Thursday, February 04, 2010

Review of The Head of the Class

We checked it out more thoroughly and worked through a whole day. It turns out that each "day" of education has a nice mix of online, animated, interactive activities and worksheets--it's not too heavy on the worksheets. Besides, most of my kids LIKE the changeup of having some worksheets and some online stuff--only Caleb wants to do it all online, and with a Mac he knows how to take a .pdf and, using Preview instead of Adobe, write on the worksheet online. Problem solved.  Also, each "day" covers different subjects, which is nice for Anda, who likes variety in her education. She actually liked it enough that she asked to start back at Pre-K and work through everything.

I liked that it's a little more relaxed than Time4Learning, not putting too much pressure on the kids to learn fast, but, if their scope and sequence are right, they cover the right stuff and get you where you need to be. But without stress or pressure, which is good for Dan.

They have it set up that you have to do all the "day's" activities before you move on to the next day--so you can't really do 5  math lessons in a day without also doing 5 of each of the other activities. Also, I haven't yet found a way to put a kid on different grade levels in different subjects, which might not be an issue for many families, but for families of gifted kids (with that darn asynchronous development) it's a pain.  

Also, which may be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it, it is not computer-guided learning. It's parent-guided learning. In other words, you actually do have to download the teaching manuals and teach your kid. You can't just say, "Go to the computer and do your work while I make dinner"--at least not completely. Some each day's activities are completely independent, and some aren't. In reality, it turns out the the entirely-computer-guided stuff really isn't--the kids have questions, they buzz through without actually doing it, or it's just read-the-book-answer-the-questions, which I don't consider high-quality education, no matter how good the book is. Also, while Caleb wants to do it himself with his computer, most of the kids WANT to do it with me (and Caleb insists on doing his math with me).

Serious advantage: It includes Spanish, geography, and art, which Time4Learning doesn't.

Disadvantage: You can't start with the beginning of Spanish and still be in 2nd grade in everything else. At least, not that I've found. It might be there. I'll update this if I figure it out.

Also, it's free.

So, plusses: laid back, varied, sets up the day for you, free, nice variety of activities, pretty rigorous objectives in the end, kids don't know what grade they're on, you can modify how much a kid has to do on each subject to tailor the education to their needs, appealing characters teach--including a BOY main character who is not dumb (so often the programs try to be politically correct and multicultural and end up slighting boys. Darn feminists!), parent/teacher manuals are easy to access, interface is easy to use for kids and for parents (the only tricky thing being you have to manually close the tab after you print a worksheet so it can move on; with online interactive activities it closes it for you, so we had to figure that out).

Minuses: Haven't found  a way to cross grade levels based on curriculum, can't do only the subject you love (might be a plus for some people), not entirely-computer-taught (also might be a plus for some people because then you're both bonding with your child and aware of their understanding, and most kids need flesh-and-blood teachers because learning is SUPPOSED to be a human interaction thing, at least in part), only has k-2 right now (but they apparently are planning to go to 8 eventually, with more materials coming this year), ads on the screen (but not while the kids are learning) (and remember, that's how we pay for free things!).

Most serious disadvantage (which they might actually do and we just haven't run across it yet): in Colorado, at least, kids have to pass a test to stay in homeschooling (okay, they have to be above the 17th percentile, so they can fail it, but not completely), and the Head of the Class doesn't appear to have any "how to take a test" practice units. But they do claim to have testing and evaluations, so we'll see if we cover this later. I suppose I could just buy a book or create my own "test-taking" curriculum if necessary (or opt for the second option available to homeschoolers, which is an evaluation by a licensed psychologist.

HotC claims they not only have testing, but that it automatically adjusts the curriculum to a child's level--so it might actually solve TWO of my "minuses" at once. We'll see.

If you are supplementing your child's education ANYWAY (and what homeschooling parent isn't?), this is a good choice for a lot of kids.

We'll see what the staying power is. Will the kids get bored? They did with Time4Learning.

Addendum:  The kids have become frustrated that they can't go back and re-do an activity they loved, even through my log in. Also, they are frustrated that, for example, Anda can't access Dan's music lesson easily. It's not incredibly flexible that way.

For us, that's a disadvantage.

FURTHER Addendum: We figured out how to go back and re-do activities (found the parent dashboard, which was right in front of me but I couldn't see it somehow!) and also access activities that might not be on the list (from the parent guide online).  ALSO I emailed the company, and the President got right back to me (amazing!) and explained how to put kids on different levels in different subjects (give them a separate log in for the different subjects and then turn off the ones you don't want on each subject; name the log ins by the kid and subject, like "Caleb Spanish"). That worked fine. She also assured me they will be introducing more levels soon, so I'll be able to put Caleb and Anda up past 2nd grade soon.

So now we're all doing the Head of the Class every day, including Nathanael, who has started preschool even though he's only just barely 1. He loves it.

Now that we've done it for a week, I prefer it to Time4Learning. I don't have to plan to make sure the kids are hitting each subject. I don't have to schedule in variety. It's fast. And I enjoy working with each kid for a few minutes. Plus, even though it's relaxed and they're getting their learning in small, easy bites (a lot like Saxon does math, actually), they are learning things that I've wanted them to learn and haven't managed with Time4Learning (since it's easy to get away with not really learning it there). And it's fast each day, leaving us plenty of time to do things like learn about genetics or play in the snow.

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