Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: WealthQuest for Teens

WealthQuest for Teens
Cost:  $39.95
Age: High School

In tough economic times, with four teenagers, we are constantly seeking ways to help our kids become better financial stewards.  We teach them all the time they we are blessed with what we have and have a responsibility to manage it well.
TOS offered me the opportunity to review WealthQuest for Teens.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to further expose my high school sophomore to financial management strategies. 

The program comes with three parts:  a Parent Guide, an online video seminar, and a Teen’s Basic Seminar QuickStart Guide. 
Parent Guide

The parent guide provides information about the program itself.  Why we should teach our children financial management, and why this program is the best way to do it.  I did appreciate some of the ideas around why parents fail to raise financially capable young adults.  The guide isn’t a resource so much as it is confirmation to the parent that they should be teaching their child about finances and then selling this program.
Online Video Seminar

The Online Video Seminar includes seven videos aimed at walking your student through how to get rich.  Personally, my son and I found the focus of “being rich” inappropriate.  While financial stability is important, the pursuit of riches is not something we focus on here in our home. 
Each of the videos is well done.  Peer actors are used in addition to the primary course creator, Jill Suskind, to explain to the students why being rich is important.  The videos go on to detail that your student should look for ways to earn income (makes sense) and should invest some of that income.  I felt like the coverage of how to invest was just an overview.  My goal with this program was depth of understanding of financial management, not just a focus on being wealthy.  The videos do tell the student to read lots of books about money management to gain insight – I’m not sure that’s helpful as that’s seems obvious to me.

However, the videos are cinematically well produced.  They are engaging with good flow, strong speakers and motivating music.  Along with the video a sidebar allows the student to read about the content being covered in the video, input answers to questions, and print the module content.  I did like this aspect as it was interactive.

The final couple of videos focus on the money management “silo” system, which is the crux of the system.  Students create containers or silos for their money using the following categories:

1. Future Financial Freedom 10%
2. Heal the World 10%
3. Saving for Big Ticket Items 10%
4. Learning 10%
5. Fun Money 10%
6. Necessities 50%
No matter how much money a student gets or earns, the money should be divided among these silos according to the amounts indicated.  Discipline in doing this will leave to being rich.  I appreciate the concepts of discipline, charitable contribution and monies dedicated to learning!

After completing the videos and the workbook (I’ll discuss that in a minute), students are sent to the site to practice the silo system.  This site is separate from Wealth Quest.  It is free to all users.
This is a six week program.  The videos are intended for the first week.  The Workbook is Weeks 2 and 3.  Week 4 they use, Week 5 students read a book about money of their choosing, and Week 6 is reflection. 

The content provided by this site is Weeks 1-3 and suggestions for using the other resources as part of a six week course.

Teen Workbook

The teen workbook or Basic Seminar QuickStart Guide is a journal numbering thirty days.  Two to four pages can easily be done each day.  The purpose of the workbook is to get the teen to reflect on what he/she thinks about money, how he earns money, and how to use the six part system to manage his or her money.

The pages are very open ended – they are made to ask simple questions and have the teen spend time reflecting on the answers.  If you have a teen that will take the time to do this and do it well, I believe it would be helpful.  If your teen is like mine and views worksheets as busy work, then his/her answers may be overly simplistic and not really help the process of learning to manage money.
The workbook tries to get the teen to really reflect on what the lessons taught before taking the next step and putting into action the silo system.
I’m not reviewing this piece; however, I will say that it is setup differently than I would have expected for the silo system.  I guess I expected it to function the same way as the process described.  However, with a little work it is easy to setup the “silos” for your student to begin.

Overall Impression
Personally, it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  I do think the silo system has some merit, and I do like the quality of the presentation.  However, I do not like the focus on “being rich.”  I would have like to have seen a program that goes over situations like mortgages, student loans, smart purchasing, etc.  The cost is very reasonable and using the program may be a good way to start a dialogue with your teen about being fiscally responsible.

To see reviews by other member's of the TOS Review Crew - click here.

*** Disclaimer: I received this program free of charge as a member of the TOS Review Crew in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Wordsmith / Wordsmith Craftsman

Wordsmith / Wordsmith Craftsman
Author:  Janie B. Cheaney
Age:  Middle School / High School
Writing is one of the most challenging subjects for a homeschooling parent to teach.  Yes, physics, chemistry and calculus are difficult; however, they come with answer keys.  Writing, on the other hand, doesn't.  It’s subjective.  Your experience with writing impacts your ability to teach your children how to write.

Sure, there are rules – spelling, grammar, mechanics.  There is structure – parts of a paragraph ,parts of an essay, and genres of writing.  Nonetheless, when it comes to evaluating writing, a parent is limited by his own opinion, bias (we all love our kids and don’t want to discourage them) and perspective.

I think that’s what makes finding a good writing curriculum so difficult – there just isn’t a packaged deal complete with answer key and the solution to what is good writing.

There are good curriculum out there, however.  Timberdoodle has asked me to look at Wordsmith by Janie B. Cheaney.  I received the Creative Writing student and teacher’s guide aimed at 7th to 9th grades and the Wordsmith Craftsman, a self-directed high school program.

Wordsmith 7th to 9th provides a step-by-step approach to understanding the foundations of writing.  Much like with any other subject, if you don’t have the foundation, you can’t build upon it.  Wordsmith starts with basic grammar, works its way to building strong sentences using the parts of speech and then on to developing paragraphs and finally essays.  The focus is on creative writing – description, narrative, dialogue.  This allows the young writer to use his or her experiences in the writing rather than having to pull from research or build a case in their writing. 

The approach is simple, but effective.  As a short course, I think it does provide the foundation for getting a young writer on the path to understanding that writing is more than just putting words on paper.  There is an approach, there are rules, and being able to apply those effectively are the key to success.  If you have never had your child really sit down and walk through how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and finally a full essay, then I can easily recommend this program.  Writing cannot be taken for granted – it must be taught.

As I noted earlier, teaching writing is difficult.  The teacher’s guide provided with this edition is very effective.  Not only does it help with the grammar and basic structure that an answer key can provide, but in a conversational tone helps the parent understand how to evaluate his/her student both through encouragement and constructive criticism.

Prompts are provided throughout the teacher’s text to help you help your child.  Here’s an example:

“Read season poems out loud and comment positively on any details you especially like.  Then go over each line and check for weak spots.  Pay special attention, once again, to nouns and verbs.  Are they concrete and vivid?  Are all the senses included?”

The teacher’s guide is excellent!  It truly empowers the parent to work with his or her student to strengthen his writing.  I’m very impressed. 

Wordsmith Craftsman is focused on the student alone.  As a high school student, independence is key; however, I do wish there was an included parent guide for this book as well.  The level and depth of material covered would benefit from parental guidance, especially for the weak writer.

The books starts by discussing taking notes and outlining.  I can’t stress these two skills enough!  Homeschoolers don’t always learn how to take notes since they don’t sit in classrooms often.  Teach your child to take notes – they will thank you in college!  Outlining is the linchpin for success in writing – if you teach your child to outline, he or she will have far more cohesive and unified papers!

Letters are covered next.  I like this approach because they are simple and allow for different genres – personal and business.  I teach letters in my college course.  What surprised me was the feasibility study required at the end of this chapter.  It goes well beyond what is covered in the chapter and may be overwhelming for a student.

Paragraph techniques followed by word choice emphasis and finally essay are covered.  Each of these skills, as noted previously, are incredibly important.  The essay section begins with descriptive, narrative and expository allowing the student to pull from personal experience to write a paper.  Next comes more common types of research papers found in college – critical and persuasive. 

While the research paper is covered, it isn’t in quite enough depth.  The need for understanding research, citation, third-person perspective and applying style (APA, MLA, etc.) are not addressed. 

I could see this text being a good beginning in tenth or maybe eleventh grade; however, to really be prepared for college, your student needs to explore research in more depth in twelfth grade to be fully prepared for collegiate expectations.

Writing is just as important as math, science and history.  Don’t let it slide!  Don’t just trust that people naturally know how to write.  This just isn’t true.  Writing well is a learned skill just like algebra or biology.  In fact, maybe even more so since every class they encounter in college will require some level of writing.  I’ve even challenged my boys to come up with a career that never requires them to be able to write – they haven’t been able to.

Thank you to Timberdoodle for the opportunity to review this curriculum.  Don’t forget to visit them on Facebook – Timberdoodle is one of my favorite resources for curriculum!

*** I received these programs free of charge as a member of Timberdoodle’s review team in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Courageous Teens

Courageous Teens

Author(s):  Michael Catts & Amy Parker

Age:  Tween through Teen
After having seen Fireproof at our church, I knew that books and films by Michael Catts were powerful messages about today’s faith.  I agreed to review Courageous Teens because I had heard a lot of good things about his movie, Courageous, and thought it would spur me on to watch it.  Alas, time and energy have not allowed for that to happen; however, I did get the opportunity to read an excellent book.
Courageous Teens uses the teachings in the movie along with Biblical and modern history quotes and examples to help teens understand their value as God’s children and to spur them on to live up to that role.  I appreciate very much the use of characters in scripture partnered with other everyday heroes to show the principles of moral fortitude necessary to strive for a Godly life, to share that life with others and to face peer pressure and critics.  Why do I like this so much?  One issue I hear from teens today is the relevance of the Bible.  To see that people in the Bible underwent similar tests albeit under very different circumstances provides a level of relevance; however, when partnered with stories from recent history like Lincoln, Roosevelt, local church heroes, people who withstood tremendous trial and overcame through Christ – the relevance is solidified. 

Should the movie be viewed first?  It doesn’t have to be, but I think the use of quotes from the movie would really come into context if it were.  The forward states this book would make a good group Bible study or a devotional for a teen.  As a devotional, the chapters are a bit long.  Bear in mind when I say this that most devotionals are just a page or two.  The reader would need to be committed to the reading, and it is well worth the investment.  As a group study, illuminating Biblical, historical and present day figures leads to not only a more grounded knowledge of faith application, but would encourage discussion.  I could definitely see this as a good resource for teens.  In fact, I’m going to pass it along to our high school youth leader.
Catts and his co-author Amy Parker have a no-nonsense way of speaking to teens.  They aren’t trying to sugar coat the life the teen should be living nor are they trying to denigrate the teen for poor choices.  They are simply and clearly saying what it means to follow Christ and apply that in their daily walk.

I’m still going to see the movie!  I am!  Movies aren’t my thing, but reading about the applications for life taught in the movie through this teen devotional has put it on my to-do list.

 *** Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.