Monday, May 27, 2013

Our Favorite Educational Apps

I talk a lot about apps that we use on our iPad.  We use our iPad a lot around here for all sorts of purposes, although it was bought to be an educational tool.  There are so many really cool apps out there and I have downloaded and tried tons of them, both free and paid.  Lydia is autistic, and the iPad has been wonderful and has helped her quickly learn concepts or vocabulary that she might not have learned as well without it.

Since she is still only 4 (almost 5!), these are mostly at a preschool or young elementary level.  There are several things I look for in an app.  The first being that it isn't cluttered.  By cluttered, I mean that there is too much on the first page, or all sorts of ads and banners that can accidentally be clicked by young children.  I love an app that is intuitive in its navigation.  I also don't want an app to be loud and flashy.  Finally, my daughter doesn't really respond that well to stories, especially verbal ones, so most of our app choices have very little talking in them (although not all).

I will probably add to this app list as time goes on and my other children get older and we discover new things out there, but for now, here are our winners.  Oh, and I'm not getting paid for any of this, these are my honest opinions about these apps.

This is probably Lydia's most favorite app right now.  It is a very simple handwriting app that is so simple it is almost deceiving.  Before this app, we tried several handwriting and tracing apps, but all of them were flops.  This one has the child do the letter three times in different ways that focuses on strokes without being frustrating.  And it lets you pick which handwriting font you want it to teach!  It is programed with Handwriting Without Tears, D'Nealian, and Zaner-Bloser fonts.  Lydia's handwriting has drastically improved in the month or so that we've been using this app.

Tally Tots
I simple game that teaches the numbers 1-20.  Each number has a mini-game to play that reinforces its number value.  It is uncluttered and the games are fun and cute.

Alpha Tots
This app is by the same people as the Tally Tots app.  It is the same premise, except it teaches all the letters and their sounds.

Logic of English Phonograms App
When I decided to teach spelling with a phonograms-based method, I was a little worried because I never learned them myself.  I bought this app, hoping that it would help reinforce sounds to my daughters so that I wouldn't have to spend tons of time drilling them.  And it works.  It isn't flashy or incredibly fun, but both Lydia and Eleanor have learned a lot and enjoy playing it for short periods of time.

Pepi Tree
This app was a surprise winner.  It was free when I got it, and has some repetitive music in it that I have deliberately chosen to believe is cute rather than go out of my mind, but the girls love it and it has sparked several life science conversations with them.  They learned where butterflies come from, what owls eat, and how spiders catch their food.  The other morning, on the way to therapy, Lydia was listing off all the food that owls eat to me.  So it is a winner in my book.

Dr. Panda's Veggie Garden
This game is like Harvest Moon for little kids.  It walks them through how to grow and take care of lots of different kinds of plants.  I find it a bit redundant, but they play it over and over again.  It is cute and uncluttered and the child doesn't need to know how to read or even understand language to play it.

Barefoot World Atlas
I probably love this app more than my girls, but I can't help it.  It is so beautiful.  It is also the largest app I own as far as memory it takes up.  It is an illustrated globe you can explore that has factual tidbits you can click on and read or have read to you.  It is an awesome app and I hope my girls will enjoy it more as they get older.  As it is, Lydia still plays with it fairly regularly, although she mostly looks for the train, airplane, and car related facts.

Map Puzzles for Kids
OK, I'm a little reluctant to post this one.  It is obviously fairly low budget and tends to freeze a little, but it is the best app I've found that is simply a puzzle of countries and continents of the world.  My daughters love puzzle apps, so I got this one in hopes that they could put that to good use.  It says the name of the country when you place it, and really, how much more complicated does it need to be?  Lydia has learned where tons of countries are located by playing this app alone, so it is definitely a keeper for us.

Make a Scene
These probably won't be considered educational by most of you, but they are for us, so I'm posting it.  There are several apps that Make A Scene creates that are themed: farm, arctic, jungle, etc.  We have all of them and buy new ones as soon as they come out.  Lydia has spent so much time with them, and while they are not obviously educational, they have been very good for her.  She has learned so much vocabulary and she has used her imagination in many of her scenes.  It is a simple sticker book app that is very well thought out and well done for small children.  While not an original concept, the execution is the best I've seen for our purposes.  Oh, and the voice that names each "sticker" is British, so Lydia has developed a little bit of a British accent with several words she learned on it.  Particularly with the dinosaurs, which is adorable.

We have lots of other apps that we enjoy, but these are our highlights and the ones I consider most educational.

Weekly Report: Week 33

We had a busy week last week.  We played and enjoyed ourselves quite a bit.  On Monday, we went up to Grandma and Grandpa's house for a little while after having fun playing at the splash park.  I was too busy making sure the girls were safe to take any pictures, but they had a lot of fun and we will be going up quite often this summer, I think.

 On Wednesday, we did Little Sprouts. This week's class focused on rabbits and even had several rabbits there for the kids to pet and look at.  Some of them were huge and they even had some baby rabbits.  Eleanor, especially, enjoyed herself and we were one of the last families to leave.  This picture was taken by their director and put on their Facebook page.  Ellie was too cute, they just had to share.

On Friday, we had a play date at the park in the morning and then Saturday we went up to Grandma and Grandpa's house again.  Overall it was a very fun week.

I had fun too.  On Tuesday night I had a book club meeting with some of my friends where we discussed Out of Solitude.  It was an interesting read for me and I enjoyed it quite a bit, even though we aren't Catholic.  Then, on Thursday night, I had a craft night with some of my other friends where we exchanged quiet book pages and made a few more.  In the picture, I made all of the top row.  The bottom three were made by some of the other women.  I'm not usually very crafty, but I was pretty proud of my little pie, in particular.

I don't think I'm going to really go into detail for what we did for school this week.  It was really just more of the same and I'll probably go into more detail next week.  Reading is still working on long vowels.  Math is working on place value.  Spelling is working on alphabetical order and vowels/consonants.  Handwriting started finished the PreK book and started the Kindergarten book.  And Memorization started a new poem.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Weekly Report: Week 32

Just another regular week here.  The girls and I have been enjoying the sunny weather so much.  Today I even set up a clothesline outside for my laundry for fun.  It is sunny with a slight breeze, the perfect laundry day weather.

We did a full week's worth of school and even made it to the Botanical Garden with some friends, although we missed Little Sprouts because of time confusion.  Oh well, the girls still had fun and enjoyed being outside playing with pretty flowers everywhere.  We also made it to the library, which is always a daunting task for me because the girls all want to go in different directions and there is just one of me and three of them.  Somehow we made it out in one piece and even got some books!

We're technically only 4 weeks away from the end of our "school year," but I think we'll just keep going at a regular pace.  I don't feel like I can just set aside any of these subjects without Lydia forgetting a significant portion.  We also have a good routine going.  We do have some vacations coming up and we'll take time off school for them, but I think we'll probably hit more around 40 weeks than my original goal of 36 before Kindergarten starts the second week of August.  At this point, though, Kindergarten won't look that much different than what we're already doing.

Lydia got through lesson 68 in OPGTR.  She mostly worked on a_e words but also learned about words like he, she, me, etc.  She is picking it all up so well, I'm very impressed.  Our biggest problem with reading is inattention.  She has to be redirected back to the page every word.  I've worked out some games and systems to try to keep her as focused as possible, so hopefully that attention will just come in time and maturity.

Lydia is listening to Black Beauty during her naptime now and seems to be enjoying it.  The girls are also really enjoying the My First Little House books a lot and I got several of them from the library.  They love hearing about Laura, Mary, Carrie, and their dog Jack.  I've been doing some informal narration questions with Lydia after she listens to books or stories and she's making me really hopeful for when we start writing, which will be fairly narration-heavy.  We were listening to Story of the World in the car a few days ago and after we got home, I asked her what happened in our story.  She told me that Caesar cried.  Which he did, according to the story.  So she's picking up on things, despite my fears that auditory things will be a huge challenge for her.

I wrote more in depth about my math plans here.  This is what we're going to focus on for the next while.  We started out by just playing some math related games yesterday.  Lydia, Ellie, and I played Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Hi Ho Cherry-o yesterday and each won a game.  The girls love playing them, but I really don't.  Those games are definitely more a labor of love than enjoyment.  But sometimes that's a mother's job. :)

I am absolutely loving All About Spelling.  It is a brilliant program and perfect for Lydia.  If a week and a half can say anything, I will definitely continue to use it.  Lydia is now on step 3 in the program and has learned almost all the phonograms for Level 1, how to alphabetize, how to segment words so you can tell what sounds they are made up of, and what the vowels are.

