Stories in Music {a TOS review}

Maestro Classics Review
I spent seven years of my youth dedicated to music.  One of the things I missed the most upon finishing school was the music.  I love that my dedication has trained my ear to easily pick up the rhythm of any song I hear, as well as easily hear background music.  Soon after deciding to homeschool one of my first thoughts of my children was this, "But they won't be able to take band!"  That was important to me because music enriches your life so much!
Of all the concerts I played in the one that I remember most was when we played The Nutcracker.  It should come as no surprise that I was very excited for an opportunity to review Maestro Classics.  Of course, for our house, I chose The Nutcracker - not only for my own purposes of walking down memory lane, but because my daughter is in her third year of ballet (she's 5) and loving it.  We received the mp3 version along with a digital version of the activity booklet that would be in the CD case.
Maestro Classics 
Maestro Classics takes classical music and pairs it with a story, narrated by a professional storyteller.  The stories include a brief biography of the composer, including time period and country, and also includes hints on what to listen for in the music - the rhythm, emotion or the actual instrument being played.  The narration may also include background information on the story itself.
Currently there are 13 musical stories by Maestro Classics.  Each story has a free downloadable curriculum guide that offers a unit study type lesson.  In addition the website has a wonderful section dedicated to music education, to help us integrate music into our everyday life.
The Nutcracker 
The Nutcracker (ballet) is based on a novella, written during the Romantic Period, by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann.  From this story Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed his world renowned music.
The story of the Nutcracker takes place at Christmas time in the home of Clara and Fritz as they celebrate with a holiday party thrown by their parents.  The guest of honor arrives, the toymaker Herr Drosselmeyer, and he puts on a performance with life-size dancing dolls.   He hands out gifts to the family.  Toy soldiers to Fritz and a nutcracker doll for Clara.  After he party ends and the children are sent to bed and the tree begins to grow and mice come out.  The toy soldiers and Nutcracker come to life and battle the Mouse King.  Afterward the nutcracker turns into a prince and he takes Clara on a journey to the Land of the Sweets and to the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The Nutcracker CD from Maestro Classics will introduce your child to the famous Tchaikovsky score, adapted by Stephen Simon, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  Along with the music is a phenomenal narration by master storyteller Jim Weiss.   The narration made me feel like I was blindfolded at the ballet sitting next to Mr. Weiss while he described to me what he was seeing and telling me any important tidbits I needed to know to fully understand the story.
How we used this
We were given the mp3 version of The Nutcracker.  I downloaded it to my computer and then transferred it to my iPhone in order to play in our van with the Bluetooth.  I chose a night we were running errands, which would be about a 30 minute drive to pick up groceries and then 30 minutes back again. 
The 21 "songs" are broken up into small bits that range from 1 minute to about 6 minutes or so.  I found this nice for a errand run because we could easily pause and then continue.
When we arrived at our destination we had just gotten to the 9th "song", Battle with the Mouse King.  My oldest, who is 8, was quite upset we had to pause to go get groceries.  He's never been so eager to get back in the van to go home!

I waited a few days then took an opportunity one night while Emma (5) was dancing and playing in her ballet outfit and I turned on the Nutcracker again.  Connor soon joined her, twirling her as the narration said.  They kept asking for more and more of the story and we ended up listening to the whole production again.

 We also used the CD insert activity guide, reading bits about Tchaikovsky and completing the crossword.  In addition we downloaded the curriculum guide and began to do a few things offered in the study, such as make a Mouse King crown (the mouse mask was found on our own). 
After the kids have heard Maestro Classics version of The Nutcracker the kids couldn't get enough of learning.  They sat down and watched the entire ballet on DVD which shocked me because it has no words.  They already new and loved the story and knew what to expect.  We also checked out a book about Tchaikovsky.
Our Thoughts
I think it goes without saying that we love Maestro Classics.  I had intended to listen with just my daughter.  The production of The Nutcracker exceeded my expectations.  I thought the kids would just like it and be okay with it and maybe then move on.  They adore it and beg to listen again as well as ask questions about the composer.  I had been always looking for ways to incorporate the love of music into our home and Maestro Classics has hit the mark.
I also didn't expect Connor to like it as much as he does.  In fact he's the most enthusiastic of us (well, maybe besides me).  His favorites to listen to over and over are the party, the battle with the Mouse King and the Russian Dance.
To see the other reviews of The Nutcracker and of Peter and the Wolf, click the banner below.
Maestro Classics Review

Rainy Days of Learning

Lately we've been taking a step back on our homeschooling.  Not stopping our learning, but just changing how we go about it.  Lots of free exploring, reading and documentary watching.  The kids learn and apply, all on their own, through their own art ideas and play.

Today we read some silly rain nursery rhymes and the kids hurried to act it out.

Rain on the green grass,
Rain on the trees,
Rain on the housetop,
But not on me.

Charlotte Mason Language Arts {a TOS review}

 Brookdale House Review
Recently my eldest, Connor, has developed a love of all things medieval.  When the opportunity came up to review a Charlotte Mason inspired language arts and history program, Writing Through Medieval History Level 1 Manuscript, we responded with a very eager "yes, please!".
This medieval history writing program is written by Kimberly Garcia and is published by Brookdale House.  This company publishes material that is inspired by Charlotte Mason's gentle, no nonsense, method using copywork, narration and dictation.
Some of the categories Brookdale House offers are geography, writing, grammar and scripture memorization.  What we used was a 330 page e-book from the Writing Through History series, in manuscript (cursive is also offered).  This series starts at Level 1 for grades 1-3 followed by Level 2 for grades 3-5.  If your student completed all of the "Writing Through History" series offered that would be 4 years of history (and writing) for your student with Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern History.
What is included?
As mentioned we given level 1 of the medieval writing program, in manuscript.  Writing Through Medieval History is a very thorough curriculum.  With this curriculum your student will learn grammar, penmanship, spelling, and history all at once.
The e-book starts with the table of contents and lists four chapters which are:
  • Historical Narratives
  • English tales
  • Poetry from/about Medieval History
  • Cultural Tales
The table of contents also acts as a timeline.  (Or, if you print it out like me, acts as a way to mark off your progress.)  Following the table of contents is:
  • Introduction
  • Additional Information
  • Definitions
  • Suggested Scheduling
  • Reminders
I found these sections to be a very nice, clear and gentle instruction on the Charlotte Mason method.  Included was a link to a video of Kimberly Garcia showing an example of how she would do a lesson from the Writing Through History series.  As a visual learner myself, this was so helpful to me to see and hear an example before I began with my son.
Before I talk about the actual lessons, I'd like to move on to the appendix, which I found to be so valuable as the teacher.  Here you'll find a grammar guide and suggested scheduling as well as models of the lessons for dictation.
The lessons begin with a story (a narrative, tale, or poetry) followed by two models for copywork.  The first model is for exact copying, where your student would write directly under the model.  The second practice model is for studied dictation, to be copied from memory.
What did the lessons look like in our home?
We used this writing curriculum with my very reluctant writer 3 days a week.  Using the grammar guide in the back we skipped the first two months (noun and verb) and began with pronoun as Connor already had learned noun and verb. 
The stories, of course, could be presented in order, but we bounced around to be sure we had a sampling of all 4 chapters.  We began with The Caliph and the Poet, 712-755 AD.

Day 1:  I read aloud to Connor and afterward I had him narrate back to me, verbally.  (There is also a paper provided for a written narration.)

Day 2:  I would print Model Practice 1 and we'd look at it circling our grammar (either pronoun or adjective so far).  I'd point out capitals vs lowercase to him as he struggles using both at random.  Because he is a very reluctant writer we'd do one or two lines then stop for the day.

Day 3:  Connor would finish writing the 1st Model Practice.

From here we would start with a new story and repeat Day 1-3.

Our Thoughts

Connor really loved the history focus and simple/short lessons.  We have been struggling trying to find him a language arts program that doesn't overwhelm him and Brookdale House fits our needs in that it isn't a typical "fill in the blank" workbook or overwhelming long copywork.

He especially loves Day 1 were he can hear a story and tell it back to me.  We'll be completing this ebook and then looking into others from Brookdale House.
To read the many various reviews of Brookdale House products click the banner below.  I'm looking forward to reading about Sheldon's Primary Language Lessons.
 Brookdale House Review

Little Boy {a TOS review} Review no 2 is an online seller of Christian movies.  Here will find a number of categories to inspire you such as:  Apologetics, Biographies, Children's, Comedy, Documentaries, and Sports, to name a few.  Of all these choices we have received a Christian family movie, Little Boy, for review.

Little Boy has a few familiar faces such as Emily Watson, Kevin James, Michael Rapaport and more. Review no 2
The story is set in a small town called O'Hare, in California, 1939.  The unseen narrator begins by talking of his only friend, his partner, and starts with the day they first met, which cuts to a father greeting his newborn son with, "Hi Partner."

Eight years later we learn that Pepper isn't growing normally.  The local doctor, Dr. Fox says he has no diagnosis and gives him the nickname, "Little Boy".  This is meant to be a kinder way of saying dwarf or midget, but the neighborhood bully, Freddy, uses "Little Boy" as a derogatory term and soon most of the town is following suit. 

Pepper's being little never bothers his father, James L. Busbee, and they are shown often playing imaginatively in epic battles against crime where Mr. Busbee will call out, "Do you believe you can do this!?" and Pepper will answer, "Yes, I believe I can do this!"

Their favorite super hero is a magician super crime fighter, Ben Eagle.  Mr. Busbee gives Pepper a comic book and they make plans to see the new show together, which sadly never happens.

Pepper's older brother, London, goes to join the war efforts and is denied, thereby ensuring that his father has to take his place.  The family, of course, is devastated and each reacts and copes in completely different ways.

One Sunday Pepper and his family are attending church where Fr. Crispin is preaching about faith "the size of a mustard seed".  If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move a mountain.  Move a mountain and you can do anything.

Pepper, in his innocence, takes the sermon on the mustard seed in a literal sense as well as his new title of honorary colleague to Ben Eagle and sets out with determination to bring back his dad.  We are then introduced to an older and much more patient Fr. Oliver who explains that Ben Eagles powers are not real, but that faith and power through faith is very real.    He gives Pepper an "ancient list", playing on Peppers need of a quest. 

And here we are set off on the rest of the story with Pepper trying to grow his faith in the hopes to get his father back home safely.

My thoughts

I first watched this show with my husband and later with my children after deciding that any mature content or violence of the PG-13 rating was safe for viewing for my crew.

The mature content that was shown was the racism against the Japanese man in the community and the violence that was also related to racism as well as bullying and a couple scenes of war.  Nothing was gory or too scary for my 2, 5 and 8 year olds as it was all done very tastefully and it made for some good talking points after the movie.

The trailer I watched turned out to be misleading, in my opinion.  The trailer leads us to think maybe Pepper gains some form of super power and that Fr. Oliver is explaining to Pepper about his new "power".  That is not the case at all.  The trailer shows the scenes out of context and the actual story is much more true to real life.

The story takes us through all kinds of powerful emotions through the characters, who did a stellar performance in their roles.

My son's thoughts

Connor, 8, asked me during the show about London - Pepper's older brother.  London displays a lot of anger and turns to alcohol.  In one scene he is arguing with this mother and Connor asked, "Does he even love his mom!?"

I had not even considered this, viewing it with an adult perspective I see London's reaction very adult-ish (human).

We talked and I explained that of course London loves his mom, but he is angry and allowing that to control and consume his actions.

It was at this point I realized that Connor, of course, relates better to Pepper in his steadfast determination to save his dad at all costs, especially since the adults weren't going to do anything but yell at each other.  Right?  I was then reminded of Jesus' saying of  "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)

Closing Thoughts

I would certainly recommend this movie to anyone.  There are so many great insights, topics and lessons packed into 106 mins.

To see other reviews of several movies from click the banner below: Review No 2

Classic Literature e-guide {a TOS review}

For the past several weeks Connor and I have been using an e-guide for the classic book, Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner.  This Christian English guide is offered, along with many other guides, by Progeny Press.

Progeny Press offers study material for lower and upper elementary as well as middle and high school levels.  Their unit studies are offered in several formats:  printed workbook, CD or a downloadable e-guide.  The CD and e-guides are interactive, meaning your student can type right on the document and save his/her work.

Along with the guides, Progeny Press sells the novels you will need in either audio or paperback.

What I received was the digital version of the 65 page study guide for Stone Fox as well as the teacher's answer key.  This guide is found in the "upper elementary" section of the website, which is intended for grades 3-6.

Progeny Press Review

The study begins with a short little blurb about the authors of the guide, followed by a peer review panel.  A note to the instructor briefly describes how to use the guide and at the end indicates that, at the high school level, colleges that assess homeschool transcripts will usually accept one-fourth credit per guide completed.  Even though we are not at the high school level I thought this was something to definitely note for future reference.
Following the note to the instructor is a quick synopsis of the book and a note about the book's author.
Background information is next, which I particularly liked as it gave us a clearer picture of the book we were about to read and it tied into the pre-reading activities given.  A map of the United States is given, following the pre-reading ideas, so I printed this off and set Connor to work locating and labeling as is first assignment. 
We located the Indian Reservations, Yellowstone and the city of Jackson.

Afterwards I had Connor begin to read the book.  He finished it rather quickly (in one afternoon) because he just loved the story.  He was a little shocked with the ending, but still came away with an overall good feeling. 
We carried on with the guide at this point, with our first assignment being on vocabulary found in chapters 1 and 2.
The e-guide, as I said before, is interactive in that your student can type right in the document and save.  Connor is just entering the 3rd grade and while his reading and comprehension is advanced, his writing is behind - so this is an excellent feature.  Even so, I opted to print the pages we would use for the day and we went over them together, with answer given to me orally. 
Some of the things we accomplished with the guide were: 
  • characterization that the author uses and thoughts on why
  • biblical perspective on emotions such as grieving or sadness
  • looking words up in a dictionary and learning the synonyms and antonyms
  • fact vs opinion
  • biblical perspective on tax collecting and debt
  • similes and metaphors
  • vocabulary presented as fill in the blank, multiple choice, or use in a sentence
  • comprehension of the story
  • cause/effect

After completing the study of each chapter there is an overview provided to use as a test or as another discussion.  There's a puzzle game and ideas for essays or projects.  Connor is on the youngest end of the recommended grade range so we skipped the essays for now.

The post-reading activities provided had some wonderful ideas for us to further expand our little unit study.  Connor went on to read about potatoes with two picture books we happened to have in our home library.  We also began to learn sign language, as suggested, and Connor is having so much fun with that and is so proud of his progress.

If I had a do-over I would still choose to review Progeny Press, but I would definitely choose the lower elementary, for grades K-3 because much of this was way over Connor's head.  He still greatly enjoyed the book, and said the guide was fun and he liked talking about things with me.

What I loved most with the digital guide is having options.  We could type in answers, or chose from a drop down list for multiple choice.  In addition I could print out pages we would need for the day if we weren't going to be at the computer.  This proved most useful when we went on a mini-vacation.  I just printed up a couple pages and we were able to continue on with our study on our down time.

We do plan on using Progeny Press again, but in the lower elementary section so it's a little easier on Connor and we can include little sister.  There are so many great choices, several of which are already on our "to read" list.

To see what the other reviewers had to say about Progeny Press, and to see what great choices they studied, click the banner below:
Progeny Press Review

Reading Kingdom {a TOS review}

We recently have been introduced to Reading Kingdom.  Over the summer Emma (5) has learned to read but is lacking confidence.  We decided to give Reading Kingdom Online a try to see where it leads her, and have been given a one year subscription for review.
Reading Kingdom is a research based online program that teaches children ages 4-10 how to read and write, up to grade 3.  What sets Reading Kingdom apart from other reading programs is it teaches 6 skills, and is disguised as a fun and easy to use game.  Other curriculums teach one skill - phonics
The six skills Reading Kingdom teach are:
  • sequencing
  • writing
  • sounds
  • meaning
  • grammar
  • comprehension

The first task for your child, if needed, is a session of keyboard and mouse training.  Emma didn't need this particular exercise so we just began with the placement test.  Throughout the entire reading program there should be little to no adult help and this is especially so with the placement testing as the sessions are adaptive to your child's individual abilities.

After the placement test your child will be in either Seeing Sequences or Letter Land.  In Seeing Sequences the student learns "left-to-right" order and memory recall.  In Letter Land the student will learn keyboarding skills such as location of letters and the purpose of the shift key.

Following those two sections is Reading and Writing levels 1-5 and Progress Checks for levels 1-5.

Scrolling down on our dashboard there is a series of very handy links that will take you to instructions on how to redo a lesson, instructions for skipping ahead, answers to the timing of sessions and what we needed - how to increase response time needed (should I choose to make it a little easier on her).

Emma has remained in the Seeing Sequences section since beginning her use of Reading Kingdom.  Usually this area is completed in 1-2 weeks so the program has adjusted to give her the time she needs to achieve mastery.

This program works on any device that has an internet connection.  Emma used it on both an iPad and then an Mac computer, with no troubles. 

Each session  of Seeing Sequences has 15 "questions".  After each question is answered it is followed by a cute little animation relating to whatever the word was.  When all 15 are answered correctly then the session is done for the day and the student is taken to a page where he/she can complete another one, do some reading, or end for the day.

Emma almost always chose the pink arrow, which links to some extra reading practice.  She always looks forward to this part. 

Here, she would chose from a list of words, and be taken to a short little game type activity to chose the right word spoken to form a sentence.  It was here that she learned "period" and "question mark".

Shown below is an example of the sentence structure, before the wrong word choices, shown in orange, disappear.  (This example is from one of her iPad sessions.)

I think this is an excellent program for a child to learn with, especially if you have multiple kids as with Reading Kingdom your student has to work independently.

We found the program easy to navigate with clearly spoken instructions.  Emma always looked forward to her sessions.

I'd have to say my favorite part is the versatility.  When we were given the program to review we had already had a scheduled vacation planned.  Taking Emma's lessons with us was as simple as packing up our mini iPad.  That's it!  We had a wonderful vacation and she was able to easily keep up with her 3-4 recommended sessions for the week.

To see what the rest of the review crew had to say about Reading Kingdom click the banner below:
Reading Kingdom Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages {TOS review}

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
Middlebury Interactive Languages is a company that provides digital language courses for grades K through grade 12.  I had never heard of Middlebury Interactive Languages before and I was very excited for the opportunity to review a one semester class with Emma.  Being in Canada I thought it made sense to start her off with Elementary French 1: Grades K-2.
Courses are offered either independently or with the help of a certified virtual language teacher.  We used this program independently.  The courses are completed through an online app, which you are linked to in your introductory email. 
The course is full immersion, so all songs. stories, and lessons are in French.  The only video in English is the culture video in each unit, which teaches something about a foreign country, related to the current unit, for example:  Unit 3, Family the song is "Je Dessine Papa" (I am drawing Dad).
To successfully use this program you'll need a computer with working internet and a microphone.  For more on the specific PC or Mac requirements there is a very handy FAQ provided on the website.
Upon first opening the course app you are taken to a clean and simple home screen that shows "Up Next" with a play button on the far right.
Before beginning your course you are taken through an introduction.  Here you will learn how the course works, what to expect, and given links to PDFs of the stories you will encounter, your vocabulary, and song translations.  These are provided in both French and English.  You can find them anytime you need under the table of contents, found under the tab in the upper left corner.
There are 12 units with the elementary French course.   

