Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Soundsory Multi-Sensory Program (Homeschool Review Crew)

Sound for Life Ltd. is a company familiar to us -- a few years ago, we reviewed their Forebrain headset device.  We were intrigued by their new Soundsory multi-sensory program. While this program also uses a headset for its user interface, Soundsory is a multi-sensory program for ages three and up (adults included!).  By combining sound with physical activity, the program stimulates the integration of the vestibular and auditory systems and help better integrate body position, balance, and movement information with the brain. This reminded me of an occupational therapy program that Luke had completed several years ago. While that also added visual stimulus/exercises, it was a big help in increasing his proprioceptive awareness. It is something I have been considering repeating for Jude because if you combine his already-present hypotonia and physical delays with typical tween gangliness, you get a kid who has zero concept of where his body is in space.  However, it was a fairly large commitment for our family; the 8-week program required twice-weekly trips to the therapist (over an hour each way).  The 20-hour Soundstory was forty days (so slightly shorter overall) and lacking the visual input, but it could be done at home.  I figured it was worth a try.

The program is divided into 30-minute sessions (20 hour total), with the individual sessions containing two parts. The first section is a mainly auditory, 25-minute rhythmic music listening session. The sound is delivered in two ways through the dual-interface earphones; they contain both traditional auditory speakers and bone-conduction transmitters. Throughout the session, the user will be exposed to a variety of musical genres. At the start of each half-hour session, the music begins quietly, builds to a crescendo, and then tapers back to quiet, cueing the user to the impending movement session.   At the end of the second section, the headphone will automatically shut off, indicating the end of the day's activity.

Note: the package includes a USB charging cable, and suggests charging through a computer. Though you can use one if you have it, a wall adapter is not included.  We charged ours through the USB plug of an APC surge adapter. A display bar on the side of the headphones shows the remaining battery life, so we knew when to recharge so they did not die mid-session.  Though the headphones also have a Bluetooth function and can be used as "regular" headphones, we did not use this feature.

After the initial novelty wore off, Jude found the listening sessions boring.  There was nothing to do during them -- just sit and listen.  For a kiddo who is fidgety to begin with, asking him to sit and focus for almost half an hour was almost impossible.  Soundsory suggests combining it with quiet free play time.  Jude usually opted for playing with his Power Rangers or Legos. It was enough to keep his hands occupied, but low-stimulation so he could still benefit from the listening.  (You don't want to be reading or watching a screen -- that's too much stimulation, and listening while eating or drinking is discouraged because that will interfere as well.) 

Because the headphone is wireless, it meant he could also take it to his room to work with it. I think this was a big help in getting him to use the program. As he has gotten older, he has become more attuned to when he needs to "stim" (running around in circles is his usual activity), but also more sensitive to others watching him. Despite the fact that the entire house can hear him thumping about, he prefers the illusion that if he is in his room with the door shut, nobody can see him, and therefore his stimming is done "privately." (I've suggested he go outside in the yard, where the is a much larger area to run, and promised to keep his siblings inside until he comes back in, but there are windows and that means the potential to be seen.) After making him do the first few sessions where I could observe him to ensure the headphones remained properly positioned (with the bone conductors on the head, and the right and left sides on the proper side), I let him do the sessions in his room -- I knew when he had begun the movement section by the thumping.  (With autism, you learn to celebrate the hidden victories -- apparently, the newest one is an unanticipated added benefit to hardwood flooring!)

When I asked him what he thought of it, he said it was "Ok."  Thanks, kid...that's incredibly stellar input. I asked him about the music, and he said, "It was strange." Again...thanks, kid. So I put the headphones on myself and listened.  I can see (hear?) where he is coming from. I think it's a big disconcerting, because of the jumpiness and volume changes. Individual rhythms and tempos are relatively short, so the brain doesn't become overly fixated on one piece. While I did not complete the program (I did about a week's worth of listening), I found that some days, this was not an issue for me, and other days, it was incredibly over-stimulating.

The videos were short, and are accessed through the Soundsory website (an access code is provided upon purchase of the headset). The videos can be accessed via laptop, tablet, or mobile device.  Again, this helped with buy-in from Jude because it meant he could control where he did a session. Each day, the user combines seated and standing exercises.  Some are fairly simple -- one called "Sky Earth Stretches" is akin to yoga's forward fold -- while others, like the "Open Close", can be a challenge.  (These photos are from the program; Jude did not wish to have his picture taken during the exercises.)

But does it work? At the risk of sounding insipid, the short answer is maybe. Did I see any gains? Nothing impressive that couldn't be coincidental. 

Is his focus better because of the program, or was it the psychiatrist adjusted his ADHD medication? Was the little physical awareness increase I saw from the Soundsory or was it from our daily exercise program? He still needed a lot of physical/auditory cueing during our workouts but were the two-out-of-ten-with-proper-form reps from him gaining better awareness in general, or marginally increased muscle memory, or because he put his dumbbells down so he had one less thing to keep track of, or because of just luck?

Soundsory is something that I think we will keep working with -- for half an hour a day, I don't think it's a huge commitment. I think efficacy is going to depend on an absurd number of variables. Jude has a number of deficits, so while I was hoping for noticeable gains, I also had modest expectations. While it will not replace a good occupational/physical therapy program, I think it falls under the "might help, can't hurt" category of augmentative therapies.

If you'd like to learn more about our experience with the Forbrain program, click the headset image.

 Forbrain Review

To read other Crew experiences with Soundsory, click on the Crew banner below!

Soundsory {Sound for Life Ltd Reviews}

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Monday, September 9, 2019

The New Adventures of Violin Girl

Anybody else remember when we first chosen to work with MacPhail Center for Music six years ago?  I was amazed at the idea of being able to take music lessons remotely and be able to do it well.

Since then, she's continued to take lessons with her instructor, Jeremy.  With his help, Celia worked her way into the Rowan Youth Orchestras.  She spent two years as a violinist with the Youth String Orchestra, and last year worked her way up to playing in the full symphony Orchestra.

She also has worked through Level 6 of MacPhail's Crescendo Program.  Her repertoire piece for her last jury was Selections from The Boy Paganini, which then became her audition piece for this year's summer camp.

Celia has also taken piano lessons with MacPhail.  Heading into this fall, she wasn't sure she wanted to continue.  She didn't hate lessons and practicing, but her heart just wasn't in it.  While she was deciding what to do, she headed off to String Camp this past July. There she made a few new friends who played cello.  After they let her try their cellos, Celia made her decision. If she was going to play another instrument, she wanted to stick to strings. After a flurry of emails with Jeremy, she had decided she wanted to add viola to her repertoire.  It was still a smallish instrument (so easily portable), but most importantly, Jeremy also teaches and plays the viola, so she knew she'd like her teacher.  Violin Girl has a new alter ego: Viola Lass!

When she bought her viola, she also picked up secondhand copies of the Level 1 and 2 books that coordinated with what she and Jeremy had used for violin.  She figured that if she had guessed correctly, she had saved a few dollars.  If she was wrong, she had only spent a few bucks on books she could use for extra practice.  Likely because she already knew so much of the basics (bow hold, fingering, etc.), they zipped through to halfway through level 2.  After her second lesson, she came out of the study saying "Mom, can you order me..."

This is Bach's Musette for viola, after only two weeks of lessons.

She has played this piece before, back when she first was learning violin. However, it was not just practicing something old on a new instrument. Violin and viola are played with two different composition clefs; the violin is a treble clef instrument while the viola is an alto clef instrument.  This means learning a new note "language".  I think she's right to stick with strings - she definitely has talent there!  Her goal is to play viola with the RYSO next spring, but continue violin with the RYO. I think that's a definite possibility.

