Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Afterschool Corner: Reading eggs...

I have been going back and forth on starting this new blog series for a while now. (I know what you are thinking... "series" implies that I will blog regularly......) When it comes to educating your children, people have so many different ideas and beliefs. My general premise is that I want my kids to live up to their full potential. I do completely agree that children need to play and if they are really playing I let them play. But lets be honest here... how much time do our kids spend these days staring at some sort of screen. Whether it be playing minecraft, watching tv, or whatever random app happens to be popular these days (i.e. Pokemon go). There are also so many educational tools out there it can be overwhelming for parents to figure out what to use. So I thought I'd share some of the stuff I have used and are using for my kids.

I guess I should start with ... what is afterschooling. It is basically where you supplement your child's normal school education with work at home that is independent of the what they are doing in school. Programs like Kumon and Jei can be considered afterschooling, however I have never used those programs because I don't like being locked in to a rigid schedule. I also think that some of these programs assign to much additional work.  I admit to being a homeschooler wanna be, however I don't have the confidence to teach them everything. I am also fortunate that my kids have had some great teachers who pick up incredibly quickly on what they need. Some of their teachers have been a valuable resource in order to figure out what we need to focus on (and what we don't need to focus on). More often than not afterschooling is done by public school kids for many reasons. One thing I quickly realized is that public schools in the US seem to be the battleground for whatever political agenda the current president has. The presidents usually don't have teaching/education backgrounds so these the new programs are not always carried out in the best manner. Afterschooling gives me faith that I am giving my kids what they need to learn despite external forces that are out of my control (i.e. a not-so-great teacher or badly implemented education program).

Before I start let me just reiterate a few things about my style of "afterschooling". If my kids are playing, truly playing, with something that does not involve a screen then I do not stop this play to "afterschool". When my kids were younger (i.e. 1st grade and younger) and did not have very intense schedules they had to earn screen time by doing afterschool work. This doesn't work so much anymore because school is more intense and they have a lot more going on with extracurricular activities (dance, gymnastics, tennis etc.).  However we still do some afterschool work, just not as much as when they were younger.

So I thought the best program to start this series would be Reading eggs.

Reading eggs was probably one of the first really successful tools I used with the kids. I can not sing its praises enough. Here is a little overview:

Reading Eggs by Blake eLearning is an online program which teaches children to read. I had started using this with my kids when they were 3-4 years old (this I think is the key to my success). My daughter was able to start when she was 3 almost 4 and used the program pretty independently. My son was a solid 4 years old when he started. He was just not ready any earlier than 4. When he was finally ready, he did not have good fine motor skills to use a mouse so he could not do reading eggs independently. In the beginning I would have him point to the screen where he wanted to click with the mouse and I would click the mouse for him. This worked out well and he was able to progress through the program.

The program itself uses a variety of really catchy songs, cute animations, and all sorts of games to keep the kids engaged (much more so than any activity book I ever bought them).  There was one game in particular which the kids had to find letters in a big jumble of letters (almost like a crossword), the game exactly mimicked one of the kindergarten assessments. The games can get quite intense and rigorous. When my kids would complain about it being too hard I would assess whether they were just being lazy or whether it really was too hard for them.  If it was too hard I'd give them a break... sometime the break was short (a few days) and sometimes it was much longer (a few months). There were levels that made some pretty huge jumps in reading ability and my kids just weren't there. (I don't know if they have changed some of these levels)  The point for me was to make sure my kids were going at a pace right for them so if they really were hitting a brick wall with the program we took a break. My two kids really learn differently... things come easy for one not so easy for the other one.  I had to embrace the fact that they were both not going to work at the same pace and that they both needed breaks.

 For me the true success of this program came when they started kindergarten and both were reading at the level equivalent to or higher than the end of kindergarten year. The one real benefit of this is because my children can read well they do read a lot. My kids used this program from the age of ~4 till they were 6, neither finished it all the way to the end.  However honestly this was probably one of the best things I did for them. It has been a few years since my kids have used this website but they continue to be strong readers.

Reading eggs is not a free website. You can try a free two week trial here. I also suggest searching around for discount codes because they are readily available (try sites like retailmenot, etc.). They do also try to offer a bundle or package deals. For me Reading eggs was worth every penny I spent on it.  I don't send my kids to Kumon or Jei or any of those learning places. The money I spent on Reading eggs was a fraction of those tutoring centers. Since reading eggs was an online program that we did from home... it was one less thing I had to drive them to, we could do it when it was convenient for us, and the kids could work at their own pace.

Let me also make a few comments on the other programs in the Reading eggs website because often times they offer bundle deals with their other programs, specifically Mathseeds.  My kids did use mathseeds, first I will say it is not a very rigorous math program. I did continue to let my kids use it though because it did a fantastic job of teaching my kids about counting money, telling time, and geometry (Since common core math is weak in counting money and telling time this was worth it for me).  Math seeds was often times my kids "easy way" to earn some tv time. When we used this program they only had up to 1st grade math available. They seem to be constantly adding new levels, but I really can't comment on its use in higher grades as we switched math programs after first grade.

The other program that they offer is reading eggspress... we tried several times to use this program and my kids liked it because it was easy. I did not like it because I felt like it gave my kids too many options and the kids need one clear path to move through. Our public school gives my kids Reading A-Z which honestly I like much better than reading eggspress.  

One of the cons (which of course is a pro for my kids) is that this is an online learning tool. I sometimes wish I tried out their physical workbooks. My kids hate to write, I sometimes wonder if its because I use a lot of online learning tools. I do have physical paper books but my kids move much faster through computer based curriculum. One teacher explained to me that if your child is a good reader than he/she's a good writer. So my kids aren't bad at writing, they just don't like to write. If you can't tell this is one thing we are trying to focus on now. 
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