Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Keyboard Classroom

I remember when I learned to type in high school, hunched over a typewriter with an instructor chanting keystrokes.  It wasn’t exactly thrilling, but I now say it was the most useful skill I learned in high school.

Hardly anyone waits until high school to learn typing any more.  It is too much of a necessary skill now to wait that long. My daughter learned at age 8 with a popular software program.  I intended to use the same program for my son, but it just didn’t take off with him.  After another software failure, I switched over to the old flip book style that reminded me more of how I learned to type.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as successful as I had hoped. I especially wanted him to learn to type early because writing is difficult and tiring for him. However, while he can now type at 12, he just isn't as functional as I think he needs to be at this point.

While all of the programs we tried were somewhat successful, none were the best program for him.  The software programs seemed to either have too many distracting games, or weren’t systematic enough.  The flip-books were very systematic, but didn’t have any motivation tools and also required constant supervision from me. The end result was that my son could type, just not with the needed speed to get maximum benefit.  He was pretty good about knowing the location of the keys, but his hands still floated around the keyboard, creating errors. As a 7th grader with increasing writing requirements, he really needs to be a more proficient typist.

When I was presented with the opportunity to review Keyboard Classroom, I was exited to see how it might work in our homeschool.  Keyboard Classroom, which was developed over 20 years of research, is based on a timed fluency approach.  The program takes a systematic approach, building muscle memory toward mastery.

There are five fluency levels: Finger Trainer, Typing Words, Home Stretch, Typing Sentences, and Capital Stretch. Each fluency is based on a 1-minute time limit.  With passing levels closely monitored by the program and gradually increasing difficulty of skill levels, mastery is more easily achieved and ensured.

As the student progresses through the program, tokens are earned to play games.  The users also increase in rank (Cadet – General) as they move up in levels, which gives the student a big picture of their progress.
A unique feature of this program is the finger guides that are affixed to your keyboard.
They are attached with Velcro, allowing you to remove them when desired.  I was anxious to give the guides a try, since wandering hands were slowing down my son’s progress.

The video below explains more about the program and allows you to see it in action.

We all know that something can look great, until we try to implement it into our homeschool.  I’m happy to say that we’ve had a lot of success Keyboard Classroom. It seems to have all the features we need that other programs we tried didn’t.

For starters, the finger guides immediately solved my son’s problem of his hands floating around keyboard and improved his accuracy and timing by not having to constantly look down at his hands.

While there are fun games in the program, the games are being used as reward and reinforcement, not the method of instruction.  We’ve tried too many programs where either a focus on games was too distracting or the program was so dry by not having any games that it wasn’t motivating.  Keyboard Classroom seems to hit the right balance of having students learn through systematic repetition, while earning tokens to play games.

For my distractible son, the 1-minute fluency exercises were perfect.  The short exercises gave immediate feedback and clear goals (master 6 times before moving to the next level). The ranking system helped him see his overall progress so far, which is motivation to keep continuing.  Earning tokens to play the games was also motivating, without the games becoming the primary focus.

There are a couple of things which you need to be made of aware before purchasing.  The software can be purchased with a license of 1, 2, 3, 5, or 25. So, if you have more than one student needing to learn to type at the same time, make sure you buy accordingly.  However, if you want to use the program for one student, then save the software to use with another child later, that is possible with licensing for just one.  Just be aware that once you remove and add a username, that all work for the previous user will be lost. You should also be aware that in order to play the games, an internet connection is needed.  The basic program will still run without internet, though.

Keyboard Classroom was designed with the student with learning differences in mind, but the methods used would be a benefit to any child learning to type. I’ve had my son practice his typing for 15-minutes a day and have been pleased with the results. While he has learned to type some over the course of everything we've tried previously, I think Keyboard Classroom has the repetition, independence, and motivation to finally get him where he really needs to be. It is definitely a program that we’ll continue to use.

Keyboard Classroom sells for $39.95 for a single license.  Please visit the Keyboard Classroom website to learn more about the software or to make a purchase.

Disclaimer:  I was given a copy of this product in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Childless Staycation for Mom

We haven't been able to afford the cash nor the time to take a family vacation for entirely too long, at least 4 or 5 years.  However, each summer our kids do head off to camp, which provides a bit of a staycation for me.  Unfortunately, we haven't been able to coordinate their camp schedules for the same week since they've started attending.  They'd head off with different groups of friends and different camps, which would leave me a parent of one while the other was gone, but never completely off duty.  Now, I will say, having only one child at home can be quite peaceful since there isn't another around to complain, bicker, or annoy.  I must say, I think my son talks more in a week with his sister, who can be vocally domineering, absent, than he does all year.  And my daughter, without her little bro hiding in corner ready to jump for a scare, is a bit more relaxed when he's off to camp, too.  Even so, though I love my kids to pieces, it would be nice for this homeschooling mom to be able to ship them off at the same time just once.

This year we were able to pull it off!  We drove my daughter to camp on Sunday and my son left on Tuesday.
Dd (right) and her pal outside of their cabin shortly after arrival.
Ds (in navy blue) and his buds by the bus that will take them to camp.  I never worry about bullies with friends like this!
My daughter returns on Friday and my son on Monday. This allowed my son a couple of days home sisterless on the front end, and my daughter a couple of days brotherless on the back end.  And the middle?  The glorious middle? That means Mom, yours truly, gets to spend a few days childless for the first time in, well...I think the first time EVER.

