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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Schoolhouseteachers.com Yearly Membership (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Schoolhouse teachers, curriculum, homeschool

When most people start contemplating the idea of homeschooling their children, many start their journey by doing as much research as possible on the internet. As they begin to research, one organization is usually pretty prominent when it comes to these searches - The Old Schoolhouse. Established in 2001, The Old Schoolhouse is well known for its magazines that covers a large array of topics in regards to homeschooling but many people do not know that they also offer an online membership with downloadable, printable elements as well as online classes at their website SchoolhouseTeachers.com.  I was recently asked to review the yearly membership option for this service and found this to be a resource many homeschool parents would find very useful.

http://schoolhouseteachers.com/


As with any website or written curriculum, the first thing I do before introducing anything to my kids is to familiarize myself with it as much as possible. When it comes to schoolhouseteachers.com, this can go either one of two ways: 1.) you feel like a kid at Christmas with all the options or 2.) you will find yourself completely overwhelmed with the sheer mass of what is available to you on this website. Think of this place as a big super store - everything you could want is there but you're probably going to spend a good time
Just some of the activities available
searching for it. (Luckily, there is a search function that seems rather efficient).  This is not a website that you will just set up an account and then throw your kids in front of a computer for a few hours. There's no eye popping animations or cute cartoon characters singing bubbly songs to keep them entertained. This website is instead designed more for the homeschooling parent to help give them various tools and options to help come up with a more rounded curriculum. And options galore they do give you: everything from foreign language options, Vocal and Musical Instrument coursework, and courses on movie productions. Then you have your standard curriculum such as History, Mathematics, and Grammar. Luckily, schoolhouseteachers.com has a page that lists each course that is available, the length of the course as well as a description of the course to help one to decide what is right for their kids.
Jason Lindsay, hooked on science, homeschool, science experiment
Names your familiar with like Jason Lindsey
One thing that I quickly noticed was many of the teachers were names I was familiar with such as Jason Lindsey from Hooked on Science and Brenda Ellis from ARTistic Pursuits. Seeing names I'm familiar with tells me as a parent that The Old Schoolhouse went out of their way to bring top educators that you are familiar with and trust all in one place in order to help you educate your child. These are instructors who are known in their field which gives credibility to Schoolhouseteachers.com - you know that the lesson are going to be factual and correct and that the information you are passing on to your children is going to be the same.

And there's a lot more here than just straight coursework for your child. There's a lot of extras includes to keep Mom (or Dad) busy as well. In addition to the more than 100 courses, membership includes things such as digital archives of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, a reading shelf that offers a selection of free E-books on various topics in regards to teaching styles and methods, school planners to help you stay organized, as well as daily menus and daily messages of encouragement. I found myself sitting with a cup of coffee before the kids woke up or after they went to bed just enjoying browsing all the various things the website offers. There are also many “Member's Only” discounts for outside websites, including a free full year's silver membership to Applecore's record keeping program as part of your membership to schoolhouseteachers.com. They also have various active social media pages such as Facebook and Pinterest  where parents can keep informed on upcoming classes and the dates they will be available.

Quick loading with clear picture on Kindle
One thing I really enjoyed was the fact that this isn't a graphics laden website. It loads very quickly and is organized efficiently. This allowed me to use several methods to access the websites and browse lessons when I had free time, even if I was not at home. Whether on my smart phone, my computer or my Kindle tablet, I had no problems accessing the website, downloading the lesson plans or worksheets to review, reading old issues of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, or watching the videos. Everything I tried to access worked flawlessly on each device without any freezing or plugin issues. We all know how valuable free time is when raising children, so being able to access the same items whether on my computer or on my tablet was very helpful.  I would have to give The Old Schoolhouse props for being very efficient at integrating this website for the various platforms without any loss of data or integrity. 

 Another great thing is the way the courses themselves are set up: you can jump in at any point regardless of when you are starting. You do not have to start at the current week, nor do you even need to start at the beginning. This makes it very convenient to pick and choose lessons based on what your kids might already know or to find a particular lesson that reinforces what you might currently be working on with another curriculum. At the home page for most of the courses, there's a graphic that lets you know key topics the lesson covers, what age/grade
Course Information
level the course is aimed for, what type of media the course might entail (slideshow/videos/handouts, ect), and how long the course is in its entirety. This makes it really easy to quickly glance at the information and decide if its appropriate for your particular kid. From the class home page, you can also access all lessons (past and present) making it easy to decide what you would like to try. Courses geared towards various age/grade groupings and while I was using the courses for use with my two 1st graders, many classes are available for high school students as well. I did notice that most classes have information on how to translate the coursework into high school transcript credits (example: Transcript Weighting for Music Theory I states that upon successful completion of all 16 lessons, your child will earn the equivalent of 0.5 credits of a high school Music Theory I course). I'm sure many parents will appreciate having this type of information already calculated for them ahead of time.

Price wise you have two payment options which makes membership a possibility to most parents:  you can either pay a monthly fee of $12.95/month  or you can receive a 10% discount by paying for a full year at the $139 price. The great thing is that the price (monthly or yearly) is per family, not per child and gives you full access to all classes and resources on the site. At the time of this writing, they are also offering a 30 day free trial when you sign up for their Homeschooling welcome basket (also free).

However, SchoolhouseTeachers.com is having a huge sale right now and through Christmas Day at 11:59pm ET - 40% off the monthly membership ($7.77/month) or 50% off the Yearly Membership ($64.26/year). Even better, homeschool families who join at this rate will keep it forever as long as they maintain a continuous membership so this is a gift that keeps on giving..


So.. What did We Do?

Since I knew that I would not have enough time to actually review a full course in its entirety with my children (courses extend anywhere from a couple of weeks to a full year) I wanted to be able to try various snippets of what is available. I decided to pick and choose various topics based on three categories: 1.) Things I know my children would like 2.) Things I did not think my kids would like and 3.) Things that would be quick to do in the time allotted. I felt that by picking things from each of these three categories it would allow me to try a more diverse range of offerings than just picking topics I know my kids like and by picking lots of smaller, quicker projects I could try a lot more things.


Ash showing the Gloss for Mother
We chose American Sign Language to try out of the foreign language courses. This particular course states that its for middle and high school students but for the sake of this review, we thought it might be fun to try it out as well as view something designed for older students. This course taught via videos by Sandra Heflin. I have to admit that the videos seemed very dated and poor quality (and some of the editing is very choppy) but we were still able to follow along. I was able to stream the videos from my computer to my television for the kids and before I knew it, they were signing various glosses (not words, as we learned from Mrs Heflin) for family members. We stayed with this particular course for our entire review period, practicing together daily and using the handouts and “bingo” game to help reinforce what we were learning. Ashleigh did not particularly like the videos but did enjoy the coursework itself and I do think this is something we would continue on for the entire course.

As one of the “things I do not think my kids would like” I picked
Figuring out "Count on 2"
Elementary Math. What kid likes math?? Okay, I'm sure there are some kids out there who really like math but not if they have my DNA in them.. So I knew this course in particular was going to be a real test of reviewing this website. This particular course is taught by Dr Peter Price from Australia. This is
another course that is taught by video in which Dr Price explains the mathematics principle to work on for the week and you can download weekly printables that coincide with the lesson. The videos are short and to the point. And guess what?? My son ABSOLUTELY LOVED Dr Peter Price. The videos are very clear and crisp and Dr Price does a great job explaining the weeks lesson in ways in which various grade levels can understand. (And the kids liked his Australian accent) Before I knew it, my son had the dry eraser board out and drawing number lines and was doing the lesson like a pro.. The Old Schoolhouse definitely has a winner on their hands with Dr Price.

Baking soda and vinegar bomb making in the kitchen
We tackled a variety of the quicker activities just to be able to say we tried a handful of things to review. The kids of course wanted to do alot of the Hooked on Science experiments which we had tons of fun with. These experiments can be done usually in less than 5 minutes. The kids decided they wanted to try blowing up a ziplock bag and making orange slime..  Then we moved on to a quick lesson from the "Ditch the Desk" series and learned about the Legend of the Candy Cane (which incorporated copy work, language arts,
science, math and history all within the two fun lessons). We noticed the
One giant leap for mankind.
same when picking a lesson from the "Everyday Easels" section and learning about the Apollo 11 mission. The lesson incorporated several different subjects in the one lesson (And now my 6 year old can now tell you Michael Collins is - which is more than most people under the age of 50 can do lol).  My kids also really enjoyed the EZ Tales Animated Books and spend a few hours reading these. (My only suggestion here would be for the audio not to play automatically in order to give the child the option to try to read the story first, before having it read to them).


My final verdict?  


This is a great resource for any parent who's wanting an "All in One" source for various lessons and activities for their homeschooled kids. It's especially great for a parent like myself who is less than organized and is always scouring the internet for a new activity to go along with what we're already working on. The instructors have done all the leg work for you, you just download the lesson and printables and follow their lead. The addition of new lessons weekly means this website is every changing and there will always be something new to use later down the road. The "Dailies" are wonderful for a quick lesson on days you're running behind and have nothing planned but want to feel like you actually did something for that day (we've all been there)..  The price tag is also a plus at only $12.95 a month which is doable even on a tight budget, especially when you take into consideration how much similar sites charge per kid for specific subjects like reading or math only.  I enjoy the fact that its geared towards multiple age/grade levels as opposed to only one specific academic level so it can grow with my kids and their learning styles. Finally, the vast variety of subjects available here is a literal goldmine with subjects I would have never even thought about (beginning sewing for historical costumes, anyone?).  I guess the bottom line is this - If I were using my own paycheck, would I continue to use this website? Without a doubt my answer is "YES". Even now, my son is asking to do the Tinkers Club and I'm working to fit Home Economics as well as the music lessons on how to play the recorder into our second half of the school year. This will be a very welcomed addition to our lesson plans throughout the year.
 

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SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

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