Mar 30, 2013

Math and the Japanese Soroban

Lately I have been doing a lot of research on how to teach math while in fact doing very little math with my children.  :(  That's going to change soon as I have chosen a course.  We're going to learn and practice math with an ancient calculator.  One that, the more they use and practice with, the faster they become at mental math, and the less dependent they will be on the tool.  It's the abacus!  But not just any abacus, the soroban.  Take a look at where practice will take you:

And here's a YouTube play-list that will teach you how to use it:

Baby Math by marthazen

I first learned about the Soroban a couple of years ago when Timberdoodle started carrying Aba-Conundrums (Currently sold out, so this link is to Amazon).  Aba-Conundrums includes a soroban and some puzzles, but the book does not train a child to calculate with a calculator.  But the abacus itself has appealing colors and large beads, so I'm thinking about getting this one.

Ultimately it was "Teaching My Toddler"'s excellent post that led me to look into soroban training again.  Her blog post is HIGHLY recommended- she's the one doing this stuff, I'm just dreaming of starting soon.  :)

She purchased her abacus here- a teacher demonstration one is great for early learners because of the large size:

Tomoe Soroban

Once you have mastered addition and subtraction (this is something Mommy can work on too- how exciting to start learning with my kids), you can move on to multiplication and division.

And once you can calculate quickly with the abacus, you can develop your mental imaging to do calculations without the abacus- the more you use a calculator, them more you don't have to!  So I come full circle, from the demonstration in the first video to this website that tells more about Anzan- the mental abacus you develop and henceforth can carry in your brain.  Thank you, Japan!  (and thank you, UK, for the information and printables on this site.)  It's a small world after all.  :)

Mar 26, 2013

Soft Mozart printables

I am no longer affiliated with Soft Mozart and have chosen to remove this content.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Mar 25, 2013

Soft Mozart Review

I am no longer affiliated with Soft Mozart and have chosen to remove this content.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Mar 23, 2013

Musescore E-Course


Introduction to the course
As a music major, one of the most useful classes that I took in college was computer applications in music.  It was one of the classes that you tried to take as early on in your music program as possible so that you would know how to more easily create music for your theory and form classes, as well as transcribe solos and cadenzas, create music for your students, and a whole slew of other things.  It was a basic, simple class, but it was so essential for everything else that we did.

We primarily learned to use a program called Finale.  While the program is indeed fantastic, the $600 premium product available to us as students at the computer lab is not a program that I can personally afford.  I have been simply satisfied with the $50 print-music program my husband bought a few years ago until I found....drumroll....  

As an open source project, it is absolutely and completely free.  No advertisements, no e-mail sign-up (unless you want to join their forums, which I have enjoyed), and no trial period.  I can't tell you how happy I am to have found this resource.

As I have been learning and playing with this program, I have thought about how I wish that I could have had something like this when I was a kid and wanted to be a composer.  I remembered how I spent HOURS painstakingly dragging individual notes and dropping them into a poor program my high school music teacher had to notate one of my early compositions.

I would like to help the online community learn how to use this program.  Based on my college syllabus and adapted for children, the lessons and assignments will be posted here and you could have your kids do them at your convenience.  I will provide instructions and sometimes screen-videos to show how to do them.

Some side benefits for learning about computer music notation would be

1.    Playback feature to see if what they "wrote" was what they want it to be- instant feedback!
2.    Solidify rhythmic notation- in a 4/4 measure, you can only put 4 counts, no more, and if you do less, the measure will fill up with rests.
3.    Encourage music composition

If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments section and I will try to answer them.  I would love your feedback!

Mar 19, 2013

Don't worry about teaching him that...

This post is a response to a funny video I've been thinking a lot about.

It's funny!  It's a bit over the top.  But seriously, what an awesome Mom!  And by the way, we really like Fisher Price toys.  The part about this video I want to comment on is the line at the end,

"Hey, don't worry.  Learning happens."

Who's worried?

Does the mother look like she's worried?  Granted, she's an actress, but to me it looks like she's having a lot of fun with her kid.  And what toddler doesn't want to spend that much time with their mother?  He looks happy too.

If anybody is worried, it's an onlooker who is judging the mother for being too involved in their child's education.  And really, it's none of their business.  Even so, as an early-learning advocate, I have heard many people tell me not to worry about teaching my kids such and such a subject, and I think it stems from a western cultural misconception that kids learn best when their parents just leave them alone and let them play.  It also stems from a cookie-cutter timeline mentality.  1-year-olds begin to talk.  2-year-olds stack blocks.  3-year-olds are potty-trained.  4-year-olds run and speak well.  5-year-olds start kindergarten.  Sadly, some people will worry about how you parent your child no matter what you do, whether it's to validate their own parenting style, they are competitive, or because they are trying to cover up their own insecurities.  There isn't much I can do about the last group, but I do want to touch on the first two.

Young children should just play.


I agree that children should play.  They should play a lot.  They should be able to explore their world on their own terms.  They should have a safe environment where they are allowed to explore.  One of my favorite blogs is, which has lots of fun activities to help children learn through play.  It's an awesome, awesome site.

It's the just part that doesn't fit my parenting approach.  I think young children instinctively want to learn.  I think it is my duty as a parent to teach them.  They have what Montessori calls an absorbent mind- they are like little sponges eager to learn how to survive in this big world.  Learning is a game for them, why shouldn't I be allowed to play?  Why shouldn't I give them the tools to accelerate their learning?

In fact, that's the key to successful early learning- introducing educational topics in a playful, age appropriate way.  It's not wrong to teach a toddler to read, as long as they enjoy it.  I doubt a 2-year-old would learn much if they didn't want to sit with Mommy and would rather be somewhere else.  If, when you try to do flashcards they are squirming to get away, let them, evaluate your approach, and try again later.
I often witness a big misconception when people see my 2-year-old reading.  They think I must have worked hours and hours teaching him through traditional schooling methods.  It must have been very hard.  The poor kid should have just been allowed to play.  The reality is that we simply use products like Little Reader, Your Baby Can Read, and MonkiSee for a few minutes every day, we've been consistent with it, and because he enjoys it, he learns and progresses with it.  Teaching a young child to read is easy, if you know how to do it, and/or have the right tools to get the job done.  The same goes for any academic topic.

I can sympathize with the overall message of articles like In Preschool, What matters Most- Education or Play?, however, I think we are missing the boat when we think that one precludes the other.  I venture that children should have structured educational play, and that such play shouldn't end with preschool.  Learning should be made as enjoyable as the subject matter allows, whether the child is a preschooler, or an adult.  We retain more and learn better when we relaxed and are having fun.  Having said that, it is no sin to teach our children how to work, and expect them to have a good attitude.


Age Milestones

Milestones have a useful purpose.  Knowing that 1-year-olds typically learn to walk is good to know if your 18-month-old is still crawling.  Maybe they need more time on the floor.  Maybe you could spend more time helping them.  Maybe there is a developmental problem.  Maybe a child is talking late because they have a hearing problem.  Maybe their struggle to focus is because of a dietary issue.  Maybe they struggle with reading because they have dyslexia and they need a different approach.  Parents don't know to look for alternative solutions unless they have milestone guides.  Three cheers for milestones.

One of the reasons that people may choose to homeschool, however, is to get away from society's expected milestones and let children learn at their own pace.  I applaud parents who recognize that it's not the end of the world if their 9-year-old homeschooled child struggles with reading.  I recognize that they have probably learned a lot of other valuable lessons, those things which the family holds to be most important.  I recognize that children are individuals and that their parents know their children best.  I trust that in the vast majority of cases, parents have their children's best interests at heart.  They love their children, and they want them to grow up to become successful adults.  While there really are homeschoolers who let their kids play video games all day while they drink booze and gamble online, I haven't met any of them personally.  I haven't met a singe homeschooler who wasn't homeschooling because they thought it was what was best for their child.  I know a lot of homeschoolers.  

I also recognize that regardless of what kind of education a child receives, if the parents aren't involved and don't care, that child will inevitably suffer for it.  The kids who struggle most in public school are the ones with parents who simply don't care.  The children who are at the top of the class have supportive parents at home.  One of my public-school-teacher friends suggested that the reason homeschoolers score better on average than public-schoolers (80th percentile) has less to do with the quality of their schooling and more to do with the parental involvement.  Few of the parents who simply don't care about their kids homeschool them.  Public school is like free babysitting.  That fact alone will shift the testing results.  I think he made a good point.  But that's a tangent.  My point is, we shouldn't judge parents or children based on a child's "slow" academic progress.  Chances are, that parent is fully aware of the status quo and how their child compares, and they have provided for it in their own way.  They know and/or are discovering what that child needs and are providing for it.  (by the way, brain gym has helped a lot of struggling kids.  That's a post for another day.)

Many homeschoolers are aware of this.  There is a lot of support offered for children who are "behind", and collectively we are eager to reassure those parents that each child is unique, that they learn at their own pace, and that we should simply be looking for progress.  In a word we say, milestones are a handy reference, but don't take them to heart.

So, backing up a little, why am I making a defense for children who are behind when this article is more about accelerated children?  Because I have been hurt a few times when the same people who reach out with affirmations that we shouldn't compare our children to society's expected milestones turn around in the same breath and tell me I shouldn't "worry" about teaching my 5-year-old such and such because he doesn't need to know that yet.

According to whom?

Early Learning children have different needs than their peers.  If they aren't moving forward, they are regressing.  I'm not teaching my 5-year-old his multiplication tables because I'm "worried" about him becoming a math genius when he grows up.  I'm teaching him multiplication because that is where he is at academically.  The end.  Yes, a typical child in kindergarten is learning cvc words.  That's great.  But Peter has done that already.  He has moved past that.  He is ready for chapter books.  When other people tell me I shouldn't worry about introducing him to chapter books (or whatever), it doesn't encourage me to relax my draconian educational approach.  Heavens, I'm not that organized.  Much of the day my son is playing with his legos or digging in the dirt outside.  No, all "don't worry about that yet" comments really do is show me that they don't understand where my family is at and what the needs of my children are.  We've done cvc words.  We've done the story books.  I'm not worried about his reading progress, I'm eager to take the next step.  It's a good thing too.  A very real problem gifted children have when they enter school is that they easily soar through it.  School is super-easy for them and they can get lazy.  By and by, their peers catch up academically AND they have learned how to work.  EL kids need to learn how to work too.

If we truly want to eliminate milestone dependency, we need to give on both sides of the spectrum, and allow other parents to do the same.  Reserve judgement.  Encourage and applaud parent's efforts, no matter where their child is at.  Where they are is not as important as where they are going.  In the immortal words of Walt Disney, "Keep Moving Forward".

Mar 12, 2013

Special Offer, free "Solfege Train" with Little Musician purchase

A few months ago, I purchased BrillKids "Little Musician" while I was finishing up my own product, "The Solfege Train", and my children are using both in tandem.  I must admit that I think that these two are a great match, although I have an obvious bias.

Little Musician is a fantastic product.  I previously stated that it was akin to "my dream product" for early learning and music, and I hold true to that.  There are classical music examples, perfect pitch exercises, chord recognition, instrument recognition, solfege integration, nursery rhymes, and bright, colorful images that engage my children's attention.  My 3-year-old especially is thriving with it.

I could never make a product this good.  If you can't beat them, join them.  I endorse and recommend Little Musician.

There is one caveat to the the product, however, and that is that all of the lessons and activities are on-screen and require computer access to use them.  That's where I think The Solfege Train can help.  It is a set of manipulatives for off-screen reinforcement.

Here's a video to show what I mean:

So let's get to the point.  My special offer is:  Purchase Little Musician and use discount code "BKAFF13180" during checkout.  This code gives you 10% off!  It is also my affiliate code.  Now you know what's in it for me.  :)  After you purchase Little Musician, contact me to inform me of the purchase and give me the e-mail address you would like me to send "The Solfege Train" to.  That's it!  Enjoy the two of them together.  Happy music lessons!

Reading list for February


The following list is pathetic.  I lost one page of notes (which would double this list), my kids were sick so I didn't take them to the library, we went out of town, I got side-tracked studying midbrain activation, yada yada yada.  Well, guess what, I'm going to post my list anyway because I want to hold myself accountable and the year is hardly over.  I'm still going to push for the 2013 goal.  I just have a bit more work to do now because February was a flop.  Hey, even if I don't make it to 2013, if I read more to my kids than I otherwise would have, it was a worthy pursuit.  Besides, so far March has been a great month.  It turns out, my kids missed the library.

1.    A picture book of Helen Keller
2.    A Pig and a Bee
3.    Abby Mix + Match Nursery Rhymes
4.    Cars Race Team (x2)
6.    Cars- Driving Buddies
7.    Cars- Old, New, Red, Blue (x2)
9.    Cars- Roadwork
10.    Cars- Spooky Sounds
11.    Children around the world
12.    Clifford manners
13.    Clifford runs to story time
14.    Curious George- Are you Curious?
15.    Dora’s Book of Manners
16.    Hi! Fly Guy (x2)
18.    I didn’t know that some cars can swim
19.    Little Boy
20.    Morning noises
21.    My Pretty Pink box of board books
22.    Ready, Steady, Go
23.    Should I share my Ice Cream?
24.    Silly Street
25.    Simon says Smile like a princess
26.    Swing! (x2)
28.    The Berenstain Bears All Aboard
29.    The Friendly Crocodile
30.    The Rainbabies
31.    Tiger Lily and the Waterfall (x2)
33.    Wake up and stretch
34.    Whose home is this?
35.    YCCD Music (x2)
37.    YCCD Shapes
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