June 23, 2015

SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers {Product Review}

If you are like me, you like being able to give your child a bit of freedom to watch educational videos online, but you also know that there are very few places where you can feel 100% safe with what they have access too. When I learned about SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers from SmartKidz Media, I was very interested to do a review on the company since they claimed to be a family friendly, kid friendly, ad free site. Would they offer a safe place for my boys to explore and enjoy videos online?
SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers~ Product Review

Product Summary

SmartKidz Media is a producer and distributor of excellent educational videos, flash-animated ebooks, interactive study guides, music, and many other fabulous media resources. They offer all of these in a media library geared for parents and students in a homeschool environment. SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers, offers video-streaming and even Cloud friendly to make their website on the cutting-edge of technology. Homeschoolers are offered a full range of curriculum complimenting video topics from fine arts, to the animal kingdom, to history, to physical education and much more! 
Because this is all through a website, it can be accessed and streamed on any internet friendly device 24/7!  This also means that you don't have to worry about downloading the things you want to see--it will be there whenever you want it, without using up any of your computer or devices memory!
Did you know that SmartKidz also offers their digital media library on your TV with a Roku streaming media player? It also can be shown on any Google TV enabled Smart TVs. These are great options for maximizing your subscription to this product!
SmartKidz Media Library can be used on any computer or mobile device as long as you have access to the internet, but the eBooks require your devices to also run Flash Version 10.2 or higher to work properly. For iPad and iPhone users, the company is working on creating a free app to allow access to the eBooks and once the app is completed, users of these devices will simply need to download the app for it to work.

The subscription to SmartKids Media Library comes with a 14 day free trial where you can see for yourself what all is offered by this company. A subscription to the site is $10/month or $99/year and comes with UNLIMITED viewing. And unlike many other video sites, there will be no ads, no links, no popups. It's a family friendly website.
Our family was given a year subscription to SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers. We used the product on two laptops (Chrome browser), and a Kindle Fire HD.

How Did We Use This Product?

Once I was given the log-in information (which is self explanatory and easy to set up), I just started looking around to get a feel for what there was to offer my family. I can easily access it on my Kindle Fire HD or my computers (I have Windows XP on one and Windows 8 on the other using Chrome for both browsers).
The library is set up into 10 different categories for you to browse:

*World of Discovery
The largest category containing videos on everything from animals and wildlife, to action sports, to Documentaries and Culture, to Health and Fitness, to History, to Science, to Lifestyle and Cuisine, and more! And every section of this category has at least 5 videos and each video is at least 15 minutes long--some are up to an hour! It's a treasure trove of videos and they have more in the works!
One of the Documentaries & Culture collections
*Music & Fine Arts
This category contains a collection of CD's put into a form where you can simply play them from your device. Introduce your children to the classical music masters, enjoy music for relaxation, jazz & blues or cultural selections.
Example playlist from the Jazz & Blues Collection
*Mighty eBook Collection
Here is a category full of eBooks that your child will love and enjoy. They are separated by age and topic--from story songs, to Aesops Fables, to Mother Goose, to fun mini science books, to just fun eBooks! Every book is read aloud automatically with the words highlighted making it very easy for your child to follow along.
Boys Watching/Listening to their Favorite eBook from the Collection
*Baby Signs Program
This category introduces the Baby Signing program! With these videos you can learn how to teach your baby simple signing--and your whole family will be able to learn too! There is even a whole section that is a Video signs dictionary--and a topic all on potty training!
*My Animal Family
This category is full of videos teaching your student all about family values and respect for animals. The series follows 5 animal families (lion, chimpanzee, elephant, dolphin and polar bear), and teaches your student about what life is like for a youngster within the species. Narrated by kids, your student will enjoy learning more about the families of these special animals!
*Quick Find Study Guides
This is a very interesting category. It is full of study guides to sort of crash course teach your child relating to a different subjects or topics--from spelling rules, to punctuation, to the 50 states, the presidents, the constitution, science, math, accounting, foreign language and more!
Here is a study guide for the 50 States...you click on a state and you see all this information
*Learning Special Needs
Do you have a child with special needs? SmartKidz Media Library has a section perfect for you! It was designed for children and individuals with disabilities and various other special needs. The themed books and lesson materials were created by special needs educators and therapists to give special needs children what they need to better understand themselves and the world they live in.
*Living Skills Program
This category is still in the "coming soon" stage, but will be a place where your student can enjoy learning little songs to help them learn how to take responsibility for themselves, their relationships with others, and their responsibility in the world around them.
*Ready, Set, Sing
Does your child love music? Then this category is for them! It contains over 200 sing-along-songs guaranteed to bring fun to your child's day!
One of the Karaoke Videos
Watching one of the Karaoke Videos

*Fun Zone
Last but none the least, the fun zone is a place where your child can enjoy fun educational games and puzzles! New content is being added here regularly!
So where did I start? Well I let each boy pick what they wanted to do and both headed to the eBooks to start. This soon became their favorite category and they have watched every single eBook SEVERAL times. 
Another category they like is the World of Discovery. Little Britches especially likes the nature videos and has been enjoying checking each one out. I enjoy the history and cuisine videos and am working my way through them myself. Both boys have enjoyed learning more about animals in the My Animal Family category, though Baby Britches prefers it over Little Britches. I think the elephant family is his favorite.
We've spent some time exploring each of the categories, but didn't spend a lot of time in the Fine Arts &Music, Baby Signs or Special Needs categories. They are great categories, but not areas that my family needs right now. 
Baby Britches loves to sing though, so he has recently been enjoying the Ready, Set Sing category where he can hear favorite songs and watch the little videos that go with them. Another thing he likes is the Fun Zone. Especially the puzzles and hide and seek games.
Playing the mouse and cups hide and seek
Everything is easy to navigate and clearly marked, making it very user friendly--even for my youngest (age 4).

What Were Our Thoughts On This Product?

Both boys love being able to have the freedom to explore the site and I am 100% comfortable with them doing it. I have previewed videos from most all the sections and find them to be mostly appropriate for what our family watches.

There are a few cons I will mention about the videos:

*Language
On the Animal Soap Operas, the phrase Oh My God is used and maybe a couple other euphemisms that our family does not use nor approve of. Because of that I did make the decision NOT to allow the boys to watch these. But there are only 3 videos (I think) and it doesn't take away from the site at all.

*Nudity
In learning about the cultures of the world, there are videos of tribal nations. This means there is some nudity that comes up--but it's done as part of learning about the culture. Our family is okay with this because it's just how people live; however, we will watch it together so we can discuss it when it comes up. But some families might not want their children seeing this without warning.
*Evolution
There is mention of the evolutionary theory in the nature videos. The company is a worldview program, so there will not be mention of God or Christianity in the lessons in general. We are used to this in most of the nature documentaries out there, so while I prefer it not to be there, it's not anything we haven't already spoken about. 

*Old School Video Style
I say this because some of the videos are early 90's in graphics and quality--predominately in the eBooks or the Ready, Set, Sing videos. While it isn't a big deal, it would be nice to bring the videos up to date as the company continues moving forward.
*Clothing
I did not like the apparel of the people doing the exercise for kids. The girls and woman were wearing two piece exercise outfits that showed off their midriffs and really just wasn't necessary. It would have been much better with them wearing just shorts and tank tops or t-shirts. Because this is not a "cultural" thing like the tribal nudity complete linked to their culture, I prefer it to be covered up.
In summary, though there were still a few things I had issues with, overall I felt that it was a good program and one that we will continue to use over the next year. I can see how some of the areas would be easy to work in with current things you are studying, or could be used for writing reports. I liked that the website streamed perfectly on my Kindle, which meant that Baby Britches would be able to watch videos right along us while we worked on other things.
Watching the videos on the Kindle Fire HD

Would I Recommend This Product?

Hmm. If you are needing a media library to draw from to help you expand what you are working on with homeschooling, and need it all in one place with unlimited access, then yes. If you are looking for a place where your child can safely navigate and explore learning videos without worrying about content, adds, links, pop-ups, ect. then yes. 
Would I have purchased a subscription to this product? No. Because of what it is created for--for homeschoolers to have one place to find a plethora of educational videos without seeking them out-- while very great, it's not something that I particularly need. It's an extra. I have access to a lot of videos and I rarely let my children have screen time without my watching eye. So I don't "need" a site like this. And I don't have the funds to really pay for an extra like this--without it having a major role in our homeschool, which it wouldn't.
BUT--since we do have it, I do enjoy being able to let my boys explore the site, knowing that all the videos are going to be appropriate and without all the things that cause issues as I mentioned above. I only ask that they tell me what they are going to watch so I can make sure it's something I've previewed first.

Want To Know More?

I reviewed the full year subscription to SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers from SmartKidz Media. You know what we think about it, but why not check out what the rest of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thinks--and enjoy seeing some more of the videos offered by the site.
SmartKidz Media Review
If you want to learn more about SmartKidz Media, make sure you connect with them on these social media outlets:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/smartkidzhomeschool
Twitter: https://twitter.com/smartkidzmedia
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I was happy to find out that this website provided some great videos and read aloud books for the boys to enjoy without the junk ads and constant external link access other websites have (like YouTube). I also was glad that I can let them work through the videos without having to regularly worry about what they are watching. I look forward to continuing to let them use SmartKidz Media over the upcoming months--especially on road trips!
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