Maestro Classics: A Little Review

My fourth grader and I have been using Maestro Classics to round out our music study this year. She began the year by listening through all of the Classics for Kids CD’s, which she very much loved. In my search for something similar, I came across Maestro Classics. We ordered two to start with…Peter and the Wolf and Swan Lake.

These CD’s were in instant hit with both of us! We have since listened to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and we’re currently working through The Nutcracker. We have developed a routine for listening to these, which I’m going to share along with a few thoughts on this resource.

Each Maestro Classics CD is like a self-contained little unit study.

There are two parts of this program…a little activity booklet and the CD itself. Each title is also available as an MP3 with a downloadable activity book, but I’m old-fashioned, so I chose the CD:).

Each of the four CD’s we have listened to has been around an hour long. The content of the CDs varies a bit. The Story of Swan Lake begins with 30 minutes of music interspersed with a narrative story. This is followed by a short talk about Tchaikovsky’s life, then we get to listen to the band Speed Metal Swan play some music from Swan Lake ~ with an electric guitar! There is another track with interesting information about the music, then a short track that sets some fun lyrics to music from Swan Lake ~ which really helps you remember the tune!

The little booklets are beautifully illustrated.  Again, these vary by title, so I’ll just share a bit of what’s in this one. There is a page about Tchaikovsky…

A double page spread devoted to the orchestra….

A little rebus story to read, plus a dot-to-dot, and several more pages.

We take about four sessions to finish each Maestro Classics title, probably about two hours total. In the first session, we listen to half of the CD and do a page or two of the booklet.  In the second, we listen to the other half of the CD and do a couple more pages of the booklet. For our third and fourth sessions, we complete whatever parts of the booklet we haven’t gotten to, and listen to the main track containing the music/narration once or twice more.

I would recommend Maestro Classics for about K-5 grade, or up until 10. Younger kids could certainly enjoy the titles and there are a couple of titles I imagine would be great for preschoolers- like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Tortoise and the Hare. We haven’t tried any of those, but they sound wonderful for a younger child. I have gotten a lot out of this program myself, so older kids would definitely learn from the program, but I do think the narration style and booklet activities are best suited for the under-10 crowd (or a multi-age group). There are two CD’s recommended by Maestro Classics for “older kids” ~ The Soldier’s Tale and The Merry Pranks of Master Till. We have not listened to these yet, but they are on my wishlist for next year.

Maestro Classics also has free curriculum guides on their website with extension ideas for each title. We have done a few of the extra activity ideas and enjoyed them. After finishing Peter and the Wolf for example, we watched Disney’s Anastasia, mapped Prokofiev’s travels, and read about the history of Matryoshka dolls.

Maestro Classics has been a great addition to our elementary homeschool music study!

La Clase Divertida Level One: A Little Review

My fourth-grader, Rose, and I have been learning Spanish this year using La Clase Divertida Level One. We have just a few weeks left of the program, so I wanted to share a bit about our experience with using it this year. This is my second time through La Clase Divertida ~ I used Levels One and Two with my older kids. I really love this program and think it’s an ideal introduction to Spanish!

I purchased the La Clase Divertida Level 1 Kit, which includes everything we needed for the year. Please note that I purchased my base kit many years ago, and this year I only purchased a $15 student pack so that we would have a new workbook and craft materials. I do not believe that the program has changed much (if at all) since I made my initial purchase, but just keep in mind that I did buy the program a few years ago.

The kit includes:

  • Two DVD’s of lessons
  • One audio CD, for additional practice
  • A craft kit containing most of the items needed to make the crafts in the program
  • A teacher’s manual
  • A student workbook

How we use La Clase Divertida:

The teacher’s manual has a suggested schedule in it, and we pretty much follow that. At first I was dubious about the included schedule, because it involves a ton of repetition, but I decided to trust the process and I now think it’s perfect. This is not a “watch one lesson a week” type program. We watch each lesson several times over the course of two weeks, plus we use the audio CD for practice. She also does some workbook work over the two weeks, then we wrap up each lesson with a fun activity.

