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Thursday, October 23, 2008

review of www.time4learning.com

I love http://www.time4learning.com/ (t4l.com)! My kids do, too! I was so excited to hear that Jennifer at t4l.com needed reviewers for this online curriculum as my family has already been using it for about a year. Last year we used it as a supplement only and this year, we use some of the subjects as supplements and others, such as math, as our core.

At present, t4l.com is for grades preschool though eighth, covering every core subject. You get math, language arts and language arts extensions, science, and social studies. All the lessons are up to state standards and are visually appealing and interactive. If you have a child who loves computers or gaming, or is a visual learner, he or she would probably enjoy and benefit from using t4l.com.

You can set your child's grade level accordingly and though I have never tried it myself, the website says you can set a child at different levels, say, higher in reading and lower in math so he is working at a perfect pace.

It is perfect as a core curriculum or supplement, as after-school fun or summer-time review. It makes a great aid for catching up a child who is struggling in a subject.

You can even set your account to "dormant" during months where you might not use it as much, such as summer months or December. Dormant accounts cost a lot less ( I am thinking about $4 or so) and all your child's progress is saved, but your child may have limited access to the site. Or , if you need to, you can always cut t4l.com off completely, and pay no fees as all; if you do this, you'll need to print out your child's progress reports first as her progress won't be saved under this option. Should you need to reactivate, it is easy to sign up again.

The cost is fairly low, about $14 per month per child. You can try t4l.com free and also , if you refer others, you can earn free months of membership.

There are many reasons why I went with t4l.com to begin with, one reason being that I have three children I am homeschooling, on completely different grade levels. I find keeping up with three levels of study in multiple subjects tricky. I love knowing if I need to work one-on-one with a child, I can send the other to t4l.com and be assured that he is working on high-quality academics that, very often, don't need my help at all to accomplish. The "games' teach the lesson well, and then offer quizzes and tests over the material. If a child is working solo in the younger grades, there is an extra (free) download called "Peedy the Parrot" where an animated parrot flies onto the screen and reads the words to them.

As an incentive in the younger grades, parents can set a playground option. This is where I can assign my 3rd grader 30 minutes of lessons to be followed by 15 minutes of playground. When he has completed his lessons, then a screen pops up that allow him to access fun games off sites such as PBS. He can play any "fun" game off the list as long as he has accrued playground time. Once his time is up, the system automatically sends him back to the lessons. As the parent you set the length of both the lesson time and playground time.

Another reason I use t4l.com is sometimes as homeschooling parents we get surprises in our school day that make keeping on task difficult. For example, in my home, its the unexpected migraine. If I get sick I know I can let my children take turns on t4l.com and they are learning even though I am unavailable. Same thing when a sibling is sick and requires extra care, the other children can continue on without much aid from me on t4l.com. Moms often have to be away from the children for a few moments to accomplish some task and yet need to know the childrne are truly working. I used to run to cook lunch for example, tell the children what to be working on, and leave the room only to hear almost-immediate wrestling and giggling with nothing getting accomplished. I had to stand and "crack the whip". But with t4l.com, they want to be working. And besides, now the boys know I can look at their progress report and see what they have been doing. That accountability is very helpful to me and keeps them better on task.

We also have always used unit studies as our core. For the past few years we have used A World of Adventure, which is based on chronological history. I used to worry that my younger son would be way ahead of his peers in one aspect (such as already knowing a bit about many ancient civilizations) but would be completely "out of the loop" in other areas should he ever have to go to public school. I knew his peers were studying an entirely different social studies curriculum, for example, covering topics like community helpers. Now I know I can continue to teach my units each day but be assured that my 3rd grader is also getting a good dose of what other 3rd graders nationwide are learning by using t4l.com.

Sometimes with unit studies, a child can get some gaps in their education; by assigning each child 1 hour of t4l.com daily, I know that eventually they will have covered a wide range of topics that are considered core curriculum. So in that respect, not only is t4l.com a time and sanity-saver, but it gives me additional peace of mind that my children are getting a healthy and well-rounded education.

Just to be sure that the work has been done, there are printable progress reports, resource worksheets, quizzes, and tests. There are also printable answer keys and lesson plans. I find that I don't use the site to the fullest. I really believe if a parent could take the time over the summer to sit and print out the lessons, lesson plans, guides, additional project ideas, and answer keys for each grade level and file them in a binder, then one could really use t4l.com as it is meant to be used. You truly could allow it to be your core curriculum. if I had it to do over again, this is exactly what I would do. There is so much to t4l.com that you don't see until you, as a parent, really dive into it and take it apart.

Now, my cons about t4l.com all have to do with our personal limitations and not t4l.com exactly. We have three computers in our home. But we have one dial-up, slow, 56-k connection, meaning only one child at a time can use the Internet. So we have to take turns rotating the children on t4l.com. If I had my wish, it'd be for a DSL connection so could all use the Internet simaltaneously. For now we use the rotation time wisely, with one child doing seat work/reading/etc. while the other is online.

Another problem you may find with a 56-k dial-up connection is that the graphics-intensive pages load slowly. Once again, that is a personal problem due to our connection speed. We use the time while the pages load to read quietly or so some practice worksheets right at the computer.

Occasionally, my oldest son who is 7th grade by age but doing 8th grade at home, will struggle with comprehending a math lesson. Normally if his quiz doesn't go well, I will have him re-do the lesson, sometimes sitting with him and going over it with him, and then let him re-take the quiz. That is a nice thing about t4l.com is that kids can try again for mastery of a subject matter. If I see he still struggles too much with a particular area, then I can put him back a grade level in just that subject and let him catch up.

Many times my children would rather do t4l.com than any other activity. I actually have to limit their time online at t4l.com and they often argue over who gets to use it first! We are living in a world where children are learning to be very visual and we have to take advantage of that. Children are going to find, somewhere or other along the way, a taste for video games, Internet games, etc. Why not give them a little bit of that fun each day, all the while knowing that what they are playing is actually good for their brains and in a safe environment?

Overall, we have a great time using t4l.com and I have only two suggestions for the company: consider adding high school grade levels and make a CD-ROM collection of grade level handouts, guides, etc. so I don't have to access the net every time I want to print something. I'd pay a bit more for all the paperwork on a CD-ROM disk. :)

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