Jul 25, 2013

MonkiSee Review

I am so excited to tell you about this program.  Intellectual Baby is a company that has grown so much in recent years and I finally took the plunge to see what their reading kit is all about.  See why I chose to buy it now in this post.  Now it's time to get down to business.  :)

First of all, I LOVE the flashcards.  This reading kit comes with 200 solid, glossy cardstock, full-color flashcards.  One side shows the word clearly in large, non-serif font using lower-case letters.  The other side shows a full color picture to demonstrate the word, as well as a small grey word for parent's reference, as shown in the video.  I love these flashcards so much that henceforth, whenever anyone asks me how to teach a tiny child to read without any screen time, I will tell them to read Glenn Doman's "How to Teach Your Baby to Read", as before, AND to purchase these flashcards to save them from a lot of work.  In fact, the cost of making the cards if you're going to print out pictures on the other side would be more than buying them from MonkiSee, so unless you want to clip pictures from magazines from the thrift store and you've got more time than money, this is the way to go.  Alone the flashcards from the kit are $85, or $17 for each set of 40.  I am so glad that this resource is available for parents now.  My baby Ruth, (13m) especially loves the cards and I enjoy being able to show her words during our downtime, like in the car, and even while I nurse her.  I love watching her eyes light up when I pull them out.

Second, the books.  The first thing my husband said when he saw them was, "Wow, these are really high quality".  He was impressed by the classy layout of the pages that show the words isolated from the pictures, as well as the idea of using pictures of the leading puppets, Howie and Skip, on a colored background.  He commented on how simple and intuitive they are, and how effective that kind of simplicity can be.  I agree.  Patrick was especially delighted to read the books because Skip is his favorite character out there.  Alone the books retail at $12 each, or $24 total.

All of this talk about the physical aspect of the program, when the DVDs are the best part, especially if you are looking to buy a reading program for the first time.  The physical materials drew me to the program because I needed them and I already have Your Baby Can Read and Little Reader, so I didn't NEED the videos.  But each of these companies that I love, each showing they have been influenced by Glenn Doman in their own way, are unique.  They have their own special way of approaching the material, and it's nice to have variety.  Rest assured that I love the DVDs.  So let's talk about them.

Volume 1, Baby's First Words:

This is the first MonkiSee DVD I purchased several years ago.  If anyone else is in the same boat, I am happy to report that it has been updated.  While I loved the poetry and puppets in the first version, as well as how beautifully words were defined and illustrated in video and song, it wasn't my favorite for teaching actual reading.  The reason for that is because each word was only shown once.  They showed the word "Baby", then showed what it means for up to a minute without seeing the word again.  They only read "Baby" once during the entire film.  As a result, we watched the full video occasionally, but mostly used it for the slide-show clip that shows.  Again, this DVD has now been updated.  Now you get to see the word "Baby" several times while they define it, and so on with every word in the film.  I am thrilled with this change.  Hey, the original Signing Time videos were redone after the company grew.  I believe in second chances.  It's part of growing up.  :)

Volume 2, All About Colors:

In this volume Skip bemoans that he while he would love to paint a rainbow, he doesn't know the colors, so his big brother Howie helps him.  In addition to the basic rainbow colors and brown, black, white, grey and pink, Skip also learns indigo, silver, gold.  My favorite part of all of the MonkiSee videos is Krista's rich use of poetry.  I am amazed at her ability to pen little poems and ditties for such a variety of subjects, as her spectrum of videos have shown us.  It's cute poem after cute poem all the way through all of them.  For example, a PART of the color red shows her children eating licorice while we hear, "Licorice is red, licorice is sweet.  Licorice is my favorite treat".  Or while we see beautiful flowers in the breeze we hear "Purple flowers, dainty and fair, make me want to stop and stare".  Krista told me that she loves to read books with poetry to her children and it naturally extended into their videos.  I suppose I should read more books with poetry!  All of the videos are rich with them.

