Sunday, April 28, 2013

Product Review: Spanish for You! Language Curriculum

Product at a glance:
  • Product received for review: 
  • 30 Week Lesson Guides for Grades 3-4 (PDF download)
  • 24 Week Lesson Guides for Grades 5-6 (PDF download)
  • 24 Week Lesson Guides for Grades 7-8 (PDF download)
  • Dozens of Self-Checking Worksheets per grade level (PDF download) 
  • Flashcard/activity pictures (PDF download) 
  • Estaciones Audio MP3's 
  • Estaciones Native Spanish Speaker Audio MP3's
  • Publisher: Spanish for You
  • Price: $64.95 for the full program, some of the other programs (Viajes has a 4 or 6 week trial for $10-$13), this includes three different lesson plans for Grades 3-4, Grades 5-6, and Grades 7-8. If you only need a single grade, it is even less expensive. For $39.95, you can grab a single one of any of those lesson plans and the softcover text book.
  • Web-site: Spanish for You! 
  • Other Products: 
  • Ages/grades suggested for: Grades 3-8. Younger students could work through some of the material with help and older students can learn plenty in the upper level lessons
  • Who can use it? Homeschoolers, co-op teachers, classroom teachers, moms who want to enhance their child's regular education.
  • What problem does this product solve?: 
  • We had the opportunity to have a teleconference with the creator of this program, Mrs. Debbie Annett, MSEd. She talked about some of the goals that were behind her development of this curriculum:
  • Flexibility in scheduling classes or working on the language at home.
  • Ability to teach multiple levels together and to fold in students with little experience into a group who have had previous classes.
  • Simple and effective to use, but provided the opportunity to accomplish a lot of learning without spending a lot of money.  
  • Something that was easy to use and something that either students can use alone or a parent with little Spanish experience can use alone.
  • How will this product help solve that problem?: 
  • Mrs. Annett created themed units that can teach the beginner as well as a student with some Spanish experience. These units cover basics without tons of overlap by covering their themes: Estaciones (seasons), Fiestas (celebrations) and the soon to be released Viajes (travels). Her program allows new students to begin the study while still allowing experienced students to progress in their language learning. 
  • Spanish for You! includes two sets of audio files (her spoken set and a set of audios from a native Spanish speaker)
Spanish for You! Estaciones uses a mix of book lessons, audio lessons, worksheets, flashcard creation, and dozens of games (here's a link to many of them). Kids learn better when they have the opportunity to apply the new words and concepts they learn through games and speaking the language as well as listening and repeating the language of experienced speakers. This is how we learned to speak our native language as toddlers and how we will be successful learning a new language now.

I took two years of Spanish in high school. I had the most wonderful teacher; she was a thoughtful, funny, engaging woman. She really tried to engrain the language on our teenage minds. Her one flaw was that she had the most sweetest of southern twangs and try as she might, by the end of class we all had that same slow southern drawl. I still remember a good bit of the language from those classes which is a testament to how well I was taught, but I also still have that southern drawl as well. I have joked about it before, but when I started listening to the audio lessons included with Spanish for You!, it really brought to light how many of my pronunciations were more than a small bit off. I also speak it very slowly...VERY SLOWLY, in the South, there's no need to hurry, even with a language that tends to be spoken in the rapid staccato of a machine gun, right?

Some of the printable pages that can be
used for games or cut out for flashcards.

When Debbie Annett created her program, Spanish for You! she took people like me into account. I'm teaching my kids at home, without the benefit of a Spanish degree. Although I have experience with the Spanish language, I am not the best teacher of Spanish due to my crazy southern belle accent. Working through these early lessons with the kids, I quickly learned to listen to the audio lesson FIRST before I tried reading the lesson page aloud. The kids were absolutely delighting in correcting me when I did it the other way first. I have to say, the audio files are GOLD for learning. Every word on the page is read for you. She will even stop and quickly explain things like, "Did you notice how the letter 'J' is pronounced like an 'H' in Junio?"

The Spanish for You! program is open and go. After only a few minutes of figuring out which files are which pieces, it is quick to start and easy to implement. Mrs. Annett says the program is meant to take 20-30 minutes per day four days per week, we did take just a bit longer than that. Perhaps 30-40 minutes to do a full lesson. I will admit, my third grader slows things down, she's...slow, like a sloth, when it comes to writing flashcards or filling in worksheets.

Leccion 1: El calendario y el tiempo

There are some great games to play with the kids that reinforce the language being learned and they really helped my kids start to THINK in Spanish and that for me is the point. The games are fun and the kids enjoy that part of the program very much.

