Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Typing Coach {Homeschool Crew Review}

The Typing Coach

Lauren has sometimes seen me typing and asked how she could learn to type as fast as I do. I tell her the story about how my mom checked an old typing book out of the library when I was in junior high and made me practice typing (on a typewriter) one summer. As soon as she hears the story, Lauren promptly forgets about her desire to learn to type quickly and accurately.

When she saw a video commercial for The Typing Coach, however, she decided that she really did want to put forth the effort to learn to type. The Typing Coach Online Typing Course is an online program designed to help anyone learn touch typing skills.

The Typing Coach

The goal of Typing Coach is to teach students to type at least ten words per minute with no more than one error per minute. With additional practice using this program's techniques, Typing Coach believes that people can reach typing speeds of 45+ words per minute.

The Typing Coach uses audio, video, and written materials to teach students. Before she could get started, we needed to print some of the materials off so that Lauren could practice typing from a printed page and not the screen. She then started with a video explaining the program, teaching correct typing posture, and where to place her hands on the keyboard. (We had to improvise a bit and add a step stool for her to put her feet on because we can't adjust the height of the desk.)

I was actually quite confused when we started using the program. After seeing the cute cartoon figures on the website, I expected to find a program that was more visually appealing and easier for Lauren to use independently. Instead, the program interface is a bit bare bones:

Each lesson has an audio component (20-30 minutes long) where the student listens to an instructor and learns the position of the keys on the keyboard. I really like the way The Typing Coach uses audio to introduce the keys because it helped Lauren learn where the keys were without looking at her fingers. I found that the audio instruction moved too slowly for my pace and I kept wanting to have a fast-forward option. Thankfully, Lauren didn't object to the pacing in the lessons. After learning the position of the keys using the audio materials, Lauren uses the printed practice sheets to further improve her skills.

The Typing Coach does not have a typing area built into the program. Rather, the student uses a separate word processing document to do the actual typing.

The Typing Coach emphasizes perfection in learning to type. The student is reminded multiple times that they should work on each individual practice sheet until she can type each line perfectly before they take a test in the assessment center. She should be able to do this without looking at the keyboard or monitor at all. Because Lauren has taken this goal very seriously, she still does not feel confident enough to take any of the assessments in the program.

I tried out the practice and testing center for myself. Honestly, I found the tests to be very difficult. Like I said earlier, I'm a rather fast typist (years of school practice and then summers spent in data entry/secretarial jobs have honed my skills). The tests are only one minute long, only one error is allowed during that time, and the monitor is supposed to be covered during the test. Additionally, the backspace/delete keys are disabled for the test. Often I realized that I had made a mistake and would automatically try to correct it. I wasn't allowed to make a correction and often found myself one letter off for the rest of the row (and got all those letters wrong too). I hope that Lauren will do better with this method of testing because she hasn't already gotten into the habit of correcting her own typing as she goes along. If she does, however, struggle with the perfection needed to pass the assessments, I may exercise my right as the homeschool teacher to allow her to move on with a not-quite-perfect score.

I asked Lauren what she thought about this program and was surprised to hear her say that she likes it. She's not bothered by the number of times it takes her to get her practice pages correct; she simply likes knowing that she's learning to type like a grown-up. I suspect that she'll be working through the materials for quite some time, but I have confidence that she'll be a proficient touch typist when she's finished with the program.

One year access for a single student to use The Typing Coach costs $17. I would recommend this program for students who are serious about learning touch typing.

The Typing Coach Online Typing Course {The Typing Coach Reviews}

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©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Thin Stix {Homeschool Crew Review}

The Pencil Grip, Inc

I always keep a healthy supply of markers, crayons, and coloring pencils available for my children to use either for school projects or just for fun. I recently found a new art supply that I recommend for every family to keep on hand. Kwik Stix solid tempera paint from The Pencil Grip, Inc. is an amazing addition to our art supply closet. Lauren has been using the Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors for all sorts of projects lately.

When we received the set of tempera paint sticks, Lauren wanted to try them out right away. It wasn't a great time for me to supervise a messy art project, but I had heard so much about how the Thin Stix were mess-free that I let her dive in without supervision.

Her first project was a simple drawing on regular paper. Yes, regular paper. Not thick paper designed for use with paints or even the heavier cardstock that's hidden away near our office area. She simply grabbed a few sheets of paper out of the printer.

Lauren was immediately impressed with the bright colors. Not only were the colors bright, they easily made bold marks on the page. It was definitely less tedious than trying to color the grass or the sky with markers.

I was impressed that the project truly didn't make any mess. The paint dries so quickly that Lauren didn't even get any smudges on her hands. Because she colored all the way to the edges of the paper, there were some tiny streaks left on the kitchen table when she lifted up the paper. (Remember: she was completely unsupervised and I didn't remind her to put a larger scrap piece of paper underneath.) Those small streaks easily wiped away with a damp rag.

I noticed that the paint was drying so quickly that the paint didn't mix with neighboring colors and suggested that Lauren try a picture with overlapping shapes of different colors. Sure enough, the Thin Stix colors stayed true even when the overlapping lines were drawn immediately after each other. This abstract geometric project was much more fun with the Thin Stix than it would've been with markers that bled into each other making muddy lines at the intersections.

By far our favorite projects with the Thin Stix package were posters. It was a bit difficult to draw details or sign a name on the smaller projects, but the tempera paint sticks write clearly on a larger surface such as a poster.

Lauren made one poster to give to our two Children's Ministers as a thank you for all their work this year.

Later, since we still had the posterboard out, she made an advertisement for our school. I particularly like how she praises the "Great teachers" and tells how we can deal with food allergies and doctors appointments.

I think every family needs to have a set of these Thin Stix tempera paint sticks and a few sheets of posterboard on hand for impromptu sign making. Thin Stix makes it super easy to make a Happy Birthday sign, a large Get Well Soon wish, or even a sign to cheer on your favorite athlete. (It might've embarrassed Brennan if I had made signs to cheer on his baseball team, though.)

The Thin Stix 6 pack of Classic Colors costs $8.49. Thin Stix (and also larger Quik Stix paint sticks) are available at major retailers like Amazon and Toys R Us. The sets range in size from 6 to 24 colors and include metallic or neon colors in addition to the classic colors we've been using.

No Mess Art with Thin Stix Classic Colors {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Homeschool Rescue {Homeschool Crew Review}

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

Not too long ago, someone asked me how many years I had been homeschooling. When I answered that I was finishing my thirteenth year, she wrongly assumed that I knew what I was doing by now. The truth is that every homeschool year is different -- we have different activities, different medical or learning challenges, and for our military family sometimes a new, different location. Some years I've easily fallen into a homeschool groove, and others (like this one) have been more of a challenge.

I started studying the Homeschool Rescue online encouragement course from Only Passionate Curiosity about a month ago, and it is already making a huge difference in my life and our homeschool days.

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

Heather's course combines video teaching with printable homework assignments to encourage and challenge homeschool parents to breathe new life into their homeschool days. Sometimes I was able to watch the teaching portion on my computer or iPhone, other times I downloaded the audio version, and still other times I downloaded the printed transcript. (Honestly, even if I watched the video, I still read through the transcript later so that I could underline my favorite parts, write comments in the margins, etc.)

In this course, Heather does an amazing job of reaching each homeschool mom right where she is at. I've had a hard homeschooling year this year. We started the year with a new learning diagnosis for Lauren, added a new medical diagnosis, and survived five hospitals stays (with too many sick days for me to count). With all the running, I felt like I was living crisis to crisis, and this course is helping me realize it's okay to put my own oxygen mask on first. Sometimes moms feel like we need permission to reshuffle the priority list (or toss it out). If you're looking for someone to give you permission, Heather will do it.

At the same time, however, Heather doesn't just give moms a pass on doing the hard work of homeschooling. After taking a good look at my mental state and realizing that I needed to give my self grace for a homeschool year that didn't turn out the way I had planned, it was time for me to move forward. Later lessons in the course include learning how to say no, building routines to take care of homemaking and homeschooling tasks, structuring your day to be more efficient, teaching your children to study independently, and so much more.

Through all the work, I never felt that Heather was "preachy" or that she had all the answers. She never promised that if I used this curriculum or did my laundry in a single day each week that suddenly my life would be easy. Heather understands that life isn't easy. She even has an entire lesson in the first module that deals with homeschooling if you have a chronic illness or if your child has special needs. This course didn't offer simple solutions. Instead it showed me how to figure out my own solutions because I'm truly the only one who understands the complexities of my family's circumstance. It sounds trite but Heather taught me to fish, she didn't give me a fish (that someone in my family either wouldn't like or would be allergic to).

In addition to the course videos and homework assignments, Heather has also set up a private Homeschool Rescue group on Facebook for those instances when you have another questions, need a new idea, or just want to hang out with other moms who are taking a close look at their homeschool days. I'm part of many online homeschool groups, and I can already tell that this group is a special one to be a part of. In addition, Heather and the Homeschool Rescue team have often offered to discuss things further via email if I needed more help or encouragement.

Homeschool Rescue is absolutely the best thing that I've done to improve our homeschool this year. It salvaged this year and kept it from being remembered in my mind as "that year when Lauren was in the hospital and we didn't get anything at all accomplished." I'm remembering the good from this year along with the difficulties and giving myself grace to realize that it's okay that it didn't turn out the way I had envisioned. More importantly, Homeschool Rescue is giving me the tools to face next year with fresh enthusiasm, new routines, and a realistic schedule to make the most of whatever comes our way.

Thank you, Heather, for creating a product that will touch so many homeschool moms so they can take care of themselves, build strong families, and educate their children well.

Homeschool Rescue {Only Passionate Curiosity Reviews}

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©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Reader!

In my mind, there's a huge difference between learning to read and becoming a reader.

Lauren's been able to decode words for quite some time now. Until recently, however, reading never quite "clicked." It was almost as if Lauren hadn't ever figured out that all the words worked together to tell a story that she might actually be interested in figuring out.

I wish I knew exactly what helped Lauren make the transition to reading. I suspect a lot of it had to do with a specific book recommendation from her Science Olympiad partner Tom. We were meeting at a library, and Tom had just finished reading Shiloh. He told her how good it was and even found a copy on the shelves for her to check out.

Honestly, Shiloh sat untouched in a basket in Lauren's room for several weeks. One day Lauren happened to see it and remember that she might see Tom at an upcoming meeting. She picked up the book, read a couple chapters, and then was hooked.

She didn't put it down while she was fixing some lunch:

She made sure it was with us when we were in the car:

Whether it was the book or the timing, I'll never know. I'm just very thankful that something finally worked and she's now a reader.

Last night she texted me to see if I could guess how many books she read in April. I'm glad she kept a record of them -- I never thought that she'd get to a point where she could plow through 15 books in a month.

©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fibber! {Almost Wordless Wednesday}

When a big prize at the morning's feeding therapy session becomes the waiting room entertainment for the afternoon appointment:

©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Daily Bible Jigsaw {Homeschool Crew Review}

Daily Bible Jigsaw by Planet 316

The vast majority of the product reviews I write for my blog are homeschool curriculum or other products/services I can use with my children. Recently, I've been trying out something just for me -- Daily Bible Jigsaw from Planet 316.

Daily Bible Jigsaw is an online jigsaw puzzle app that works either on Facebook or on mobile devices. Both Apple (iTunes) and Android (Google Play) options are available. I preferred to play on Facebook because of the larger screen, but I also tried out a few puzzles on both my iPhone and iPad.

Each day there is a new thirty piece puzzle to be completed. The best part is that each completed puzzle has a corresponding scripture written over the image.

Generally speaking, it takes me no more than four or five minutes to complete a puzzle. It's a fun reward when I'm finished working for the night (or a fun way to waste time when I'm just piddling around online).

The daily puzzles are free to play. Older puzzles and some of the optional tools cost a few coins each to play. (Prices for extra coins start at $1.99 for 20 coins.)

I found that using the Rotate tool cuts a lot of time off of my score. It turns all of the pieces in the correct direction so that I just have to slide them together. Actually, though, sometimes this tool makes the puzzle almost too easy. Other tools include edges (moves all the center pieces out of the way), sweep (moves all the single pieces out of the way), guide (shows a picture of the completed puzzle), and magnet (connects two single pieces together). I rarely use the other tools because I tend to work the puzzles in what many would call a disorganized fashion. I start by putting together some of the edge pieces but then I also fill in the center pieces that look like they fit. I prefer to see individual pieces and move them to the edges myself instead of having the computer move them out of the way for me.

In addition to the free puzzle that I can play each day, Daily Bible Jigsaw has ten free bonus puzzles with 56 pieces each.

Daily Bible Jigsaw has been a fun diversion to add to my days during this busy spring season. Even better, these short periods of fun time online add Biblical encouragement to my days!

Daily Bible Jigsaw {Planet 316 Reviews}

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©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.


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