The units learned for this French course are:
  • Unit 1:   Greeting
  • Unit 2:   Numbers
  • Unit 3:   Family
  • Unit 4:   Colors
  • Unit 5:   School
  • Unit 6:   Review
  • Unit 7:   Body
  • Unit 8:   Animals
  • Unit 9:   Days of the Week
  • Unit 10:  Food
  • Unit 11:  Description
  • Unit 12:  Review
Within each unit are 6 lessons.  The app runs like a PowerPoint (slide), with previews of activities shown on the left and current work on the right.  When an activity is completed, by checking the mark in the upper right corner, the slide on the left is grayed out as shown in the example below.
There are a number of activities to complete within each lesson.  For example, there are puzzles, speaking labs, song videos, quizzes, story videos, or culture videos.  The student will need to drag and drop, select multiple choice answers, or speak into the microphone - which is all explained in the welcome unit.
Emma is only 5 years old and is at the very beginning of the grade level for this course.  As such, we have been completing the course together.  I found working with her beneficial because then I could learn her vocabulary as well and play with her throughout the week using her new words.

Each unit, at the end of lesson 5, has a worksheet for the student to complete.  So far these have all been suggestions to draw a picture related to the current unit.  Shown below is Emma's completed worksheet for Unit 3:  Family.  She was instructed to draw her family celebrating a holiday.


The calendar, found under the table of contents, suggests that it is intended that your student complete a lesson a day.  Most days this was no problem, but some days we would complete just a few activities at a time if she was struggling and then we'd carry on with the lesson the next day.  I do want to stress that it is a suggested pacing, as we are still able to work independently at Emma's pacing of 3-5 lessons in a week, never feeling rushed or behind.

After 6 weeks, Emma is currently in Unit 3, Lesson 6.  So far she's learned to greet, she can count to ten as well as say her age (her favorite part), and she can now introduce members of her family.

She loves her French lessons and looks forward each day to learning more.  She loves the story videos, her favorite so far being "The Bet of the Monkey and the Hare".  Even though the story is entirely in French Emma and her older brother both giggled through the entire video.  She especially loves the songs, asking to watch them sometimes 3 or more times.  The course has been fun and engaging and we love it!

We'd definitely recommend Middlebury Interactive Languages to any family looking to learn a second language.

To read the rest of the reviews from the crew click the banner below:

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Throwback Thursday: the Emma edition

I don't know how many of you out there use the app Timehop.  Today an adorable photo popped up on mine, from this day, many years ago.  It was such a joyful "throwback", I wanted to share it here with you all.

When Emma was born I had decided I would do my own at home little mini photo shoots each month until she was 1 year old.  Each month I did something different.  These photos are so fun to look back on and also so simple to do at home, even with a regular old point and shoot.

Life with a newborn is anything but glamorous.  The house is more often than not a mess.  Don't let this deter you from documenting your little bundle of joy.  For this photo I looked through my camera lens, found any clutter or dust in my view and simple shoved it aside - no joke.  As a result you'll have a nice clean photo and your friends will wrongly assume you are Martha Stewart's apprentice.

At 4 months old most babies will still need support to sit, so I found it fitting to grab all stuffies in the house and surround sweet Emma for an adorable little photo session with mommy, making sure she was nice and steady before I stepped back.

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