Teach Your Child Piano Review

At the beginning of the summer, Fritz and I got to beta test Teach Your Child Piano. I can read the treble clef, but have never taken a single piano lesson. When we started Fritz could not read music and didn’t know which key where what notes on the piano. Pretty much, he just knew that the musical alphabet only contains the letters A through G.

During the 6 week beta, Fritz learned to read music, about time signatures, which fingers to use on what keys, quarter, half, and whole notes, and more. He is quite proud to be able to play songs on our piano now.

Each week included games, worksheets, a video for me to watch, a song to play, and plenty of instructional support that even though I don’t really know how to play piano, I was able to teach Fritz the concepts of the week. The games went pretty quick for Fritz. He was on the older end of the kids doing the beta test so he caught on easily. The worksheets were very simple for him, but were excellent for reinforcing the concepts.

While the idea was to spend some time every day working through the material, I found that, probably because of his age (he was almost 10 when we did it), it worked better to do all the teaching, worksheets, and games one day and have him practice the concepts and songs all the other days of the week. The first couple or three weeks really could’ve been combined into one for him. I believe the full version will allow for acceleration for kids who are older or already have had some music training to take care of that issue.

The most amazing thing, though, is Fritz can play the piano! In only 6 weeks he had a repertoire of more than a half dozen songs and the ability to play more since he knows which fingers go where and how to read music. He has continued practicing every day. Now only Happy Birthday gives him any trouble at all. I videoed him playing Hot Cross Buns as soon as we finished the beta test. Now he can play it easily with no hesitation. The progress he has made is really quite an accomplishment and it wouldn’t have happened without Teach Your Child Piano.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars for a kid Fritz’s age; 5 out of 5 Stars for a kid up to about age 8. We liked it enough that I enrolled Fritz in the full level course so he can continue learning the play the piano using the methods in Teach Your Child Piano.

So that’s my opinion of Teach Your Child Piano. I asked Fritz what he thought and here is what he had to say.

So check out Teach Your Child Piano and poke around a bit. There’s some really cool stuff on there and in just a few weeks, your child (or you) could be playing songs on the piano.

(Note: I was provided the beta test of Teach Your Child Piano for free in exchange for filling out weekly surveys to help make the curriculum as good as possible for the most people. I was not required to review it on my blog and I got no additional compensation for reviewing it.)

Elemental Science Physics for the Grammar Stage Review

This year we have been using Elemental Science Physics for the Grammar Stage. It is working very well, including for Cameron even though he is a middle schooler (logic stage). I’ve read complaints about how boring this curriculum is, but that has not been our experience. I suppose it could have been boring, but I chose to do most of the optional experiments along with the required ones making it very hands on and fun.

I bought the ebook version of the teacher and student guides. Before the school year started, I printed the pages they would need to write on and put them in notebooks for the boys. I went through and selected all the experiments we would be doing (and, if you’ve been following along with our homeschooling adventures, you know we’ve done A LOT and we’ve still got another month to go). I made a list of what items we’d need. For the most part, it was stuff found around the house or things we could collect over time (like empty soda bottles or newspapers). Some things normal people probably have laying around, but we didn’t (like a comb or flashlight). So I made a list of everything we’d need over the course of the year and went shopping. Once I had everything I separated them into baggies. Those experiment bags are probably the number on thing that has made science go smoothly this year.

There are three main books I had to buy to go along with this Physics for the Grammar Stage. The Usborne Science Encyclopedia, Physics Experiments for Children, and Gizmos and Gadgets. Most days there is a section of reading from the Usborne book. It is basic quick information with lots of pictures (typical Usborne). I was hesitant about Physics Experiments for Children because it is so old, but it turns out the best experiments (by far) came from that book. Each experiment includes an explanation that is short, to the point, and very understandable. I am not, however, a fan of the other book the experiments come from. It is kind of ironic that the subtitle of Gizmos and Gadgets is “creating science contraptions that work” because quite a few of them didn’t work without adjusting and three or four didn’t work at all.
Elemental Science Physics for the Grammar Stage

At the beginning of the school year, we were doing science 2-3 times a week. In January we switched to once a week. Either way, each lesson begins with reading (usually from the Usborne Science Encyclopedia) followed by experiments. When we were doing science 2 or 3 times a week we did one to three experiments each day (the more the better according to my boys!). That meas once a week we do 3-9 each science period. After the experiments, we do a short oral quiz (there is only one per week) about that week’s lessons. Then we open the binders and complete the writing portion of the lesson. Writing takes, at most, a quarter of our science class. I strongly believe science, especially in elementary school, but even after, should be made up mostly of experiments and this curriculum definitely fit that requirement.

There are three types of writing. One is a weekly write-up of an experiment. Some of the write-ups are a single page, some are two. Most include space to draw a picture. The second type is defining words. Each word has a picture to cut out and glue next to the definition (written in the student’s own words). The final type is a description of what they learned about a certain topic that week with a large picture of that topic glued next to their description. They can write as much or as little as they want to in that space.
Elemental Science Physics for the Grammar Stage

I’ve been very happy with Elemental Science Physics for the Grammar Stage. In my experience a good, solid, elementary level, experiment heavy science curriculum is not easy to find. This one was very nearly perfect for us. My only complaints are the Gizmos and Gadgets book and the annoyance of finding the correct pages assigned, particularly when more than one is assigned in a single day, since they are not in the order used. For those two things, I knocked my rating down to 4 stars (which, honestly, is pretty impressive since I’ve yet to find a science curriculum I would give 5 stars to).

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

(Note: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I bought everything required to use this curriculum myself.)

Confessions of a Homeschooler World’s Greatest Composers Review

Like the Confessions of a Homeschooler World’s Greatest Artists, this year and last year we’ve been using their World’s Greatest Composers for music. So far we have learned about the orchestra, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Peter Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin, Johannes Brahms, and John Philip Sousa. Over the course of the rest of the school year we will study Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein.

Each composer unit starts with reading a book from the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers series. These books are 32 pages long and talk about the composer’s life from birth to death and their major/most popular works.

We listen to several pieces over the course of each composer unit. For example, during the Sousa unit, we listened to The Liberty Bell, The Washington Post March, The Stars and Stripes Forever, Riders for the Flag, Sabre and Spurs, and Hands Across the Sea. We use a combination of youtube and our Amazon Echo/Prime music to listen to the composers’ works for free.

While listening to one piece by the composer, we circle all the instruments we hear. While listening to another piece, we write the names of the instruments we hear. This helps us to listen closely and really hear what is going on in the music.

While listening to a third piece by the composer, we draw whatever the music makes us feel (in this case, Stars and Stripes Forever made Adrian think of Angry Birds). While listening to yet another piece, we create an acrostic poem using the composer’s last name and words that remind us of the music.

Other activities include listening to a couple more pieces by the composer, recording the country of origin, years of life, and major composition on both a worksheet and a foldable that goes in the lapbook, a puzzle of the composer, and placing a picture of the composer on the timeline in the lapbook.

We have enjoyed using World’s Greatest Composers. We’ve learned a lot about several artists. Some of the activities can be a bit tedious, particularly since we repeat the same thing over and over for every composer. Overall, though, it’s been great since we’re actually getting music done every week.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

(Note: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I bought everything required to use this curriculum myself.)

Latin for Children Review

Several years ago I did Latin for Children A from Classical Academic Press with Ani and Cameron. We got about 2/3 of the way through it and hit a wall. There were quite a few errors as well (it was newly released at the time; these errors have been corrected in the current version) and that made it a bit frustrating. So we quit.

This year I’m doing it again with Cameron and Fritz (and Adrian listens along). We’re taking it very slowly in the hopes we will not hit a wall and give up this time. In fact, we’re taking it so slowly that we’re only up to the beginning of chapter 4 after almost 3/4 of the school year, but that means we have taken enough time that the boys have totally committed the vocabulary words to memory.

Latin for Children Review

Latin for Children gives the choice of classical or ecclesiastical pronunciation. We choose to use classical. There is a punctuation guide for both ways in the front of the workbook.
Latin for Children Review

The DVD/CD set is extremely useful. The biggest help is every word is pronounced so you don’t have to use the guides to sound things out every time. The entire thing is done once with classical and once with ecclesiastical pronunciations.
Latin for Children Review

When we start a new chapter, the first day we watch the DVD. It goes over the chapter maxim and the vocabulary words, and then gives other things like derivatives or just silly videoed bits.
Latin for Children Review

Then we spend as long as it takes going over and over the vocabulary words until they are completely committed to memory and the boys can translate from English to Latin and Latin to English. We spend about 15-20 minutes a day doing this. Once or twice a week we go back and review the vocabulary and other information we learned in previous chapters to be sure nothing has been forgotten.
Latin for Children Review

Once they’ve learned the chapter’s vocabulary they move on to the worksheets in the main book. The couple pages of assignments include translating words from Latin to English, fillings in charts of chants they’ve learned, fill-in-the-blank activities about grammar concepts, and working with derivatives.
Latin for Children Review

In the back of the workbook, there is an end of book review, a unit by unit Latin journey checklist, reference charts, and a glossary both by chapter and by alphabet.
Latin for Children Review

I got the whole set so we also have the activity book.
Latin for Children Review

This gives us a few extra pages per chapter to work with the vocabulary words. The activities are fun and include things like crossword puzzles, matching pictures, and fill-in-the-blanks (a few of the activity book pages are also in the regular workbook).
Latin for Children Review

We also got the Libellus de Historia (Latin History Reader). This is a small book that introduces students to Latin translation. Each story gives the unfamiliar vocabulary and any other information needed to successfully translate the story’s sentences. Since they recommend beginning it about halfway through LfC A, we have not yet used it, but it definitely looks like it will be fun and interesting once we get to that point.
Latin for Children Review

The other book in the complete Latin for Children A set is the Answer Key. So far, I have not needed to use it since I go over and over the vocabulary with the boys so I know if their answers are correct or not. I like having it available, though, just in case it is needed at some point.
Latin for Children Review

I’ve been very happy with Latin for Children A this time around. We haven’t noticed any errors, the video is way better, and, most importantly, the boys have actually learned and retained quite a bit of Latin over the last few months. We will definitely continue on with it next year and I am 99% sure once we finish level A (whenever that might be) we will carry on with level B.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

(Note: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I bought everything required to use this curriculum myself.)

Confessions of a Homeschooler World’s Greatest Artists Review

This year and last year we have been learning about artists using Confessions of a Homeschooler World’s Greatest Artists. We took it slow last year and are going much faster through the artists this year in order to finish them all by the end of this school year. Usually music and art kind of get ignored in our house, but this curriculum is making it easy for us to remember to do it.

Over the course of the two years we will have learned about the following artists: Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci (we just finished this one), Norman Rockwell, Rembrandt, Paul Cezanne, Andy Warhol, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas. The digital downloads were cheap ($5.50 for each of the two volumes), but then I had to get the books about the artists (I got most of them used which saved on costs considerably; they might be available for free at your public library) and also print several very colorful pages for the lapbooks. The total cost for two years of artist study for three boys was about $100.

Learning about each artist begins with reading the book about that artist from the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series by Mike Venezia. Because we are going through the artists faster than the included lesson plan calls for this year, we read the entire book in one sitting.
Confessions of a Homeschooler World's Greatest Artists Review

Several times over the course of studying the artists, we look at and talk about one of the artist’s works. This time we focused on The Last Supper and instead of using the picture in the book like we normally do, for this one we looked at and discussed the cross stitch of The Last Supper I made.
Confessions of a Homeschooler World's Greatest Artists Review

Then the boys use a medium similar to one the artist worked with and create their own work, two for each artist studied, based (usually very, very loosely) on the artist’s work. This time, and really most of the time, the boys used tempera paint. While studying Michelangelo, they carved soap.
Confessions of a Homeschooler World's Greatest Artists Review

Confessions of a Homeschooler World's Greatest Artists Review

We create minibooks of the artist’s main works to add to the lapbooks. We cut out the pages and pictures for the minibooks, glue the pictures on the appropriate work’s page, and write what medium was used for each piece (we get that information from the book about the artist). Then we staple the minibook together and glue it in the lapbook.
Confessions of a Homeschooler World's Greatest Artists Review

We make trading cards for each artist. We cut out the card, fold it in half, and glue it so it stays folded. On the back, we fill in specific information about the artist (movement, style/technique, medium used, famous works, and which of the artist’s works is their personal favorite). We get this information from the book about the artist. Then we add the trading card to a folder in the lapbook. We’ve got quite a collection of artist trading cards in there now.
Confessions of a Homeschooler World's Greatest Artists Review

We do a puzzle of one of the artist’s famous works. The puzzles are all squares (3 columns and 4 rows) and much harder than you might think. Cameron and Fritz always race putting theirs together. Once we’ve assembled the puzzles (or tried our hardest and failed – sometimes they are just impossible!), we make a pocket and glue it on the flap next to the minibook in the lapbook. The puzzle pieces go inside the pocket.
Confessions of a Homeschooler World's Greatest Artists Review

I really like Confessions of a Homeschooler World’s Greatest Artists and highly recommend it for people struggling to find an art curriculum that is interesting and easy to implement. It is not perfect. I would very much like to have a suggested schedule or two. Answers for the minibooks and trading cards would be useful as would a picture showing the completed layout of the lapbook. Printing the required pages for the lapbooks takes quite a lot of printer ink which is really a positive and a negative. It means the cost of printing is not low, but it also means the pages are very beautiful and full color. Minor complaints, but drawbacks nonetheless.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

(Note: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I bought everything required to use this curriculum myself.)

Spelling You See Review

I’ve never been totally happy with any spelling curriculum we’ve tried. We’ve done Calvert, Sequential Spelling, Spelling Power, Spelling Workout, making up my own thing, Spelling City, and a few others. This year we decided to try Spelling You See and, with 6 weeks done, I am very happy with it.

Spelling You See isn’t like a typical spelling program. There are no word lists to memorize (and promptly forget). Instead, it combines copywork and dictation with looking for groups of letters that often appear together in words. These groups are marked with various colors (for example, vowel chunks – like ee, ow, and ui – get marked in yellow and consonant chunks – like ll, th, and ch – get marked in blue).

To determine which level to place the boys, I gave them the placement assessments provided on the Spelling You See website. Adrian placed into level B. Fritz placed into level E. Cameron placed into level D. They currently go through level G. It is nice that they don’t have grade level designations since Cameron placed at what would surely be a much lower number than his grade level. Near the end of last school year we used the provided sample week at the levels they placed into. That week definitely made me think this was the spelling curriculum for us and that the levels they placed into were the right ones.

The Student Packs for levels B and above include two workbooks (first 18 lessons and second 18 lessons) and a pack of erasable colored pencils. The pencils are very specific colors that will be needed throughout the year. Level B also comes with a laminated printed letter forming guide page.

There are 5 two-page spreads for each week. Weeks we do school four days instead of five, we just skip the last page (E) those weeks. The first half of level B is different from the higher levels, so first I’ll explain how halfway through B and later works and then I’ll explain how the first half of B works.

Each day the kids start out hunting for and marking those letter chunks in their specified color. Whenever a new color is added, they only look for that type of chunk for a couple weeks. Then they add that color to all the other colors they have already learned. By the end of the books their passages are very colorful! The passage they mark is the same every day for a week.
Spelling You See Review

Once they think they have found all of the chunks they are looking for that day, they give it to me and I mark it to show which ones they missed. It’s not a big deal if they miss a few. They look it over after I mark it and see where they could improve. For example, in week 5 Fritz was having a lot of trouble missing th’s. We focused very hard on that chunk. In week 6, he did much better finding those. Missed chunks is just another opportunity to learn to find where those chunks will appear in words.
Spelling You See Review

By the end of the week they are much more accurate in finding and marking the chunks. I find that the ones they repeatedly miss are the ones that don’t come up very often, such as gh.
Spelling You See Review

Once the chunk hunting and marking is finished, they do either copywork or dictation. Copywork is assigned on pages A-C and dictation is assigned on pages D and E. The copywork/dictation comes from the passage they are marking that week. The whole lesson only takes 15 or 20 minutes max.
Spelling You See Review

Now, the first half of B is quite different. Each day there is a nursery rhyme and something to do related to that rhyme. Sometimes we find rhyming words, sometimes capitalized words, sometimes punctuation. Adrian usually wants me to sing the rhyme with several times every day. Then there is a line or two of copywork. Writing is still very difficult for Adrian and he does copywork in Writing With Ease so I help him with the spelling copywork as needed.
Spelling You See Review

For the first 6 lessons, the second page of the daily two-page spread has several letters to copy and then space to write 6 dictated words. Whether or not the words are spelling correctly the first time is not the point. At this point he’s just working on figuring out how to “take apart” a word into sounds to write the words properly. Starting with lesson 7, there are no letters to copy and the number of dictated words doubles. The teacher’s manual provides the words to dictate.
Spelling You See Review

The instructor’s handbooks are necessary and very useful. I use them daily. They all start with background information that is interesting to read. They start with the philosophy, the five developmental stage of spelling, and the curriculum sequence and placement guidelines. Next is getting started with the specific level purchased. Then is lesson-by-lesson instructions. In higher levels several of the lessons have general instructions together plus a weekly activity guide and detailed information about chunking. Then they move on to frequently asked questions followed by a resource section. The resource section includes the passages used in each lesson (lists of words for the kid to write divided by lesson and by types of words for the first half of level B) and a full-color answer key (this is invaluable for checking their accuracy in chunking). At the back is a glossary, bibliography, and, for the higher levels, index.

The real test for any spelling curriculum is whether the kid’s spelling improves or not in their regular writing. Because of Cameron’s learning disability, his spelling may never improve a whole lot (though he is very good at hunting for the letter groups which really surprised me and he is properly remembering those chunks in his regular writing so improvement is happening!). I have noticed that Fritz and Adrian both are spelling better in non-spelling assignment work after just these last 6 weeks. Adrian is getting good at taking 3-4 letter words apart and figuring out what letter each sound is. Considering Fritz’s spelling has not improved with any other program, I’m going to considerate Spelling You See a huge win.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

(Note: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I bought the books myself.)

Learning to Read With PAL

Before Adrian started kindergarten, his goal was to learn to read. And I have to admit, after teaching three kids to read, the idea of outsourcing that job for fourth kid was pretty nice. After 5 months in school, however, he had only learned a handful of sight words he didn’t already know. So of course, at home, his goal is still to learn to read. And he is making incredible progress with a combination of Reading Eggs and Primary Arts of Language: Reading from Institute for Excellence in Writing.

PAL is kind of unique in that it teaches letter combinations right from the start instead of just the letters and their sounds. The very first lesson Adrian was taught what ee, the squealy e’s says. That’s the other fabulous things about PAL. There are stories about the letters. See, ee are such good friends, that when they are together they squeal eeeeee! a is angry because she has a ponytail and the boys keep pulling it and making her say /a/ (short a sound). k is the kicking letter (and the letter stories file folder game piece has feet) so it says /k/ like in kick. Stuff like that. Adrian loves those letter stories (even though he already knew the letters and their sounds before we started).

Learning to Read

So far we are through 15 lessons and today Adrian was presented with the word down. The ow had been underlined to call his attention to them going together. He knew that when ow get pinched between other letters they say “ow!” He put that together with the sounds d and n make and he was able to decode the word very quickly.

Each lesson starts with a poem. This week we’ve been reading and discussing The Squirrel. Yesterday I had him close his eyes to visualize what was happening while I read it to him.
Learning to Read

Then we do his writing lesson. Writing was a huge deal while he was in public school. He hates writing and it is hard for him (just as it has been for all of my kids at 5… because they are, you know, 5). He was most likely to act up in class when they were supposed to be sitting at their desks writing. So we opted not to get Primary Arts of Language: Writing (which is done concurrently with the reading program, but doesn’t have to be). Instead we do a writing lesson of my own creation and the amazing thing is, he doesn’t really resist! We start with a journal entry.
Learning to Read

He tells me what to write and it has sure resulted in some strange journal entries. This notebook is going to be hilarious to look back on when he’s a few years older. Some examples:

Today’s windy with Mr. Wind. That’s it for today.

We’re doing the same today as last morning. There is something I want to talk to you about today. Well, I don’t need a seatbelt, but’s it’s a rule everyone needs seatbelts. Well, that’s the end.

When I step in the sun it burns my feet. We’re doing the same today. When I put my hand in the sun it burns my hand. The sun is hot. When there is a little bit of sun and a little bit of shade it is good and does not burn me. I wonder why? The end!

After that, he does a handwriting worksheet. I have him trace dotted lines to make the words he learned the previous lesson. We’re still working on getting the pencil grip right (they tried the positioner thingy at school and he chewed it up).
Learning to Read

When we were going through the letters of the alphabet (2-3 a day for the first several lessons), I had him make the letters using Wiki Stix on letter cards and also use the Magic Board with letter overlays to write the letters. Now that he has completed writing the letters, he has free access to these to play with them whenever he wants.
Learning to Read

The next thing we do (2 or 3 times a week) is I read a story to him. Twice. Sometimes three times. He loves repetition. Then he tells me what happened in the story.
Learning to Read

Next he does a few file folder games (at this point… it changes as they learn to read better). So far he’s gotten 14 of the 35 games. He loves these games! They range from putting letters in alphabetical order to sorting based on the vowel sound in the word to determining the initial consonant sounds in words.
Learning to Read

After that, he gets his new word cards. Some of these are sight words. Some are words for him to decode and then learn them to be able to read instantly. Some are teaching a letter combination (like the “magic” silent e).
Learning to Read

Each day we go through a few of the words in his stack. Some days we play lightning where he tells me what word is on the card as fast as he can (or, alternatively, slow lightning – a game he invented where he reads the word as fast as he can, but says it super slowly drawing out the sounds in it). Some days he “feeds” his cards to his Feed Me Monster as he reads them. According to PAL, it takes about 55 times for a word to get cemented in a kid’s brain so going through these words each day helps with that.

Then we visit the phonetic farm. Most days we have a sticker or two to add to it. Some days we just review some of the stickers we’ve already put on. The phonetic farm is truly awesome. It’s a visual way to see all the sounds letters and letter combinations make in different places in words. Every sticker has a picture and/or story to go with it to help him remember what the letters say.
Learning to Read

Each day he has a work page to do. These involve reading words or phrases over and over and putting them in the correct place. Adrian has a very hard time cutting so I do that part for him. He likes doing the gluing.
Learning to Read

Most days he has a reading practice page added to his binder. Days when there is no new reading practice page, he reads a previous page. In addition to the full page we pick a few sentences at random from the other pages to read as well. Depending on how long the lesson has been (lessons run 30-60 minutes of concentrated work) and how tired he is getting, I’ll read and have him repeat or I’ll ask him to find certain words or only have him read a couple sentences on his own.
Learning to Read

After that, we visit the phonetic farm again. We review every stick and location he has learned so far and take a ride on the train.

Finally, he has an informal spelling test. At this point we’re just doing letters and letter combinations. He uses the white board and write on/wipe off markers. Sometimes his letters get very creative and he tells stories about why a letter’s face looks like it does or why its hair looks like it does.
Learning to Read

Several lessons ago he learned that A, E, I, O, and U are the vowels. We were instructed to put up a vowel ladder in a doorway that he uses regularly. We don’t really have any of those so we put the letters on the post between our living and dining rooms. The idea is that as he passes he’s supposed to hit each letter and say their names and/or sounds. He goes over to it several times a day still, a couple weeks later, to do that (bonus: Fritz apparently didn’t know which letters were the vowels and has learned them as well thanks to the vowel ladder).

I truly couldn’t be more thrilled with Primary Arts of Language: Reading. Adrian’s loving it and it’s really helping him easily learn to read.