Sep 132012
 

Much research has shown that early childhood is an ideal time to begin learning a foreign language. Because of this, I’ve always tried to expose my children to Spanish at a young age. I chose Spanish mainly because it’s the easiest foreign language to find resources for children. Ideally, I would teach them Spanish by speaking it to them. But unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish. So we’ve used various computer programs, some television shows, and even a homeschool class to expose the children to Spanish.

Now I still have young children but Lizzie (almost 6) hasn’t really had any exposure to Spanish with the exception of watching Dora. (I hope I’m not the only one who has really high ideals and standards with the older children, but then relaxes them out of necessity with the younger ones!) So I was really excited when I was selected to review Speekee TV.

What (or who) is Speekee?

SpeekeeSpeekee is a lovable, purple, Spanish-speaking puppet. Speekee and his friends speak only Spanish on the 10 episodes of Speekee, so watching Speekee is a total immersion in Spanish. The program is not vocabulary focused, although there is plenty of vocabulary included, but is very conversational in nature. The program also includes many songs which are very catchy. (I catch myself singing them!)

In addition to Speekee TV, there is a free FastTrack curriculum  that adds fun activities, worksheets, and flashcards correlated with specific segments of the Speekee episodes. The FastTrack program provides plans for 40 weeks of instruction. It can be accessed on-line or e-mailed to subscribers weekly.

Although Speekee is available on DVD, I received Speekee TV to review. Speekee TV is a subscription service allowing access to all the episodes on-line. We can hook our computers up to our television, but for ease of use (or maybe my own laziness), I just had Lizzie and Andrew watch Speekee on my laptop. We experienced no difficulties accessing the website or streaming the programs. The interface to select an episode is very intuitive, and Lizzie quickly figured out how to start the desired episode.

I opted to use Speekee in the simplest way possible. I had Lizzie (almost 6 and in the 1st grade) and Andrew (20 months) watch the programs. That’s it. I did receive the FastTrack curriculum e-mails as well, and they look like an excellent way to reinforce the Spanish learned in the program. I will be using some of the activities with Lizzie as she watches the episodes again. The activities are too advanced for Andrew, obviously. Speekee is recommended for children ages 2-10, so he’s a little too young. But he isn’t too young to enjoy the program. He LOVES it. He was sitting beside me when I started writing this review and was very excited to see Speekee on my computer. Then he was very upset that we weren’t going to watch Speekee right now.

Speekee

Andrew and Lizzie watching Speekee

So are my children walking around speaking Spanish after 6 weeks of watching Speekee? Well, no. But Andrew is just barely starting to speak English. And with a program like Speekee, that isn’t the goal. I think Speekee is a fantastic and fun way to get children started on Spanish. They can learn at a young age what Spanish sounds like. They can begin to imitate it and say Spanish words with the correct accent. That can only help them in future study. (By the way, I should mention that Speekee is a UK production, so the Spanish spoken is like the Spanish spoken in Spain, not Latin America. It’s the same language, but there are some differences in some pronunciations I’ve been told.)

The recommended age for Speekee is 2-10. In my house it would never work past about 8 years old. Not because the content is too easy, but because my children would revolt at watching anything so childish after that. But every family is different, and I’m sure there are many who would find it an effective program for 10 year olds.

There are 2 subscription options for Speekee TV -

  • $7.50/month or
  • $60/year

Both options give 2 weeks free at the beginning of the subscription. That allows users to try out the program to make sure it’s a good fit for their family.

If you have little ones, I highly recommend Speekee!

Disclosure: I received a 6 month subscription to Speekee TV in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.


By Kristen H.
Mar 012012
 

I have a 5 year old daughter who is very enthusiastic about learning to read. She’s also very enthusiastic about “playing” on the computer. And I confess, I’m very happy to let her play educational computer games. I just don’t have as much time to work with her as I would like. It’s hard to find time to work with all my children individually.

Reading Eggs

When I was given the opportunity to review Reading Eggs, I had a feeling she would love it. But I honestly had no idea just how much she would love it! She took the beginning assessment and didn’t miss any of the questions. That placed her on Map 8 out of 12. She very enthusiastically began working on completing her maps. There hasn’t been a day that has gone by that she hasn’t asked to play on Reading Eggs. And most days she has asked several times.

Reading Eggs

I asked her what her favorite thing about Reading Eggs is. She said, “I like the books they read in there.”

