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Level 2, Volume 1 of the All About Reading series arrived in my mailbox. I was looking forward to it because the newly brailled copy of The Beehive Reader, Level 1, I had done for one of my DeafBlind students had already been read and re-read many times. The student loved the book, and the mom was pleased to have some well-written stories that use words built in increments of simple to more difficult.

Of course, Mom had done lots of ground work in this case, since the child is profoundly deaf, and no one knows for sure exactly what or how much he hears. Mom teaches using all communication modes including voice and sound. Mom has also introduced phonics, but we don’t know how much of the phonics he truly hears or understands. The child does place his hands on the mother’s throat and lips to feel the vibrations of voice. The child has spoken a couple of words before, so the mother and I feel that continuing the process could be beneficial.

The All About Reading series is providing a needed resource in being able to control the types of vocabulary that the child will be introduced. Level 2, Volume 1 continues this progressive build of phonics-driven vocabulary while continuing the development of entertaining and lesson-filled stories. This edition also adds fun, quirky poems to the mix of stories and a clever “guess what I am” game in rhyming verses. The book continues to use the delightful and detailed black and white pencil sketch illustrations that are even good for low vision students, since the information is specific to the task of showing the story without a lot of color which can be distracting. Varying colors can produce contrast, but also introduces additional focal points which can be distracting. In addition, the durable binding that helps give years of life to a much used book is still being used. Quality seems to be important to the writers and publishers which is a very good thing.

The All About Reading series continues its commitment to quality stories with decodable vocabulary in a building progression toward teaching students to read and read well. What Am I? Is a delightful mix of stories and poems that should interest most young readers and get the on the path of reading for life. Go to http://www.all-about-reading.com to find out more about this program and the other products they provide.

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If you have been looking for computer software to help strengthen your child’s basic math skills, I recently received a copy of Math Galaxy: Whole Numbers Fun. You might find this program suitable for your needs especially for children in grades 1-4 or on that math level. Many drill programs just do the basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division if they even do all of those. This program allows for practice of time, place value, graphs, probability, and much more.

Math Galaxy provides good practice for all those essential math skills. This one doesn’t just stop at addition and subtraction. It is also a little more than just a set of electronic flash cards. There are sections on word problems, probability, area, length, volume, money, patterns, and more. Most sections have different options for problem set up such as 1 digit, two digit, or three digit multiplication, difficulty, etc. Some of the topics such as word problems and probability also have a review area to help the student when needed. The program isn’t overly glitzy and has a basic problem area and then an answer area where any needed information about how the answer needs to be typed is also given. The student uses the keyboard to type his answers, but must use a mouse to click the buttons for next problem or quit, for example. The number of problems is fairly extensive to allow a parent or teacher to give students a good bit of practice, supervised or unsupervised, as needed. There are also a few game formats to add a little variety to the practice that might be an incentive for some students to practice more. The program also uses graphical helps to show the answers and how to derive them.

Accessibility issues are definitely present for certain populations. Blind and DeafBlind needing a screen reader and/or braille display will find it impossible to use the program as is. Low vision students not needing a magnifier will probably do fine with the problem area which is written in fairly large and bold print. The instructions in the answer area might be difficult to read and will probably need to be read aloud by a helper. Review area information is mostly written small in the answer area of the program, so this will present difficulty for many low vision students. For Learning Disabled students with reading difficulties will have few problems because there is actually very little text even in the review area. If the program was more accessible to text readers or had one built in, this problem could be lessened for at least LD, hearing blind, and low vision students.

Math Galaxy: Whole Numbers Fun can be found at http://www.mathgalaxy.com. At $24.95 for this program or any of their other programs, it can affordably fit in most budgets. Their website gives a good overall view of their programs including screen shots to help you decide if this would be the math program for your family. The programs run on Windows 98 or later and Mac OS X and a CD-Rom drive is needed for installation. Wynfield students found the program easy to use and fun enough to keep going back. It might just fit for your family, too.

I was provided a copy of Math Galaxy: Whole Numbers Fun, but I was not compensated in any other way. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

As a child, I remember listening to Bible stories on records as I followed along in a colorful book. Those stories planted a lot of biblical truths in my heart as well as a deep love for my Savior. I also loved to listen to Children’s Bible Hour as a young child. Those stories were so good and full of good lessons. Recently, I received a set of books with CDs that brought back some of those memories. CBH Ministries developed these sets from radio scripts from the radio program, Children’s Bible Hour, which ran for over 60 years.

Seasons of Faith is a perfect name for this series as the stories are presented to teach lessons based on biblical truths for all the periods of a Christian walk from new life in Christ through to the deep struggles and times of trials. The stories are alive and meaningful regardless of decade. The books are illustrated by John White with detailed rich and colorful pictures that enhance the story. The narration is done by Uncle Charlie VanderMeer who is loved by many and his regular appearances on Christian radio are sadly missed. His voice alone is enough to make any story fun.

Learning Disabled children will enjoy the book/cd format helping them with their comprehension. The reading level is not too difficult for most children, especially with the read-along narration. Most low vision students should find the font size and type large enough and clear enough for easy reading with or without magnifiers. The books can be brailled on clear sheets and placed in blank areas and picture areas without too much difficulty. The books are light weight and easy to hold at 10 X 8.5 inches with a softcover. Paper is thick enough to be fairly difficult even with weak or unsteady muscles. An extra large book holder might prove more helpful to hold up the larger, slightly floppy pages for those who need the book raised for reading or who can’t hold books. Overall, there are many who can benefit from this series which is not easy to find.

The Series, Seasons of Faith, and other stories are available on the website for CBH Ministries at http://www.cbhministries.org. The book sets are available for a very affordable $10.00 each, and right now my readers can use the code FREESHIPAPR15 for free standard shipping from now until April 15, 2010. These could make a great gift for the Easter basket or summer time fun.

CBH Ministries provided me with a copy of each of the Seasons of Faith series, but I received no other compensation for this review. The opinion is entirely my own including accessibility suggestions which are based on my experiences using the products with my students. There is no guarantee these will work with your student, since all children are unique.

There was a time before I lost my sight that I did a lot of work with graphics programs and web design programs. I have used almost all of the big brand ones over the years. Some of those programs are accessible to screen readers, but when a braille display became necessary, I put away my software tools, and now let my husband and son do all of that work. When I was asked to review Great Software Tools’ Graphics-Toolbox, I really didn’t think I was going to be of much help. I wanted to at least try though to support my crew mates. The program is totally inaccessible to me, since I am DeafBlind. The designer was kind enough to send me a .txt document of the manual, since their manual was in an inaccessible format, as well. There are helpful videos available on their website, but not to someone who is deaf and blind. I gave it a try in learning the manual and then trying to teach a student to use the program which is my greatest interest now anyway.

I chose a low vision student, a learning disabled student who loves computers, and a regular education student who shows little interest in computers. I worked with each individually. I guided each of the students through the basic functions of the program. There is a learning curve to this program, and it is steeper than a free program available off the internet or a children’s type drawing program. With time and effort, each student learned to draw shapes, fill in colors, import graphics, manipulate parts of an image, etc. The low vision student was able to zoom in on the parts of the graphic he was working on and found that he could see it well enough to do what he wanted to do. His precision may not be as good as a sighted student, but he could satisfy his tastes. The learning disabled student didn’t struggle much because his instructions were verbal either from me or a text to speech output of the manual. He also is very familiar with computers and a few inexpensive graphics programs and specialized programs with a simple drawing format. Regular education student only struggled a bit more as she had to familiarize herself with the mouse and how it functions in a drawing program and a few other basic skills. They each were able to complete the simple task I devised that had them draw a simple drawing of shapes, color palette choices, and importing of a graphic and cutting a part of it out and placing it in another drawing. They were each asked to then use the program as they choose to design their own project for pretty much any purpose. One designed a logo for his web page. One did graphics manipulation to place his picture in another picture and printing it out for a scrapbook page for a book he keeps. He also designed some various shaped cut-outs to arrange around this page emphasizing his theme which was nautical. There were fish and shell shapes and a wave type design. The last made a detailed and attention-getting flyer announcing a baseball team tryout for the homeschool association. Once they understood the basics, the students were using tools of this software they either wouldn’t have had at all in a lot of programs, or were doing them with almost professional quality because of the high level of precision. All were pleased with their final projects.

The $149.00 price might prevent some from even glancing at it, but it is worth every penny of the price based on the tools and high quality provided here. It is perfect for business or home use, but I recommend it for the skills that a student can learn that can’t be found anywhere else for this price. Try the 30-day trial to see if it is a fit for your family. Go to http://www.greatsoftwaretools.com to find out more.

Great Software Tools provided me a 30 day trial period of this program to do my review. I received no other compensation, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

Penmanship is an important skill for an educated person; although, it is often dismissed as trivial if the student has the slightest problem learning to write. A person’s writing, though, is useless if no one can read it. The Presidential Penmanship program delivers a solid skills development method and beneficial quotes and scripture references to write on the mind and heart.

Presidential Penmanship uses the Getty and Dubay Italic style. I personally do not like the Italic style at all, so if you are in that mindset Presidential Penmanship isn’t for you. However, Italic has many supporters especially in the homeschooling world. If you fall in this group of supporters, Presidential Penmanship could be a good fit for you. The levels available are first through sixth, Junior High, and Senior High. Each level uses quotes from Presidents with older levels also using scripture references for copy samples. As the student practices good handwriting skills, good, quality sayings and scriptures to live by are written on the mind and heart. Grade 1 level provides lessons that begin with the quote written in quality penmanship for example. Some students, especially some special needs, may find it good practice to first use this example for finger tracing getting a feel for the flowing motion before attempting to write. The Grade 1 level then provides a sample written with block script that allows a student to write on the sample within the lines. This is followed by another sample written normally, but slightly lighter in gray scale allowing the student to continue practice by writing on top of the gray lines. Finally, to end the lesson for the week, there are blank lines for the student to try writing the quote on their own.  Grade 1 lines and spaces are bigger and bolder with a thin guide line inside the writing space for help with letter heights. Grade 2 uses a similar method for the lessons without using the block letters at first, and the writing space begins to get smaller. Grade 3 begins Italic cursive which doesn’t use a separate set of letters as other cursive styles do, so the student can easily transition to cursive from print. The remaining levels use the same basic lesson format that just enhances the skill development to normal cursive writing as the student’s physical abilities mature, as well. Older student copy longer quotes and copy scripture references. The lessons in the program begin as daily practice for a week and transition to practicing about three times per week, and there are enough lessons for a regular school year. The teacher can adjust the schedules for the best interests of the student. Presidential Penmanship gives the student ample help in developing good handwriting skills as their hearts and minds are strengthened in scripture and history.

Presidential Penmanship is available on CD containing all the levels of the program for $39.99. If you prefer the Italic style of handwriting, Presidential Penmanship is an affordable curriculum than can fit your children’s needs like a glove. Check it out at http://www.zeezok.com.

Zeezok Publishing provided me with a free copy of Presidential Penmanship for the purposes of this review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the opinion is entirely my own.

I I have heard many parents say I wish I had the old textbooks back when they knew how to write a textbook. Those old textbooks are difficult to find and even more difficult to find in good condition. Dollar Homeschool has provided a series of textbooks that are definitely from days gone by. The Eclectic Series was used between 1865 and 1915 as the exclusive curriculum for schools in the United States. The books are definitely written in the time when things were detailed, elegant, and concise.

 Included in the Eclectic series are the subjects of Grammar, History, Reading, Math, and Science. All of the books are in the .pdf format. One of the best known sets of books available is the McGuffey series. It has long been held as a true classic. Also available is Ray’s Arithmetic, White’s Arithmetic, Norton’s Elements of Physics, Norton’s Elements of Chemistry, Norton’s Elements of Natural Philosophy, Cromwell’s History, and many others. You will find something for every subject and age level that covers the topics in a style that can’t be found today.