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Thursday, September 5, 2019

Zeezok Publishing ~ Music Appreciation: Book 2 for the Middle Grades (Homeschool Review Crew)

A few years ago, we had the opportunity to review the first installment of the Great Musicians Series from Zeezok Publishing. The newly released Music Appreciation: Book 2 for the Middle Grades program picks up where the first level series leaves off. The composers are included in this music curriculum are from the Romantic era: Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Stephen Foster, Johannes Brahms, Pyotr (Peter) Tchaikovsky, and Edward MacDowell. Units are divided by composer, with four or five weeks allotted to each; and each composer is a self-contained unit, so you can begin anywhere in the program, not just at the start. It makes the most sense, from a timeline perspective, to follow the sequence presented in the book. However, because they are self-contained, a family could study composers from a geographic/world history perspective. Chopin is from modern Poland, while Schumann, Wagner, and Brahms are German;  Foster and MacDowell are American composers. I think this flexibility is helpful as a homeschool parent.

Not pictured: Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet, provided via eBook 
The program set includes (and requires) the collection of nine biographies and a consumable student book. The student book may be purchased individually if you wish to use the program with multiple students. A lapbook program and coloring pages are also available. (We did not receive them for review, and I opted not to purchase them because our family does not really enjoy lapbooking.)

Most music appreciation courses focus on music styles, and students listening to pieces from to hear the differences between each era: Renaissance vs. Classical, Baroque vs. Modern.  I don't think this is a bad thing to learn, because each style is a reflection on its position in history. Last year, Matthew completed a (different) music history course that taught these nuances, and even just after eavesdropping, I can now easily tell the difference between epochs when I hear a "classical" composition.  However, I think what can happen then is pieces within a genre start to sound homogenous. Celia will play a violin piece, and I couldn't tell you the difference between Handel and Bach. I've learned to listen for what makes a piece inherently Baroque vs. from the Romantic era, not what makes each composer different. I also know little about what motivated each man. Zeezok provides music study from a different perspective.

These biographical studies focus not only on the composers and their music but also on their family lives and character.  For example, Schumann's courtship and marriage to Clara Wieck are discussed.  Wieck, a lauded pianist in her own right, was a fundamental inspiration to her husband, and, like her husband, a champion of other composers.

Often, it is the salacious or scandalous stories of composers that endures, so I appreciate the perpetuation of the good character traits. I also appreciate that the program does not shy away from them, either; while highlighting Tchaikovsky's closeness to family and generous nature, it does include a note about his troubled relationships with Désiree Artôit and Antonina Milyukova. However, it presents them in a concise, factual manner, with no little color commentary (and no discussion, outright or inferred, to modern biographists conclusions about Tchaikovsky's struggles with his sexuality).

The student book includes comprehension questions that correlate to the biographies, as well as information about other facets of the composers' lives and related music theory information.  Journaling opportunities (prompts are provided; students will need a journal notebook or could use a word processing program) are also liberally offered, allowing students to work on writing skills (short answer, self-reflection, creative writing, etc.). Each unit ends with an overview quiz.

For some families, grades are unimportant. However, since Celia requires a graded transcript to apply to college, I appreciate having the checkpoints and quizzes to help me generate grades for her.  They were short but well-detailed, and easy to adapt to requiring extra effort from a high school student.

A significant difference between Level 1 and Level 2 series is the use of QR Codes.  In the first series, we received a case with several CDs containing music selections. As the student reads each composer's biography, musical selections are woven in. This meant every time we reach a composition, we'd have to hunt down the CDs, find the player, etc. It also made it difficult to take with us if we were doing schoolwork at a doctor's office or the karate dojo.  Having QR codes that linked to an online (YouTube) music library was far more convenient; all kiddo needed was to borrow a phone or iPad with an internet connection.

Additional QR Codes are peppered throughout the book for if the student wishes to learn further about a person or topic. Additionally, related topics and (optional) suggested activities are included with each composer study. While each student requires his own consumable workbook, this makes the program suitable for multiple grade levels.  The publisher notes that while Book 1 is written for grades K-6 and Book 2 is for grades 5-8, they are easily adaptable across a range of educational abilities. A younger student could complete the program solely based on what is contained within the biographical texts and added information, with assistance as necessary, while an older student can work independently and has resources immediately at his fingertips for further research.

