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We were in Borders on the weekend and I noticed that Brain Quest books were 20% off. Although I’d seen Brain Quest around before, I never really seriously considered it because we already had so many activity books. But what I liked about Brain Quest was the subject matter that it covered. They had a range of subjects with specific activities for each age group. For instance, the Kindergarten book contains ABCs, Phonics, Spelling and Vocabulary, 123s, Shapes and Colours, Patterns, Sorting and Matching, Time and Money, Community, Science, and Fun and Games.
The Grade 1 book contains: Phonics, Spelling, Vocabulary, Language Arts, Reading, Writing, Sequencing and Sorting, Math Skills, Addition and Subtraction, Shapes and Measurements, Time and Money, Social Studies, and Science.
They also have Brain Quest card games starting with My First Brain Quest for 2-3 year olds and going all the way up to Brain Quest Grade 7. Here are some sample questions that they have in Brain Quest Grade 7:
- Which has the most gravity: a supernova, a white dwarf, or a black hole?
- What prefix turns the word “town” into a word meaning “center of town”?
- If grapes cost $1.70 a pound, what will one and a half pounds of grapes cost?
I like the card games, because they are portable and easy to carry around. They make a great activity to keep the kids occupied while you’re out and about waiting for food to arrive at the restaurant or taking a long car ride somewhere. I also like that they are back to basics – no batteries, no screens, just plain and simple cards.
The card sets are going for RM41.95 at Borders (there should be a 20% discount because I saw a sign saying Brain Quest 20% off although I don’t know how long this promotion is running for). The workbooks are also around there – RM47, if I recall correctly. I didn’t see any of the other products so I don’t know if they are available locally or only through Amazon.
Brain Quest philosophy is about making learning fun – a concept I’m sure every parent agrees with. Do the kids think it’s fun? Well, according to Brain Quest, 31 million kids think so. It probably doesn’t guarantee that Gavin will think so, but at RM34 for a set of cards, it’s probably worth the gamble.
I originally wanted to send Gavin for Suzuki Music lessons but due to some unexpected commitments, I no longer have the time to commit to it. I still consider Suzuki my gold standard for music lessons, but right now there is a need to be practical about what I can and can’t commit to. I still want Gavin to do music, so I decided to look at the alternatives…
One alternative would be to postpone music lessons until I have the time for them. Another alternative which I came across fairly recently is called Piano Wizard Music Academy. In a nutshell, it is basically a computer program with an electronic keyboard hooked up to a computer. The program is like a game where children are taught to play the keyboard by matching the colour coded keypad to the colour coded notes on the screen. Through game play, they learn how to recognise notes on a music score and eventually learn how to play the piano reading traditional music.
The following video is a demo of the game in action:
It is apparently so easy to learn how to play the piano this way that they have successfully taught a mentally disabled boy to play piano using the Piano Wizard program.
What does it come with?
- Quickstart DVD
- The software program
- Easy mode – 100 song curriculum
- Premier mode – 100 more songs
- Colour-coded keyboard stickers which are washable and removable
- Star sticker rewards
- Professional full size 4 Octave keyboard (with USB cable)
- 50 video lessons on 10 DVDs
- 5 song books with 10 songs on each book
The 200 song curriculum is equivalent to a 2 year music curriculum for children. The program also comes with the facility for you to download more songs. The program is intended for parents, music teachers and non-music educators alike so virtually anyone with or without music background can use it.
The package comes with some other bonuses, but I was only really interested in the 50 piece fingerwork fluency song pack which is designed to make scales, arpeggios and drill work fun, fast and simple to learn – I’d like to see that! I remember scales were the most unenjoyable part of music lessons.
How much does it cost? $497 with the keyboard, $397 without. They also have an option to purchase the program on a $99/month installment plan for individuals that qualify.
It certainly isn’t the Suzuki Method, and I do question products that promise to achieve something in as little as 10 minutes. I also wonder about the long-term implications of learning music through a program like this. However, if all this program succeeds in achieving is to teach the basics in music, create an interest and a further desire to learn music, then perhaps it has achieved it’s fundamental goal. Additionally, I have seen how crazy Gavin can get with the Nintendo Wii so I can imagine him learning music quite easily using a program like the Piano Wizard Music Academy. And I really want him to learn music for all the benefits that music can teach – so I’m considering it.
With access to the internet, homeschooling has never been easier. Any parent looking to enrich their child’s educational experience can get access to a multitude of resources and programs online. They can be used as part of a homeschooling program, an after school activity or as a holiday program. It could even be used as an activity to keep an older child appropriately occupied while you tend to a younger child. Many of these programs can provide anything from a few minutes to an hour’s worth of educational activities and more.
Tell Me About Time4Learning?
