Wednesday, June 24, 2015

SmartKidz Media (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Jude is definitely an audio-visual learner.  For a long time, we stopped focusing on "book learning" and used videos almost exclusively.  Because his expressive language was so delayed, we decided to focus on his cognitive learning and just get information into him any way we could.  We've watched hundreds of videos, and I'm pretty sure that YouTube is soon going to say "You've reached the end of the Internet."  I was very excited to have the chance to review the SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers, presented by SmartKidz Media.  We now have a whole new set of educational videos to view, along with a plethora of other multimedia learning opportunities, for the entire family.

At its most basic, the SmartKidz Media Library is a set of online, streaming documentary style videos. Many of their videos are nature and science themed.  Jude enjoyed watching all of the new videos.  If you have a "binge watcher" like we do, one thing you'll have to keep track of is the running time.  Jude would watch them one after another.  On one hand, it's great to see him so excited and interested in the topics.  At the same time, I'm thinking "Slow down! I know SmartKidz Media has said there is more coming soon, but I don't think they mean tomorrow!"  Jude would start watching one "Magic of Nature" video about animals that live in water, and then just click on the next video when it was over and start in on fliers.  I had to make sure I hovered at the computer during the video  (usually I'd be washing dishes and listening while he watched) to make sure he would stop watching and move on to his next subject.

I was impressed that they were quality videos, and not watered down for students.  This made them appropriate for Matthew and Luke as well.  Much like Jude, Matthew tends to be a more visual and interactive learner.  He was studying ancient, Biblical-era cultures and was impressed to be able to watch a video on the Minoans.  Luke didn't find a whole lot for him to use for school, but enjoyed the videos he watched.  He browsed some of the cooking titles.  He plans to go back to them once his current cooking series is complete, because he'd like take the technique he is learning and translate that into the various ethnic dishes that he'd enjoy.   During the review period, many of the videos were marked "Coming Soon."  In the last week or so, a number of new offerings have been released, including a five-part series on World War II.  Guess what is going on his agenda as we finish American History?  Often, though, I would find them huddled around the screen. Here, they were supposed to be eating their own breakfasts, but instead were watching a spider catch his.

Another of our favorite sections was their Music and Fine Arts sections.  These were CD-length offerings in world music, American jazz greats, and even classical symphonies.  We often played these in the background as we were working on craft projects, or even just instead of another movie. How can one go wrong with Glenn Miller?

I must admit, however, there were a few items that really fell short for me. I wanted to love the read-on-screen books.  Flash animation really brings them to life.  However, some of them were only a minute or two long!  I got tired of having to stop and put on "another" or "another" or "just one more!"  I thought this would be good compromise between reading Mother Goose aloud to Damien and putting dinner on the table.  Either way, food was late.  As much as I like the idea, we'll probably be sticking to the main video and music offerings.

Want proof that you can teach this old dog new tricks? Most videos worked on any web-enabled device.  I even learned how to work our XBox One (Matthew is still laughing at me) and we watched some of the videos on the TV instead of my laptop.  Go Mom!

In addition to multimedia programs, there are simple study guides on subjects from algebra to economics.  They are short, concise mini-units that give pertinent information without bells and whistles.

Flash-enabled books didn't load properly on iOS devices (iPhone etc.) but the videos were perfect for on-the-go.   Our family spends a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms, and I've now lived through five generations of preschool television shows.  If I never see Doc McStuffins again, I can live with myself.  Having these videos allowed me to pull out something fun yet educational, and not the same episode of Dora the Explorer for the seventy billionth time!

In exchange for this review, I received a one-year subscription to SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers.  The normal membership fee is $99 for one year, and it's worth every penny, even just for the video component.  You couldn't possibly buy DVD versions of an eighth of the program offerings for that price.  I think it's also a good way to explore the different world cultures presented without committing a ton of money -- and shelf space for the cases -- to DVDs.  I have a feeling we will be keeping our membership for far more than one year!

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SmartKidz Media Review

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