Friday, March 23, 2012

Homeschool Review: Switched-On Schoolhouse

I have been asked twice recently for my thoughts about Switched-On Schoolhouse (SOS), and realizing that I have a lot to say on this subject I figured I should just write it out on my blog.

We are finishing up our second year of SOS. I have an 8th grader, 7th grader, and 5th grader. ( I also have 2nd and 1st graders who use A Beka). SOS has pros that work well for our family and some cons that I also feel I should mention. 

I love the automatic grading. My kids get instant feedback so they don't have to wait for me to grade their work. It can be overwhelming having to teach 5 different grade levels, so SOS has been a life saver in that respect. I love the calendar feature. When I set up my school calendar, I tell it what days we will have school and what days we will have off.  In this way, their work is automatically distributed across the calendar days and I can know with a quick glance if my children have done all their work for the day. This type of lesson planning REALLY reduces my stress. I am doing a 30-day trial of time4learning with my younger boys, and I miss this feature terribly. 

When I think of an electronic form of learning, I think "multiple choice" is the only option.  SOS has done a great job of incorporating different types of questions so not everything is multiple choice.  Some answers are "fill in the blank", matching, or even short answer/paragraph (that would be parent-graded).  Special projects are assigned, and more are available, so that children get lots of writing practice.  The fill-in-the-blank type responses pose a problem, however--what about when kids don't enter the exact answer, but their answer is correct?  The program marks it wrong.  (There is an "easy spelling" feature that allows the teacher to accept answers the computer recognizes as correct, but spelled wrong, and even allows the teacher to deduct a percentage for spelling errors.)  My kids get very frustrated when their correct answers are wrong or when they can't find the exact wording the program is looking for. Sure, I can override the grade, and I do, but it takes time and is a distraction. It bothers my kids, even though I've tried to help them "get over it".  (My friend Devona also has used SOS with her children and has found that grammatical and spelling errors in the lesson itself are also a distraction and tend to reduce the quality/feel of the program!  My kids don't pick up on those as often, so what does that tell you?  Haha.)

I love the messaging system in SOS. If my kids are struggling with a particular problem, they can easily send me a note on that problem and I can address it for them. This proves very useful in the situation of errors in the program. I love the amount of control the teacher is given. I can set the grade range, I can set how many tries a child is given to get an answer correct, control if their quizzes and tests are open book, etc. There are so many options, it's wonderful. I love being able to create "custom subjects" for our courses that are outside of SOS. In this way, my children are reminded to complete their other assignments, and I can track their progress and scores all in SOS. 

There is a wonderful support group on yahoo that is full of knowledgeable ladies who have been using SOS for years. They have helpful tips, insight, and can answer almost any question! (

Ok, now for the big cons. I really think the curriculum has some issues that don't work so well for our family. One of the strengths of the curriculum is that the children can work independently most of the time, which I desperately need them to do. On the flip side of this, when they may need more help it is harder for me to "step into" their curriculum and figure out where they are. I have been disappointed with the quality of the lessons sometimes. History and Geography leaves much to be desired--especially geography. I would think with a program so wonderful as SOS that geography would include MANY clear, beautiful maps, with lots and lots of drills. It's confusing, even for me, and my children have never done well on their geography lessons.  The maps are cluttered, the image quality is poor, and there are not enough drills (and linking to websites outside of SOS don't count-that really frustrates me!). I don't like that the scope and sequence of history/geography seems to be opposite years of other major curricula, especially 4th grade.  I am only now realizing that my 5th grader does not know his states and capitals, which he should have learned in 4th grade.  Major oops! 

The children actually need much more of my time and attention than seems on the outside. If I could sit beside them on a regular basis as they complete lessons, they would get much more out of it. Instead, my kids have quickly learned how to skim an article to get the right answer (which may come in handy when they do the Scientific Reasoning portion of the ACT, but who cares???) and retain little of what they have read. Sometimes they have completed their lessons in less than 10 minutes!! (This may be a parenting/supervision problem...more on that in a minute). They should be taking notes, however my efforts to get my children to take notes from their curriculum have been in vain. Perhaps this is a discipline issue rather than a curriculum issue, but like I said it causes the curriculum to not work well for OUR family. I don't recall needing to take notes in 5th grade. My children need more practice at what they are learning, but I feel powerless to help them get what they need. If my 8th grader can finish his work in less than 2 hours each day, he obviously needs something more. But what? And how do I motivate him? In his mind, he is "done with school". It can be incredibly hard to convince a child to write more than, or do more than, what is required. Finding incentives that don't smell like punishment is a problem. 

