Dec 16, 2013

How do you do it all?

People often look at my with my little brood of children and ask me how I do it all.
Simple. I don't. Ha!

My friend told me something interesting when I was telling her about how my kids don't have clothing in dressers anymore, just totes that I can quickly sort their laundry in by child. No folding, and it's easier than digging through laundry baskets of EVERYONE'S clothes because I used to put off sorting laundry. Now I get it done in a snap!

Dec 3, 2013

How we do Christmas

The Christmas season is here again!  It's my favorite time of the year.  Many families have their own little holiday traditions that make the season special, and my family is no exception.  Starting a new family with my husband has brought a new perspective on the holiday season, and it was important to celebrate in a way that fits our personal family culture, and we have come up with a method that is a little different.  As always, take what you want and leave the rest.  Here is how we do Christmas in our home.

Oct 15, 2013


This week I am attending an online seminar called "Reboot Your Brain", which you can learn more about if you scroll down past my review of the Photoreading session I listened to by Paul Scheele, PhD, which was the session I was most interested in.

Oct 4, 2013

Plans for the school year

A month into the new school year, it's time to finish this draft as I do want to share what we are doing this year.  I was going to do school year-round but opted for a break in August and it has been a good time for me to do some curriculum research and get excited about what is possible.  So much is possible!  So many goals tend to fade over time as real life hits, but if you never set goals, if you never raise the bar, you will never improve.  It is better to aim for the stars and hit the tree tops than to aim for the tree tops and land in the mud, so to speak.  So when I set goals, I also give myself permission to adapt and change them.

Aug 14, 2013

Piano Wizard P.S.

I have had a lot of questions and feedback from my local homeschooling community and I hope this post may clarify some things or you too.

First of all, Piano Wizard launched it's Kickstarter campaign yesterday, and I am excited to have an i-pad app to go with the game.  Check it out.  They have some amazing stretch goals- ideas for other apps they would like to develop, and they have some awesome deals available.  There are smaller versions of the software that are usually not a purchase option too.

In relation to that, those who are unfamiliar with Kickstarter may not know how it works.  Kickstarter is NOT a donation program, as business builders are not asking for you directly to donate to their new project.  They put together a series of rewards they will offer individuals depending on how much money they back up the project with.  Kickstarter is a way for them to bring their project idea to consumers to see if there is enough interest before they make the actual investment of creating a product.  If there are enough backers, the project gets funded, the product is made, and the backers get the reward they signed up for, delivered according to the individual terms and conditions.  If there are not enough backers, nobody gets charged any money and the business owner knows there wasn't enough interest.  Overall it is a win-win situation.

Second, yes, I am an affiliate for Piano Wizard.  I love their product and they have an affiliate program.  Naturally I signed up.  That's what bloggers do.  :)  But I am first and foremost a fan.  During this kickstarter campaign, I would rather see the sales go through this endeavor.  I'm eager for them to be able to fund their app creations.

I have also had some feedback on the very long sales page that my affiliate link goes to, also as seen when you click on the Piano Wizard banner add on the side.

Yes.  The link I shared is a big long sales page.  But as an affiliate, the best price I can offer you is through that sales page letter.  I could have shared a link to their main website, but while there is a lot of helpful information there, the overall price is more.  I like to get a good deal as much as anyone else.  I actually purchased through someone else's sales letter page.  Piano Wizard is a big investment, and I actually found the sales page information to be very helpful, especially the videos.  It clarified a lot of my questions and helped me know what to expect.  But my bottom line reasoning for using it was the price on that page.  I also know that if anyone does a little shopping online, they will find the Sonlight price, and I want to be able to match it.  Sonlight is a great company and all, but I would rather keep the sales I genuinely refer, and I can only do it if I can match their price.  This sales letter is my only way of doing that.  Also, right now they are not shipping from their main website because of the Kickstarter campaign, which, again, I fully support and encourage you to purchase through.  However, I was wrong to say on facebook that they wouldn't ship at all.  If you buy through affiliate sales pages, they will still ship them.  I thought it was great that a Piano Wizard respresentative read through my comments and clarified this point to me, even though they especially want to see the Kickstarter campaign be successful.  I have been very impressed with my correspondence with the representatives of this company.  They are simply good, honest people and their customer service has been great.  Yes, I had to use it a few times while I was setting everything up.  haha.

I will also throw in a free copy of "The Solfege Train" to anyone who purchases Piano Wizard through my link, which is the same offer I have made for "Little Musician".  I am also in the works of putting together some printable games and activities with the Piano Wizard colors, but I am still working out the logistics with their company.  These would be drawn from "The Solfege Train", but with their patented color system.  Right now they are swamped with the kickstarter campaign, so let's just say this little bonus won't be available next week.  Even so, I am excited that they have expressed a willingness to work with me in that respect.

To my local friends I offer to show the Piano Wizard Academy materials in person and I will do my best to answer any more questions to anyone, either on or offline.  :)

Aug 6, 2013

Piano Wizard Review

Piano Wizard, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  But first, let me give you a tour.

I love the fun animation that draws my children to the program.  They can practice the same song on levels one and two in several different "worlds", with a variety of icons.  They can choose whether they are in the ocean, in outer space, in dinosaur land, or skiing down the hill with Santa Claus, among other things.  This variety makes practice time less dry and more fun.  In the beginning, it is very much like a video game- a wonderfully fun video game- but it goes much farther than that.  Piano Wizard works like training wheels with the goal of getting you OFF the computer and into your piano books.  The best part is that my children recognize this important difference and long for it as much as I do.  They love to learn the song on the computer, which is a safe haven where they can learn the correct fingering, rhythm, steady beat, and correct notes in a fun environment.  However, like me, they recognize that this is just a game mode and they want to play out of real books, without the aid of the screen.  My 4-year-old daughter was quite proud of herself when she took the book to Grandma's house and was able to play for her on their non-electric piano.  From the beginning the curriculum is designed to get you off screen and I love it.

I love how the curriculum starts at the very beginning but progresses rapidly.  Like many piano courses, it begins on the two black keys- notes that are easy to find, and promote better hand posture.  Here my 2-year-old plays the first song on level one.

And here my 4-year-old plays the seventh song on level 5 (out of the book).  We filmed this two days after she started this song.

My 6-year-old son has really struggled putting his two hands simultaneously together in the past.  In songs that require it, his approach has always been to play the left hand first, hold the notes down, and then add the right hand.  Otherwise he has done quite well in the piano, knowing the rhythm and quickly picking up how to read notes.  Anyway, it was the hands together thing that has really been a struggle for us.  Here he plays "Merrily We Roll Along", which is the fourth song in the curriculum, on level three.  Within 5 minutes Piano Wizard had him playing two notes together- something I, with all my piano teaching experience, had failed to do up to this point.  So this next clip represents a major breakthrough for us.  It has not been the last.

One thing about the software that at first I wondered about but now, having seen it in practice, have grown to love, is the way Piano Wizard scores your playing and only reinforces correct behavior.  You can play all the wrong notes that you want and it won't dock your score.  To a degree that's where Mom comes in.  For example, in the first song that only uses the two black keys, a child could hypothetically bang on those two black keys with both hands the entire song and they would get 100%.  That's cheating and I tell my kids it doesn't count.  But in actual practice, if the kids DO start banging around and loose their focus, they get a lower score, and they know it.  They know that they have to get 90+% to get their sticker and finish their piano for the day, and to do that, they have to focus.  If they are playing a lot of wrong notes, they won't score high enough because that 10% margin of error is usually applied not to wrong notes but instead to late notes- if you don't play it in time, you don't get credit.  So there is a major focus on playing the right notes at the right time- only then will you get the high score you seek.  I also like this because, let's face it, there are a lot of little kids in my family.  When I practice, it's nice for me to be able to focus on my own game without having to shoo them away.  They can bang on the upper and lower keys all they want and it won't effect my score.  They can improvise around a melody.  If they are memorizing a song, they can tell the software to play either the left or right hand only while they play hands together, then they can work on hands together with the visibility challenge shown in the first video. The icons in levels 1 and 2, and the notes in levels 3 and 4 have animations that will ONLY be activated if they are played at the right time.  If an icon fails to turn into an animation, THEY know, without my input, that they have missed that note, and because they want a better score, they will try harder to fix it next time OF THEIR OWN ACCORD.  Children are not that unlike birds and other animals- they train best with positive reinforcement.  This software gives it to them.  As a piano teacher, I used to mostly only point out notes played incorrectly to my students, telling them what was wrong and how to make it better.  Granted, I was always eager to praise them and I tried to always give them as much praise as I could.  But it is impractical and would be rather annoying if I were to say "right, right right" after every correct note they played, staying quiet on the notes they missed.  But it's not annoying for a quiet animation to do the same thing.  Teaching my own children, my role is to pull out the stickers when they get a 90+% score, and then to give them feedback as a regular piano teacher when they reach the 5th level.  This is something that does not take years of training to do, and I imagine most parents will be able to help their children in this way. 

As my younger sibling's piano teacher, I am not there every day to help them practice, but Piano Wizard will likewise transform my role as a teacher.  Instead of the standard model of them coming and passing off every song before being assigned a new one, I will now be more of a mentor.  They can show me their progress, but they don't need me to stamp my approval on every song before they move on.  Instead, I will help them work on their goals, give them feedback on their technique and form, offer suggestions, and help them learn how to compose their own music- music that we can plug into this software.  I loved having piano lessons with the "mentor" model when I was a teenager, but now I can teach with this model much earlier, and I have Piano Wizard to thank.

(some of the images in this video are outdated, but I like the general overview and how the methodology is explained in this video.)

Piano Wizard is also great for teaching improvisation, not just in jam mode, but during regular songs as well.  I would love to do a separate post on how I do this, but I cannot promise it right away.  Someday.  I love Jazz piano and played in the Jazz bands when I was in college, so this is a subject that is near and dear to me.  I am excited at how Piano Wizard is so adaptable for so many different needs, and this is another one that it meets beautifully.

I love the online campus.  When you purchase the Piano Wizard curriculum, you become a "gold member" and have access to bonus materials, videos, as well as the free-version content like the forum.  I have not fully explored this resource yet as it is vast, but I was particularly thrilled with one of the bonuses- the LDS Hymns and primary songs.  One of the reasons the MIDI adaptability was so appealing to me is because I want my children to learn these songs- to be able to practice the songs that they are learning in primary, and to be able to play the hymns as they grow older as there is always a great need in our church for members with this skill.  In fact, in Utah among Mormons, it is a popular requirement for parents to tell their children that they have to take piano lessons until they can comfortably play the hymns.  Only then will they let them quit if that's what they want.  Many parents told me this was their goal when I was teaching piano.  As a parent, I'm not much different.  While I want my children to be able to do more than just play the hymns, one of my primary goals is to prepare them well to be able to serve the church as a musician- both in playing the hymns and being able to serve as an accompanist.  So I had the goal of making MIDI files for the hymns and primary songs.  I was SO thrilled and impressed that this was one of the bonuses available for download from the academy.  If you are LDS and have similar goals for your children, you will be happy to know that Piano Wizard has made this part easy for you.  There is also a wonderful library of Christian music, so while the Piano Wizard curriculum itself is a secular program, some of the bonuses make it very easy to adapt it for religious use.

Get your free report on music literacy

Jul 25, 2013

MonkiSee Review

I am so excited to tell you about this program.  Intellectual Baby is a company that has grown so much in recent years and I finally took the plunge to see what their reading kit is all about.  See why I chose to buy it now in this post.  Now it's time to get down to business.  :)

First of all, I LOVE the flashcards.  This reading kit comes with 200 solid, glossy cardstock, full-color flashcards.  One side shows the word clearly in large, non-serif font using lower-case letters.  The other side shows a full color picture to demonstrate the word, as well as a small grey word for parent's reference, as shown in the video.  I love these flashcards so much that henceforth, whenever anyone asks me how to teach a tiny child to read without any screen time, I will tell them to read Glenn Doman's "How to Teach Your Baby to Read", as before, AND to purchase these flashcards to save them from a lot of work.  In fact, the cost of making the cards if you're going to print out pictures on the other side would be more than buying them from MonkiSee, so unless you want to clip pictures from magazines from the thrift store and you've got more time than money, this is the way to go.  Alone the flashcards from the kit are $85, or $17 for each set of 40.  I am so glad that this resource is available for parents now.  My baby Ruth, (13m) especially loves the cards and I enjoy being able to show her words during our downtime, like in the car, and even while I nurse her.  I love watching her eyes light up when I pull them out.

Second, the books.  The first thing my husband said when he saw them was, "Wow, these are really high quality".  He was impressed by the classy layout of the pages that show the words isolated from the pictures, as well as the idea of using pictures of the leading puppets, Howie and Skip, on a colored background.  He commented on how simple and intuitive they are, and how effective that kind of simplicity can be.  I agree.  Patrick was especially delighted to read the books because Skip is his favorite character out there.  Alone the books retail at $12 each, or $24 total.

All of this talk about the physical aspect of the program, when the DVDs are the best part, especially if you are looking to buy a reading program for the first time.  The physical materials drew me to the program because I needed them and I already have Your Baby Can Read and Little Reader, so I didn't NEED the videos.  But each of these companies that I love, each showing they have been influenced by Glenn Doman in their own way, are unique.  They have their own special way of approaching the material, and it's nice to have variety.  Rest assured that I love the DVDs.  So let's talk about them.

Volume 1, Baby's First Words:

This is the first MonkiSee DVD I purchased several years ago.  If anyone else is in the same boat, I am happy to report that it has been updated.  While I loved the poetry and puppets in the first version, as well as how beautifully words were defined and illustrated in video and song, it wasn't my favorite for teaching actual reading.  The reason for that is because each word was only shown once.  They showed the word "Baby", then showed what it means for up to a minute without seeing the word again.  They only read "Baby" once during the entire film.  As a result, we watched the full video occasionally, but mostly used it for the slide-show clip that shows.  Again, this DVD has now been updated.  Now you get to see the word "Baby" several times while they define it, and so on with every word in the film.  I am thrilled with this change.  Hey, the original Signing Time videos were redone after the company grew.  I believe in second chances.  It's part of growing up.  :)

Volume 2, All About Colors:

In this volume Skip bemoans that he while he would love to paint a rainbow, he doesn't know the colors, so his big brother Howie helps him.  In addition to the basic rainbow colors and brown, black, white, grey and pink, Skip also learns indigo, silver, gold.  My favorite part of all of the MonkiSee videos is Krista's rich use of poetry.  I am amazed at her ability to pen little poems and ditties for such a variety of subjects, as her spectrum of videos have shown us.  It's cute poem after cute poem all the way through all of them.  For example, a PART of the color red shows her children eating licorice while we hear, "Licorice is red, licorice is sweet.  Licorice is my favorite treat".  Or while we see beautiful flowers in the breeze we hear "Purple flowers, dainty and fair, make me want to stop and stare".  Krista told me that she loves to read books with poetry to her children and it naturally extended into their videos.  I suppose I should read more books with poetry!  All of the videos are rich with them.

