Showing posts with label Online Service. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Online Service. Show all posts

Friday, November 19, 2010

TOS Crew Review: KBTeachers (worksheets, printable pages)

This should come as no surprise to my regular blog visitors, but I am not a big fan of using worksheets to teach.  But alas, even I realize there are moment when they come in quite handy.  I especially like the challenge of taking a worksheet and turning it into a learning tool for my children.  So actually, I do find that I can tweak one to get something useful for memory work, or to cement a particular lesson into my kids' noodles.  There are times too-when I want to avoid having an "idle hands and mind" moment with one student, whilst I work with another, and  I much prefer it to be in the educational spectrum. So again, this may mean I need to dip into the worksheet world to prevent this.

The ability to find quality material is a bit of challenge, not to mention a time swallower. Having a membership with a company that already has that done for me, is a fabulous thing.  Enter KBTeachers,  an online smörgåsbord of such things like: a worksheet generator, clip art [original artwork here] that can be used in my own personal projects or on my blogs; as well as a good variety of math, science, and fun activities I can access, and print as needed.

This is a free worksheet on the Rainforest layers. 
  It serves as a great example of how 
I could "tweak" this by having my student complete it, 
to place it in a lapbook on climates, or in a science notebook, etc.  

I was particularly happy to see the sign language section, as we will have that course in our next co-op session. I know that will come in quite handy!  I love how I can type in a message that they will need to decipher, and it is not limited because I can create new ones every time.  They also have a section dedicated to the current month's goings on-and it is prominently displayed in the upper most left-hand corner, so you are sure to see it. Best yet-they have a monthly webquest section, with live links to sites regarding the gem of the day (such as Veteran's Day, Popcorn Day, Gettysburg day and so forth) designed to provide additional resources for our studies.

My example here of this sign language activity.  
Can you read it? 
Look at the bottom of the review for the answer.

I am also impressed to see they have material designed for children in the older grades (Jr/Sr high) which is not an easy thing to find.  Best yet, they still offer up some goodies for the younger set-so this is a nice option for families with all age levels to address, like us.  And although I do not usually budget for, nor purposely seek out such sites to purchase a membership [because we try to avoid having too much paper busywork in our daily studies]-I am very glad I was chosen to be a part of this review.  I can see great potential for supplementing our lapbooks/notebooks for our current and future studies; and look forward to their additions and new material. My best suggestion is for you to sign up for the trial period, to see if the site addresses your family's needs.

An FYI moment: thankfully, the team at KBTeachers is open to many suggestions from their clients, especially one I addressed which was the need for more Christian materials.  I saw a positive response, and hopefully down the road they will have more in their collection to offer us.  Be forewarned here, the majority of the science section is evolution based-so simply avoid those if you are uncomfy with it. There are plenty enough other subject materials to use that are benign. Personally, I would like to see the sciences/geology worksheets become less date oriented-meaning they note the information about the subject, without pinpointing a date in time it was to have occurred.  That way it suits both group's needs, allowing for the teacher to decide what time frame they want to place it in.  Also, it would be uncharacteristic of me if I didn't note that many of the worksheets are typical of what you'd expect to find PS/PS teachers using.  Like I mentioned in the beginning though, these can be used in part, or cut up to create a more "hands on" type of activity for projects and such. Creativity is one of the homeschooler's best weapons to teaching "outside the box" and this is an example of just such a moment.

I didn't put a kid icon on here b/cuz you use this to create material or download it for your students
-all ages are addressed though.

Need help with icons? Click Here

KBTeachers Homepage (currently undergoing major web design changes, so look for that soon)
$29 with trial/then 1 year membership,  $49 for 2 year membership
Try their 10 day free trial  before you buy.
They also have free pages to download without signing up for the trial-just look for those under the specific subjects.

Don't forget to see what my TOS mates had to say about this and many other fine homeschool products over on our TOS Review Crew Homepage. To read the posts specifically for this review, head to KBteachers TOS postings for that info.

**KBTeachers provided me with a 2 year membership so that I could access and use their worksheets to assist in educating my children, and so that I could write this review.  I did not receive any financial compensation for my honest opinion of their product/service.

