09 10

26 February 2018

Starfall Education Foundation {Crew Review}

We received a one-year subscription to the The Starfall Home Membership  from the Starfall Education Foundation for this review. The kids have loved the free portions of Starfall for years -- in fact, both the boys learned their letter sounds primarily from Starfall, and everyone has been curious about what's in the members-only sections of the site, so the kids were quite excited to find out that we'd be on this review, even the big kids. To make things even better, we got our log-in information just in time for Miss Kitty's 5th birthday!

Setting up the membership was easy. They also suggested that we would enjoy having the Starfall app, which I downloaded to my phone. It came right up when I searched for it. You sign in with the same login as on the website, and that was all there was to the setup: easy as pie. Interestingly, though my daughter has been somewhat lukewarm about doing Starfall on the computer for a while now, as soon as I put it on my phone, it became a favorite. Not sure if that's novelty or what exactly is going on there, but she's doing well with it, and I'm happy with that. My screenshots are almost all from the phone's version, but the look and feel of the site is nearly identical. I did find that there are a lot more parent resources on the web version than the phone version -- but I can't print from my phone anyway, so that worked out great.

Once I was logged in, I started looking around and found that it has all the content that we're familiar with: the ABCs and everything that's made Starfall great for years.

We found the animations for each letter that my boys used to learn their letter sounds. I've always been a fan of the juggling octopus. There's so many cute ones.

We also found things that I've not seen before, such as the Word Machines, that teach CVC words, which is exactly what Miss Kitty needs to be practicing right now. She was happy because they are fun to do; I was happy because it's exactly what she needs to be practicing. There's one for each of the vowels, and the "produce" CVC words, first one letter at a time, then blending them, then reading them. At the end, they encourage the child to read it as the object (in this case the digging bear) moves across the conveyor belt. My daughter played these several times, and her fluency in reading CVC words over the course of the review period has improved significantly. There has been some practice with paper materials, but my feeling is that Starfall has done some very good things to support her development as a reader.

These are a whole collection of activities that revolve around word families. They start out simple, using short vowels in the first row, where number one (short a) has -am and -at words they work with, and progressing more complex, dealing with r-changed vowels and other trickier rules near the end of the set.

This is not a phonics program per se though it is working with explicit phonics, and I would not make it the only materials for teaching reading, but it's a very nice extra. There's quite a bit of games where she can practice and support her reading. There's also some math, and that's excellent, too:

My daughter is just starting to explore numbers greater than 10, and the place value games were a great fit for where she's at. I helped her figure out what she's supposed to do, and from there it was pretty easy. I'm not sure that she's really understanding it all yet, but she's just starting out and they're using drawings of the same base ten blocks that we'll be using in our regular math, so I'm confident that once the lightbulb goes on in one place, it will all come together. This is good practice.

This one was fun, too. They were singing and counting backwards. It was additive - they started with "one boy and his dog", and then added a child in each verse. And each time, they number the children in order, and it moves around the screen in a pretty logical way, even though the kids enter the screen from all over -- the actual counting is in an order that's easy to follow. This one was very well done, and nice, too, because we haven't done a whole lot of counting backwards up to this point.

One thing that I really like about the Starfall math is that it works well to have them play with these ideas online, and they are done in a way that it's easy to transfer to objects in the real world, whether that's base ten blocks, or other animals and things that we count. The games on the screen inspire me with ideas for ways we could take and extend the lessons in the real world, which is where the information needs to be applied anyway.

There are some areas that my kids love that I don't love nearly so much. Miss Kitty and Dragon have both spent a lot of time messing around with some areas that I just don't think are very educational at all. I don't mind them playing games, but since I allow Starfall as part of school sometimes, I don't love that some of my kids' favorite activities are minimally educational.

In this area, they can customize the child, the bedroom, the pet... all kinds of things. My kids have really enjoyed this part of Starfall (it's part of the non-subscription materials), but to me it's frustrating to have them spend instructional time on things that are of so little value. I've wished many times that I could switch things to have them do this area in Japanese, but I haven't seen any foreign language materials at all on Starfall. Because the kids that are Starfall's audience are so young, it's not very effective to say, "This, but not this, is ok for school time." I would like it better if they stuck to things that are actually educational.

If you are a parent that strictly avoids Common Core materials, then you'll want to know that Starfall is aligned to Common Core. That being said, I haven't noticed any significant changes as we've used it before and after Common Core became a thing. I did notice that in some areas, you could toggle off Common Core, though I didn't see that it made any difference to do so.

One cool feature is that they have "grown-ups" areas, which are protected by math problems: "What is twenty-five plus twenty-five?" Once you type in "50" then you can proceed to the parent-teacher area. However, they use a cookie to remember this, so even after I close a tab and come back, there are no further barriers. But I don't think that's a big deal: the games are what the kids are after, and if mine stray into areas that are less interesting, they look for help getting back to playing.

There's actually quite a lot of information for parents.

Another cool feature is the ability to "Use Starfall’s Mathematics generators to create and customize worksheets focusing on counting, measurable attributes, and operators & operands." They have quite a range of them. Some, my daughter is not going to be ready for for a while, but some she could do right away. Checking out some of the customizable sheets, I was pleased to realize that it's easy to help the child grow into them: Miss Kitty is just starting to write number, and to explore numbers greater than 10, so I had it give her outlines for all the numbers, but you can chose which ones you want, ranging from all to none, which gives you the chance to meet the student where they are and target trouble numbers for extra practice very easily.

There's also tons of writing practice sheets, and they're set up in a way that would support the kids' phonics lessons. There's some work with beginning grammar concepts, punctuation, and some journal pages. Most of them are things that are still too hard for Miss Kitty, which means that there's plenty to grow into over the lifetime of the subscription. Looking at the handwriting sheets, I like that there's a generous number of examples for the kids to model off of. The quality of kids' letters falls off rapidly if there are not enough models for them to look at: they tend to look at the most recent, rather than back to the beginning of the line. But there are lots of models on these pages.

The Starfall materials are uniformly well-done. They're engaging for the kids, and nearly always highly educational. This is a membership that I've thought about getting more than once, and I was quite pleased when I saw that we'd be on this review. Not only was I not disappointed, but I've been pleasantly surprised at how much there is, once I started digging around in their offerings. I think that this is something that will be a favorite around here for quite some time. I would absolutely recommend this to my friends, homeschoolers or not.

To see what other Review Crew families thought of Starfall Education Foundation materials, please click the banner below:

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin