Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Home Schooling: Computer Programs

   Hi there!  I wanted to stop in today and write another home school review type post for my fellow home schoolers out there.  Today, I want to talk about online school, and all of the things available for home schoolers on the www!
   First, I have to mention that I really try hard to 'unplug' in a lot of areas of our life.  We don't have live television via cable or satellite in our home, and we haven't in years other than the one year we spent at a house that had cable included in the rent, but even then we didn't utilize it very much.  Once you get used to not having it, its really hard to live with!  That's another blog post for another day.  My kids have tablets, but their use is restricted to special treats and car trips.  I don't keep but a few game apps on my phone, and my rule about phones and my older child is that it is not allowed in their bedroom at all.  I realize that technology can have a BIG pull on everyone, and my deepest hope is that my children grow up knowing how to use it, but not depending on it and wasting a big part of their life staring at a screen in their hands.  So honestly, we don't utilize as much computer work in home schooling as we have in the past.  However, I do want them to know how to use a computer, and there are a LOT of great resources out there!
   My general rule is that we have some computer time on *most* schooldays, and we don't use it over the weekend at all.  For the younger children that is.  My older girls are allowed on their tablets for some time after the younger ones go to bed, but I usually find them reading or playing barbies instead.  That makes me feel accomplished in my endeavors!  But, as I said, there are a lot of good computer programs out there that are great working with school, and I wanted to take some time today and share some of our favorites!!!

This is probably the one that I have the *most* experience with...

*Side note!  If you're reading this in April 2016, they are running a special where you can try your entire family for only $12 for the first month!  I suggest you at least give it a try!  That is a steal!  The offer is good until April 30, 2016

   Me and Time4Learning have history.  :)  I discovered this program very early in my home school journey.  My daughter had turned 6 and we had went through the Abeka PreK program and the My Father's World Kindergarten program.  It was a hard time in our life, and we made a big move from a home we were really hoping to buy, so it was hard..  emotionally and physically to make that move.  I didn't deal well with it, and that was a really dark part of my life.  I felt really out of control, and it was hard to home school.  I happened upon Time4Learning and it was like an answered prayer.  My daughter was able to do school consistently during those times of change rather than just putting school on the shelf for awhile.  It was a blessing.  
   During that time, she enjoyed it okay.  Now she doesn't like it at all.  I'm not sure if its the program itself or just the reminder of the unrest during that period of our life..  but then again, every home schooler is different, and she very much prefers writing and reading over anything on the computer.   
   Now I'm switching gears a little.  We haven't used it since that time, and that was about three years ago.  When I got the email to try for $12, I signed up my Kindergarten son and my 8th grade daughter.  I can't say enough for how much he loves this program.  He really enjoys it and gets a lot out of it, and looks forward to doing it for a little while each day.  The kindergarten program was very short and very easy for him, so we did skip him into first grade and he went in through it seamlessly...  but you must remember he is a second semester kinder and he has great reading skills already.  I would say if you have a kinder, try their grade level first.  The great thing about Time4Learning is that you can change their grade at any time, moving them back or forward.  
   My 8th grader has not got to work on it yet, but we are trying her in 9th grade.  We are considering using Time4Learning as a backbone to her high school curriculum, and supplementing with a few things here and there.  I will let you know before next school year what we have settled on!
   So here's some Pros and Cons:

    Can be used as a full curriculum, especially if you need some extra help or are at a place in your life where you aren't available to fully teach as much
    Keeps records of attendance, as well as grades!  So much easier to print than to create your own.
    Also it makes schedules for your older students!  With little checkboxes so they know what lessons to do each day.
   For the younger kids they are allowed to have 'playground time' which is timed and they can play some other games..  mostly educational games and some older games like pacman.  It is a little old school, but my son loves it!  

    For me it seems a little lacking.  I like to supplement always, with real books of course!
    Price!  It's $20 a  month for elementary students and $30 for high school, and there is a discount for additional students as well.  The good thing about the price is that you can put the account on hold for a few months, which works out great if you take breaks for summer or over holidays.   

Starfall is free, and has a lot to offer!  It has a great reading program, set up into different lessons based on the kids reading level.  It's also repetitive, so they get used to the books and lessons.  The kids love this site and have used it off and on for years as a supplement.  They also offer more for a low price paid account, but we have never used it, so I'm unsure of the details, but I've always heard good things!

   You've probably heard of this one, it is highly advertised.  I've used it on and off throughout the years.  The kids really enjoy it!  It isn't free, but it is only $7.99 a month.  That is a reasonable price for what it offers.  The kids enjoy setting up their classroom, and taking care of the animals.  Unfortunately, my son gets caught up in this and doesn't do as many lessons as I would like, but it is a fun game to play around on.  It also works great on the tablet as well.  

StoryJumper is FREE!  I love this website, as do my kids.  They create their own story books with a variety of backgrounds and characters.  It really extends their imaginations!  You can also buy a book that the kids have created!  I haven't purchased one yet so I'm not sure of the quality of the books, but hopefully I will soon.  For now, its something fun and imaginative that they can play around on!  

Again, this one is FREE!  Free is always good, lol.  I really like this fun little program!  My kinder really enjoys it, and he learns a lot from it!  You create your own monster and teach it to read, going through space adventures and such.  It is very fun, very cute, and very educational!!!

But by far, my MOST favorite is....

I can't say enough good things about reading eggs!!!!
My daughter used it a little bit when we had a free trial for a few months, but as I mentioned before, she's not much of a computer based learner.  So we didn't use it for awhile, then when my Kinder started showing interest to read in prek, we started it again.  We purchased it for a year and used it very frequently after we moved here.  I can't tell you how much it improved his reading skills!!!  He enjoyed it, it got to a point where he was a little bored with it, but he certainly is reading on a higher level than my other children were at his age!!!  I have to credit it partially to this site as well, because rather than using a set reading curriculum, we learn through blend ladders, CVC words, site words and just reading, a LOT of reading..  so this has been our supplement and he's doing great!  He reads road signs and closed captions on the television, lol.  So I can't say enough good about this product!  It isn't free, but you can get a free trial I believe if you've never signed up before.  It is certainly worth what you pay for it though!    
 Next year we are starting All About Reading for him in 1st grade, and our year that we paid for us up, so since he is somewhat bored with it right now I am not going to purchase it again until we start again in September after break, but this will be one of the *HAVE TO* purchases for next year, it gives him computer time, improves his reading skills, and makes me happy that he's spending his computer time wisely!  I can't recommend it enough!

There are LOTS of computer games out there, its hard to find which ones fit you just right, but these are some of our favorites!  What are some of yours?

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