We stick pretty closely to this routine:

Day 1: Watch the lesson on DVD

Day 2: Listen to the audio CD to review past lessons

Day 3: Watch the DVD lesson again

Day 4: Listen to the audio CD

Day 5: Watch the DVD lesson and do the first page of activities in the student workbook

Day 6: Watch the DVD lesson again

Day 7: Listen to the CD

Day 8: Watch the DVD lesson one final time and finish the second page of student activities

Day 9: Listen to the CD

Day 10: Do the fun activity included in each lesson

Each new lesson begins with watching the DVD. The DVD lessons are super fun; you get to follow along with a real Spanish class. Each lesson begins with the class reviewing previous material and “spaces” are left for you to answer questions before the class does. We have learned many Spanish songs, lots of vocabulary, conversation starters, and more.

These are actual kids in an actual class, so things don’t always go as planned, people fidget and sometimes forget the answer, but I like the informal nature of it. The teacher even brings his dog to some lessons! The kids in the class are often asked to “interact” with the audience. For example, they will ask us a question and then wait for us to answer, then we are told to ask them the same question and they answer.  Each DVD lesson takes around 20 minutes to watch.

The next major component of the program is the audio CD. You are meant to use it in between watching the DVD to reinforce what you are learning.  The whole CD is about an hour long. We only listen to the parts we have already covered in our DVD lessons.  How we handle it is – when we start a new lesson, we start at the beginning of the CD, but we only listen for 15 minutes total on our “CD day”.  I keep a note of where we stopped and we start from that point on our next CD day. In the beginning, when we hadn’t covered as much of the CD, we just listened to the same tracks each time until we got to unfamiliar material. Now it is too long to listen to the whole thing each time, so this has been our solution to get in that review without spending too much time.

The next component is the teacher’s manual…this is actually the item I use least of this program. It has a list of objectives each week and some vocabulary words. It also has the answers to all of the workbook exercises, which comes in handy. But it doesn’t contain the actual lesson: that’s on the DVD.

Next we have the student workbook. There is very little writing in this program, which makes it great for younger kids. Rose completes just two workbook pages every two weeks. You could even skip the workbook pages if it felt like too much ~ my older daughter did this program in kindergarten before she was comfortably writing and we just focused on the DVD, CD, and projects.

At the beginning of the program, we were instructed to choose Spanish names for ourselves. Rose chose Adriana (and wrote it on the front of her workbook). I chose Elvira.

Here’s a peek inside the workbook. For this lesson, she practiced writing the days of the week and parts of the body in Spanish. I love how they give separate little lines for writing the letters on ~ makes it easier to learn the spelling!

Another workbook page:

Learning the Spanish names for animals!

So basically, we just carry on watching (and rewatching) our Spanish lesson and listening to the CD in between. By the time the two weeks are up, we really know our stuff and we are excited to see what’s next. We don’t always get to Spanish every day, so sometimes the lessons take more like three weeks to complete. When all of the watching and listening is done, we do the fun activity! This might be a craft, a cooking project, or watching a puppet show about some aspect of Mexican history on the DVD.

Just a few of the projects we have done:

A Xochimilco Float

Ojo de Dios

Mexican wedding (and flag) cookies

And tissue paper flowers!

We will definitely be moving on to La Clase Divertida Level 2 next year. I cannot really think of anything negative to say about this program. The only caution I would give is that the age range suggested on the website is K-8. I have a seventh grader and he doesn’t participate in this program with us, mainly because he wanted to learn French this year, but also because it seems a bit young for him. There is a lot of singing, some dancing, and some overall goofiness that I think is better received at a younger age. This would depend greatly on the child in question though – my 7th grader has no patience for singing! La Clase is definitely introductory Spanish ~ we have learned lots of vocabulary and conversation starters but we will in no way be proficient in the language after finishing this program. But our goal is to get a fun introduction to the language, and this program has definitely done that for us! We give La Clase Divertida Level 1 two thumbs up!

Games We Play: Snail’s Pace Race

 

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I came up with the (perhaps preposterous) idea the other day to challenge the whole family to play every game in the game closet at least once before the end of winter (okay, maybe spring).  As soon as I came up with this idea, I realized it was probably virtually impossible, so I amended the challenge to at least two people play each game. Of course, all six of us playing every game would be awesome, but everyone has different schedules and many folks around here have very definite opinions about what games they will and will not play. So the object is just for someone to play the game.

We have quite the game closet, so this will be quite the challenge.  I am thinking this will also be a great opportunity to clean out the game closet ~ if everyone flat out refuses to play a game, I’ll know that game isn’t popular (I’m looking at you Monopoly!). We have quite a few games in there I think the kids have probably outgrown and some that some of them have never really tried, so I think this will be a good opportunity to review the collection.  I plan to post about most games here on the blog ~ not a long post, just a quick little review and some thoughts on each game. For the record, my kids are ages 17, 15, 12, and 9.

 

Okay, on to our first game…Snail’s Pace Race!

 


We have had this game in our closet for as long as I can remember. It was one of the first games that any of the kids learned to play. The recommended ages are 3-7, so obviously all of mine are above that age! This isn’t a game that comes out much anymore, but it was on the top shelf of the closet which was where we had decided to start our challenge, so we gave it a whirl. Snail’s Pace Race is great for beginning gamers, because it isn’t very competitive. First, everyone guesses which snail they think will come in first and which snail they think will come in last. Hint: write down everyone’s guesses so you don’t forget! As a variation,  we have also had everyone guess the order that all the snails will come in (1-red, 2-pink, 3-orange, etc).

To play, everyone takes turns rolling the colored dice and moving the snails accordingly. A pink and red roll means the pink snail and the red snail both get to advance one space. The snail who gets to its matching leaf first is the winner! If anyone predicted that snail would win, they also win. Play continues until the last snail is home and whoever guessed the correct last snail is also a winner.  What is nice here is that multiple people can win. Plus, it’s really the snails playing, not the people, so if you have some kiddos that tend to get a bit upset if they lose (we of course know nothing about that here, ahem) this is a great game.

How long it takes: Snail’s Pace Race takes around ten minutes to play.  To extend it, we created a house rule that once all the snails get to their leaf they have to return to their home space, having another race on the way.

Who can play: Ages 3+ and up to 6 players. Kids can even play by themselves. There is no reading required. Like I said earlier, my bunch is definitely on the older side for this game but they still had fun with it when I broke it out. I will say there was more of a “horse-race” atmosphere going on than I remember from when they were preschoolers, though!  I turned down several suggestions that we bet money on the snails.

What it teaches: This is a great game to introduce the concept of playing a game and taking turns in a low-key way. For the really littles, it also teaches color matching and basic counting, because they’ll want to know how many more spaces “their” snail needs to go.

What I love about it: The wooden snail pieces are so cute, colorful, and sturdy! This is a game I will be holding onto for future generations; it has held up remarkably well after years of use.

Our Homeschool Language Arts this Year

Hello! I hope you are having a wonderful homeschool week! I am planning to do a series on the blog about how we are doing different subjects in our homeschool this year with all the different ages we have. I’m happy to answer any questions about the resources we are using; just leave me a comment on this post.

First up is language arts. For us, this subject includes grammar, writing, spelling or vocabulary work, and handwriting practice. Here’s how we are handling language arts in our homeschool this year:

11th grade

Grammar: I have decided to let my 11th grader be done with grammar.  She has completed all three seasons of Analytical Grammar and had started on one of that company’s high school review books but was finding it a bit tedious. She has done grammar every year since she was six and feels like she has gotten everything from it she can. So we have dropped this as a formal subject.

Writing: We decided to give Bravewriter’s online classes a try this year and I am so glad we did. She enrolled in Expository Essay: Exploratory and Persuasive to start off the fall, then finished the fall semester by doing Nanowrimo. She is beginning Bravewriter’s Expository Essay: Rhetorical Critique and Analysis this week, which is kind of a “part two” of the first class she took. She has really enjoyed the Bravewriter class format and feels it has been a really good experience for her as she transitions to college classes (she is dual-enrolled at a local community college). I plan to have my other kids also take Bravewriter classes in high school so they get to experience someone besides me giving them feedback on their writing. Besides this, her writing is primarily taking place through her other subjects and dual enrollment classes.

Vocabulary – She is completing the Vocabulary from Classical Roots series by finishing up Book E, which will complete her formal study of this subject.

9th grade and 7th grade

My two boys overlap a bit, so I’m going to combine them here…

Grammar: My 9th grader (and my 7th grader) are working through Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind. We have kind of a mixed bag reaction to this resource. My kids, to be honest, protest when I bring it out. But, being one of those people who really sees the importance of grammar, I have asked them to go through a year of it. The program is designed to be repeated every year, but we’ll most likely find something different for next year.  I personally think it’s a very thorough, rigorous program, but in my house it causes a lot of whining so I don’t think it will have staying power.  We have compromised by doing whatever we can orally and only completing half of the diagrams for each lesson. We try to cover 2-3 lessons per week.

 

 

Writing: Both my 9th and 7th graders are working through the fifth book of Writing Strands. We use this book in a bit of a loose manner, in that I don’t require the boys to do all of the assignments. They look at each assigned writing project as they get to it and decide if they want to tackle it or not. If not, I ask them to write up a nonfiction paper on something that interests them instead. Writing Strands is quite creative-writing oriented, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, so this has been our solution.  They just work a bit on either their Writing Strands assignment or other writing project a bit each day; we don’t try to stick to the exact daily assignments in the book. I am currently trying to decide if I want to introduce more Bravewriter-style writing projects as another alternative to the Writing Strands assignments.

Spelling and Vocabulary: My 9th grader is finished with spelling (he did the Spelling Workout series) and is working on vocabulary now with Wordly Wise 9. He does a few pages each week and at the end of each lesson we do an oral quiz on the words before he moves on to the next lesson. Easy and pretty painless.  My 7th grader is working through Spelling Workout G, at the rate of about one lesson per week.

 

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4th grade

Grammar: My fourth grader is working through First Language Lessons 4. I really, really love First Language Lessons for elementary (review here). It has just the right amount of rigor, and there’s even a bit of fun sprinkled throughout the lessons. Last week, for example, we made a sandwich and used the process to review prepositions.  We usually do 2-3 lessons a week.

Writing: She is using Writing Strands 4. I modify the assignments for her as needed. For example, she just had an assignment to draw a floor plan of the whole house and then write a description for each room. I had a feeling that assignment  might cause a meltdown, so we have been working together on a description of just one room (we skipped the floor plan idea entirely). I also give her the option of other writing assignments if one of the Writing Strands assignments doesn’t catch her fancy.

Spelling: She is working through Spelling Workout D, usually completing one lesson each week.

Handwriting: My fourth grader is also doing handwriting practice, just a bit each day. She is using Zaner-Bloser for this (book 4).

In addition to the above, I am also using Five in a Row Volume 4 with her, which includes a language arts component for each book. This is just a fun extra for her right now and we are taking a few weeks to “row” each book. Our current book is Snowflake Bentley.

And that’s how we’re doing language arts this year in our homeschool!

The IKEA Raskog Cart for Homeschooling

I picked up a Raskog cart on one of last year’s IKEA jaunts. I am pretty much in love with this little cart! For the first few months it lived in our laundry room holding detergent and bleach and other not-so-exciting-but-necessary-stuff. One day I was dragging books out of our home library to start our homeschool day, and it occurred to me that  wheels would make the job a heck of a lot easier and more fun. So the little cart moved into our library and now I use it to store the books I need to work with the kids each day.

Every morning I wheel this baby out to the kitchen, where it is central to everything we are doing. We are very much a “homeschool all over the place family” but I tend to center operations in the kitchen. I originally thought I would store supplies like pencils, erasers, scissors and such plus books on this cart, but we have a lot of books so there is not enough space. On my next trip to IKEA, I am planning to get my Raskog a sibling and use her to store those sorts of things.

I use this cart for the books I need most days and the contents switch up as we finish books and start others. Each kiddo also has a crate of independent materials. So the cart is really for the subjects I do with them. I arrange the contents in roughly the order we work each day. I start the day with my youngest and the top shelf holds:

 

Going down a shelf, my older kiddos do much more work independently, so their shelves are shared.

On the middle shelf, I have:

 

Then, on the bottom shelf I have:

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I honestly could not do without my little cart….and as a plus, it is just too cute. The only thing I am sad about is that I really wanted to get a blue one, but they were out of stock and it seems they don’t make a blue Raskog anymore. This color is the red/brown and I like it, but I have my fingers crossed there will be another fun and different color by the time I make it back to IKEA.

First Form Latin: A Little Review

We have been studying Latin in our homeschool this year, which I am so excited about! I am really enjoying learning this language along with my kids. Quite possibly, I am enjoying it much more than they are;). But they are humoring me and going along with it, so all is good. Today, I want to share a bit about First Form Latin, which I am using this year with my ninth and seventh graders.

First of all, I am a huge fan of this program! I only wish I had found it earlier in our homeschool journey. We have been using First Form Latin for about ten weeks now and it is going so well. This program is very understandable and teacher-friendly even to me, someone with very little Latin experience! The lessons are clearly laid out and we were able to quickly develop a good routine for going through them, which I will share below.

For First Form Latin, I purchased the “complete set”, plus duplicates for some items.
                             
This includes the following:

  • Teacher’s manual
  • Student texts for each of my boys
  • Student workbooks ~ one for each of my boys, plus one for me to work in alongside them
  • Teacher key with answers to the exercises and quizzes
  • DVD
  • Audio CD 
  • A booklet of reproducible quizzes
  • Flashcards
  • In addition to the above I purchased:
    • The First Form Latin schedule from Memoria Press – I love having a daily schedule; this one keeps me on track and tells me what exercises to do each day ~ and it has boxes I can check!
    • Desk charts (not shown) ~ I will confess I have not used these grammar helps yet, but writing this post reminded me that I should get them out!
    • Lingua Angelica set ~ I loved the idea of listening to Latin hymns as part of our learning so I also purchased this set, which includes an audio CD, teacher’s manual, student workbook, and songbook.  We have not been using the workbooks at all, so in retrospect, I could have done without them. We just listen and follow along with the lyrics in the songbook.
    So how do we do all this?
    On Mondays (typically) we watch the lecture for our assigned lesson. I feel like this time gives me a little break and really, we could not do this program without “our” Latin teacher. Hearing someone else explain something really helps those words on the page sink in!

    After we watch the DVD lessons (about 20 minutes) we head to the kitchen table and get out our textbooks. Each lesson contains assigned Latin grammar questions for us to go over, and Monday is typically the day we do this. This takes about 5-10 minutes. Next, it’s on to the heart of the lesson.

    Each FFL lesson contains several  components and I try to review each component each day we do Latin. We typically start with a recitation, then review the Latin saying and vocabulary for the week. Next we have “chalk talk” where we learn about conjugating various forms of the verbs and other grammar points.  We are usually told to conjugate a couple of the new verbs on a white board.  Then, on subsequent days we slowly work on conjugating the rest of the verbs on the white board.  Teaching the lesson takes about 10-15 minutes, on average, usually a bit more the first day.
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    Next, we do the assigned exercises (from the MP schedule). As I mentioned above, I purchased a student workbook for myself and I do the exercises right along with my boys. This has made a HUGE difference to me  in learning and teaching Latin! The exercises usually take 15-20 minutes to complete, after which we all check our answers together. I am not sure why one of my kiddos is working with a sock on his hand, but whatever works, right?

     

    After we check our answers, we listen to our assigned Lingua Angelica song for that lesson – we usually listen to it twice.

    On subsequent days, we review each lesson for about 15 minutes, then do our exercises. Typical exercise include filling in tense ending charts, working with derivatives, writing out the saying, and working on translations. And each day we listen to our assigned hymn. On Wednesdays (or the third day of our lesson) we use the audio CD to review. I try to do Latin five days a week, though we don’t always get to it.

    On Fridays, we do the oral drill from the lesson and go over flashcards. Then, we all take the quiz for that lesson, and we are ready to move on to the next lesson.

    I honestly cannot think of anything negative to say about this program – it is well-laid out and organized and makes Latin so much easier for me to understand and teach than other programs I have tried. My hope is that we will be able to continue on with Second Form Latin next year.

    You Are an Artist Chalk Pastels: A Little Review

    Last week I shared a bit about the woodworking my boys are doing for their homeschool art this year. This week, I want to share about what my youngest Rose is doing. (In case you were wondering, my oldest daughter is planning to use Oak Meadow’s photography program for her art course this year, but with one thing and another she hasn’t quite started it yet).

    Okay, on to the pastels! Rose (9) specifically requested to work with pastels this year and I was fortunate enough to stumble across an absolutely wonderful resource ~ Hodgepodge’s You Are An Artist. This site offers video art tutorials and art e-books. I chose to go with the e-books both for my budget and my sometimes spotty internet connection. Both of us have been so thrilled with this resource! So far, Rose has completed A Seasonal Start in Fall Chalk Pastels and has been working through Chalk Pastels Art At the Beach. Tomorrow she will begin A Simple Start in Christmas Chalk Pastels and she is very excited to get started creating some fun holiday art!

    What’s included ~ When you order a chalk pastels e-book you receive a link to download your e-book, which you can either print out or use right from your device.  I save all of our e-books to a folder set aside specifically for our homeschool downloads so they are easy to find later. I print out each e-book, because pastels are messy and I think it’s easier to work from a printed page.  I print out just the cover and the project pages. To save ink, I don’t print the introductory material about how to work with pastels, though I definitely recommend reading through these, especially if you are new to working with pastels. There is a lot of good information in there.

    What you’ll need ~ To use the chalk pastel e-books you’ll need pastel paper, pastels, and baby wipes. I order pastel paper from Amazon; it’s much cheaper than at the craft store.  For pastels, Rose uses the Prismacolor brand, which we have been happy with. FYI, if you are new to pastels, they will break and look all messy like ours do ~ but they still work just fine! Using baby wipes for clean-up is a trick I learned from the e-books and boy does it work well! I just bought a tub of inexpensive baby wipes and keep them right with our supplies. They clean up both hands and any lingering dust on the table easily.


    How to do it ~ Rose usually does her pastels on Friday morning. I have her spread some newspaper over her work-surface before she begins. I keep all of her supplies together in a basket so she can  grab it and cart it out to the kitchen table. For reference, Rose is 9, and she can do these projects entirely on her own. The directions are written to the artist and have a lovely, chatty style that she really responds to and understands. There are plenty of illustrations as well, making it easy to follow along. I spray each finished pastel work lightly with hairspray to keep the pastels from smudging. After it’s dry Rose either hangs it up in her room – she has quite the gallery – or gives it away to a lucky recipient.

    You Are An Artist Chalk Pastels are a huge hit in our homeschool this year! If you want to try it out,  there are free sample lessons at the website.