Thursday, February 22, 2018

Improving A Communication Skill - A Review of Ultrakey Online

Despite my use of a desk top key board for writing, blogging and emailing, my typing is far from efficient. I am slow. So when the opportunity to use and review the Ultrakey Online Family Subscription  from Bytes of Learning was offered, I was happy to give it a try. I was equally happy to encourage my daughter to learn and improve her typing. Given that she is not an exception to the fact that most teenagers currently keyboard with their thumbs, I was happy that this product included up to 8 users with our family subscription. I was the most willing to improve my typing skills but she has gone along with the plan. 

Initially, signing up with Ultrakey was effortless. I did have trouble figuring out how to set up additional accounts for more than myself. The information on how to do so was available in the program, however, my kids will all tell you that I am impatient with technology in that way. One phone call to a very friendly costumer service department with an actual person responding and answering my questions and I was kindly walked through getting my daughter's account set up and ready to go. 
UltraKey Online has given me easy to access tools to practice and improve my typing skills one lesson at a time. My daughter is doing the same with UltraKey Online. The lessons and drills are given based on the users chosen goals and "adapts to whatever ability the user has, and proceeds at the user's personal pace". Different users within one account can progress at their own speed, working to attain their own goals. Each student's progress reports can be recorded within a family account with individual access to continued practicing. Individual goals can be set, reviewed and re-evaluated within one overall account.

The lessons are based on the importance of the "motor memory process", the ongoing repetition and continued practice needed to instill motor memory. The concept of muscle memory is easily understood by my teenage dancer. I appreciate the thorough user manual that comes with this product and the references to educational principles behind learning a skill. It is clear that the creators have done their research and understand the learning process of students gaining the skill of typing. Having those references was useful in communicating to my daughter the effectiveness of returning to practice regularly. The easy use of this product has made the option of ongoing practice attainable. We used the game section to add an edge of fun to the practice routine.

Games add some fun
to the learning process
Though we only used the program on a desktop it can be used on a variety of devices. It can be used on tablets and chrome books. The fact that it doesn't have plugins is an advantage to me. As I mentioned, I don't always have a lot of patience with technology and it's dynamic status. Using resources that need updating when I return to them has always been an annoyance to me as a homeschooling mom. With Bytes of Learning Ultrakey this is not an issue. They handle that end, the students at my house can simply log on and begin where they left off.

My daughter has improved her typing skill significantly. With the Bytes of Learning  Online Family Subscription the family manager has access to the progress reports which gives me the option of reviewing what she's done and accomplished within the program. We have both improved our typing skill. I am excited to continue to increase my typing accuracy and wmp and increase my writing productivity through improved typing. Like it says in the Ultrakey user guide, "Fluent keyboarding is ultimately a communication process."

A printable certificate of
attaining goals. Please don't look
to closely at mine!

UltraKey {Bytes of Learning Reviews}

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Gathering Together - The Importance of Family Meals

When our children were very young, we managed to have meals together on a regular basis. As a stay at home, homeschooling mom, I was able to gather all of us together, at the very least, every evening for a family meal.

As my children have became more and more involved in their own individual activities, I have become more of a chauffeur and a spectator. As a homeschooling parent, I am thankful that this has been a gradual process. Most of their activities are scheduled around the schedules of our dominate culture. School attendance dictates when extra curricular activities happen. So as each of our children participated more, our family schedule has had to adapt and for the most part it hasn't been too difficult. The biggest challenge and the one the most significant to our family has been the loss of opportunities for family meals.

I do a lot of driving my children around. In a big city suburb, a ride to the commuter train line can save an college student a few more minutes for study. A committed athlete may have to travel further then the local park or gym for a game or practice. Thankfully, those car rides have become an opportunity to stay connected. Unfortunately, those car rides have also become snack or meal time and even more unfortunately replaced family meal time.

There has been research done on the topic of family meals. There are positive behavioral outcomes of adolescents as a result of having consistent family meal opportunities. All of the research that I have seen points to long term benefits of regular family meal time. Gathering together is a valuable family activity and in my opinion, parental responsibility. Not always easy to accomplish, but important and rewarding.

Without the benefit of reading research, I think most parents realize the value of having regular meals together with their children. Meal time offers an opportunity to reconnect after a busy day. Gathering together around a family meal table can provide nourishment physically, emotionally and spiritually. Time to talk and just be together in an familiar, supportive environment means love to us humans. We all need that to continue to function well in the world.

From garden... table.
Family meals provide an opportunity
to learn about nutrition. 

My own observational "research" is simple. When the Run-Ran family (that's us) skips family meals too often, (over the course of a week or two) my young adult children and teen begin to ask about it. They start to ask when and what's for dinner. If I get it together after those requests, announce a time and a menu, they all make the effort to be there. When schedules permit and a few of us are involved in the planning, preparing and eating of a meal the experience is even richer and more satisfying. We enjoy each other's company and stay connected, despite where each of us is participating in the big wide world.

Meals out and about together are great, too.
My husband serves up pizza during a family vacation.

Someone say "dinner?"

If you are interested in reading a bit of evidence based research on family meals check out the article on the National Institutes of Health website. Link here: PubMed article..

The PubMed article's conclusion copied here:


Results from this study suggest that regular family meals in adolescence may have a long-term protective association with the development of substance use over 5 years among females. Parents should be encouraged to establish a pattern of regular family meals, as this activity may have long lasting benefits.

Linked below; a few family mealtime table conversation and encouraging resources at Amazon: