I promised a review of the online curriculum we are using, and well, between the holidays and life, I’m just now getting around to it.
For my 3rd and 5th graders we are using Time4learning.com for all their secular subjects. We are mostly very happy with it.
Time 4 Learning covers Language Arts, Language Arts Extensions, Math, Social Studies and Science. The content is grade appropriate for all subjects, and compared to what my kids had previously, very advanced in Social Studies. We are very happy with the level of Math – my 5th grader is challenged for the first time ever in Math – and Language Arts and extensions.
Language Arts and Language Arts Extensions are presented in a fun, interactive way. The material is fun and silly, yet serious enough that the kids are learning. Each unit has chapters within, and each chapter has lessons. After each set of lessons there is a quiz, and at the end of each unit is a test. Within Language Arts and Language Arts Extensions there are a lot of activities that require the students to answer questions, and if the topic is not understood they do a good job of explaining it next time around. Math is presented in a similar interactive fashion, but sometimes it is a little too interactive, and the focus of the lesson is lost. This makes it difficult sometimes for the kids to grasp the concept that is being taught. Math also has a number of printable worksheets, which help reinforce what is being learned, and the answer keys to those are available in the parent section.
Social Studies and Science are not presented in the same, fun manner. Both these subjects require a lot of onscreen reading, with no interactive sections. I have found it necessary to sit with the kids individually for both these subjects to make sure that they are covering all the material.
Ease of use:
In general, the kids are able to work independently in Language Arts, Language Arts Extensions and Math. Once in a while there is something that they need my help with. The reading comprehension exercises, the quizzes and the math practice all do a good job of explaining where the kids went wrong. There is a strong need for multiplication tables to be integrated into the curriculum somewhere – there is no instruction whatsoever on memorizing times tables, and multiplication and division just cannot be learned without this.
On the parental side, it is extremely easy to keep track of your children’s activity. Not only can you see how they score on each lesson, you can also see exactly how much time they spent on each activity. It is a piece of cake to pull up report cards, see where they are excelling and where they struggle, and figure out what needs more work and where they can relax a little bit. It’s not all perfect, however. Here are a few areas where I’d like to see some improvements:
1. Worksheets: Every time I have to correct a worksheet, I have to log in as a parent, and go to the lesson planner, click on whichever grade math, scroll down until I find the corresponding lesson, then look for the corresponding worksheet and then click on the answer. That’s a lot of steps. I’m homeschooling 3 kids at 3 levels – I don’t have a lot of free time, and I’d rather correct worksheets as they are done, and not have to leave it until late at night when I have the time to scroll through pages of lessons. There needs to be a way to search for the worksheet by it’s number, and have the answer key show up. Or, if there was a place within the lesson plan called “Math Worksheets” that pulls up only worksheets and the answer sheets, sorted by grade.
2. End of chapter/unit tests: These tests are multiple choice and they do a really good job of assessing the child’s knowledge of material covered. At the conclusion of the test your child sees which answers he got right or wrong. However, when the answer is incorrect, the correct answer is not marked for them to see. There have been times when even I am not sure of the correct answer – especially in a unit that I haven’t sat in on – and it’s not helpful to the child if they don’t know what the answer is. They can redo these tests if necessary, but the questions will be different each time, so not helpful.
3. Odyssey writing assignments (disclaimer – so far we’ve only done one of these): Writing assignments are a parent’s responsibility to grade. They have to be “handed in” by the student virtually, in order to be marked complete. When you go to “hand in” the assignment, a list of teachers comes up that mean nothing – my daughter was looking for my name. We had to call Time 4 learning and were told that she can “hand in” to any teacher on the list – it will then be marked complete. They provide a rubric to help grade the paper, but honestly, I still had a hard time doing it. I’m happy to grade written work, I can check grammar and spelling, but my knowledge of the subjects may be minimal, and again, I’m homeschooling 3 kids, I don’t have time to watch the videos and read the articles my daughter did, in order to make sure she wrote a good paper. It would be great if the rubric contained more information, rather than basic guidelines that are not specific to the paper in question. I know, I know, that’s a lot to ask.
4. Lesson & Activity Planner: This lists all the lessons available for each grade and subject, which is wonderful, because you can see exactly what your child is going to be learning, and even access each lesson or activity ahead of time. However, there is no way to know how long a lesson is (e.g. Language Arts Extensions – some of these lessons take as little as 10 minutes, while others take closer to 20. Same with Math – 3rd grade math lessons don’t seem to take more than 20 minutes each, but 5th grade takes 45). After the first few weeks I stopped using the lesson planner altogether, because my children were getting stressed out about completing enough lessons each day. In addition, if you want your child to learn things in a different order (like right now I have my 5th grader learning the chapter on political science in social studies, because of the upcoming elections) there is no way to put those lessons into your child’s organizer so she knows to that first. I would love to be able to assign lessons to the kids in a specific order and for it to appear that way in their dashboard.
5. Necessary materials and resources: There is a list of everything you need for science in each grade. There is also a reading list for each grade. What would be great, would be if at the beginning of each science activity it said “Today we will need x, y and z”. As for the reading material, it is hard to know what is actually required, and what is recommended.
All in all, we are happy with the program. I would love to see some of these things implemented – especially making it easier to find the worksheet answers. It’s a great curriculum, the content is age appropriate, the lessons are interesting and the price is right. In addition, the couple of times that I have called their 800 number or emailed for assistance, I have had excellent customer service, my questions have always been answered quickly and satisfactorily.
I would highly recommend Time4Learning as a homeschool curriculum, or even as an enrichment program for anyone who feels their child could use a little extra help in any of the subject areas – it’s definitely less money than hiring a tutor, and for many kids it likely will do as good a job.