Volume 3, All about Shapes:

Skip gets a box of shaped cookies from his grandma that he shares with his brother Howie and Olivia as they teach him how to identify all of the different shapes.  Skip learns circle, square, triangle, rectangle, oval, diamond, heart, hexagon, pentagon, octagon, star, and crescent.  One thing I love about these videos are the little references they make to the benefits of reading.  For example, "These old books are rectangles that sit on the shelf.  I can read one of these books by myself."  There are also lots of interesting facts squeezed in, like "This bolt head is a hexagon with six sides around.  They are stronger than nails, pound for pound."  The video ends with an original song, "Shapes are Everywhere", a review of colors and shapes combined, and a slightly awkward scene where Howie and Skip politely say goodbye because they need to get rid of us before they can eat their cookies.  haha.

Volume 4, Around the House:

Let's face it, this one is my favorite.  Bar none.  Why?  There are three original songs, "Around the House", "Door Song", and my favorite, "Tricycle Song".  These songs are really cute.  This is the perfect time to introduce DaVida.  The four oldest Guerrero daughters have started their own guitar band and it's been fun for me to watch them grow as their talents have increased.  I love seeing family bands and singing groups, partially because that is my dream for my family some day.  I would love to help my children do that, if they are willing.  Let's just say that I have a soft spot for homeschooling families that draw closer together through their music.  Their talents are beautifully showcased in this volume.  My four-year-old told me she wants to learn how to play the guitar after watching this movie.

Action Words:

So, if I'm allowed to have a favorite, I'm also allowed to have one that isn't my favorite, and this is it.  My kids love it.  It's one of those movies that the kids love and the parents put up with because the kids love it.  The film is centered around an action song.  It's very repetitious.  It's a good exercise film for them.  They love to do the actions.  So in one room we have little kids laughing and interacting with the film, while mom is rolling her eyes in the other room as the song gets drawn out a little longer as each new set of action words gets plugged into the song.  Then again, one time I came in and did the whole song with the kids.  When you actually do the actions while you listen, I guess the song isn't so bad.  Olivia's enthusiasm is really cute.  The rich vocabulary and poetry is present like in all of the videos.  I can like a movie (I really do like it) without it being my favorite.  Besides, even the Hokey Pokey can get old if you're not standing in the circle.

Each of these five videos are $20 each a la carte.

MonkiSee Music DVD:

This is a special DVD they recently put together that has the music of the videos in one collection with follow-along words so you can sing them karaoke style.

MemoFlix Video Flash Cards:

These are such a rich resource!  If you have read "How to Give Your Baby Encyclopedic Knowledge", you will understand the value of exposing your children to "bits of intelligence", otherwise known as flashcards.  But they aren't just flashcards, they are "bits" shown in categories that help babies to make connections.  It's nice for them to know that blenders, waffle makers, and microwaves are all kitchen appliances.  That bricks and concrete are both building materials.  That acrobat and abacus both start with A.  There are hundreds and hundreds of these words, divided into categories, and organized in a user-friendly menu so you can find what you are looking for.  I LOVE the MemoFlix videos.  So much time was put into making these.  They're better than flashcards at home too, because there are often sound clips shown with the pictures, so you can hear what sound a snake makes while you see the picture after the word, and so forth.  Volume one is full of categories like "Mammals I" and "Christmas".  By "full", I mean three pages to dig through and choose from.  There's a lot of content here!  Volume two is for the letters.  See a rich variety of words for each letter.  Volume three is for consonant blends, including "ch", "ph" and "sh", as well as "kn", "wh", "sw", and common combinations like "st" and "cr".  Volume four is for word families.  This is for words that end the same, such as "ore", "ug", "ack", and so forth.

