A resounding two thumbs up!!!

Kids these days are very techno-savvy. I think they come out with more knowledge about how to use computers and electronic devices than I have gained  after forty-ahem-never-mind years of living. Even though by the world’s standards of “a TV in every room, a gaming system for every child, an iPod for every ear, and a phone for all who can speak” our family’s attitudes toward media are fairly conservative (one TV for dvds and videos, no cable, only parents have cell phones, gaming with the one game system only as a rare privilege, etc.), we do LOVE our computers and all the fun and interesting stuff we find to do with them.

One of the fun things we like to do with our computers is learning. Yes, I mean it, learning is FUN! There are hundreds (probably thousands, but I haven’t seen them all…I can only attest to hundreds) of sites out there with loads of interesting content, games, and activities. Of course, one site might offer math activities, and another focuses on reading, but only features content for the young. Very few sites cover all areas of learning for many levels, so to utilize the myriad of FREE resources I have told you about in the past, you have to have some sort of organizational method so your kids don’t waste time (or endanger their safety) surfing the ‘net. Some folks do like I do and set up a blog or website for their kids with links to the sites that they approve of, but that is time consuming, to say the least. Other folks find a useful site like Time4Learning that’s already done all the hard work, then they pay a modest membership fee for their children to have access to all the well-organized, thoughtfully designed lessons in many content areas.

I heard about Time4Learning just after Thanksgiving, and was curious about it, so I requested a thirty day trial (available to established bloggers). I signed up Tex (grade 7), Ladybug (age 7), and Cowboy (age 5) so I could see how the program works with various age and grade groups. Each child was given an account with a password (of my choice…for the little ones we made them very simple so they could sign in on their own), and one at a time I turned them loose to see how they liked the program. Overall, the kids gave the program a resounding two thumbs (or in our case, six thumbs up, or eight if including Firefly). While I thought it would be Ladybug and Cowboy who liked the program the most, surprise, surprise, it was actually Tex who got the most out of it!

During the time period of the review, he had his schooling set up so that all of his classes were online. He really liked that. He had one thing for his math (another review item), listened to online sermons for his daily Bible time (mostly Andy Stanley), and used T4L for his history, science, art, and to brush up on his grammar.

Here is what Tex says about Time4Learning:

  • I LOVED the history. It was very well-organized. I liked how they would explore a topic, then flow easily from one thing to another. It just made sense. The animations were good, and the information was interesting. I enjoyed talking about what I learned with my Mom and Dad, then I learned even more. I did history up to World War I, which is fascinating. I am hoping Mom will subscribe so I can finish the history all the way to present day.
  • My mom and I thought the art lessons were great. She says the information is similar to what she learned in her college art class, but simplified, and explained in a way that is easy to understand. I like how you get into a lesson, and get to click on even more things to investigate about each painting and artist along the way. It’s very detailed. I know more now than I did when I started [Mom says she is looking at paintings differently now, too. She can’t wait to do the rest of the lessons with me].
  • The science was fine. I kind of like my Christian science studies better [AiG materials], but the T4L materials were not bad. Some of the animations were a bit basic for me, but I am sure younger kids think they are great.
  • I did not use T4L for math. I am using something else.
  • English grammar was fine on the computer, and was a good review. It’s not my favorite subject, though I do like to write.
  • The games were not important to me (on the Playground). I only played Asteroids a few times. Most of the games are pretty basic, but Asteroids was retro, so it was cool.
Ladybug and Cowboy say:
  • We liked Time4Learning. It makes you do a lesson before it will let you have Playground time [ Mom really liked this feature]. We didn’t mind doing the lessons. They were not too hard or too easy for us.
  • The reading lessons were good. They challenged us to read more.
  • The math lessons were good. We got better with money, adding, and subtracting.
  • We liked the games in the Playground. It was nice to take a break after a while and to get to play instead of work.
  • I like knowing what I did well and what I need to work on, then I want to work more. I don’t mind school at all when I am using the computer [Mom says that they don’t mind school at all PERIOD…they think it is fun because it IS!!]
Note from Mom: Mostly, Cowboy just watched Ladybug do lessons, and offered advice over her shoulder (as did Firefly). His mouse skills are not as good and so he was happy to let her take the lead. If I were to subscribe, I would set up our other OLD (very old) computer so they could both do their own work at the same time. But even just watching, he learned something.
Pros:
  • I can see how this program would be very useful to a mom who has many kids, or even just one child, and needs to have time to get something done around the house… ie, you just can’t sit and do school ALL day. It is available for Preschool through Eighth grade, so it would work for many students for many years.
  • Because there are loads of lesson plans available on the site (to tell you how to use the lessons), and also some great evaluation and reporting systems, this site would be useful for a newbie, or for someone who is required to provide regular reports on their kids’ progress to their state board or an umbrella school. If you were uncertain if you were doing enough, or doing it right, using this site would probably help you feel more comfortable, even if you wound up supplementing it with other materials (which I would definitely recommend…computer lessons can’t replace real books, but I don’t think the T4L folks would dispute that).
  • Another positive side to this program is that Time4 Learning will charge you on a per month basis, so it would make a great temporary measure for a parent/teacher who is temporarily ill, or otherwise indisposed, has to care for an elderly parent, work from home for a season, etc. as it would allow you to keep homeschooling without worrying that you are unable to do the job you need to do.
  • Parents have control “behind the scenes” and can adjust their student’s level or lesson progression as needed. That’s great.
  • There are forums which provide additional support if you need it. I checked out one of them once and there were a lot of parents using this curriculum and really enjoying it (and I believe there is a specifically Christian forum, as well).
  • My favorite thing about T4L: I LOVED the timer feature that forced my kids to work first, play later. Work more, play more. Awesome! I wish I could come up with something like that for my website/kids’ blogs.
  • Students can be placed at different levels for different subjects. That’s neat because what kid is exactly the same level for every subject?
  • The question style varies throughout the lessons, so your child stays engaged instead of falling into a rut.
  • Kids practice using keyboarding skills, which to me, is a plus in this technology-driven world.
  • Older kids (especially) can be in charge of pacing and completing their own work. Parents can monitor using the progress reports. Quizzes are available at the end of many lessons. Progress is shown with checked boxes on a chart that shows the student what has been completed. My kids liked this.
  • Most kids like using the computer. How cool to be able to use it as a learning tool.
  • I found out that T4L correlates to state standards, so it can be used by homeschoolers and public schooled children alike. It would be useful as an after-school supplement, a summer enrichment course, or even as extra help (tutoring) for a child who is struggling in an area.
  • The site updates and adds new content regularly.
  • I had good experiences with their Customer Service department (we wound up not using T4L at all during the week or so around Christmas, and they kindly extended my trial so we could get a better idea of how the program worked. I also asked a question about posting this review and they actually called me at home to answer it!)
Cons
  • This is not a Christian program (which is why Tex was preferring his Science curriculum to what T4L had to offer). If you use T4L, you will have to deal with all this entails by monitoring what your children choose to study, supplementing when necessary, editing when required. This was not a big deal for Tex, as he is a mature 7th grader, but for younger ones whom you might just want to “turn loose” with the program (like 3-6th graders, maybe?) this issue might prevent you from being as easy going as you’d like. I thought it was interesting that Tex came to me today and said, “I don’t know why people don’t like math more since it is so black and white, so absolute. I like it better than history because with history everybody has an opinion and you have to filter out what is fact and what is not.” How astute. We felt the history portion of T4L was great, though (it was the science and the evolution we did not agree with).
  • The cost is a bit steep for poor little me. The monthly membership fee is $19.95 for the first child, and an additional $14.95 for each child after that (that adds up if you have four school-aged children!). Payments are set up as a recurring monthly fee using Paypal or credit card. You may cancel at any time, and there is a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the product. If you pay for 12 months in advance, you get a discount and pay only$169.95 per child. I plan to continue for a month or two so Tex can finish the history, but will not be able to do so after that.
  • I personally thought that some of the games were a bit silly, but the kids did not mind them. Maybe I just have high expectations because of all the fantastic, high-quality free stuff I see when researching for my homeschool-for-free site, but even though I might be able to find you a more exciting game on the internet somewhere, I can’t guarantee you won’t click and go somewhere you don’t want to go, and I certainly can’t offer the great timer feature