Tag Archives: classical music for kids

Elementary Music Appreciation Course (Crew Review)

Music Appreciation Review
When we first started homeschooling one of the things that drew me to the Charlotte Mason method of education was the attention paid to composer study.  Classical music has been a part of my life since childhood, and I want my children to be familiar with and appreciate it as well.  I’ve had my eye on the Great Composers books from Zeezok Publishing LLC for quite a while and was SO excited to get a chance to review the entire Music Appreciation: Book 1 for the Elementary Grades collection, starting with one of my children’s favorite composers: Beethoven.

About the Music Appreciation Book 1 Collection

This collection is an incredibly rich resource, providing materials for seven 4-week unit studies based on the lives of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, and Schubert:

  • 7 biographical novels by Opal Wheeler, one for each composer, all softcover except the one Schubert (not sure why we received a hardcover since I know they do publish it in softcover)
  • 1 Student Activity Book (softcover with perforated pages)
  • Set of 5 Audio CDs
  • CD-ROM with files for making a lapbook for each composer
  • (Coordinating coloring book available for separate purchase)

Each of these items is available for individual purchase, but unless you already own something, the you’ll want everything that comes in the collection to complete the lessons.

The heart of this curriculum is the Wheeler books, which focus on the composers’ lives and childhood musical background.  Although the book occasionally references topics covered when studying other composers, for the most part each unit study is self-contained, so they don’t necessarily need to be done in the order they are presented.

BeethovenI chose Beethoven for our first study.  Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells starts with Beethoven as a very young boy and tells about his musical career all the way through his moving 9th Symphony, composed when he could no longer hear.  While the book does talk about Ludwig being forced to practice in the middle of the night as a child and his father’s desire to see him become a musician like Mozart, it is very appropriate for children and doesn’t mention his father’s abusive nature.  Instead the focus is on Ludwig’s relationships with other members of his family, his various teachers and his many musical experiences growing up.

The book also includes music for several of Beethoven’s compositions, which are simple enough for intermediate piano players to be able to play and enjoy as they go through the book.  (These selections are also on the audio CDs.)  Some are interspersed with the text to experience as you go through the book, and there are also several at the end for further enjoyment.

After you have read the chapter for the week, the Student Activity Book is full of questions, activities, and ideas for further study.  Each unit starts with a Weekly Lesson Outline that lists all the reading assignments and activities that will be covered, making note of those required to meet national music appreciation standards.

Each week’s assignments include:

  • reading a chapter in the Wheeler book
  • a page of comprehension questions
  • study of character qualities demonstrated in the chapter
  • listening assignments from the Music Appreciation CDs
  • “Tidbits of Interest” expounding upon specific information in the chapter
  • Lapbook activities
  • Extras like geography, history, or music theory

The Student Activity Book functions as both a workbook and a textbook, with some pages having activities to complete and others containing additional reading material.

The CD-ROM contains the pieces needed for each composer’s lapbooks as well as pictures of completed lapbooks.  These pages include instructions about how to assemble each piece, but to find out where to place it, you have to look up the examples or read the directions in the Student Activity Book.



Our Experience

I chose the Beethoven unit because most of my children are already somewhat familiar with his life story and his music, but there was still a lot for everyone to learn.  This curriculum is designed for K-6th grade, so I planned to include Ian (2nd grade) and Elijah (Kindergarten) as well as seeing how much Arianna (preschool) could participate.

We started each week’s work reading a few pages from Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells while the kids colored.  The boys probably would have been able to read the Wheeler book themselves, but it would have been laborious, so I used it as a read aloud instead.  (An audio version is also available both on CD and as an mp3 download.)

I bought two copies of the coordinating coloring book for the younger two to use since Ian would be using the Student Activity Book.  I was thankful that there were multiple coloring pages for each chapter, because I found Ian had an easier time listening when he was coloring (and my 2-year old wanted to do what everyone else was doing as well).  The pictures directly related to the chapters in the book, so they were a great way to include everyone.  I was a little surprised when the coloring books arrived and they were just stapled together rather than being actual bound books, but that ended up making it easy to take them apart and share the quality coloring pages from 2 books among 4 children.  I don’t know that we would have enjoyed the study nearly as much if I hadn’t gone ahead and gotten the coloring pages.

DSCN1249xThere was so much material in the Student Activity Book, I ended up taking almost twice as long as the suggested four weeks to get through it.  Even though the curriculum is intended for all elementary grades, I felt like much of it was too difficult for my Kindergartner and 2nd grader, though it would be perfect for upper elementary students.  We adapted things and often just went through the material conversationally.

The boys enjoyed working on the lapbook together after we had finished reading and dismissed the little ones.  I struggled a little bit with figuring out exactly what went where,  confused that some of the instructions were in the Student Activity Book while others were on the pages with the lapbook materials themselves.  I think when we go through the next unit I’ll be able to figure it out better, but since this was the first lapbook we’d ever created, I would have felt a little more confident if all the information I needed were in one place.

My Thoughts on Zeezok Publishing’s Music Appreciation

20160317_094524xI am in awe of how much work went into putting together this curriculum.  There is SO much to do and learn about in each study!  Even though we found it to be a bit overwhelming at this point, I think we’ll get a lot more out of it as my children get older.  I’ll probably get the audio books for future studies so we can get through the books as we drive and save our time at home for all the other activities.

Music Appreication Book 1_zpsu33n9px8The only change I would like to see would be separating the Student Activity Book into a textbook and separate workbook.  It is designed to be consumable, with one needed for each student, but so much of it is extra reading material or instructions for lapbook activities that could easily be reused, so it felt a bit wasteful to me.  Since I have multiple children, it would be nice to only be purchasing extra copies of the pages that actually get written in rather than the entire book.

There’s definitely more in the weekly lesson outline than I can get done in the time I usually allot to composer study each week.  In the future I will probably stretch out each unit more intentionally.  Or if I do want to keep to the schedule, I might even use it as a traditional unit study, where it’s the main focus of the school day with other subjects coming out of it (since history, geography, reading, writing, and of course fine arts are all included.  However we end up using it, I am thankful for such a well-designed, detailed curriculum for studying the lives and music of so many great composers.

Music Appreciation for the Elementary Grades {Zeezok Publishing LLC Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Nutcracker from Maestro Classics (Crew Review)

Nutcracker Review
One of the first things I included when I began schooling with my oldest child was composer study and time getting familiar with famous pieces of classical music.  When we discovered Maestro Classics, I knew this was a company I would be turning to again and again in the years to come, and indeed, we have several of their CDs that get played over and over both at home and in the car.  When I heard about their newest release, The Nutcracker, I couldn’t wait to hear it and was ecstatic to be given a copy to review.

About The Nutcracker

Nutcracker coverThe music director of Maestro Classics, Stephen Simon, has created a sort of “abridged” Nutcracker, drawing from the entire ballet (not just the popular Suite) to give children a one-hour version that allows them to experience the beauty and creativity of Tchaikovsky’s music without taxing young attention spans.

Jim Weiss brings his acclaimed storytelling skills to the wonderful story.  After a brief introduction to The Nutcracker, he launches into the story itself, giving enough narration to help move the plot along without overshadowing the music.

As with their other recordings, Maestro Classics has provided free curriculum guide to go along with The Nutcracker.  It is full of ideas for using the CD as a launching pad for studies in science, math, language arts, and much more.  It also include several helpful links.

Our Experience

Maestro Classics aims to create recordings in the tradition of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and they have certainly succeeded with this offering.  There were several moments as we listened when I was reminded of that old favorite.  I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t familiar with the music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.  I grew up loving ballet, playing the music from the Nutcracker Suite on the piano, and enjoying both live and video performances every Christmas.  I want my children to feel the same kinship with the music that I have always felt, and this recording will ensure that it finds a place in their hearts.

I was a little worried that the one-hour adaptation would leave me feeling like I’d missed out, but Simon has done an admirable job of creating a seamless piece that leaves little wanting.  I do wish the Dance of the Reed Pipes had been more complete, but aside from that nothing jumped out at me as being left out of the original score (though obviously quite a bit more had been cut to fit it all within an hour).

One thing I have appreciated about previous Maestro Classics albums is the background information about both the music and the composer, and I was a little disappointed to find that aspect missing from The Nutcracker.  This CD is pure, delightful entertainment, and my children enjoyed it all the more for simply telling the story.  It is beautiful all on its own, but I think it would be even better followed by a live performance of the ballet, and I hope we can find one to attend this Christmas.  I know my children will enjoy it more than ever thanks to this recording.  It is true storytelling magic and a wonderful addition to our holiday season!

Maestro Classics Review

Crew Disclaimer

More Classical Music My Kids Love

One of the subjects I’d like to be a part of our children’s education is music appreciation.  Ian’s already learning to play piano and enjoy making music through a Yamaha course, but I also want to help them all become familiar with some of the beautiful music that has been enjoyed for centuries through a little composer study à la Charlotte Mason.  Our children are still so young, but my plan for the next few years until we are “officially” homeschooling is to gradually add in the subjects that I want to be a part of our curriculum.  Otherwise it would be pretty overwhelming when Ian turns six if I suddenly try to jump into everything at once.  So since I have a fairly extensive background in music (not to mention an absurdly large collection of classical music CDs), I’ve decided now is a good time to start being a little more intentional in this area. (I tend to think in terms of the schoolyear starting in August, even though I intend to homeschool year round, taking breaks as we need them rather than a big summer holiday)

Last year I shared about some of the music we started listening to when they were quite little in the post “Music My Preschoolers Love.”  They still enjoy all those pieces, but now they’re also ready for a few more mature findings.  Yes, they’re SO mature now that the oldest is 4 1/2.  Seriously though, having been exposed to it early has made them more open to hearing things not necessarily meant for children so young.  I especially like finding CDs or other audio files that explain a bit about the music and give the kids something specific to be listening for.  For example, after hearing the composer tell about using tubas to portray the big boats in Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Elijah started asking, “Mommy, is that the big tubas?” every time they played.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam ShovelThat CD is the first one we bought from the Maestro Classics series.  It was such a hit, both with the boys and with me, that I also decided to get Peter and the Wolf, even though we already have another recording of this piece. I just really like all the extras that come on their albums–(plus the Peter and the Wolf (MP3) was just $5 thanks to a coupon from HomeschoolShare–they’re also sponsoring a giveaway until the end of July so check it out!)  And we just got The Soldier’s Tale to include in the last week of our July composer study on Stravinsky (post coming soon).  I’ve put the rest on the kids’ wishlists for gift ideas and I hope we can eventually collect the whole set.  Here are all the titles available:

The Maestro Classics website also has homeschool curriculum guides with lots of great suggestions for integrating different subjects with the music from each CD.Beethoven Lives Upstairs

Another great resource for exposing your children to the works of the great composers is the Classical Kids series.  A fellow homeschooler shared these with us, and while I haven’t yet listened to all of them yet, they get great reviews.  They tell a story about the composers’ lives, using various pieces of their music throughout the CD.  What a great way to help your kids become familiar with the unique musical “voice” of different composers!  Over the next school year I’ll be using these as the framework for our composer study, choosing one CD a month and supplementing with podcasts from Classics for Kids (lots of great resources there!), music from my own collection and kid-friendly biographies from the library.

There are two additional Classical Kids CDs that are thematic rather than being about a particular composer.

And just in case you needed any more ideas, I’ve recently added to our music library a couple other albums combining classical music (or classical style) with engaging stories.  We’ll be listening to Ferdinand the Bull and Friends when we “row” The Story of Ferdinand.   And although our listening schedule looks pretty packed this year, I’m really looking forward to queezing in some time for the award-winning Baroque Adventure: The Quest for Arundo Donax

Wow!  That’s a lot of music!  I hope you’ll try out some of our suggestions and share some of your family’s favorites in the comments. 🙂

(If you’re interested in implementing Charlotte Mason-style composer study in your home, check out Ultimate Guide to Composer Study over at Homegrown Learners for lots of great information and ideas!)

Classical Music My Preschoolers Love

Bernstein Favorites: Children's ClassicsYesterday as I was driving Ian home from his music lesson, he requested the same music we’d listened to on the way over.  It made me smile that he enjoyed it so much, and it got me thinking about some of the classical music that has really “clicked” with him over the last year or two.  So I thought I’d share some of our favorites.

When Ian was two, I decided to start being intentional about providing him with classical music to listen to and enjoy.  The first thing I thought of was Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.  There are many different recordings available, but I chose the one from the CD Bernstein’s Favorites: Children’s Classics because it also contained some other pieces I liked.  To introduce the story I read it to him from a couple different books.  I bought the first one because it was a nice stand-alone story even without referencing the music.  Then I ran across another version at the library bookstore and figured it was worth 50 cents for another one that talked a little about the instruments that play the themes for each character.  (It’s an older copy and I couldn’t find it on Amazon, but it’s similar in idea to this one, which comes with a CD.)  Ian also loved the old Disney video of the story.  (I saw a number of VHS copies on Amazon, but as far as DVD, I could only find it on Make Mine Music, a collection of different musical vignettes).  Ian was enchanted by this story right from the start, and it continues to be one of his favorite things to listen to in the car.  (His enthusiasm is contagious, because now Elijah is really getting into it as well.)

The second piece I thought Ian would like was the Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens.  This one took a little longer to grow on him, but we’ve listened to it a lot, and there are certain parts he really likes (the “Royal March of the Lion” and the “Fossils” are his favorites).  We have two recordings of this.  It is also on the Bernstein’s Favorites: Children’s Classics I mentioned above.  In this recording, Bernstein provides some explanation for the music that goes with each animal, which can be helpful at first, but I find it a little tiresome after a while.  I prefer listening to the straight music on the CD that came with a book that helps kids know what they’re listening to with each piece.  The book is better for older children, but I just summarize the information for Ian, and he loves looking at the pictures.

Hansel & Gretel/ Alice in WonderlandThe latest addition to our children’s classical library was Hansel and Gretel.  I wanted to introduce Ian to the music from Humperdinck’s opera without overwhelming him with the entire thing.  I was hoping to find a CD version of the Disney vinyl record I listened to growing up, but it doesn’t seem to exist.  So then I searched for something with just highlights in English, preferrably with some narration.  The only album I found that met those criteria was this one that also included a telling of Alice in Wonderland set to music.  (However, Ian’s been so thrilled with Hansel and Gretel, we keep going back to listen to it again and haven’t made it to the second half of the CD, so I can’t comment on that yet!)

If your preschooler has become attached to a particular piece of classical music, please add a comment–we’d love suggestions!

Update: For more ideas, check out “More Classical Music My Kids Love“!