July 22, 2014

{Review Crew} HomeSchoolPiano

My kids all enjoy playing the piano and I enjoy teaching them.  But we were thrilled to have online piano lessons through our review of HomeSchoolPiano lessons!  We received a life time subscription for HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books.

Homeschool Piano Review

What is it?
HomeSchoolPiano is a series of online piano lessons.  The instruction starts with piano basics for the new beginner and progresses through more advanced techniques and songs.  The lessons are taught by Willie Myette, a jazz pianist, who is a graduate of Berklee College of Music.

HomeSchoolPiano has a Complete Set of Books that includes all the lessons for beginners through more advanced players.  Each lesson ranges from 5-10 minutes and includes a screen shot of a keyboard with a small picture of Willie at the bottom to allow the student to see the proper technique demonstrated by Wille as well as which notes are to be played on the keyboard.  The lessons are geared for students of any age - from the youngest beginner to an adult beginner or even someone who is wanting to improve technique or learn improvisation. 

Homeschool Piano Review

The program includes CorePiano which are the basic lessons for the beginner pianist.  In these lessons, Willie explains the basics of piano such as note names, types of notes, rhythm, proper playing technique, key signatures, the grand staff, scales, and chords.  There are 33 lessons in this series.

The other portion of the program contains the lessons which are divided into 3 separate books.

Book 1 is for beginners who understand basic note reading and technique.  Book 1 students learn to read music through playing six original pieces.  In addition, students are introduced to the basics of improvisation.

Book 2 teaches additional songs as well as focuses on rhythm, technique, note reading, and more improvisation techniques.

Book 3 is for more advanced students.  In book 3, students are taught how to create musical arrangements in a variety of musical styles.

Each book is broken down into 6 units and these units are further divided into lessons.  The lessons are divided into 6 different steps based on this cycle:
  • Technique
  • Rhythm
  • Ear Training
  • Reading Music
  • Song
  • Improvisation
  • Bonus - contains review of concepts learned
Each book also includes a printable e-book to have the songs and pages to record songs and improvisations. 

Homeschool Piano Review

How did we use it?
We received access to the online piano lessons for 5 students.  I was able to place my children in the level that best fit their abilities.

Here were my students:

Curly (age 8) - She began in Book 1 because she has mastered the basics of technique and note reading.
Tiger (age 6) - He worked quickly through the CorePiano lessons before starting in Book 1 to make sure that he understood the basics.
Bee (age 5) - She worked on the CorePiano lessons.
Prince Charming (I won't tell his age) - Yes, my hubby wanted to take lessons for piano.  He began with the CorePiano lessons since he has no prior piano playing experience.

I had fun working through the improvisation sections of the lessons in Book 1.  Even though I had piano lessons for 12 years, they were traditional piano lessons and I did not learn how to improvise, play jazz piano, or create my own musical arrangements.

I found that Curly did well in Book 1 and was able to complete the lessons independently.  She enjoyed creating her own songs and improvisations and performing them for us.
Tiger and Bee both worked on the CorePiano lessons.  I found that some of these were challenging for them because the program jumps right into note reading, sharps, flats, chords, and scales.  The CorePiano lessons are like a quick overview of many basic principles but some were challenging for my young learners.
My husband found that he was able to work through the lessons on his own because of the foundation that he received in the CorePiano lessons.

What did we think?
My kids found Willie to be very engaging and clear in his explanations.  He provides good instruction with demonstrations and examples.  They were easily able to see what he wanted them to do or play.

While the books are essential to the program, I did not enjoy having to print them out.  It was also awkward and difficult to handle the books.  I had to find a way to bind the pages together to create a booklet to use since the loose papers were hard to manage.  Not all the pages face the same direction so we sometimes had to turn our book sideways to write on certain pages.  I was wishing that there was a way to order a nicely printed and bound book for each child rather than print and bind the pages myself.

The screen contains a picture of a keyboard as well as a small picture of Willie.  As notes are played, they are highlighted on the keyboard at the top of the screen.  It was extremely helpful to be able to see both Willie and the keyboard at the same time.  This enabled us to see what we were supposed to do as well as she which notes to play.

