Foreign Language in the Elementary Years

by Dawn Oaks on October 22, 2014

When I have polled homeschool parents about what they consider to be their biggest challenges in educating their children, one of the top responses was Foreign Language. The teaching of foreign languages is difficult since many parents are not fluent in a second language and are therefore not confident in teaching it. Additionally, many students don’t see themselves using foreign language beyond checking off the requirement box for high school graduation leaving them less than motivated. I have often considered incorporating the teaching of foreign language into the younger years, but have been challenged to find the time. When the TOS Review Crew presented us with the opportunity to participate in a review of the Middlebury Interactive Languages online program, I saw it as an opportunity to expose our youngest to this type of instruction. During the last 4-6 weeks, we have entered the world of Elementary Chinese 1.

A Bit About the Product:

Our son used the Elementary Chinese 1 course. This is a one semester course containing 45 lessons that introduce vocabulary, culture, writing and reading the language, as well as a component that gets him actively speaking the language. The courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages are available on-line and require the use of headphones and a microphone to fully utilize its functionality. The Elementary Chinese course that we used is designed for students in Grades 3-5 and is available for $119.  The graphic below shows all of the different course options available through Middlebury Interative Langages.

How We Used It:

Our initial thought was that we would use this program two to three times per week with completing one lesson each day. However, once we got started, our son was enjoying it so much that he voluntarily chose to do it everyday that we did school. Each lesson is a combination of listening, reading, matching the written language with the pictures, and then speaking.  The Elementary Chinese 1 course has a total of 45 lessons broken into 7 units:

  • Numbers
  • Greetings
  • Family
  • Home
  • Adjectives/Colors
  • School
  • Food

The cartoon style graphics were a good fit for this level. As I scrolled through the demos of the courses designed for older students, the graphics do upgrade to real images.

Our son was really quite independent in using the program once I got him logged in each day. In addition to the daily lessons, we found the gradebook to be helpful to me in seeing exactly what progress he had made and his level of accuracy.

Our Thoughts:

Foreign language study, outside of incorporating Latin and Greek roots into our vocabulary, has just not been something we have explored as a family in the elementary years. I was concerned about the learning curve and preparation on my part. Middlebury Interactive Languages has changed our perspective. When asked, our son stated that he wants to continue using this Chinese course even past the designated review period. He finds it fun and is really enjoying learning something that no one else in our family is learning. He was excited that when he didn’t quite grasp a lesson, he could go back to repeat it. His disappointment was just as significant when he discovered that the quizzes included in the study can only be taken once. I think he will be trying a little harder on the quizzes from now on.

Middlebury Interactive Lanaguages have really made a believer out of me when I hear people share about how much easier it is to teach younger children a second language. I don’t know if it is our son’s age or the fun way that the study of Chinese was presented, but he has thoroughly enjoyed using this program.

The TOS Review Crew has reviewers using each of the languages offered through Middlebury Interactive from grades K-12. So I am sure you will find a review of the language and age range of your own children.


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Standard Deviants Accelerate ~ Product Review

by Dawn Oaks on October 22, 2014

One of the greatest challenges in homeschooling is keeping learning out of the ruts. We can pick the best curriculum out there, but if it all starts feeling mundane our educational journey can become dreaded rather than exciting. Adding in a supplement to your core curriculum can make all the difference. It was with great excitement that we jumped at the opportunity to be able to review the online offerings from Standard Deviants Accelerate. This review will focus primarily on our experience with their Algebra course. I do however encourage you to visit their website to see all that they have to offer for students ages 8 and up.

What We Received:

During the review process, we received online access to the courses available through Standard Deviants Accelerate (SDA). These are online supplements that can be used in various ways in conjunction with your curriculum. The courses vary in length, but the approach is similar from course to course.

Some of the courses available through SDA are:

  • Arithmetic – Grades 3+
  • Fundamental Math – Grades 4+
  • Earth Science – Grades 6+
  • Nutrition – Grades 6+
  • Algebra – Grades 7+
  • Biology – Grades 7+
  • Chemistry – Grades 9+
  • English Comp. – Grades 9+
  • U.S. History – Grades 9+
  • AP Biolody – Grades 11+
  • AP Chemistry – Grades 11+
  • AP U.S. Government & Politics – Grades 11+
  • AP U.S. History – Grades 11+
  • AP Eng. Composition – Grades 11+

A subscription for any of these courses can be purchased on a monthly or annual basis. The annual cost of a subscription is generally $99.99 while monthly subscription average between $14.95 and $24.95 per course. Because this is a supplemental program rather than the core curriculum, the monthly subscription may be very beneficial for review purposes during the summer months, for fast paced intensive learning, or in reviewing before taking a high school AP exam.

How We Used It:

Our high school freshman is completing Algebra 1 right now. We decided to use the Algebra course from SDA as a supplement to his regular curriculum. Some of you may be asking what is wrong with our regular curriculum that we needed a supplement. Well the reasons we use supplements really vary.  Supplements, like in the case of the Algebra course from SDA, are beneficial to us:

  • In helping to reinforce learning that mom isn’t sure has really hit home or that our child says he still feels less than confident on.
  • In preseningt the same information in just enough of a different way that it creates that “lightbulb” moment on a topic that just wasn’t clicking.
  • In keeping us out of a rut in our learning.  Doing something different, but still staying the course, can certainly spice things up and breath life back into the day to day.

Along these lines, we did not use the SDA program everyday. We used it on days when we needed a break from our regular curriculum to either approach things differently or just do something different.

I would log into the software and find the lesson that most closely matched where we were at in our regular studies. My son would then take over.

As shown in the graphic above, each lesson contains a couple different components:  the video (lesson), vocabulary, diagrams, quiz, and written questions. The student always starts with the video tab for the lesson. This contains, yes, a video. The video lessons are actually taught by teens in a very comical way that keeps you laughing while learning. The approach is a bit different than a normal textbook, which is what actually helps the material to click when your child runs into a mental block on a lesson in their normal curriculum. Alongside the video box, there is a word for word script for the video. The script can be cut and pasted in the Student’s Locker where they can reference it at any time. They can also pause the video and type in their own notes to use for review. I also had my son pause the video and type questions that he wanted to review with me later.

After completing the video, our son reviewed the vocabulary and visual diagrams from the lesson on their respective tabs. If he felt that he understood the material, he could then move on to the quiz and written questions. These final two tabs contained questions that were not only executing the math, but focused on the theory or concepts.

Our Thoughts:

For a supplemental tool, I do like the SDA courses. I felt that the comprehensiveness of the topics really provided a full course review. Our son loved the tone of the videos in the way that comedy is used to convey the material and also that there were teens helping to present the material. It kept his interest in a different way than a dry math textbook or even a lot of the other math tutorials taught by a “professor”.

The Algebra course that we spent the most time on surprised me in the balance between concepts and practice problems. SDA Algebra definitely focuses more heavily on concept review than practice problems. This is not just a tool that will serve up a platter of practice problems. The written questions at the end of the topic makes your child think and put into their own words what they have learned. This takes math to a different level. After all, how much more do we learn when we have to teach something rather than just learning enough to get by to do it ourselves.

The only area of the program that we really struggled with was out internet bandwidth. Our internet is provided through the basic package offered through a satellite provider given where we live. For this reason, it was sometimes frustrating trying to use the software because of the spooling issues. I would recommend contacting SDA by completing this form and requesting a 7 day free trial as offered through their website to insure that there are not technical issue related to internet bandwidth and speed.

Our daughters are looking forward to using the AP courses through SDA to help review what they have learned prior to registering to take AP exams in some of their coursework as well.

As always, I encourage you to consider what the other reviewers from the Crew have to share.


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Growing into Adulthood

October 15, 2014

Like most parents, Gary and I have desired that our children would grow into responsible and honorable adults.  We have not always known how to accomplish that and even now question if we are headed in the right direction, but have found guidance from listening to our instincts and gleaning from those that have gone before […]

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Helping Your Child be an Essay Rock Star

October 10, 2014

My daughter and I just recently had an opportunity to try out the online writing courses offered through Fortuigence.  Our time during this review period was devoted to working through the Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course and are anxious to share with you our experience. What We Received: During this product review, we […]

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Fix It! Grammar ~ Product Review

October 1, 2014

We recently began using the Fix It! Grammar program from the Institute for Excellence in Writing with our oldest daughter who is preparing diligently for her college entrance exams. Because Fix It! Grammar is a complete Grammar program, we thought it would be a wonderful way to review for the English section of the ACT […]

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Parenting Resources and Give Away

September 29, 2014

Some of you may recall that we shared with you about the Christian Parenting Handbook about a year ago.  Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller have now come out with a new parenting resource specifically for families with teens and preteens.  As part of the team of bloggers that are helping to launch The Family […]

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Transforming Your Day in Just 7 Minutes

September 17, 2014

There are some products that I review that writing the review feels is challenging. That is not the case with the 7 Minute Life Daily Planner published by the 7 Minute Life organization. I am really excited to share how life changing this resource can be whether you are a business executive, blogger, or stay at […]

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A Christian Response to the 9/11 Anniversary

September 11, 2014

Like many of you, I can close my eyes and see the images of aircraft being flown directly into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and hearing about American Airlines Flight 93 going down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  My mind went to so many of my high school classmates whose family members where part of the […]

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Adding Audio Drama into Your Schoolday

September 10, 2014

Classic “living” literature gets a big thumbs up from our family. When you add in the sound effects and tonal inflections that are possible through audio drama, it takes something great and catapults it into the sphere of fabulous. This was exactly our experience as we had the opportunity to review Under Drake’s Flag produced by Heirloom […]

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When Life Just Gets in the Way

August 25, 2014

Life just sometimes gets in the way.  You all know what I mean, but when you step back and really think about that statement it almost seems ridiculous.  But we have all been there. We can spend hours planning and strategizing about how life is supposed to be.  As soon as circumstances outside of our […]

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