Curriculum Review:

As you all know, as a homeschooling mom, I am always looking for innovative ways to educate my kids, especially my soon-to-be-first-grader.  Sometime late last fall, as I was searching for homeschool tips in the many homeschooling blogs that I read, I saw an advertisement for a company called Time4learning.  It purported to teach lessons (for Pre-K through 8th grade) in Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies, entirely online.  The program is used for homeschooling families, as well as non-homeschooling families in the form of afterschool or summer enrichment.

At the time, if you'll recall, I had a young baby, a toddler, and a 5-year-old, and I was desperate to find a way to supplement our at-home learning, which largely consisted of workbooks, library books, videos, board games, and of course, homemade projects.  In addition, Lolly has really excelled at using online computer games to enhance her learning, so I decided to give Time4Learning a try, at no risk. 

I had two particular objectives in mind.  First, I wanted a way for Lolly to be able to move through her lessons more independently, as I have her younger brother and sister at home, and I can't always guide her lesson every step of the way.  Another objective was for me to be able to assess where Lolly was, grade-wise, in her learning.  I knew she was advanced in some subjects, especially reading, but I didn't know how to judge her grade level in all subjects.  Time4Learning prides itself on meeting grade-level standards for the states, so I took it as a fairly accurate measure of Lolly's progress.

We ended up sticking with the Time4Learning program for three straight months, and then we took a three-month break to do other things, and now we're back.  During our absence from Time4Learning, Lolly missed being able to do the games and activities, so I decided that it was worth it to go back, even though we're in summer mode.  We originally asked for First Grade as our primary focus, and months later, I have Lolly doing Third Grade work, at my prerogative.  She completed all of First Grade math, some of First Grade Language Arts, and Social Studies and Science activities for First and Second Grades.  She has now completed some Third Grade math, as well.  Here are the advantages and disadvantages that we've found with the program, in no particular order.   

*Maximum flexibility.  Students are free to go at their own pace and do as many or as few activities as they would like.  Time4Learning recommends a sample schedule of one activity per day, per subject.  Lolly would sometimes do 5-10 in a day, if she were so inclined.  This is great if you have a student who gets excited about a subject and who doesn't want to be limited by the parameters of the schedule.  A student can also switch from subject to subject and to different available themes.

Further, while parents choose the student's grade level, Time4Learning allows students to move through three different grade levels without even officially requesting to change grades.  This means that if a student finds the material too hard or too easy, the student is not "locked in" to a specific grade level.  A student can also do different grade levels with the material.  For example, Lolly is at Second Grade in math, and Fourth Grade in reading, and Time4Learning allows for her to switch between those levels as much as she wishes.

*Entertaining activities.  Most of Time4Learning's activities are presented in a fun way by animated characters - who are, surprisingly, not annoying or distracting to the learning process.  It's that whole "learning while having fun" component.  Lolly enjoyed seeing what the characters would do; they were a big draw for her, no pun intended.  As much as I believe that learning shouldn't have to involve animated characters in order to work, I must admit that it helped Lolly during the more mundane lessons.

*Recordkeeping function.  This is one of Time4Learning's biggest strengths, in my opinion.  For every activity that the student does, Time4Learning records how much time the student spends on the activity, how the student scores on the practice, the quiz, and the test, and so much more, including the time/date that the activities are completed.  This makes recordkeeping so easy for parents!  Parents can view or print the records at their own convenience, and look at patterns and progress in the student's learning.  This is especially a big help for homeschooling families who live in states where certain hourly attendance is required, and needs to be part of the recordkeeping.  Most importantly, it shows me where we need to review.

*Good value for the money.  Time4Learning includes everything for $19.95/month for the first child, and $14.95 for each subsequent child.  While that's not free (everyone's favorite price, of course), it's a bargain compared to the hundreds of dollars that some parents spend on textbooks and complete curricula.  In addition, when I wanted to cancel a few months back, I received good customer service, and no surprise costs.  Many of the activities also included printable worksheets to drive home the concept just learned.

Time4Learning offers more than just the online student activities, should parents choose to do more with their membership.  It also offers extensive message boards (so parents can talk with other parents) and lesson breakdowns (so parents can find out what their kids are learning, exactly), as well as reading lists, local homeschool group contacts, and opportunities for further learning.  The website is more substantial than one might expect, and it's all included, making this a good value for the money.

*Strong math component.  Lolly needed special help in math, compared to the other subjects.  Time4Learning did more than I think I could have done to teach her about math on my own.  For example, I know that one needs to teach addition, subtraction, fractions, et cetera, but I did not realize how important it was for students to master other principles of mathematics first, such as pattern-making and place value.  I had completely overlooked some basic, essential building blocks, taking them for granted.

For months afterward, whenever Lolly would clearly understand a math concept and I would ask her where she learned that, she would answer that she got it from Time4Learning.  That speaks volumes.

*Independent learning.  Lolly could do nearly all of the lessons on her own, which gave her a sense of confidence and saved me time.  Time4Learning is designed for the "accidental" homeschooling family, so it really caters to what is convenient for families.  That's a plus, in my book!

Now for some disadvantages:

*Not comprehensive in scope.  If one used this as a complete homeschool curriculum, several components would be lacking, obviously, such as art, music, physical education, foreign language, laboratory science, and the like.  Plus, I think it's important to include a wide variety of learning tools, including books, field trips, and so forth.   This is not a blight against the program, but just a caution that Time4Learning should be used in conjunction with real-world learning, of course.

*Too much computer time.  Some parents, especially those with nature-based schooling styles such as Waldorf, might not like the program's obvious emphasis on computer-based learning.  As inferred in the previous point, it's all about finding a balance and using the curriculum alongside other tools.  If using Time4Learning, be sure to take breaks and get lots of outdoor time, as with any child's computer use.

*Problems with the curriculum.  This is my biggest beef with the program.  I'll give you an example: in one printable worksheet from the Science portion of the curriculum, snakes and reptiles were discussed.  The worksheet clearly said that snakes did not have a backbone, among other erroneous statements.  That's like saying that all birds fly, or that all fish have fins; that is patently untrue.  In fact, all reptiles have backbones, and there was no excuse for this clearly incorrect information.  It then made me nervous, wondering what other mistakes were hidden in the curriculum that I hadn't yet caught?  To be fair, I can't recall finding other errors.

In summary, I would definitely recommend Time4Learning to help teach children about reading and mathematics, but I am still on the fence when it comes to their science and social studies components.  (Too much gray area there, and after the snake worksheet, I am not sure whether I can trust it.)  It is particularly useful as a learning supplement, rather than as a primary curriculum.  It met my objectives, and I will continue to use it.

Time4Learning is an online education program that can be used as a homeschooling curriculum, an afterschool tutorial or for summer learning. As a member, I've been given the opportunity to share my experiences. The content in this review was not written by Time4Learning. While I was compensated, the opinion is entirely my own.