lessons, providing us with little tidbits of information about some well known phrases or words such as déjà vu or Mardi Gras.

At the website you will find free MP3 recordings of the pronunciation, spoken by a native French speaker, and lesson commentaries from the authors. 

The Lessons

The lessons are structured in one of two ways.  If a new word is being introduced, the new vocabulary word and it's meaning will be shown at top, then a brief explanation is provided on how to pronounce the word or why to use that particular word.  Another way a lesson is presented is in a brief lesson about a particular sound (like the French r sound) or another important grammar lesson.

How this book was used in our homeschool
The book is intended to be used as a resource for self-teaching.  However, I used it for myself and my two oldest children, ages 9 and 6.  We'd sit together and they would follow along as I read aloud the lesson.  They would complete any exercises with me, verbally.
It wasn't until Lesson Six, The R Sound, that all previous struggles I have had finally came to light.  All along, in previous attempts to learn French, I would hear a word and try to say it never quite grasping why some words I'd say would never sound like the word I was hearing.  In lesson 6 the authors explain how to form your lips and tongue to make an authentic French r sound - very much different than our English r!
One particular example (in past), of a word I struggled with, is the word sœur.  My daughter and I must have listened to that word spoken a hundred times and could still never quite figure out how to make ourselves sound like the example.  The answer?  The r sound. 
French pronunciation finally makes sense to me after all these years!  All it took was a very well written book and in only a few short lessons I finally can grasp how to make French words sound French.  And I'm sure my husband is nothing short of in love with how often I have gone around the house chanting Paris (pah-ree). 
To read additional reviews of Getting Started with French click the banner below: 
Introducing Getting Started with French {Armfield Academic Press} 
Crew Disclaimer

Grade 1 Curriculum Choices 2016/17

We are changing things up this year and stepping away from Five in a Row as our main curriculum.  We will likely still visit it periodically, as we just love the curriculum.  Even so, we have decided to give Simply Charlotte Mason a try.  This little gal will be working alongside her brother for most subjects.

I chose Early Modern & Epistles as our history study, with a substitution of Donna Ward's Courage and Conquest:  Discovering Canadian History in place of the two days of American History. 

Scripture Memory will be from Seeds of Family Worship and Awana. 

I am not using the Individual Study found at Simply Charlotte Mason, instead I'm choosing to do our own thing.  For Grade 1 science we will be reading many "living" science books such as Burgess books and Outdoor Secrets - already a favorite

For handwriting and language arts we are doing copy work by Kathy Jo DeVore.

Grade 1 math will be the Alpha book from Math-U-See. 

We won't do the habit training offered at Simply Charlotte Mason, but rather will be studying character with Kids of Integrity, Everyday Graces by Karen Santorum, A Little Book of Manners:  Courtesy & Kindness for Young Ladies by Emilie Barnes, and themed picture books.

For sex ed we are using Why Boys And Girls Are Different - Girls Edition by Carol Greene.

That's it!

CHSH Download Club {a TOS review}

Christian HomeSchool Hub {Download Club}
Recently we have been supplementing our little homeschool with printables found over at CHSH-Teach.com.  Christian HomeSchool Hub (CHSH) is a place where subscribers, for a small fee, can find all kinds of worksheets, notebooking pages, flashcards, planning pages, unit studies, posters for your centers, and more!
There's so much offered here, with new downloads added often.  Most recently I've found two files that I immediately wanted to download and save to use in our school next week.  Our youngest little guy is currently passionate about volcanoes.  At only the age of free (three) he likes to sit and watch documentaries of volcanoes.  So, I was pretty excited to see the most recent addition to the CHSH Download Club is "Parts of a Volcano - Geology Nomenclature Cards". 
The other that I found just today a unit on Vikings.  It just so happens that we are currently learning about Vikings as part of our history and geography and this 153 page unit is a perfect supplement to our study.  In this document I've found worksheets, reading material, visual aids, puzzles, pages for notebooking/lapbooking, crafts, and even recipes!
More about CHSH
Christian HomeSchool Hub {Download Club}
CHSH was created by a former public school mom, Lynda Ackert.  Ms. Ackert left her job to stay home and homeschool.  In 2010 she decided to use her gift as an educator and creator of educational material and share it to the public via the Christian HomeSchool Hub.
This site is more than just a place to find material for our homeschool.  It is also a community were you can find support in the forums, or even share your own educational material with the CHSH Download Club.
At CHSH-Teach.com you can find a wide variety of subjects for all grades and seasons.  You can find material for:
  • Bible - flashcards, verse memorization, notebooking pages, and more
  • Languages - Spanish, French, Italian, and American Sign Language
  • Arts, Music & Crafts - drawing instructions, music instruction in piano or guitar, knitting and more
  • Language Arts - help in writing, reading, grammar and spelling
  • Math - worksheets for all grades, visual aids (posters) and more
  • Science - worksheets and resources for many subjects, for all grades
  • Social Studies - resources for geography, history, economics, etc
  • Electives - architecture, character study, social and safety education, Jewish history
  • Health - dental health, general health, and resources for body systems

