Monday, November 19, 2007

Review of

We couldn't enroll Anda in kindergarten this year because Colorado State Law says that kids have to be 5 to start school. I understand this--the schools would be overloaded with kids who really aren't ready for the structure of school because their parents wanted free daycare. Even five year olds often aren't emotionally and socially ready for school.

But Anda recently figured out reading and took off with it. I watched her successfully answering the questions Caleb was working on for school, and she is comfortably on a first grade level, even though she's only four.

I really didn't want to waste any more time with her. We wasted a lot with Caleb and then had trouble convincing anyone to let him go ahead (although his teacher is fabulous and she finally said he's working at least on a third grade level, so let's go there). Anyway, she really wanted to start school, but I didn't see how I could possibly do a traditional home school with her because I was already supervising Caleb constantly to keep him on task with the extra lessons his teacher assigned (for first grade, not the ones on his level) that he thought were boring (they were, for him. Anda thought they were great), plus I have four kids and the oldest is six. I was already struggling with balancing schooling, making meals, doing laundry, and writing my book. The house was so far down on the list that my mother hired someone to come pick up for me because I had to let something go. I can't juggle that many balls at once.

To complicate things, Anda had been watching Caleb doing the Compass Learning Odyssey curriculum online, and she wanted to do that. But Compass doesn't contract with homeschoolers.

But they did recommend a solution to me: Time4Learning. (I told them I'd be reviewing their site, and they said they'd pay me for it and if I wanted to help them with SEO stuff, could I please put multiple links to their site in? So if you find lots and lots of links, it's just a favor to them--it helps them move up in the search engines online so they're easier to find).

So we looked up

They are a company that makes the CompassLearning curriculum (plus some math logic curricula for gifted kids--'gifted' apparently means math gifted to them; my kids are profoundly gifted, but in language arts more than math). The curriculum is extremely affordable--as of this writing the subscription costs $19.95 for the first child and $14.95 for an additional child (I don't know about more than two--Dan's not ready for school yet). Plus they have a two-week money back guarantee so you can test the program (they asked me to mention that).

We were already sold on the program before we contacted them because Anda wanted to use the Compass curriculum. I like Compass--it is considered "challenging" by lots of people. I have found that it's just right. (The other curriculum Caleb uses repeats everything ad nauseum so he can hardly stand to do it for beating the subject to death in the name of educating him). We love Compass.

The things that Time4Learning have added to their access to Compass that are really valuable are the "playground" and the "Lesson Plans."

First, the playground: The Playground is a page FULL of over a hundred links to fun, non-addicting games and websites for kids, several with "one computer-two player" games that I love the kids to play together. It links to things like Brainpop (most of which is only accessible with a subscription, which Caleb's school has), PBSKids, and classic games, puzzles, and activities. The thing I like about the playground is that the link is disabled until the student has done their lessons. The parents set the timer for the amount of lessons they want done, and when the timer counts to zero, the playground is activated. There is not a ding or notification, though, so Anda actually finishes her lessons instead of quitting as soon as the playground is "open." Then, even more valuable (and what I've often wished Caleb had), the playground also has a timer on it, which the parents can set to any amount of time up to 59 minutes. Whent the timer runs out, the playground shuts off until more lessons are done. This is great--nobody gets too into their games because they know the games are going to shut off automatically!

We do sometimes circumvent the playground and just open another browser window for "recess", though, like when the kids want to go to Brainpop for recess. I personally don't consider BrainPop recess--so why would I want to stop them?

The other really valuable thing that Time4Learning provided me was the "lesson plans", which are actually the "scope and sequence", or list of activities, for the entire Compass program, from pre-k all the way through 8th grade.

This has been like gold for us. The lessons include the activity numbers. The way Compass works is the child is placed on a level. For Time4Learning, the parents can request a level and have their child placed there without justifying it. (With Caleb's public cyberschool, we have to justify everything and can't just move him up, even if he's ready.) Whatever level you are on, Compass gives you access to one level up and one level down (so Anda has Pre-K, K, and 1; Caleb has K, 1, and 2). With the scope and sequence available to us, we can skip ahead to any lesson we want, on any level, in any subject, including subjects where there are a few lessons but not a whole curriculum available yet (like Social Studies). With compass, if you have the activity numbers, you can access any lesson from the home page, so I've been able to set Anda to work on some third grade lessons, and Caleb, too.

For kids who are self-motivated and love learning, this is fabulous. I printed the scope and sequence, and I mark off activities on the list as they are finished or excused because I see no reason to do every activity Compass offers, which messes up their system of always showing you what lesson to do next.

Time4Learning makes homeschooling easy--even with my four kids under 7 years old. The thing I like about the system is I tell Anda what activities to do (I stick a post-it note on the screen each day with the activity numbers), and the computer does the teaching. I keep an eye on things (and you can get reports on the child's progress to help this) and answer questions, and we re-do activities where she doesn't get 4/5 or more on the quiz at the end, but I don't have to teach every lesson to both kids. I don't have to come up with worksheets (they're included as printables) if they need more work on something, it's easy to repeat lessons, and the kids can go as fast and as far as they want.

I don't have to teach, I don't have to be the bad guy, I don't have to decide what to do next (other than to say "yea" or "nay" on each activity--I'd suggest you skip the level 2 lesson on hygiene that openly teaches that you get colds from dirt and worms, which just plain isn't true, but that's the only really awful lesson in the three grades worth of lessons we've done), I don't have to wonder if we are meeting State Standards, I don't have to keep the attendance records and portfolios required by Colorado law (it's automatic!), and I don't have to worry that we might not be covering the stuff other kids that age are supposed to know.

It's also comforting to me that this is not a Colorado program, so no matter where Tim gets a job and we move, one or both kids can get a good, self-paced education. And, since Compass is used by 90% of schools in the nation (or so they say), if the kids do decide to go public eventually, I can take the reports in and prove that the are on an advanced level using something the teachers can accept, since they don't like to take my word for it.

Most of all, the kids love it.

I know a lot of homeschool moms think I'm nuts for going cyber(when you have only one kindergartner, and they are functioning close to grade level, homeschooling is easy and the materials are cheap), but Time4Learning is worth checking out. There are even free sample lessons on the website, and a forum for parents for support.

The only downside to the entire system that I've found so far is that the website is designed poorly so that instead of looking classy (and, therefore, trustworthy), it looks a little like a scam--too many words per page, too many testimonials, just like ads for nutritional supplement snakeoil and chiropractor ads in magazines. But my experience with the site has been good, the curriculum is so fun we have to stop the kids from playing, and the parents forum and scope and sequence are great resources (and accessible, at least partially, even if you don't join).

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