Guide to Teaching Your Baby to Read:

I already touched on how this film helped me teach my oldest, Peter, to read in my first MonkiSee post.  In short, there are a lot of books out there (not just Glenn Doman's book, there are older ones like Winifred Stoner's Natural Education, and newer ones like Timothy Kailing's Native Reading) to help you teach your baby how to read.  If you didn't want to use a pre-made program and just want to do it on your own, or you simply want to understand why and how it works, I would refer you to one of these books.  But if reading isn't your thing and you would rather "wait for the movie", this is it.  Krista does a great job.  She has a lot of experience and she brings her own tips and tricks of the trade to the table.

The MemoFlix and Guide DVDs are $50 on their own.

All of these are really worth the money individually, so to get everything I've reviewed thus far for $140 is a real bargain in the "Baby Reading Kit Plus".  You can add their two newest DVDs, "Animals at the Farm", and "ABC Roundup", as well as two more sets of flashcards if you get their complete reading kit, which is $185.

Animals at the Farm:

This was bar-none my 2-year-old Patrick's favorite Christmas present last year.  This video is especially filled with interesting facts about animals.  Howie has been reading and he's eager to share what he's learning.  Cats can run up to 30 miles an hour.  Ornithology is the study of birds.  Donkeys have incredible memories.  I'm kicking myself for not taking advantage of a special opportunity that was available for this film- MonkiSee fans submitted high quality videos of their children either on a farm, or dressed up as or acting like a variety of farm animals.  My parents have a farm 20 minutes away and I never got around to it.  :(  But rumor has it that they will be making an ocean animals movie in the future with the same opportunity, so if you want to potentially jump on this kind of an opportunity in the future, it may be there if you subscribe to her newsletter.

ABC Roundup:

The first time I watched this video, I thought it was really cute and well done.  That was about it.  Then our family signed up for Netflix and I finally had an opportunity to watch "Leapfrog Phonics Farm".  Now I'm not out to get Leapfrog because I thought it was cute, overall.  But watching that film made me realize how spoiled I've become with the high-quality programming we have chosen, and what I have come to expect from an educational children's film.  There's good, better, and best.  I only mention leapfrog by name because it is a very popular series that is widely acclaimed for it's educational value.  I will call it "good".  But I couldn't help but compare them since they were two new alphabet videos for us watched in the same week.  Leapfrog shows us a funny "Noisy Newt".  First of all, newts aren't noisy, but it does show us the sound an "N" makes.  In ABC roundup, we see three examples, one of which is a real video clip with a Nuthatch bird (new vocabulary for Mommy, I admit), complete with the bird call, as we hear "'N' is for the Nuthatch, nibbling nervously.  He grabs a chunk for his lunch, and then the Nuthatch flees."  ABC roundup explains the three different sounds an "X" makes, and how "K" is silent in "KN", among other phonetic variations.  My children love ABC Roundup, and they giggle every time they see the Monkeys going ballistic trying to catch floating letters.  I love the original music, and as always, the poetry and rich vocabulary introduced to my children.  I will call ABC Roundup "best".  What makes the video all the more endearing is knowing that it was primarily made by one homeschooling family.  What an amazing family project!

Full Disclaimer:  I purchased the reading kit at a discount as they took into account some of my previous purchases through the years.  It was a purchase I chose to make because I needed the cards and I wanted to give MonkiSee a full review on this blog of my own accord.  I was also given a free copy of ABC Roundup and the two new flashcard sets to review.  I was not otherwise compensated for my review, and my opinions are fully my own.  :)

Jul 22, 2013

Thoughts on ScreenTime

One of the first concerns people have when I tell them what I am doing with my children is the amount of screen time they are getting.  You're using DVDs to teach your baby to read?  Isn't that bad for them?  Indeed there have been many studies that suggest that our children need less, even as the average amount each child receives tends to rise.  We live in a technologically driven world, and it is hard to escape it.  Natural parenting blogs boast of their children not having any screen time until they are two, others shamefully wish they could have avoided it.  The Waldorf schools pride themselves of ridding themselves of it entirely, and I am certainly not out to get them.  Their schools are lovely.  I associate with the natural parenting movement in many ways, but not on the issue of screen time.

Last week I took a tab on how much screen time my children receive, and it averaged about 3 hours a day- sometimes more, sometimes less.  I have no intention of changing that figure, and in fact we may soon increase it.

Let's step back a moment and look at some of the misconceptions behind the no-screen movement.

First, it is often assumed that all screen time happens when a child comes home from public school, as is often the case.  If a child spends 7-8 hours at school, then comes home to spend 3-4 hours in front of a screen, that child will indeed have little time to go outside, experience nature, have free play, and otherwise interact with their family and peers.  But for the homeschooler, the child does not spend 7-8 hours at school, and the screen time they have is an important part OF their school.  I have found that the cheapest and easiest way for me to delegate some of my teaching, so I can meet the needs of all my children, is to give them high quality screen time.

Second, is the assumption that the screen time is always mindless, passive twaddle.  Is it always?  What if the screen time is helping them develop good sense of timing while they practice the piano?  What if they exercise with someone on screen?  What if it legitimately teaches them how to read?  If it is their opportunity to hear a native speaker of a foreign language?  If it accelerates their academic progress?  What if I know I'll never take my children scuba diving in the great barrier reef, and this is the only way to expose them to what ocean life is like?  What if the teacher on the screen simply does a better job teaching a given subject than me?  Our big break in early learning started when we purchased Your Baby Can Read, and it has only grown from there.  Originally I thought I wouldn't use screen time much at all, and in fact we still don't have a television, just a laptop and a portable DVD player.  Most of the screen time my children have comes from our personal purchases.  What an amazing difference it has made for our family.

Third, the assumption that it's an either or thing.  If they have screen time, they don't get free play time.  They don't play outside.  If the screen imagines things for them, their own imaginations will be hindered.  While this relates to the first, it is in fact quite separate.  My children have plenty of time to play outside, plenty of time to play.  During that free-play, I admit that elements from their screen time play a part, but I would hardly say it limits their imagination.  Why reinvent the wheel?  My children may not have come up with the idea of space travel on their own, in fact I doubt it, but because of the screen time they have received, including non-educational elements like Star Wars and Star Trek, their play in enhanced.  My son makes space ships out of boxes, and models out of his legos.  They pretend to invent new technologies that make space travel faster, more enjoyable, and/or more energy efficient.  I love that kind of imaginative play because it is very relevant to the needs of our society, of the inventions we will need in the future.  Einstein is often quoted for saying "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."  I think that technology only enhances our ability to fill our children's head with good stories.

I am not as concerned about the quantity of screen time that my children receive as I am about the quality.  I love watching them learn and improve from the screen time I give them.  I'm proud of them, while likewise feeling relieved that I won't have to be the one to teach them whatever it is they are learning.  Sometimes I'm learning with them, and that's even better.  We always talk about what we learn, and often reinforce the lessons off-screen.

So these are the thoughts I have on it.  This is what is working for my family.  It turns out I'm not the only one who has been thinking this way.  I recently came across an interesting post about a family that doesn't limit screen time at all.  I agree with much of her article, while also admitting that there are some limits in my home.  For example, non-educational programming is limited to Saturdays, and only religious programming is allowed on Sunday.  Here's her fantastic post: http://www.cheeseslave.com/why-we-dont-limit-screen-time/

She makes a good point that most jobs require a knowledge of how to program, type, and otherwise know how to use a computer.  My husband is a computer programmer, and it has given our family great security knowing that his skills are in high demand, even when there is a lull economy.  I am very grateful for his computer skills.  Many of the inventors, innovators, and engineers that shape our world and our future spend most of their work days in front of a computer screen.

If you look at the comments, on August 30th, 2012 they compare the no-screen-time movement to other objections to technology in the past.  This article was shared:  Plato Revisited: Learning Through Listening in the Digital World.

