3 New-to-Us Tools That Have Our School Year off to a Great Start!

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After you’ve been doing this homeschooling thing for awhile – it’s year 12 for us – the routine can become mundane. It’s exciting when you discover something new-to-you that gets you excited and makes your daily routine easier, making you wonder how you ever got along without them. We’ve encountered 3 of those so far this year.

CNN Student News, Learning Ally, and Victus Study Skills System have our school year off to a great start.

CNN Student News

It occurred to me over the summer that any sort of current affairs study in our homeschool was sadly lacking. It mostly consisted of me sharing little tidbits about what I’d heard on the news. Even that wasn’t as helpful as it would have been in the days before I discovered Bones and Castle – you know, since I now watch reruns of those or Friends, rather than the news, when I’m in the kitchen.

I was so excited to discover CNN Student News! Now, this very well may not be a new discovery for many of you since the show recently celebrated, if I recall correctly, the start of its 25th season. However it was new to me and perfect timing. This daily 10 minute news show featuring current events was designed for middle and high school students.

We watch it online in the mornings to start our day. I’ve found that it’s perfect for first thing in the morning after everyone has stumbled to the table and is trying to wake up. It’s interesting and fast-paced, giving updates on global events, as well as introducing new trends and technology, such as solar-powered, trash-compacting garbage cans and modular homes, on wheels, designed to fit in two standard-sized parking spaces. I’m telling you, it’s interesting stuff, y’all.

Learning Ally

This probably won’t interest you if you don’t have a student with a print disability, but it’s been a huge help in our family this year. Learning Ally is a non-profit organization that provides audio books and support to people with print disabilities, such as blindness or dyslexia. You have to have a documented disability to sign up for the service, which we have for Josh thanks to going through the Lexercise full evaluation.

For those who may have assumed that the Lexercise evaluation is only for using their services, that’s not the case. If the evaluation results in a dyslexia diagnosis, it is an actual diagnosis by a qualified evaluator that can be used to secure recommended services.

Now that Josh is in high school, Learning Ally is proving invaluable. The reason Learning Ally is such a benefit to a kid with dyslexia is explained succinctly in the following quote from the article, 10 Things a Parent to a Child with Dyslexia Wishes You Understood:

“For children with dyslexia, their IQ level is usually much higher than their actual reading level. As technology has advanced, we now have a way for our kids to read, independently, on their actual IQ level.”

Learning Ally levels the playing field for kids with dyslexia. I’ve been reading those higher level, more challenging books as read-alouds. When Brianna – who, I’m sure, has dyslexia, though she has not been professionally evaluated – was in high school, I would check out both the print book and the audio book for her more challenging reading assignments. The problem was, not everything she might like to read had an audio version available through the library.

Learning Ally has over 80,000 audio books, including many textbooks (even many popular homeschool titles), so we stand a much greater chance of finding the titles we’re looking for. I make sure we have a copy of the print book, too, because it’s really helpful for dyslexic kids to follow along and see the words with their eyes as they’re hearing them with their ears. Right now, Learning Ally has 2,000 VOICEtext titles which show the text highlighted as its read aloud. I’m looking forward to finding some of those!

Josh uses Learning Ally through an app on my iPad, which makes him pretty special – he’s the only one who’s allowed to use my iPad on a regular basis.

Victus Study Skills System

In case you missed it, I published a full review of Victus Study Skills System last week. I am so excited about this product! It teaches kids skills that are so often neglected – how to study, take notes, and manage time effectively. While the Victus website states it can be used by much younger kids, I think we discovered it at the perfect time with Megan in middle school and Josh just entering high school.

I’ve very excited that, by going through this simple program my desire (and theirs!) to have both kids working much more independently this year can be realized with responsibility and a plan, rather than just turning them lose and hoping that it goes well. Okay, I mean, I wasn’t just going to turn them lose, but I have a feeling that, had we not gone through V3S, I would have had expectations of the kids that they simply didn’t have the skills to meet.

Now, with their student planners and a better understanding of how to use them effectively, I feel like we’ve gotten the 2014-2015 school year off to a great start!

What hidden jewels have got you excited about all the possibility this school year holds?

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. Thank you for highlighting Learning Ally! We appreciate it! I work for Learning Ally, and I am also the parent to two children with dyslexia. I love all of your tips, and will be sharing.

    I can totally relate to your son feeling special about using the ipad. My son uses an ipod at school, and he also feels special because he is the only one in his class who is allowed to use one (for audio books). Feeling special is so important to our kids.

  2. Since you are using the individual student planners are you not using a teacher planner? I was also wondering if you recommend the student & teacher book for the Victus Study Skills or the DIY book?

    1. I still use a planner sheet from donnayoung.org for my master plan. I have to know what’s going on each day and there are still some subjects that we do together. The kids just keep track of their own independent work and plan out their projects in their planners.

      It’s hard to make a recommendation on the DIY workbook versus the teacher edition/student workbook since we only used the teacher/student combo. I did that because both my kids were going to be going through it and I wanted to kind of work through it with them. If you’re only going through the program with one child or would prefer your students to go through it on their own, the DIY workbook would probably be the way to go.

  3. Thanks to your review, we ordered the Victus Study Skills program. I ordered the teacher/student package for me and my 7th grader, as well as the DIY version for my 11th grader. I am anxious to start the program. I would love my son to have more autonomy this year, but need some help figuring out how to go about that.

    We also use the CNN Student News. It is a great program and filled with just enough information for the age group. Gives us lots to talk about, that is for sure.

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