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

bytesoflearning
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.

2 Click Here to Read More Reviews 2016_zpsmmmkbumm

 

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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

homeschooling

Homeschooling Advice from a Noob

hannahhands

I have been homeschooling my kids for a grand total of six months. This makes me completely qualified to give advice, right? Right?

Of course not.

But, it does make me qualified to talk about what we have learned in the six months that we have been doing this. Just like with all things kid-related, each day is multiplied by 10 so it actually feels like we’ve been doing this longer.

Everybody says to think of the child’s learning style. But, what about your style?

This is a pretty big statement. In every seminar, every conference, every conversation I’ve engaged in , the first thing people say is that homeschooling should be tailor-fit to the needs of the child. Is your child a visual learner or a kinesthetic learner? What’s the typical reaction to feedback? The Montessori approach, which we use more often than not, always emphasizes to “follow the child”.

But, I find that this is only half of the formula. The more we homeschool, the more I realize that it is a collaborative activity between myself – the teacher – and my children – the students. While, I do my best to make sure that they enjoy the lessons, I can’t just ignore my needs. The reason for this is simple: I won’t be able to sustain it.

My daughter, H, loves games. She loves movement and outdoors. That’s the best environment for her to learn. On the other hand, I am the complete opposite. I would rather sit through a lecture and take down notes. Games are not fun. I think they’re a waste of time. (“You must be so much fun at parties,” you think as you roll your eyes. Well, joke’s on you. I don’t attend parties.)

H and I have to meet halfway if we’re going to make homeschooling work for us in the long-term. We play one game a day and then spend some time doing worksheets or reading together. If she gets bored, I let her have a break and play. Instead of making the first two days the best schooldays ever and then burning out the rest of the week, we’ve settled with having okay days all throughout the week.

Exercise restraint even if you don’t want to.

The sheer volume of books and materials that can be used for homeschooling is enormous. Think of all the DIY craft possibilities! If you’re like me, who gets intoxicated at the smell of stationery and newly opened books, it’s like a giant playground.

But like all playgrounds, it is still governed by the laws of physics. You can’t be at the swing and the slide at the same time. It’s the same principle when it comes to homeschooling. Do things one at a time.

Early on, I made the mistake of cramming so many crafts in a day. But eventually, H got tired of cutting and gluing things. I got tired of prepping materials. Plus, it got a bit too costly to keep up with the supplies.

I still pin a lot of projects that pique my interest on Pinterest, but we’re now better at pacing ourselves.

Get a support system.

I’m from the Philippines and there are a lot of misconceptions about homeschooling. Mostly it’s because not a lot of families choose to educate their children in this method. If homeschooling were a human, it would be in its toddler years — already walking, but not yet old enough to walk to the store alone.

For us, this translates to a lot of side-eyeing whenever we say that we teach our kids. I noticed that I have become quite defensive when I’m asked about it. Fortunately, our provider offers a great support structure. Our family is assigned an academic adviser as well as a family adviser.

There are also a lot of workshops and events we can attend. But, most of the support that I get is from the online community. I’ve joined groups for homeschooling families and it is a fantastic source of encouragement and information. Normally, the internet is a vast, terrible place full of trolls ready to pounce on you, but my homeschooling groups are the equivalent of warm hugs at the end of a long day.

On that note, check out how to transform holiday stress. It’s a link-up with other homeschooling blogs to find other friends who are on the same boat.

Don’t be afraid to make a change.

One of the best things anyone has ever told me about homeschooling came from my friend Rheea of Rainy Days and Mom Days.  She told me, “don’t be afraid to switch materials if they’re not working for you.”

At the time, my daughter was freshly enrolled with our provider and our books were newly purchased. I took her advice with a polite nod, but internally, I didn’t really let it sink in. I did browse through the books before buying them. That should be enough to make a wise purchase.

Turns out she was right. About a month in, I realized that the books weren’t working for us. Sadly, the ones published here in the Philippines were sorely lacking. For one thing, her science book dedicated a whole chapter on classifying animals as “harmful” and “harmless”. Tigers and lions are harmful, while dogs and cats are harmless. Obviously, the author has neither seen a cranky cat nor encountered the terms “untamed” and “domesticated”. Also, there’s this:

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This is going to be all innocence for a five-year old. But really, adult who wrote this? These words have such a common connotative meaning that it couldn’t have been a coincidence.

I knew I was being picky with the details and tried to make it work for a while. But, those little things bugged me so much we ended up using different books in the end.

We’re coming on the tail end of the school year and wow, it’s been quite an experience. It has been easier (knock on wood, throws salt over the shoulder!) than I expected, mainly because I was expecting asteroids to rain down while wildebeests stampeded around us.

H has learned to read full sentences and she can now add and subtract whole numbers. But, the most surprising thing about this is that it turns out, she’s not the only one learning. So am I. For the H and myself, the most important lesson is this: we both still have a lot to learn.

 

 

homeschooling

Tower of Babel Worksheet

tower of babel

It’s so easy to push back lessons on our faith, mainly because it’s the science and math questions that are on the list of standards for first graders by the government. “It’s The Man, I tell you,” I rage as I shake my fist to nothing in particular.

Orwellian jokes aside, it’s really my fault. I simply haven’t prioritized it.

I’ve resolved to study the Bible at the beginning of class rather than the end of it. It’s also good practice for me to remind myself of why we’re homeschooling in the first place.

Today’s lesson was all about the Tower of Babel. We first read the story from the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones. Then I used these guide questions to test comprehension:

  1. What did the people try to build? A tower that reaches the sky
  2. Why did they want to build it? To make a name for themselves
  3. What did God do? He changed their language to stop them from finishing the tower

I then explained that Babel means confusion. Speaking different languages made it difficult for people to understand each other so they couldn’t finish their work.

Conveniently, there’s a condominium building being constructed across our street and we could see it from our window. I then explained that God wants us build and create. He gave us brains to think and hands to make things. But, God doesn’t want us to have pride in our hearts.

Pride is a sin that puts ourselves first before God. The people built the tower it so that they can glorify themselves. God knows that anytime people do that, they are doomed to fail. He is the one who provides for us. Pride makes us think we can do it for ourselves. Like all sins, it separates us from God.

We also used a worksheet. You can download it here.

homeschooling

Learning Tagalog

My daughter would rather do 10 hours of math than five minutes of Tagalog lessons. She knows a total of – let me see – seven Tagalog words. She knows siya (that person), ikaw (you), ako (me), bata (child), lalaki (boy), babae (girl), and matanda (old).

This is a problem because first, she’s Filipino and Tagalog is our national language and second, the government requires certain subjects to be taught in Tagalog.

I need to be extra creative whenever we have our language lessons since she doesn’t really want to learn. For a lesson on body parts, I drew a girl on a large mirror in our dining room. I called out body parts and she would try to hit it with wet tissue paper.

It was a mess, but that’s the way kids like it, right?