Furthermore, one of my friends started a blog that is centered on the idea of Push-Play learning, and there are many children in the early learning communities I participate in that have excelled with well-chosen screen time.  My children are not alone.

My purpose in writing this post is not to convince you to give your children more time in front of a screen.  After all, what works for one family doesn't always work for another, and I certainly don't know your personal circumstances well enough to suggest what may work better for you.  Certainly I would argue that it is important for children for children to read quality literature, to spend time exploring nature, and to be able think for themselves, and for the family that feels screen time is interfering with these things, maybe less screen time would be a good move for you.  I have read the opposing arguments and I understand and appreciate the virtues of a screen-free life.

No, my purpose is an apologetic article for the other side.  In the past when I have brought up our curriculum choices and practices, reactions have varied.  Some have applauded my efforts, as the results can clearly be seen.  Others have their doubts and wish to find a way to get the results without the screen time, something can most certainly be done, and I do my best to point out the best resources as far as I know them.  But others have been downright hostile to the idea, telling me how wrong it is to give my children so much screen time at such a young age.  I presume that such attitudes are a good sampling of the attitudes of the general population.  So to whom it may concern, these are my reasons for choosing screen time to enhance, supplement, and even provide my children with the education I want to give them.  I offer no apologies, nor do I feel the need to defend myself.

I suppose the purpose is of this post is to do my part to remove the stigma and guilt homeschoolers often experience when they do turn to the tube, DVD collection, computers, or tablet devises for help as they educate their children.  Technology is a wonderful asset when used properly, just as unwise use can be our downfall.  I encourage you not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  I encourage you to rethink the use of technology in your home, to purge that which doesn't edify and uplift, and to keep and seek out those things that will help you in your quest for a more enlightened home.  For my part, I know that screen time has played an important, nay, critical role in my children's accelerated education.  My 2-year-old would not be reading 2nd grade materials, my 4-year-old would not know most of her times tables, and my 6-year-old would not be reading chapter books, among other things, without the programs I have employed.  So it works for us.  Take what you want and leave the rest.  :)

Jul 13, 2013

Me and MonkiSee

This post is long overdue, but this last week we purchased their full reading kit so I am prepared to give the full inside scoop, and I am so excited to tell you about this reading program.  This post is a little history of my relationship with Krista, how we have watched the company grow, and why I finally bought the complete program and couldn't be happier.  Full review of the product coming soon (it's taken me awhile to get through all of the material.  Wow, 10 DVDs!), so I decided these should be separate posts.

When I first started our early learning journey, I was determined to do it without the help of a package.  I wanted to be frugal, I wanted to make materials myself, and I was reluctant to spend any kind of money on a fancy program.  My oldest, Peter, was my guinea pig.  I found and read Glenn Doman's books before he reached his first birthday, and I found a wonderful yahoo group (which is no longer very active), and I was on my way.  I made bits of intelligence cards, worked with my son, and overall our learning program was a success.  He was a smart little cookie.  Except, he couldn't read, which was the early learning skill I wanted to give him the most.  His third birthday rolled around and he still wasn't reading, and I was feeling discouraged.  I know that may seem strange to the average citizen, but let me put things into perspective by stating that I was/am actively participating in online communities where the average success begins at 1, and even 9 or 10 months.  Videos were shared of 2-year-olds reading full books, and not just by random people on the internet, but by individuals who were becoming my close friends.  I realized that it was time for me to step back and re-evaluate my approach.  Part of the problem was that I was trying a phonetic approach where these mothers were doing a whole-word approach, but part of it too was that they had purchased/utilized better tools to get the job done. 

One of my friends that I especially looked up to was/is Krista.  Shortly after my son's third birthday, she made a post about her youngest daughter.  She had picked up reading a little later than her siblings, but had recently made a breakthrough and was picking things up quickly.  She shared this video to show her progress.