There are a wide variety of activities in Reading Eggs. The activities work on phonics, sight words, and reading comprehension. My daughter has enjoyed the phonics and sight words more than the comprehension ones. Part of that is simply because the comprehension  activities are harder for her. She was already good at decoded before beginning the program, but the extra practice and introduction of some new sounds has been good for building her reading skills.

Reading Eggs

Overall, I think this is a very fun and effective program both for struggling readers and those who are not, but still need to work on phonics. For readers who are already reading well, there is Reading Eggspress.

Reading Eggs offers free trials so there is really no reason not to give the program a try! The subscription options include:

  • 12 months for $75 (add a second or third child at 50% off)
  • 6 months for $49.95 (add a second or third child at 50% off)
  • Monthly for $9.95

 

Disclosure: I received a free trial of Reading Eggs in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

 


By Kristen H.
Aug 312010
 

I was recently introduced to Big Universe Learning. This unique learning website is designed for students in grades K-8. It offers on-line books in a wide variety of subjects, both fiction and non-fiction, from 24 different publishers. Some of these books include an audio option for students to read-along while the book is being read to them. On-line quizzes are provided for many of the selections as well. In addition to on-line reading, Big Universe Learning provides the capability for students to create and share their own on-line picture books with other Big Universe users.

As I explored the site, I thought of some great uses for homeschoolers. First, everyone knows that homeschoolers love the library, right? But many of us have a love/hate relationship with the library. For many, overdue fees are a considerable problem. I found books on many non-fiction topics available at Big Universe that could save you both a trip to the library, and fees if you forget to return the book on time. This would work well particularly for times when you’re not looking for a specific title, but just more information on weather, George Washington, or knights for instance.

I also think the on-line quizzes are useful. Though homeschoolers often use atypical methods of assessment, having a student take a quiz on what he has just read does help them to pay attention. Also, poor scores could indicate that reading comprehension is a skill that needs more focus. And with 4 children, I’m very happy to find independent educational activities for them.

Then there’s writing. I struggle with teaching writing. It’s one of my goals for this school year to spend more time on writing. Big Universe Learning provides a fun way for kids to practice writing while creating on-line books. There is no need for software, everything is ready to use on the site. There are tutorials demonstrating the steps in the process, but it’s really simple anyway. The hardest thing is choosing from the thousands of available images available for the books!

Home subscriptions to Big Universe Learning are available for $8.95/month. (There is a 26% discount if you subscribe for a whole year.) Is the price worth it? Well, I’ve learned that price and value are very subjective. We personally spend well over that per month on purchasing books (on average over the year). I don’t pay library fines because our library doesn’t charge for overdue books (please don’t hate me!), but I’ve heard of many people who regularly spend that much on fines. The good news is that Big Universe offers a 7 day FREE trial so you can check out the site and see if it’s something that your family would use. You can’t get any better than free!

Disclosure: I received a free 6 month membership from Big Universe Learning in order to write this review. I was not compensated in any other way. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.


By Kristen H.
Apr 142010
 

Time 4 Learning is an on-line educational program that is designed to help make learning fun. I was able to review Time 4 Learning for my elementary students last year. Since that time they have added a Preschool program. Lucky for me, I knew just the preschooler to try out the Time 4 Learning.

My little one is 3-1/2 (today actually!). She loves playing on the computer and will take the opportunity every time she’s given it.

This is the home page screen for the PK1 level. It can be accessed at any time by clicking on the house icon at the top left of the screen. (I apologize that the bottom is cut off. I could not get everything on one screen to take a screen shot.) As you can see, there are a variety of categories of learning games. There are pictures to help the non-reader decide what to play. Also, a check mark appears when all of the activities in that category have been completed. However, it doesn’t prevent the child from doing those activities again.

This is the screen the child would see after clicking on the Numbers icon. In this category there are several activity choices. (The choices are similar for all the activities.) Once again there are check marks to show which activities have been previously completed.

This is the screen for the “Which” activity. The child must select which of the numbers is correct. The penguin talks like a game show host, but the humor is lost on young children.

Summary:

I found the games to be both educational and entertaining, and my daughter frequently asked to play. After I showed her how the program worked, she was able to play entirely independently (except for logging in). It would be a very handy activity to occupy a younger child while teaching older ones. The subscription price is unfortunately not something that is in our budget, but many would find it a great value.

 

Disclosure: We received a 30 day trial of Time 4 Learning Preschool for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are our own.

By Kristen H.