Volume 3, All about Shapes:

Skip gets a box of shaped cookies from his grandma that he shares with his brother Howie and Olivia as they teach him how to identify all of the different shapes.  Skip learns circle, square, triangle, rectangle, oval, diamond, heart, hexagon, pentagon, octagon, star, and crescent.  One thing I love about these videos are the little references they make to the benefits of reading.  For example, "These old books are rectangles that sit on the shelf.  I can read one of these books by myself."  There are also lots of interesting facts squeezed in, like "This bolt head is a hexagon with six sides around.  They are stronger than nails, pound for pound."  The video ends with an original song, "Shapes are Everywhere", a review of colors and shapes combined, and a slightly awkward scene where Howie and Skip politely say goodbye because they need to get rid of us before they can eat their cookies.  haha.

Volume 4, Around the House:

Let's face it, this one is my favorite.  Bar none.  Why?  There are three original songs, "Around the House", "Door Song", and my favorite, "Tricycle Song".  These songs are really cute.  This is the perfect time to introduce DaVida.  The four oldest Guerrero daughters have started their own guitar band and it's been fun for me to watch them grow as their talents have increased.  I love seeing family bands and singing groups, partially because that is my dream for my family some day.  I would love to help my children do that, if they are willing.  Let's just say that I have a soft spot for homeschooling families that draw closer together through their music.  Their talents are beautifully showcased in this volume.  My four-year-old told me she wants to learn how to play the guitar after watching this movie.

Action Words:

So, if I'm allowed to have a favorite, I'm also allowed to have one that isn't my favorite, and this is it.  My kids love it.  It's one of those movies that the kids love and the parents put up with because the kids love it.  The film is centered around an action song.  It's very repetitious.  It's a good exercise film for them.  They love to do the actions.  So in one room we have little kids laughing and interacting with the film, while mom is rolling her eyes in the other room as the song gets drawn out a little longer as each new set of action words gets plugged into the song.  Then again, one time I came in and did the whole song with the kids.  When you actually do the actions while you listen, I guess the song isn't so bad.  Olivia's enthusiasm is really cute.  The rich vocabulary and poetry is present like in all of the videos.  I can like a movie (I really do like it) without it being my favorite.  Besides, even the Hokey Pokey can get old if you're not standing in the circle.

Each of these five videos are $20 each a la carte.

MonkiSee Music DVD:

This is a special DVD they recently put together that has the music of the videos in one collection with follow-along words so you can sing them karaoke style.

MemoFlix Video Flash Cards:

These are such a rich resource!  If you have read "How to Give Your Baby Encyclopedic Knowledge", you will understand the value of exposing your children to "bits of intelligence", otherwise known as flashcards.  But they aren't just flashcards, they are "bits" shown in categories that help babies to make connections.  It's nice for them to know that blenders, waffle makers, and microwaves are all kitchen appliances.  That bricks and concrete are both building materials.  That acrobat and abacus both start with A.  There are hundreds and hundreds of these words, divided into categories, and organized in a user-friendly menu so you can find what you are looking for.  I LOVE the MemoFlix videos.  So much time was put into making these.  They're better than flashcards at home too, because there are often sound clips shown with the pictures, so you can hear what sound a snake makes while you see the picture after the word, and so forth.  Volume one is full of categories like "Mammals I" and "Christmas".  By "full", I mean three pages to dig through and choose from.  There's a lot of content here!  Volume two is for the letters.  See a rich variety of words for each letter.  Volume three is for consonant blends, including "ch", "ph" and "sh", as well as "kn", "wh", "sw", and common combinations like "st" and "cr".  Volume four is for word families.  This is for words that end the same, such as "ore", "ug", "ack", and so forth.

Guide to Teaching Your Baby to Read:

I already touched on how this film helped me teach my oldest, Peter, to read in my first MonkiSee post.  In short, there are a lot of books out there (not just Glenn Doman's book, there are older ones like Winifred Stoner's Natural Education, and newer ones like Timothy Kailing's Native Reading) to help you teach your baby how to read.  If you didn't want to use a pre-made program and just want to do it on your own, or you simply want to understand why and how it works, I would refer you to one of these books.  But if reading isn't your thing and you would rather "wait for the movie", this is it.  Krista does a great job.  She has a lot of experience and she brings her own tips and tricks of the trade to the table.

The MemoFlix and Guide DVDs are $50 on their own.

All of these are really worth the money individually, so to get everything I've reviewed thus far for $140 is a real bargain in the "Baby Reading Kit Plus".  You can add their two newest DVDs, "Animals at the Farm", and "ABC Roundup", as well as two more sets of flashcards if you get their complete reading kit, which is $185.

Animals at the Farm:

This was bar-none my 2-year-old Patrick's favorite Christmas present last year.  This video is especially filled with interesting facts about animals.  Howie has been reading and he's eager to share what he's learning.  Cats can run up to 30 miles an hour.  Ornithology is the study of birds.  Donkeys have incredible memories.  I'm kicking myself for not taking advantage of a special opportunity that was available for this film- MonkiSee fans submitted high quality videos of their children either on a farm, or dressed up as or acting like a variety of farm animals.  My parents have a farm 20 minutes away and I never got around to it.  :(  But rumor has it that they will be making an ocean animals movie in the future with the same opportunity, so if you want to potentially jump on this kind of an opportunity in the future, it may be there if you subscribe to her newsletter.

ABC Roundup:

The first time I watched this video, I thought it was really cute and well done.  That was about it.  Then our family signed up for Netflix and I finally had an opportunity to watch "Leapfrog Phonics Farm".  Now I'm not out to get Leapfrog because I thought it was cute, overall.  But watching that film made me realize how spoiled I've become with the high-quality programming we have chosen, and what I have come to expect from an educational children's film.  There's good, better, and best.  I only mention leapfrog by name because it is a very popular series that is widely acclaimed for it's educational value.  I will call it "good".  But I couldn't help but compare them since they were two new alphabet videos for us watched in the same week.  Leapfrog shows us a funny "Noisy Newt".  First of all, newts aren't noisy, but it does show us the sound an "N" makes.  In ABC roundup, we see three examples, one of which is a real video clip with a Nuthatch bird (new vocabulary for Mommy, I admit), complete with the bird call, as we hear "'N' is for the Nuthatch, nibbling nervously.  He grabs a chunk for his lunch, and then the Nuthatch flees."  ABC roundup explains the three different sounds an "X" makes, and how "K" is silent in "KN", among other phonetic variations.  My children love ABC Roundup, and they giggle every time they see the Monkeys going ballistic trying to catch floating letters.  I love the original music, and as always, the poetry and rich vocabulary introduced to my children.  I will call ABC Roundup "best".  What makes the video all the more endearing is knowing that it was primarily made by one homeschooling family.  What an amazing family project!

Full Disclaimer:  I purchased the reading kit at a discount as they took into account some of my previous purchases through the years.  It was a purchase I chose to make because I needed the cards and I wanted to give MonkiSee a full review on this blog of my own accord.  I was also given a free copy of ABC Roundup and the two new flashcard sets to review.  I was not otherwise compensated for my review, and my opinions are fully my own.  :)

Jul 22, 2013

Thoughts on ScreenTime

One of the first concerns people have when I tell them what I am doing with my children is the amount of screen time they are getting.  You're using DVDs to teach your baby to read?  Isn't that bad for them?  Indeed there have been many studies that suggest that our children need less, even as the average amount each child receives tends to rise.  We live in a technologically driven world, and it is hard to escape it.  Natural parenting blogs boast of their children not having any screen time until they are two, others shamefully wish they could have avoided it.  The Waldorf schools pride themselves of ridding themselves of it entirely, and I am certainly not out to get them.  Their schools are lovely.  I associate with the natural parenting movement in many ways, but not on the issue of screen time.

Last week I took a tab on how much screen time my children receive, and it averaged about 3 hours a day- sometimes more, sometimes less.  I have no intention of changing that figure, and in fact we may soon increase it.

Let's step back a moment and look at some of the misconceptions behind the no-screen movement.

First, it is often assumed that all screen time happens when a child comes home from public school, as is often the case.  If a child spends 7-8 hours at school, then comes home to spend 3-4 hours in front of a screen, that child will indeed have little time to go outside, experience nature, have free play, and otherwise interact with their family and peers.  But for the homeschooler, the child does not spend 7-8 hours at school, and the screen time they have is an important part OF their school.  I have found that the cheapest and easiest way for me to delegate some of my teaching, so I can meet the needs of all my children, is to give them high quality screen time.

Second, is the assumption that the screen time is always mindless, passive twaddle.  Is it always?  What if the screen time is helping them develop good sense of timing while they practice the piano?  What if they exercise with someone on screen?  What if it legitimately teaches them how to read?  If it is their opportunity to hear a native speaker of a foreign language?  If it accelerates their academic progress?  What if I know I'll never take my children scuba diving in the great barrier reef, and this is the only way to expose them to what ocean life is like?  What if the teacher on the screen simply does a better job teaching a given subject than me?  Our big break in early learning started when we purchased Your Baby Can Read, and it has only grown from there.  Originally I thought I wouldn't use screen time much at all, and in fact we still don't have a television, just a laptop and a portable DVD player.  Most of the screen time my children have comes from our personal purchases.  What an amazing difference it has made for our family.

Third, the assumption that it's an either or thing.  If they have screen time, they don't get free play time.  They don't play outside.  If the screen imagines things for them, their own imaginations will be hindered.  While this relates to the first, it is in fact quite separate.  My children have plenty of time to play outside, plenty of time to play.  During that free-play, I admit that elements from their screen time play a part, but I would hardly say it limits their imagination.  Why reinvent the wheel?  My children may not have come up with the idea of space travel on their own, in fact I doubt it, but because of the screen time they have received, including non-educational elements like Star Wars and Star Trek, their play in enhanced.  My son makes space ships out of boxes, and models out of his legos.  They pretend to invent new technologies that make space travel faster, more enjoyable, and/or more energy efficient.  I love that kind of imaginative play because it is very relevant to the needs of our society, of the inventions we will need in the future.  Einstein is often quoted for saying "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."  I think that technology only enhances our ability to fill our children's head with good stories.

I am not as concerned about the quantity of screen time that my children receive as I am about the quality.  I love watching them learn and improve from the screen time I give them.  I'm proud of them, while likewise feeling relieved that I won't have to be the one to teach them whatever it is they are learning.  Sometimes I'm learning with them, and that's even better.  We always talk about what we learn, and often reinforce the lessons off-screen.

So these are the thoughts I have on it.  This is what is working for my family.  It turns out I'm not the only one who has been thinking this way.  I recently came across an interesting post about a family that doesn't limit screen time at all.  I agree with much of her article, while also admitting that there are some limits in my home.  For example, non-educational programming is limited to Saturdays, and only religious programming is allowed on Sunday.  Here's her fantastic post:

She makes a good point that most jobs require a knowledge of how to program, type, and otherwise know how to use a computer.  My husband is a computer programmer, and it has given our family great security knowing that his skills are in high demand, even when there is a lull economy.  I am very grateful for his computer skills.  Many of the inventors, innovators, and engineers that shape our world and our future spend most of their work days in front of a computer screen.

If you look at the comments, on August 30th, 2012 they compare the no-screen-time movement to other objections to technology in the past.  This article was shared:  Plato Revisited: Learning Through Listening in the Digital World.

Furthermore, one of my friends started a blog that is centered on the idea of Push-Play learning, and there are many children in the early learning communities I participate in that have excelled with well-chosen screen time.  My children are not alone.

My purpose in writing this post is not to convince you to give your children more time in front of a screen.  After all, what works for one family doesn't always work for another, and I certainly don't know your personal circumstances well enough to suggest what may work better for you.  Certainly I would argue that it is important for children for children to read quality literature, to spend time exploring nature, and to be able think for themselves, and for the family that feels screen time is interfering with these things, maybe less screen time would be a good move for you.  I have read the opposing arguments and I understand and appreciate the virtues of a screen-free life.

No, my purpose is an apologetic article for the other side.  In the past when I have brought up our curriculum choices and practices, reactions have varied.  Some have applauded my efforts, as the results can clearly be seen.  Others have their doubts and wish to find a way to get the results without the screen time, something can most certainly be done, and I do my best to point out the best resources as far as I know them.  But others have been downright hostile to the idea, telling me how wrong it is to give my children so much screen time at such a young age.  I presume that such attitudes are a good sampling of the attitudes of the general population.  So to whom it may concern, these are my reasons for choosing screen time to enhance, supplement, and even provide my children with the education I want to give them.  I offer no apologies, nor do I feel the need to defend myself.

I suppose the purpose is of this post is to do my part to remove the stigma and guilt homeschoolers often experience when they do turn to the tube, DVD collection, computers, or tablet devises for help as they educate their children.  Technology is a wonderful asset when used properly, just as unwise use can be our downfall.  I encourage you not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  I encourage you to rethink the use of technology in your home, to purge that which doesn't edify and uplift, and to keep and seek out those things that will help you in your quest for a more enlightened home.  For my part, I know that screen time has played an important, nay, critical role in my children's accelerated education.  My 2-year-old would not be reading 2nd grade materials, my 4-year-old would not know most of her times tables, and my 6-year-old would not be reading chapter books, among other things, without the programs I have employed.  So it works for us.  Take what you want and leave the rest.  :)

Jul 13, 2013

Me and MonkiSee

This post is long overdue, but this last week we purchased their full reading kit so I am prepared to give the full inside scoop, and I am so excited to tell you about this reading program.  This post is a little history of my relationship with Krista, how we have watched the company grow, and why I finally bought the complete program and couldn't be happier.  Full review of the product coming soon (it's taken me awhile to get through all of the material.  Wow, 10 DVDs!), so I decided these should be separate posts.

When I first started our early learning journey, I was determined to do it without the help of a package.  I wanted to be frugal, I wanted to make materials myself, and I was reluctant to spend any kind of money on a fancy program.  My oldest, Peter, was my guinea pig.  I found and read Glenn Doman's books before he reached his first birthday, and I found a wonderful yahoo group (which is no longer very active), and I was on my way.  I made bits of intelligence cards, worked with my son, and overall our learning program was a success.  He was a smart little cookie.  Except, he couldn't read, which was the early learning skill I wanted to give him the most.  His third birthday rolled around and he still wasn't reading, and I was feeling discouraged.  I know that may seem strange to the average citizen, but let me put things into perspective by stating that I was/am actively participating in online communities where the average success begins at 1, and even 9 or 10 months.  Videos were shared of 2-year-olds reading full books, and not just by random people on the internet, but by individuals who were becoming my close friends.  I realized that it was time for me to step back and re-evaluate my approach.  Part of the problem was that I was trying a phonetic approach where these mothers were doing a whole-word approach, but part of it too was that they had purchased/utilized better tools to get the job done. 

One of my friends that I especially looked up to was/is Krista.  Shortly after my son's third birthday, she made a post about her youngest daughter.  She had picked up reading a little later than her siblings, but had recently made a breakthrough and was picking things up quickly.  She shared this video to show her progress.

This particular video was so very inspiring to me.  It made me realize that it wasn't too late for my Peter to be an early reader, I just needed a different approach.  I was able to acknowledge to myself that I wasn't a failure because he hadn't picked reading up yet.  This video gave me fresh courage and determination to find success.

Shortly thereafter we purchased "Baby's First Words", and while my toddler daughter liked it, Peter simply didn't.  Maybe it was because he was in the older-limit of who the videos were designed for.  Maybe it was because many of the words were drawn from Glenn Doman's recommended starting point and thus were similar to the words I had already shown him and he had grown bored with them.  But whatever the reason, Peter was my top priority at the time, not Helen.  (This particular DVD has been redone, and the new version is much better.)  So we looked at our options.  They were different then than they are now.  The BrillKids reading software didn't come with books.  MonkiSee was a younger, smaller company.  I didn't want to rely too much on screen time and Your Baby Can Read came with cards and books, so we chose YBCR.  I felt a little guilty posting my first success video because I didn't want Krista to feel bad that I hadn't chosen her package (silly, I know, but a woman thinks these things), but she was the very first to congratulate me and share meaningful commentary.  Krista is very excited and passionate about early learning in general, and she has always offered support regardless of what products a family is using.  When I stop and think about it, this makes sense to me especially in the context of knowing that my family's success cannot be attributed to any one product, but to the symbiotic use of all of our resources and our overall learning environment.  " 'Do you think John would like a book for Christmas?' 'No, John already has a book.' "  Still, praising programs that do compete with hers takes character and I love her for it.  I know many people like myself who have all three programs and like me, they love all three.  But I digress.

Peter soared through the YBCR materials, but he wasn't reading books independently.  That transition was something we needed to do on our own.  I relied on three sources to figure that process out.  First, our fantastic local library, second, Glenn Doman's book, and third, Krista's video "A Guide to Teaching Babies to Read."  I've been watching the MonkiSee company so long I bought it as a digital download before it was available on DVD.  If you don't want to read Doman's book, watching this video is the way to go- many of the principles are demonstrated well and she brings fresh ideas to the table.  Part of my problem in making my own materials is I spend too much time creating durable materials designed to last all of my children.  While those materials are still in our family's library, the time involved in making them QUALITY limited the QUANTITY I could make.  Krista's homemade books and materials were simple, effective, and so easy to put together.  I looked at those books and realized that I could easily replicate them at home, and I did!  So even though Peter didn't learn to read with the MonkiSee materials, MonkiSee was indeed still instrumental in his ultimate success.

Meanwhile, Helen and Patrick were learning to read, enjoying the Your Baby Can Read and a couple of MonkiSee videos alike.  Helen largely learned to read with Peter at a slower pace, but Patrick has been in a class all his own.  He was an infant when we purchased YBCR and was often present, but being a baby, I also regularly showed him the "Baby's First Words" video.  As soon as he was old enough to voice his opinion, he showed a strong preference for MonkiSee.  I am friends with Krista on facebook and between that and her signature on the BrillKids, he sees Howie and Skip (the starring monkeys) often, and without fail, he not only points them out every time he sees them, but also requests to watch the video.  His favorite Christmas present last year was "Animals at the Farm."  (Thank you aunt Crystelle!)  He adores the characters.  Helen quotes the poetry in the films, and has picked up a few nuances in her speech like "I don't know why, but I _____" and "I try to ______ with all my might."

So my kids love MonkiSee, and it was time for me to reevaluate our reading program.  Here's where my family sits.  Peter (almost 6), is reading on about a 5-6th grade reading level, has recently started reading chapter books like Lego Ninjago on his own.  Helen (4) is on a 3rd grade level, and Patrick (2) is on a 2nd grade level (my best guess, my kids have not been tested.)  So these three have their foot in the door as far as reading goes, they just need a library card, which leads me to my daughter Ruth (13 months).

Overall, I have collected a nice library of early learning tools to teach her with, and she has been already exposed to much.  The conflict I have run into is that, well, I'm a busy mom, and even with my resources, the thing I need to do is balance my time with my all of my children and their unique educational needs, not to mention that without fail, they seem to want dinner every night.  I'm finding that our screen time needs to balance out as well.  While we love to play outside and explore nature, and they have plenty of free play time, I shamelessly admit that we also use technology to aid our learning, including screen time.  We have one portable DVD player and one laptop.  The computer is used for our BrillKids products, for piano, for Netflix and YouTube, for StarFall, and other educational learning games.  There are so many things I would like to do every day and sometimes it is hard to fit everything in.  While the daily Little Reader lessons do happen, and I maintain that it is enough to teach a baby to read, the bottom line is, the more you do, the faster they will progress, and the more they will learn. 

I think that OFF-screen learning should ideally happen too, which again is why I originally went with Your Baby Can Read.  At the time, they had the best physical materials to supplement the DVD reading instruction.  The only problem is, those materials didn't hold up.  It's not that the materials were not made of high quality materials, but rather their design could have been better.  Children are used to turning pages left to right, so the page-size lift-a-flap books tore easily and have been taped and re-taped, and often sit in our book hospital instead of the bookshelf for handy use.  The pull-out-cards were also very appealing to my children, but they bend too easily, and then tore.  They're mostly gone.  This leaves me with the beloved teaching cards, which I have used and loved much, and they're still here.  But they are words only, and only teach reading.  I know all too well that babies not only love pictures, they learn better when they understand what is being taught.  If you had never seen a tricycle before, the word would be meaningless, but with a picture, you instantly understand the concept of "tricycle" and are more likely to retain both the vocabulary and the reading ability.  Seeing a tricycle in use is even better, but that's not possible in an off-screen flashcard session.  Seeing a picture is a grand reward for tiny children.  I wanted physical materials that I can use with Ruth while the other children have their screen time, while driving, or simply during our down time, and I have not seen anything on the market that compares to the value and quality of the physical elements in the MonkiSee reading package. 

Don't get me wrong, the 10 DVDs looked great to me and my baby gets screen time too, but ultimately it was her reading cards and books that led me to take the plunge.  Sure, Patrick was absolutely thrilled when he saw the movies and I'm confident that the poetry and rich vocabulary will benefit Helen and Patrick immensely, but ultimately this purchase was for Ruth.  I know I have never been so well armed to give an infant reading success.  What a lucky baby!

Jul 2, 2013

Homeschooling with Integrity

Today I'm going to talk about pirating.  First off, I give my sincere thanks to all who are honest in their dealings with their fellow men.  I have been thinking about this topic for awhile now, and while it may not be a "feel good" post, it is one I feel I need to address.

This post could as easily be labeled "living with integrity" because of the universal nature of this problem, but the place I see it the most is in the homeschooling community because I am active in homeschooling forums and the local community; it is what I have experienced.  I also know as a creator of digital goods, and having dabbled my feet in the music industry when I was a student, that intellectual property is of value, and when you copy and otherwise distribute intellectual property, you hurt the company's bottom line.  You destroy a company's incentive for creating quality products in the first place.  I really hope I'm preaching to the choir.  My purpose is not to belittle or make anyone feel bad, but to invite you to reflect on how you use educational (or other) materials, whether you have purchased them or not.

Two articles that were recently shared with me say it better than I can.
Thank You to all my Loyal Readers!
When Frugal is Illegal: Here's how to avoid the copyright trap

When you download a product you haven't paid for, that's stealing.
Obviously if someone uploads a program they don't have the rights to, that's stealing.  Not only is it not ethical and dishonest, it's illegal and can land them in jail.  They are a pirate.  But consider the lesser crime- watching a video that has been illegally uploaded.  Doing this supports pirates.  Whether they are getting more views, or even earning advertising revenue, which I have increasingly seen on YouTube, they are profiting from intellectual property that is not theirs.  If you watch these YouTube videos, you are encouraging this practice, as well as enjoying fruits that you did not pay for.  What if, instead of watching these videos, viewers reported them to the rightful owners.  Online piracy could be drastically reduced!  Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

In a digital world where sharing files has become easier than ever before, some families pitch in and purchase curriculum as a group.  If said curriculum was sold for individual family use, this group is pirating.

It is not legal to photocopy consumable books.  This especially means workbooks, but includes any other item labeled "consumable".  It is also not legal to reproduce these workbooks by placing them in plastic sheets or laminating them for marker use, or to write your workbook answers in a notebook.  These later items border into the grey area of what is ethical and what is not, but such is the law.

It is not legal to share digital files you paid for (or received free as a special promotion) with others unless you have permission from the owner.

It is illegal to make copies of your digital files to lend to others, unless specified.  It is legal to make a copy for your own personal backup.

Sharing software with other families is illegal.  Some software allows the purchaser to download two copies for personal family use.  This means you can put it on your home computer and a laptop, or on your computer and a grandparent's computer for use only when you visit.  You have purchased it for your family to use and the company offers the option of two downloads for your convenience.  If someone sees this option and purchases the software with another family for split ownership, unless the license agreement specifies that they can, they are abusing the company's trust.  They are also breaking the law.

It is illegal to copy materials from the public library.  I have heard people justify this practice because public funds have paid for them to have access to said material.  This is faulty thinking.  Public funds have paid for these materials to be made available to patrons one at a time, for shared use.  Copying library books or media is illegal.  If you do this, you are a pirate.

Hey, mateys, if I've pricked your conscience, I have some advice.  There are a lot of pirates out there, but if you've joined the crew, you don't have to turn yourself in to cease pirating.  Here are my top 10 things you can do to stop pirating.
  1. Destroy pirated materials and/or files in your possession.
  2. If you want a product, pay for it, save for it, or go without.
  3. Report pirating activity to the copyright owners.
  4. Do not pirate copyrighten materials.
  5. Do not let others pirate your materials.
  6. Forgo "group purchases" that violate license agreements.
  7. Do not allow your bandwidth to be used for file sharing communities.  Even if you are not the one sharing files, you become a partner in crime when you allow others to use your resources this way.
  8. Purchase consumable books for all of your children instead of once for repeated use.
  9. Do not watch illegal file uploads on video sharing sites like YouTube- consider purchasing if you enjoy the programming, or again, go without.
  10. Discourage pirating when others mention the practice.  Pirating is common, but it's not a victimless crime and we need to call it what it is.
Sigh.  I know that homeschoolers often do not have a large budget to work with.  I resonate with not wanting to go without.  I understand wanting to be frugal, to pinch pennies, and stretch our dollar to give our children more.  I also have worked very hard to procure money to spend on my children and recognize that not everyone has that opportunity.  I know I'm lucky.  Even so, I'm not rich, and I have researched enough to know that there are cheaper alternatives to the glitzy programs being advertised.  There are free curriculum sites.  There are plenty of the best curriculums of yesterday available from google books and others.  There are genuine programs and how to videos on YouTube.  There is often even a local library stocked with exactly what you need.  We live in an information age, where the materials and resources genuinely needed for a solid education are freely available to anyone in the world who has internet access.  With a little work, the needs for any subject are freely available to anyone, rich or poor.  We are not talking about stealing a loaf of bread for a family's survival.  Intellectual property is not a need, it is a want.

I also understand the motivation homeschoolers use when they pirate intellectual property.  They do it because they want to give their children a better education.  To teach their children some academic principle.  May I suggest that the best principle you can teach your children is to be moral?  To have integrity?  If you set a good example to your children, both in what you choose to give them, but also in what you choose not to give them, they will appreciate your efforts and are more likely to learn to be honest themselves.  Certainly this life lesson will be harder to teach if your example of correct principles cannot be seen.

My challenge today is to homeschool with integrity.

Further Reading:

Jun 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day!

We have been playing around with "Go Animate" this weekend and it's been a lot of fun.  I like it more than xtranormal because it is easier to insert your own pictures and videos, although I haven't checked them out recently.  Anyway, these sites are very fun for kids because they can star as cartoon characters and get their feet in the door working with computers.  This was a bigger project than I anticipated, but we are pleased with the end result.  I recommend reading the words while you listen for better comprehension.  It's a lovely poem:

Fathers are wonderful people
Too little understood,
And we do not sing their praises
As often as we should...

For, somehow, Father seems to be
The man who pays the bills,
While Mother binds up little hurts
And nurses all our ills...

And Father struggles daily
To live up to "HIS IMAGE"
As protector and provider
And "hero or the scrimmage"...

And perhaps that is the reason
We sometimes get the notion,
That Fathers are not subject
To the thing we call emotion,

But if you look inside Dad's heart,
Where no one else can see
You'll find he's sentimental
And as "soft" as he can be...

But he's so busy every day
In the grueling race of life,
He leaves the sentimental stuff
To his partner and his wife...

But Fathers are just WONDERFUL
In a million different ways,
And they merit loving compliments
And accolade of praise,

For the only reason Dad aspires
To fortune and success
Is to make the family proud of him
And to bring them happiness...

He's a guardian and a guide,
Someone that we can count on

Helen Steiner Rice

May 28, 2013

Fizzy Water Fun

Did you know you can make your own carbonated water without dry ice?  It's so easy.  All you have to do is mix water, juice, or any other drink, and add equal portions of baking soda and citric acid.  We mixed it with Tang a few months ago and it was tasty.  It changes the flavor of the water a wee bit, so you don't want to add too much.  Experiment until you find a good consistency. Apparently this is how everybody did it back in the 50's.  It's a lost art, I guess.
In this video we mixed 1/2 teaspoon of each to the cylinder.  We got the idea from Steven Spangler's Big Bag Of Science.

May 22, 2013

Tribute to Glenn Doman

The world lost a great man this week.  It has been an emotional time for me as I contemplate what this man has done for my family, and the depth to which he has touched my life.  I can't imagine how different our family life would be if I had never heard of him, if I had never touched on his research, read his books, or changed my entire parenting philosophy as a result of his life's work.  I love him.  I love him so much for the difference he has made for me, for thousands of others, and his undying, constant love of children, and his firm belief in every child's potential.  Because of his work, brain-injured children have been made whole.  Because of his work, well-children have become exceptional.

His work extends beyond the work of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential.  Stemming from his research, companies such as Your Baby Can Read, Monkisee, Right Brain Kids, and BrillKids, with over 110,000 members in its forum, have taken root and spread the beautiful message that young children are a lot smarter than we give the credit for.  Spreading this love was his life's work.  It is his legacy.  It is his gentle revolution.

Glenn Doman is a man I never met in person, but I love him like a beloved grandfather.  When I see his face, when I hear his voice, when I read his word, when I witness the awesome, beautiful change that has happened to my family, I am so touched with gratitude that he was born.  He died peacefully at 94, living a full, fruitful life.  I will not sorrow at your passing, for I do not think you would wish it.  I will celebrate your life, express my love to your family, and tell my children what an honorable man you are.  I am perfectly confident that you are very happy now, your life's work accomplished.  Rest in peace, beloved man.  Your work will continue, your legacy carried forward by the lives you have touched.

I know I cannot do justice to my feelings, to my desire to share what a wonderful man he is.  But I can pay tribute to him by sharing some of his own words that have touched me.  Last night and this morning I have been pouring through five of his books which adorn my library to find a few of my favorite passages.  I ran out of time, but I found a few I hope you will find of interest.  But first, you can see him firsthand as he introduces the Institutes and what they do there.

The Institutes were founded only after Doman began his work with brain-injured children.  It was only after his phenomenal success in helping these children heal that he began to wonder what was possible with well-children.  The next video is a tribute to his work with the brain-injured.

Words of Glenn Doman from his books.

Tiny kids would rather learn than eat.
Tiny kids would rather learn than play
Tiny kids think that all learning is play.  They do not however think that all play is learning as most professionals do.  That is because a good deal of what adults regard as proper play for kids is downright silly.  Nobody fools kids.
We are opposed to any brand of competition that dictates that I must score more points than you, I must overcome you - or prove that I am somehow superior to you.
We do teach our children here at The Institutes what we believe to be a higher brand of competition, one that goes like this: "If I want to reach some new higher level of mobility, one that I have never yet attained, only I can be the obstacle.  If I overcome myself and achieve my goal, then I have won."  In short, we teach the children self-competition. (2)
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 about on this old earth.
But they'll even take nonsense if that's all they can get. (3)
 We hold these truths to be self evident,That all men are created equal,
That they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights,
That among there are life, liberty,and the pursuit of happiness.

The italics are, of course, my own.  I would not dream of trying to improve upon that magnificent document, but only to emphasize the significance of what it says.  Although I have known it by heart since I was eight, I am unable, even today, to say or write even a part of it without tears rushing unbidden to my eyes.
I have always treasured the belief that the giants who wrote it had taken for granted the prior right to be intelligent.
For without intelligence, there is no true life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.
With limited intelligence, there is limited access to life, to liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
With average intelligence, there is average access to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness.
With unlimited intelligence (which is every child's birthright), there is unlimited access to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness.
For without the right to be intelligent, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear are mockeries, and hollow things indeed.
The most unalienable right of all rights for every child is the right to be intelligent.
That right is inborn, it is implanted in the genes of Homo sapiens.  It is his birthright.
All babies know it--innately.
All babies demand to be highly intelligent.
All babies can be highly intelligent.
All babies should be highly intelligent. (4)
Intelligence is the degree of ability one has-- to see the difference between the way things are and the way things could be and to make them closer to the way they could be. (5)
What can we do with thirty seconds?
What can we not do with thirty seconds!
Now you mothers with little time to spend with your children, pay attention as never before.
Your child looks out the window and sees a collie.  "What's that?" he asks you.

1. We can say, "Look, baby, Mommy has to get dinner."
It will take at least thirty seconds to get rid of the baby and make that stick.

2.We can look out the window and say, "That's a bow-wow."
It will take at least thirty seconds to make that one stick.3. We can use thirty seconds to say, "That's a dog."
It will take at least thirty seconds to make that one stick.  At least it's true to say, "That's a dog."  However, it is far from meeting the standards.  The word "dog" is not precise, it is not discrete, and it is highly ambiguous.  If one says the word "dog" to a hundred different people, a hundred different images will appear in the mind ranging from tiny brown smooth ones to huge black and white hairy ones.

4.We can say, "That's a dog called a collie."
We can then go on to tell him thirty seconds' worth of information which is precise, discrete, unambiguous, and true.

Number four is a fine answer and meets the requirements.
How sad it is that we put information into a computer with great skill and great precision and put information into our children's brains in a hit-or-miss, slip-shod, sloppy, and often untruthful way.
Remember also that, unlike the computer, we can never totally erase the facts which we put into our baby's brain.  They will remain as the first response available on recall.  They will remain if they are true and they will remain if they are untrue. (6)
High motivation is a product of success.
Low motivation is a product of failure.(7)
It is worth remembering that you are not simply teaching your child all that is worth knowing in this world, you are also teaching your grandchildren's father how to teach them.  It is a humbling thought. (8)
From the moment a baby is born, a struggle begins.  Mother does her best to keep her baby close to her, and the world does its best to separate mother from baby.
This is a mistake because mothers are the best teachers in the world for their babies.
There are strong forces at work to separate mother from child, and most people have come to regard each of these encroachments on mother's domain as normal. It is as if that is the way it has always been.
But hospital nurseries, day care centers, and even compulsory education are not the way it has always benn for mothers and babies.  They are newfangled notions, and a radical departure from the age-old human tradition of children being with their mothers until they are ready, willing, and able to handle life on their own.
New cars come with owner's manuals- new babies do not- and yet we all know that babies are a great deal more important than cars.  To be sure, there are manuals for the feeding and changing of babies.  There are books about the general stages of development that can be observed in average, healthy children.
But these aids are based on two main underlying assumptions.  The first is that the baby's needs are primarily physiological and emotional.  The second is that baby's development is triggered by the ringing of a series of genetically preset alarm clocks that go off on schedule regardless of what does or does not happen to him.
These assumptions are false.
It is perhaps because of these false assumptions that modern babies are being raised on accident instead of on purpose.  That is a great shame because the growth and development of the human child is much too important to be left to chance.
It is also because of these false assumptions that mothers have increasingly been persuaded, against their better judgement, to let their babies be cared for by others.
Mothers have know more about babies than anyone else since the world began.
It is mothers who have successfully brought us from prehistoric caves to the present.
However, the modern mother faces a very large problem: her own possible extinction.
She has the same powers of observation, the same intuition, the same insticts, and the same love for her baby that mothers have had throughout human history.  But she is threatened by a world in which it is no longer safe to be a mother.  In this world she must battle to keep her baby by her side from the instant he is born.  In this world she is often told that her baby is better off in a nursery than in her arms.
It is a world in which it is no longer considered fashionable or useful to be a mother. (9)
The brain grows by use.
There is an old law of nature that says that function determines structure.The brain-injured child demonstrates that the opposite is also true.  A lack of function creates a lack of structure.We believed that if we could successfully treat the brain, the child would begin to increase his function, and that as this happened his structure would begin to change.
This is exactly and precisely what happened.(10)(This passage describes how brain-injured children are often small, but as they are properly stimulated, as they heal, they grow in size as well as intelligence.  This is true, whether the child is 4, 6, 10, or 30- the size of the brain doesn't stop growing at age 6, but when it reaches maturity.  The brain does indeed grow by use.)
Reading is one of the highest function of the brain--of all creatures on earth, only people can read.
Reading is one of the most important functions in life, since virtually all learning is based on the ability to read.
It is truly astonishing that it has taken us so many years to realize that the younger a child is when he learns to read, the easier it will be for him to read and the better he will read.
Children can read words when they are one  year old, sentences when they are two, and whole books when they are three years old-- and they love it.
The realization that they have this ability, and why they have it, took a long time. (11)
1.  Tiny children want to learn to read.
2.  Tiny children can learn to read.
3.  Tiny children are learning to read.
4.  Tiny children should learn to read.

I shall devote a chapter to each of these four facts.  Each of them is true and each is simple.  Perhaps that has been a large part of the problem.  There are few disguises harder to penetrate than the deceptive cloak of simplicity. (12)
Millions of young women watched other women moving into what had been men’s jobs and professions.
However they found that they wanted a different sort of profession and a very different sort of life for themselves.  They discovered that they wished to be what we have chosen to call "professional mothers."
It was not so much that they didn’t want to enter the male world.  It is that they wanted much more to be mothers.
They had decided that the best way to change the world for the better was not by improving the world’s institutions, but by improving the world’s people.  They controlled the world’s most important resource and raw material—babies.
They experience a sense of high purpose and take pride in their children and the contributions those children will make in the world.
They have expanded and increased their own knowledge and find that they are more confident and more capable than they were before they began to teach their children.
They expected their children to change but they were astonished to discover that they themselves have higher expectations and bigger goals for their lives as a result of being professional mothers.
Nice side effect, isn’t it? (13)
Footnotes.  In each case, emphasis original.
 1. From "How to Teach Your Baby To Be Physically Superb", 2002 printing, page 17.  Emphasis original.
2. ibid, page 233 Emphasis original
3. From "How to Give Your Baby Encyclopedic Knowledge", 1994, page 18.  Emphasis original
4. ibid, pages 64-66.  emphasis original.
5. ibid, page 93
6. ibid, page 220
7. ibid, page 230
8. ibid, page 263
9. "How Smart is your Baby?" 2006.  Pages 5-7
10. ibid, page 23
11. "How To Teach Your Baby To Read" 1990 version, page 1.
12. ibid, page 9
13. "How to Multiply Your Baby's Intelligence" 1994, pages 150-55

May 10, 2013

Free Piano Lessons 4 Kids Review

Today I'm so excited to share a wonderful resources with you- FREE piano lessons!  No joke, check it out.

His videos are also available on YouTube, like this one.

When I was a teenager, I remember asking my Dad, an entrepreneur, why he one of his products was so much less than his competitors.  Why not charge the same and make more money?  His answer was that he knows how much he himself loves to find a bargain, and how much bargains have helped him raise a large family.  He said that whenever you can make something more affordable, you are doing a service to your customers.  He told me he would rather serve 100 people to make $100 bucks than rake a couple of people over the coals for the same amount of money.  Likewise, he likes to give his business to people who share that philosophy and are serving the community with their business.  Yes, you do have to put food on the table, people understand that, but the wonderful thing about making something affordable is that you will attract more customers.  You serve more people, and you still have your needs provided for.  That lesson from my Dad has really stuck with me.

In the music education business, websites like freepianolessons4kids are a breath of fresh air.  As a musician, I have been really surprised at the cost of many music materials.  Math websites an resources are a dime a dozen.  Same goes for reading, spelling, and writing.  Why not music?  I've been so shocked at the price tag of some of the music products I've come across in the past.  When I first examined Joseph Hoffman's site, I immediately thought of what my dad had said and I loved it right away.  He is a good man who sincerely wants to help more children learn the fundamentals of music and he has made it very affordable.  This website is a real gem and a service to the online community.  This is his business model:

The piano lessons are free.  Completely, totally, 100% free on YouTube.  They are the meat and potatoes, and they are designed so that you don't really need anything else to progress through the lessons.  Isn't that wonderful?  The lessons are fantastic too.

For sale is the e-book that has a printout for every lesson.  Sometimes it's a cutting activity.  Sometimes it's a coloring activity.  Sometimes it's the music written on the staff so you can become more familiar with reading music.  There's a rich variety from lesson to lesson.  It's very well done.  You can also purchase the videos on DVD.  I love this business model.

So now that we know that it's affordable and I like his business model, it's time to look at why I love the piano lessons themselves.

First off, my kids love them.  They really love Mr. Hoffman.  My 4-year-old is so proud to tell people that she is taking piano lessons and Mr. Hoffman is her teacher.  Every time we finish watching a video she waves at the screen and says "Goodbye, Mr. Hoffman!"  She really loves him.  My 5-year-old especially enjoys the movement incorporated into the lessons, and the Early Learning community will be happy to know that while my 2-year-old hasn't actually played the lessons on the piano, he is gaining a lot from the lessons as well.  He is able to count the rhythms "ta, ta,  ti-ti, ta", sing the songs, and overall has a good sense of accomplishment at the end of the lessons.  He knows he is getting piano lessons too and he loves it.  Mr. Hoffman is his music teacher too.  I don't hesitate to recommend these videos to very young children, they don't have to practice on a piano to benefit.  (although obviously for best results you would.)  Concepts like low and high, fast and slow, steady beat, the music alphabet, and SOLFEGE are taught very well and thoroughly. 

I think it's awesome that he teaches solfege.  He teaches the ABCs and incorporates movable do (which I prefer over fixed do) into the lessons, so Do-Mi-So is synonymous with a I chord.  By the end of the e-book you are playing simple melodies, like the frog song in my review video above, in the right hand, while accompanying with chords in the left hand.  And they kids will understand the why behind the chord as well.  I love the theory in the lessons, and the e-book reinforces it very well.  By the way, it's a full-color e-book, I just printed it out in black and white to save ink.

I love the story he uses to teach where the C is on the piano (and all the other letters).  It really stuck with my kids.  We've been using a piano insert with the letter names and the kids have been reluctant to get rid of it.  Well, shortly after watching these video clips, my 4 and 5-year-olds told me they didn't need it anymore.  And they were right!  So check out his videos for that perk alone.

The videos are short and sweet.  This is great for short attention spans.  You can move at your own pace.  Since my children have already had some piano exposure, we've been going through about 3 lessons a week although we will need to slow down soon.  If they don't "get" a topic, they can watch the video again.  It's short enough they can watch it before practicing each day really.  So go slow.  Go fast.  It's up to you.  Mr. Hoffman is always encouraging.  If the kid didn't practice for a week there's no awkward apologies necessary.  Just pick up where you left off and work through it.  I am finding that short video lessons with worksheets and other non-media reinforcement afterwards has been the best education model for my kids and our family.  That's what we're doing with too.  It's a great way to learn.

I've hit on it already, but I love the kinesthetic reinforcement.  Children stand up and move to demonstrate Do-Mi-So, proper posture, bad posture, and steady beat.  Awesome.

I love the Kodaly elements that are in the lessons.  I recognize that influence, and I think it's fantastic.  Things like showing notes on a one-line staff, rhythm solfege, the rhythm and letter flashcards, and the kinesthetic elements are things I associate with the Kodaly/Orff teaching methods.  The most powerful, life-changing music class I had in college wasn't one required for my vocal peformance degree.  It was my Orff training I had one summer before I internshiped with the Cache Children's Choir.  My piano-teaching approach dramatically changed after that class, for the better.  My students were better able to understand and internalize music concepts with the tools I gained.   And it's so much more fun!  I wish every music teacher could benefit from this kind of training.  I wish every music student, especially children, could gain from this kind of teaching approach.  Well parents, Mr. Hoffman's got it and he's nailed it.

The other question is, does this replace piano lessons with a paid teacher?  Well, that's up to you.  Ultimately there's no replacement for real-life feedback.  If you are uncomfortable with teaching piano, hiring a teacher is a great option.  There's something to be said for a weekly commitment with a teacher.  If you pay for something, you take it more seriously too- they say you get what you pay for, and it goes both ways- sometimes you get what you pay for because you expect to get it and put in the effort.  But we're talking about the very basics of piano here.  These videos will not prepare you for Solos and Ensembles or other like-music competitions by any means.  But they will teach the basics, no matter what age you are.  If you know nothing about piano, you can learn with your children.  I wouldn't put an upper or lower age limit on these videos.  You are where you are.  If you are a beginner, you will benefit from watching these.

As an early learning advocate, I'll put in a special plug as well.  It is hard, it can be nigh impossible, to find a teacher willing to take a 3 or 4 year-old for piano lessons.  Usually it's not because young children can't learn to play piano, but because they lack the attention span for a 30 minute lesson, which seems to be the gold-standard length for children.  Not only that, we seem to think young children HAVE to practice 30 minutes a day for it to be worth the money and effort to take them to lessons.  Because of this barrier, many wait until their children are 7 or 8 to start.  Even then, there's still the issue of jumping in and creating burnout.  Even at 7 or 8, a beginning piano student needs to taste success and unless they are naturally inclined to music, they will reject the new 30 minute workload.  20+ years later we hear them regret that they quit piano when they had the opportunity as a child.  I think these online piano lessons are the perfect bridge for preparing children for formal lessons with a teacher.  A child who has gone through these lessons will have a good foundation and will be ready for that workload.  Alternatively, these videos are an excellent tool for piano teachers to use with their beginning students.  Let the videos and e-book be their homework, and an in-person teacher can reinforce what they have learned.  Either way, you win.  And the videos are on YouTube!

It's giveaway time! is hosting a giveaway for 3 (three!) copies of their e-book that accompanies lessons 1-41.  Thank you so much!  Good luck everybody.  :)


Disclaimer: gave me a free copy of the e-book for review.  I was not otherwise compensated for the review, and my opinions shared are my own.
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