Friday, March 25, 2011

TOS Review--Big IQ Kids

I have written and then erased several introductions to Big IQ Kids, and then I decided that, perhaps, the people who do the program might describe it best.  :)  Here is what the Big IQ Kids website has to say about their fun online program: turns your computer into an online learning academy by providing daily academic lessons for young learners in an interactive, easy to follow format. For the best results, children should log into daily and complete their lessons and quizzes. This “daily” strategy builds invaluable study habits, leads to better grades and greater self confidence.

Big IQ Kids has several subjects for your kids, including spelling, vocabulary, math, and U.S. Geography.  We especially enjoyed the spelling section.  They have preprogrammed words that you can use, but I used Amélie's current spelling words, and she absolutely loved learning her words this way.  Honestly, I have LOVED this program for spelling.  My daughter is under the perfectionistic notion that she should have her spelling words learned perfectly after the first day (I have NO IDEA where she gets that perfectionistic tendency.  Absolutely no idea.  HA!).  To have our spelling words deflected onto a computer program has been a relief for both of us.  For some reason she is less likely to argue with my laptop than she is with me.  :) 

We also liked the math program for working on concepts that we are learning.  The only problem is that we are working on two-digit addition and subtraction, and she never wanted to write the problem onto paper, so then she would get frustrated when she couldn't do it in her head.  I want her to process through the steps of these problems, so it didn't work so well.  However, she did enjoy using the math program for practicing her math facts.

We haven't spent as much time with the voabulary or the U.S. Geography portion of the program, because she seems to spend her allotted game time on spelling and math, so I'm OK with that.

One of the great perks of this program is that after completing each lesson the students gets a "coin" to play a game.  Amélie definitely like this reward program, and she will do even more spelling or math than I ask her to do so that she can play another game.  Works for me!! 

I definitely liked this program a lot, and so does Amélie.  I think that the program is great for practicing subjects that kids are learning in school.  If your kids are in regular school, this program would be a fun yet educational after-school activity.  If your kids are homeschoolers, this program would almost certainly provide a rich supplement to your curriculum. 

There are several pricing options available.  You can try out the program for free, and if you would like to discover the differences between the free and the premium programs you can do so here.  You can purchase a monthly subscription to one premium program or all of the premium programs.  You can even purchase a 12-month subscription and save a little money! 

If you would like to read what my fellow crewmates are saying about Big IQ Kids, check them out here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free premium subscription of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

my current musical obsession

"Roll Away Your Stone"
Mumford & Sons
Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we can find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside

'Cause you told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think
And yet it dominates the things I see

It seems that all my bridges have been burnt
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think
And yet it dominates the things I see

Stars hide your fires
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found
With my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly empassioned soul

But you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Facebook Fast

I have been off of Facebook for a week now.  I did spend a bit of time on Facebook on Sunday (which is totally legal, for those unfamiliar with the rules of Lent), and this morning I cheated a tiny, tiny bit.  I read two posts, and then I quit.  I am calling it OK to post links to blog entries, and I also got on Facebook on Saturday to post a "welcome baby" status message for the homebirth I had just doula-ed for (which was just so wonderful that I HAD to tell the world).  So I haven't followed my "no Facebook rule" exactly, but I also decided I wasn't going to be all legalistic about it.  I think I will choose to err on the side of grace.  :) 

My Facebook Fast has been going OK, except that today I actually "craved" Facebook.  I wasn't exactly sitting in a corner rocking back and forth and gnawing on my fingers, but I was close.  Have there been any studies done comparing withdrawal symptoms in crack addicts and Facebook addicts?  As a coping stragety, I just spent a very long time checking out the St. Patrick's Day parade route and the location of my church (where I will park tomorrow) on Google maps.  I think I was being so studious because what I REALLY wanted to do was get on Facebook.  So far, so good.  Now I am writing here.  More coping. 

I have definitely been learning some things about myself this past week, but I'm not ready to share them yet.  Honestly, it's not because they are terribly deep thoughts, but I really want to talk about the shallow stuff tonight.  So here goes:

The funniest thing I have noticed about myself on the Facebook Fast is that sometimes I think in status messages.  I don't know if I normally do this, but I think I might.  I would only post once a day at most, but I would (and still do) think about witty little things to say over Facebook much more than that.  What a pitiful thing to admit!!!  I have wanted to tell my Facebook friends so many things, many of which were most likely quite inane. 

Let's see--(I wish I would have kept a running list of all my phantom Facebook status messages.)--on Friday night I wanted to tell you that Matt and I had an evening to ourselves and we were spending half of it CLEANING.  Yes, cleaning.  That's the sad part.  The great part is that I kept hopping out of the kitchen and he kept escaping the bathroom so we could tell each other something very, very important.  We were, perhaps, being a bit avoidant, but we were also enjoying the rare luxury of uninterrupted conversation, and we tend to like each other's company quite a lot, so even in the midst of cleaning together we were enjoying our time. 

At about 9:30 that same night I wanted to post a status message that we had spontaneously decided to go find a music store and look for a couple of CDs, because I suddenly decided that I needed to spend birthday money on Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers.  The amazing thing about that would-have-been status message is that we had no kids at home, so we could just decide to leave!  It was amazing!  I thought that anyone hanging out on FB on Friday night might have wanted to know that little detail. 

At 3:45 on Saturday morning I wanted to post that I was headed to a birth, although I wouldn't have done that anyway since I wanted my client to be the first to share the news. 
I did share about the baby's birth, because, as I mentioned above, such an event was totally worth a bit of a Lenten cheat.

On Saturday night I wanted to tell you that there was a placenta being encapsulated in my kitchen.

And then on Sunday, when I could have posted a status message, I had nothing to say!

This week I wanted to share that my kids had snotty noses and coughs.
I wanted to announce that I was going to Science City today.
I wanted to complain that Amélie had tummy issues tonight which kept us away from Wednesday Blend.
I wanted to state my intent to brave the crazy crowds tomorrow and go to the parade.
But do you really care to know any of that? 

Here's what I have realized, however.  I do miss knowing what is going on in people's lives.  I feel out of the loop.  I like to feel connected to people.  And perhaps the sad thing is that I feel more connected to you if I can "like" the fact that your kid just pooped on the potty or that you got a new puppy or that you just did your first cartwheel in 20 years.  I might even do more than "like" your status, and I might actually comment on the poop or the puppy or the cartwheel! 

Don't get me wrong.  I like to "like" people's statuses, and I like to comment on people's statuses, and I really, really, really like it if you "like" my status or leave me a comment.  But if I am constantly thinking in status messages and "liking" and commenting, then I have a hard time thinking thoughts that are longer and deeper than 420 characters, and I may not remember to follow up on the sometimes heartbreaking things people post that I skim past in my obsessive reading. 
Will I go back to Facebook after Lent is over?  Absolutely. 
But I do hope that I am not as addicted.
Is that possible?

And would someone please hack into my Facebook account and post that Matt just dyed our puppy green?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent: this Bright Sadness

Before I reflect on the beginning of this year's Lenten season, I am going to copy and paste what I wrote last year the day after Ash Wednesday:

Let me say, first, that I am incredibly disappointed in how my Lent began. Last night I had to miss the Ash Wednesday service at Revolution because I had been at a birth since 1:30 in the morning and I was driving back home from the hospital during the service.

I had this idea in my head that Lent was going to be different this year because I was going to start it with the sacredness, the ritual, and the solemnity of an Ash Wednesday service. As I walked out of the service with the ashen cross swathed upon my forehead, I was going to walk through the portals of the sad beauty of Lent and into 40 days of quiet reflection and simplicity, and, perhaps, a bit of poetic melancholy.

Instead, at 7:00 last night, I was driving home, and I was exhausted, I was disheveled, I was hungry. I had witnessed a miracle that evening, for sure, and I don’t want to trivialize that. I had seen the wonder and beauty and sacredness of birth somehow unfolding under the artificial glare of a birth room spotlight. My experience at that birth was valuable and useful and beautiful and sacred, and if I had actually had the choice of attending the birth or attending the Ash Wednesday service I would have chosen the birth.

But I think that I had hoped for Ash Wednesday to be a magic pill that I would have had brushed across my forehead rather than swallowed.

But the thing is…while I wish I could have attended the service, it would not have been a magic pill. Perhaps I would have walked out of the service last night feeling peaceful and solemn, but this morning I would have woken up to my real life–the noisy, disorganized, crazy one. And then I would have felt disappointed that the magic feeling had faded away. And then I could have felt disillusioned. And then I might have given up.

Instead, my Lent beginning has been more fitting: it has begun in chaos rather than quietness. The quietness and the sacredness and the reflection of Lent are going to have to come with work. I have to carve it out of my day and into my heart. There is no Ash Thursday service to escape to tonight. It’s just my life, and the beautiful mess of it.

And so today, my Lenten season roots itself in a life that is blown about in the winds of chaos and battered by some uncertain storms. My hope and my prayer is that the holiness of this Lenten season plants itself in my heart and that it grows, and that I grow, and that, perhaps by Easter, something sacred within me will have bloomed.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

I copy and paste those sentences from last year because apparently...I am not the most avid learner.

Tonight is Ash Wednesday.  I am, yet again, on call for a birth, and I thought that perhaps I would miss this service again.  Honestly, this time I was more at peace with that idea than I was last year, because I am incredibly excited to be part of the truly sacred experience of a homebirth with a wonderful person and friend.  But I didn't get the call, so I left the clutter, picked Matt up from work, and we all sped over to church....where, I was convinced, I would sit in my pew, hold Matt's hand, breathe deeply, sing beautiful old hymns, listen to a moving sermon, walk forward for my forehead to be swathed in ashes, and then I would quietly leave, with my soul at peace, my heart and rest, and my mind resolved to journey down the beautifully melancholy path of Lent armed with my fasting, my faith, and my God.  Then, I would go home, and, in honor of this holy season, my floor would magically be removed of Spiderman toys, scattered books, and stray socks.  It might somehow smell like incense too, just to really set the mood.  And I would turn on my computer and not be tempted by Facebook and blogs, from which I am fasting this Lenten season.  Also, I would not repeat the failures of the past years.  I wouldn't ever skip a day of Organic God: Lenten Meditations on the Words of Jesus.  I would get up early to spend time with God.  I would be spending all of that extra Facebook time praying or reading the Bible or feeding the starving children in my city.  I would walk through my home radiating peace and joy and hope.