After the first year of SOS I noticed that all three of them had their math scores slip on the Iowa standardized test, so I switched to Teaching Textbooks for math this year. My 8th grader has done fine with SOS these past two years, mostly getting A's, but retaining little information so that if the tests/quizzes are not open book his scores are barely above a 75% accuracy. What one parent suggests as a solution to this is tell the children that if their score is below a certain percentage, the lessons will be cleared and reassigned. Unfortunately, the bitterness that bred in my children was too much to bear. I finally decided that if I marked the quizzes and tests as "open book", and my children have to repeatedly exit the quiz/test to look up the correct answer, this combing through of the lessons would possibly help them remember things more than the first time through.  In nearly every subject and every unit, they take two tests (I have the option of assigning an "alternate test").  So if they have to look up an answer a THIRD time, then they are really understanding it better.  I hope. 

My 7th grader REALLY struggles with SOS, but her issue is more of a focus issue--even with A Beka she didn't get down to work when she was supposed to. My 5th grader loves SOS and nearly broke down when I told him I didn't think we were going to use it for school next year. Out of all 3 children, he is the one child for whom SOS works like it is designed (with the exception of geography). He also manages to have a great memory and rarely needs to look up any answers for the quizzes/tests. Since I already have the 6th grade curriculum, I will let him use it if he really would rather. My 8th grader will be going on to public school for high school. What I have to decide is if my 7th grader will continue to use SOS for some subjects, or if something else will fit her better. I am undecided what my 2nd and 1st graders will use for school next year. They will use Math U See for math. They are both nearly on the same reading level, so I will probably use a combined curriculum--maybe A Beka--for all other subjects. 

I wanted to love SOS, I really did, but it will never be a one-curriculum solution for us.  I will add more reviews of the other curriculum we used this year after we do some standardized testing for our kids and I get their math scores!

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Too much on my mind to blog, but here are some pictures:

Good things come to those who save...for years we have required that the kids put 50% of their money into savings.  Every birthday, every allowance, even money received from small jobs they have put 50% into savings.  Last year we allowed Micah to spend some of his savings to buy a boat.  This year we dipped in again and he bought an iPad 2.  We also helped Caleb and Eden shop for used iPod Touches on ebay and allowed them to use their savings for those purchases.  The kids are learning new responsibilities with their freedoms.

Our weather has been amazing.  It has been unseasonably warm.  First we were given a warm autumn and now an early spring.  Pinch me, it's too good to be true!  The kids have been so excited to get outside and play, and honestly so have I.  The days are "longer" and the sun is noticeably moving across the horizon.  My deck now gets a little sun each day.  In this picture the sun is over the rooftops slightly to the south.  In the height of summer it will set more to the north behind the barn:
 For some reason the kids like to scare their momma by doing this: 
And for some reason, Obi likes it!!

A little over a month ago Zeke was diagnosed with asthma.  His trigger is respiratory infections.  He uses an inhaler twice daily.  I love the spacer on it (even though we paid way more than we should have):
 More nice weather and Obi thinks he can do whatever the big kids do:

Love and kisses from Daddy

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review: Nate the Great

Zeke, 8 years old, thinks you should read this book: Nate the Great, so he asked me to post it on my blog:

Giggle worthy:  Nate the Great says, "I would like Annie, if I liked girls."

Personally, I'm just excited that he is happy to read.  I think this is at least his 3rd time reading it in two days.  And I didn't even have to ask him to!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Look Who's Big Enough!

Two years ago we had an early spring.  Click here to look at Tirzah then, who was almost exactly the same age as Obadiah now, getting to explore our backyard for the first time. 

These pictures really don't tell the whole story.  In the picture above, Obi is "yelling" at me because I won't help him figure out how to get down.  (I was too busy taking pictures)  He did figure out how to go down the slide on his own, I just didn't think my pictures were that great.  The picture below is after he had gone down the slide, and was trying to figure out how to get back up.  Once again, he's "yelling" at me, as I was on the other side of the cube telling him to come around.  He insisted he needed to climb up.  He was close, but he never did get all the way up.  We'll try the cube again later...obviously, it's time for a break.

Obi loves the horse swing (Patrick's family brought us when they came to visit last year).  I am amazed at his balance.  He hangs on, or doesn't hang on, and balances in the seat perfectly.  He leans way out to see around, and doesn't fall.  He kicks his feet and the swing moves.  He loves it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rear Facing

Obi will be turning 1 year old soon, but we will not celebrate by turning his car seat around forward-facing.  Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that a child should remain rear-facing in their car seat until 2 years old?  (Finally!!)  Obi is taking this very seriously.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Strobist I Am Not

I have a Nikon D80 and an SB-600 flash.  I've had my flash for almost a year now, it's hard to believe!  And what's not so hard to believe is I still don't use it properly.  I recently picked up a book from my local library (after waiting on the waiting list for some weeks), The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2, by Scott Kelby.  What I love about this book is it is not only easy to understand, but it's entertaining as well.  It does create a small problem of introducing me to more camera equipment than I could ever buy, but I push that aside and get down to the nitty gritty of learning to use what I have.  Or in the case of flash photography, not learning to use what I have.