The lessons in the CorePiano portion begin with the very basics of technique which I found to be a helpful reminder for my kids.  However, they do move rather quickly through note reading, scales, chords, key signatures, time signatures, the staff, etc.  The lessons are short and clear.  However, it is a lot of information without much review or practice for very young pianists.  I found that since Tiger and Bee aren't even reading on their own yet, it was a lot to expect them to keep up with learning to read notes, time signatures, sharps, flats, chords, and scales all within 33 short lessons.  While I felt this program would work very well for slightly older kids (maybe ages 7-8 and older), it was challenging for my 6 and 5 year olds.

The improvisation lessons were invaluable and were our favorite part of the program.  None of us are familiar with jazz piano or improvisation.  Willie clearly explained how to start improvising and he provided lots of practice and reinforcement.  I found that my kids were able to start creating their own musical melodies right away after Willie's encouragement.

I loved how all the aspects of piano playing are addressed in the lessons.  There are portions to practice ear training, technique, rhythm, and note reading.  I felt that the program was very well-rounded with how Willie addressed all of these aspects of piano.

I was able to create a separate account for each student so they could keep track of their own progress.  When they logged in each time, it gave them the option to continue the last lesson.  This was helpful as I often did not remember where we had stopped last time.  However, the program took us to the last lesson that they had already completed and not the lesson that would come next in the sequence.  While not a huge issue, it was a minor inconvenience to load that lesson and then move to the next lesson. 

My wrap up!
We have greatly enjoyed this piano program.  The lessons are short and clear.  The teacher is engaging and provides excellent instruction.  The program is thorough in teaching more than just reading notes, but addressing rhythm, ear training, and advanced techniques.  The improvisation lessons are helpful and enlightening.

Overall, this is a fun way to learn piano from a completely new perspective - through the eyes of a jazz pianist who teaches using unique rhythms and introduces tools to learn improvisation.  

More info......

HomeSchoolPiano has two payment packages and the pricing is as follows:

1. Success Package (One payment of $299)
Unlimited life-time access to HomeSchoolPiano along with all bonuses (downloads, jam tracks, sheet music) for up to 5 students.

2. Payment Plan (Payments of $99.97 per month for three months):
Unlimited life-time access to HomeSchoolPiano along with all bonuses (downloads, jam tracks, sheet music) for up to 5 students. 

You can find HomeSchoolPiano on social media:

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July 21, 2014

The Week In Which I Discovered a New Reason for Homeschooling

Our church recently hosted Vacation Bible School.  This was our very first year to participate - the past two summers we have been moving and our move week landed right during VBS.  So, I determined that we would try it out this summer.

I planned ahead and made snacks for all of my kids (we have food allergies).  I talked with the directors and all the workers to alert them of our allergies.  Then I signed myself up to work - I did tell them that I absolutely could not work in the nursery or in preschool since my house feels like a preschool zoo.  Finally, I signed up my kids.  We were ready!

On Day 1 I had to arrive at 7:45.  Ok, people!  I don't ever, ever leave my house before 8.  What on earth!  I got up as early as I possibly could and got all of our snacks, bags, drinks, offering, and all of our baby gear in the car.  I prepared breakfast the night before.  Then I spent 20 minutes trying to convince my kids to get out of bed and come downstairs to get ready.  We finally made it out the door at 7:15 and arrived on time to get name tags.  It was chaos as I took 5 kids to different places, delivered their snacks, and received my T-shirt and work instructions.

For the next 4 days I resolved to pack everything the night before, have breakfast already prepared, get up early, and dress in my super unattractive orange T-shirt.  Does anyone actually look good in pale orange?

Day 2 was a little easier.  I only had to be there at 8:30 and we already knew our assigned places.  The kids were excited for the second day.  We had a good morning routine.  We were so ready!  I got everyone fed, dressed, and in the car.  We were on time!  After I distributed my kids throughout the church I arrived to the craft room to start helping.  Another mom mentioned that I had brown streaks all down the side of my shirt.  It looked like I was wearing poop.  Awesome!  Actually it was only melted chocolate chips (from the chocolate chip muffins) that Punkin had smeared on herself during breakfast.  I spend the rest of the day wearing an orange and chocolate shirt while getting odd looks from everyone who walked by.  After our day I went straight home to wash my shirt!

Day 3 was a disaster.  Ladybug was up extra early for some reason.  Why was she not tired???  I had breakfast on the table and clothes laid out.  Then suddenly Ladybug decided she wanted to wear big sister's dress (that did NOT fit her) and sandals.  That was a negative on both choices from me.  I helped her change and tried to convince her to eat breakfast.  She then proceeded to have the biggest meltdown ever!  It was 7:15 AM!  How can anyone be awake enough to throw an epic tantrum!?  I could barely get Punkin out of bed and change her diaper.  I spent 30 minutes chasing a toddler who would not wear clothes or eat.  I finally shoved her in a dress and put her in the car without shoes.  Once we arrived she had calmed down somewhat and allowed me to put on her shoes.  It was the most stressful "getting out the door" experience I've ever had in my life.

Day 4 began quietly with everyone sleeping in.  I tried to let Ladybug sleep as long as possible because I was scared of her tantrum fury.  Surprisingly she was in a great mood and got dressed in record time.  I was finishing breakfast preparations when I sliced one of my fingers.  It took me 20 minutes to get the bleeding stopped and get a Band Aid on.  Ridiculous!  I didn't have time to cut myself when I had to walk out the door in 10 minutes!  I started calling out orders to each child and they did most of the packing and loading for me that morning.  We crept in to VBS rather late that day with my bandaged finger.  It was a long day helping with tissue paper crafts and my sore finger.  I may have been a little overly dramatic but I was exhausted.

Day 5 was the end of the week!  Praise the Lord!  I thought Friday would never come!  We were making great time when Punkin took her oatmeal bowl and dumped the entire contents of it on her head.  That was a huge setback!  I started the tub and tossed her in-diaper and all.  I scrubbed her down while I yelled instructions to everyone else to finish packing.  Punkin was dressed in the only clean clothes that I could find at that point - a set of jammies - and we rushed out the door.

We straggled in to church and I took a look at my little crew.  Curly was dressed and carrying half of our gear.  Her socks didn't match and her ponytail looked rather pathetic-totally my fault.  Tiger had a good case of bed head and looked like he had some crusted food on his face.  Bee was wearing some crazy outfit that she put together and she looked like a mismatched, clashing rainbow-if that's even possible!  Ladybug had very crooked pigtails and was wearing part of her breakfast on her dress.  Punkin was in jammies and was dragging her blankie behind her.

And in that moment I discovered a new reason for homeschooling.  Laziness.  Yes, I'm lazy.  I admit it!  Getting out the door before 8 AM with children (wearing clothes) and all kinds of gear (diaper bag, snacks, papers) is impossible for me.  It is a disaster, a nightmare, a death wish.

I homeschool so I don't have to live through the crazy morning rush every single day.  I don't have to pack lunches, sign papers, find homework, search for lost shoes, approve outfits, and make sure we don't forget a backpack (or heaven forbid, a child!).

Nope, I enjoy my homeschool laziness.  Each morning we sit around our table in jammies, drinking chocolate milk, while I read.  The essential oils diffuser is going and Vivaldi is playing in the background.  I have a stack of books to read and we have time on our hands.

I homeschool because I'm too lazy to get myself and my children to school on time each day.  After 1 week of our early morning out-the-door routine, I have thrown in the towel.  Hats off to those of you who do it for an entire school year.  It will take me all summer to recover from our week.  I can proudly say that I'm too lazy to send my kids to school.  I'd rather curl up in a beanbag with them, cup of hot tea in hand, and go through our morning schoolwork while they snuggle under their blanket next to me.

That's just one more reason that I homeschool!

July 18, 2014

Learning to Read - Printable Readers

One of my summer projects it to work with Tiger (and a little bit with Bee) as they learn to read.  Every day Tiger is reading to me from various readers and Bee is reading the Bob books to me.  It is tedious to listen to them sound out word after word but they are receiving some solid practice that I hope pays off for next school year.

If you need some extra readers here is a list of printable phonics readers as well as early readers.  Perfect for a "Learn to Read Summer!"

I See Sam

Progressive Phonics

Blend Phonics

Phonics Booklets

SPELD Phonics

Early Reading

DLTK Mini Books

Of course, I have a stack of books and readers in our bookshelves too.  One can never have too many books!

July 16, 2014

Why I Don't Use Boxed Curriculum

If you've noticed my curricula list then you've probably guessed that we are very eclectic at our house.  While I lean mostly classical, I have Charlotte Mason moments and unit study days.  You'll find textbooks and workbooks amidst the living books in our school room.  You'll find lots of art supplies as well as bins of math manipulatives.  You'll also notice books from nearly every homeschool publisher.  Really, I think I am the very definition of eclectic (or maybe it's just confused...)

Either way, I love to choose our books for the new school year.  I painstakingly research different publishers and curricula options.  Then I carefully pick books from a variety of places and piece together our school year.

Does this take more work for me?  Yes.  Do I mind?  Nope.  I'm a curricula junkie and I find joy in the eclectic variety that infuses our days.

I don't exactly use a boxed curriculum.  Let me define boxed curriculum.  This is curriculum that is put together for you-every subject comes together in one giant box with an organized schedule for you to follow.  Many times the books come from the same publisher.  Sometimes, however, they are a variety of books from different publishers that have been put together on one schedule.  These curricula options are usually put together by grade level and some even have a few options - like choosing between which two science or math curricula you want in your box.  

So, before I tell you why I don't use a boxed curriculum, let me be clear.  I'm not saying that a boxed curriculum is a bad thing.  Can I say that again?  A boxed curriculum is not bad.  In fact, many of them are quite good-well planned, carefully selected, wonderfully organized, incredibly thorough.  Boxed curriculum works well for many homeschool families.

But boxed curriculum is not for me.  Why?

Uneven Learning Levels - My kids don't neatly fit into one grade level.  Curly is an incredibly advanced reader and is starting to take off in her writing skills.  Her math skills were left in the dust however.  Tiger is the opposite.  That boy can do some math and he has amazing retention with science topics.  However, he cannot get the hang of reading!  If I use a boxed curriculum I don't have the option to place them at wildly different levels in various subjects.  While there are some options to switch out levels, it would be too difficult for me to match the correct level to each child for every subject.

Flexibility - I would have a hard time following the pre-planned schedule with all the various curricula in my box.  I am someone who "tweaks" everything I do.  There is no way that I would be happy with everything chosen for me, everything laid out, everything scheduled, and everything put together.  I like the flexibility of scheduling our own studies.

Unique Learning Styles - I find that some boxed curricula caters mainly to one dominant learning style.  Each curricula caters to a different one.  But in our house I have 5 little people who I can already tell have vastly different learning styles.  Therefore, I like to choose curricula from many different publishers so I can feel like I hit each learning style.

Variety - I worry that if I chose a boxed curricula that I would become bored.  This may very well be incorrect, but I'm afraid that using materials that are put together by one company will begin to feel too similar and I will feel stuck in a rut.  I enjoy trying new things and I like variety in our homeschool.  I like a textbook here, a workbook there, a few living books, and some classically based learning of Latin and history on a 4-year cycle.  In other words, I pull from a variety of methods and there is not a boxed curricula that touches on all the homeschool methods.  I like for each subject to feel varied and for our schedule to have little surprises.

Curricula Junkie Tendencies - But the main reason that I don't use a boxed curricula is because I am a curricula junkie.  I LOVE homeschool curricula.  I love researching it.  I love reading about it.  I love ordering it (this is my hubby's least favorite part).  I love having multiple boxes arrive at my door.  I love paging through the variety of resources.  I love creating my own schedule.  I love having a little something different in every school day.

So, that's why I don't use a boxed curriculum.  Although, one day that may change.  There might be one year that we use a boxed curriculum for whatever reason.  I'm never ruling them out for good.  I just know that for right now we've found our "sweet spot" with our hodge-podge of resources and our flexible schedule.  Plus, I like watching my resources arrive in many, many boxes!

Hip Homeschool Moms

July 14, 2014


How have you been creative in your summer time fun lately?

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