Thursday, March 24, 2011

Time4Learning Review

Well, our free trial period is complete.  For some families, this might be a great solution, but at the end of the day, I think we'll pass.  Here are my thoughts, entirely my own, not written or endorsed by Time4Learning:


It's a lot of fun. The kids have really enjoyed the learning activities.  They're reasonably well done, the information is presented in a way that's accessible, and there are only a few lessons that have markedly annoying voices. ;o)

Structured.  It's laid out like a traditional school curriculum, so one lesson builds upon another.

Engaging. All of my four older children really looked forward to their "turn" to work on their homeschool lessons.  Even the two-year-old loved to watch, too.

Adaptable.  The student can repeat a lesson as many times as necessary, and complete them in any order.


No assignment functionality.  One of the most attractive feathers of the program (to me) was the ability to set assignments for each student.  I saw this in the control panel when I first logged in, and was very disappointed to learn (only after a LOT of searching through the control panel and then searching the support forums) that feature is reserved by Odyssey (the company that owns the lessons & software) for public school teachers.  Boo.  Yes, you can see which lessons the student has completed, but if you want to pick and choose according to ability and make a custom lesson plan, it's got to be separately elsewhere (which is a big headache for me).

The lessons can be too chatty.  There are, especially in the upper grade lessons, times when my eleven-year-old needed to sit and think through the problem he was working on, and the software would repeat instructions he had already heard at narrow intervals.  It made it very difficult for me to help him, as the voice was distracting, and turning the volume up and down is somewhat involved and inaccurate on that computer.  The time allotted for figuring out the problems were fine for an adult already familiar with writing numbers in expanded form or deciphering Greek numerals, but not for my very bright and quick-thinking son who had never seen them before.

Some of the voices are not what I would choose.  In the lessons my five year old often worked on, there were voices made to sound like a child her age, with imprecise enunciation.  While that might sound like a good idea (attract the children with a child's voice), repeated exposure to less-than-perfect examples isn't something I consider a good idea.  Add to that the fact that that particular voice was talking down to the student in a Dora-esque way (using the same inflection over and over, regarding normal and friendly usage patterns), it made me a lot less excited for my five-year-old's lessons.  (We don't use baby talk around here, fwiw.)  Thankfully, she only ran into that kind of voice a few times . . . but she didn't work very far through the lessons, so I don't know how many more of those might be lurking in there.

Too much emphasis on screen time.  The children showed a marked tendency to want to spend all day in front of the computer (and with four of them spending 20-30 minutes each, usually with siblings looking in on others' lessons, it often felt like they did anyway).  And after online schooling was done for the day, they pestered me more and more to play games or watch movies, etc.  We're not a big-time "watching" family, and this was a definite tradeoff.

The fee structure just doesn't work for us.  While the cost of this might be workable for small families, it's pretty spendy for us.  (At the time of this writing, the monthly price is $19.95 for the first child, and $14.95 for each child thereafter.  You'll want to double-check the website before making a decision, as pricing can and will change, and this price is not binding on Time4Learning. They can and will set whatever pricing seems best to them.)  For the $65/month (or $777 annually), we can go and do a whole lotta fun stuff, pay for an entire prepackaged curriculum that's largely reusable, or any number of other big-bang homeschool-related things.  For a family that's very activity-oriented (and loves to do things outdoors), allocating that much of our limited income for a one use-type service is too high an opportunity cost.  I don't know if Odyssey sets per-student prices (as they were designed for public schoolrooms, and would charge differently), or if it's a T4L thing, but I would love to see more attractive family pricing . . . especially considering that my tax dollars pay for public school students' expenses, and my own schooling costs are on top of that.

I know of a couple of families online that really enjoy using Time4Learning, and it is, overall, a pretty neat service.  It just doesn't work as well as it needs to for our family in order to justify the cost.  I hope this reviews will help other families know if this service would be a good fit for them.

Thank you so much, Time4Learning, for providing this trial period for our family, so we could really see if it worked for us!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A quick shout out

Lisa over at Suburban Retreat is having a great Spring giveaway, which includes a copy of this beautiful book:

So, you should go check it out, since I never win anything, anyway. ;o)