Friday, September 3, 2010

Spelling City ( - (review for TOS Homeschool Crew)

We have been fans of for quite some time now.  I love it when the kids think they're "playing" on the computer but it's actually *learning* - a little secret that I don't intend to share with them.  :)

However, I had no idea there was more to until I received a premium membership to to review as part of the TOS homeschool crew.  

My girls are 10 and 8, and I'm constantly worried that we're weak in all areas of language arts - so I welcome the chance to look at any language arts product!  

There are two membership levels offered - free and premium.  The free membership has a lot to offer but, comparing the two, I know we would prefer the premium membership because the girls' favorite games are included, and I like the tracking/grading features that the premium membership provides.  The cost for a premium membership is very reasonable - $24.99 per year for a family with up to 5 students. You can read more about the premium membership here.  
I explored the website for a while before letting the girls try it.  I'll admit that the website confused me for a while, until I found the teacher training/how-to videos and the FAQ section - I'd highly recommend looking over both of these sections of the website before doing anything else.  I was thrilled to discover all the different choices for spelling lists - Dolch site words, Avko spelling lists, grade level, geography, dinosaurs, sports, olympics, animals, food, emotions, nature, and even words based on popular literature (Charlotte's Web, The Ugly Duckling, etc.).  You should never have to make your own spelling words list - but even that's possible if you want to:  

In addition to using some of the spelling lists provided, I plan to make my own lists to coincide with the spelling words given in our co-op.

Another really wonderful feature is that there are handwriting worksheets for each word list.  The worksheets even offer you options such as choosing which style (print, D'Nealian, or cursive - and even sign language!), upper or lower case, font size, and directional arrows for those still learning how to form the letters.  Amazing!

There are also games to reinforce learning (broken into categories - spelling, word meaning, writing practice, and younger student) - HangMouse (one of the girls' favorites), MatchIt! (where you match the word with the corresponding sentence), Alphabetize (for practice in alphabetization), LetterFall (where the object is to catch falling letters in the correct order to spell the word), and others.  All very fun!  In addition, the games are specific to whatever list you have chosen (at least that was our experience). 

Once I familiarized myself with the website, I let the girls start "playing" - right off the bat, the girls both loved it. 

A little bit about how the spelling lists work.  The parent/teacher can "import" existing lists - I chose to focus on the Avko spelling lists.  Once imported, the student has access to them.  The student is given activity options - Teach Me, Test Me, Play a Game.   If I thought a list was easy for the girls, I had them skip the "teach me" section and go straight to the test.  

In the "teach me" portion, a "real" voice (I never could figure out if it was a human voice or a computerized voice) says the word, spells it (and the letters appear one by one), says the word again, and then uses it in a sentence.  

In the "test me" portion, a screen appears with blanks for each word (when you click in the blank, you hear the word), along with buttons where the student can ask that the word be repeated or used in a sentence.

(Note - you can't see it in this graphic, but the test me portion includes all words in the list - then there's a "Check Me" button at the bottom to get results.) 

The website is also set up for school classroom and school district use - more information can be found in the FAQ section.  I wish spelling had been this fun when *I* was in school!

While I love the site, we did find some glitches.  Occasionally, the pronounced words are hard to understand.  We also ran into a situation where sometimes the program expects the kids to capitalize a word if it's used as the first word in the example sentence; other times it marks it wrong if they capitalize it (even when it's used as the first word in a sentence).  Also, the computerized voice sometimes didn't seem to know how to handle contractions in the sample sentence.  I suspect those things are easily fixed simply by choosing alternate sentences.

All in all, we loved this site and will continue using it! 

As a homeschooling mom who also works outside the home part-time, I really appreciate that my girls can work on their spelling independently.  Once our review subscription expires, I intend to subscribe to the premium membership - $24.99 a year to interest my girls in working on their spelling is a bargain! 

To see other reviews of this product (and other products), click here. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:

Disclaimer: As part of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of the product in this review in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.