Answer to the sign language worksheet: This is a fun part of the KBteachers site.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

TOS Crew Review: LanSchool Home Version computer monitoring program

Wouldn't it be great if you could monitor your student's computer time?  Pop in and post a note to them or receive a question from your student's inquiring mind? How about being able to see what your child is doing in real time?  Or where they have been?  How about being able to check to see if they are really doing their assigned work, or [gasp!] dawdling on another site instead?  What if you could block out questionable websites?  Wouldn't it be fun to have your students be able to see on their own screen, the "something" you are demonstrating on your computer?  Or perhaps you want everyone to enjoy a video without scrunching up to see it on one screen (in other words-they watch it on theirs, without squashing you to view it).  These are not some far fetched "Geez that would be swell" sort of scenarios. There is a program out there that can do just that.  It is called LanSchool, and even though it serves many public and private schools, they also have a home version available.  But dear readers-I simply cannot adequately describe everything it offers-so please visit the LanSchool Homepage link, and read about it-then come back to see what I think about it.

See?  There is a lot to the program and obviously, they can describe it best.  So on with my thoughts...

I guess I must admit-we're most definitely smack dab in the middle of the most technically advanced era on the ole timeline of human history. Unfortunately, I am not one to always embrace it.  Especially the whole computer thing-sure, I can use it and have found it to be a great blessing-but I also have felt gray hairs popping, and my veins surging due to the frustrations that occur when using something so complex and downright fussy.  Simply put-I am not a computer geek, and I just don't "get it" most of the time-which is why I have a very tumultuous love-hate relationship with it.

So when it comes to how we homeschool, I utilize the old fashioned way of doing things, for most of it.  You know-using face to face discussions, reading real books, cuddle time on the couch, using the ole television set to view movies and so forth.  I do not use much computer time during our regular school hours-but we will use some educational CDs and websites as supplemental activities to our main curriculum. Granted our teen does have her own computer; but we have the safety issues already addressed; as well as the ability to check her history at any given moment-so those bases are covered. So when I was chosen for the LanSchool review-I was unsure exactly why I would even need it-not to mention the fact that I was having a bit of a panic attack because I am not techno-savvy at all.

Some of you are probably shaking your heads and asking what the big deal is.  Well, for me and those who are not all computery is a challenge. Thankfully, LanSchool has a very helpful PDF file and several (yes, I watched them) tutorials to get me started.  I found that I was able to download the program fairly easily and then navigate it well enough. It certainly was not something to "freak out" about because it actually makes sense once you play around on it.  Best yet-it has plenty of tech help available if and when I require it.

Now, even though I was able to do those things mentioned in the first paragraph, it simply is not a good fit for us.  As I stated, we are more "old timey" in our way of learning (and if and when my son was doing computer work-it was on mine. That is definitely a valid point to ponder; as it also happens to be the one I have as the "teacher's" it kind of voided out the need for monitoring his activities) so I truly wasn't seeing much of a reason for this type of application for us. Perhaps I will find more of need for it down the road, but right now-it is simply "overkill" for us.  But, I can definitely see this being a great program for a homeschool group or co-op; especially for those classes that can use computers but have limited funds to provide each child with their own curricula (such as a video they need to see), or better yet-used for actual computer instruction classes.

For those families who use a computer curriculum program, or for those who use the computer frequently to teach-then perhaps this is a most useful program indeed.  I have to say-you'll need to do your homework in regard to whether it is right for your family.  Reading the Home Version Information Flyer should fill in the gaps too.  Pay attention to the specific system requirements noted at the bottom of the flyer-and you will need to have computers that "can talk to each other", so research and know that information prior to purchasing.
And there you have it folks-my take on the LanSchool program.

Basically they are doing what they normally would be during their computer time-you now have the ability to assist and monitor it with this program-so that is why I have this icon here-unless they are not computer literate, than I guess they would need assistance.

Need help with icons? Click Here

Home Version Sign-Up (3 computer monitor limit)
$99 for home  license with 3 yr. update access
This can be used for most ages-as long as they can use a computer, you can monitor them

Don't forget to visit our TOS Crew Review Homepage to see what my crewmates had to say aboutthis and many other fine homeschool products.

***LanSchool provided me with a free home version license to test and use on my family's computers, so that I could write this review.  I did not receive any financial compensation for my honest opinion of this product.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

TOS Crew Review: Lobster Network

Bet you didn't know that a lobster could have its own network did you?  Isn't that reserved for the human species and not those of the crustacean nature?  Fear not-I am describing a virtual lobster my friends-no steaming or melted butter required (sorry Paula Deen fans) and no potential to be pinched by those snappy claws.

Many Seinfeld fans should recognize the episode where Kramer is in the Hamptons [visiting the couple with the ugly baby] when, whilst on a walk along the beach, he discovers the trap with lobsters. Just floating there, available to anyone [in his mind] who wants to claim know, in other words-free.  Well, not only does the Lobster Network exist for everyone [free of charge] unlike Kramer's catch, it provides a unique way to network with fellow bloggers, homeschool group and co-op pals, and just about anyone who is signed up to use this cyber-community board.  Need to unload some goodies (anything legal-like books, CDs, DVDs and more) or offer up some things to loan to your fellow man?  Then Lobster Network is just for you. 

Imagine a place where you are not charged to sell your stuff-to just folks in your communities or out there in the general public.  Imagine a place that you can list your items, keep track of who has borrowed it and get a reminder notice that it is due to be returned.   Fancy a place where you can search for things you would like to borrow, so you don't have to spend precious cash for an item you need only briefly.  Sit down for this one-ponder actually having a place to log an inventory of the materials you have shelved or have laying about (such as, but not limited to:  school books, music and DVD libraries, and so forth) for insurance purposes, and/or just plain ole organizational needy-needs.  Imagine no more-seriously, this new network is designed to provide all that and more.    

Once you have signed up, you will be welcomed into your personal "lobster crate" to gain access to partake in all the noted above activities.

This is what the main page looks like for members. Cute huh?

Now, being the organizational wanna be that I am, this looks great.  I can feel the urge to purge, desire to organize and the need to be all lobstery.  This is a work in progress for me.  I have signed onto my community for TOS, have invited a bunch of friends to join me in the community, and have noted only 2 resources I own in my library...but that is as far as I have gone.   I just have not had the time to go through the hundreds of books I own to get that inventory listed.  That is going to require my daughter's help and some time over the summer.  I am mostly excited about this aspect.  I need to know what I own, so I won't repurchase something I already have, or not buy what I think I do own-but simply do not.  I want to do this-I plan to do this-in due time.

The communities are a wonderful idea-especially because I can keep them "private" by doing invitation only requests, or keeping it to a specific group of folks.  I plan on setting up one for our new HS Co-op this fall,  once it is established. As for the selling of things we no longer need-well, I am not at a point in our year to start unloading things-so that too must wait.  I hope to get moving on that once I have wrapped up a few things this spring.  So again-it is a time issue here.

As for the lending part-that is one I am a might leery of due to bad past experiences.  I am not sure if I am ready to partake in that.  My fellow community mates are mostly scattered about the country, so to have to loan and ship-I just dunno. Too many elements to keep me on the sidelines for this right now.  But the potential is there, and somewhere down the road (when I regain trust in my fellow homeschooling man, I think I will do this) and perhaps with the idea of keeping it in my literal community of homeschooling fams I trust-I can do this. So I must point that out-if you are not in the financial position to replace borrowed items you will need again (and I don't know many who are) due to faulty borrowers, or if you are sheepish about requesting them back (although there is the feature that reminders folks about due dates-there is no true consequence for never giving it back, or dealing with late returns-outside of losing a friendship to deter this rather sad state of affairs), the lending option may not be for you either. 

I like what Lobster Network has to offer, that it is free and can open up a whole new world for selling, buying, lending, borrowing and networking.  I can see a great potential for many families to use this, especially for those who are limited to only a few avenues to partake in such things. Let's face it-sites that charge a fee for using their service usually render it somewhat impractical to use. There is no financial loss for giving it a try, so why not?  Oh, and for my Jewish pals-this is totally kosher-you will not be violating any laws by partaking in the Lobster Network.  Just wanted you to know. ;0)

FYI: The folks behind Lobster are Christians, but the service is neutral 
and doesn't meet the Cross icon criteria, hence the world icon here.

Need help with icons? Click Here

Free service

Don't forget to see what my TOS mates had to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products over on our TOS Review Crew Homepage.

***Lobster Network provided me with a free membership to their site.  No financial compensation was provided in exchange for my honest opinion of their service.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

TOS Crew Review: Lesson Planet

The now infamous dwarf planet-Pluto

I was taught (back in the good ole days) that there were 9 planets circling our sun, but due to a series of unfortunate events (we'll leave Lemony Sniket out of it)-Pluto was kicked to the curb. What could possibly fill that void? Determined to forgo the lack of sensitivity the world was showing ole Pluto-we decided to keep it. I was obliviously unaware that another had moved in to fill the position-that this planet was now orbiting the sun too. Well, Pluto lovers-you need not panic, this cyber-orb is a "horse of a different color"-one called Lesson Planet.

But what exactly is a "Lesson Planet"?  Does one need to propel several light-years through space to find this place?  With a click of a few keys on your computer-you can access over 150,000 lesson plans, and some 75,000 worksheets designed to address most educator's needs.  This search engine has several different components that can assist a gal or guy, in locating a variety of topics and subjects to use in the classroom.

In general, this is a pretty good idea...especially for time-strapped teachers. But even with best intentions, there are bound to be a few problems.  Unlike my usual approach to reviews, I have decided to note "what I like" and what I "don't like" about this service.  Remember-I am a homeschool vet that has a stash of goodies at my fingertips, in various forms that can be easily added to our regular studies-so my need for such things is purely random.  I may need to pull up an additional activity or two in order to "cement" a concept or topic into my precious students' minds.  But I do not use this as a way to carry on our regularly scheduled courses. Those reading this, may actually prefer this route-so keep that in mind and consider what your very specific needs are before drawing your own conclusion.  Better yet-take advantage of the free 10 day trial to see for yourself.

So here we go-

What I liked:
*pinpoints age level (fairly accurately)
*has a rating system-so you can see what others thought of it (but this is subjective-so it may not meet your standards)
*search sections for lesson plans or worksheets
*wide variety of subjects and topics
*pages that have been reviewed by someone (so at least you know you are not hitting on some unsavory site)
*if you need such things to meet state HS requirements-the lessons point out the standards/assessment tools
*you can save your finds into a folder for later use
*informs you right below the title: the subject heading, where it came from (source), time duration to present/complete, type of method and the group it is meant to address
*there is a section directly relating to homeschooling
*could click on the Homeschooling Guide section to browse through articles with links relating to various subject-actually found that more refreshing than the other parts

Not a bad list really, but of course-there is always the down side to things.  Here is where it gets rather disheartening.

What I didn't like:
*encountered a lot of problems when searching. For example-when looking under US women in history and US history, I got more spelling/ vocab activities than the history worksheets I was looking for (common event when searching a vast amount of subjects)
*too wide of a scope,  it made it so that I spent more time going through the lists, in order to find perhaps one or two things, that fit that category-very time consuming. It is just too broad of a pool of hits, it needs to be fine tuned to not pull up every document that may have that word/subject matter listed in it
*found very few items I would consider even printing-not a big worksheet user, but on occasion will add it to notebooks or tear it apart to use components of it-was not finding what I needed
*Too many dead links (yes, there is a report button-but I would have spent more time doing this than searching) to make it worth my time/effort
*the price is way too high for this type of service-esp. when I can find the majority of these things on free searches, or through free websites
*types of activities/worksheets were somewhat lame, or rather mindless.  I would not even consider using the majority of the ones I searched.  Very typical of what you would see a PS child (no offense here, I am not teaching 30 kids in one hour blocks, trying to keep the peace whilst expounding the material to them all-meaning that I do not usually have a call for said material) use/bring home.  Out of all the searching and investigating-I found 3, yes only 3 items I would use.  One was a guideline to create a comic strip about mutualism in organisms (for my teen's biology), one was a website with a virtual tour of the Lascaux caverns (early cave drawings in France) and one worksheet for my 8 year old.  Not exactly the best results one would expect.

So there you have it. Simply stated, this was not a good fit for us.  I have been able to procure more links using free searches (and within a quicker time frame), and by going to sites that are also free or priced significantly lower.  I truly do not have a great need for this type of service because I tend to steer clear of using tons of worksheets.  I use them when needed, but as a way to highlight the studies at hand, not to teach it.  It is not that this service is without merit-for a particular niche it could serve as a gateway to finding just the right material one needs (esp. if having to meet the state standards), or providing avenues to enhance the textbook coverage of various subjects. But for us, we'll need to gently jettison Lesson Planet back into deep space to frolic with the asteroids. 

I want to only give this a 1/2 a raft-as it simply did not serve our needs
-but it very well may be just what you need

Need help with icons? Click Here

Lesson Planet Homepage

$39.95 year subscription fee

10 day free trial offer available

Don't forget to check out what my TOS mates had to say about this and many other fine homeschool products on our TOS Review Crew Homepage.

***Lesson Planet provided me with a free 4 month (approx.) access to their site, in order to go through and test out the site.  I did not receive any financial compensation in exchange for my honest opinion of this service.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

TOS Review Crew: Graphic Toolbox

My crafty side was itching to try out something like this.  Something where I can design, create and otherwise just play around with different techniques, and tools to make something of substance, something worth "writing home about".  Usually, I do this sort of thing with real paper, scissors, pens, pencils and tape (Velcro if I am making workbox goodies) and so this was a bit of a challenge for me-to go digital and all.  What am I talking about?

Well, I am yammering about  a software program called Graphics Toolbox, which is  designed to help you create personalized material for all your needs-not just for the homeschooling stuff either.  It can help you infuse visuals to create some really nice projects, in just about every subject matter.  You, or your child, can [because yes-it is very kid-friendly] create artwork, report covers, book reports that are professional looking, science/history/art fair displays and more. Actually, if you pop over to their education page, you can see what I am talking about. You will be able to glean more ideas regarding just how useful this can be in your daily homeschool acitivities.  You can design headers for blogs, create Christmas or other holiday cards, whip up some fun "can you spot the differences" pictures, create truly personalized announcements and on and on.  It runs along the lines of the MS Paint/Power Point/Publisher, Photoshop and other graphic design programs, but with more advanced features [from what you get with the MS programs],  and some slightly tweaked and different  options [like the larger workspace area] that you won't find in Photoshop. To be honest-I cannot list all of the features, so I have that link available for you to go to.  Take your time-as it is quite a lot of information to digest. Be sure to come back here though, to see what I was able to do with it so far-as I simply have not had nearly enough time to just mess around and come up with more, but I will try to continually post new projects as I get them made.

Here is an example of a typical situation in life. Take the subject of history. It is well, history-something that has already occurred.  So trying to get a child to become truly “involved” in it, can be a difficult challenge indeed.   By using Graphic Toolbox, and a bit of one’s  imagination-you can draw (quite literally) the child into any time in history, to create a memorable report cover, picture for a lapbook or notebooking page,  an entertaining picture for a scrapbook page,  or even a center piece for a history display board.

Last summer, we spent some time exploring George Washington’s estate, Mt. Vernon.  We could walk the grounds as our first President did some 2 centuries ago, but alas-without ole George to give the tour himself.  Using Graphic Toolbox's features/tools, I was able to create a unique photo which brings George right out of the museum, and out onto his front lawn-with my son saddled up with estate's owner/tour guide, and my husband meandering alongside. 

After watching the extremely helpful video tutorials, I was able to go into the program, pull up 3 specific pictures I felt would work, to which I  then meshed together (amazingly actually-never thought I could do this) to get the final masterpiece. I am pretty proud of this one-and had a lot of fun working on it too.  That would have made an adorable postcard that I could have sent out-too bad I didn't have the program then.  But not all is lost-I have it now, and will print this off in a smaller size for my son's history notebook (when we get to George and his contribution to our nation this spring) to make it much more personalized for him.

I have had only MS Word to play with in my creative endeavors, and frankly-it is extremely limiting after a certain point.  I was quite pleased to be able to use some “real” nitty gritty type of features to pull this project off.  The Irregular ShapeCopy/Resize/Move/Rotate, Clone, Text and Ribbon features afforded me the opportunity to put to “paper” what is in my head.   I have not even touched the tip of the iceberg here.  But what I can tell you, is that so many doors of possibilities beg to be opened with the use of the Graphic Toolbox program. I plan to continue to further explore this, so that I can create more personal lapbook components, history visuals, and especially to make creative workbox materials to use in our daily homeschool adventures.

 Don't be fooled, it took me some time to figure this massive program out.  Those tutorials made the difference from throwing my hands up in despair, to instead taking on the challenge of working through the "learning curve" to get it all figured out.  So I highly recommend that one spends time watching those, then practicing the techniques. And with the wealth of ideas on their featured projects section-which the Mt. Vernon picture will soon reside, you can find many applications that suit your needs.  I have to say, now that I have  the "hang of it", I am truly enjoying myself.  

Here is an example using one of their scrapbook choices (layout is pre-done, you just add the picture and text). I simply added the shot my daughter had taken, at sunset one fine summer evening, to fill the blank picture area.  I had to erase the lines that were in the text area, since I wanted to add the verse via the computer, not by hand. It didn't take long to create this at all.  G.T. stated they decided to not focus as much attention on the pre-done scrapbook pages (so that area is somewhat limited) since there were so many other digital scrapbook companies out there. I thought I would show an example of one though, for those digi-scrappers out there.  You obviously can create your own pages with all the gadgets this program offers, or utilize parts of it to add to other layouts. Again-it is a tool to use to create your own one-of-a-kind works of art.

I have told you of my experience, but what you should do is try the 30 day Free Trial, in order to see for yourself. Allow a few days of just "practice and play" before you yeah or nay this I stated above-it takes time to figure out. And if you have been using another type of program similar to this one-then you have to allow for that "difference" adjustment, as well.

Before I end this though, I cannot stress this enough-KNOW YOUR COMPUTER before installing this program.  Please refer to their system requirements before you test run this program, as it will not work for every application. It does take up space on your 'puter's hard drive-so carefully read those details ahead of time.

I am sure you are wondering now-would I have sought out and purchased this, had I not received it as a review item?  I have to say, that right now with our financial belt tightening, no-I would not have.  But that is because of finances, which I have pointed out in several reviews this year.  Things are tough right now-but that doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend it.  I do-if you are one needing a way to personalize and add flavor to your schooling, business and well-"whatever else" needs-give it some serious thought.  Is is on the spency side? Depends on what you decide you can afford.  I have made that very clear right from the beginning of my TOS crew adventure-I cannot even begin to know your financial needs/ I can only address our situation.  Do your research homework, read the other crew mates' reviews and try the 30 day free program. Then you will have a pretty good idea if it is right for you.  I am very, very happy that I have this to play around with and to enjoy.

Easy as in after you get the hang of it-I am sure the kids will pick it up far faster than the older generations-just allow for some adjustment time

Need help with icons? Click Here

Graphics Toolbox Homepage

$149.00 - 1 user License with discount offered for up to 2 users (ie: uploaded on to another computer)

Don't forget to read what my TOS mates have to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products, over on our TOS Crew Review Homepage.

***Great Software Tools provided me with a free Graphic Toolbox Program for my computer system, so that I could tinker, create and utilize this to satisfy my creative needs, and in exchange for an honest opinion of their product. No financial compensation was exchanged for this review.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

TOS Crew Review: Family Mint-a virtual banking system

Spearmint, peppermint, butter mint, dinner mint, creme de mint, US Mint, mint condition, and varmints-but Family Mint?  I hadn't heard that one yet-well, until I was asked to check them over and review them for TOS.  So what is Family Mint?  

