The Institute for Excellence in Writing designs and sells language arts materials primarily authored by Andrew Pudewa. For most homeschooling families who have been teaching their children at home for more than a couple of years, many parents have heard of this wonderful company which provides much insight into the education of language arts for children.
A special "thank you" goes out to IEW for providing me with a copy of their Phonetic Zoo program for my review. Not many of us on the TOS Crew were selected to review this program, and because teaching spelling has been very important to me over the years, I was very interested in seeing what Phonetic Zoo had to offer to my family.
I must admit that even though I think IEW's writing materials are excellent, I was a bit wary about receiving and using Phonetic Zoo in our home. The main reason for this uneasiness is that we have been using a highly successful spelling program in our home for the last nine years - and it has worked wonderfully! My daughter who has been old enough to participate in our local county spelling bee has placed 8th, 2nd, and 1st place/grand champion in the three years in which she has competed - arriving at those levels among over 4,000 of her peers each year. She finished her competitive years with her first place finish and won a laptop computer, printer, and a ton of accessories!
My second daughter will be old enough for the spelling bee later this winter, and she, too, is an excellent speller. Because we are actively studying the county spelling bee list words right now, I wasn't sure we could find the time to fit in a second spelling program as well.
Fortunately, IEW provides a free spelling placement test on their website, so I was able to have my daughters take the placement test first before letting IEW know which level to send our way.
Would you believe that my oldest daughter got all of the words correct on the placement test? At almost 13 years of age, she technically probably would have placed out of Phonetic Zoo, although since there is always more to learn about spelling, we knew that she would go ahead and work on Level C. My youngest daughter at age 10 only had three or four words spelled incorrectly, even for Level C, which is their highest level of spelling.
Each level of The Phonetic Zoo spelling program includes:
• 5 audio CDs (Level C has 6 CDs)
• Spelling and the Brain and Introduction to The Phonetic Zoo DVD with the following:
- Spelling and the Brain video seminar
- Introduction to The Phonetic Zoo video
- The Phonetic Zoo teacher’s notes PDF file
• Lesson cards with all three levels of spelling words and jingles
• Personal spelling cards to keep track of your student’s typical misspellings
• Zoo cards, which serve as a way to practice jingles or as rewards
The parent support for the program is very good. An excellent video was provided to explain the program and what IEW's goals are for our children. An additional Teacher's Notes PDF file provides a lot of extra information on how to teach spelling.
So...what did we think about Phonetic Zoo?
Well, we have mixed feelings about it, to be truthful. Compared to many of the visual-based spelling workbooks and programs out on the market which are used in both public and private schools and some homeschool programs, Phonetic Zoo is definitely above those programs. The Teacher's Notes PDF gave many excellent research-based ideas about teaching spelling, but I found that Phonetic Zoo didn't follow some of these ideas as thoroughly as I would have liked.
Here are some of the things we noticed with Phonetic Zoo:
1. This program is almost strictly audio-based. If a child doesn't have strong auditory processing skills, this may not be a good fit for that child. One of my daughters was extremely weak with auditory processing, and we have worked very hard over the years to develop her skills in this area. She did not care for the auditory approach of listening to a spelling rule being repeated numerous times and then writing down the list of words as they were read. She wouldn't have minded doing this once for each list/lesson, because that is similar to the way we approach our own spelling program on the first day of learning new words, but since this is the only way that spelling is taught throughout the Phonetic Zoo program, she found this very frustrating. Keep in mind that we have not done a workbook-based spelling program over the years which is mainly "busywork" and visually-based.
2. Phonetic Zoo is primarily self-taught independently, by the student. For some children, this is a fabulous opportunity to excel and go through the program as quickly as they are able. For other children who struggle with working independently, this could be much more difficult, although the work is all guided by listening to audio CDs.
3. The package of materials is very small and easy to store for the parent. You won't have endless workbooks and other resource books for which you will need to find some room on your bookshelves.
4. We had difficulty with listening to the audio CDs (which contain all of the Phonetic Zoo spelling work) because I suppose we are overly sensitive to audio distractions. There are two male speakers on the spelling CDs. We did like the fact that the speakers rotate every three words as they recite the spelling lists. That provides a "change of pace" as the spelling lists are read. However, one of the speakers had a lot of what I can only think to call "mouth noise", as if he had a very dry mouth and needed a drink of water. While his diction was very clear, his dry mouth or method of speaking was like the static on a record player as a record is being played. One of my daughters found it so annoying that she could hardly stand to listen to the audio CDs. She has always been very sensitive to other people's noises with their mouths and throats (for example, when people clear their throats repeatedly or cough or make even a little bit of noise when eating at the table). This is not the fault of the speaker, but I, too, found it to be distracting. The second speaker didn't have the "mouth noise" of what seems to be a dry mouth, but some of his pronunciations aren't quite as clear, almost as if he was wearing dentures that didn't quite perfectly fit. Fortunately, most of his words were clearly pronounced, so that wasn't a problem except in one or two words my children encountered.
I apologize if that comes across as being negative toward the men who were doing their best to speak clearly. Probably for most families, they wouldn't have any hesitation with using the audio CDs. I'm sure it's just my daughter and I that found the extra "static" to be distracting. But I thought that I should mention this in case you might have a child who is a bit over the top with audio distractions like one of my children. There was just no way I could have forced my distractable daughter to sit and listen to the audio CDs using headphones as IEW recommends. She would have come unglued! However, she could tolerate listening for 10-15 minutes using our computer or CD player without headphones, although instead of self-correcting her work using the audio CDs, I just spared her the pain of it and corrected it myself. I know that the program wants the students to self-correct, and I'm not opposed to that, but for this particular child, that wouldn't have worked. She isn't a spoiled brat, and I certainly do not give in to her whims. If the background noise she heard was birds tweeting or a peaceful bit of calm, wordless music, she could have been okay with the audio CDs. But the mouth noise distractions? That made it very difficult for her to like this program. I know it is impossible to please all users of any audio program with the "perfect" speaker or reader, but for one of my daughters, this just didn't work.
Academically, it was difficult to tell over the number of weeks that my daughters made any progress, mainly because they generally got all of the words correct each lesson, with the exception of a couple of words. And since they did so well on the original placement test, even if I had chosen for them take that placement test again as a "post-test" kind of situation, there wasn't enough room for improvement that I could have observed growth in their spelling skills.
My main concern with Phonetic Zoo was that the spelling rules were quite long and drawn out, and sometimes included more than one concept at a time. You should know that the spelling program we have used for years has quite the number of spelling rules as well, so we are used to learning and memorizing spelling rules. However, the rules we have learned in the past are quite succinct and to the point. They have been so well thought out and planned that I cannot actually find a better method of teaching spelling rules on the market today.
For example, here is the Phonetic Zoo rule for the a-i and the a-y letter combination:
"When a-i says a
as in claim or chain,
It comes in the middle
as in train and pain.
But when a-y says a
as in jay and portray,
It comes at the end.
See decay and delay.
Don't let suffixes betray you
as in decayed,
The root never changes.
See playful and played."
In comparison, the spelling program we've used for many years says this:
"ay, two-letter A that we may use at the end of English words."
"ai, two-letter A that we may not use at the end of English words."
Since the spelling program I have used for so long (Spell to Write and Read) teaches the students all about breaking words down into syllables and phonograms, and that isn't done at all with Phonetic Zoo, I see this to be one of Phonetic Zoo's weaknesses. There is tremendous benefit of breaking words down into syllables and "sound bites." We've known many children who have done this with our spelling program and have greatly excelled with it. Phonetic Zoo parent/teacher materials recalled how spelling bees 100 years ago were so beneficial in teaching students how to read and spell well. They have tried to model Phonetic Zoo around the old-fashioned spelling bee. However, any old-fashioned spelling bees I've read about in books or have seen in movies made each competitor break down the word into syllables and spell each syllable separately. For example, "spelling" would have been recited:
"spell - S-P-E-L-L, ing - I-N-G, spelling."
If Phonetic Zoo had chosen to approach the learning of new words in a manner more closely related to what I've just described, then it would have ranked much higher in my book.
In addition, as I read through all of the large Zoo cards (they are an identical set of cards for all three levels), I found that the manner in which many of the rules are worded creates many "exceptions" in spelling in the English language.
One of my main purposes in finding a succinct spelling program years ago was to show my children that there are actually very few exceptions in the spellings of English words. And so far, we've been able to use Spell to Write and Read (SWR) which clearly shows us that there are actually not as many exceptions in the English language as you have been led to believe. The rules in SWR are written that carefully and succinctly. Have you ever received an email that contains a poem showing all of the "funny" spellings and pronunciations of English words? Well, if my daughters went through that funny email, they could point out specifically why this word is pronounced this way and why that word is pronounced a different way even though they are spelled similarly.
That leads me to one other concern I have with Phonetic Zoo. When I was teaching in the public school system, I knew that the spelling curriculum I had for my classroom was terrible, but I didn't know how to make it better. Spelling and teaching beginning reading is just not really addressed in education colleges today, nor has it been addressed in the last forty years, so most teachers have no idea how to teach spelling in a productive, effective manner. What I noticed was that when my students were attempting to learn a list of spelling words which all revolved around the same concept or theme, their ability to spell well when they wrote essays - even if they received 100% on their spelling tests - was usually quite poor. I definitely noticed that learning lists of words which revolved around one or two spelling rules or concepts just didn't transfer over well to students' writing.
Unfortunately, Phonetic Zoo does the same thing as the curriculum I used in the classroom: each lesson has a list of words that revolve around one theme or concept. For example, the list of words using the "ai" and "ay" rules all contain one of those two combinations for the "A" sound. I prefer to use a different method that has been wildly successful with my two children who are as different from each other as night and day, in personality and in learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses.
Overall, I do think that Phonetic Zoo has some merit. Their spelling research is very accurate. I would, however, prefer to use a spelling program that is multi-sensory, especially after having a child who is deficient in auditory processing skills. The program doesn't need to be flashy or entertaining at all; it doesn't need to be "in color" or catchy or full of humor. I have always believed that there are just some things that children must learn, whether or not it is entertaining or "fun."
Phonetic Zoo will work well with families who have not had spelling programs that focus on learning some of the basic rules of the English language in regard to spelling. If your children are used to memorizing spelling words like this:
...then Phonetic Zoo will be a much better option for your children than those other types of spelling programs that create words with more exceptions to the rules than than those that fit the rules.
But if you are looking for a spelling program that incredibly minimizes exceptions to spelling in the English language, with rules that are easy to learn and are succinct, then you may want to seek out a different method of teaching spelling. Spell to Write and Read, by Wanda Sanseri, may be a better fit for your approach to spelling.
Phonetic Zoo will also work well for larger families who need a spelling program that will work almost independently without much help from the parent. And for the independent learner in your family, he or she will probably really enjoy Phonetic Zoo.
If you have questions you'd like to ask me about Phonetic Zoo, feel free to ask in a comment, below. I'll do my best to find out for you what you are wanting to know.
Phonetic Zoo is a decent option for some families who have either done no spelling work at home or are having minimal results with the spelling programs they are using. For my family, however, we're going to stick with what we know works for almost all children regardless of their learning styles and strengths and weaknesses.
No spelling program is perfect, and each student responds differently, so I hope you will be able to choose a spelling program for your children which meets their learning needs and has great results. Happy spelling to you!
Disclosure: The Institute for Excellence in Writing sent me a complimentary copy of Phonetic Zoo for the purpose of my use and honest review of this product. No other compensation was provided.
Linda, from Prairie Flower Farms, has the sweetest free Christmas cookie cookbook available for free download right now. You may either print it out at home, or download it to your computer. It's a darling little book! Linda has a very beautiful and sweet blog, so if you like farm living and all things "country", you might enjoy what you see at her site:
EnJOY! Merry Christmas to you all!
I have an uncanny knack of losing most games that I sit down to play with my family and friends. As a child, I think this bothered me a little - that I wasn't all that great at strategy.
Okay, it bothered me a lot. Sometimes, board game play ended with me in tears or immense frustration when playing games with my brother and sister. Sometimes, I just felt like picking up that board or deck of cards and dumping it over. I probably did that more than once, I'll admit.
Well, fast-forward to 2010, and things haven't improved all that much. The only thing that has improved in my game-playing ability is my level of patience and acceptance that I will almost always lose or come close to last. In other words, I've become a good sport out of desperation!
Sure, there have been moments when I play better, or even win a game. And while I'd love to jump around and screech and open the door and shout my head off to the neighborhood that I won that particular game, I don't. That would be poor sportsmanship, right? And my children would be very embarrassed and would claim to not know me. But if it's a game involving strategy, even if I know what the strategy may be, most likely I won't be doing all that well with it.
I've learned to survive this with playing games truly "for fun", with no expectation to win or trounce everyone else. I've given up on the idea that I will always come out a winner. That's not a bad thing. Little things that help me stay more humble are not bad, just annoying at times!
A few weeks ago, our family received the board game, Wits & Wagers Family, to play and review here for you. We have enjoyed it and have played it numerous times together, all four of us. Let me tell you about the game.
This is a game where all of the question cards' answers are written as numbers. For example, a card may say, "When you first purchase Mario Kart Wii, how many characters can you choose from?"
Yes, there are some children (and adults) who will know the exact answer to this question. However, most people will only be taking a best guess at the answer.
Wits & Wagers Family is a trivia game where the players don't have to know the exact answer to win the game. In fact, each player tries to write down their answer on their own little dry erase board so that the number they have selected for their answer won't go over the correct answer (that's a key point or strategy to this game).
Here's how to play the game:
1. A question is asked from the card deck of questions.
2. Everyone who is playing the game writes down their answer or best guess on their own personal dry erase-style board.
3. After everyone has finished writing down their answer, the guesses are placed face-up on the table or playing area. The answers are placed in order, from smallest to largest.
4. Each player looks at all of the guesses provided by the players. Each player chooses where to place their two Meeples (one small, one large) on the individual answer boards. This is where each player places their wager, on the answer or answers that he or she thinks are closest to being correct.
So, back to our Mario Kart question: if I think that the correct answer is 5, but no one has written down "5" on their own answer card, then I'll choose to place my Meeples on the highest answer closest to 5 without going over.
I can either place both Meeples on the same answer card, or one on each of two different answer cards. If I most definitely know the correct answer (such as in how many feet are in a mile), I can place both of my Meeples on my own answer card...and if I was correct, I would earn a total of 4 points:
The first player to reach 15 points wins the game.
150 Question Cards (total of 300 questions)
5 Dry Erase Boards
5 Dry Erase Pens
1 Permanent Answer Board (with a "1")
5 Large Meeples (worth 2 points)
5 Small Meeples (worth 1 point)
1 Dry Erase Score Board
1 Full-color Rules
Here are some of the things our family likes about Wits & Wagers Family:
1. The most intelligent person may not necessarily win the game. Sometimes, the person who has the closest guess without going over will win a turn. There's a little bit more chance built into this game which evens out the playing field a little bit.
2. The inclusion of little dry erase boards (a total of 5) mean no endless pads of paper all over the place, or running out of paper.
3. This can also be a team game. While the game is designed for people ages 8 and up, teams of people could play this, enabling younger children to participate and help out their team. Nice!
4. For home educating families, or other families as well, a parent could make up his or her own questions to use for this game, as long as the answers were numbers. This could be used with science and history questions, and even literature questions, as long as the answer was a number.
5. Even if all of the playing pieces (Meeples) become lost, you can still play this game. You could grab some coins, nuts and bolts, buttons, seeds, or many other small objects. Just keep children under the age of 3 away from this game, as it does have small parts.
6. If your dry erase markers dry up, you can always use other kid-friendly, low-odor dry erase markers from the store. Or, you may choose to use pads of paper or little squares of scratch paper that you've cut out. Basically, it's not a big deal if you happen to lose parts to the game.
7. Free Parts Replacement - Don’t let a lost or broken component stop you from playing. If any of our game component(s) should fail (or even be lost) within the first year of ownership, North Star Games will deliver an identical or comparable replacement to your door free of charge. Requesting replacement parts is a breeze... simply e-mail us the requested part(s) along with your mailing address. We’ll send the parts out within two weeks. Here is North Star Games' email address if you have lost or missing parts:
Customer Service Email
While I don't know that Wits & Wagers Family is going to be my family's all-time favorite family game, we have enjoyed playing it. Each game play takes about 30 minutes and needs to be played by at least 3 or more players.
I learned a few interesting things about the developers* of Wits & Wagers Family, from their website:
Dominic is the Founder and Co-President of North Star Games. In 8th grade, Dominic earned the much-coveted “bad boy” title when his first game, Kabloogi, was banned from school because kids were playing it during first period. It is because of his great passion for games that he stopped captaining a commercial salmon fishing boat in Alaska to start the most innovative board gamecompany on the planet.
Satish Pillalamarri is the Co-President of North Star Games. He was a cog in the wheel at a New York hedge fund when a life-changing event took place: he became a contestant on Jeopardy! This experience prepared him for his position as the Chief Question Writing Officer at North Star Games. Inspired by his love for having fun, Satish’s mission is to bring innovative games to every man, woman and child (and the occasional monkey).
*From North Star Games website
Wits & Wagers Family version is available from North Star Games as well as other retail locations where family games are sold.
Bottom line? We like this game!
Healthier and Soft Gingerbread People
You'll need to plan just a little bit ahead to make these cookies, because the dough will need to chill for about 3 hours.
1 cup shortening (or coconut oil)
1 cup sugar (or organic evaporated cane juice sugar)
1 cup light molasses
2 Tbsp. vinegar (or raw apple cider vinegar)
4 cups flour (or organic whole wheat pastry flour)
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2-1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
Cream together the shortening (or coconut oil), sugar, and egg. Add light molasses and vinegar. Blend well.
In a separate bowl, blend flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients to first bowl and combine well.
Divide the dough into two equal portions, and wrap in plastic wrap or natural waxed paper. Chill the dough for three hours.
When you are ready to roll out the dough, bring dough to nearly room temperature. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the dough 1/8" thick on a well-floured surface.
Dip cookie cutters into flour to prevent sticking, and cut shapes. Place directly onto shiny aluminum baking sheet.
Bake for only 6-8 minutes. Place baked cookies onto a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating.
Decorate your gingerbread people with homemade powdered sugar icing or purchased tube icing, currants for eyes, red candies for buttons.
Sprinkle frosted cookies with additional sugar to make them glisten. Yum!
If you've been following or reading my blog for a few months, you'll notice that I've previously reviewed the first Jim Baumgardner book in the Sarah series, Sarah's Wish. You may read that review HERE if you'd like.
Sarah's story is full of trials and blessings. She is courageous, and she strives to live a godly life and be a girl of truth. She's not perfect, but when she makes mistakes or poor choices, she is sensitive to the Holy Spirit and tries to make things right again. There is a lot in this book that shows a positive role model for girls being raised in godly Christian homes. I recommend this series of books by Jim Baumgardner!
In Book 2, Sarah's Promise, Sarah promises herself that she will help return a husband and wife - kidnapped former slaves - to their family farm, to be reunited with their daughter. She also prays fervently for a new family for herself, as she is an orphan who has been taken in by a spunky, gun-packing granny who doesn't take any guff from anyone!
I enjoyed this second book, Sarah's Promise, even more than the first book in this trilogy. The writing was more compelling and smooth; I was drawn into the story more convincingly. My daughter said the same thing as she read this trilogy.
Autographed copies of Sarah's Promise may be purchased HERE for $10.99, and all three books in the Sarah series may be purchased for $28.99 at Mr. Baumgardner's website (linked above).
Sarah's Promise can also be purchased and downloaded in audio format, to listen to at your own convenience HERE at www.audible.com. You may also listen to a free sample of the audio file at that link above. Audio CDs of all three books may be purchased HERE for $49.99.
Disclosure: I received Sarah's Wish free of charge in exchange for an honest review of this book. No other compensation was provided.
I'm regularly looking for Bible devotional materials for our family to use. We enjoy reading the Bible together, and some of the newer (and older) family devotional books can really make the Holy Scriptures come to life for our children!
I received the opportunity to review a new family Bible devotional book by Starr Meade: God's Mighty Acts in Creation, published by Crossway.
The girls and I began a chronological study of the Bible and world history back in 2005. That means that it has been almost six years since we have sat down to specifically study and learn about the book of Genesis and God's creation of the world! Since we are currently studying the renaissance and the reformation in our history studies, it will still be a few more years until we begin all over again at the beginning of creation, the book of Genesis.
This was an excellent time to read about and review creation with more depth than the last time we talked about it as a family, back when the girls were 5 and 7 years old!
The author, Starr Meade, has shown our family some neat insights about God's hand in the creation of our world and humankind. A wide variety of topics are pointed out in the daily or weekly readings, much like the insights we learned when first going through the beginnings of time in 2005 with another Bible/history curriculum.
Each biblical day of Creation is broken down into 5-12 individual family Bible studies.
Each individual study starts with a passage of Scripture and then follows with a two-page lesson that brings Old Testament values to life as they combine with our modern, everyday world. Most of the studies end with an enrichment activity you could either do with your family or a topic of discussion to have with your family after the lesson.
While this book is primarily targeted to elementary aged children, according to the publisher, we have noticed that it would be best for readers or listeners who have exposure to a variety of literature. We think it is appropriate for third or fourth grade and above, although if the parent planned ahead and brought in a visual or some object from around the house to help captivate attention, it could easily work with younger ages as well. And, the level of writing isn't insulting or dumbed down even for the adults, so this helps to make God's Mighty Acts in Creation a book that is easy to use with the entire family.
We have enjoyed using this book in our family Bible devotional times in the evenings together. None of us has had any complaints at all. I think you will enjoy it!
Disclosure: I received God's Mighty Acts in Creation from its publisher, Crossway Books, solely for the purpose of using and reviewing this on my website. No other compensation was provided.
When a teacher has been unfairly critical of one of her students' parents, we wonder if her attitude will ever change. However, after an accident, she finds that she has traded places with the woman she has been criticizing and judging. Will their lives turn out differently because of this experience?
My long-time friend, Lynnae, at Freelance Homeschool Mom, was able to spend a little bit of time on the set of "A Walk in My Shoes" when it was being filmed. She had the opportunity to interview actress Nancy Travis on the set. You may enjoy watching this:
Like the other two family-friendly movies sponsored by Proctor and Gamble and some other business sponsors, we liked this movie. It may not reach "Top 10" status in our household, but it was not a bad or poor movie. And A Walk In My Shoes was definitely family-friendly!
Hi! I'm Julieanne!