One of Celia's favorite "added information" bits was about the conductor.  She has played in a local youth orchestra for several years now and has become used to following a conductor.  Using context clues from the tenor of the music, she has learned what the conductor is trying to convey, but she had an "aha!" moment when she read about how conducting isn't just arm movement but body language as well. Now, the mantra, "Always look back to the conductor!" makes so much more sense; just watching his arms from the corner of her eye as she reads the music in front of her only gives a fraction of the information she needs.

Here, Celia is playing with her summer camp's String Orchestra (she is seated in First Chair, Violin). Dr. Erwin is leaning toward the violins, to pull vibrancy and strength from that instrument section.  Her movements are purposeful, not over articulated or dramatic "feeling the music." 

Zeezok includes a planning outline for each composer, allotting four to five weeks for each unit as written.  I think it makes the program a more-than-adequate full-year program for an upper elementary or middle school student. However, with the addition of further research and/or a more accelerated pace, this program could be combined with Music Appreciation 1 to create a full high school credit.  Due to time constraints and for review purposes, Celia worked on the program as written, with little additional study. She completed two units in a little over six weeks.  However, she plans to go back to the beginning and spend another six or eight weeks exploring things in more detail and adding in writing assignments.  While we are using this program to round out an "independent study" program for a multiple-instrument musician, it is certainly adequate for even for a non-music student. Since the focus is more on the composers and less about being able to identify musical pieces, I think it also plays to the strengths of a student who is less musically inclined but has an interest in people or history. As we get close to history buff Jude's high school planning, it is a top contender for a music credit for him.  We are really excited to work with this new program from Zeezok. 

For more about our experience with Level 1 of this series, click here: 

For more information about the Music Appreciation: Book 2 for the Middle Grades program, click the banner below to read other Crew reviews. 

Music Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades {Zeezok Publishing Reviews}

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Friday, August 9, 2019

Memoria Press Literature (A Homeschool Review Crew Review)

Memoria Press has become a go-to company for our family.  Several years ago, I found that our family did well with their classical education model, and we have consistently returned to Memoria Press' curricula, especially for literature. After trying several literature programs, I have determined that Memoria Press programs are the most consistent performers for us; returning to a Memoria Press study feels like a homecoming.  Our family had the opportunity to work with the Seventh Grade Literature Set.  While this is available as part of Memoria Press' seventh-grade program package, the guides are available as a set and rated for students in grades six through eight.  The collection includes student and teacher guides for
The 4-volume set we received contained a Student Guide and a Teacher Guide for each book. (While the literature books are available with the individual sets, the four-title set does not include the novels.) We used this program in a unique way, assigning two books to students now (rising 7th grader Jude and rising 10th grader Celia) and saving the other two for later.

The Trojan War

Allow me a moment for a bit of background information, please. As some readers may recall, when Jude worked on the Second Grade Memoria Press literature program, he really struggled. Although the program was marketed for second graders, his skills at the time were not quite on par with Memoria Press' expectations.  I have long felt that the program's expectations are higher than average. Combined with Jude's early struggles with reading, I have intentionally used levels that are below his chronological grade level. In fact, for his sixth-grade year, we began with literature guide for A Cricket in Times Square, part of Memoria Press' fourth-grade program. To my surprise, he easily completed this study, as well as the one for Homer Price, so we skipped ahead to fifth grade's The Chronicles of Narnia. I felt that if he could manage this book, we'd move on to sixth grade; if not, we'd complete the rest of the "fifth-grade" literature. Jude proved to me that he really was beginning to mature in his thinking process, so this summer, we moved up to sixth-grade literature. There was an added benefit: while these books were still a year behind Jude's chronological grade level, they were high-interest for him. I felt this interest would be the ridge between "want to read" and "hard to read."

When offered the opportunity to try the 7th-grade package, I was a little hesitant to try anything intended for an even higher level student. However, hope springs eternal and I figured maybe the challenge would be good for him.  If worse came to worst, we could set it aside after the review period and try again later.  When the books arrived, I gave him the choice of reading any of the three options besides Anne... because I knew that set was going to Celia. As he is an avid reader of all things Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, I was not surprised when he opted for The Trojan War

I think this was a wise decision. Jude usually does better with literature studies when the story is familiar to him. If he already has a grasp of the plotline, he can follow details better, because he's not trying to figure out too many things simultaneously.  And again, high interest became the bridge between desire and ability.
While each chapter follows the elementary school-level framework that his previous literature studies have been patterned in, The Trojan War has a lot of information to absorb.  Jude is simultaneously reading Adam of the Road and completing the 6th-grade workbook, and generally manages a chapter every other day. However, we are finding it is taking us a full week to do each chapter for The Trojan War.

However, I don't think the reason is the material is too hard. I think most of it is a battle of wills. In the past, I've never fussed if Jude's answers weren't precise when compared to the Teacher's guides. As long as I could tell that he had the main idea, I let half-sentences slide. I think part of what is slowing us down is, since he's now officially in "middle school," I am no longer letting three-word ideas pass for answers. Much to his chagrin, I'm marking his book where he only has half-answers, or poorly written thoughts, and making him go back and rework them. This then adds another day to the lesson.  He also wasn't particularly happy when I told him I expected (gasp!) actual paragraphs for answers to the Enrichment questions instead of a few sentence fragments. 

Clearly, his brain is capable, even if his willpower isn't quite as strong.

 If you are familiar with the Memoria Press Classical Studies program, then you know that students begin by studying Greek Myths in the first year of the program, and then continue on to learn about Ancient Rome and Greece. While The Trojan War is included in the literature program, it is also part of the Classics Year 4 Program.  While you might be tempted to skip it, especially if you intend to continue through and have your child study The Iliad and The Odyssey in Year 5, this retelling by Olivia Coolidge is an excellent introduction to the epic.  It provides enough details to draw the reader in, but not so much that he gets lost in the minutiae of them. I think Jude will be well prepared for studying these two epics in depth next year.

At our current rate of a chapter a week, it will take Jude a full semester to complete this guide. I'm comfortable with this pace for two reasons. First, this work sets the foundation for something he will study again, so I'd rather him understand what is going on well so that when he studies The Iliad, he will again be "adding on" rather than "starting new." Secondly, I want him to begin to have better study habits. Jude only likes change when it is his idea, so I have a feeling it is going to take some time before he realizes that he wants to make the changes.

My only complaint about the set is that the tests and quizzes are only in the Teacher's Guide. I know that some parents do not administer tests, but I find them helpful to assess what Jude is retaining as he transitions to working independently. However, doing so is not a smoothly integrated process.
First, the parent/teacher needs to plan out where the tests need to be taken; it's easy for a student to "forget" that there is one coming at the end of each part of the book.  (We found writing reminders at the bottom of the last page before a test to be helpful.  Not only did it remind Jude to ask for the test, but it also helped me factor in study/review days when writing his daily assignment sheets.)  Secondly, the copyright notes in the guide state that no part may be reproduced.  This means that I either break the rules (and with a very literal rule follower child, that's not a good plan!) so he has his own copy, or Jude is writing in a book that I would otherwise have no need to replace (plus, he has temptation in the form of the Answer Key at his fingertips!). We've compromised by him answering the questions in his literature notebook, with the Answer Key paperclipped closed.

I wish the Student Guide had the Student's tests, either interspersed or in an Appendix at the back of the workbook, or that there was a separate (reproducible or consumable) Test Booklet, and that there was a reminder/test placeholder for to help the newly independent student not to race ahead.

Anne of Green Gables

Ah, Anne-with-an-E...I think Miss Shirley is one of my favorite literary ladies. I was probably in middle school when I found my first kindred spirit (Anne), my first Book Hero (Matthew Cuthbert), and my first Book Boyfriend (Gilbert Blythe).  Anne has been on Celia's reading list for quite some time, so this was a perfect opportunity for her.  While Celia was finishing 9th grade during the review, so technically "older" than the program's intended age, she has had a literature-heavy year. I decided to substitute Anne for Henry V for the last of her 9th-grade reading.  Do I think this made it too "easy" for her? Not at all.

L. M. Montgomery may have only written books on paper, but her character's words bring them to life. I think anyone who has read any of the Anne books knows Anne's grandiose imagination supports her flair for the dramatic while providing a foil for the prosaic Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert.  In addition to Vocabulary, Comprehension, and Enrichment exercises,  each chapter explores Expressions for Discussion. These could easily be done as an oral discussion, but I asked Celia to write her interpretations of what the expressions meant.  

While some might think that the answers are obvious, making it "too easy" for a high schooler, I think L.M. Montgomery was brilliant. How many times has a parent/teacher tried to help their student learn to write "less bland, more exciting" essays? Writing exercises always talk about using more specific words, more detailed words, more descriptive other words, stop saying "very"! Perhaps Anne has a tendency to be a bit over-the-top, but she's a shining example of careful word choices. Which pulls your heartstrings more, "I'm used to being disappointed," or "My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes"?  I think Anne of Green Gables is a book that all students should read so that they can become better writers!  I love how Memoria Press chooses to really dig into the expressions in the book - rather than selecting a quote or two, there are as many as seven or eight to explore. The program does full justice to the book by really allowing Anne (and the Avonlea residents) to have their say.

Classics become classics because they are enduring, but it would be easy for a book published in 1908 and set in the late 1800s, to contain archaic vocabulary.  I can remember doing vocabulary studies myself and wondering, "When am I ever going to use these words?" However, Memoria Press has focused on words that remain pertinent today. 

Comprehension questions include both literal "what happened here" and critical("What did Anne mean...") queries.  In addition to studying the book itself, the program provides writing opportunities for literary interpretation, opinion/persuasive writing, and exploring Anne's interests (Shakespeare) and tribulations (geometry as compared to Waterloo).  

While Memoria Press offers the literature books for sale, the literature sets do not include them. While some of their studies do require specific editions of books, we found this was not the case with this program.  Last Christmas, Celia received a box set of the Anne series and used the edition that was included.  In this case, page numbers did not need to match, as the program is sectioned by book chapter.

Celia has been working at a rate of a chapter every other day.  On Day 1, she does vocabulary, reading, and the expressions for discussion; on Day 2, she finishes the comprehension questions and completes the enrichment. It could easily be done at a slower pace (one workbook section a day over the course of a week), but I'm hesitant to recommend doing a full chapter a day.  It is possible if your child is a fast reader, but it would take close to 90 minutes a day just for literature.  I have done this with Memoria Press literature when we are in a time crunch (trying to get to a logical stopping point before an extended vacation, or when Luke or Matthew was trying to finish a study guide in the countdown to graduation), but it's not necessarily sustainable long term.  At a rate of 5 chapters per week plus review sections and two exams (also only available in the Teacher's Guide), it will take about 8 weeks, or one academic quarter, to finish the book.  I think that's reasonable for a high school student. 

The Hobbit and The Bronze Bow

When my students were younger, I was more focused on the "grade level" of the program.  Now that we have entered into the middle and high school years, I've learned to focus less on the grade a program is assigned to and more on its content, because middle school books begin to be less about a numbered grade level and more about the individual's literacy level and abilities. Knowing that Jude likes to binge on book series, I will likely keep The Hobbit set aside for another year or two until he is ready for the entire The Lord of the Rings series. Like Anne, I think this is a book that transcends grade level.   I think 7th grade is about the youngest age that a student can truly wring all the finer points out of it, but there is no point where a student "ages out" for exploring the book.  The Bronze Bow is set in 1st Century Israel, so it could be studied as part of the "pre-set" 7th-grade program, or it could be moved to 9th grade and part of an Ancient/World History program. While the lower grade programs involve exposure to literary concepts, the study guides at this level of the program use that familiar framework to explore and apply those ideas to the corresponding novels. I think the studies at the middle school level have the flexibility to help prepare a middle schooler for high school expectations as well as provide a relaxed but not too simple study for secondary level students. Once again, Memoria Press has proven why it has become my favorite literature program.

Crew families with students from first through tenth grades have been reading with Memoria Press. Click the banner below to read their reviews of the books they've been studying!   You can also learn about other Memoria Press programs we have worked with by clicking the links to those reviews.

Memoria Press:

First to Tenth Grade Literature Guides {Memoria Press Reviews}

 Crew Disclaimer

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Lincoln and the National Parks Services (Luke's American Adventures)

It's been a few years since Luke guest posted here with this history series.  He graduated from high school and has gone on to college, and is majoring in Business Administration. Much to his dismay, one of his required courses is a public speaking class.  This semester, he has been doing several kinds of speeches on defined topics, but the final one was a "Student Choice" assignment.  He first looked at me like a deer in headlights when the entire world was open to him. I suggested he go with something he knew well...what about an informative speech on Abraham Lincoln?  (Every so often, I have a wise idea.  Job security, I guess.)

He decided to combine his love for Lincoln with the National Park Service, exploring how the NPS preserves both Lincoln's life and his legacy to the nation. He agreed I could share it here.

I have to admit, it's fun to wear my "Mom the Teacher" hat for a few minutes and see what I taught him has stuck with him.  It was really fun to travel to all of the places, so helping him find the right photos was a nice trip together down memory lane.  I hope you'll take the time to explore Lincoln and the National Parks, both with Luke and in person.

It's also really cool to use this identification graphic again.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Guitar 360 Method (Homeschool Review Crew)

Most of my readers know that Celia is my instrument player. She has seven years' worth of violin lessons and three years of piano, plus she sang in her grade school choir, but I should consider changing her name to in she can play on her violin "But who cares? No big deal! I want MOOOOORE!!" Several years ago, Matthew took guitar lessons but discovered he is not an instrumentalist, so his guitar has sat in the closet, practically mocking Celia. She's tried a few YouTube lessons but really hadn't gotten very far.  The Crew offered us the opportunity to try more formal, cohesive lessons from Guitar 360 Method...folks, I apologize for the fangirl screaming.

Guitar 360 Method is a new guitar learning program from Krisz Simonfalvi. Mr. Simonfalvi is a musician and teacher who had a circuitous path to his career; he began to play guitar, gave it up because it just did not resonate with him, and then circled back as an adult. He notes that there are two ways to learn to play: one is just by picking at the guitar and learning the technical aspects, and the other is through a theory-based trajectory. The problem is that most theory is based on the piano -- which, while a strong music foundation, doesn't necessarily apply practically to other instruments.  Celia will completely agree with this -- while she can play both violin and piano, it's not like you can interchange music. As she says, "I can play piano music on my violin if I play just the treble clef line, but it may not sound the same or as good as on a piano because I can't play bass clef and treble at the same time on the violin. The melody might sound the same going from violin to piano because you can play just the treble clef." While Guitar 360 Method is actually teaching her a third style of instrument-specific theory, but one that has a practical application to playing guitar.

Have you ever listened to a Billy Joel song? An incredibly strong understanding of how music works is how he could turn what is basically scales into a hit song ("The Longest Time") and morph Mozart's "Pathétique Sonata" into "This Night." Why is theory-based instruction important to me, as a parent? Because theory is what really allows a student to understand what she is doing, why she is doing it, and how to properly play with music. An understanding of theory is critical even just to transpose piano to violin or guitar; without it, you cannot manipulate the music and have it sound right.

Practically speaking, I don't expect her to rise to Mr. Joel's level of renown (if she did, that would be fantastic, but let's face it -- there can only be one Billy Joel), but it's clear to me that the foundation of any musical success is a proper understanding of theory.  Here,  Mr. Simonfalvi shines, because his course is geared toward both the casual student who just wants to learn to play the music in front of him or the student who intends to learn to re-arrange or compose their own music.  He says:

I've taught this content from age 9 and up, however, it is designed for students who want to be creative on the guitar - understanding how music works, rather than JUST learning songs.
This makes it perfect for Celia, because it will teach her both the basics of "how to play" - how to hold the guitar, how to strum, where to put her fingers on the guitar's neck - but also WHY she's holding it where she is and when to use a pick vs. her fingers.  She had an "AHA!" moment right at the start.  Mr. Simonfalvi explains why you press the strings near the frets (better control of the strings and clarity of sound and she looked at me with a dropped jaw. THAT was something she never learned from playing around with other videos; she just thought you stuck your fingers on the strings.  Obviously, in six weeks she's learned more than just where to hold the guitar, but, to me, it's the little things like that - that you don't really know unless you're told - that help make this course worth the tuition.

