Aug 31, 2012

Little Musician review

I have been using Little Musician with my children for about a week now, and I wanted to give a full review since the product is on sale until September 2nd.  You can read my full review on my other site here:

Little Musician Review

Little Musician is available at 
Get 10% off with affiliate coupon code BKAFF13180

Little Musician is a new software-based curriculum designed to give babies through preschoolers a foundational understanding of music.

A little back story

A few years ago, I remember reading this excerpt from Glenn Doman’s “How to give your Baby Encyclopedic Knowledge”

“Babies can learn absolutely anything that you can present to them in an honest and factual way and they don’t give a fig whether it is encyclopedic knowledge, reading words, math, or nonsense for that matter.

They’d prefer great things—reading, math, all the presidents of the United States, the nations of Europe, the great art of the world, the song birds of the eastern states, the snakes of the world, the kings and queens of England, the great music of the world, the international traffic signs, the dinosaurs, the state flowers, or any of the millions of fascinating things there are to know on this old earth.

But they’ll even take nonsense if that’s all they can get.”
Despite the humor in the last line, this quote stirred me deeply.  I immediately questioned to myself as to how I could teach my children the great things of the world.  “The great music of the world.”  What does that mean?  As a trained musician, I felt a duty to succeed in that aspect of my children’s training.

So far, it has been a haphazard approach.

I’ve checked out books at the library about composers.  I developed “Beginning Rhythm” with Doman’s philosophy in mind.  I’ve played classical music excerpts to my children.  I’ve even developed a solfege manipulative system that I will be releasing within a couple of weeks.  Music is one area that I really want to succeed in teaching my children well.  I have a lot of resources to do it, from instruments, books, and recordings, and I have the skills to do it well.  So far, our music program has been fairly good.  However, it feels like I'm taking a stab in the dark to get it done.

Backing up a little, I want to look at my reading program with the kids.  I worked very hard to make materials to teach my oldest how to read.  I read several books, I made flash cards, I tried different approaches, and materials.  It wasn’t until I purchased “Your Baby Can Read” that we got our foot in the door, and then, I still had a lot of work to help him get to the stage where he was independently reading books.  Now, in hindsight, I look back and I can see what worked and what didn’t, and I felt more prepared to teach my other children.  Everything that worked was in BrillKids reading system, “Little Reader”.  I bought it, I love it, and I’m amazed at the scope of the program.  I just have to push play for a few minutes every day, and my younger children will learn to read.  I’m a busy mom with 4 little kids, and I need that help if I’m going to be consistent with their reading progress.

Why little Musician is a good fit for our family

Consistency.  That is what my music program was lacking.  Not only that, but after reading some of the success stories of other parents in the BrillKids forum, I realized that I may be cutting my own children short as to the scope of our program.  I had to eat a little humble pie, and admit that while I do have the resources and training, I could use a little help.

Little Musician has daily lessons that are short, thorough, and taught through the right-brain education methods espoused by Glenn Doman.  The lesson presents musical bits of intelligence in a fast paced, engaging way.  My children love it!

Each lesson teaches bits in the following categories: 

Chord recognition (similar to the Eugichi’s perfect pitch program), Music Appreciation (an exceprt from famous musical literature), note sounds on the staff, solfege, instrument recognition (including an avatar playing the instrument, to show how it is played), ear training, and steady beat practice sessions.  Famous composers are also taught during the course.

There is one lesson for every day, but because of the nature of the software, I can show the same lesson to my children twice and it will be different every time.  For example, Lesson 4 teaches the concept of “Ludwig van Beethoven”.  A voice says his name, we see a picture, and hear a 5-10 second sample of one of his famous pieces.  However, what picture is shown, which voice says the name, and which sample we hear changes every time.  The concept of “Beethoven” repeats throughout the course, so there is plenty of opportunity for children to get the whole picture, but I like doing music twice a day for now, and I love the variety the software allows.

At the end of every lesson, the lesson takes you to a resource page with links to YouTube to supplement each lesson.  Where ever possible, the musicians demonstrating a concept are children.  We have really enjoyed this supplement, and I appreciate all of the moms in the beta testing team that volunteered their time to help find these videos.  (I should have but didn't.)

I love solfege and ear training.  I think they are important.  I didn’t learn these things until I took Aural Skills in college.  Many of my fellow students hated these classes, and I’ll admit that it was a lot of work for me as well.  But I never hated it, I loved it.  It offered a fresh perspective, a paradigm shift, if you will, for how I listened to music, for how I internalized it.  Then I had the opportunity to internship with a superb children’s choir, where I saw how young children could thrive on those basic aural skills.  I vowed that my future children would have that opportunity.  Little Musician is worth it for the ear training alone.

Solfege.  That brings me to another point about Little Musician.  I was a member of the beta testing group for Little Musician, and I remember that there was a lot of discussion on whether the program should teach “Movable Do”, or “Fixed Do.”  What each is, and the pros and cons of each, are beautifully explained in BrillKids’ free e-book, “Everything you need to know about Teaching your Young Child Music.”

I was disappointed when they decided to teach “Fixed Do” with this program.  I see the merits of both, and have been trained in both, but I prefer “Movable Do” for my children.  “Little Musician” is an international product.  Their audience spans six continents, and they come from many different cultures.  That were sitting in the hot spot, trying to please everybody in the forum, but ultimately they had to make a choice.

"Moveable Do” is more prevalent in the United States.  I had a lot of things going on in my life, preparing for a new baby and what have you, and I stopped being active in the forum when they chose “Fixed Do”, thinking the product would be incompatible for my children.  The product was released last June, and with school starting, I re-examined the product for my children.  

Little Musician has two semesters of content, with the first semester focusing on “C Major”.  In C Major, it doesn’t matter whether you teach “Fixed Do” or “Movable Do”, as it is the same.  Also, because you receive the software with the program, I can easily edit the content in the second semester to fit my needs.  I can record my own voice singing the scale, and tell the computer to use my singing instead of their voice recordings.  I can change the note heads used.  I can add my own sound clips.  All of this is optional, but for me, the ability to customize the software was a great bonus.  In the second semester, I will leave 95 percent of each lesson as it is, and I can tweak the rest of the lesson to reflect my personal preferences.  I really like that.

Why Little Musician may not be a good fit for you

If you have a preference for Moveable Do, you will either have to tweak the system like I will, or eliminate portions of each lesson in the second semester.  I say it’s better to learn “Fixed Do” than “No Do”.  It really doesn’t matter that much which system your child learns, there really are benefits to both.

Another point.  Little Musician has a broad spectrum of music appreciation skills that are beneficial to any age group.  I’m learning new things with my children, even with my college degree in music.  I’m a little rusty in my aural skills, I’ll admit it.  I’m making my husband listen to the lessons too.  It’s good for him.  However, it is important to note that Little Musician was created with the baby and toddler in mind.  The names of the composers are presented in a way to help young children read the words, with an arrow pointing left to right.  Syllables are also color coded to help young children divide the word, reinforcing phonics.  This is fantastic if your child is very young like mine, but you may want to tweak the programming for an older child if they perceive that aspect to be “baby-ish”.

But speaking of baby-ish, there is a greater offence.  In the clap-along session, the avatar is a toddler boy or girl, clearly depicted in a diaper.  You can turn the picture off, but you still see said avatar at the end of the lesson, acting as a conductor, wearing a tuxedo shirt with the diaper and bare legs showing underneath.  It’s cute if your student is a young child, or if they are older watching on as their younger sibling does the program.  But for the 8-12 crowd, it screams “baby product”, and they may not want to have anything to with the program.  It just wouldn’t be cool.  I’m going to give BrillKids that feedback, in hopes that they may add an older avator to the program.  That’s all it needs to be a great program for these older children.  For that matter, the material in little musician would be great for high-schoolers, or college students.  Even mommies with a musical background like me.  But taking it all in with a diapered avatar is a bit much for some to swallow.  My husband joked that if you replaced the baby avatar with a gothic teenager, and switched out the nursery rhymes for punk rock, you would have guitar hero.  The steady beat concept taught is the same.

The only other reason it may not be a good fit is the price.  It’s a premium product.  Yes, it’s only a computer software, but it took 4 years of development, and then 6 months of beta testing to get it where it is today.  A lot of parents volunteered to gather YouTube videos to supplement each lesson, as well as offer suggestions for music clips in the appreciation portions of the lesson.  It takes a lot of work to create digital products.  I should know, my husband does it for a living, and I’ve dabbled in it myself.  That work has a cost, and it is reflected in Little Musician’s $199 price tag.  I came up with the money by deciding not to enroll my preschooler in the local children’s choir.  I figure that it will give my children a solid foundation in music that will save money/time teaching these concepts to my children later on.  It’s a great deal really, but it’s still not cheap.  Unless you’re rich, it will take some budgeting to add Little Musician to your resources.  Only you can make that decision for your family.

In Summary

As a musician, and an Early Learning advocate, I whole-heartedly give Little Musician 5 stars.  It’s essentially my dream product for my kids.  They love it, and so do I.  There are a lot of music products and curriculums out there, many of them very good, but I really do think that this is one of the better ones.  Daily lessons, and you just need to push play.  Technology plays a big part in our emerging world culture, and I think that media is especially important for music as it is aural in nature.  Music can’t be fully experienced in a book.  It can be experienced in the head only after the learner has heard the music itself.  Little Musician gives young children that aural experience.  I highly recommend Little Musician.

Aug 29, 2012

Adventures in Dvorak

First of all, this is not a music post, and I'm not going to talk about the composer except for this disclaimer.  I'm going to talk about typing.

My husband is a computer software engineer.  He spends a lot of time on the computer.  About two years ago, he started to experience symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.  His hands would cramp up while he was typing.  As he has always been fascinated by ergonomic products and procedures, he started researching what he could do to make typing more comfortable for him.  His research led him to Dvorak.

There is a lot on the web about what Dvorak is, how and why it was developed, studies comparing Dvorak to QWERTY.  We ultimately decided to go with Dvorak, and we haven't looked back.  Michael's cramps mostly stopped, although his pinkies get more tired as Dvorak puts them to work a little more.  I joined him, and after about a month of adapting through sight-typing (we put stickers on our keyboard), I was up to my old speed.  I make fewer typing errors now, and I love it.

So then comes the question, "What are we going to do for our children?"  Oh boy.  We have discussed this at great length.  The biggest advantage to QWERTY is that qwerty is standard.  Everywhere you go, if you use a public computer, it will be in qwerty.  There are myriads of typing programs for children designed for qwerty.  Shortcuts on the computer like copy and paste were designed for QWERTY.  After we became proficient in Dvorak, we discovered Colemak, which leaves common shortcuts where they are, as well as a few other keys.  They say that Colemak is easier to switch to from QWERTY than Dvorak is, but that Dvorak is easier to learn from scratch.

Think about this for a minute.  Look on your home-row and see how many words you can make with the letters on your home-row.


Wow, one of them isn't even a letter.  How many vowels?  One.  On Wheel of Fortune, at the end they give you "RSTLNE" because those are the most commonly used letters.  How many on the home row?  Two, S and L.

With Dvorak, you have all of the vowels on the home row.


There are a lot more words that you can make with the home-row keys.  All of the vowels are in the left hand, and "RSTLN" is all in the right hand, with three on the home-row.

Colemak may be more efficient, but that month of switching over was a pain, and neither Michael or I type enough to make it worth the effort.  Which is better?  It's a toss-up.  I have plugged in a few of my blog posts in a keyboard layout analyzer, and Dvorak wins over Colemak for my typing/language habits.  We are staying put.

*Edit:  For kicks and giggles, here are the results of this blog post:  (I use Simplified Dvorak).  It's tiny, but Dvorak and Colemak are close at 65%, and Qwerty falls far behind at 52%.  I don't know anything about Capewell.

Will we do our children a disservice by teaching them an unconventional way of typing?  Well, that's up for debate.  On our home computers, we use Dvorak, and where we homeschool, his exposure to other computers will be slim.  The local library has only mouse-driven programs for kids.  Starfall is the same way.  Michael and I still hunt and peck QWERTY on the iPad on a daily basis, but that kind of typing is different enough from Dvorak that we both can sub-consciously make the switch easily and well.

However, while we discussed the logistics, and pros and cons, there was a problem happening for our little boy that we only recently noticed.  I had Dvorak stickers on my keyboard, but the keyboard died.  Michael pulled out an old one for me and I have been using it.  Since I could already touch-type Dvorak well when this happened, we didn't worry about buying stickers again.

Big mistake.

Peter uses my computer.  He is a bright child and knows how to navigate well with a mouse.  He knows where the search engine is.  Over the last few months, I have come to my computer noticing several searches for "ttttttttttttttttttppppppppppfffffffff"   Or "tpfyr".  I didn't think much of it, thinking that the younger kids had been banging on the computer.  Then one day, I noticed Peter being very frustrated on the computer.  "What's wrong?" I asked.  "Your keyboard is broken, Mommy."  All of this time, he has been trying to type "Krypto" into the search engine so that he could watch "Krypto the Superdog" on YouTube.

Oh dear!  Here my husband and I are trying to be a techie family, teaching our children how to use technology, and a love for computers, and while we have been discussing all the benefits of Dvorak for our kids, we were unknowingly giving our oldest child a handicap.  How on earth could he have known about an alternate keyboard layout without us telling him?  Why would he even think that?

Big oops.  Well, the stickers are in the mail now, and hopefully we can remedy the situation.  When we explained what had happened to Peter, the look of relief on his face was very evident.  He had wondered if typing would be too hard for him, and when we told him that we had failed him, and that we were sorry, it really boosted his confidence.  He is excited to learn how to type his own blog posts.  (he started a private blog this year).

So, the moral of the story is, if you decide to switch to a different keyboard layout, there can be a lot of benefits.  If there are children in the home, let them in on your little secret.

Hmm, it may be time to look into a net-nanny program as well.  That's a debate/discussion for another day.

Aug 20, 2012

BrillKids Little Reader review

*edit*  The two week trial for Little Reader is a 14-day trial, AND the first two weeks worth of material.

Here's a little of our back-story: (Skip if you have already been following my blog)

It all goes back to Glenn Doman, and my discovery of his book, "How to teach your baby to read".  It changed my life!  I read it when my oldest was less than a year old, and I became very enthusiastic about the whole process.  I made lots of flash cards and got started.  But then a few discussions with others as I discussed the whole-word method, and with my own prejudices against it, I decided to try a phonetic method instead.  If you are curious, you can see what we tried and why I think it didn't work in this earlier post:

A year and a half ago, we purchased Your Baby Can Read.  We love their program, and are so very sad that their company went under last month due to legal battles with a company that didn't like them.  I wrote a tribute to YBCR, with a home video of my children reading.

I maintain that you don't have to have a fancy program to teach your baby, toddler, or preschooler to read.  Doman's method has worked for thousands of parents.  Companies like YBCR, BrillKids, and MonkiSee were designed to help parents with his method, but you don't need their products to be successful.  You can buy index cards and write a bunch of words on the blank side, and show them to your child and joyfully tell them what the word says.  Start with words that have special meaning to your child, like the names of family members, or parts of the body.  Make labels and tape them around your house, so that the computer is labeled "computer", the couch is labeled "couch", and so on.  Read lots of books to your child and make a habit of running your finger under the words as you read.  Play games where you make labels for a group of toys and show your child the word.  Ask them to get the toy that goes with the card.  There are a myriad of games and activities like that that will make learning to read fun for you and your child.  I have outlined some of my favorite reading resources in my Reading Update.

Where we are now:

Recently my husband asked me "So what's next for Peter?"  What a profound question!  He still needs to learn some basic skills like how to write, but he is on a fourth-grade reading level, and is accomplished academically in many other areas.  Now, at age five, he is ready for desk work, and he is the trailblazer in our homeschooling journey.  I know that I need to spend a lot of time and effort to help him excel, and that's where I want to put my efforts this fall.  What an exciting time this is for our family!  Peter is not gifted, he has just had access to an early learning education.  It has been a joyful experience for our family.  His three-year-old sister wants to read books like him, and she is progressing rapidly.  Even our 23-month-old is well on his way to learning how to read.

All of this without Little Reader.

So why do I come to it now?  Well, I watched their recent promotional video and saw a few things about it that I really liked.

Why Little Reader is a good fit for our family

  • I now have four kids ages 5 and under, and I simply don't have the time to devote to teaching my younger kids to read that I did with my older two.  This program is a ready-made curriculum and all you have to do is push "play" two times a day for five minutes as you sit with your little child.  I don't have to remember which flash cards we have seen and what's coming next.
  • When the reading sessions are at the computer, the baby can't eat the flashcards.  :o)
  • This program also incorporates Doman's philosophy of teaching Encyclopedic Knowledge.  These reading lessons will increase my children's vocabulary and their awareness of the world that surrounds them.  Now that I have the program and have previewed upcoming lessons, I know that my own vocabulary will increase as well.  Have you ever heard of a durian?  Maybe, but I hadn't.  Then again, vocabulary never was one of my strong-points.
  • This program is comprehensive and finishes with your child reading simple books.  "Your Baby Can Read" was fantastic for teaching my oldest how to read more than 100 words.  But then what?  While there were a few phrases in YBCR, and Peter could read several individual words, I was on my own to make the transition to reading actual books.  We have a fantastic library here in Logan with books like Thomas the Train and Diego the Animal Rescuer.  Those books were highly motivating for Peter, but we had to make that transition ourselves.  Doman's book was instrumental in helping me accomplish that.  In little reader, Doman's recommendations are built in.  It goes from single words ("cup") to couplets (two words like "pink cup"), to short sentences ("I drink from a pink cup"), to actual books.  The 25 books that come with Little Reader are a new development, and my children will be reading them by the time we finish the course.  (The Little Reader books weren't available when I chose YBCR over LR).
  • Doman has great ideas, but his books can be overwhelming.  Take what he says with a grain of salt!  He tells you to make a chart with all of your word cards, rotate words in and out which requires tracking, and to make several homemade materials, which takes a lot of time.  Parents have succesfully taught their children to read doing a small fraction of what he suggests in his books, so you don't have to do everything.  However, Little Reader does all of that work for you (ALL OF IT), and you only have to push play.  That's not part of their sales pitch, in fact I don't think they even mention Glenn Doman, but I have read most of his books, and I can plainly see that Doman was the inspiration behind it.

To purchase through my affiliate link, go here: 
To go to BrillKids without an affiliate link, go here:
Why did I decide to become an affiliate?

 I'll be honest, I'm not a very good salesperson like my father.  We have dabbled with the idea of a few multi-level marketing companies in our family, and I told my husband that I just couldn't do it.  I may recommend my new blender, or green cleaning supplies to you if I love them while our kids play at the park, but I just can't see myself trying to get you to buy them.  I'm very uncomfortable with that.

But!  Early learning is a passion for me.  (The name of this blog comes from Glenn Doman's admonition to become a Professional Mother).  I would love to spread the idea that babies can read, they do read, and that they love to.  That's a reality for my family, even if there is a lot of hype in the promotion videos.  If you come to one of my "house parties", my goal will be to show you how you can accomplish that for your child.  I'll show you our bracciation ladder and crawling track.  I'll show you our home-made cards and manipulatives.  I'll show you our "Your Baby Can Read" materials, and how they work.  I am only wishing to sell you on the idea of early learning itself.  I have had several moms come to see our materials already and it was really fun for both of us.  I didn't have anything to sell.

Simply put, I would love to help others experience the same joy that I have had with my children.  Truly, that is what is motivating me.  I'll show you how to do it for a few dollars if you're willing to put in the time to make the materials yourself.  The Logan library has Doman's "How to teach your baby to read", and I have two personal copies that I would love to lend to you.  If "Little Reader" is a good fit for your family, great.  I get a commission, and you get a 10% off coupon code (BKAFF13180).  It's a win-win.  If I'm going to recommend this product anyway, and the only way I know to help you save money on it is by being an affiliate, then this route just makes sense to me.

But I'm not going to try to sell you a premium product ($250) if it's not a good fit for you, especially when I know from my personal experience that you can teach your child for much less.  If you are curious, you can come to my home and see how Little Reader works, or better yet, download their 2-week free trial and see for yourself.

In Summary

I love BrillKids.  I have been an active member of their forum of 93,000+ members for a few years, and the other parents there are so inspiring to me.  I love Little Math and Little Musician too!  I'm just another mom on the crazy parenting journey.  I've found an amazing tool to give my children early literacy, and it has brought a lot of joy to my family.  I would love to answer any questions you may have, and if this is something you want for your children, I'll help in any way I can.  Let me know if you want to do a playdate with me!

Here's my review of the Deluxe materials.
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