The site is organized really well for quickly finding whatever subject you may be looking for.  It is first organized by subject (listed above), the by grades, by months (for seasonal content), organization helps, and finally miscellaneous resources.

How We Used CHSH

I have a 4th and 1st grader and a 3 year old.  Upon receiving our Download Club membership I went straight to the Language Arts section looking for help for my 4th grader.  He struggles with writing and penmanship so I like to give him little things to do daily.  But in this section I got side tracked from finding something for him and found something for me instead:  Create a Writing Center.

At the Create a Writing Center page I found lots of great information and ideas for creating our own little area to encourage writing.  There's ideas of supplies to provide, suggestions of what to do with limited space and budget, and there's posters available to download as well as writing prompts.

Next I went up to the Bible Related Resources:  Proverbs Copywork and basically downloaded everything there. 

I had both my 4th and 1st graders using My Proverbs Copywork for Kids, a 14 page document with 1-3 Proverbs per page.  Each of the kids worked at copying one Proverb about 3 times a week.  It was perfect to assist our habit training theme for our first semester, which is Courteous Communication.

For my preschooler I found many things some of which we are currently working on and many that I saved for later (like the volcano nomenclature cards I mentioned earlier).  My little guy loves all things with wheels (and also volcanoes even though volcanoes don't have wheels). 

In the Alphabet section I found the most adorable Alphabet Train.  This 30 page file has one letter per train car (one each page).  I've printed this out on stock card and intend to laminate it and attach it to our wall going up the stairs from our homeschool room in the basement.

In the Numbers section we used the Numbers 0-10 Coloring Book to use with our Days of Creation bible study.

For my daughter (1st grade) she's most enjoyed the Read it Draw it Write it series (found in the Reading Resources Kindergarten - 3rd Grade).  There's 4 books students can create
  • Life of a Ladybug
  • Life of a Frog
  • Life of a Butterfly
  • Seed to Flower
You can see that they fill out the pages, then cut it out, staple, assemble and they'll have a cute little book in the end!
There's also a similar resource (but much larger at 50 pages) for Community Helpers, called Color, Draw & Write I have downloaded to use with my littlest guy (there's even a volcanologist!)
I've even stumbled upon scans of books that came in very handy (and could have saved me money if I had found it sooner).  One was A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I ordered a new copy of this book then found it here at the Hub.  Even so, I downloaded the ebook so I could print off a copy of My Shadow, one copy for each of my kids to read on their own to memorize.
Final Opinion
I think at $25 (American), per year, CHSH Download Club is well worth your time and money.  There's something to be found for anyone whatever your style of teaching may be, or your age range! 
To see additional reviews of CHSH-Teach.com click the banner below: 
Christian HomeSchool Hub {Download Club}

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition {a TOS review}

Apologia: Exploring Creation with Astronomy Review

Apologia Educational Ministries has long been a favorite 1st choice vendor for our science curriculum needs, in our little homeschool.  We began our journey with Apologia's Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology.  My son was only in 2nd grade at the time but he had a new passion to learn the inner workings of our bodies and I figured, why not!?  Who was I to stop him?  It also helped that Apologia actually recommends beginning where ever there is interest because kids just soak up so much information when they are interested.

