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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Time4Learning is a subscription-based on-line curriculum for math and language arts geared toward students in preschool on up to 8th grade. There are also bonus modules in science and social studies included with your subscription. The program is designed in such a way that it can be used either as a core curriculum or as a supplement to your core curriculum. I was recently given the opportunity to have my kiddos try out the program for a month and to review it here.

When you sign up each child for the program, you will be asked a series of questions in order to help place them at the proper level. It's very quick, and painless. No matter what level your child is placed at, they will have access to activities at the level before and the level after that level, as well, in case there are any weak areas where they require further review or strong areas where they require more of a challenge. David was placed at a 2nd grade level, but we quickly found this was much too easy for him (no surprise, he is in 3rd grade after all). The 3rd grade level seemed about right, so I requested a level increase for him. You can request a level change for your child at any time and it will be implemented within 24 hours. Mary and Peter were both placed at the pre-K to Kindergarten level.

Let me first say that I have only really had David use the math portion of this program. Math is a difficult area for him and he shirks workbooks, so I thought this would be a nice and appreciated change of pace. It was. He enjoyed Time4Learning very much. It is a nice mix of tutorials, exploratory activities, educational games, quizzes and tests. There are also printable worksheets with extension activities. David was not so crazy about the worksheets in general, but he did enjoy some of the hands-on activities, especially the tangrams. I did not see much emphasis on drill at all, so you would want to supplement with your own drilling method.

While I did not have David use the language arts, science, or social studies portions, I did take a look at them myself. The language arts activities are fairly interactive, with many of them requiring the student to type in answers or even just thoughts on a reading. I was not particularly impressed with the reading selections given, however, particularly in poetry. Let us just say that the selections were lacking any real artistic merit, particularly the "poem" talking about all the things adults do to annoy kids. Please keep in mind that this was the 3rd grade level. I didn't have access to the higher levels, so I have no idea what types of literature selections are available there. The social studies and science portions are not particularly interactive, more like textbook articles to be read on-line followed by quiz questions. This is a secular program that is actually used in some schools, so expect to see references to evolution as a fact (not a theory).

As for the Kindergarten level, you will find the kinds of activities you would expect, like learning about same and different, sorting, beginning phonics, and so on, all presented with colorful, playful activities. These activities do require competent and confident mouse ability...3-year-old Peter simply does not have the coordination to handle them yet, though he does have the mental ability to handle many of them. Soon-to-be-5-year-old Mary can do the activities with no problem, but many are too easy for her.

Which brings me to one problem with Time4Learning: no true pre-assessment. Your child is not given a pre-test of any kind in order to determine which concepts they already know and which concepts they have yet to learn or need to review. A questionnaire consisting of a handful of questions answered by the parent at registration is not sufficient. You can, of course, guide your child in the activities she does. As the parent, you have a parent account where you can access the lesson plans for the different levels and get an idea of what is covered in each. You can also preview any activity in the student's account to see what it entails. But, and this is a big but, how do you know if your child already knows the concept without testing them first or having them do the activity? And with 217 math activities in the 3rd grade level alone, that's a lot of activities to wade through. And precious time will be wasted on activities that are either too easy or too difficult for your child to accomplish.

Another problem I encountered was that I had no ability to assign certain activities within the program, or to limit the number of activities available at any given time. When your child enters the menu, he has access to ALL the activities on that level, even the ones he's already done. You can't, for example, program it to only unlock certain activities after completing certain other activities or program it to give your child certain assignments. You can read through the lesson plans and give your child particular activity numbers to do in the program, and you can print out your child's progress reports from their account to make sure they do those assignments, but there's something a little unnerving about having it all at once. Still, with some planning on the parent's part, this is something that can be overcome, but it will require planning and prep work on your part, more planning than I would be willing to do for a program that's supposed to save me time.

But the single biggest problem with Time4Learning for our family is the fact that you can only subscribe to the whole thing. You can't, for instance, only subscribe to and pay for the math portion of the program. I simply don't want my 3rd grader to do that much of his learning in front of a computer screen, so I would want to use different curricula for the language arts, science and social studies. That makes the price a bit too spendy for us, but a family who would use the full program would be getting a better deal. As for the kindergarten level, there's nothing here new or truly innovative worth the subscription fee. There are plenty of free and inexpensive programs available and nothing beats learning through everyday play!

Monthly subscription: $19.95/month for the first child and $14.95/month for each additional child. Pay for the full year and get a discount: the yearly fee is $169.95/child. To see some lesson demos and find out about their 14-day risk-free trial, go to Time4Learning.

And to read what other homeschoolers had to say about Time4Learning, click the banner below:

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