Simply put-it is an online source to assist families with the vital importance of learning about money.  Yes, money.  Something that seems a bit rare these days-but none the less, one should understand it-so perhaps the up and coming generation can avoid what we are currently experiencing in our country today.  
Best yet, it won't cost you a mint to join-as it is FREE! Isn't that grand?  You can use this unique program to train your children and it won't cost you a dime.  I love that.
There are two sections to this easy to use program.  One for the Banker(s) [which in our case is my husband and myself] and the child's section.  With the Banker's assistance, the youngers can navigate this site and learn whilst doing so.  The older kids can go it "alone" because after all-they are more mature.  This virtual banking system is not connected to any real bank, because you (the parent) are the bank-this is a personal tracking system.  I actually have the basic outline of it posted below (from their website) because it best explains it.  
  • Kids log in themselves and manage their own money within FamilyMint.  From deposits, withdraws, and transfers, to working towards goals they can create themselves, FamilyMint is meant to be a place for children to learn by doing.
  • To you and your kids, this is REAL MONEY in FamilyMint.  They manage, you approve.  Every dollar in the bank is a real dollar that you owe your kids.  You are a real bank to them.
  • In essence, when they hand you cash (i.e. when they make a “Deposit”), they are giving you a loan and you are in debt to them and need to pay back that debt when they ask for it (just like your bank would for you).
  • To anyone outside your family, this is virtual money.  Nobody can hack in and steal anything because FamilyMint is just a tracking system.
  • FamilyMint is… a mixture between a personal money management tool (such as Quicken) and an online bank. There is a period of time that things can be changed, and after that they are firm (like an online bank).   You can always see a complete history of what changed.
Neat huh?  So after a few short, easy steps-we set up our 8 year old's account.  He decided to deposit his $50 (IE: handed it over to us) that he had from gifts and from his Pen/Pencil Store [more about that later].  We logged that initial deposit in for him. Now, Buddy and his father have been adding new deposits, and finally decided what he wants to work toward (a dirt bike). This will be an on-going process for a quite some time, which is great.  He will learn what it is like to make deposits, withdraw (only when necessary) and set more goals to strive toward.  We actually started savings accounts for all of our children, right after they were born-so they have had to (our requirement) deposit the majority of their earnings/gift monies into it, while being allowed to keep some cash on hand, for minor purchases. We will continue to do so (the deposits Buddy makes to us, will go into his actual account like before), just that now he has a visual step of it, using the Family Mint program.  Prior to this, the kids were not really able to "see" what it means to "do banking" -outside of having sat in the backseat (while we ran through the drive-thru),  to catch a glimpse of the tube as it sucked up the money, to then return empty-but for a measly sheet of yellow paper (and if they were lucky-a Dum-Dum sucker) in exchange.  Not a good way to "get the complete picture" of what it all entails.

This is his goal page-showing how much he needs to deposit to get the dirt bike, and how often he wants to make deposits to reach it.  Plus they have cute icons for them-or you can upload your own, and it looks like a widget that has pictures of what a kid would want to save up for (various toys, etc they can choose from).

Our son has a knack for coming up with some unique far we have had quite a slew of them-including, but not limited to: a Soap Store (baby food jars filled with water/dish soap to use for daily cleaning needs),  Hair and Back Salon (my favorite because he not only "did" hair, but lotioned up our dry hands, feet and massaged our "soldiers" [shoulders]) and his latest, the Pen and Pencil Store (sold pencils/pens/erasers, etc. to us and anyone who visited...he was quite the hoot because he would get his older siblings to donate stuff only to sell it back to them!  The real giggle was that he charged 10% shipping, even if you were standing right there!) So as you can see-he likes to come up with some creative ideas.  What is awesome about Family Mint is that we can track his business/outside earnings, and he can see it happening.  I actually have turned this whole process over to his daddy-who has stated things like, "It is really fun and easy to use." and "It's a good learning tool."  
Which sum up my thoughts about it too.

There are many creative ways to use this system.  You can do it as intended (even if you don't do allowances-like us) or come up with some unique learning projects (such as giving them fake money along with a sheet listing what they need to do-like deposit/withdraw a certain amount, set goals and so forth) to make it mini-school project, if you will.  I may be crafty enough (hopefully soon) to design some worksheets to do just that; so once a week or so, I can pop them into his workbox and then have him come to our bank. I know many of my TOS mates have been coming up with some great ideas, so be sure to read their reviews, as well.  And because it is free, there is no reason why you cannot partake.  Do it for "real" or do it for "Life Lessons 101" classes.  Either way-the children will glean valuable banking and financial skills they can carry over into their adult life.  

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Family Mint Homepage
free online service
They will soon have a pay-for version soon (not sure what it will do, so look for updates on their site)

Visit our TOS Review Crew Homepage to see what my mates have to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products.

***Family Mint offers free access to their online service, which we were asked to test out and review. I have provided my opinion about this product, and did not receive financial compensation for it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

TOS Crew Review: FactsFirst Online Math Practice

So you have a child who needs to be more proficient with their basic math skills-but how do you get them the practice it takes to get there?  Knowing your addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts is half the battle to downsizing the time it takes to do lengthy math equations down the road.  But as most homeschooling mommas would attest-with all we have to do, carving out the time it takes (even if it is 15-20 min. a day) is a challenge which usually gets tossed on the "later" pile.. most likely to never to be heard from again. 

When I received the FactsFirst online program from Saxon, I was intrigued, but wondered if it would meet my expectations.  After my son and I have spent some time playing around with the program-we both agree it is a fun and interactive way to polish the ole skill of speedy math facts recall.  The program actually allows for up to four "players" [grades 1-4] to move through a series of levels, with occasional quizzes and tests, updates on how they are doing, and most importantly-access to fun arcade games that provide a great motivation for most students.  The graphics, and different points of interest keep the child engaged and focused too.

This shot shows the Avatar selection center-where the child first sets up their dude/dudette.

 This is an example of the lesson section, but some will have the child working through problems that are simply the equation, with no fancy shots like above. Just look at that face of that dude-makes ya want to shop Math Mart for real, well that, and to pick up some hair gel for him! The characters are all a bit exaggerated and spoofy, but there in lies the charm of the program.

My son looked forward to the "changes of scenery" his Avatar encountered though out the program, and I appreciated the quizzes and tests that popped up along the way.  The biggest "favorite" feature the FactsFirst program for me (and my son really liked it too) is the virtual instruction [you can opt to turn it off] that explains the lesson's activities, and "walks" the student through it.  Meaning, I don't have sit there the entire time helping him with the instructions!  I became a "back seat" passenger and loved it!  I could be nearby doing whatever it was I needed to be focused on, whilst the boy (who does not have great reading skills) could work on his facts and activities on his own. Yes, you read that right-on his own!  I actually would come back and hang with him when he was in the arcade, because the games were so cute.  Well, we didn't like the Putt-Putt Golf-it was frustrating, but the Balloon game was a hoot.

Each time the child completes the next level in this game, they earn a prize which pops up in that basket you see on the right.  Very clever. And they only get 5 minutes to hang at the arcade, so you won't have any problem with "truancy", meaning your student has to get back to work to earn more play time. 

The child is presented with the Math Facts Matrix at the end of each lesson-which shows them how well they did, if they need more practice or a ton of it. 

I have to say, this was a hit in our home.  I like that it just focuses on the four basic areas of math facts, gives me the ability to step away a bit so my son can work through it unassisted, lets us know where he needs to focus his attention, offers up some reward time in the arcade to encourage him to work through the lessons, and it has charming graphics that are far from boring.  Plus, it is an extension of the Saxon Math publishers, which happens to be our choice of math curriculum for our upper elementary, Jr/Sr high schoolers.  Better yet, it is compatible with what the child is learning in their Saxon texts, yet is completely a stand alone practice program that melds into any math program nicely.  Oh, and at $49.99 for 4 subscriptions for a year, it is a really great deal!

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FactsFirst Homepage
 $49.99 for one year -up to 4 students profiles allowed on this subscription
Grades:  1-4

Don't forget to see what my TOS mates had to say about this, and many other fine homeschooling products on our TOS Review Crew Homepage.

***Saxon Homeschool provided us with a free 90 day subscription to the FactsFirst online program to test and use with my family. I have discussed my opinion regarding this product, and have not received  financial compensation for writing this review.