Next we moved on to Exploring Creation with Astronomy after my eldest requested to learn more about outer space.  The copy I had was actually older than our Anatomy text and I immediately noticed.  While the wonderfully inspiring wording was still found, the beauty of the pages was lacking, and I missed the layout of the narration prompts.  So just imagine our enthusiasm when we learned about Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition!

Apologia: Exploring Creation with Astronomy Review

What we have received are 4 of the 5 materials currently offered for the Astronomy study:
  • the Student Text, 2nd edition
  • Astronomy, 2nd edition, Notebooking Journal - grades 3+
  • Astronomy, 2nd edition, Junior Notebooking Journal - grades K-3
  • MP3 Audio CD
In addition, there is a brand new science kit available for this study.

Exploring Creation with Astronomy (and all of Apologia's science) is young earth, creation based science.  When reading the text with my kids I always feel like we are getting a bible study and science all in one.  The wording is so inspiring and humbling.

Even though the class is presented in a textbook form, it uses the Charlotte Mason approach to learning, meaning the wording isn't stuffy and boring, but is rich and holds the interest of little minds.

The Student Text

This new, 2nd edition, is just so colorful, visually appealing, and laid out in a way to make the narration prompts and other little extras pop out better.  Maybe it's just easier to show in picture form, below.

There's new "callout boxes" with Wisdom from Above and Think About This, that focus on our Creator.  In additional you'll find updated full-color (might I add, gorgeous) photos and a new layout for the Activities.

There are 14 lessons to this study of Astronomy.  The whole course, if broken down into four to seven assignments per lesson, will take about a year to complete - depending on the pace, attention span, and age of your student.  Each lesson offers two or more fun hands-on-activities.

The Notebooks

The notebooks have changed considerably when compared to the 1st edition.  These new ones are full color and just so pretty.

In the notebooks you'll find a suggested schedule. which breaks the lessons into 4 to 7 daily assignments.

With these notebooks your students can document the facts they've learned, add their own reflections, make little books, practice handwriting with scripture and more!

The difference between the two notebooks is the Junior Notebooking Journal offers primary lines, coloring pages, and letter prompt for crosswords.  The other Notebooking Journal (intended for grades 3 and up) has regular lines for writing, harder crosswords, no coloring pages, and has an additional "What Do You Remember" page for each lesson, where the student can get all those facts s/he learned down on paper.

The Audio CD

The audio CD is an MP3CD and as such needs a compatible CD player or a computer in order to play.

We played this on our computer.  It has entertaining instrumental music.  This audio book is read by the author, Jeannie Fulbright.

This is intended to be used along with the text as Ms. Fulbright will refer to diagrams and/or photos in the text. 

A great option for the non-readers, struggling readers and/or audio learners!  (Or for the moms that want a break from reading - ha!)

In Our Family

We used the Exploring Creation with Astronomy materials with two students, grade 4 and grade 1 (with a preschooler listening in and sometimes joining our activities).  We worked at the course a little bit every school day, instead of the twice a week chunks.  I'd read a section of the text aloud to them, they'd narrate back (starting with the youngest) and then we'd work in the notebooks for a bit.  Working for 7 weeks at this pace we've made part way in to Lesson 3, Mercury.

Even though we've went part way through the previous edition of Astronomy I decided to start over with this 2nd edition because the student text is just so gorgeous.  (can you tell I'm a visual person?).  Plus my daughter hadn't worked with us in this course before.

Here is some of what we've done:

In Lesson 1 we learned what Astronomy is, what our solar system is and began our notebooking journey.

In Lesson 2 we learned why we should never look at the sun and we learned just how small we truly are.

In Lesson 3 we made craters in our flower pot (the activity says to use flour, not flower - but we improvised - ha!)

What my 9 year old thinks of Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition:

"I really like it because of all the activities and how much it teaches you.  And I like all the crafts (the notebooking journal books).  I really like the lesson on how we see color, well I liked learning that the sun beams bounces off objects.  I liked learning about solar eclipses.  Also, I really like the other (Apologia) books like Anatomy and my new one Who is God."

To see additional reviews of Exploring Creation with Astronomy click the banner below:

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review
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