March 30, 2015

March Poppins Book Nook...coming soon!

Today kicks off another month for Poppins Book Nook and we are all about Weather this month!

I have a GREAT post for you...with even a cool craft, I am just working on finishing it up. So bear with me...I will be posting it most likely tomorrow morning!

ETA: My post is LIVE for your viewing pleasure: Exploring Weather~Storybooks, Activities, and a Cotton Cloud Man Craft

While you wait you can check out what some of my fellow contributors created for your inspiration!

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March 27, 2015

Random 5 on Friday: Exodus Edition, Part 1

This week's Random 5 on Friday, is a bit different. I decided that I would use the post to share a special unit study we've been working on this week, and will continue next week. It's always fun to study the Exodus and the 10 Plagues of Egypt!
The Pebble Pond
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1. This is the time of year when we start adding a study over the Exodus in our school plan. This is the first year that I have included Baby Britches in our studies and I love seeing the whole story fresh and new through his eyes...especially the 10 plagues of Egypt. We are studying the story every morning during our week as part of our Bible time. I decided to read the account from The Bible Story book that has the BEST illustrations in it by famous MAD magazine illustrator Basil Wolverton. His illustrations of the children of Israel and the Egyptian plagues are pretty awesome and very memorable.

Plagues #1, 2, 3 and 6 depicted in these great illustrations.
2. I started the story with Baby Moses and love the craft I found for us to do over on Danielle's Place. She gives the directions very clearly...I only needed to design our own baby since I didn't have a membership to her store to get the template. But that baby is very simple to make. Make sure you check out her directions, so you can make your own! The only thing we added--Little Britches added a prop up piece to the back to make sure Baby Moses' basket didn't tip over.

Baby Moses in the Basket Craft
Isn't it darling?
3. We started our plague study and we are doing 1-2 plagues a day, depending on whether or not we are doing an extra craft with them or how long it takes us to make our plague numbers. I found the very awesome plague number template from Teacher @ Home's blog. I fell in love with them, and though they were tedious to pre-cut for two (because cutting takes forever otherwise), it is worth it because they really like making them. I did change up one thing so far. I used chia seed for the 3rd plague of lice (or biting tiny insect of some sort) because it's really more like what it would be like...and because the pattern included bug bodies that were a pain in the butt to cut out. LOL.

Plagues of Egypt Craft
5 of our first 6 plagues we covered this week
4. I love those flying frog snowflakes. We cut those out AS WELL as did our number for the plague. When I saw them HERE, I knew we needed to add them. We just made ours out of green thin construction paper and added googly eyes. She gives a nice template for the frog shape.

5. We have the first 6 plagues done. Next week, though we will be on "Spring Break" of sorts, we will continue to finish out the Exodus story. I have a great craft I found for when we do the crossing of the Red Sea...I'm pretty sure we will do it unless I find something I like better. Baby Britches is loving our studies and can name the 6 plagues we've already done, even without using his number cues for help. He is just fascinated with the story. I look forward to when the classic Charlton Heston version of The 10 Commandments makes it's annual appearance on TV next week or so, so he can see a movie version of several of the plagues we've studied. It think he'll really enjoy it...I know that I always do!

Our classroom window is starting to really get full of plagues!
Thanks for stopping by today and I hope you will check back in next week for Random 5 on Friday: Exodus Edition, Part 2 where I will share what we do next week!

March 25, 2015

HomeSchool Office: Manage Your Home and School Online! {Product Review}

Scheduling. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love it when it's done, but sometimes hate the process! I have found a routine that works for me with pencil/paper planners, but I'm always interested in trying new methods. When we were given the opportunity to review HomeSchool Office from Lord Heritage, I was skeptical about it, but was willing to give it a try.
HomeSchool Office by Lord Heritage

Product Information

HomeSchool Office Review
Lord Heritage HomeSchool Office is an All-In-One Christian based program with all the things you need to plan, organize and manage your homeschool. The program can be used with any curriculum, in any state, in any home, with any number of students for one affordable all-inclusive cost ($79 for the year), with the availability of a free trial. With one program you can schedule your home AND school for your entire year.

With the ability to create reports, log projects, maintain a grading system as well as create high school transcripts, you will be able to have everything you run a long term successful homeschool. And, because it is online, you will always have access to it 24/7 on any computer!
You can view some product features and purpose as well as some sample pages.
We were given a full year access to HomeSchool Office in exchange for our review.

How Did We Use This Product?

We received our free subscription with log-in information via email and I was able to log right in and start looking through it. I started by learning more about the reasoning behind the method they used called POWER and I'm going to share how I used this product as I talk about each section.

POWER is an acronym standing for the following:

P is for Plan. Lord Heritage believes that God is all about planning as evidenced by scriptures in the Bible. He likes things to be planned out from beginning to end and Lord Heritage believes that parents should follow that same principle with their children's education. They cite Jeremiah 29:11 as part of their reasoning. Because of this, HomeSchool Office is heavy on the planning aspect of homeschool, and make it possible for me to:

*Plan subject goals and objectives
*Build a master schedule
*Setup lessons
*Create projects for home or groups
*Lay out my school budget

This is where I needed to start setting up this program to work for me, and all of this can be done when I click the Plan tab at the top of my dashboard.

From this screen I set up all the subjects we are doing for each student and once that is done, I am able to click the little icon at the far left of each line for the subject to schedule all the lessons.
You can see that you can easily change which student you are working with using the little drop down menu, AND you can
plug in how many lessons there are in your curriculum so it will keep track of your progress.
Once I have this portion set up, I can move on to scheduling the actual lessons...

You can see how specific I can be for each lesson. This shows what our history lessons look like. I have them detailed out, including how long it should take. I can change the order of any lessons easily. The first green check indicates that it's been completed, the second one that it's an active subject.
It is easy to plan my school days with the school year plan:
Once I clicked on this screen, I went through each month of our school year and clicked on the days I intend to have school. It will tell me my total number of days at the top. Once this is done, I can move on to my master schedule.

Here is an example of what it looks with one student's master schedule (Little Britches). I can pick the color I want for each student's schedule.
I click on a day and then I click on a time and I can pick the subject (from the list of subjects set up previously) or an event to add and note the time it is done.  If it's something that takes all day, I can click the top and add an all day event. This is the master weekly/daily schedule. I learned through trial and error that you have to set this up for everything to work and you need to have your subjects set up before you can work this properly. There is no copy and paste available so you have to set up everything individually. At the top you see "choose calendar". This lets you set up MULTIPLE children's calendars or add in a separate calender for the times outside of school. You can change the color to keep them visible.

Here is a master calendar with a second child's schedule added in for Monday
If you want to see each calender separately, simply click "choose calenders"--and the little window that opens allows you to click a calendar as visible or not. You can choose whatever color you want for each of your calendars (ie. children).

O is for Order. The next menu is Order. Lord Heritage cites 1 Corinthians 14:40 as God's admonition to do things orderly, and uses this to encourage parents to keep things orderly in their school and home. They provide these tools to help me do that:

*Schedule lessons
*Integrate home & school activities
*Setup important reminders
*Create customized lists

Because I only have one student, my calendar looks a bit I'm going to share a screenshot from Lord Heritage of what your calendar under the Order menu could look like with more than one child and extra events added in.
Here you can see that you have the ability to change this to view your calendar by month, week and day. It shows you everything you've imputed via your Master Schedule, but here you can also add in events like birthdays, ball games, lessons and appointments. You can also set up reminders for these things at the same time. To the right you see where you can set up things like a chores list. Simply click "list" and then name your list. Once done you can click "item" and add items to your list. This will in turn show up on your CHILD'S work schedule when they log in. 

W is for Work. Lord Heritage cites John 17:4 and says it is important for parents to impart a good work ethic in our children. Here are the things that the work menu offers:

*Provide student access
*View/print individual schedules
*Follow daily lessons
*Manage to do lists

This is the one menu that my child can access when he logs in. Everything else is only available under my own administrator log in. 
It is in this menu that he can print out his daily schedule and see his lesson plans. It will also have whatever list I created--usually a chore list--for him to see, and complete. I can have him add chores to his list too, or have him make a NEW list. As he completes them he can hit "clear" and it will cross it off for the day. The same chores will keep showing up unless you make changes on your own "work" menu.
By clicking "day list" (at the top of the calendar) he can see all his subjects for the day. He can do a week list as well. By clicking "print list" it will print him off a detailed list of each subject AND the lesson I set up for it. 
Here is what the printed day list looks like--a list like this can offer independence for the child in knowing what needs to be done each day. The chores do not print out on this list.
He uses this same page to note his completion of the things on his list, by clicking each item:
Doing this, pulls up the whole lesson and any notes that I have made. Here you can see that this is Grammar and it says what the lesson was and my instruction. He can make notes about it himself. Once it's completed (which this one is) he clicks "complete lesson" and it will show up as being complete on my end. There is also the option to push or pull a lesson--meaning, moving it forward to the next day (with the option to combine it with what is already there) or to move it back a day--something that can only be done in future events. This is a nice bonus, but you HAVE to do it before the day is over otherwise the program will simply mark this lesson as being completed.

E is for Evaluate. Matthew 28:20 is the scriptural reference for this menu, and Lord Heritage encourages the parent to do this as a way to maintain a personal relationship with their child and to encourage them as they meet goals. Here is what this menu has to offer:

*Manage requirement for state compliance
*Oversee daily attendance
*Track hours per subject
*Maintain grading per subject

It is easy to see that this menu is all about keeping records--especially grades. Because we don't do grades for our homeschool, I am going to share a screenshot from Lord Heritage about what entering grades looks like.
It is pretty self-explanatory, but if I would need any help, the support page for Lord Heritage offers step by step instruction on how to enter grades into their system. I think this would be a very helpful system, if grading was desired or required for a family's homeschool. 
The attendance is pretty simple to use. If you DON'T click anything, it will automatically assume that you had a full day of school following the school plan you set up. But if you didn't have that, you need to come and make revisions. (you can fix past days too!)
In this example, I have Little Britches set up as having a scheduled day off, but have Baby Britches as having a half day. What a nice way to take care of all my students in one screen. The options for the attendance are "full day, half day, absent, scheduled day off." If you click "subject hours", you can revise the time your student spent on each subject--otherwise it will just use the time you allotted when you originally set up the subjects. This would be more geared for the high school level when you need credit hours.
R is for Report. In quoting Romans 14:12, Lord Heritage reminds that Christ held himself accountable, thus as parent teachers, we should desire to prove the work we say we are doing. Thus the menu for Report helps me:
*Comply with state regulations
*Customize reports
*Generate transcripts

Because I do not need to do this in my state, I didn't use this menu, but did play with it a little bit to see how it works. Here is a screenshot of it from Lord Heritage

From this you can see that you are creating grade reports. You can determine how much you want on your grade reports by clicking a check box on the list. You are printing out information relating to each quarter. Once this is set up, you can view and print your report and have it to add to a portfolio or for any other need. The transcript tab is much more concise, simply asking for the student/year for the report, the graduation date and whether or not a diploma was received. This is where all the information entered in the subjects and attendance related to credit hours can come into play. Though I don't need it now, I can see where this would be very handy down the road for those needing to print out transcripts.
The final aspect I will mention is that the home page for the program allows you to write messages to each other. You can type a message to your child and they can type one to you. Your child will also see any reminders that they have set up.
Isn't that a lovely photo? I also adore that scripture!
So when did I input everything? Once I got the initial stuff set up--which I had to take a couple days to do that once I found how detailed it needed to be, I was able to get myself on a goal to spend Sunday evening, programming in all the lessons for a unit. I typically did a week's work at a time, even though I could have programmed it in MUCH further out. 
First thing each morning, I had Little Britches log in and view his daily list and print it off. At first he'd go in at the end of each school day to note what was completed, but once we figured out that it would mark things complete once the next day started, he only went in, if something needed to be pushed forward. Though I set it up, we didn't use the chore list.

What Are Our Thoughts on the Product?

Little Britches: 
"I like being able to print out exactly what I need to do for the day. It's a little confusing to know what to do when I log-in to mark what I did or didn't do. But after a bit I figured it out. I sorta like it, but I sorta of don't. It's a LOT more to do, than what I used before, and I don't like having to go in to mark everything off or say that it got moved. I'd rather just check a box like we did on my other schedule paper."
My Thoughts:
The idea is a great idea. I love the POWER acronym and its biblical foundation. I think that this program is a great way to get all your daily activities corralled into one spot. To be able to get all your kids assignments together in one place as detailed as you possibly would want. I like that it's possible to set up a curriculum in detail from beginning to end based on the school year. I like that the program will even calculate how long everything will take you to finish and guides you through how much of it you have left. I think this is useful when you have pieced your curriculum together and aren't sure how long it will take you to finish. 
I like that you can cater it to match your own school year plan and set up your own daily schedule. I like that you can set up each child's schedule right down to their lessons in detail. There is the ability to enter grading for your child and to keep track of attendance for all students in one spot (if you need it). I also think it's cool that you can print progress reports and transcripts based on all your information, if you need them.
I think it's nice that my students can log in themselves and print off their schedule. I like that their schedule can include in depth information about the lessons they need to complete and that they can log in and note whether they completed it or not. 
I think that with the Lord Heritage Support page it is fairly easy to navigate through setting up the programs, especially for the ones they give information about in the support section.
I love the dashboard homepage photo banner and scripture--I just wish it changed daily or I could create my own. 
That being said...
I did NOT enjoy this program at all. I felt that it was labor intensive to set up, even WITH the instructions. I found it very complicated and it was difficult to figure out what was what in regards to the tabs and the scheduling, because nowhere does it tell you what order things needed to be done--although after the fact, I realized that if I had worked through it in the order of the acronym POWER, I could have done it pretty well.
I do not think the program is very user friendly. There are way too many steps needed to get everything set up. There was no way to "copy and paste" if you had the same assignment repeated, rather you had to you manually enter every single lesson for every single subject for every single day for every single child. Pain in the butt. And I only have TWO children. I can't imagine the workload to get everything entered if you had more--one of my friends has currently 8 children she is actively homeschooling. Oy! It would take her a week, just to get 1-2 days of lessons done for all of them!
It would be much easier if there was a way to "repeat previous lesson" in the schedule. The same would be true for when you have multiple students working on the same subject or lesson together. As it is now, you have to go enter every single student's assignments separately no matter what. 
I liked that I could program a day's worth of work for Little Britches, but it was a pain to have to go in and mark things completed--or if they weren't completed, to make sure to remember to "push" all the assignments forward. It was just a lot of extra work, especially when I don't really have to keep records or portfolios of my student's projects, lessons and assignments.  But then if you don't go in and state whether or not you completed it, it marks it as complete as soon as the day is past...which means if you DIDN'T complete something, you as the teacher have to go in and change it in the subject lessons menu in your own administrative log in. More work. 

I like the option to make chore lists...but with smaller kids, it's not THAT useful. Maybe it would be for older children though. The same was true for the project and budget tabs within the Plan menu. They just aren't relevant for me and there wasn't a way to see HOW to use them. It would have been trial and error and no homeschooling mom has the time to just sit and go through a trial and error process.
This product made me frustrated more than anything. Overall, I found it complicated and tedious and so not my style. It was and is a VERY GOOD program...but it's just NOT for me.

Would I Recommend this Product?

Yes...and No...
I would recommend this product to anyone who is seeking a scheduling program where they can set up all the subjects WAY in advance even down to assigning lessons, and even determine the amount of time it will take to finish any curriculum. I would recommend this product if you are looking a single program that will let you schedule multiple students onto one calendar. I would recommend this product if you want something that will schedule your DAY as well as your homeschooling. I would recommend this product if you are seeking a program that allows your student's independence in keeping track of their own work. I would recommend this program if you like to have all your ducks in a row and love scheduling in micro. I would recommend this program if you have a set routine for your day without much deviation. I would recommend this program, if you want what you've scheduled for your student to be easily turned into transcripts and if you are regularly needing to enter grades.
If you have a schedule that is not "set in stone" and fluctuates a lot, it's probably not for you. If you aren't concerned about setting up lessons,,,days, week, months in advance this might not be for you. If you are looking for something quick and simple to set up a scheduling for your students, this probably isn't going to work for you. If you are seeking a system where you can set up multiple students at once for ONE lesson, this isn't going to work for you. If you work on unit studies or with a Charlotte Mason style, you will probably want to pass on this one. If you are NOT wanting something religious based (think of the never changing cover photo with a scripture) you will want to pass.
In my opinion, unless you are a type A, everything in order and everything in its place, minute details, stick to the schedule kind of person...I really don't think this is going to work for you. I am NOT a type A person, I like freedom and I like to be able to change things on the fly whether the time we do something or what we are doing without having to worry about fixing a schedule on a computer. I like being able to just simply ERASE and rewrite--or just draw lines and arrows. 
So this program, frankly drove me nuts!
Will I continue to use this program?
No. I just can't handle the devotion to schedule and micro-management that this program requires. It required way too many steps to do what I've been doing successfully with pencil and paper in my regular homeschool planners. In fact after using it as it's designed for 4 weeks--I honestly just couldn't handle it any longer and had to give it up. Not a good fit at all.

Want to Learn More?

We reviewed HomeSchool Office from Lord Heritage along with 79 other reviewers. You know my thoughts on this product, but why not see how it worked for the other families?!
HomeSchool Office Review
Crew Disclaimer
Well, this program did not work out for our family, though the concept was great. I will continue to use my method for scheduling that has been working for us this year, unless something else comes my way again!
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March 20, 2015

Random 5 for Friday~ 3/20: Poison Weed Edition

The Pebble Pond

1. I hate poison oak. A little over a month ago, I came in contact with it for the very first time. It hates me. Passionately. For those first 2 weeks I was a mess, as it plagued my upper chest, neck, forearms, top of my right hand and my upper back. I learned what itching like a dog really means. It was dreadful. I couldn't even wear certain shirts because I had to have a particular collar or it caused me pain! Never had I had any skin condition so bad. I had poison ivy when I was little, but haven't had anything like it since then. I would take a case of poison ivy over poison oak. I am also allergic to Benedryl, so I've had to use other measures in helping me deal with the itching. 

2. I am so thankful for essential oils. I have found a few essential oils which act as anti-histamines and help battle the itch. (Melaleuca and Lavender) and I'm so thankful for them. I mixed them with coconut oil and slathered it on profusely. Oh how slipper I was, but I didn't care. I needed relief.
3. But they weren't enough. Nope, they brought very temporary relief and I needed something to help me deal with the violent itching that hit me at about 2am every night, waking me out of the dead of sleep. And I found Ivy Rest. It's a thick cream and brought me the first full night sleep I had in awhile. I was so thankful for it. 

4. When that doesn't work...bring on the alcohol. It's old fashioned I know, but pouring and dabbing alcohol on the rash does work. It stings and lights you on fire, but then you get relief. And when you are at the stage where you itch all the time, you beg for anything to bring you relief. Boy did it sting, but wow, did it help!

5. Just when I thought I was healed up...apparently you can get a rebound rash. So here I am--5ish weeks since I first broke out. My chest and neck have healed slowly, but FINALLY clear! My arms finally stopped itching and cleared up. Just a patch on my hand and side of my neck aggravated me. Until tonight. When my upper chest broke out AGAIN. And my arms are starting to itch AGAIN. I looked it up. And sure enough. SOME people get rebound cases right when they are almost done. Naturally, I am one of those special peoples. HA!!! And so I reach for the oils, Ivy Rest and alcohol again. This rash isn't going to beat me! I also have a new oil Roman Chamomile which is highly recommended for battling poison I'm slathering it on and hoping for the best. That this rebound will be gone ASAP! I can't take any more 2am itch sessions!