Example of the Grade 5-6 Lesson Plan
Example of the Grade 3-4 Lesson Plan

The lessons tend to have a pattern each week. They spiral back to review earlier vocabulary and the cover the current week's vocabulary. Each day of the week incorporates the current words being learned as well as new activities and games and ideas. Since we are studying Estaciones (Seasons), we started keeping a Daily Weather Chart, it includes a "What I Do Chart," so every day we write a sentence about what we are doing that day. Some days there are songs to sing and other fun stuff that you can download from the extensive Spanish for You! web-site (mini-lessons or curriculum activities). These you can see for yourself on the site. If you have a self-motivated child, they could easily use the Spanish for You! program with very little help from mom. I am in the process of teaching mine how to find the audio files by themselves so that they can review on their own.

Working on flashcards while listening to
our audio files.
Working on flashcards while listening to
our audio files.

Matthew's (11) Daily Weather and What I did Chart.

What did Mom think?  

Originally, my thoughts were, "This is nothing like how I learned Spanish." There were no flashy, full-color text books covered in labeled pictures. There are lots of drawings, drawings done by Debbie Annett's daughter, Amanda. She explained during out teleconference that she did this on purpose. She wanted to produce an affordable option for homeschoolers and even teachers to be able to get a full curriculum for a year at a price that anyone could afford. If she had bought tons of artwork or added in hundreds of photos, the price on the books would be drastically more expensive.

As we moved through the lessons, I have come to appreciate the simple presentation very much. The kids made their own flashcards and can remember their vocabulary better from the making those flash cards. It works better than if they were looking at the labeled photo of the sun and clouds and trees. My 8-year-old spontaneously declared her popcorn "Hace calor" just hours after our first lesson.

The video above is the kids trying out the first lesson with the audio files. They are a vital part of the curriculum are the audio files. They are so essential and so useful to learning the language, it's like having your own personal Spanish teacher hanging out in your computer. Included in the program are both non-native speaker audio files and native speaker audio files. I mostly use the non-native files, but it is great to have the option of both files so that you can expose the kids to the different sounds.

Both my third grader and my sixth grader are enjoying the program. We are several weeks in and I never have grumbling or resistance when I pull out our Spanish for You! book and notebooks. For the first time in our homeschool history, they WANT to practice and move forward in a subject rather than me pushing them forward, uphill, through a blizzard, with lead boots. They're enthused and excited! It's such a relief to find a program and a method that clicks!

What do the kids think?

Emma: "Spanish for You! es FANTASTICO! I love it! Mom, can we get a Spanish pen pal?"

Matthew: "I actually think the Spanish for You! is really cool. I like finding out new words every day and trying to find ways to say things in Spanish that I already know how to say in English."


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Product Review: Apologia Press' Ultimate Homeschool Planner for Parents, Teens, & Students

Product at a glance:

  • Product received for review: 
  • Author/Designer: Debra Bell. Find her web-site here 
  • Other Products by Apologia: Apologia Press offers award-winning creation-based science courses, biblical worldview and apologetic titles, online classes, inspirational books, homeschooling tools, language arts and history curriculum, and a plethora of books and other materials. 
  • Ages/grades suggested for which products are suggested: 
  • The Ultimate Homeschool Planner - The perfect tool for mom or dad to plan out the entire homeschooling year. 
  • The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens-Grades 7-12.
  • The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students-Grades 4-8.

As I said in my earlier post about Blog Planners that I am NOT a planner. I want to be a planner when I grow up, but since I've hit the 40-something bracket at this point, I don't know if I will ever reach that stage of development. This planning system is so complex and comprehensive that at first, it honestly gave me hives just flipping though the "how to" pages. There are 11 "here's how this program works" pages and they caused me to close the book and put it aside more than once. That being said, I found  a quote from the Apologia catalog that did spoke directly to my heart:
"Do you want to do more than just survive homeschooling? Thrive in the pleasure of God's calling upon your life. Count your blessings while charting your family's progress with this 48-week planner designed to help you document God's faithfulness and activity during your homeschool journey."
"THRIVE in the pleasure of God's calling to homeschool?" Most days, I'm just hoping to keep the two of them from murdering each other and to survive it with my sanity intact. I muddle my way through multiple lesson plans across what seems like 19 books and as many curriculum, as best I can all while working full-time, raising three kids, chasing three dogs, two cats, and assorted other zoo animals. Survive is probably a good description of my goal these first two years of homeschooling. 

