homeschooling

UltraKey Bytes of Learning Review

Since I am a writer, I am pretty fast at typing. But, I confess, I actually don’t type properly. My fingers are all over the place. When there was a chance to review UltraKey Online Family Subscription from Bytes of Learning, I was pretty pleased. Not for myself — I’m a dinosaur and set in my ways. I wanted H to be exposed to using the keyboard properly.

A few caveats before anything: first, H is only five. We used this program with the idea of exposure rather than mastery. Second, H is only five. We are still learning how to spell so typing is a definite challenge for her. Third, she’s only five.

On UltraKey Bytes of Learning

UltraKey Online Family Edition
Want to learn how to type better? Look no further than this product!

The program is a comprehensive lesson on using the keyboard properly. It covers the basics such as posture and finger positions to mastery exercises. There are 12 lessons in the program and primarily uses video to teach. The recommended starting age is eight, although it can be used by younger children, as in our case.

Bytes of Learning lets you set up an account with several users, making it available for different family members. Each user can customize the settings, such as being able to use the backspace function or how to move from one lesson to another.

 

On Our Positive Impressions

One of the best things that I liked about Bytes of Learning is that it is self-paced. This makes it more flexible, allowing my daughter to use it even though she’s about three years off the recommended age. That was really impressive to me — what I thought would be a disadvantage for her turned out to be a non-issue.

H was able to enjoy the program, even though she was not the intended audience. She was able to sit through and learn from the videos. The most specific example is the one of the first ones, which is the video on posture. H diligently followed, because the instructions were clear and concise. The graphics complemented the audio and that allowed her to see what she should do.

Another thing that I liked from Bytes of Learning is that the challenges has a logical progression. You first had to learn individual letters and then words, and then sentences. H was able to use the proper keystrokes for the letters and some words. Sentences were, not surprisingly too advanced for her. But gosh, I was so proud to see her even try.

There was another benefit to using Bytes of Learning that I didn’t anticipate. A lot of the activities or games had H copying words she saw on the screen. Since she was sounding it out as she was copying, H’s spelling and reading skills were practiced as well.

On The Graphics

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The interface is easy to use because of the clear icons. 

The graphics has a throwback feel to it. The colors shun the minimalist, subdued shades favored by recent trends. The smiling computer character also reminds me so much of Clippy, the helpful paper clip from the early version of Microsoft Word. By nature, I resist change to I was very much charmed by it.

But, aesthetics are only secondary to how effective the interface is. When it comes to that, I’m going to again emphasize that my daughter is — pop quiz! how old? — and she was able to navigate the program easily. The icons are front and center and easily identifiable. So easy that even a — one more time for the people in the back — five year old can handle it.

We did experience a few issues the first time we tried the product. The audio kept on repeating itself in some sections. We had to reload the page each time that happened to continue using the program. However, that only happened on one day so it could either have been problems with our internet (We’re from the Philippines. Ranked as having one of the slowest internet in Asia. Yay, us.) or a temporary glitch. It was a one-day thing so it’s hardly worth mentioning.

I would say that Bytes of Learning is a welcome addition to a family’s must-try educational sites. Even kids younger than the recommended age can benefit from it. Knowing how to use the keyboard properly is considered a basic skill, since almost everything is done using computers. Bytes of Learning is a straightforward, no-fuss way to develop or improve this skill.

Bytes of Learning on Social Media

Find their Facebook page here.

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homeschooling, parenting

Interactive Fun at PlayLab Cebu

Our family spent about two years living in Cebu because of my husband’s work. Although it’s been about four years since we moved back to Luzon, Cebu will always be close to our hearts.

We jump at the chance to visit whenever we can. Even H, who was barely three when we left, gets giddy with excitement. Cebu is still home to her.

Fortunately, we were able to make the trip recently. We stayed at Summit Hotel, a relatively new location for this established hotel chain. The hotel itself wasn’t anything special and it featured a disturbing trend — doorless bathrooms! Why? Although the shower and toilet stalls had cubicle doors, I would still rather have a real one than I can close behind me.

But, whatever weird taste the room design left in my mouth was negated by the fact that Summit was right beside PlayLab,  Touted as the first digital playground in the Philippines, it features 14 exhibits where children can use technology in interactive and creative ways.

The first thing you see when you enter is this giant screen with lights. The lights react to your movements. This must have entertained the kids for a whole hour.

In this activity, you transform into different animals. I think the animals are based off the animals in the Chinese calendar. H was obviously ticked at the thought of being an ox.

R is trying to target the trash with a ball. The trash is supposed to explode in a cloud of bubbles, but he wasn’t strong enough to throw it with enough force. He tried to remedy that to no avail. His frustration was palpable.

A lot of the exhibits had the same concept. Design something and then watch it on a screen. Here, we designed butterflies. They also had one where you can build tangram rockets and launch it into space. In another exhibit, you can scan pictures of animals you color and they run around a forest.

The was R scrambles to try to catch up with his sister cracks me up.

The kids obviously had a grand time. They liked it so much that we returned the following day. Although since that was a Saturday the place was packed. We didn’t get to enjoy the exhibits as much. Friendly advice: if you’re going to go, better go on a weekday when the crowds are more manageable.

PlayLab Cebu is open daily from 10am to 9pm at The Greens, Level 1, Robinsons Galleria Cebu. Entrance fees are P200 per person for two hours during weekdays and P250 per person for two hours on weekends.

 

 

parenting

Grass Hunting (Part 1)

One of the first things people learn about the Philippines is that we are an agricultural country. As a student, I remember memorizing the main crop products of each region. Bicol grew abaca and Bacolod was known for sugar cane. When in doubt, you can always say copra since those are grown everywhere. In short, land is our lifeline. Filipinos should love earth and soil and plants.

But, the cities are starved when it comes to green, living spaces. We live in a condo and we are about five minutes away from a mall in every direction. When it comes to parks though? Good luck with that.

Lately, I’ve been on a mission to find places for them to experience nature. I’ve set the bar pretty low. I’m not looking for wildlife parks or forests. I just want a place where they can run without mom yelling at them to slow down lest they hit their heads in the concrete.

Our first stop was the park at The Ayala Triangle in Makati. It’s close enough to our place, especially on a Sunday when traffic is more forgiving. Parking is easy, because there’s paid parking right beside it. Entrance is technically free, but there are so many food options it’s almost impossible to walk away without buying anything.

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The grounds are well-maintained. But, pets are allowed in the area so you have to be mindful not to step on dog/cat poop.

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Lots of space for running and dancing. Security was also pretty tight. There were several guards stationed at the park and they were quite vigilant.

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Large trees mean that there are lots of interesting things to fixate on like sticks.

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I love seeing them come alive when they have space to run. Seeing them curious and carefree makes me want to pick up a sign and lead a rally, “Less malls, more parks!”

homeschooling

Free Download: Nouns Worksheet

nounsI’m introducing the concept of nouns to H. Nothing too technical, since she’s only in Kindergarten. I’m basically just letting her identify which words refer to people, places, things, and ideas.

You can download the worksheet we used, if you like.

 

food

“Ow, you’re squishing me!” Bento

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What is it about kids that they are programmed to be picky eaters? My daughter dislikes egg yolks, milk, chicken, and carrots. My son dislikes everything except doughnuts and ramen.

One trick that I use to make them eat better is the Do As I Say rule. Usually, this involves telling them the story of how the Pharaoh was cursed by God with 10 plagues because he kept on disobeying.

But, I want the kids to have pleasant memories of mealtimes. They should have a positive relationship with food. Not associate it with rivers of blood.

So I make these little bento lunches. It’s cute so they’re interested. My daughter makes up a whole scenario where the faces are going to a party inside her tummy. My son roars like a dinosaur sometimes; other times he makes up dialogue like, “please don’t eat me.” Then he gobbles them up.