And so, this has taught me a lesson. I have EMPATHY now for anyone who suffers from a skin condition which brings such aggravation. I thought I understood, but now I realize that I didn't have any idea how horribly annoying and aggravating and frustrating it is.  And I have empathy for Love-Of-My-Life who suffers from the poison weeds every single summer. I will not take it lightly again. I will help him with anything I can to make it go away for him. Because poison weed is horrible! 
May you have a lovely first day of spring--and may it not bring you anywhere near the poison weeds! 

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March 18, 2015

GPALOVEMATH: An Online Math Curriculum for K-5th {Curriculum Review}

Teaching math can be challenging at times because it can be rather...boring. Because of this, it is common for children to DREAD doing math--regardless of what program is used and how well they do in it. I am always on a mission to find curriculum which can both teach AND create a fun learning atmosphere. When I learned about GPALOVEMATH from GPA LEARN and saw that it was toted as being a fun and entertaining way to teach math, my interest was piqued. Was it possible that a curriculum truly existed that combined math AND fun? I was eager to review this product.

Product Information

Critical Thinking Company Review
GPALOVEMATH is a product from GPA LEARN. It is their first STEM discipline product designed to help kids learn elementary math (K-5) through fun and entertaining game formats. The math skills being taught follow national standards, but allow the kids to learn at their own pace in a way that is enjoyable and entertaining. Parents and teachers will enjoy the fact that they have access to real-time results, scores and progress reports so they can keep up with how the students are doing. One of the ways that this program is different is that motivation via rewards is already set up in the program! Children love earning points for their hard work that can be cashed in for real rewards!

For $149/year per child, GPALOVEMATH provides:
*Entire year math curriculum
*Includes all grades K through 5
*30 Day Money Back Guarantee
*Includes Learn, Engage, Motivate, & Parent dashboard features

The GPALOVEMATH online program can be played on MS Window or Apple MAC computer; Apple iPad, or Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (10”). You can use it with your favorite browsers, Google Chrome (recommended), Apple Safari 6 & 7, MS IE11 and FireFox.

For this review, we were given a full year access to GPALOVEMATH focusing on the Kindergarten and Third Grade curriculum. We used this program with Google Chrome on our laptops and my Kindle Fire.

How Did We Use the Program?

There is so much I can say about this product, that I’m going to have to try hard to keep this review under 5000 words.

I was sent my log in for GPALOVEMATH via email. The email included everything I needed to know about setting the boys up. When I “bought” their subscription, I picked what level they were going to be in. This immediately sets them up in the program for that particular grade level for me. 

When I log into the program I go to the profile and set up the boys with their login information. You can upload photos if you want, but I rarely do. From here the boys were ready to go!

The boys logged in to their accounts and it takes them to their dashboard. They can see their progress so far, as well as how many of each level of achievement they have obtained. It also shows how many points they have earned (more about that later). To begin with the lessons, they click on the tab “learn”. This opens up the different math paths they have to complete. 
This is a snapshot of the learn page. You can see that there are 3 color paths. This shows what has been done and what is still locked and what is unlocked and ready to learn.

Each grade level appears to have 3-4 paths. The paths are locked so that your child learns them in a logical order—when they complete a level, it will unlock another one. Sometimes it unlocks the next level in their path and sometimes it unlocks a level in a different path. It  is easy to see what has to be done to unlock any level—simply click on it and it will open up the information telling you what path and level has to be completed to unlock it.
This is the new menu that opens when you click on a level in a path. It either allows you to do it (click the green button) or it will tell you that it is locked and advises what needs to be done before it is unlocked. This particular level is unlocked. (Click to enlarge)
To begin, the child watches a video where an animated character (different for each grade level) welcomes them and gives them a “tour” of what they will be doing. After watching this video, they are then to watch a guide which explains in more detail what to expect with each paths level. At this point the first paths are unlocked and are ready to be used!
The animated "teachers" for each grade level.
Each level is a lesson. Each lesson is separated into three parts: Instruction, Practice, and Quiz. The instruction is an animated slideshow walking your child through whatever concept they are learning. It shows the ins and outs as to what it is they are working on and gives MANY steps to explain how to solve it. The Instruction is read aloud by the character, making it great for children who struggle with reading. Once the slide has been completed, the students clicks the green arrow at the bottom right of the page to move on to the next one.

A sample of what it looks like in the lesson. This is from the practice portion. 
Once the instruction is completed, your student moves on to the practice portion. This is a step by step practice of what the instruction covered. By clicking the question text, the student can hear the question. They can then work on the problem. Sometimes the answers are multiple choice, sometimes they are fill in the blank and sometimes they are a manipulative that they drag and drop. When the child thinks they have the answer, they click the yellow button at the bottom right. If the answer is correct, they get a green check mark and a “Wonderful Job!” (or other positive phrase). If they are incorrect, the animated character will offer them some guidance. An example of this might be “oops, it looks like you clicked the number of groups instead the number of items in each group.” If your child is stuck, they have the option of using one of their three “lifelines”. These lifelines are only available in the practice portion and will give the answer to any problem they are stuck on. The practice portion isn’t graded and your student can work on it more than once. They can also go back to the instruction at any time. 

Once the practice portion is done, they move on to the quiz. The quiz uses the same methods: multiple choice, fill in the blank, and drag n drop manipulatives to solve the problems. Each quiz appears to be 10-15 questions long. The number of questions completed is shown in the upper left of the quiz screen. Once the quiz is completed, the score is given. 
The same scoring (varying only for number of questions) is used for the two grades we reviewed.
The badges awarded show up on the paths levels after they are completed. They will not unlock the next level until the lesson has been passed.

Your student also earns a certain amount of points from completing each level. These points are used as “cash” to “spend” on rewards. From their dashboard they click “motivate” and are taken to their rewards store. By clicking any of the menu on the left side, they pull up possible rewards they can spend their points on. The cool thing is that you the parent can decide what rewards you want to give! You do this by clicking motivate in YOUR dashboard. You can program them by how many points they have to have AND cater it to match each student. At any time you can visit the rewards record to see what they have earned so that you know what you need to reward.
Click to enlarge
Because this a totally online site, it can be activated by anything that connects to the internet. We used this program on our laptops as well as our Kindle Fire. The one thing we encountered was that it tended to freeze more when it was used via the Kindle. Baby Britches used it more on the Kindle than his brother, but it was easier for him—unless it got frozen at which point he got mad. LOL. But it still was definitely useable for the program.

We used this program at least 3 times a week with each boy. It is definitely a more independent program, though I did have to help Baby Britches with a few categories (addition). He was still able to do most of the things without my help.

What Are Our Thoughts?

Little Britches and Baby Britches BOTH love this program. Now that our review is finished, I give them the options of what math they want to use and they always ask for GPA. They both like the way it is presented and the little bits of animation. They especially like the rewards--both recently earned $10 gift certificates to Target and Toys R Us--provided by GPA!

My Thoughts:
There are many things about this program I like, but here are some of the top ones:

#1 The boys love doing it. This means they WANT to do math. Major win.

#2 The boys can each work on it at the same time on different devices. This is awesome because when big brother does math, little brother wants to do math too.

#3 The program GUIDES them to determining the correct answers during the practice. I love that instead of it just saying that they are wrong, the character offers them a suggestion as to what they did incorrectly. 

#4 The program encourages them to follow a 4 step process to solving math: Understand, Plan, Solve and Check. It also walks them through what that looks like during the instruction portion of the lesson. I can therefore reference these steps as I help them work through their problems or in math outside this program.

#5 I can always see how they are doing on my dashboard.
What my dashboard looks like when it comes up.
I can easily go from one boy to the other by simply clicking the tabs. It shows me their progress, their current reward count, their lesson summary and their badges. 

#6 I can test drive a lesson before they do it! When I'm logged in, I can visit the "learn" tab on my own page and can see what lessons they are working on AND test drive the lesson myself.
This is super helpful on the new topics that haven't been covered yet. It allows me to get a handle on how the topic will be taught better preparing me for any questions that they might ask me as they work through the lesson themselves.

#7 I can see how much has been accomplished, and areas that are more tricky for the boys. I can do this by clicking "learn" and then a drop down menu that changes it from showing the paths, to showing me either the grade topics or grade standards. The color key shows me how they are doing within these areas.
This shows me right away that Little Britches has some struggles in Geometry.
#8 I get emails letting me know their progress! One email is telling me they completed a lesson and how they did. It will even let me know if they didn't pass it and need more time on it. The other email is a weekly report on their use of is one I received this week for Little Britches.
I love that i can print these out and file them in my portfolio for the year. It also quickly shows me what he's doing, and HOW he's doing.

These are the main things that I really enjoy about this program...but there are a few things that I wish were different.

#1 The main complaint the boys have--the voice for the lesson on their animated character isn't the same voice from the introduction videos. It's very disjointed computer sounding and doesn't flow smoothly. They don't really like the voice and find it aggravating. They both wish that their character talked like it did when they first "met" him. I agree. I don't like the way the voice is on the lessons either and wish it was a smoother speech. Even though both boys have different characters, the voice for the lessons is the same.

#2 The locked lessons...I wish there was an EASY way to unlock lessons for the boys besides them having to complete the lessons in order. The way that it's set up is a "recommended order" but each boy wishes they could just continue on their path or jump paths whenever they wanted to. I have heard from another reviewer that they figured out how to do it, but the directions they gave did not help me find out where to do it at all.

Would I Recommend This Program?