 Accessibility for the most part is limited not by the textbooks themselves, but by the technology needed to present them for use today. The .pdf format is unsecured which would normally allow accessibility equipment to use the material either directly or copied into another accessible program, but the .pdf sources were pictures derived from the scanning in of the documents. Accessibility equipment needs text in most cases. Optical Character Recognition or OCR is the only way to get text from scanned images. That might be possible here, but the condition of the original texts may have made this too difficult of a process. For many of my readers and for me, this makes these incredible sources useless for the most part. However, for those who can use them and love the teaching styles of these old texts, Dollar Homeschool has delivered a good product for you to use.

 Yyou can get the entire Eclectic series for $159.99 on CD and for a limited time, you can get free shipping. To get a much better idea, go to http://www.dollarhomeschool.com.

 I was provided a copy of the entire Eclectic series for the purpose of writing this review. I was not compensated in any other way, and the opinion is entirely my own.

Last year I reviewed a DVD from MathTutor. The company provides a DVD with a teacher standing in front of a white board explaining math concepts from basic math on one DVD to Algebra concepts on another. You can read my MathTutor review for those DVDs from my archives. When I got this one on counting for preschoolers, I was a bit hesitant because the teacher before I had been kind straight to the point with no humor and no flash at all. It had been fine for the age group and especially for the length of each lesson. A student could focus on the needed concepts for the time needed without any distractions. I really didn’t think the method would work for preschoolers. Fortunately, the method for Young Minds: Numbers and Counting was right on target for the age group.

The DVD has wonderful full-color pictures and video showing different objects, people, or animals. Along with beautiful classical music from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, and others, numbers are placed beside the objects, people, or animals in each scene one at the time as a narrator, a child, demonstrates counting. The child makes a sentence using the counted objects, and if it is an animal or a machine; the sound is played after the child narrator says, “___ makes this sound.” Each chapter counts up to a different number from 1 to 10. The things or people counted are numerous in each chapter to give the child plenty of experience with counting to that number. Bonus chapters use counting with puzzle pieces of pictures and connecting dots to finish pictures. Several preschool skills are addressed with this DVD besides just numbers and counting. The child is exposed to various objects, people in different activities, and animals along with sound recognition skills for the appropriate animal or machine. The bonus sections help the child with picture recognition skills, adding details to an unfinished picture of easily recognized objects, and small part to whole recognition practice with the “Guess what I am” activity.

Although many parents do not like to use television for young children, Young Minds: Numbers and Counting could be beneficial if used periodically for short periods. A parent could use it for a quiet moment together listening to the music and together naming and counting the objects in a chapter. Do one chapter at a time and repeat a chapter a few times before going to the next over a period of a few weeks. The bonus materials could be done similarly. As far as accessibility, I used it with several of my children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders with no problems of significance. It worked well here in the sense that these students need activities with a clear cut beginning and ending. Using the DVD by chapter only gave that clear cut ending. The child narrator already uses brief sentences, but for ASD or other receptive language disorders, the teacher probably needs to shorten the statements to one or two word chunks such as, “Fire Truck, 1, 2.” Or, say, “Red Fire Truck.” Low Vision students will benefit from the full color and contrasting pictures especially with the fact that there is limited motion. Deaf children used the DVD, too, and understood the concepts and were on task without a teacher signing or verbally repeating the narration. I do suggest that communication be added for normal use though. If possible, the MathTutor producers could consider adding closed captions that would benefit some, especially Deaf parents using the DVD with their Deaf children. There are lots of uses for this DVD if a parent is willing to give a little television time for the purpose of learning. Using the program with the child rather than letting the program be a break time for mom could help the program be more of a benefit, too, and relieve some of the fears about overusing the television at this age.

For $19.99, the program is affordable enough to give it a try. Many children will find the program fascinating and find learning to count fun. For more information, go to http://www.mathtutordvd.com/products/item58.cfm.

 MathTutor provided me a copy of Young Minds: Numbers and Counting for the purpose of writing this review. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own. I was not compensated in any other way or asked to write a specific type of review.

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