But...did you read the above post from last year? 
That's not the way it works.
This year, I swallowed that "magic pill" of an Ash Wednesday service.
And I choked.
Here's what did happen.  I did, in fact, sit in my pew.  I did, every once in awhile, catch hold of Matt's hand, but he was so busy hopping up and down checking on Jack (and bless him for that--he knew how much this service meant to me, and he was trying to shield me from a distracting 3-year-old so I could experience at least some distant relative of peace).  I actually did love harmonizing to the beautiful, old hymns, when I wasn't peeking over my shoulder checking on Jack, who was totally clueless as to the day's holy bent.  I did hear most of Eric's sermon, but again, I was so distracted by that little boy of mine that I just couldn't sink into the words and let them challenge and encourage me.  I did walk forward to have my forehead swathed in ashes, but I had Jack perched on one hip, and he was heavy, and somehow the experience just didn't seem quite as holy while lugging 30-lbs of wiggling weight.  And I did leave, but not exactly quietly, because Jack was balking, and I couldn't find Matt and Amélie, and by the time I got to the car (actually, that's not true--I felt it coming on during the sermon), I really just wanted to bang my ashen forehead against my car dashboard and cry a very unholy, unwieldy, awkward, and completely unpeaceful cry.

And now here I am, yet again, beginning Lent with the harsh reminder that Lent is lived within the mess and muck and chaos.  How I long to carry out the beauty of Lent poetically.  That's what my soul longs for.  But then....  But then....  But then I am worshipping the poetry of Lent rather than the God of Lent.  And if I can journey through this Bright Sadness with a little grace, if I can find a little more light in the shadows of my soul's chiaroscuro, and if I can carve out for myself a bit more peace, I do believe that I will find some poetry in this beautiful mess, this chiaroscuro of my soul, this bright sadness.  And then I will be ready, I hope--oh, how I hope--to embrace the joy and the awakening and the new life of Easter. 

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen


Monday, March 7, 2011

Reading Kingdom--TOS Review

If you know me even a tiny bit, you know that I love reading, so I was excited to be able to review a reading program for the TOS crew!  Reading Kingdom is a program designed to teach 4-10 year-olds how to read and write at a 3rd grade level.  Here are some of the advantages of the Reading Kingdom program, according to its website:
  • It customizes itself to each child
  • Most children can do the program on their own after just a few weeks
  • It's fun and children enjoy doing it
  • It's created by Dr. Marion Blank, one of the world's top experts in literacy
  • It works with any other curriculum a child may be using
  • And, it's the only system that teaches all 6 skills needed for reading & writing success!

Kids are first run through a skills survey that helps to place them in the correct level.  If kids are not yet able to maneuver quickly around a keyboard, they complete a series of lessons helping them become more comfortable using a mouse and a keyboard.  Amélie is quite comfortable with finding letters on the keyboard (in fact, I was surprised at how well she did!), so I skipped this portion with her and then moved on into the skills survey.  She placed in Level 2, which honestly surprised me, because she is a very good reader.  However, I will admit I wondered if she would be placed lower than her ability level when she was doing the skills survey, because sometimes she made errors when she did not quite understand what she was supposed to do, or she accidentally tapped the wrong key.  (And I do realize that I am sounding here like a parent who thinks her daughter is smarter than she actually is, but I'm genuinely sincere--and genuinely correct--in believing that she was placed at a lower level than she should have been.)  :)  I wish that what she was doing in Level 2 was more of a challenge for her, but she enjoys the days that I let her use this program to supplement our reading program, and I think that the review is great practice for her. 

I am honestly the most excited about using this program with my 3 1/2 year-old son, who, while certainly still a pre-reader, knows most of his letter sounds (he knows more letter sounds than he does letter names, which I think is funny), and is starting to understand that the text on a page contains words that make up a story.  He is a tiny bit young for this program as of yet, I think.  When he uses Reading Kingdom right now he is just working on knowing where the letters are on the keyboard.  He got a little tired of this, so I am letting him take a bit of a break, and then we will dive back in.  I have access to this program until next February, and I am fairly convinced, based on what I have seen Amélie do, that he will have fun using this program...and it will help him learn how to read while he thinks he is just having fun.  :)

Subscriptions to Reading Kingdom are $19.99/month with no monthly minimum, or $199.99 if you purchase a 12 month subscription. If you have multiple children using the program, the cost per each additional child in your family is $9.99/month.  If you think you might like to try this program, but you just aren't quite sure you wan to make the commitment, you can try out Reading Kingdom completely risk-free for one month--you don't even have to give your credit card number!  :)  If you have any questions about the program, I am convinced, based on my experience in corresponding with this company, that you will also receive excellent customer service.  You can't lose!  And I think you will do more than not lose--I think that your kids could easily become yet another Reading Kingdom success story.

If you would like to see what my other crewmates are saying about this product, you can check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.