I think the price of the program ($12.99/month or $149/year per child) is great. You are getting:
*Entire year math curriculum
*Includes all grades K through 5 (A brand new change that is awesome!)
*30 Day Money Back Guarantee
*Includes Learn, Engage, Motivate, and Parent dashboard features

That means you have access to all the grade levels! So 12 months of math could easily be two grades worth depending on how quickly your student works through everything! And right now (as of the publishing of this post 3/18/2015) they are offering a special introductory price of $129/year per child (using code GPAINTRO15).

If you are looking for a program that your children will enjoy doing--bringing fun into math--then this is a curriculum you need to consider. If your child doesn't do well with animation or completely online programs, this is not a good fit for you. 

Let me mention Common Core. I know that it's one of those hot topics right now and a lot of homeschoolers are trying to avoid ANY company that is aligned with it (for their own personal reasons). From what I can read about GPALOVEMATH, they meet and exceed common core standards, but don't specifically say they are aligned. As I went through the programs with the boys, I never saw anything that suggested things were done different from the way they've always been done in any math program we've ever worked on. There isn't any "showing of work". Mental math was encouraged, but not promoted over written out math. Story problems weren't all that was taught. It was a great balance and I never saw anything that raised any red flags in my eyes. 

We used it for third grade math and kindergarten math and each child enjoys doing their work and never complains about math time. This is as good of recommendation as I think you are going to get!

Will we continue to use the program now that the review is over? Absolutely. I now have two excellent math programs to pull from and both are loved. It's just a matter of which one to use! This is a great problem to have.

Will I renew? Right now, I will say no. But only because I purchased an 18 month subscription to a different math curriculum--not knowing I would have access to this awesome one! But I will definitely keep it in consideration when THAT subscription runs out and I am looking for a new one!

Want to Learn More?

We reviewed GPALOVEMATH's Kindergarten and Third Grade curriculum. There were 100 reviewers of this product, so I encourage you to go visit some of my fellow crew members to learn about some of the other grade levels and what they thought about them!
GPA Learn Review

Looking to stay in touch with GPA LEARN? You can find them on these social media sites!
Crew Disclaimer
I was pleased to discover yet another great online math curriculum that my boys enjoy! I am really thankful that I'm able to provide them math programs that teach what they need to know in a way that makes them WANT to do it. I am excited about this and hope that my review can help you find the same thing for YOUR family!
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March 16, 2015

Alphabet Song Game by The Critical Thinking Co. {Product Review}

Baby Britches enjoys using the laptop. I try to steer him towards using it for educational games or activities, but sometimes it's hard to find something he can work on independently, or with just little help. When I heard about the Alphabet Song Game software from The Critical Thinking Co., I hoped that it would be something that would work for him and be something he would enjoy doing.
Alphabet Song Game by The Critical Thinking Co.: Product Review

Product Information

Critical Thinking Company Review
The Critical Thinking Co. is a name well known in the homeschooling world. They have been providing resources to help children of all ages go beyond the basics--to sharpen the mind to be able to dig deeper into the subjects they are learning. They hold an impressive collection of awards for their books and software!

Some of the books and downloadable software they offer include (noting grade levels):

Alphabet Song Game (Toddler - 1st)
Math Analogies Beginning  (K-1)
Math Analogies Level 1 (2-3)
Math Analogies Level 2 (4-5)
Editor in Chief Level 1 (4-5)
Editor in Chief Level 2 (6-8)
Pattern Explorer (5-7)
World History Detective Book 1 (6-12+)

I was picked to review the Alphabet Song Game software with my family. The Alphabet Song Game is teaching tool designed to teach the alphabet in a clever and fun way. With 22 games, it is designed to teach children how to recognize the shape and names of the lowercase and uppercase alphabet. As the games progress, students are challenged to find the correct letters amid reversed, mirrored, and upside down versions of the letters. The game was designed for students to play independently or with a teacher. 

This software is only available for Windows Desktop, though there is an iPad version available. The software was also designed to be a single user product and won't save data for multiple users, though the data can be reset.

The Alphabet Song Game software is regularly $6.99 (for 2 PCs) but right now for a limited time only the download is FREE (as of the publishing of this post on 3/16/2015)! 

How Did We Use This Product?

We received this software via an email and were given a link to download to our computer. I downloaded it to our school computer. It was easy to install and didn't take very long.

The icon is an easily identifiable yellow square with ABC on it. Once I showed it to Baby Britches he knew where it was every time. When you click on the icon, it opens up the game.

Although we didn't discover it right away, there are a few different sections in the game. Each section focuses on a different thing. You can see the sections on the home page menu:
There are 9 games in the uppercase letters, 9 games in the lowercase letters and 4 games in the mixed case letters. Each of the levels of the game is a little bit more difficult.

We just began the game in order. Every game began the same with a singing of the Alphabet Song. The next step is to pick from the letters shown to list the letters in order of the song. This helps practice letter identification and memorization. It is this process that nearly all the games contain but with each level, get a little bit more difficult.

Once your child makes it to Z, the song is sung again and then a score is given. If the child did well (90%+) they have option of click on a green arrow to play a new game. If the child did not do well (less than 90%) the green arrow is not given. Instead, they are encouraged to try it again by clicking the "orange" arrow.

This same process continues at the end of each game. If your child does not get a high enough score to move on, you can "override" the system by clicking the blue Home icon in the upper right corner. This takes you to the main menu (the one I showed you up above) where you can manually click ANY level you want to complete. By doing it this way, your child doesn't have to pass a particular level to move on.

Lowercase letters consisted of the Alphabet Song game where your child was given a handful of lowercase letters to choose between to complete the song. In the first levels there are only 3 or 4 to choose from. As it continues, the quantity of lowercase levels increases AND there are more situation where the flipped letters will be shown. Letters like b and d will be in the same batch to choose from. This is how it works when you get to the uppercase levels. They operate the same way, only showing exclusively uppercase letters. As with the lowercase, the uppercase levels get increasingly difficult by adding more letters to choose from and more of the mirrored image letters. In mixed letters, you are asked to identify either lowercase or upper case letter shapes in alphabetical order, but there are mixed cases, reversed and mirrored letters that have to be sorted through.

Your child earns a "score" by how many times they get it right. If they click the correct letter all 26 times (once for each letter of the alphabet) they get a 100%. If they click letters that are not correct, it lowers the score. The problem with this it that it doesn't say "sorry, try again" or "oops, wrong one!" to guide them. This leads to RANDOM clicking on letters to find the right one, which leads to a failing score on the level.  You only get a "sound" if you click the CORRECT letter.

This frustrated Baby Britches especially since you can't naturally move on to the next game until you pass that level--unless you know about the menu shortcut. So if he kept failing he'd get mad and just quit. There were several days I had to cajole him to do the games.

I would say that we were able to work through this game 3-4 times a week depending on Baby Britches mood or desire to do it. But when he'd play he would usually do 2-3 games at one time.

He has gone through all the games--though not passing all of them. He can still click on any of these that he wants to, even thought they have been completed. The other day, I chose to click "reset user data" because it clears out all the scores and lets him begin again. With this method you can easily set it for another child, or just let your child have another run at everything.

I clicked "helpful information" and it just explains how the games work. It's a good read if you are curious as to what skills will be learned or how the grading process goes.

What Are Our Thoughts on This Product?

Baby Britches: He liked it when he wanted to like it. He enjoyed it at first, but got burnt out on it since it's basically the same thing over and over and over. He likes to play it about once a week now.

My Thoughts: Save me from the ABC song! LOL! Seriously though, I had to give Baby Britches headphones because I could only stand listening to that song so many times. And add to that the fact that he had to sing it himself with almost every letter to know what comes next--ey-yi-yi!

The program is simple enough that he can easily do it on his own. He liked being able to just log in and go. Once we figured out that he didn't have to just keep doing the same level over and over again if he kept getting it wrong, he liked that a lot better too. If it didn't give him a green arrow, he'd click the blue house icon to go back to his menu and pick something else. Sometimes he would do it again, but most of the time he didn't want to.

I wish that it was possible to set up the "passing" percentage myself. I feel like an 90% is rather high for a passing of a level. Especially since you are constantly reviewing and can go back and redo any level at any time. I think it would help in those early runs as the child gets used to how the program works. I also like the idea because as Baby Britches gets better, I could increase the passing percentage based on his skill. So I would desire the ability to determine the passing percentage score.

As I mentioned earlier, I think it would be nice if the software included some kind of sound that lets the child know that they are clicking a wrong letter. Baby Britches would complain "Mommy it's not working!" when he would click and click on a letter that was incorrect. If he knew that a sound meant it was the wrong one, I think he'd have figured it out on his own a lot easier.

We did experience a few glitches where a screen froze, or the program didn't come up properly, but each time we just closed it out and opened it again and it always seemed to work. It wasn't something that happened all the time either. Just randomly.

Would I Recommend This Product?

Hmmm. As a free download yes. For $6.99--hmmm. I guess if you are looking for something to allow your toddler, preschooler or kindergartner some independent learning, yes. I just found that it's a short time use product. I highly doubt we will use it more than just for a few more months as it's just for review. Baby Britches already knows his ABC's. He's just learning more about Alphabetical order. I would put the age for this product at no HIGHER than Kindergarten and ideally for preschool. I think I would prefer to be able to use it on my Kindle. I think it's much more geared to a touch screen with the way that it works.

Will be keep using it? Sure. I will probably work it in at least once a week for good review.

Want to Know More?

We reviewed the Alphabet Song Game software from The Critical Thinking Co. We reviewed just one of the eight different products that our crew was given--so I hope you will go check out what the rest of my team explored!
Critical Thinking Company Review

Are you looking to find out more information about The Critical Thinking Co.? You can follow them on these social media networks:
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Crew Disclaimer

We have found a program that can be used independently by my preschooler--and you can try it too, as it is a FREE DOWNLOAD for a limited time. As of 3/17/2015 it is still available, so I hope you will give it a try with your little one...just make sure you give them headphones and are able to leave the room. Or you will be singing the ABC!
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