Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TOS Review: SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers

SmartKidz Media Review

I reviewed a full year subscription to the SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers developed by SmartKidz Media. This resource is meant for children in preschool through high school. It also includes special needs content and resources.

SmartKidz Media Library Description
The digital media learning library contains over a 1,000 educational and entertaining videos including flash animated e-books, music, interactive study guides, games, puzzles, and more. It allows you the option of instantly streaming and watching the online videos on a variety of devices anytime, anywhere. You can stream from a PC, MAC, iPad, Mobile iPhone, Roku, and a Tablet. You have unlimited access 24/7. The content on this membership site is organized into a variety of tabbed categories covering topics to supplement learning across several subjects.

Themed Category Tabs
  • World of Discovery
  • Music and Fine Arts
  • Mighty Ebook Collection
  • Baby Signs Program
  • My Animal Family
  • Quick Find Study Guides
  • Learning Special Needs (content can be used with all learners)
  • Living Skills Program
  • Ready Set Sing
  • Fun Zone
Supported Subjects
  • Science
  • World and American History
  • Social Studies
  • Fitness
  • Fine Arts and Music
  • Reading and Language Arts
  • Practice Life Skills or Living Skills
  • Math  
Be sure to browse the catalog to view the resources available.

How We Used
I used this digital media resource library with my daughter Alyssa (7 1/2) as a supplement to our homeschool core and extracurricular subjects 3-4 times per week for a minimum of 20-45 minutes a day. Our subscription was accessed on our MAC computer using both Safari and Chrome as our main browsers.

This tool was used for both educational and entertaining purposes. I also utilized the media library to raise cultural awareness and to teach my daughter to appreciate different types of music and art. We utilized it for science, research, history, exercise, writing, independent reading time, notebooking activities, music and art appreciation, and more. The product was also used during free time, on the weekends, as I prepped meals, as part of her school work, and as we traveled into town. Videos were frequently integrated into other subjects and was often required as part of a particular lesson. It also encouraged a natural curiosity for independent research about new cultures. We needed Adobe Reader to access a few PDF files we chose to print.

Would you like to see how I integrated the content and videos into our homeschool day?  

My Animal Family Storybooks, Animal Fun Facts, and Songs
We used this series as an opportunity for Alyssa to explore the world of animals and make connections to real life situations. She learned how to respect animals and their way of life. She loves music, songs, facts, and is a definite animal lover so this section was perfect for my daughter. Tahi (Dolphin), Korow (Chimpanzee), and Nanuq (Polar Bear) are a few of her favorite animals so she visited those resources first. She would watch the storybook video. Then, she viewed the interesting fun facts video followed by the corresponding animal group song which all reinforced learning.

Alyssa created a key word outline (KWO) using the SmartKidz Media video content. Alyssa was asked to write an animal report. Then, she chose a specific animal from the website and wrote a paragraph about it. She drafted her paper through the writing process from the KWO notes she took using the African Elephant online videos. This activity integrated writing, science, and literature.

She also enjoyed learning about Dolphins. I love how vocabulary words like "echolocation" are noted in a slightly larger text size and the word is defined.

Dancing to the Chimpanzee Song
Baby Signs Program
I taught Alyssa a few ASL signs to help her communicate her basic needs at an early age to eliminate frustrations. Alyssa hasn't used or practiced these sign language skills for years, but she had the opportunity to review many signs using this program. She was eager to start and relearn sign language so that she can use the signs to communicate non-verbally during play time with a boy we know. His speech is limited. The videos she mainly used were from A-Z Dictionary portion which demonstrated each word with a sign and a short verbal explanation.

World Wide Discovery Collection
Travel and Adventure: Egypt
We decided to learn about Egypt, because we were studying it in our Bible study and in World History. I asked Alyssa to complete an exit card activity. Her task was to write three interesting facts about Egypt from the content found in the video. All responses were accepted. She was required to write them down on an index card and give it to me at the end of the lesson.

Lifestyles and Cuisine
First stop my FAV . . . Bravo! Chef: Italian food! There are 8 Italian recipes. The videos are separated so you don't have to watch all of them in one section. The chef also shares tips and tricks with the audience. After watching Cantucci video from the Italian recipes, I gave Alyssa a list writing activity. She watched the video again for details. The activity idea came as an after thought, otherwise I would have given her paper to jot down notes during the first viewing. She made a Grocery List and checked for items we already had in the pantry. We didn't actually get to make any of the recipes yet, but we hope to make the Ravioli or Tiramisu recipe as a mother-daughter activity soon. The chicken recipe collection is our next stop! I wish the recipes were converted to volume measurements and not mass measurements (150 grams) as seen in the videos. I also wish a list of ingredients were listed at the beginning of the video and not just scrolling at the end like credits so that I can gather the ingredients ahead of time to follow along when cooking. This is a fun way to learn how to cook and try new recipes with or without children. 

We used the Aerobics for Kids and Exercises for Kids videos together. The videos gave us something active to do inside out of the hot, mid-day Texas heat and worked splendidly on rainy days. These videos provided Alyssa with movement and exercise for the day. I haven't worked out in a long time so it was a wonderful intro back into the fitness world. It also gave us more bonding time together. She exercised during her free time and used the videos as part of her Physical Education routine. I would be most thankful if more fitness videos were added covering different muscle groups, types of workouts, and even vary the workout movements. Alyssa's only complaint about one of the videos was that the routine was a little long and boring, because it was the same actions over and over again.

Quick Find Interactive Study Guides
Ben Franklin's Social Studies Basics
These interactive study guides are informative "go to" tools for basic facts, illustrated glossaries, and rule or definition references for writing, spelling, science, math, social studies, and many other subjects.

50 States: Texas
We found a Texas notebooking sheet online and used it in conjunction with the study guide. Alyssa clicked on the Texas link and researched facts about her home state in order to complete the printed sheet. 

US Presidents
During the review period, we were working on an American History unit study. We researched information about the first three presidents (George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson) using SmartKidz. These three presidents were mentioned in our unit study. Alyssa completed a notebooking sheet about George Washington.

Mighty E-Book Collection
These interactive e-books motivated Alyssa to read during her 15-30 minute independent reading time. They were flash-animated videos with highlighted text and voice-over synchronization. Some books followed the words with a bouncy ball. The topics of the books varied and frequently contained sound effects and music. Alyssa's favorite e-books were Dry Bones, Dinosaur Bones, Metamorphosis, Caterpillar . . . Caterpillar, and Birds of a Feather. Dry Bones was used a brain break, because it provided Alyssa with step-by-step dance moves while teaching anatomy.  We'll be checking out more of the Bible e-books later this week.
Interacting with the Video

Two e-book series she showed an interest in and enjoyed tremendously were the Mother Goose and Aesop Fable Collections. This brought back some great memories for us. I remember reading several of these stories to her years ago. She also read or listened to new and unfamiliar Mother Goose stories and rhymes too.

Special Needs or Ebook Collection
Holiday and Celebrations: Memorial Day
Instead of printing the provided organizer or web for research, I had my daughter draw the web and fill it out about Memorial Day. There are several other holiday e-books included in this collection including but not limited to Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, July 4th, and Easter.  
Watch the video to find out who SHE is? 
Memorial Day Word Web and Template

Fun Zone
My daughter earned tickets as part of our reward system for completing chores. These tickets were used to "play" in the Fun Zone area during her free time. Occasionally, I would require use of the first two video series during art or geography class. I will only discuss her favorites activities and games below.

Cezanne Collection Jigsaw Puzzles
My puzzle loving daughter was drawn to the puzzles. This is a neat way to integrate art appreciation into a fun activity and helped her recognize popular masterpieces. My daughter truly enjoys art and jigsaw puzzles. She liked that you could choose the number of pieces (12 or 20). We both appreciated the fact that we could scroll or hover over the ABOUT button which tells you the artist's name, time period, and gives you biographical information about the artist's life. Each jigsaw puzzles also indicates the title of the artwork. Alyssa and I both hope that additional artists and their collections are added to the website. They may want to add a 6-piece puzzle option for younger children to this collection.

Where in the World Are We: Maps Puzzle
The pirate theme immediately caught my daughter's attention, because it reminded her of her pirate themed birthday party.You choose the number of pieces (6, 12, 24). Alyssa clicked on the CLUE button when she needed help. You are allowed FIVE clues and each CLUE click labels a surrounding area or country. The goal is to identify the correct sea which is indicated by a red "X" which marks the spot. A list of ten sea choices are given. Wrong choices will receive an "Oh no" remark. This activity may be tough or frustrating for younger children not familiar with map work, but with parental guidance your child can learn more about maps. I would LOVE to see a series covering all the continents and even state maps. This looks like a fun way to teach and help children become more aware of the geography of our massive world.

Dress the Divas
Alyssa was really excited about this activity! Three girls are having a dress rehearsal for a concert. They need help with their wardrobe before the concert begins. Alyssa observes their wardrobes paying close attention to the details. Her task was to dress them in the exact outfits and when she does they'll sing their song. This activity encourages observation skills and a keen attention to details. Girls will most likely enjoy this activity more than boys. The HELP button shows what the girls are dressed in again in case your child forgets. I recommend that the company creates a version of this game for boys as well.

Music and Fine Arts
The classical music was listened to during handwriting lessons, writing, art projects, chores, and sometimes before bedtime. I wanted her to appreciate different styles of music and composers while working. She enjoyed listening to the well-known composers from the Classical Music section (Volumes 1 and 2) including Chopin, Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Her favorite song was Fur Elise. We also read biographical books about several of the composers. I enjoyed listening to the music as I cooked, did chores, and wrote reviews. Relax and soothe your soul by listening to the Panpipes, waves splashing against the shore, gentle rains, rolling thunder, birds singing their songs, and more using the two volumes of Relaxation Music. Be careful these peaceful sounds may help you fall asleep faster! We adored The Art Van Gogh and the Music of Bach which integrated both music and art appreciation. The video showed Van Gogh masterpieces in a slideshow format while playing Bach's music in the background.

Ready Set Sing Songs
We tried to focus on the songs suitable for children between the ages of 6-8 and Kidz Karaoke, but we took many detours during our visit. Yankee Doodle is a favorite which tied into our American Revolutionary unit study. She also liked singing Big Blue Zoo and Animal Antics songs around the house. Big Blue Zoo: Birds of a Feather teaches children about how we all live together and should live in harmony as we share the same planet Earth. It brings joy to my ears to hear new songs instead of the same old songs she sings on a daily basis. It also makes chore time more fun too!

Overall Thoughts
SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers was a great addition to our homeschool day! Anything dealing with animals was our favorite part. We utilized the Animal Storybooks, Fact Books, and Songs the most. The presentation immediately captured the attention of my daughter. The photographs were captivating! She was addicted to the My Animal Family section and found the non-fiction content to be fascinating and interesting.
Precious Chimp Image
The website was easily navigated but the organization could use some improvement. There was a decent-sized collection but I have used several similar, larger media libraries in the past. This one contains tools for younger children which is a bonus. We did have a slow or lost connection on several occasions even though we have high speed Internet. We just logged back in and it usually helped with the situation. This could also be due to the fact that we were getting a lot of rain in the area. Chrome seemed to work better than Safari.

There was some content that my daughter wasn't comfortable watching. She called me in the room anytime women were barely dressed or if any nudity what-so-ever was found in paintings or on statues. She also saw a man smoking a pipe and a girl's tongue was pricked and bled. However, the content did spark a discussion about cultural diversity and values. This content mainly came from Mysteries From Ancient Times (Part 1). Some videos contain content you may want to view and approve first, but older more mature audiences can learn a lot about different cultures. The Wild Moments (Part 1) also showed a little blood when discussing the life of an elephant seal. It wasn't enough to really bother Alyssa, but it was something she pointed out and said I should mention it in case younger children were watching.

What I Liked
  • My Animal Story Books
  • Beautiful Images and Live Footage
  • Access on ALL Devices Making the Content Portable and Easily Accessible
  • Includes Preschool or Kinder Readiness Content (At-Home Daycare Providers)
  • Collections of E-book Resources
  • Puzzles and Games
  • Catchy Song Tunes
  • Music and Art Appreciation Resources
I recommend this resource to any homeschooler or family for independent use with children in 7th grade and up due to some content or visuals. Supplement your homeschool curricula or replace TV time with educational and valuable videos that will engage your child. You can pick and choose which videos to watch. I highly suggest that the parent or educator screen the video content prior to allowing younger students access to the videos or watch the videos together followed by a discussion, because some content requires a mature audience.

This can also be used in daycares for whole class use with the teacher presenting the content. The are many songs that little ones will enjoy singing. It is an educational tool that will add variety to your homeschool day.

The company will continue to expand the content on their website. They will be adding more US History and Science videos within the next month. You can stay updated by subscribing to their newsletter.

Possible Vendor Suggestions
  1. Give warnings about content that may contain nudity, smoking, animal mating or reproductive patterns, bloody graphics, or any other content that may need to be screened for approval. I noticed the word "ATTENTION" was used in the Fitness videos and can be used in other videos for the purpose of warning parents about questionable content.   
  2. Study Guides - Can you possibly include printable PDF files for research purposes such as notebooking pages, lapbook pieces, research forms, vocabulary sheets, and so forth?
  3. We would absolutely LOVE to see the My Animal Family Storybook section extended. More animals can be added to the series and organized into animal classifications.
  4. We hope that additional artists and their masterpiece collections are added to the Jigsaw Puzzle portion.
$10 per month
$99 for a year (Saves $20)
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Social Media
Facebook @SmartKidz Homeschool
Twitter @SmartKidzMedia

The Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog is the place to visit if you are looking for additional reviews about SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers which highlights the experiences of other crew members with this resource. There's no way one person can cover all the video content in one review so I suggest readings several to gain a better understanding of what is included in your subscription. 
SmartKidz Media Review
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