I once thought that this would be as simple as popping the flash on top of my camera and just shooting photos.  I have now completely abandoned any such notions.  This is not the first time I've really tried hard to figure out the flash in the past year, but I tend to favor a cyclical approach to learning.  I'm hoping I can "get it" soon.  I know I over-think things to a large degree.  :)  At any rate, here are some examples of my practicing (and a couple good examples of what not to do).  I'm sure my kids will be able to see again soon after the bright flashes wear off...


Tirzah after trying to style her own hair

My little wild man in a rare moment of peaceful sleep

Eden...after about 10 other shots...a patient one??

Whoa!  Aim that thing somewhere else!  Shooting Obi with the flash off the camera.

Oops, sorry Micah!

Malachi again...I'm still not getting any better at this...

Josh working on a skeleton project Mitch brought home

Malachi's skeleton

Obi loves to put blankets over his head

Obi is trying to tell me something.


Thursday, March 08, 2012


Obadiah is 11 weeks older than Tristan.  It has been a while since we were able to get them together to play.  Finally Hope was able to bring Tristan up for a visit yesterday.  They are so cute!  Don't you think cousins are the best?!

 Don't you just love those huge blue eyes???

 Obi looks like he's trying to tell Tristan what to do.  And Tristan doesn't care.

 This was right before...

 Obi reached over and smacked Tristan.  Ok, maybe cousins aren't the best.

 And older girl cousins??  Hmmm...

 Come on, Obi, Tristan just wants to share some kisses!!

 Tristan is almost as tall as Obi!  For a long time we were handing down clothes to Tristan after Obi grew out of them.  Now he has pretty much caught up to Obi.  Except in weight...Obi is still a heavy weight!

 Usually these guys were going in opposite directions, even taking naps at opposite times.

 Time for cuddles with Uncle Mitch.

Hehe..."Uncle Mitch"...

p.s. Don't ask Mitch how he got the black eye, he'll tell you that I did it when he was talking back to me.  ;)  Really, though, he got it playing basketball.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Bible in 90 Days

Since it's been 90 days since I started the Bible reading plan, I wanted to give a short update.  I have good and bad news.  The bad news is I didn't finish the plan.  :(  I gave it a good run.  I tried a few times to get caught back up.  I missed all of Esther (which isn't that long and I could do it any time), Job, Isaiah 42-end (um, I remember getting stuck there years ago), and from Ezekiel 30 on I didn't read all the minor prophets.  I thought once I hit the New Testament in February I could pick it back up with vigor, but I wasn't quite able to.  I missed a lot of days in February.  I felt guilty for a while.  I have decided to focus on what I DID accomplish, rather than on what I didn't.  God won't love me more if I prove my devotion by reading through the Bible quickly.  He wants me to love to read His word.

Many days my reading took an hour.  I will not kid you, I don't have an hour of uninterrupted time to read on a daily basis.  While I did cut back my reading of other books during this time, I still had some I wanted to read.  By February, however, I pretty much lost all time to read without explanation.  Rather than just toss my ambitions aside as unattainable, I have toned my goals down a bit.  Our church participates in a 1-year Bible reading plan.  I found a plan that is pretty much exactly the same on (the app I read with on my iPod).  I "cheated" the app to make it start me where the church is as of today:  first, I subscribed the plan, which would start me out at Genesis 1:1 today; next, I determined where I was supposed to be and marked every passage as "read" up to today; finally, I clicked "catch me up" which would reset the plan to start me at the last not-completed day.  The result is it appears I started reading on January 1st.  Technically I did read those passages...about a month earlier.  Currently we are in Numbers and I will have the opportunity to catch any passages I missed.

The good news is, after attempting the 90-day plan, the 1-year plan looks totally doable.  Of course I don't want to be over-confident.  There are some areas of discipline in my life that I need to work on.  A regular time each day to do my reading would be a good place to start.  While it was hard  impossible to carve out an hour each morning to get my reading done, I WILL be able to do it now.  Even better, I will have time to pull out my ESV Study Bible and actually read the text notes, or pause to find the answer to a question.  I'm not going to push it, but it is a goal to eventually be able to journal occasionally while I read. 

I just wanted to keep it real for ya'll.  It is a good reminder that I'm not super-mom either!