Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HomeSchoolPiano (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

HomeSchoolPiano curriculum revew

There's been a lot of study on music exposure and language development.  Jude has seemed to defy all of the research.  It's certainly not for lack of exposure --to me, silence is a vacuum and I invariably have music playing, from classical to country to pop and everything in between, but Jude still has trouble with language skills.  That's no secret.  But until recently, he couldn't -- or wouldn't -- sing.  Most toddlers and preschoolers belt out just about anything, from the song you didn't think they were really hearing to the latest Disney soundtrack, but not Jude.  Toddlers have an amazing sense of rhythm, but Jude never seemed to develop this, and he has no sense of rhyme or cadence.  Even at age 7, he's never done the "cute little kid sing and dance" shtick. His speech therapist recommended beginning a music program with him, because it's a nonverbal way to learn language skills, and it's inherently multisensory - hearing music, playing an instrument involves touch, and a good program teaches rhythm through simultaneously counting aloud and speaking.  When we had the opportunity to study using HomeSchoolPiano and the accompanying HomeSchoolPiano Complete Set of Books I was elated.

About HomeSchoolPiano:

HomeSchoolPiano is almost exactly the type of program recommended for Jude. Willie Myette's vision for teaching isn't just about learning to play notes on an instrument.  It's a total curriculum that combines technique with rhythm, ear training, music reading, song and improvisation.  It starts with absolute basics for students who have no experience with music, yet still has plenty to teach the accomplished pianist who wants to learn to create his own arrangements.  It's a piano program for students of all ages - from "kids whose hands barely fit" to "adults who wish they knew more but don't have time to take lessons."  Yes -- I tried it too!  I've always wanted to learn how to play "properly" -- I can eek out the melody of a song, but I would love to be able to play "both lines" (melody and harmony) of a composition.

 The program is divided into four "books." Each program book has an accompanying PDF file text.

  • Core Piano - for the absolute beginner.  It teaches the before-the-playing fundamentals, like "How do I find a C note?" to proper posture and key-pressing.  Wilie's "Grab Technique" employs what seems like a non-orthodox study aid (a tissue!) but it's a terrific way to show how to slide your fingers along the piano keys, and not just mash at them.  Even if you have some piano experience, it is a good review for all levels.
  •  Book 1 is for the beginner, covering basic scales, theory, and dynamics. This is for the student who has little to no experience with playing.
  • Book 2, for the intermediate student, explores improvisation, fingering patterns, and music styles.
  • Book 3 studies scales and composition for the more accomplished pianist -- maybe you already know how to play what's on the page, but want to "make it your own."  This level teaches you how.

homeschoolpiano is available on any web-enabeled device
The great thing about HomeSchoolPiano is it is online video based.  Anywhere you have internet access -- a laptop, a tablet, even a smartphone! -- and a piano or keyboard, you can have piano lessons.  A student studies at his own pace, when he can fit the lessons in.  Now, I don't recommend 3 am as a good time to be banging away at a piano, but hey...if you don't have sleeping neighbors and that's when it fits in, you can have nite owl sessions!   I love the video-based aspect, because if I don't understand something, I can scroll back (or start over).  If it's been a little while since I had an oppportunity to sit and play, I can skip back a lesson and refresh my memory.  This program  is great for the younger student who wants to try but isn't ready for "regular" lessons.  Once you purchase the program ($299 for up to 5 students; a three month payment plan of $99.97 is available), it's yours forever.  There were weeks of the review where Jude played every day, and then where he'd not want to play for an entire week.  Sometimes he just needed more time to "process" what he was learning, or to repeat the lesson because he just didn't "get" it the first time.  I wouldn't let him move on until he had mastered the prior lesson, but we didn't have the "Did you practice???" arguments that Celia and I sometimes have between her weekly lessons (knowing in the back of my mind that if she hasn't, it's potentially a waste of tuition that coming week).

HomeSchoolPiano in Our Homeschool: that I've told you all the particulars, the next question to answer is "But did it do what you wanted it to do?  Can Jude play? Did it help his language?"  The answer to both is yes.

If you click on the Crew banner below, you'll find links to other crew reviews.  You will see other students playing their own compositions and arrangements, which shows you how far you can go with the program.   Jude didn't get quite as far as a pianist, but the program has made a difference in the practical uses of language.  For a year now, we've been working on slowing down Jude's speech.  Not only does he mispronounce half of what he says, he speaks so quickly that it's even more garbled. His mouth almost literally can't keep up with his thoughts.  His therapist has been working on having him "Tap It Out" - the idea is to make each syllable a beat, but we'll settle for one word per beat. It's to where many times now we just hold out our hand for him to tap his finger on; we don't even say "Tap it," anymore.  It slowed him down, but it didn't get a "proper speech cadence" going with him.  With HomeSchoolPiano, before you even play, you work on rhythm.  The program consists of a cyclical presentation of themes, and how they are interrelated.

the HomeSchoolPiano approach

I love how the program doesn't just jump between "here's how to play the notes, here's a song..."  Timing and musicality are just as important to music -- imagine the speedy, mostly eighth notes and 2/4 timing William Tell Overture played instead with the relaxed 3/4 lilt of the Blue Danube Waltz.  Not working for you?  Rhythm in music and speech makes a difference in the tone of the sounds.  The rhythm training has made a big difference in Jude's speech.  Here's a section of a pattern he worked on, right at the beginning:

using music rhythm to establish speech patterns

He learned that sometimes you rest at the end, and sometimes you take a rest in the middle.  You know, like to stop and breathe and not just keep racing through.  The little light bulb over his head went off!  We've gone from daily (sometimes multiple times a day) saying "Tap it out" to sometimes entire days where his speech is slow enough to understand.  What I think has made the difference is not just saying/hearing the pattern in speech and even clapping (they're not new for him), but hearing it in music - both in Willie's teaching and in his own playing.   He's also learned that some notes (words) take longer than others to complete, and that's OK too.  Learning to hold longer notes has helped him with multi-syllable words.  We've worked on the concept of "this note = 1 sound tap, this note = 2 sound taps, so "Jude" is one tap, "Mommy" is two taps."

using extended notes to approach multi-syllabic words

"Jude and Mom-my" sound a lot like Rhythm 1, don't they?  The second rhythm can be verbalized with "ap-ple juice." Rhythm 4 draws out a three syllable word -- Dam-i-en - there is room for all of the sounds and no need to skip over the center ones.

As for playing...well, he's not quite at the "composer" level yet.  Although the program eschews "traditional boring" starter pieces and dives into simple songs to keep interest, he's struggling with those.  He's trying to coordinate reading the music with getting his fingers where they need to be (and with smaller hands, just reaching some of the keys sometimes is a literal stretch) and playing in the right rhythm, but he hasn't given up.   He's a bit of a perfectionist, so he won't let me video him again just yet, but here he is coordinating his hands to do scales.  I can say it's HARD to coordinate your left and right hands!

Not perfect, even after lots of practice, but he wants to do the exercise correctly.  For Jude, that is a big hurdle -- for him to want to even try, and not give up after the first stumble, is a big deal.

In addition to Jude continuing with his lessons, I also will be adding Matthew and Luke to the program.  Remember how I said that it's for up to five students?  Each student gets his own sub-account and log in, so there's no "I don't know where I left off...he moved my spot!"  Each book has six units, with the earlier ones being easier/faster to complete than the later ones.  There are also quizzes to test how much the student has grasped of the theory taught, and even if you don't have a truly musical background, testing their mastery of a piece isn't all that difficult (if it sounds terrible, they need more practice!).   Because it already contains so much teaching on music theory, I think if we add a composer unit study to this, it will create the full-year fine arts credit that they will need for high school.

I'm really excited about how well HomeSchoolPiano worked for us.  Even at a snail's pace from a program view (he's still only on Book 1/Unit 2 after 6 weeks),  Jude is making overall auditory progress.  He's beginning to catch on to speech patterns, and can finally match the cadence of his speech to the syllables of the words, at least most of the time.

If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing.

This sampler hangs in our house - a reminder to not give up.  For a long time, Jude has talked poorly, and never sung -- he's stumbled over lyrics, but never a true song.  About halfway through the review period, on a rare day when the house was otherwise quiet, I heard a little voice belting, "Let the storm rage ONNNNNNNNNNN!" and couldn't place it.  It was JUDE - he was watching Frozen with his earphones on but singing along like a little mini-Idina (Menzel).   Not only has Jude gotten better at talking, but yes, he can sing!

Click to read Crew Reviews

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lady Liberty's Junior Rangers

Become a Junior Park Ranger at the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World reigns over New York Harbor. A gift from France in 1886, she was the first thing many immigrants saw after a long journey to this new country, and was a symbol of the opportunity and freedom that awaited them.  We've been to visit her several times over the years.  A few years ago, Matthew and I visited Ellis Island as well, and were able to search records for his great-great grandparents' immigration.  On our trip last fall, we only went to Liberty Island, because Ellis Island was closed due to damage from 2012's Superstorm Sandy.  (It has since re-opened on a limited basis.)  Though we have been to visit the statute on several occasions, on our last trip there we explored using the National Parks Junior Ranger program.

Most National Parks have a Junior Ranger program.  They are a great way for children (ages 7-12, usually) to explore a site in an age-appropriate manner.  We've done the programs at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and Everglades National Park and have learned a lot about the sites without becoming bored, and were excited to add the Liberty Island badge to our growing collection.   Before we left, we downloaded and printed the booklets.  (While most Parks do keep spare books on hand, due to damage from Sandy, there are no books available on the Island at this time.)   Though Luke was a bit outside the age bracket, he also completed the program as part of an assigned activity for school.

First, we purchased ferry tickets at home.  Although you can begin your tour in either Liberty State Park in New Jersey (where we departed from) or Battery Park in New York City, the only way to get to the Statue is via ferry.   The official ferry provider is a private company, Statue Cruises, but there are other ticket sellers.   Ferry prices range from $9-18 (children under 4 are currently free) and include an audio tour handset.  Although grounds access is automatically included, you need a timed ticket (free but needs reservation) to enter the Statute to the Pedestal level (including the Museum).  Reserved tickets to the Crown are more difficult to obtain as they are extremely limited, so if you'd like to clime the 354 stairs to the top of Lady Liberty's head, you'll want to plan in advance.  Crown reservations are paid tickets, for all ages (including the under 4 set).  We chose to just visit the Pedestal (and Museum).

Tickets and Ranger guides in hand, we passed through the very strict, airport-like security (remove belts, empty pockets, etc. but you can leave your shoes on) at Liberty Park and boarded our ferry for Liberty Island.

 And yes, since I have growing boys, a snack was in order.  Snacks are sold on board the ferry, or you may bring your own. 

On the way to the island, you get to see all around the harbor.   You can sit inside the boat, but I highly recommend the upper deck, so you can see everything.  Of course, what you see depends on which direction you look.

 Lower Manhattan, including the 1776-foot Freedom Tower.

 Midtown Manhattan and the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings

The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

A FDNY Boat Demonstration

 Ellis Island
 And, of course,
The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World

Upon arrival, we got to work.  We picked up handsets for the audio tour, and then checked out the packets to see what was inside the Museum and what information we needed from around the grounds.

 We decided to head inside to the Museum.  This was one place none of us had been to before (or if Neal or I had, we didn't remember it).  We learned about the history of the statue. 

In 1865, Edouard de Laboulaye, a French political intellectual and authority on the U.S. Constitution, proposed that France give a statue representing liberty to the United States - who had just ended the Civil War - for its centennial...

...and Auguste Bartholdi is recruited to create it.
We learned about the engineering of the Statue.  The copper-clad skin (only as thick as two stacked pennies) covers an interior that employs the same scaffolding principles as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

 The sculptor used his own mother's face to create Lady Liberty's:

There was a catch, though -- the Statue herself was a gift.  The Americans had to raise the pedestal.

And then, of course...there is the well-known poem inscribed at the base:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled massses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
 -from The New Colossus Emma Lazarus

This poem wasn't actually written to be placed on the Pedestal.  The American Committee for the Statue of Liberty approached Emma Lazarus, a young Jewish woman who worked as an aide for Jewish immigrants at Ward Island, to compose a sonnet to accompany an art exhibition fundraiser.  It was revealed on November 2, 1883, and was later printed in both the New York World and The New York Times.  Lazarus died just over four years later, and in 1903, Lazarus' friend, Georgina Schuyler, found the sonnet in a bookshop.  She spearheaded a campaign for the poem to be engraved on a plaque that was placed inside the pedestal. The original plaque is now preserved in the museum.

Other items in the museum include the original torch lamp.

Outside atop the pedestal, we looked out into the harbor, and could see for miles.  After weeks or even months of travel, we could only imagine the elation that immigrants felt when they saw this massive statue greeting them from the harbor.

We then walked around the island to complete the rest of the outdoor portion.

Once our books were completed, we went to the Park Ranger office to show them our completed booklets, and to be sworn in as Junior Rangers.

As a Junior Ranger, I promise to help preserve and protect the Statue of Liberty National Monument and other National Parks so that they can be enjoyed by future generations. I will do this by sharing what I learned today with others. I promise to continue to discover, explore and learn about other National Parks and the National Park Service. I also promise to have fun being a National Park Service Junior Ranger.

We then boarded the ferry for our return to Jersey City.

Damien was exhausted from all of the walking. Strollers are permitted on the grounds, but not in the Pedestal or Museum. 

The Junior Ranger badges can only be earned in person, but if you'd like to take a virtual tour of the Statue of Liberty, you can click here to connect to the National Parks' tour page.

Now that we've done the Junior Ranger program at the Statue of Liberty, we're hoping to be able to go back to complete the Ellis Island program as well.  There are actually 21 national parks in New York Harbor, each with its own program, so we should be busy for quite a while!

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Soda Can Squeal - A Science Experiment

 Recently, we had the opportunity to review two DVDs from the Go Science series.  Volume 1 is subtitled Sound, Gravity, Space and one of the experiments that Ben Roy and his students do is to use soda cans to produce a high pitched squeal.  Given there was root beer involved and lots of noise (and I think mostly root beer), Jude wanted to try this one right away.

Materials needed:

Two empty soda cans
A straw

Of course, we didn't have any empty cans.  Jude solved that problem.

The root beer gave him something to...erm...wet his whistle. 


1. Place the two soda cans together, nearly touching.  Hold them still so they don't get knocked around or blown away.

2.  Place your straw into between the cans, placing the end just where the gap is between the cans.  You don't want to put it in front of the cans, but in the space.

3.  Blow until you hear a high-pitched screech.  It might take a few tries, but keep adjusting how far apart your cans are, and how close your straw is to the gap -- it will happen.

Results: If the air is forced out strongly enough, it makes a really loud, spine tingling screech.  You need a strong, sharp exhalation, not a long blow.

Conclusion: We learned that the air being forced through the tiny space is what creates the noise.  The air makes the cans vibrate, and the vibrations produce sound energy. The straw condenses the air so it is forced into the smaller are, rather than your breath blowing the cans around.  If you put them too close together, there's no space for the air to make noise; too far apart and the cans won't vibrate.

 Be sure to recycle your cans when finished.  Another thing we want to do is see if this works with plastic and glass bottles. 

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Catholic Pilgrimage in Penn's "Holy Experiment"

Religious Shrines in Philadelphia/suburbs

If you're planning a trip to Philadelphia, most people think of heading to the Liberty Bell and Independence Mall.  Often people consider heading to the suburbs and Valley Forge to the west and Washington's Crossing to the north.  All are major landmarks that celebrate American freedom.  However, when William Penn petitioned the king for land in the new world, he asked because he wanted religious freedom.  Initially wanting a safe haven for the Society of Friends, he declared the colony of Pennsylvania would welcome citizens of all religions.  Penn's Charter of Privileges, written in 1701, guaranteed this religious freedom.  Pennsylvania welcomed people of all faiths -  from the anabaptist Amish and Mennonites to the protestant Lutherans, Methodists, and Baptists to the Roman Catholics.

Catholics flocked to Pennsylvania, escaping persecution from Puritan New England and the more Anglican south.  Missionary priests traveled through the colony offering Mass, and in 1733, the first Catholic church, now called "Old St. Joseph's" was built in Philadelphia.  In 1789, the Diocese of Baltimore (Maryland) was established, because of Baltimore's history as a Catholic city.  Within 20 years, the Catholic population in Philadelphia and the surrounding are had exploded and the Diocese of Philadelphia, the second oldest diocese in the New World, was established in 1808.  By 1875, the Diocese's importance and population had grown so much that it became Archdiocese of Philadelphia. 

Today, there are a number of pilgrimage destinations in both the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding area.  From the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul, the clerical seat of the Archdiocese to the suburban shrine to Our Lady of Czestowowa, there are as many places to explore the history of Catholics in the area as there are general American History.  All are open to the public (check individual site information for details.)

Within the city of Philadelphia:

Cathedral Basilica of Ss Peter and Paul, Philadlephia
1.  Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul - 18th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia.  With an exterior designed by architect Napoleon LeBrun (who also designed the Philadelphia Academy of Music and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building Tower in New York) and an interior by Constantino Brumudi (known for his fresco work in the US Capitol building), this building on the National Historic Registry is a gem to study regardless of your faith tradition! Construction began on June 29, 1846, feast day of its patron namesakes, and was completed in 1867.  It was originally built with windows near the top of the building only to avoid vandalism from anti-Catholic protestors, with lower windows added during renovations in the 1950s.  It was the host church to St. John Paul II's visit in 1978, and a delegation from Philadelphia recently traveled to Rome to personally invite Pope Francis to Philadelphia for the 2015 World Meeting of Families

2.  Old St. Joseph Church -321 Willings Alley, Philadelphia.  St. Joseph Church was the first Catholic church in the British colonies and the home for Jesuit circuit priests who ministered to Catholics in mid-Atlantic.  When Catholicism was officially outlawed in Maryland by 1718, priests turned to Pennsylvania for a place to openly officiate at Masses.  It is the home of the oldest parish in the United States.

Shrine of St. John Neumann

3.  St. Peter the Apostle Church/National Shrine of St. John Neumann - 1019 N. Fifth Street, Philadelphia. St. John Neumann was the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia and played a major role of in the establishment of the parochial school system. His body (with death mask) is interred in glass beneath the altar table.

4.  The National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia - 1166 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia.  originally a parish for Italian immigrants in South Philadelphia, the Shrine of St. Rita now hosts a well-attended Solemn Novena (nine days of prayer) and Blessing of Roses each May.  The patron saint of impossible causes (along with St. Jude), her intercession is particularly invoked by patients with cancer and other difficult illnesses.

5. The Central Association for the Miraculous Medal -  475 E. Chelten Avenue, Philadelphia. This chapel dates back to 1875, when it was built as a worship site at St. Vincent's Seminary for the seminarians and priests for the Congregation of the Mission.  In 1912, Fr. Joseph Skelly, CM, of the seminary was charged with raising funds to build another seminary (at Princeton, NJ).  In his fundraising pleas, he included a Miraculous Medal and donations were more generous than he dreamed.  In thanksgiving, the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal (CAMM), a society devoted to Mary's interests, was formed and the chapel rebuilt as a shrine to Our Lady.  A Perpetual Novena is held each Monday, with a Solemn Novena in November to commemorate The Feast of the Miraculous Medal.  There is also a museum of Marian art open to the public by appointment.

In the Philadelphia Suburbs:

1. The Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa ("Ches-toe-hoe-vah") - 654 Ferry Road, Doylestown PA.  This was established in 1955 as a way for Polish Catholic immigrants to celebrate their heritage. It began as a small chapel built into a barn, and was quickly outgrown.  In 1966, ground was broken for a new, larger shrine.  John Cardinal Krol, of Polish descent and the then Archbishop of Philadelphia, stated at the groundbreaking:
  "This place will be an expression of our gratitude for all the graces which came to us, and the millions of our countrymen who found themselves in this new Fatherland. We have something to be thankful for. This Sanctuary is an expression and monument of Polonia for our Fathers..."
It has been a cultural and religious center for much of the Polish diaspora, and has been visited by many native Poles as well, including two visits from Karol Cardinal Wojtyla in 1969 and 1976.  (Cardinal Wojtyla would be elected Pope John Paul II in 1978, and did not visit on his papal trips to Philadlelphia.) The shrine especially celebrates major Marian liturgical feast days.

2. Shrine of St. Gianna Beretta Molla -  625 West Street Road, Warminster, PA.   St. Gianna holds a special place in the Canon because she has been canonized as a lay woman.  Many female saints have been married and upon widowhood entered religious life.  St. Gianna epitomizes the vocation of wife and mother. 

National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel
3. The National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel -  1663 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, PA.   St. Katharine Drexel gave up her life as a wealthy Philadelphia socialite and began the religious order Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.  The order dedicated itself to the education of Black and Native American Children.  The shrine is on the grounds of the order's first convent.  St. Katharine's story is told through artifacts from the people she and her order serve. 

Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul
National Shrine of St. John Neumann
National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moving Beyond the Page - American Heroes & People Change the World (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Moving Beyond the Page, an interdisciplinary homeschooling curriculum for students ages 4 to 14, is a program that we have been using for over a year now for the boys.  Luke has been using the 12-14 level for some of his literature units, while Damien and Jude have been using the preschool (Ages 4-5) and kindergarten (Ages 5-7) levels.  The programs  - a blend of Constructivist, Classical, Waldorf and Montessori teaching/learning styles - suit our family's mish-mash learning style well.  This spring, we had the opportunity to review two programs from the ages 7-9 level: Language Arts program American Heroes ($27.88 for all texts with online workbook) and Social Studies program People Change the World ($32.97, with texts and printed workbook).

I knew this was a big jump for Jude (a new second grader), but he has been surprising us all this year, so I decided that it was a perfect time to push him a little bit and see what he was capable of doing.  For the youngest students, Moving Beyond the Page is available as general units.  Programs for ages 4-5 and 5-7 (as well as 6-8) provide a literature based yet broad introduction to language, science, and social studies, presented as an integrated program.  Ages 7-9 begins splitting these subjects into individual core subject unit that are more focused on one area of learning.

There are several ways to purchase curriculum for ages 7-9 and up.  The most economical is purchase an entire year's full curriculum (containing Language Arts/Literature, Science and Social Studies units), as purchasing this way also gives a steep discount.   (For Reading and Math, they recommend ABeCeDarian and Life of Fred, respectively, and have them available for (separate) purchase.)   9 week "themes" are also available for purchase, if a parent preferred to create a topic-specific unit study that encompassed those three major subjects.  Individual subjects can be purchased (ie, just the Language Arts curriculum).  Finally, individual theme units, like we received, are also available to create shorter unit studies that fill in a specific topic area.

 The Moving Beyond the Page curriculum (any program) is available in two formats.  The first is as an online access workbook.  When you purchase a unit in this format, you have to activate it to gain access to the PDF workbook(s).  You have an unlimited amount of time from the time of purchase to do so; however, once you activate the unit, you have just over 3 months to complete the unit before it expires.  This should be more than ample time (each unit has about 19 days' worth of activity, but you can easily combine most days and complete it faster), but you can contact them for about extensions if necessary.  If you prefer to have a completely offline curriculum, units are also available in a paper book format.  For this, you will receive a pre-printed, self-contained consumable workbook.  Both options are available as a complete unit, including textbooks, or as a consumables-only package.

Items for our two units arrived promptly.  With the exception of the online workbook for American Heroes, everything we needed came in the box.  I appreciate not having to hunt down a book before we get started, because when you order from different places, things never arrive at the same time.  I like that I'm not waiting a week for a book to start an online course. Because Jude loves American History, I chose American Heroes to explore some fantastic Americans, and People Change the World for its lessons on citizenship.  I knew that we were going to have to adjust some of the activities to his level, at least in terms of how much writing we'd be doing.  Jude's acuity is there, but literacy skills begin at non-existent and peak at horrible.  (We've considered Dragon Software for him, but his speech is less than 50% intelligible, and reading what was transcribed would be an equal guessing game.) 

I think we overestimated Jude.  That's really hard to admit, but it's the unvarnished truth.  This program is really intense.  For ages 7-9 it lists as prerequisites:

I knew he was going to struggle with answering questions - but the plan was to talk about the readings, not necessarily write them.  I was less concerned with his ability to write for sentences, and was happy with a three to four sentence discussion.  He's young -- just entering second grade -- but not terribly immature, so I thought he'd be able to grasp the concepts.  I was hopeful.  He was excited.  We both were upset when it just wouldn't work for us. Jude really struggled with how language and book-based the program is.

For example, in the American Heroes unit, Jude struggled with the difference between a historical/real life "hero" and a fictional "superhero."  He was trying to comprehend Ben Franklin as a "hero"  (he insisted Ben wasn't a "hero" but a "brilliant Founding Father scientist") when he saw a story about Christopher Reeve.  Jude couldn't separate his legendary character, Superman, pictured at the top of the biography page, from Reeve's real-life bravery after he became paralyzed.  I think it would take a very mature second grader, who had a firm grasp on real vs. pretend.  The textbook for the unit, 50 American Heroes by Dennis Denenberg and Lorraine Roscoe, gives short but thorough biographies, but I often wound up looking online for any videos about the people we studied.  (These Muppet Show/Sesame Street videos really helped Jude understand the Christopher Reeve who played Superman and then the post-accident  Christopher Reeve confined to the wheelchair.)

One of the activities was to name qualities of heroes.  He came up with a few, and then we wrote sentences.  Actually, most of them he dictated and I wrote (not unlike what he does in speech therapy, so there was some nice overlap between programs), but I asked him to write this one himself - he wrote "Jude is" and then copied one of our adjectives...

It means Jude keeps trying and never gives up.

(Yes, he's Mama's hero.)

We worked on the grammar activities, such as parts of speech (like this adjective exercise) but ultimately left a lot behind (like punctuation skills). I think he got the pragmatics of things, even if he didn't quite grasp "official" definitions.

People Change the World was even more difficult for him.  This Social Studies Unit encourages the student to look within himself more.  From the get-go, Jude was overwhelmed.  He doesn't understand "How do people make positive and negative changes?"  If you ask him "Who did good things?" he will readily answer...yep, Benjamin Franklin.  If you ask him "What are some bad thing people have done?" his response is "The Redcoats wouldn't leave George Washington alone."  Both true...but I'm guessing the program is looking for something a bit more modern.  Asking him what it means to be a "citizen" gets you a dissertation on Spiderman helping his fellow citizens.  Ultimately, we left behind much of the the workbook, and focused more on the books that came with the program.  Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney became popular as a bedtime story, but The Starry Messenger by Peter Sis was still over his head. We often skimmed much of the story with that one.  We wound up changing the focus of "citizenship" by putting it on Miss Rumphius and how she did her part to make the world better, and then added other stories at night with a similar theme.  For example, we read The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills -- another story about how a little bit here and there adds up, how we should help people out however we can, and that it's not always about being just one person but part of a group working together that changes the world.  By the time we were done working, I do believe he got the concept, but I know it was nowhere in the way intended.

I really love Moving Beyond the Page's approach to learning.  Ultimately, I think that these two units could really be a stretch for a second grader, even an average one.  I would lean more towards using this with an average third grader, and even as a fourth grade program.  I knew going in it was a risk to try it, and had hoped that we would be able to make simple adaptations to bring it to Jude's skill level, but ultimately, there was just too large a gap between the program and his skills for it to be successful without significant modification.  I'm not giving up on Moving Beyond the Page, but I think we will definitely backtrack to the lower overview-style units before moving back to the subject-focus units.

With so many great units to choose from, there are a lot of Crew Reviews for this one. 
Grab a cup of coffee and settle in to read them all.
Click to read Crew Reviews

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