Tuesday, July 22, 2014

REVIEW: HomeSchoolPiano

I love to play the piano, and I want my children to love to play the piano, too. Unfortunately, time and budget constraints have made going somewhere for piano lessons difficult. With one child who dances 4 days per week (without performance rehearsals added in) and two other children with their own activities, we had to cut something, and unfortunately piano lessons were on the chopping block. I thought I could teach them myself, but that hasn't gone quite as well as I'd hoped. I had been trying to come up with a way for my children to learn piano at home, and was very interested in the opportunity to review HomeSchoolPiano.

The HomeSchoolPiano program is intended for all ages, so you can start with the youngest child you feel is ready and even learn to play yourself, if you like! There are three Books in the program, along with a CorePiano section (lessons for the absolute, brand-new beginner), each with a PDF book (between 30-50 pages) that goes along with the lessons. Each of the three Books has six units, and each unit contains the same sections:
  • Technique
  • Rhythm
  • Ear Training
  • Song
  • Improvisation, and the 
  • Bonus Section.
In the bonus section, students review everything they've learned in the previous parts of the unit, and put all the parts together with some more fun improvisation. Any printed music or lesson material students need is found in the printable books. I found it easiest to print those off and spiral bind them, and put tabs at the beginning of each book. The book then stays at the piano and each child can use it when they sit down to watch their lesson or practice.

I love this program. Love it! It includes the basics of reading music, learning rhythms and proper technique, and some other elements that are not as common - ear training and improvisation. Also, students learn to play a song in each lesson, which makes practicing more fun. All you need to use the program is a piano or keyboard, and a laptop or tablet with an internet connection. You could probably even use a smart phone, if you had to, but I would think it might be difficult to see the lessons on a very small screen.

When I took piano lessons as a child, I had an excellent teacher. She did lots of sight reading and rhythm training with her students, along with teaching us to read music and the mechanics of playing piano. Before watching the HomeSchoolPiano lessons, I had no idea improvisation was a skill that could be taught. I thought some people just "got it" and I wasn't one of them. With our previous piano teacher, who was excellent (just too far away), they probably would have learned those things, just later on. I love that HomeSchoolPiano starts off teaching them improvisation so they will be comfortable with it from the very beginning.

It might seem a little odd to take a piano lesson over the computer, without a live person sitting next to you, but the instructor, Willie Mayette, makes it easy to follow what he's teaching. You can see everything his hands are doing, and there is a keyboard above the piano he's playing that shows the keys light up as he strikes them.

If you don't understand something the first time through, you can just pause and work it out or rewind and listen again. Willie has an engaging personality in the videos, and he speaks directly to the student as if they're sitting right there with him. My kids enjoyed that.

The lessons (sections within each unit; 6 units per book) are between 4-15 minutes each. You can go through them at whatever pace suits your child best. My girls moved quickly through the first parts of the early units, but needed to slow down and take more time and practice the improvisation lessons, because that was a completely new experience for them.

My girls have each had a couple of years of piano lessons, and I wasn't sure at first where they should start. We were able to determine quickly that going through Book 1 was necessary, because even though there was a fair amount of review for them, the improvisation was all new, and one of mine had a hard time with it. It's not terribly difficult; she is just a very straightforward child who doesn't see the point of learning to improvise quite yet. (I have asked her to trust me that it's a skill she will learn to appreciate.) Also, the way Willie teaches the students to "grab the keys" is different than the way they were taught previously, so it's good to start over and review some concepts while learning what's new.

HomeSchoolPiano's excellent program is available directly from their website for a one-time payment of $299, or three monthly payments of $99.97 for lifetime access, with tracking and quizzes for up to 5 students. They offer a Free Starter Lesson, if you'd like to see how the program works before purchasing. HomeSchoolPiano has worked out to be a great solution for our family. I hope you'll check them out if you're in the market for piano lessons!

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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Build Your Bundle Homeschool Edition Sale is HERE!

Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition Sale - Up to 92% Off!

For one week only, there is a fabulous Build Your Bundle Sale going on. Have you heard about it? There really is something for everyone! Each bundle includes products for your homeschool for a great price.  Click on each link below to see what's available:

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Learning to Create a Charlotte Mason Schedule

When I attended the Charlotte Mason Institute conference a couple of weeks ago, I attended a session on scheduling. Throughout our homeschool experience, we have always felt "behind." The best-laid lesson plans would go out the window within a few weeks of the school year when we got to a point that catching up was just not realistic, and I could *not* figure out what we were doing wrong. I was pretty sure if we just worked harder it would all be FINE. However, as I'm entering my 10th year of homeschooling, it's time to face facts: what we have been doing wasn't working. Lest we continue down the road to insanity, it's time to make some changes.

Nicole Williams, who blogs at Sabbath Mood Homeschool, gave what was, for me, a life-changing presentation on how to set a schedule for our homeschool that fits within Charlotte Mason's principles of short lessons and living books. Now, I'm pretty good with living books. The problem is there are so many excellent books, it can be hard to keep the list to a reasonable number. Also, the expectations of what "school" should look like in our society today are vastly different than what Charlotte Mason advocated, and it's all too easy to slide into doing "just one more thing" or feeling like children should be making more progress in math simply because they are not keeping up with the schedule someone else has dictated for their age or grade level.

Here is what I learned: It is more important to keep lessons short, within the timeframe set by Miss Mason, than it is to finish every book.

What does this mean for my family?

Firstly, it means letting go of the expectations I have in my mind for what we should be able to accomplish. That's a hard one for me, but as I look back over the years of our homeschooling, it's probably what's caused the most stress for me. In fact, I can say that it impeded progress in many areas because there were too MANY things to do and I didn't know how to cut back - or even that I could, and needed to, for the sake of my learners.

Secondly, it means taking a careful look at the schedules used in a CM school, and seeing how those can be adapted to our homeschool. In Nicole's conference session, she talked about a couple of things that were significant to me. She noted that CM schools were in session for 6 days per week, because at that time, parents worked 6 days per week. In our society, Monday-Friday is the norm, and she encouraged us to keep to that - although she mentioned that a 4-day schedule would NOT be enough. She cautioned us against trying to fit the Saturday time slots into a Monday-Friday schedule, too, because that would make the days too long. You can see examples of PNEU schedules on Ambleside Online here.

Thirdly, it means that we will be more intentional about our Masterly Inactivity time in the afternoons. Nicole pointed out to us that there are no slots on the time tables for picture study, composer study, or nature study, just to name a few, but we know those things were just as important as the rest of the subjects.

I'll be sharing more about our scheduling process as I go.


Monday, June 30, 2014

REVIEW: Experience History Through Music

You've heard a bit from me lately about how excited I am to be a part of the team reviewing Diana Waring's Experience History Through Music books. I'm glad it's time to share my review with you! I had the very great pleasure of hearing Diana speak at the NCHE conference in May, and was able to introduce myself to her afterwards. She is lovely inside and out, and I know every woman in the room that day was tremendously blessed by what she had to say.

I have always loved folk music. My mom taught us lots of folk songs as my siblings and I were growing up. She loved true folk songs, as well as the folk music movement that began in the 1940's and peaked in the 1960's. We heard lots of Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Burl Ives, and others. Now, I know that all the songs folk singers performed were not necessarily true folk songs, which are defined by as this:

"a song originating among the people of a country or area, passed by oral tradition from one singer or generation to the next, often existing in several versions, and marked generally by simple, modal melody and stanzaic, narrative verse."

To put is simply, a folk song is of the folk, a song passed on from person to person, generation to generation, telling part of the story of not only the person who wrote it (who probably isn't known) but of the life most people lived at the time. In this day of careful documentation and copyright, I have wondered if there will be any more true folk songs that everyone knows but are credited to no one.

As Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, folk songs have been an important part of our education. They are so much fun to learn! It's one of the most enjoyable things we do together. We use a lot of Ambleside Online's curriculum suggestions, and they have a great list of folksongs and resources for finding them. Many of their songs are of British origin, which makes sense, because in order to learn the history of the United States, it's important to learn where we came from, and a significant part of that is British history. However, there is something that tugs at my heart when I hear American folk songs, so I have loved learning the songs Diana has put together in these wonderful books.

My children and I have been exploring the three books in this series: America, Heart of a Nation, Westward Ho!, The Heart of the Old West, and Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Each title contains one book and one CD, with 13-16 songs per book. The first half of each book shares the stories behind each of the songs, with amazing illustrations - drawings, paintings, photograhs -  for each one. The second half of each book contains simple SHEET MUSIC! If you play the piano, or any instrument, really, the music is there for you to play and sing along with your family. The CDs are simply amazing - the recordings are excellently done.

America 1750 to 1890: The  Heart of a New Nation takes you on a historical tour of the folk music of the United States from the French and Indian War through the transcontinental railroad.  There were only three songs in this book I hadn't heard before and I loved sharing them with my kids! I Love them all, but have to say "Shenandoah," "Get Along L'il Dogies" and "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" were the favorites.

Westward Ho!: The Heart of the Old West: This book shares the songs of the pioneer days, when people left the safety and comfort of their homes, to head out and seek their fortunes in lands as yet unknown to them.  I only knew one song from this collection before starting: "Home on the Range." We had lots of fun learning new-to-us songs and the stories behind them. Our favorites were "The Apple Picker's Reel," "Westward Ho" and "Gooey Duck."

The Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, written by William Anderson, was my very favorite book. Like many people, I grew up reading the Little House books, and I still treasure the stories. My girls love them too, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with my son. I was just delighted to have music to go along with the words to the songs Laura mentions in her books. The song we loved most as a family is "The Old Chariot." It's so much fun to sing, and I love the words, too. "Buffalo Gals" and "Pop! Goes the Weasel" are songs I treasure from my own childhood, and I have heard my brother in law sing "Buffalo Gals" to his fussy babies as he walked the halls with them, so I know he learned it as a child too.

What was fun for me in learning the songs is hearing lyrics that were slightly different than the ones I knew, or perhaps sung a little differently. It was interesting to learn "Oh California," which has the same tune as "Oh! Susannah." When I sing "Pop! Goes the Weasel," I reverse the verse and chorus from how it is on the CD. I love seeing how things change through oral tradition.

These books aren't a history curriculum on their own, but they would make a wonderful addition to any US history studies. Each book is available from Diana Waring for $18.99 each. For the month of July only, Diana's offering a special deal on the bundle - all three books for $50! If you decide you'd like to purchase the bundle, make sure you click the "Buy Bundle Now" button - putting each book in your cart individually won't bring up the sale price.

My kids and I enjoy these books so much! We've been singing the songs in the car, and have enjoyed reading through the stories. It's pretty common to find my girls poring over the books, reading about their favorite songs. I plan to focus on the songs in these books in our homeschool throughout the upcoming year, too. I hope you'll check them out.

Friday, June 27, 2014

FLASH GIVEAWAY: Homeschool Encouragement Collection from Diana Waring

Diana Waring has generously given me the opportunity to give away one copy of her Encouragement for Homeschool Moms collection! I have had the privilege of hearing Diana speak, and believe me, you will be blessed by what she has to say.

Here's the deal: Head over to my BLOG FACEBOOK PAGE and "like" or "comment" on

That's it! The winner will be chosen tomorrow morning at 10 am EST!

What are you waiting for? Get thee hence and enter to win! :-)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

REVIEW: Go Science! DVDs

I've mentioned before that my children love science. It's not really my thing, so it's hard for me to be creative and come up with fun things to do. That's why I love DVDs that teach us how to do experiments, like the Go Science DVDs (Series 2) from Library and Educational Services. I recently had the opportunity to review two DVDs from Series 2: Volume 5: States of Matter, Water; and Volume 7: Engineering, Design, Flight. The recommended age range for these is 4-12 years.

Ben Roy, the teacher in the videos, teaches science methods at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, and has also taught school to elementary and middle school aged children. He has done several science video programs, and has a friendly, engaging style that is great for working with children. In each experiment, he invites children to come up and help him. It's obvious he has a passion for teaching and a love for kids. This is a Creation-based series, and at the end of each lesson,  Mr. Roy tells us that learning more about science points us to the Creator. In some lessons, there is more discussion about religion than others.

Each video is about 5 minutes long, so it's easy to fit them into your day. We would watch a video, and then go do the experiment ourselves if Isaac was interested and we had what we needed on hand. Sometimes, my older girls would help us with the experiments, if we needed extra sets of hands.

Volume 5: States of Matter, Water: This DVD contains 12 experiments. My son enjoyed making ice cream and "oobleck." Corn Starch and water always make for a good time, too, and we learned what a non-Newtonian fluid is.