This particular video was so very inspiring to me.  It made me realize that it wasn't too late for my Peter to be an early reader, I just needed a different approach.  I was able to acknowledge to myself that I wasn't a failure because he hadn't picked reading up yet.  This video gave me fresh courage and determination to find success.

Shortly thereafter we purchased "Baby's First Words", and while my toddler daughter liked it, Peter simply didn't.  Maybe it was because he was in the older-limit of who the videos were designed for.  Maybe it was because many of the words were drawn from Glenn Doman's recommended starting point and thus were similar to the words I had already shown him and he had grown bored with them.  But whatever the reason, Peter was my top priority at the time, not Helen.  (This particular DVD has been redone, and the new version is much better.)  So we looked at our options.  They were different then than they are now.  The BrillKids reading software didn't come with books.  MonkiSee was a younger, smaller company.  I didn't want to rely too much on screen time and Your Baby Can Read came with cards and books, so we chose YBCR.  I felt a little guilty posting my first success video because I didn't want Krista to feel bad that I hadn't chosen her package (silly, I know, but a woman thinks these things), but she was the very first to congratulate me and share meaningful commentary.  Krista is very excited and passionate about early learning in general, and she has always offered support regardless of what products a family is using.  When I stop and think about it, this makes sense to me especially in the context of knowing that my family's success cannot be attributed to any one product, but to the symbiotic use of all of our resources and our overall learning environment.  " 'Do you think John would like a book for Christmas?' 'No, John already has a book.' "  Still, praising programs that do compete with hers takes character and I love her for it.  I know many people like myself who have all three programs and like me, they love all three.  But I digress.

Peter soared through the YBCR materials, but he wasn't reading books independently.  That transition was something we needed to do on our own.  I relied on three sources to figure that process out.  First, our fantastic local library, second, Glenn Doman's book, and third, Krista's video "A Guide to Teaching Babies to Read."  I've been watching the MonkiSee company so long I bought it as a digital download before it was available on DVD.  If you don't want to read Doman's book, watching this video is the way to go- many of the principles are demonstrated well and she brings fresh ideas to the table.  Part of my problem in making my own materials is I spend too much time creating durable materials designed to last all of my children.  While those materials are still in our family's library, the time involved in making them QUALITY limited the QUANTITY I could make.  Krista's homemade books and materials were simple, effective, and so easy to put together.  I looked at those books and realized that I could easily replicate them at home, and I did!  So even though Peter didn't learn to read with the MonkiSee materials, MonkiSee was indeed still instrumental in his ultimate success.

Meanwhile, Helen and Patrick were learning to read, enjoying the Your Baby Can Read and a couple of MonkiSee videos alike.  Helen largely learned to read with Peter at a slower pace, but Patrick has been in a class all his own.  He was an infant when we purchased YBCR and was often present, but being a baby, I also regularly showed him the "Baby's First Words" video.  As soon as he was old enough to voice his opinion, he showed a strong preference for MonkiSee.  I am friends with Krista on facebook and between that and her signature on the BrillKids, he sees Howie and Skip (the starring monkeys) often, and without fail, he not only points them out every time he sees them, but also requests to watch the video.  His favorite Christmas present last year was "Animals at the Farm."  (Thank you aunt Crystelle!)  He adores the characters.  Helen quotes the poetry in the films, and has picked up a few nuances in her speech like "I don't know why, but I _____" and "I try to ______ with all my might."

So my kids love MonkiSee, and it was time for me to reevaluate our reading program.  Here's where my family sits.  Peter (almost 6), is reading on about a 5-6th grade reading level, has recently started reading chapter books like Lego Ninjago on his own.  Helen (4) is on a 3rd grade level, and Patrick (2) is on a 2nd grade level (my best guess, my kids have not been tested.)  So these three have their foot in the door as far as reading goes, they just need a library card, which leads me to my daughter Ruth (13 months).