She has now finished our list.  I think I'll go ahead and add some new poems and scriptures to her list.  I already picked out some selections that I wanted for Kindergarten, so we'll just start with them.  She is really blowing me away with her ability to memorize and really enjoys doing it.  I am hoping to get a video of her reciting all of this year's memorization, but I'm not sure I can keep her interested that long.  I'm going to try, though.

Art Study:
I put up 7 new art pieces in our dining room.  I'm using Ambleside Online's art study choices for Degas and Manet.  They are from a previous term.  I wasn't super interested in this term's selections, so I chose these because they have dancers, horses, and trains in them.  Those are things that interest the girls a lot.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Math Plans for 3-year old PreK

Ellie will be three years old this next school year and she is already insisting on being included in school plans.  So far I've been able to appease her by printing off pre-writing sheets and having her do "reading" apps on the iPad and call it reading.  I have a feeling she's going to wise up pretty soon and want something more legitimate.  This post is focused on her math.

My plan with Eleanor is to do the Mathematics Enhancement Programme Reception level, also known as MEP Reception.  I attempted to do this program with Lydia, but it was just too verbal for her.  Eleanor shouldn't have any problem with the verbal aspect of the program and it should be right up her alley. 

MEP is a British program based on a Hungarian series.  It focuses a lot on problem solving skills and games.  While meant for a classroom, it does transition to homeschool quite well and is available completely online for free.  The Reception level is only 60 lessons long, so that should give us plenty of time for pausing and working on specific concepts.

We'll also start some C-rod activities.  For now, we will mostly focus on familiarity with them and might start some simple Education Unboxed games or Miquon Orange lab pages.  I did go ahead and buy her the Essential Math A&B workbooks, but I doubt we'll start them this year.  If we do, it will be more towards the end of the year.

School this year is still 100% optional for Eleanor, so all of these plans mostly for fun for her.

Math plans for Kindergarten 2013/2014

Edited: I think we'll begin with this now.  As we get to the end of Essential Math B, I'm finding that I'm dragging her along and that she is just getting frustrated and not really absorbing all that much.  So I think I'll start with this plan as of tomorrow.

I've been putting a lot of thought into what we should do for Kindergarten math next year.  Lydia will be done, or almost done with the Singapore Essential Math program by then, and originally my plan was to move on into Math Mammoth 1a, which is technically a first grade program.  However, I'm finding that she is only absorbing about 50% of the concepts that I'm teaching her and I feel like there would be some great value in stepping back and solidifying her number sense before moving on.  Because she's only be barely 5, I think that now is a great time to pause and really get these concepts down solid.

How to approach this, however, is a little more complicated.  I've thought that maybe we should stick with doing Miquon Orange/Red as our primary math program.  I've also thought about just using a list of concepts and teaching them myself in whatever way makes sense.  I do feel very comfortable teaching at this level, and the latter is a tempting solution.

So after thinking about it, I think we'll do a combination of things.  I plan on using Kitchen Table Math as a sort of guide or check list to make sure she is honestly grasping what I'm talking about.  Rather than worksheets or lesson plans, the book lists the incremintal steps that a child should learn about numbers.  For each little step, it gives some suggestions or ideas on how to teach it.  Up until now, I've mostly been using it as a backup for more ideas if Lydia got stuck somewhere, but I think it will be a great program to follow on its own.

Along with Kitchen Table Math, I plan on using some of the ideas from Education Unboxed.  EU is similar to KTM in that it doesn't have worksheets or lesson plans, but is concept focused.  It is a website with videos of how to use Cuisenaire Rods to teach various math concepts.  We love c-rods at our house, so this is a great resource.

I do plan on continuing with Miquon Orange/Red as I feel like.  Knowing me, it is going to be difficult to not try to finish the program, but as of right now, it is definitely secondary.

Some of the concepts that I am going to focus on with Lydia for Kindergarten are:
  • counting to 100
  • skip counting by 2s, 5s, 10s
  • place value to 10s, maybe 100s
  • counting "on" (I say 5, she says 6, 7, 8...)
  • counting "back" (I say 5, she says 4, 3, 2...)
  • greater than/less than, more/less, bigger/smaller
  • ordering things by size
  • patterns
That list isn't exhaustive, but if she can get there, we'll move on to more formal math, like Math Mammoth and Miquon.  I'm just not sure she's ready yet.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Weekly Report: Week 31

This has been a big week for hitting school milestones, which I'll talk more about by subject below.  We also went to our first Little Sprouts meeting at the Botanical Garden.  The girls had fun and we learned all about rainbows.  Lydia got mad when I called it was a class or playing with friends, but she decided "Eleanor's show" was something worth looking forward to next week.

Eleanor making her rainbow.

Lydia's rainbow.

Ellie's completed rainbow. (or "kite", as they wanted to call them)
Lydia on the bridge to the big tree at the Botanical Garden.
Ellie on the same bridge.

We started Section 7 in OPGTR!  I've mentioned before, but my original goal for the year was to get through cvc words.  Then my new goal was to get through Section 6.  So the fact that she is starting section 7 is amazing.  She is really doing well starting the silent "e" words.  I don't anticipate any problem going forward.  I was a little worried that it might be too complicated for her right now, but so far she is still impressing me.  She's such a smart girl and I am very proud of her.

She also finished listening to The Wind in the Willows and started listening to Black Beauty.

We did a bunch of word problems this week and are now working on comparing sums and deciding which is larger.  She got through page 97 in Essential Math A.

She finished learning her capital letters!  We started on numbers and she finished learning through 2.  I imagine she'll finish the Handwriting Without Tears PreK book soon.

We started All About Spelling level 1 this week.  I wasn't going to do spelling so early in her education.  I was thinking we'd start it around grade 1. But she's been trying to spell words and AAS is really appropriate for her so I thought, why not?  I'm loving it so far and I think it will be very effective for her.  I'll talk about the program more in depth once we've spent more time using it.

Lydia learned my phone number and almost has D&C 82:10 down.  Which means that she has not only finished the original memorization list I created for her at the beginning of the year, but almost the modified list too!  I was concerned the original list would be too much, but now I'm scrambling to come up with more for her!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Weekly Report: Week 30

We had a great week for learning this week!  We spent a lot of time outside because until today, the weather was absolutely beautiful.  We're all starting to get a little tan from all our time outside.  A few days ago, we went to Devil's Den State Park with a friend and her children who are close in age to ours. 

The suspension bridge that the girls had fun throwing rocks off.
Lydia found a drain pipe and just "knew" it was a cave.
Throwing rocks in the river.  We did this for a while.
Eleanor on the hiking trail.
We plan on going again as soon as next week, so that should be fun.

We finished Lesson 62, which was fairly long and had lots to read, so it took us most of the week.  She seems to be retaining and applying all the information, though, so that is great!  We are officially done with Section 5 in OPGTR.  We'll start Section 6 next time.

Lydia finished through page 89 in Essential Math B.  The last several pages have had lots of problems on them, so they are taking a while to finish.  A little while ago, I mentioned that she was having trouble understanding the concept of the number line and its use in math.  I was also being very limited because she lost interest very quickly and didn't want to spend a lot of time practicing.  That is, until I made a number line on the driveway and we played "math hopscotch!"  She had a lot of fun jumping on the numbers, and I have a feeling we'll be making a lot of use of the number line on the driveway.

Lydia continues to do a fantastic job with this.  She has really taken off with it and is having fun trying to write words that she knows on her own in her free time.  Yesterday, I saw "ABC ABC MAT" written right beside her picture of a train that she drew while coloring.  I'm really excited to see her applying what she is learning and I definitely blame the LetterSchool app for how fast she is picking up her letters, although I am pleased with Handwriting Without Tears as well.  It seems I've found the combo that is working for her.

Lydia memorized "A Dragonfly" very quickly.  I think she liked it a lot.  On our next school day we'll move on to D&C 82:10.

Adelaide covered in the rocks and dirt she ate while Mom was helping Lydia with "math hopscotch."