For this, I just shaped rice into balls and added nori for the eyes. I have a puncher to make it easier, although scissors work just as well. The rice comes with humba, a vinegar and soy sauce pork stew, and sauteed vegetables.

It’s not as complicated as it looks, but it does take some time to assemble. Say, 30 minutes? But, it sure beats having to make angry faces just to make the kids finish their lunch.

 

 

parenting

How to Have Time for Yourself When You Have Kids

I love my kids, but sometimes I really need a break from their child-like ways.

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Since necessity is the mother of all invention, I accidentally came up with a way to get some peace and quiet. Want to hear?

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First, ask the kids if they want to play hide and seek. Say that you’ll hide first. Make sure the kids see you rush into the bedroom. Rush to arrange the pillows and the blanket to make it look like someone is under the covers and then hide somewhere nearby. This is phase one.

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The kids will naturally check the bed. Their surprised faces will signal the start of phase two.

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When they leave the room to check somewhere else, it’s time to relax on the bed.

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You’ll have about 10 minutes before the kids come back to the bedroom looking for you. Honestly though, there are some days when even the shortest of breaks already feels like a vacation.

Bonus: When they find you, ask them if they liked your trick of shapeshifting into a bunch of pillows. Their little minds will explode.

You get some time for yourself and they have proof that mommy is magical. Everybody wins.

 

 

homeschooling

Review: SchoolhouseTeachers.com Yearly Membership

It’s always so hard to get back into the swing of things right after the holidays. Maybe it’s the overconsumption of Christmas cookies. Maybe it’s because I would rather revel in the Christmas cheer than go back to the daily grind.

Fortunately, I had something else to look forward to, so I didn’t feel too bad about the holidays ending. This week, I tried out what it is like to have a Yearly Membership from SchoolhouseTeachers.com which is the curriculum site of the The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Here is my review, if you would like to see.

On SchoolhouseTeachers.com

This site is a treasure trove for homeschoolers – it has over 350 course options over extensive subject matters. It has lessons on the major areas like math, science, and language arts as well as electives and other subjects like foreign languages.

High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {SchoolhouseTeachers.com}

The site also offers a video library,  which offers videos to be streamed from Creation.com, Vision Video, RightNow Media, and many more. It provides access to World Book. This is a network library of resource eBooks that is categorized by library, grade, and subject.

SchoolhouseTeachers.com provides materials from pre-school to high school students. It also provides support to parents by providing training videos, resources, and scheduling tools.

The Just for Parents section is also noteworthy because it is a good reminder that homeschooling is supposed to be a family endeavor. The information is not limited to homeschooling-specific topics, but rather also has wisdom to offer on family relationships. The courses are as varied as “Finally Conquer Fractions” to “Making Marriage Last”.

On Our First Impressions

I am homeschooling a five-year old and to some extent a two-year old (he’s too young for formal lessons, but I keep him engaged as much as possible) so our focus is primarily on the subjects available in the Pre-K and K and the 1st grade categories.

The first thing I noticed about the site is how organized it is. You can browse by grade or by subject. You can also look at the Quick Links to see a snapshot of what the site has to offer.

This ease of navigation comes in handy because of the sheer volume of information the site has. I think it is the thing that stands between, “how thorough!” and “this is too much!” as a first impression. There are a lot of lessons crammed in here so having a roadmap that works ensures you don’t miss out on anything.

schoolhouseteacher1
Here are the available subjects in the 1st Grade category. I expected to see math, science, and the other usual subjects, but what a treat to see music and foreign languages as well.

On the Games

We’re at the tail end of the school year and already prepping for our final portfolio review, so I skipped past the main lessons. But, I did zero in on the activities that can supplement the lessons that we are already doing.