Time4Learning is one such program. Covering a broad range of subjects, Time4Learning is a great way to expose your child to science, math, art, reading, and social studies. Materials are presented through a variety of multimedia activities – videos, online books, puzzles, activities, and games. The program comes with lesson plans and a reporting system for parents to keep track of what their child has done. The curriculum covers Pre-K to Grade 8 and you can advance your child if you feel the material is too easy. There is also a parent’s community and forum where you can speak to other parents to get help on homeschooling and other education matters.
Membership costs $19.95 a month for the first child and $14.95 a month for each subsequent child.
What’s in Time4Learning?
We received a free trial for a month to test run the program and this is what we found…
I enrolled Gavin and he received access to Pre-K Level 1 and 2. As you can see from the screen shots below, there are quite a number of subjects covered.
Pre-K Level 1:
Subjects: school supplies, alphabet, colours, shapes, rhymes, numbers, weather, on the farm, food, at the zoo, feelings, vehicles, tools, on the playground, sports, the human body, space fruit, the human face, and garden.
Pre-K Level 2:
Subjects: At the library, insects, colour mixing, seasons, playing outside, more letters, healthy habits, yourself, more numbers, out to sea, more rhymes, staying fit, manners, pets, days of the week, time, making music, measuring, nature, money, and in your neighbourhood.
Under each subject, there are a variety of activities you can do – watch a video, read a book, colour, do a puzzle, or play a game.
Once your child has completed all the activities within a subject, the picture is denoted with a red tick. You will be able to review this in the parents’ reports section.
There is also a “playground” that your child can go to for “recess”. The playground gives your child access to specific, approved children’s websites on the internet to play games. The list is quite extensive as you can see from the screenshot below:
There is an option for you to set a limit your child’s “play” time. Once that time has expired, your child has to go back to “class”. Although, looking at some of the activities in the playground, I’d be pretty happy for Gavin to stay there for a while, too.
How was Our Experience with the Program?
I introduced Gavin to the program one afternoon after school and let him wander around on his own after showing him how it worked. I peeked over his shoulder a few times but left him largely to his own resources for much of the time while I tended to his brother. Most of the activities in Pre-K Level 1 were too easy for him, but I couldn’t convince him to go to Pre-K Level 2. Since it was supposed to be an activity to occupy him while I bathed, fed and put his brother to sleep, I didn’t make too much of a deal out of it. He was enjoying himself and the program was reinforcing the stuff he already knew.
Gavin was pretty enthusiastic about the program for the first few days. After that, he seemed to get bored with it. The problem was not that he ran out of things to do. It was more like he ran out of things he wanted to do. There were still plenty of activities he had not done but he just didn’t want to do them. He would go back to the same activities over and over so naturally he tired of them fairly quickly. In the early days, however, it was very effective for keeping Gavin busy while I did other things.
What’s the Verdict?
There were a few glitches with the program. I’m not sure whether they were to do with us or whether it was a maintenance problem but some of the activities would not run properly – they simply failed to load.
I also found that the parenting reports didn’t have much information on how well your child did with the activities. All it shows is what your child did, what date he tried them and whether the activity was completed or not. There is no information on what he did right and what he needed more help with (unless there’s something I’m missing here). The help file seems to indicate that you could find out more information about your child’s progress but the images weren’t the same as the reports I got. I’m not sure what happened there…
Aside from these minor issues, I thought it was a pretty good program. I cannot comment about it as a homeschool program since I haven’t really had a chance to look at the program in depth or seen the higher levels. From what little I have seen, I think it is promising to be used as a compliment to other homeschooling activities. As with all things, its suitability depends on each individual child – what works for one child does not necessarily work for all children. I would recommend giving it a trial as it is a fun and educational activity to occupy a child. I know I would have had a ball with a program like this as a child.
I mentioned some time back that one of the other products I bought from Grolier was their Fun Thinkers puzzle game. Well, here it is…
Similar to the Piccolo puzzle, it comes with books covering three categories – Math, English, and Thinking Skills.
To play the puzzle, you set up 16 tiles in number order as shown.
Open the book to the page of the puzzle you want your child to work on and align the board as shown below. Pick up the first tile and find its corresponding picture on the opposite page and cover it with the tile.
The puzzle below is from the “Thinking Skills” category. Your child is supposed to complete the picture on the left page by finding its other half on the right page.
Once all the tiles are placed in their answer boxes, you can close the board and flip it over to match the colours from the underside of the tiles with the picture in the top right hand corner of the book. A correct match means all questions were answered correctly.
Although this product isn’t as ideal on the go as the Piccolo is, it is still a fun activity to do at home. It is self-correcting, so your child can check his own answers. Gavin likes the Piccolo puzzle, but I think he enjoys playing Fun Thinkers even more.
Here is a video of Fun Thinkers in action on Youtube: