Well, this review is a little behind schedule. Blame it on a combination of tummy bug and inclement weather! But here we are, getting back on track, so to speak, and thus you’ll be seeing a new review every day until I’m caught up.
(If the good Lord is willin’ and the crick don’t rise, as my sister-in-law is fond of saying.)
We’ve been plugging along, with (I’ll admit it) sporadic use of our free trial of Time4Learning. (See bottom of this post for links to my other comments.) In case you didn’t know, Time4Learning is (from their website):
After School Learning,
For PreSchool, Elementary, & Middle School Students
The cost is $19.95 per month for one student, and each additional student is $14.95 per month. There’s a 14-day money back guarantee, which means you can try Time4Learning for two weeks and get your money refunded if you decide it’s not a good fit.
A little history
I have both pluses and minuses to mention, so let me preface this with my gratitude that Time4Learning came to our rescue in 2007. I had chronic bronchitis, relieved only by a bout with pneumonia, from Thanksgiving 2006 until May 2007. I was exhausted all the time. Homeschooling was all but impossible, unless you are a staunch believer in unschooling without a lot of parental involvement besides scattering good books and learning materials around the house.
We’d had a free trial of Time4Learning in the autumn of 2006, I think (October, maybe?) but had to give it up as we were on dial-up at the time and between slow loading times and the computer crashing, it was more frustrating than interesting. Frankly, I didn’t think it was that good a fit for our family, with our hours of reading aloud and our literature-based homeschooling approach.
Time4Learning kindly reinstated our free trial in the spring of 2007 when we got broadband. I admit, it would not be my inclination now (my brain works better, now that I’m getting enough oxygen!), but rather than keeping a close eye on them I looked over the program briefly and then turned my children loose on the lessons. They were in 3d, 5th, and 6th grade at the time, so far as Time4Learning was concerned.
At the end of the month I looked at their records, not expecting much, because I hadn’t been “in charge” but had pretty much given them free rein. I was amazed to see that they’d been doing… math! and language arts! and history! (No science, though. They thought the science would be boring so they hadn’t even looked at it. After I looked through a science lesson, with them looking on, all of a sudden they were begging to do science, too.)
Time4Learning saves the day
Whew. My children weren’t running wild while I was laid low, they were actually choosing to “do” school. And doing pretty well, according to their scores. They passed their mandatory standardized testing with flying colors.
Okay, so let’s talk a little more about my thoughts on Time4Learning after this latest test.
Designed to appeal to a broad base
The younger ones are older now, doing work at 5th and 7th grade. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Yes, we repeated 5th grade, only with another child. This child remembers 3d grade Time4Learning fondly, actually preferring the remembered coursework to the actual. This leads us to our first
Con: This is a “con” for our family, but might not be for yours. Time4Learning is secular, designed to appeal to a broad base.
We don’t watch much (if any) children’s programming on television, so for us zany characters, drawn as if Picasso has been set loose in the studio, don’t have a lot of appeal. The characters get sillier as the grade levels go up. The wisecracks get wiser, in a worldly way, if you catch my drift. It reminds me of why we stopped using JumpStart educational programs after second grade or so.
Children who are used to this sort of thing, on the other hand, might find the characters entertaining. It’s a little like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar that, in this case, helps the education go down.
Christians might find some of the material objectionable, specifically references to evolution, and sitcom putdowns among the wacky characters. Wisecracking and evidence of rebellion against traditional standards is more evident the higher you go in grade level. There were a couple of books in the language arts lessons that I excused our girls from reading because the content did not fit our family standards. (Phil 4:8 is a good starting point.) We got a few pages into a book about a mother and daughter, for example, and quit because the mom played a mean practical joke on the daughter. It might have been an excellent book, but the joke was enough to make the 5th grader ask, “Do I have to read this?” and me to answer, after scanning what she’d read thus far, “No, you don’t have to.”
On the other hand, some of the other books excerpted in the lessons whetted our appetites and made us look for those books at the library in order to read more.
Independent learning (at least in part)
Pro: A lot of the learning is self-directed. The child goes through the lessons, does exercises and practice problems, eventually takes a quiz or end-of-unit test. Your linear thinker can click through the lesson topics one after another; your more random child can click on whatever strikes his fancy.
Con: This is not really a “con” in my book, but it might be for some parents who are looking for something or someone else to direct their child’s education because they are too busy (or too sick, as it was in my case in Spring 2007). Time4Learning requires parental involvement. There are activities built into the lessons that are not something a child can do on the computer. One that sticks in my mind was in a history lesson, where we were supposed to go out on the sidewalk and measure the length of a Viking ship with chalkmarks. There are science experiments, like planting seeds and observing their growth.
This is not a program where you sit your child in front of the computer and go off and do your own thing. Time4Learning is designed to provide part of your child’s instruction. It may cover core subjects, like Math and Language Arts, but a child left to his or her own devices is probably not going to do all the extra activities which are a part of the learning process. Also, there’s a lot to learning besides sitting at a computer responding to prompts. The folks at Time4Learning have lots of suggestions for additional activities, like reading (aloud together and independently) and journaling and P.E.
Time4Learning has lesson plans available so that you can see what your child is supposed to be learning. With these you have quick access to the worksheets, for example, in a lesson (and answer key!), or whether your child has a writing assignment.
Pro: There’s a parents’ forum at the site, sort of a virtual support group. You can ask questions and share information with other parents who are using Time4Learning in their children’s educational program. Recently a section was added for Christian families to address faith-specific topics. See my blog entry here.
Fun and helpful learning tools
Pro: There are some very nice tools in the program. I really like the kid-friendly word processor (The Odyssey Writer) for writing assignments. (Youngest was a little frustrated with this until I showed her how to save her writing.) There are also tools used in some of the math activities.
Pro: The record-keeping is a great parent help. Read more about that here. If you choose to let your accounts go inactive for a month or more, Time4Learning will maintain your students’ records for a small fee.
Pro: The lessons, for the most part, are just plain fun! Yes, there is still some textbook-type material here, where you read a passage and then respond to the reading in some way. But a lot of the lesson material has been carefully formed into learning games. While lessons are loading, your child will have the opportunity to play a related learning game. For example, this morning our 5th grader was playing an arcade-style game that compared the volume of a drinking glass to the volume of water found in a pond, a river, a teaspoon, a teacup, etc. while waiting for a lesson on measurement to load.
As if that’s not enough fun, there’s also a playground feature. After so many minutes of lessons (parents set the timer), the child is allowed a specified number of minutes’ access to educational games on the web.
Con: I suppose it could be a “con” if it makes your child less inclined to work at learning when games aren’t possible. Let’s face it, learning is not always fun.
Free trial, money-back guarantee
There’s so much to the program I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. Anyhow, Time4Learning offers a free trial and money-back guarantee, so you can sign up for the program, try it out, and see how it fits your family. Perhaps you’ve just pulled your children out of school and don’t know what to do with them, or you’re facing some crisis which makes homeschooling difficult (like my health problems of 2007), or you’re looking for a starting place or a supplement to what your children are doing. Time4Learning might be just what you’re looking for.