For us, one of the best features of the site is the Everyday Games. Made by Teresa Evans, a veteran teacher from Australia, these games were designed for children to learn. We used the math games and it helped without being too in your face about it. I guess you can liken in to adding grated carrots to your kid’s mac and cheese. It’s good for them without them realizing it.

You can choose a game depending on your goal. For example, we used the math games in our lessons. There were games for skip counting, telling time, addition. Simply go to the section you want and print it out. The instructions suggest laminating the printouts so it can be used again. It’s a thoughtful little suggestion.

According to Teresa, her educational motto is “keep it simple.” This shows in the way the games are constructed, which has instructions easy enough for kids to follow. The games we have used so far are done in the style of board games. Although the games require two or more players, they can be easily modified for a single player. In our case, I had H play against the clock. If she finishes answering before the timer runs out, she wins.

On the Bible Lessons

 Another topic that we got to explore were the Bible lessons. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that the choices aren’t just for the topics, but also the method of teaching. You can have the kids watch videos (it licensed Bedbug Bible Gang until July 2019) or print out a story and an accompanying worksheet.

Leading up to Christmas, I used the Birth of the King printables as an activity. I downloaded the teacher pack and was pleasantly surprised at how comprehensive it was. The pack contained the story from the Bible, activity sheets which included coloring pages, a maze, and a word hunt game. Interestingly, this section comes in different languages, including Tagalog, our local language. This really surprised me, since it is not a common language.  I will surely revisit this section not just for the Bible lessons, but also for her Tagalog.

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One big rule in the house is no screentime until school is done. H is a little unsure why I called her over to the computer during our lesson.
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Surprise! She got to watch an episode of the Bed Bug Bible Gang. Here she is dancing to the catchy intro song. This was the least blurry shot out of the lot. I guess it’s safe to say that she really liked it.

One little thing though: I thought I encountered what I thought was a dead link for the lessons under Adventures of Carlos Caterpillar. It turns out that licensing restrictions limit it to members in North America. It’s something to note for those outside the continent. But still, there are so many other lessons available I feel like it didn’t affect my options.

schoolhouseteacher2
Licensing issues can limit some access for those outside North America. But, I only encountered this once among the dozens of pages I visited so it just felt like a minor blip.

On What I Think

I may have already used the word “comprehensive” in this review, but there is no other word I can think of that can effectively summarize the SchoolhouseTeachers.com experience. Let me use it again. It is comprehensive. Very, very comprehensive.

You can easily plan your whole school year around the site. It makes it a practical choice. Yearly membership provides all the members of the family access to all the online classes available, including videos and references. It eliminates having to pay different subscription fees, which to me, makes it more cost-effective.

Access to the different levels is also very convenient. It’s not just that most homeschooling families usually have children enrolled at different levels, but also that each child usually develops differently in various areas.

For instance, H is more proficient at math, which allows us to teach her more advanced concepts than the ones required in kindergarten. But, her writing skills still need more work, so the Beginning Handwriting in Pre-K and Kindergarten activities are more appropriate for her.

Being able to choose lessons appropriate for different levels from one site made it easier and more expedient. I don’t need to hop from one site to another, searching for the appropriate activities and worksheets to get.

I highly recommend SchoolhouseTeachers.com. Getting the yearly membership is definitely worth the price. The activities are reliable and engaging. The content is also notably well-researched and presented in a clear, concise manner.

But I think in our experience, I especially see its value to new homeschooling families such as ours. One of the challenges I experienced with homeschooling is the amount of work it takes to plan a day.

I had to sort through the available materials, distill the data I found into understandable chunks, and think of how to present it in a fun and informative way. It’s a lot of work and can be quite overwhelming at times.

SchoolhouseTeachers.com basically holds your hand through this process because of the pick-and-choose, step-by-step way it presents the information. To me, this is priceless because it allows me to concentrate more on interacting with my children rather that spending most of my energy in the preparation. i just wish I had this site sooner!

2 Click Here to Read More Reviews 2016_zpsmmmkbumm