Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Draw. Write. Now. Book Review!

I first saw these books this past year at a homeschooling convention and thought my daughter would love them! Draw. Write. Now. is a series of eight books that teach kids how to draw while also giving them interesting facts to copy in their best handwriting!

The grades it's geared toward is first to second, but I also have a fifth grader and an eighth grader who've enjoyed some of the drawings (like the ones in book two teaching them to draw Columbus's ships).

One of my favorite things about this series is that it has gotten my daughter interested in something in school.  She has struggled with enjoying her school time since she was in kindergarten regardless of what we did.  But with this book, she actually asks to work on it and likes it!

When I got the books home, I knew I needed somewhere to put all of her drawings so I got on Pinterest to see if anyone had made any notebooking pages related to them.  Sure enough, there they were!  Here's a link for you to get your own free pages: http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/DrawWriteNowPrintables.html

The great thing about these free printables is that you can print a copy that has blank spaces to fill in each word or you can print one that has the words available to trace! So no matter where your child is with writing, they can work on these pages.

I really don't have a bad word to add about these books.  They get two thumbs up from me and my daughter! We'll be using them again next year as a fun supplement to her day.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Alpha-Phonics Curriculum Review!

This past September I was approached by a member of the Alpha-Phonics team and asked to do a review of Alpha-Phonics.  Knowing that I have a child that is close to the right age and readiness level to start learning how to read, I decided to go ahead and do it.

I received the package just days after agreeing to do the review.  In it, I found the following:

- Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers with free CD-Rom
- Alpha-Phonics and How to Tutor Guide Book
- Alpha-Phonics Companion Readers

While I received the above items in exchange for an honest review, no money changed hands.  I am not being paid to provide this review but am simply giving my honest thoughts on it.

Let's start with describing my youngest son, who is working through this program. He is an average four year old boy in that he has a pretty short attention span, bounces all around the house, loves being outside and playing in the dirt with his neighbor friend more than anything, and is generally disinterested in learning many new concepts unless they are presented in a VERY fun way.  However, he is very gifted in his ability to learn letters and their sounds.

I say that he is gifted in this area because I never taught him any of the letters or their sounds prior to his telling me about them between the ages of two and three.  He is not gifted in any other area that I have found, but this one is "his thing." He is just good at it and that's awesome!

Because of this gift, I figured that teaching him to read, no matter what the method, would be pretty easy no matter his age so we started as soon as the books came.  They arrived on a Thursday morning and we started our first lesson that afternoon.  Lesson 1 consists of two-letter words beginning with the letter a.  He breezed through that lesson without an issue.

Because lesson 1 was so easy, I figured lesson 2 would be just as easy on Friday.  I was wrong.  He didn't seem to understand the addition of a third sound.  So we practiced the words from lesson 1 again, hung up some flash cards of the words from lesson 1, and talked about lesson 2 for awhile before finishing up for the day.  It wasn't as successful as day 1, but the lessons were short and to the point and even held his interest.

On Saturday and Sunday Little Man showed Daddy how he could read his flash card words.  Daddy was properly impressed by this new found skill and praised him for his efforts. Little Man was happy.  Lesson 1 remained successful.

By Monday, I was ready to try some new things to get lesson 2 to click.  We tried using alphabet puzzle pieces, magnet letters, a white board, and even the computer to make the words.  After a few more days of that it was finally clicking! This method seemed to be working!

Fast forward several months and we are up to lesson 17.  I have taken it very slowly as Little Man needs the time to grasp a concept before moving on too quickly.  But isn't that the beauty of homeschooling?  

Months into this program, I feel like I can give a good, solid review of it.  First, the positive things about it:

1. The pages are very black and white, to the point.  This means that there isn't a lot of distraction going on and you can feel free to add as much as you want to it.  We like doing games and using magnets or puzzle letters to practice the words.

2. The back of the book has a teacher's guide to help you know what to say and what to do with each lesson should you need it.

3. The lessons progress at a good pace, adding letters and sounds slowly so that your student isn't overwhelmed by the process. Of course, by lesson thirteen, there are multiple sentences to be read in that one lesson so it may benefit your child to split it up over a few days.

4. The accompanying readers are a decent length and utilize the lessons taught pretty well.  There's a new reader for every few lessons so your student can practice reading it for fluency before moving on. However, some of them don't seem to make a lot of sense (the first one is called Silly Sentences and the pages don't seem related to one another at all). Little Man wasn't a huge fan of them but we aren't really "reader" people either.

5. The Companion Workbook shown above has practice pages for your student to practice their handwriting and their new reading skills.  It also contains some spelling rules, which is nice.

6. The lessons can be done as quickly or as slowly as you'd like.  So if you have a wiggly kid, you can get some practice in fast and if your child is having a lot of fun with reading, they can keep going.

The negatives:

1. The CD that came with the program is like jumping into the '80s.  The graphics are simplistic and the way it works, it just isn't that entertaining.  I wouldn't buy that as is.  It needs some major revamping.  It'd be awesome if that CD were games to accompany the program, something that the kids could have as a reward for finishing their lesson.  I'm thinking games like Starfall, Word World games on PBS kids, and Super Why games on PBS kids.  

2. The video that came with the program to explain how to use it was also very old-feeling.  It skipped a lot too. I believe this video is the same one available for free on their website (which is also in need of a good update).

3. I know a lot of people like to introduce their kids to the "weird-looking letters" like this: g  and  a.  But they cause some confusion.

4. The cover of the phonics book is old-looking too.  Most people are drawn to new books and programs by the cover and if you're one of those people, you'll never get past the plain cover.  It could use an update.  (But you shouldn't let it stop you! The lessons inside are actually very good!)

So all in all, Alpha Phonics has proven to be a great program for our family.  It's gotten my four year old reading with very little complaint from him.  We've added lots of fun games to his reading time (we like "Games for Reading" by Peggy Kaye, but there are others out there as well) and used actual wooden letters for a more hands-on experience.  He was reading the first BOB book to me after just a couple of lessons.  My biggest complaint about it is the dated quality of the video, CD, and website. If you're looking for a simple, straight-forward approach to reading lessons, this may just be what you're looking for.