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Dreambox Confessions

A while back I posted my impressions of Dreambox.com, a math program which Bruce has played sporadically for over two years.  Bruce’s very nature is to become passionately interested in a subject or activity to the point of obsession, and then move on to something else.  So the way he has approached Dreambox might be a little bit out of the ordinary.  We usually sign up for Dreambox for one or two months at a time.  Bruce is usually beyond excited to play Dreambox in the initial weeks, and then his focus changes and he moves onto something else.  The last time I signed up Bruce for Dreambox was six months ago at Christmas, when I wanted to keep him busy over winter break. 

Remember how I titled this post Dreambox Confessions?  Well summer vacation starts this week and so I decided to sign Bruce(6 years old) up for Dreambox again.  He was very keen to play it, and I’m personally motivated to keep him occupied and busy this summer.  So on Monday, I signed him up.  Knowing his past history with Dreambox, I figured I’d let him him play as long as he wanted that first day (within reason).  As a former teacher, I was curious to see how much he really liked it, because it does cover some hard core math standards.

Here comes the really embarrassing part.  So Bruce is there at the kitchen computer playing Dreambox and Jenna (who’s 23 months old) and I were going about our day.  We read books…we counted blocks…we did a puzzle…we went outside…Jenna ate sand…I cleaned her up with the hose…we watered the garden…Jenna got all wet…I put her in clean clothes… You get the picture. 

Then I realized that through all of this Bruce was still playing Dreambox for three hours!  Which is so not okay in our household!  We have very strict rules about screen-time, and they usually involve reading or doing math to earn 30 minutes of PBS.  We also don’t own an Xbox or DS or anything.  So Bruce having 3 hours of screen-time (even though he was doing Dreambox) was a big goof on my part.  I was so distracted with Jenna that I wasn’t paying good enough attention.

But wait, it gets worse…  So an hour or two later my husband got home from work, our family ate dinner together, and then I took off to go for a run.  I came back home only to discover, you guessed it– Bruce playing Dreambox again!  Then came the very uncomfortable explanation to my husband.  Um… I had already let Bruce play Dreambox for three hours that day, bringing his current screen-time count up to four.  If I was the nanny, I would have been fired!

Not to redeem myself at all, but out of curiosity I went into the Parent Dashboard in Dreambox to see what Bruce was working on during my four hours of delinquent parenting and here is the cut-and-paste of what it said:

What’s Bruce learning now?

Bruce is skip counting forwards and backwards, for example jumping on a number line by threes: 3, 6, 9, 12, etc. This work will be helpful later when multiplication is introduced and common multiples are explored.

Bruce is using a fun tool called the Human CalculatorTM! DreamBox gives your child a column of numbers to add in a way that helps him look for patterns among the numbers and find pairs of numbers that equal multiples of ten. After mastering the Human CalculatorTM, Bruce is adding and subtracting 2- and 3-digit numbers. Our curriculum provides extensive scaffolding (support for gradual learning) and carefully crafted problems that develop powerful mental arithmetic strategies.

Bruce is learning a strategy that involves splitting numbers into friendlier pieces. When presented with challenging problem sets (like 43 + 36) he splits the numbers and rearranges the parts into tens and ones. Following this strategy, Bruce is learning a strategy to make addition problems friendlier by using our tool, Compensation BucketsTM. For example, initially turning the problem 29 + 64 into 30 + 63, and later adding 3-digit numbers with sums up to 200.

In general, I think that Dreambox is an excellent program, and highly worth checking out.  But I will definitely be setting the kitchen timer the next time I let Bruce log in.


  1. Claire H. says:

    The occasional day of excess screen time won’t do much harm in the long run (especially if it’s somewhat academic or active like sports on the Wii). The big problem is chronic consumption, particularly if the parent(s) or other caretaker isn’t doing any kind of content monitoring. It’s like obesity- the occasional overindulgence isn’t to blame but the day-in, day-out unhealthy eating.

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