I do want to thrive. I do want to enjoy teaching my children. I want to be organized and feel like I'm finally doing the best job I can do. I want to take all the different plans that I have from my pieces of curriculum and smoosh them together into a big overarching schema to ease my stress every day and every week to make sure we're covering everything. I NEED a complete system that gives me a place to collect all of those pieces in one, organized place.

If anything was going to launch me into the realm of a true planner, it would be this system. The Ultimate Homeschool Planner for parents takes you through the process of planning from the big overall picture down to the finite details. As a blogging group, we had the pleasure of attending a webinar from the creator of the system, Mrs. Debra Bell. She said her goal for the planning system was to make you aware of God's faithfulness and activity in your homeschool. She also wants to help you raise and independent learner. You know, independent, as in you give them the right materials and a plan and they handle some of this stuff on their own!

This page is included for each week. On it you can record memorable moment from your homeschooling week, like it's a journal. She even gives you ideas across the bottom: family funnies, victories, progress, promising signs, small beginnings, finished projects. On the bottom half of the page, you can record evidences of grace: evidence of God's grace, mercy, faithfulness, protection, and provision. 

I will say, just to keep things honest, we are currently at the end of our homeschooling year. We have just, this weekend, attended the local homeschool convention and picked up part of the pieces of our curriculum for next year. As such, there was little opportunity for me to truly retreat, plan, organize and lay it all out. I read through the planning sections and began to lay out next year, but I could not put together the weekly day by day plans for each child. What I did do was discuss with the kids what they felt was working well and what was not working from this year. We also, as a family sat down and discussed what our character goals and educational goals would be for next year. 

I added in the pieces of curriculum that I know that we are using for sure next year. I have some missing pieces and I will have to add those in at a later date.

After that I look at the one-year planning grid page and to some extent, that is where this breaks down for me. We don't live that life where everything can be put on the grid and blocked off in advance. We run a family business with my parents and, thanks to the economy, we are understaffed. We work when we are needed, cover when someone is taking time off and just try to keep it under 50 hours per week for each of us. That being said, we have started blocking out next school year and discussing which events are plannable enough to go on the grid even this far out. Although I had my doubts when first I looked at the pages, in reality, there are many dates and events we can put on these pages.

From the yearly planner, you move into the monthly planner where you lay out those tasks that impact your schooling schedule. Lessons, holidays, co-ops, baseball/softball practice, karate, etc. I added in my blogging due dates just so I could maintain a single calendar for the month. 

Mom's Month at a glance
Student Planner
Month at a glance

Teen Planner
Month at a glance

There are also weekly pages where you sketch out the kids' assignments day by day and child by child. These pages are where you set up the child's goals for the week and on your first school day of the week, they copy these over to their own planners. We did not get the kids stuff transferred but I wanted to show the pages anyway. Note that the Teen Planner includes bubbles on the weekly page to record time spent on tasks. Some 
states require time to be tracked in order for the child to receive credit to graduate.

Mom's Planner
Week at a glance
Student Planner
Week at a glance

Teen Planner
Week at a glance

There are other pages in the planner for recording resources used, field trips taken, a section of teaching tips, a high school planning guide, a year-end review, reading list per child, and grades per child. Too many to show them all to you in a single blog. 

I foresee the Ultimate Homeschool Planner helping me achieve my planning goals and getting me on the right track. I hope it will keep me from getting derailed by all the minutia involved in teaching two children every day and working full-time as well.  It is a fantastic tool for any homeschooling momma, but most especially the novice homeschooler whose fears often affect their ability to teach. As a planning-impaired scatterbrain, I feel like this planner gives me something to ASPIRE to in my planning endeavors for next year. Thanks to Mrs. Debra Bell and Apologia for the chance to really get to know this planner at just the right moment, just when I'm beginning to plan that next school year!


What did Mom think of the program?
  • I love the depth that has been put into the planners. The detailed user's guide, although it was a little bit overwhelming to the organizationally challenged at first, it is laid out with examples and full pages shown so that you can SEE what is being explained and how the parts work together
  • I love that Debra includes a page each week to record the positive things you saw throughout the week. So often, I wonder if I do anything right and if the kids are doing anything right. (Come on now, you've been in the trenches, you HAVE those weeks too!) Having this little journal section gives pause for reflection on the week. A time to look for the positive.
  • There is a great section to layout your Bible battle plan, what verses you're reading and to reflect on why, a section to layout your prayer goals and your Godly duties with hospitality and outreach.
  • The fact that the kids have a coordinating planner where the purposes overlap.

What would I change?
  • Mostly, I would change myself to be the woman who CAN plan with this much focus and determination. I want to be that planned out organized momma. Oh, wait, this is supposed to be about the product...shoot!
  • I would put the weekly pages between the monthly pages or add tabs with the months so that flipping back and forth is easier. 
  • I would increase it to be a 52-week planner. If I'm going to be this planned and organized, I'm probably going to do it every week of the year. Plus, we are moving closer to year round schooling with a few three day weeks and a few weeks off scattered around our school year.
  • In all honesty, what I most need is a planner that is where ever I am. We school at home, at granny's house, at our home with the other granny, at work with mom & dad, and when one kid is having practice, the other kid is working on something else.Even though these planners are super durable and easily portable,  ideally, I would find this most useful as an app on the iPad, iPhone and on the computer. Automatically updating between devices, please. In the rush to get out the door on time, things like planners end up being left on the table more often than they should. The iPads though almost always make their way into the bag.

Other cool stuff:

Join us for a FACEBOOK PARTY on Friday, April 12th from 9:00pm-10:00pm EST. 

Just click HERE! It even sounds like there may be some awesome giveaways! Who doesn't love prizes & free stuff! It's my very first Facebook party, so be patient and let me know what you think afterwards!

Click here: Mosaic Reviews - A Medley of Review Perspectives to read dozens of other reviews about this product and see it from many different angles. Make an educated decision!


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Product Review: We Choose Virtues Plus a Discount Code!

From the We Choose Virtues site,
Virtue Flash Cards for Families $14.99

Product at a glance:
  • Product received for review: 
  • Butterfly Awards (Free) 
  • Comparison Chart to examine which products are included with each type of kit. This is very useful for determining what you need
  • A single sample of the Parenting Cards they give the background stories for the characters, a section on each virtue called "What to say after I'm sorry" which is great!

Here's a sample of the Parenting Cards, "Content" the front.

Here's a sample of the Parenting Cards, "Content" the back.

  • Publisher: We Choose Virtues
  • Price: Varies see above
  • Web-site: We Choose Virtues
  • Other Products: Classroom Kits, Homeschool Kits, Family Kits, Kids' Church Kits, and the individual pieces from the kits
  • Ages/grades suggested for: Early Childhood through elementary
  • Who can use it? This product is very versatile. It works great for homeschoolers (secular or religious). It also works great for Children's Church and would make a great addition to any Sunday School class from toddler through late elementary school. It even works great for public school classrooms. They have a secular version with quotes instead of Bible verses to allow it to work in any setting!
  • What problem does this product solve (quoted from the publisher's site): 
  • Let's be honest, instilling virtues is hard work! But can it be fun too? We think so. In fact, there's no better way to learn. So We Choose Virtues brings memorable catchphrases, endearing characters, and just plain fun to Simply Inspire Character that Lasts.
  • How will this product help solve that problem (quoted from the publisher's site): 
  • We Choose Virtues is: Simple. It is based on clear and positive language that everyone can learn together
  • We Choose Virtues is Inspiring. It is teaching by demonstration and learning through practice  
  • We Choose Virtues is about Character...more than attitudes or actions, it is who you are when no one is watching
  • We Choose Virtues Lasts. It creates an internal standard in each person and transformers the culture of your home or classroom 

Virtue Flash Cards $14.99

I've said before, it's not just the math, science, and grammar that I want to teach my kids. I want to provide them a moral foundation and help them to become thoughtful and kind children of God. Looking for tools to train their hearts, I came across Heather & Elton McMillan's company, We Choose Virtues about a year ago. Their kits and products exactly matched one aspect for which I was looking. Outlining the good qualities or "virtues" I wanted my children to internalize. The We Choose Virtues Virtue Flash Cards gave name to the ethereal qualities I was struggling to give name to: kindness, obedience, diligence, honesty, helpfulness, and all the others.

I will admit, I found the program right after I had spent my entire curriculum budget last year. Ever since, I have been squirreling away my pennies to afford the big homeschool kit which is $98.99. When we had a conference call with Heather at the beginning of our review period, she brought up some great points. You do not need the $100 kit to get started. Although the kit is wonderful and in my opinion well worth the money, I should never have let that hurdle hold me back. Our family has gotten a great start with the We Choose Virtues program with the materials I listed above (around $23.00). Don't get me wrong, I'm buying the rest of it as soon as my budget resets for next school year, but with $25-$30 your family can make a positive change in behavior, attitude, and thoughtfulness towards each other.

We started the program with the Family Character Assessment. Each of us sat down with a copy (even the adults) and rated our virtues on a scale of 1 to 10. Then we went around the table discussing whether the rest of us agreed with the numbers we each had chosen. Some of us had very HIGH opinions of our virtuous characteristics...VERY HIGH. So high that I pulled out the "Honesty" card and read it very slowly, just for fun to the table at large. An honest discussion began at that point, and the page of mostly 10's began to look more like a mixture of 4's, 5's, 8's and 9's. 

Using those Character Assessments, we began to talk first about The Three Rules: Obey, Be Kind, Be a Helper. Once we focused on those for a week or two, we began to study a virtue each week. We have only made it to the second virtue at this point, but in theory after about 12-14 weeks, we will have studied each virtue. We have had to review those first two already more than once or twice. The system allows for that very well. Whenever we see someone who needs work on a virtue, we pull them aside and reinforce the message on the card. Within 100 days, hopefully we can affect a great change in our children. The kids by the end of the week can usually repeat the catch phrases on the cards verbatim. When it is time to discuss a problem, we discuss the phrase or the character or the bible verse instead of just telling the kid exactly what they were doing wrong, hopefully they can begin to gain self mastery their behavior. 

Here are the kids coloring the Kids of Virtueville Coloring Pages:


The cards have such memorable characters, along with a rhyming little saying on the back. It also includes a bible verse, however for people who are looking for a secular program, they offer them in multiple versions (KJV, NIV, Secular/Public School). Oboe Joe is Obedient, Cake Jake is Content. The rhymes and catchy phrases lend themselves to memorization and memorization lends itself to internalization. Cake Jake is content. I have my "wanter" under control. When the kids begin listing the things they think their lives are missing, I just have to ask them about their "wanter" and they examine their behavior.  

The Teacher's Handbook lays out the system in exquisite detail. It has ideas for classroom setting but most ideas easily adapt to the home. It explains how you can use the system for any age from toddlers up through late elementary. There are hints and tips and step-by-step directions. It explains how the system can work in simply 10 minutes a day plus gentle reminders throughout the day. Mrs. McMillan, during our conference call, even told us the company is working on a program for Middle School and High School age kids as well. Although my almost 12-year-old was a good sport about it, he was hoping for something more challenging than coloring pages.

The Teacher's Handbook PDF
I printed mine 2-up on a page.
What did Mom think of the program?
  • It's probably not a surprise, but I love it. I'm definitely ordering the Teacher Cards or the Parenting Cards (they come with the background stories for the characters) and the Three Rules poster. I'd like to get the 100 Days of Virtue Achievement Chart as well or the mini posters. 
  • I would love to see books written about the characters that you could read to the kids during the week as you teach the virtue. I very excited for the eventual release of the program for the older kids.
What would I change?
  • As I said, I would love a little more depth. Books, more in depth activities, more stories with the characters, even cartoons would be awesome! 
  • A homeschool specific handbook would help. The teacher book is amazing, it has so many ideas for the classroom but sometimes those dynamics are very difficult to apply to siblings who have been at war all week over a broken Lego castle or a headless Monster High Doll.
What did Emma (8) think about the program?
  • I like it a lot, it's really fun. The little sayings make it easy to remember what you should do. The characters are funny and I'd like to know more of their story.
What did Matthew (11) think about the program?
  • We're not very far into it, but I had a pretty good time. I like how you can pick a virtue and start working on it. It gives names to the things I need work on. Sometimes Mom saying "You need  to do better" is very confusing, but when Mom says "You can do it, even when it's tough!" I know I need to work on being Perseverant. 

And best of all, they gave me a discount code to share with my readers!!! Two discount codes actually:

#1: If you homeschool and are interested in buying the Homeschool Kit, you can use the code: 


through the end of April 2013 and get a 20% discount on the Homeschool Kit.

#2: For any of their other great products, We Choose Virtues has given me the code: 


to share with my readers. It will take 15% off your total purchase of any of their great products.

The kids reading the backs of the virtue cards deciding
which virtue we'll work on next week.

Homeschool teacher, public school teacher, daycare teacher, Sunday School teacher or even just parent of kids, this system is simple to implement and has the potential to help you raise more virtuous kids. Check it out at the links above and go to Mosaic Reviews after April 2nd to get a medley of perspectives from my other blogging review team members. They all have some wonderful thoughts on these products!