Tag Archives: music

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}
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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

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Happy Kids Songs (Crew Review)

Looking for a fun way of teaching character education?  You might be interested in the children’s music we recently received from Happy Kids Songs.  We were given three albums to review: Friends & Sharing, Manners & Character, and Happiness & Attitude, as well as the Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills.

Happy Kids Songs Collage

What is it?

Happy Kids Songs is a series of children’s albums created by Don MacMannis (aka “Dr. Mac”), a child psychologist and award-winning songwriter.  The songs are intended to teach character as well as social and emotional skills that will help kids make choices that will lead to happiness and success. The website has links to download the music through either iTunes or amazon.com.  Each mp3 album contains 5 songs (downloadable separately or as a set).  Here are the songs on the three albums we got a chance to review: Happy Kids Songs ReviewFriends & Sharing (#1)

  • Sailing on the Seven C’s
  • Everybody Wants to Find a Friend
  • Sharing Friends
  • Happy as Happy Can Be
  • Together

Happy Kids Songs ReviewManners & Character (#6)

  • H-o-n-e-s-t-y
  • Quirks
  • Six Little Kids
  • The Golden Rule
  • The Magic Word

Happy Kids Songs ReviewHappiness & Attitude (#7)

  • Be Good to Yourself
  • Better Together
  • I Don’t Understand
  • Shake It Out and Dance
  • Who Knows What’s a Kudo?

Other albums in the series cover Social Skills & Bullying (#2), Feelings and Fears (#3), Practice and Success (#4), Talking and Listening (#5), and Respect and Responsibility (#8). Happy Kids Songs ReviewThe companion workbook goes along with the songs from all the albums and has two main sections.  The first includes lyrics to the songs as well as activity pages (e.g. word searches, dot-to-dots, and coloring pages). The second part of the book contains suggestions of other learning activities related to each song, mostly designed for larger groups of children. The copyright allows you to reproduce the workbook pages for a co-op or in a classroom. Everything in the softcover workbook is actually available for FREE on the Happy Kids Songs website, but purchasing the workbook saves the trouble of downloading and printing the 80 files individually.

Our Experience with Happy Kids Songs

At first, we just listened all the way through the 15 songs we were given.  Dr. Mac talks about “seeding” the songs with kids, just getting them familiar with them before discussing the meaning.  After this initial exposure, we focused on just one or two songs at a time to addressing specific things that came up with our kids.

It was really helpful to have the lyrics so we could follow along and break down the songs during our discussion.  Once we talked through the words, my kids (well, the 4- and 6-year olds, at least) were able to listen more carefully and sing along.

I think Happy Kids Songs are a wonderful resource for parents (or teachers).  Each song teaches a valuable lesson, and the albums are a great addition to any character education program.  Here are a few of my favorite songs:

  • “6 Little Kids” tells the story of 6 children who close their eyes and try to describe an elephant based on what they can feel in front of them.  Each one describes something very different.  Sometimes it is tempting to think someone is wrong for seeing a situation differently, but it’s important to remember that we each have a unique perspective.
  • “The Golden Rule” relays Jesus’ classic advice to “Just do to others what you would like them to do to you.”  How many times a day do I remind my children of this?  Having a song to sing helps me keep the message fresh so they don’t just tune me out.
  • “Shake it Out and Dance” addresses the issue of “I can’t.”  I have one child who says this constantly, and I’m working really hard to break the habit.  The song is a fun reminder that it’s better to try than to just hold back by saying, “I can’t.”

I also really like the workbook.  My kids love the activity pages in the first section, but I found the second half of the book to be most valuable part of the whole program.  There are so many great suggestions for helping teach the lesson of each song.  For example, here are some of the ideas to go along with “Who Knows What’s a Kudo?” First you see the main point of the lesson:

Focus: Giving and receiving compliments

Social and Emotional concepts:

  • Seeing the best in others
  • Focusing on the positive
  • Thanking people for their efforts

Then there are several suggestions for activities (which I’ve just summarized here):

    • Pair the children up and have them each say three positive things about each other.  Then write those things on a cards and have the larger group try to figure out who each card is describing.
    • Make acrostics of each child’s name having them think of positive words to go with each letter, like these that the boys and I did together.  (They really enjoyed this and wanted to do one for Arianna, but I wasn’t sure I could come up with three positive “A” words for a 2-year old so I said we’d hold off on that!)


  • Make “friendship soup” by having the children brainstorm different friendship traits and write them on separate cards.  Then put all the cards in a bowl and stir them up with a big spoon.  Have the children each draw a card, read the trait, and name another person in the group who demonstrates that trait.

There are ideas like this for each song.  While most of them are designed for a classroom setting, many are easily adaptable for families to use as well.

Just the Facts

  • This is geared for ages 4-8, but my younger children also enjoyed the music.
  • Songs – $.99 each (available to download individually)
  • Albums (5 songs on each) – $4.95
  • Happy Kids Songs Workbook – $12.56

Final Thoughts

I don’t plan to continue using Happy Kids Songs on a regular basis, though I might pull some of them out again at some point.  For one thing, I’m rather fussy about musical styles, and these songs weren’t to my particular taste.  (I never heard any complaints from my kids though, so I think they enjoyed them.)

However, the main reason I don’t see them as something our family will use is because I prefer to keep our character education rooted in the Bible so my kids will be able to connect decisions about their attitudes and behavior with God’s truth.  Many of the lessons taught in Happy Kids Songs stem from biblical concepts, but I would be more inclined to use them if I had an quick reference that listed Bible verses to go along with each song.  If I ever end up back in a public school classroom, however, these would be a great resource!

Connect With Happy Kids Songs on Social Media:

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Experiencing History Through Music (Review)

banner lgOne of my favorite memories of elementary school is sitting in the multi-purpose room with dozens of other kids singing folk songs as my beloved 1st AND 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Gilliam, strummed along on the guitar.  That’s where I learned classic American songs like “Oh, Susanna,” “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain,” and of course, the “Star-Spangled Banner.”  Singing the same songs that generations of Americans had sung before me gave me a sense of connection and belonging.  I want to pass on that heritage to my own children, so I have been thrilled to be a part of the launch of the “Experiencing History Through Music” series from Diana Waring.

About Diana Waring

IMG_20140613_094448I was familiar the name Diana Waring from her History Revealed curriculum and her books Beyond Survival and Reaping the Harvest.  The former is at the forefront of my mind for history as our children get older, and the latter have been sitting in my “to be read” pile for some time.  As we’ve been preparing for the launch of this series, I’ve gotten to know more about her, and I’ve realized she is definitely a kindred spirit. (Beyond Survival may have to be my next book for “Mentoring Mondays”!) I had to go find her at the Great Homeschool Convention and introduce myself (and my sleeping Nicholas), and I immediately wished I could invite her over to dinner to spend some time soaking in some of her homeschooling wisdom.

Diana shares a passion for two of my favorite subjects: history and music.  I love this story she shared with the launch team of how she started integrating the two:

Back in 1989, after I had been struggling for about three years with homeschooling (my kids and I were ALL bored!!!), a friend suggested that I attend the state homeschool convention (in Tacoma, WA). . . In those days, the main way to learn more about homeschooling was to attend a convention—oh, how times have changed!!
The problem was I couldn’t afford it. My dh was a public school band teacher, we were single income, and there simply wasn’t anything extra in the budget. When I voiced that concern, my friend said, “Oh, you should teach a workshop! That way, they pay you $50, give you some mileage to get up to the convention, and you get in FREE!!” Looking at her in amazement, I asked, “What on earth would I teach????”
She pulled out the previous year’s convention schedule, with its varied workshops, and handed it to me. Quickly glancing down the list, I noted that the ONLY music workshop was using classical music in the home and that there were NO history workshops. At that moment, an idea was born.
Why not teach American history through its folk music?
That was the start of twenty-five years as a homeschool speaker (yes, the convention wanted my workshop) and as a homeschool writer/ curriculum producer.
Never saw this coming, but, oh, what a life we have shared!!

Eventually she went on to create books of stories about historical songs and helped record music albums to go along with them.  When the company that was publishing the sets went out of business, it looked like the audio masters were lost and all the work that had gone into producing the series would be fruitless from that point on.  Evidently, however, God still wanted to bless people through it, because the music was found and restored, and Diana has rewritten many of the stories with even more fascinating details for a new generation of homeschoolers to enjoy. (Read the miraculous story of their restoration on Diana’s blog.  It really is amazing!)

About Experiencing History Through Music

booksAs the name of this series implies, these book and CD sets allow you to Experience History Through Music. Each title contains one book and one CD. The pages of the books hold dozens of historical pictures, bright and interesting stories connecting each of the songs to its moment in history, even sheet music and chord charts! The CDs are rousing, professional recordings that draw in all listeners.

These three book/CD sets are a wonderful supplement to any American history curriculum:

  • Westward Ho!–The Heart of the Old West
  • America–The Heart of a New Nation
  • Music Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Here’s a brief introduction to each one.

Westward Ho!–The Heart of the Old West

WestwardAmerica’s westward expansion is amazingly rich in stories and songs.  In Westward Ho!, you will find the pioneer spirit that stirred the hearts of thousands of Americans to leave the safety and comfort of home expressed in folk songs of or about that time.  Now you can experience the pioneers’ adventures, dangers, joys, sorrows and hopes as you join in and sing along with these songs:

  1.  Apple Picker’s Reel
  2. Boll Weevil
  3. Missionary’s Farewell
  4. Oh, California
  5. Ho! For California
  6. San Juan Pig War
  7. Chisholm Trail
  8. Westward Ho!
  9. Home On The Range
  10. Little Old Sod Shanty
  11. Strawberry Roan
  12. Old Settler
  13. Gooey Duck
  14. Little Cabin in the Cascade Mountains

We enjoyed the whole CD, but “Gooey Duck” (about giant clams in Puget Sound called geoducks) became a new favorite in our house.  We’ve been caught singing it all over town, even in the grocery store!

America: The Heart of a New Nation

AmericaFrom the French and Indian War to the first transcontinental railroad, America is a chronological tour of American history through its music. Enjoy the songs and stories of our past that have been shared from generation to generation—songs that make you laugh, make you cry, and make your patriotic spirit soar.

  1. Yankee Doodle
  2. Star-Spangled Banner
  3. Erie Canal
  4. Oh! Susanna
  5. Sweet Betsy From Pike
  6. All Night, All Day
  7. Old Dan Tucker
  8. Wade in the Water
  9. Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier
  10. When Johnny Comes Marching Home
  11. Shenandoah
  12. Get Along L’il Dogies
  13. Drill Ye Tarriers
  14. Polly Wolly Doodle
  15. She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain
  16. Old Joe Clark

Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura IngallsThis was the title that first captured my attention when I learned about this series.  I read the first two “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ian a few months ago, and as we came to song after song I wished I knew the melodies to sing along.  It seemed like so many of these historical treasures had faded away into the past.

I was thrilled to get this book and CD to help make those songs more real to our family. Elijah adored “Pop Goes the Weasel,” and it reminded me of the scene in Little House in the Big Woods when Laura and Mary are enjoying Pa playing that one on his fiddle, trying to catch the “pop!” as he plucked the string.  I imagine their giggles sounded a lot like my little ones’ as they enjoyed the silly song.

This is the only book in the series not written by Diana Waring.  Written by William Anderson, noted Laura Ingalls Wilder biographer, the book also includes beautiful photos by internationally known Little House photographer, Leslie A. Kelly.  The loved stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder will come to life all over again as you listen to the songs that were a part of life for the Ingalls and thousands of other pioneering families.

This book takes readers back through songs referenced in almost all books in the Little House series:

  1.  Wait for the Wagon (On the Banks of Plum Creek)
  2. Green Grows the Laurel (Little House On the Prairie)
  3. The Old Chariot (The Long Winter)
  4. Buy a Broom (By the Shores of Silver Lake)
  5. Sweet By and By (The Long Winter)
  6. Rock Me to Sleep (Little Town on the Prairie)
  7. Buffalo Gals (Little House in the Big Woods)
  8. A Railroad Man for Me (By the Shores of Silver Lake)
  9. Beware (By the Shores of Silver Lake)
  10. Pop! Goes the Weasel (Little House in the Big Woods)
  11. Oft in the Stilly Night (By the Shores of Silver Lake)
  12. The Girl I Left Behind Me (On the Banks of Plum Creek)
  13. My Sabbath Home (On the Banks of Plum Creek, These Happy Golden Years)

How We Used It

Because my children are all young, I didn’t use this series to its fullest potential (yet!)  We listened to all the CDs many times, to the point that all my children ages 2 and up were singing along to their favorites (and requesting them over and over again).  I read the stories on my own and then retold certain ones as we drove along in the car.

With my oldest, I sat and looked at the pictures as I told him some of the stories.  He also really enjoyed having the book as we listened and sang.  He followed along in the sheet music so he could learn the words more quickly as we drove.

I know when we study American history in the future we will be getting out these albums and digging deeper into the stories to enrich our understanding of the various time periods represented.

What We Liked

First and foremost, we loved the music.  These are BEAUTIFUL recordings of the songs.  I loved that many familiar tunes included less familiar verses.  Even without the books, the CDs would be a great addition to any American family music library.

Thankfully, you get the books too!  America was probably my favorite of the three.  Not only were the songs the most familiar, but the stories struck a deep emotional chord with me.

I love the story of “Yankee Doodle.”  What a wonderful lesson for children that they don’t have to be beaten down when people call them unkind names!  The British made fun of the rough American soldiers during the French and Indian War, calling them “doodles” because they seemed so foolish compared to the polished British soldiers.  The Americans didn’t hang their heads in shame.  Rather, when the Revolution came about and they found themselves fighting against the British, they made up new lyrics for the originally insulting song and showed that they were anything but foolish.

Imagine what it must have felt like for the British when, during the surrender ceremony at Yorktown, “Yankee Doodle” was played once again–this time to celebrate the American victory.  Turns out the Americans weren’t such “doodles” after all, were they?

I hope my children can learn to see that other people’s insults don’t have to define them.  After all, God uses the foolish things of the world to shame the “wise.”

Capture2The most moving story was definitely “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  I love that it is now more than just a song the children hear at baseball games.  Even though I already knew the story, it still gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes as I passed it on to them.

If I Could Make Any Changes…

I wish the illustrations could have been in color.  Many of the pictures were originally black and white, so it wasn’t necessary for those, but others looked like they were of paintings, and I would have loved to see them in full color.

I also would love a sequel to the Laura Ingalls Wilder book.  There are so many more songs in the pages of the Little House books that I would love to bring to life for our family!

diana waring available nowJust the Facts

  • Suitable for all ages
  • Each book/CD set sells for $18.99
  • For the month of July, collection of all 3 sets is on sale for $50!

One Final Word

 We loved these sets, and I highly recommend them as part of any family’s study of American history.  I’m looking forward to seeing Diana’s next project (after she completes something currently in progress), which will be a full curriculum for American history. She told us, “It will be focused on elementary grades, and will be a LOT like my world history curriculum — fascinating fun, great opportunities to choose what looks most interesting, and an integrated unit-study style/Charlotte mason approach to history.”  Our family can’t wait to see it!