Volume 7: Engineering, Design, Flight: This DVD contains 11 experiments. Isaac liked the "How Much Will It Hold" experiment, because he got to play with dried beans. (Mr. Roy used pasta.) We also had a lot of fun with the centrifuge experiment. What a great thing to do in the summer when it's hot! My son also really liked the Rocket Balloons and the Vinegar Rockets. He thinks rockets are the coolest things ever right now.

What we liked:
  • Mr. Roy is enthusiastic and engaging with children. You could tell the kids had a good time.
  • The videos are short, so no time to get bored, even for wiggly kids.
  • The experiments chosen had pretty dramatic results, for the most part, which is great for getting kids' attention.
What we didn't like:
  • There was no list of supplies needed for replicating the experiments. That would have been handy, so I could have had things ready to go when we finished watching a video. If I were going to schedule these videos into my lesson plans, it would be helpful to know what we were going to need ahead of time for the term. Much of it was stuff we could find around the house, but not all of it.
  • The episode titles aren't listed on the DVD case. You have to pop the DVD in to see what they are. It's a small thing, but I would prefer to have a list of titles somewhere. They could even be on liner notes.
  • My husband, who is an engineer and loves science, felt the explanations behind what was happening were lacking. It seems to me that Mr. Roy tries too hard to keep things simple, and underestimates what kids are capable of comprehending. 
  • I felt that his attempts to bring discussions around to God were somewhat forced. 
Overall, my husband and I felt that these were most appropriate for the younger end of the age range. They could make a nice supplement, but I would most likely use them as a jumping-off point and find a way to add better explanations. The videos were entertaining, but not terribly scientific. They might give good ideas for science fair projects, but you'd have to do more research into the science behind the experiments for your presentation.

The Go Science Series 2 DVDs are available from Library and Educational Services for $8.97 each, or $59.82 for the set of 7.

I love Library and Educational Services. I've ordered lots of things from them in the past, and have been pleased with how quickly I received things and their customer service. I was just as happy with them this time, and will order from them again. I do hope you will check them out. They have great prices!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interview with Diana Waring

I am thrilled to be a reviewer for Diana Waring's Experience History Through Music books and CDs, fabulous giveaway that's going on to celebrate the launch of these wonderful products. I wanted to share a little bit of Diana's heart for this project with you! I do hope you enjoy reading the answers to a few of the questions she's answered for us.

NOTE: There will be a Facebook Party next Tuesday evening, July 1, from 8-10pm EST.  It's a joint party with Diana and A Journey Through Learning. It will start on Diana's Facebook wall and end on A Journey Through Learning's wall. There will be lots of great prizes and freebies, so I hope you can join in the fun!

Here is a little information about Diana:

Author of Beyond SurvivalReaping the Harvest and Diana Waring's History Revealed world history curriculum, Diana discovered years ago that "the key to education is relationship." Beginning in the early '80's, Diana homeschooled her children through high school–the real life opportunities to learn how kids learn. Mentored by educators whose focus was honoring Him who created all learners, and with an international background (born in Germany, university degree in French, lifelong student of world history), Diana cares about how people learn as well as what they learn. Audiences on four continents have enthusiastically received her energetic speaking style.

What was you life like musically as you were growing up? Did you take lessons, sing with your family, sing in a church choir, etc.?

I ALWAYS loved music... I was always singing, started playing clarinet in 4th grade, oboe in 7th grade, taught myself to play guitar in 10th grade.

I was an only child, my parent were not musical, and we did not attend church...

But music WAS in my grandparents' lives. My father's father played guitar and sang before he had a stroke in 1953, and my mother's father played various storng instruments and sang, as well. I have met folks who knew him, and they tell me he was a fabulous story-teller and a fun musician.

Once I learned to play guitar (in 1969), I started doing folk music whenever I had the chance. If you can believe this, I even tried to get permission to play in bars when I was 15.

After I became a Christian, I started playing worship music for prayer meetings...

Which led me to becoming the worship leader at our Christian fellowship in college and at the church I attended.

Since music was one of my greatest motivators, I expected to continue in that realm... particularly within church settings. It was unexpected to have the door suddenly open in 1989 to create these American folk music recordings–but I loved the songs and the genre of music!

