Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: TOS When I Grow Up... E-Book

I'll admit that when I initially saw that this e-book as my second review product I was a bit disappointed. It said that it was designed for children four to ten years old. I have a four year old daughter who was absolutely not interested in doing anything I suggested this week. I also have a nine year old son, but I worried that he'd find the whole idea of studying firefighters to be a bit babyish.

Like I said, I was skeptical when I downloaded this book. I was wrong. As I glanced through all 82 pages of materials, I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was quite impressed.

It was a good fit for Brennan and for me. To start with, the e-book included all of the information we needed. I could truly "download and go" with these materials. We did not need a computer or any other research books in order to complete the activites. Brennan and I enjoyed reading the History of Firefighting section together. Although it was quite informative and detailed, it was written so that an elementary age student could handle it somewhat independently. Brennan read the section about a firehouse dog on his own.

Some of the math work was a good challenge for Brennan. The firefighter math section was a nice blend of simple calculations (how many miles did he run this week) and questions relating to a chart with the number of fires fought each month. There was a separate section for graphing firefighter salaries based on location, experience, and rank.

I assigned some of the sections for Brennan to complete independently. For instance, he did a great job learning all of the vocabulary words and then using them in both a fill-in-the-blank story and in a crossword puzzle. I liked the crossword puzzle because it was also good handwriting/OT practice for him. It's a bit amazing how much neater his handwriting is when it has to fit in the little boxes of a crossword puzzle.

This week also included quite a bit of time in the car. (My friends are laughing because all my weeks include a lot of time in the car.) Since we were taking a break from our regular history studies, I used the suggested book lists from the e-book to find Brennan a high-interest firefighter book to read while we were traveling last weekend. At one point, he called out from the back seat to tell us all about the Chicago fire he had just read about in that book.

This e-book unit contained enough activities that you could spend at least five full days doing firefighter themed learning. I particularly liked the way they incorporated science and technology by discussing the various types of robotics firefighters use. There is even a very simple model of a robotic arm for children to build.

Other extra activities include relays to run outside, a fire engine cake to bake, Bible verses to study or memorize, copywork pages to practice handwriting (in two different styles), and coloring pages.

This book is part of This Old Schoolhouse's WannaBe series. They currently have ten difference occupations to choose from. In addition to firefighter and police officer, they have typical jobs like doctor, veterinarian, and pilot. I was pleased to see some occupations that I don't usually see, jobs like chef, military, artist, or missionary. Each title is $8.95, or you can purchase all of them as a group for $89.50.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Pictures

For everybody that tells me that they'd like to see more pictures of the kids, we managed to get them to cooperate for approximately 9.7 seconds and snapped a few pictures on Sunday afternoon.

Lauren was singing "My God is So Big" and couldn't stop long enough for a full-length picture looking at the camera. The dress turned out beautifully, Mom!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: TOS Download N Go series, Expedition Australia

For my first review, I was able to try out one of the titles from This Old Schoolhouse's Download N Go series. Lately I've been a bit concerned about Brennan's lack of geography knowledge, and I was excited to see that we were going to use something with a geography focus -- Expedition Australia.

The Download N Go series is a collection of unit studies that can be instantly downloaded. This particular study was over 100 pages long. The materials were divided into five days of activities, each with several learning objectives. When I looked over the learning objectives listed for Expedition Australia, I was pleased to see animal studies (science), mapwork (geography), and a bit of history. When I further looked through the study, I found vocabulary activities, math skills (graphing temperatures, clock times, etc), and music (Australian national anthem). All of these activities can be printed out and then fastened to a lapbook.

The downloaded materials also gave a day-by-day listing of recommended books. I found several of the books at our library. It was particularly useful to find some fiction books that related to Australia. Some of Brennan's favorite books series had individual books set in Australia, and I was able to pull those out for him to read this week.

The units state that they are geared for Kindergarten through 4th graders. There were several activities that could've been used for younger children. If Lauren had been interested in doing schoolwork this week, I could've printed out some of the simpler activities for her to complete. As it was, she was not at all interested in matching the orange joey with his mother the orange kangaroo.

I think the materials would be perfect for 2nd through 4th graders. Brennan and I worked together doing a few days worth of activities. It was a great introduction to researching subjects on the computer. The daily activities are hyper-linked to an appropriate research site, for instance, a weather site to find out the current temperature, a map of Australia to find a particular city, a wikipedia article about an animal, and so on.

As Brennan and I worked through the unit, I found a few drawbacks. The biggest one for me is that I made a bad assumption based on the title "Download and Go." I'm one of the many homeschool moms that rarely stay at home. My kids often grab a backpack of materials so that they can work in the car or while waiting at a doctor's appointment. Most of these activities required internet research. Even if I printed the activity pages and lapbook materials off ahead of time, Brennan would still need to be working at a computer to find the answers.

The second major drawback is that completing these activities required a bit more parental assistance than I had originally thought. Brennan's still new at computer research, other than searching through product reviews on Amazon or REI. He needed quite a bit of my help to navigate through the sites, but I think he would be able to do future units a bit more independently.

The Expedition series also has units about Ireland, China, and Mexico. There are also series for the seasons; so far, they have released Spring Surprises, Winter Wonders, and Autumn Treasures. I'd be most interested in trying one of the biography units: Amelia Earhart, George Washington, Ben Franklin, or Davy Crockett.

In fact, I think that one of the biography units would be a good beginning research project to use for Addison (6th grade). It might be a bit on the easy side in terms of activities, but I think she could learn a lot about using the computer to research a topic and then presenting that research in an organized manner.

Individual units costs $7.95 to download from This Old Schoolhouse. There are monthly bundled units consisting of four selected units for $30. I also saw a pick-your-own option that would allow you to choose any four units for the $30 cost. If you fall in love with this series, you can purchase a semester's worth (19 units) for $114 or an entire year's worth (38 studies) for $190.


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