Overall, I have collected a nice library of early learning tools to teach her with, and she has been already exposed to much.  The conflict I have run into is that, well, I'm a busy mom, and even with my resources, the thing I need to do is balance my time with my all of my children and their unique educational needs, not to mention that without fail, they seem to want dinner every night.  I'm finding that our screen time needs to balance out as well.  While we love to play outside and explore nature, and they have plenty of free play time, I shamelessly admit that we also use technology to aid our learning, including screen time.  We have one portable DVD player and one laptop.  The computer is used for our BrillKids products, for piano, for Netflix and YouTube, for StarFall, and other educational learning games.  There are so many things I would like to do every day and sometimes it is hard to fit everything in.  While the daily Little Reader lessons do happen, and I maintain that it is enough to teach a baby to read, the bottom line is, the more you do, the faster they will progress, and the more they will learn. 

I think that OFF-screen learning should ideally happen too, which again is why I originally went with Your Baby Can Read.  At the time, they had the best physical materials to supplement the DVD reading instruction.  The only problem is, those materials didn't hold up.  It's not that the materials were not made of high quality materials, but rather their design could have been better.  Children are used to turning pages left to right, so the page-size lift-a-flap books tore easily and have been taped and re-taped, and often sit in our book hospital instead of the bookshelf for handy use.  The pull-out-cards were also very appealing to my children, but they bend too easily, and then tore.  They're mostly gone.  This leaves me with the beloved teaching cards, which I have used and loved much, and they're still here.  But they are words only, and only teach reading.  I know all too well that babies not only love pictures, they learn better when they understand what is being taught.  If you had never seen a tricycle before, the word would be meaningless, but with a picture, you instantly understand the concept of "tricycle" and are more likely to retain both the vocabulary and the reading ability.  Seeing a tricycle in use is even better, but that's not possible in an off-screen flashcard session.  Seeing a picture is a grand reward for tiny children.  I wanted physical materials that I can use with Ruth while the other children have their screen time, while driving, or simply during our down time, and I have not seen anything on the market that compares to the value and quality of the physical elements in the MonkiSee reading package. 

Don't get me wrong, the 10 DVDs looked great to me and my baby gets screen time too, but ultimately it was her reading cards and books that led me to take the plunge.  Sure, Patrick was absolutely thrilled when he saw the movies and I'm confident that the poetry and rich vocabulary will benefit Helen and Patrick immensely, but ultimately this purchase was for Ruth.  I know I have never been so well armed to give an infant reading success.  What a lucky baby!

Jul 2, 2013

Homeschooling with Integrity

Today I'm going to talk about pirating.  First off, I give my sincere thanks to all who are honest in their dealings with their fellow men.  I have been thinking about this topic for awhile now, and while it may not be a "feel good" post, it is one I feel I need to address.

This post could as easily be labeled "living with integrity" because of the universal nature of this problem, but the place I see it the most is in the homeschooling community because I am active in homeschooling forums and the local community; it is what I have experienced.  I also know as a creator of digital goods, and having dabbled my feet in the music industry when I was a student, that intellectual property is of value, and when you copy and otherwise distribute intellectual property, you hurt the company's bottom line.  You destroy a company's incentive for creating quality products in the first place.  I really hope I'm preaching to the choir.  My purpose is not to belittle or make anyone feel bad, but to invite you to reflect on how you use educational (or other) materials, whether you have purchased them or not.

Two articles that were recently shared with me say it better than I can.
Thank You to all my Loyal Readers!
When Frugal is Illegal: Here's how to avoid the copyright trap

When you download a product you haven't paid for, that's stealing.
Obviously if someone uploads a program they don't have the rights to, that's stealing.  Not only is it not ethical and dishonest, it's illegal and can land them in jail.  They are a pirate.  But consider the lesser crime- watching a video that has been illegally uploaded.  Doing this supports pirates.  Whether they are getting more views, or even earning advertising revenue, which I have increasingly seen on YouTube, they are profiting from intellectual property that is not theirs.  If you watch these YouTube videos, you are encouraging this practice, as well as enjoying fruits that you did not pay for.  What if, instead of watching these videos, viewers reported them to the rightful owners.  Online piracy could be drastically reduced!  Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

In a digital world where sharing files has become easier than ever before, some families pitch in and purchase curriculum as a group.  If said curriculum was sold for individual family use, this group is pirating.