Now, here we are, 25 years later, and I am absolutely THRILLED to have this musical part of my life come back! I pulled out my 12-string, donned my historic costume, and sang folk songs in Greenville, Cincinnati and Harrisburg this spring– and it was a JOY!

How did you get started as a speaker?

Back in 1989, after I had been struggling for about three years with homeschooling (my kids and I were ALL bored!!!), a friend suggested that I attend the state homeschool convention (in Tacoma, WA)... In those days, the main way to learn more about homeschooling was to attend a convention–oh, how times have changed!!

The problem was I couldn't afford it. My dh was a public school band teacher, we were single income, and there simply wasn't anything extra in the budget. When I voiced that concern, my friend said, "Oh, you should teach a workshop! That way, they pay you $50, give you some mileage to get up to the convention, and you get in FREE!" Looking at her in amazement, I asked, "What on earth would I teach?"

She pulled out the previous  year's convention schedule, with its varied workshops, and handed it to me. Quickly glancing down the list, I noted that the ONLY music workshop was using classical music in the home and that there were NO history workshops. At that moment an idea was born.

Why not teach American history through its folk music?

That was the start of twenty-five years as a homeschool speaker (yes, the convention wanted my workshop) and as a homeschool writer/curriculum producer.

Never saw this coming, but oh, what a life we have shared!

What happened to the first version of "Experience History Through Music"?

Sometime in the mid 1990's, the partnership that had produced "America," "Westward Ho!" and "Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder" decided that it was time to let a "real" publisher take over. So, we signed contracts with a company that was quite large in the homeschooling movement at the time. We were excited to have others taking over the day-to-day details, as I had moved from the Portland area to South Dakota, and this was going to make things so much easier for us all.

However, when this business went bankrupt in the late 1990's, something happened that was past my comprehension. I still don't know why, but when they declared bankruptcy they simply threw everything in the dumpster–including our masters. When I heard this, it utterly devastated me. These wonderful projects were gone, and to reproduce this again seemed too hard without the audio masters. Between having to start over from scratch with all of the images and graphic design and having no audio masters, I thought the entire project was gone forever.

People would ask us about them from time to time, as they had read about them, or heard of them, or had owned the original cassette tapes, but we always told them sadly, "I don't think they will ever come back into print."

Then, several years ago, Gena Suarez of The Old Schoolhouse contacted me to see if we might have any remaining stock of this product. She had heard of a family who had gone through a fire and lost everything, and her company, and her company was trying to help the rebuild their lives. I guess that the mom specifically talked about these American folk music in history books/audios, and this prompted Gena's call to me.

I contacted the former partner who owned the recording studio to see if he, perchance, had somehow saved the audio files to digital. At the time, Tad was quite busy with other things, but he told me he thought he might have saved a FEW songs. Since it didn't sound promising, I thought it was probably a dead end. And I was sad all over again. It seemed like such a waste of a really fun product, that families had thoroughly enjoyed for years!

And, of course, these were the first books I had ever written...

Why I tried again two years ago is a mystery to me. I just took the notion to contact Tad once more and ask if he had discovered whether or not he had saved any of the songs. This time, as we talked, Tad realized that there were possibly some ways he could "pull out" the recordings from the antiquated DAT machines. However, he was in the midst of some medical issues, and was not sure how much time he would have to devote to the project.

It took two years and then, suddenly, I had an email in my inbox. The songs hadALL been digitally restored, remastered for CD, and were ready to go!! I could hardly believe my eyes. After fifteen years, these products were going to have a new life.

I can hardly describe what this means to me, personally. But, maybe I can share with you what happened a few months ago to illustrate. Our business phone rang one day, and a woman began excitedly talking to my husband. As he heard what she was saying, he suggested that I would like to hear her story directly. When I took the phone, this is what she said:

"Diana, I met you fourteen years ago at a convention. When I told you that my family absolutely LOVED 'Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder,' you told me to pray that somehow it would all be restored... And, I have been praying!! Each time I walked by the cassette tape, I was reminded to pray... for FOURTEEN years!!"

She went on to say that she had just read on social media that the products were coming back into print, and she was so excited to see that her prayers were finally being answered. Together, we shared a few tears and a few amazed words of joy, at what was taking place before our very eyes.

Look for my review of Experience History Through Music next week!