So, how did I spend my first childless day?  After dropping my son off, I have to admit that I turned on a court TV show and had an Oreo cookie.  I rarely watch TV (and usually not such drivel), and especially don't during the day.  My husband called it my "bonbon moment".  Then, after a bit of time on the computer, I took a 2-hour nap (also unheard of).  Now that I've gotten being a sloth out of the way, I hope to be a bit more productive in the next couple of days.  Today I'm going for a much needed haircut and some time with a friend, also much needed.  Tomorrow entails heading to the Dr. for a physical. Not exactly fun and relaxing, but well overdue.  Some uninterrupted time with my husband is in order too.  There will be a fair amount of just enjoying the QUIET that this house rarely experiences.

I know I'll miss my kids at some point.  I'll miss my daughter's exuberant singing of show tunes and the sound of my son raking through bins of Legos in search of the perfect piece.  Eventually the house will seem too quiet. Not yet, though.  At the moment, it is perfectly silent, and I plan to enjoy it.  We all need a vacation, even (especially) homeschool moms.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Day at Greenfield Village

We are pretty fortunate to have the Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum just a short drive away.  Even better, the museum offers a fabulous discounted membership for teachers, including homeschoolers, which makes it very affordable for our family to have a fun day of hands-on education.

We decided to enjoy the summer day at the Village with some friends.  We reserve the museum more for the colder months, when the Village portion is closed.  There is so much to see at the Village, but it seems like the kids want to return to the same things each visit.  One of the all-time favorites is the games on the Village Green.  The kids visited this area not once, but twice.  The first thing they ran to was the stilts.
Now, let me explain that the last time we visited, less than a year ago, the teens of the crowd held back, not sure if they were too old for such childish games.  This time, they ran right up with the younger ones and didn't care if they looked cool or not.  However, if you closer at my daughter, on the far left, you'll see there is still a fair amount of teen 'tude. Just in case you can't see in the top photo... :)

Sweet, huh?
I must say, their stilt walking skills have improved since our last visit.  Much less falling off this time!
My always-has-to-be-moving kid especially liked this part of the village.
One of the most popular games with our kids was the Game of Graces. In fact, they had so much fun with this game that my daughter bought one in the gift shop, as did our friends.
Our next stop was the Daggett Farmhouse, where my son and my friend's daughter decided they were going to dip candles.
You can see the rest of our group relaxing in the shade during the candle production.

Playing games and making candles is long, hard work!  After sitting down for lunch while being entertained by a performer telling tales of Huckleberry Finn, the kids went back to the Village Green again for more games. We then headed over to one of my favorite places in the Village, Thomas Edison's laboratory.
This time we even heard an actual recording of Thomas Edison when he actually visited Greenfield Village before his death.  Below you'll see an early version of the light bulb.
With the day quickly slipping by, we stopped for some ice cream and a quick visit to the see the glass blowing, then headed back home.  We'll have to visit again soon and check out some of the attractions we missed.
All in all it was a great day for a visit.  When we got home, my kids were quick to pull out the newly acquired Game of Graces for a few games in the front yard.
Who knew a hoop and a couple pair of sticks could be so much fun?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: New Steam Cleaner Magic (Eww!)

All I can say is, "Ewwww!"  Two large dogs, two kids, and a 12-month stint with broken steam cleaner is not a good combination. So glad to have a working steam cleaner again.
Visit Wordless Wednesday to see more of this week's entries.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Digital Timelines for Your Techy Students (and a Space Saver for Mom)!

Though I like the idea of timelines, my kids aren't thrilled about paper projects.  I attempted a timeline - once - with Sonlight's spiral-bound book. I thought it was a great way to keep the space requirements of a timeline under control, and I appreciated the pre-printed figures as an added convenience.  However, it just didn't take off that much with my kids.  They devour the books, but the projects, well...not so much.

Then, this past year, my daughter was required to create a timeline in a history class. The class requirement was to make three timeline cards (on index cards) each week from the reading assignments.  Then, at the end of each semester, they took the cards and put them in some sort of timeline. Since she had the flexibility to create a timeline however she wanted,  she ended up using to create a digital timeline.  I have no idea how she even found the site!  She absolutely loved making a timeline this way.  I shared the link this past winter after the first semester, but below is the completed project for the year.

This is the timeline as hosted on Dipity, but she even took it a step further and created her own website for her timeline.

If you look at the top, there are even options to change the format to a flipbook, list, or map from the entries.

The digital version is a space-saver for sure and perhaps a bit more exciting if your kids are into technology!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, by Kevin and Alex Malarkey, is a true account of a near-death experience of then 6-year-old Alex Malarkey.  Alex and his father, Kevin, were in a horrific car accident in 2004, with resulting injuries (an internal decapitation injury) that gave Alex little chance to survive.  In fact, doctors caring for Alex had never seen a child survive such an injury.

Alex did survive the accident, though it was a long and difficult road.  He remained in a coma for nearly 2 months.  During that time, however, the family received tremendous support from friends, family, and strangers that served as prayer warriors.  All that happened while Alex was in a silent coma is story in itself.  However, when Alex woke from his coma, and then eventually learned to speak again, he shared stories of angels, heaven, Satan and being with Jesus.  Not only was Alex able to share experiences from beyond what anyone could imagine, but he was also able to give details of the accident and his early moments in the hospital that he had no way of knowing. Biblical references, a Q & A with Alex, and discussion questions sections are also included. 

The Malarkeys share their remarkable story with humility and a focus on Above. They share their struggles, their hope, and their faith. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven is not just an account of a near-death experience.  It is about those who touched the Malarkeys, while in turn were blessed back. It is about endurance, trust, and unexpected blessings, in difficult times. It is about an incredibly strong and determined boy who has experienced challenges that are beyond what most of us could even imagine. Most of all, it is about how God carried an average family through extraordinary circumstances.

Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.