It is not legal to photocopy consumable books.  This especially means workbooks, but includes any other item labeled "consumable".  It is also not legal to reproduce these workbooks by placing them in plastic sheets or laminating them for marker use, or to write your workbook answers in a notebook.  These later items border into the grey area of what is ethical and what is not, but such is the law.

It is not legal to share digital files you paid for (or received free as a special promotion) with others unless you have permission from the owner.

It is illegal to make copies of your digital files to lend to others, unless specified.  It is legal to make a copy for your own personal backup.

Sharing software with other families is illegal.  Some software allows the purchaser to download two copies for personal family use.  This means you can put it on your home computer and a laptop, or on your computer and a grandparent's computer for use only when you visit.  You have purchased it for your family to use and the company offers the option of two downloads for your convenience.  If someone sees this option and purchases the software with another family for split ownership, unless the license agreement specifies that they can, they are abusing the company's trust.  They are also breaking the law.

It is illegal to copy materials from the public library.  I have heard people justify this practice because public funds have paid for them to have access to said material.  This is faulty thinking.  Public funds have paid for these materials to be made available to patrons one at a time, for shared use.  Copying library books or media is illegal.  If you do this, you are a pirate.

Hey, mateys, if I've pricked your conscience, I have some advice.  There are a lot of pirates out there, but if you've joined the crew, you don't have to turn yourself in to cease pirating.  Here are my top 10 things you can do to stop pirating.
  1. Destroy pirated materials and/or files in your possession.
  2. If you want a product, pay for it, save for it, or go without.
  3. Report pirating activity to the copyright owners.
  4. Do not pirate copyrighten materials.
  5. Do not let others pirate your materials.
  6. Forgo "group purchases" that violate license agreements.
  7. Do not allow your bandwidth to be used for file sharing communities.  Even if you are not the one sharing files, you become a partner in crime when you allow others to use your resources this way.
  8. Purchase consumable books for all of your children instead of once for repeated use.
  9. Do not watch illegal file uploads on video sharing sites like YouTube- consider purchasing if you enjoy the programming, or again, go without.
  10. Discourage pirating when others mention the practice.  Pirating is common, but it's not a victimless crime and we need to call it what it is.
Sigh.  I know that homeschoolers often do not have a large budget to work with.  I resonate with not wanting to go without.  I understand wanting to be frugal, to pinch pennies, and stretch our dollar to give our children more.  I also have worked very hard to procure money to spend on my children and recognize that not everyone has that opportunity.  I know I'm lucky.  Even so, I'm not rich, and I have researched enough to know that there are cheaper alternatives to the glitzy programs being advertised.  There are free curriculum sites.  There are plenty of the best curriculums of yesterday available from google books and others.  There are genuine programs and how to videos on YouTube.  There is often even a local library stocked with exactly what you need.  We live in an information age, where the materials and resources genuinely needed for a solid education are freely available to anyone in the world who has internet access.  With a little work, the needs for any subject are freely available to anyone, rich or poor.  We are not talking about stealing a loaf of bread for a family's survival.  Intellectual property is not a need, it is a want.

I also understand the motivation homeschoolers use when they pirate intellectual property.  They do it because they want to give their children a better education.  To teach their children some academic principle.  May I suggest that the best principle you can teach your children is to be moral?  To have integrity?  If you set a good example to your children, both in what you choose to give them, but also in what you choose not to give them, they will appreciate your efforts and are more likely to learn to be honest themselves.  Certainly this life lesson will be harder to teach if your example of correct principles cannot be seen.

My challenge today is to homeschool with integrity.

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