Guitar 360 Method currently offers two courses. The first is a free introductory level course that will take you from "how to hold a guitar properly" to "I can actually play something, and it sounds like a song" in about three weeks. Obviously, there needs to be a consistent effort on the student's part, but after trying that part out, I can say, "Yes, you will."  While Celia has played around the guitar before, she really was trying to apply what she knew from playing pizzicato on the violin to picking at a guitar. You really don't have the same technique - pizzicato uses a plucking motion, and, of course, there are no frets on a violin neck. Starting at the very beginning helped her realize that playing guitar strings isn't the same at all.

The second, tuition-based course is a 13-week "Semester One." It contains the three-week basics course and then expands beyond "My First Chord" into the major, minor, and pentatonic scales, and then into playing Chords in multiple Keys.  Each week has a clearly defined focus, so the student understands what the goal of the lesson is.

The videos for the lessons total about half an hour, so definitely a reasonable length lesson for beginners - long enough to be worth making an appointment with yourself, but short enough to not be a barrage of information. Celia particularly liked that it's not one long half-hour video, but rather each topic is presented in an individual section.

This meant she could quickly go back over a topic without having to fuss with finding the correct minute mark, or she could break it down into smaller ten or fifteen-minute chunks so that she could learn a concept, ruminate on it a bit, play with it, and then add on the next idea.  Mom liked that there are defined practice exercises assigned for each week. This meant she could go back to the prior week's to work on solidifying those concepts but also had specific activities to reinforce new lessons. There are also quizzes on the ideas, making it ideal for students who need grades for transcripts. While hearing Celia advance in playing skill shows me she is absorbing practical knowledge, the quizzes help me see that she understands the theory behind the playing.

Mr. Simonfalvi promises that students will have enough theory and technique to jump into a band and be able to hold their own by the end of the 13 weeks. Keep in mind, he's not promising to turn your student into Mike DelGiudice and have her be playing in Billy Joel's band in those 13 weeks, but you'll have a competent guitar player that's not only ready to play but also able to understand what she is playing.

Guitar Lessons with Krisz Simonfalvi {Guitar 360 Method Reviews}

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Learning the States and their Capitals

Veritas Press' Self-Paced history is one of our favorite programs, in large part because of their memory song.  The constant re-presentation of it helps Jude remember dates and events in history.  However, we're experimenting with a blended-resource classical program, and this year, Damien is studying Memoria Press' States and Capitals for social studies. To his dismay, it doesn't have an "official" memory song.  However, as he was working on an early assignment, Luke introduced him to the Animaniac's "States and Capitals."

Always my little Showman, Damien decided he was going to learn the song.  The problem was his book divided the states into geographic regions, like any "normal" curriculum.  (Apparently, normal is boring.)

Every day, we'd work with his flashcards, adding another state and capital.  Some were pretty easy - Trenton in New Jersey, our home state. Others...well, good luck figuring out "Des Moines" when you're a phonetic reader!

We'd shuffle them up each day, so he got used to identifying them in different orders, not just the order his book presented them. (After all, when you go to address an envelope, you need to know the abbreviation for Arkansas without having to rattle through sixteen other states first!)  Slowly, he made his way cross-country, from New England to the Pacific states.  Even though the states were studied in geographic order, it seems fitting that the last state to study was our newest state, Hawaii (capital: Honolulu).He still worked on learning the song by heart, but I told him he could not sing it with his flashcards until he had learned all fifty states. Hawaii memorized meant he was ready to sing on his own. 

Mom's job was to put them in song order. Thank goodness for Google - I could find the lyrics written and not have to start/stop a video while I shuffled through all the cards to find the right one to place next.  We recruited Luke to be the cameraman, since I couldn't flip cards AND video at the same time.  (I'm Mom, not a magician.)

Not bad, huh?

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