Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Online Music with Simply Music - A Review

This month, we had the opportunity to use and review the beginning course Music and Creativity - Foundation Course offered online by Simply Music. 

Simply Music  
Music & Creativity - Foundation Course

This introductory course is available to anyone free of charge. As someone who has never had formal piano lessons, I was intrigued by the claims made in the promotions for this course on the website.

"It has students of all ages improvising and playing great sounding blues, classical, contemporary and accompaniment pieces - immediately - from their very first lessons." 

I did take guitar lessons as a child. I was taught by, what Neil Moore describes as, the reading-based approach. I learned to read music in those lessons and gained some basic musical exposure and understanding. I enjoyed learning to play but, I did really want to play more familiar and popular songs sooner than that approach allowed. The most fun I had with guitar at that point in my life was the mini concerts my neighborhood girlfriend and I put on for, well, no one! We sang our hearts out though, I strummed along and thank goodness there wasn't a video or phone wielding mom around every corner at that time in history!

As far as my piano skills, my musician husband has shown me a few piano basics here and there. He has also given basic lessons to our children when they showed an interest. I invited my husband to participate in reviewing this product with me for the Homeschool Review Crew which he graciously did. As a teacher of music himself he was interested in the teaching approach and the online lessons provided.

The Simply Music; Music and Creativity - Foundation Course, includes 19 lessons. In each, Neil presents the lesson. His lectures communicate each concept simply and clearly. The foundation course is geared toward beginners. I appreciated his easy to understand explanations of what to do and how to practice. The lessons also include quality recorded sound tracks for play along participation. Amazingly, it really does only take a few lessons to actually be able to play along with those sound tracks to some degree. The fun of experiencing actually playing along provides the motivation to continue more lessons and practice that is often lacking for students.

There is also a reference book that includes simple diagrams that provide a visual aid offering another way to understand the material presented. Given what the objectives of the course are; to get a student playing along fairly quickly, it probably isn't necessary to include traditional notation but, it also probably wouldn't hurt to have that in the reference book as well. A downloadable practice pad is also provided but I am certainly glad we have our piano to practice and play on.

My husband and I viewed some lessons together but watched most separately.

His notes are as follows:
Learn without notes first.
Learn slowly but multi-sensory.
Speak, vocalize through what you are attempting to do, to really know it.
Very methodical.
Play along with orchestrated recordings (Sound tracks)
Get into playing songs quickly, not scales or technique exercises.
Combined piano playing with sound tracks is fully orchestrated.
Re-interprets pieces in a new style and tempo for a challenge.

An 84 page e-book is included that goes into more detail about Neil Moore's insights and philosophy of music education. In it he shares his thoughts on how to create opportunities for more participation and enjoyment of music by more students. He poses some intriguing questions about music participation in our culture and how he believes the approach he has developed, to teaching music addresses concerns he and others may have. Based on my own experience and working through about half of the Foundations course, I do think the teaching in Music and Creativity - Foundation Course addresses the issue of impatience or boredom that can accompany a reading music and technique first approach that causes many students to quit pursuing an active involvement in music.

It is not clear if additional courses on the Simply Music site may provide more instruction in specific technique and reading music. This Foundation course has been fun to participate in. Given that it is offered for free, the course only requires that a student follow along and join in, it is an opportunity to discover the joy of playing piano. The reward provided by actually playing along in this course makes it definitely worth the effort. And who knows where it might lead a beginning student.

To read more reviews by the Homeschool Review Crew of Simply Music's Music and Creativity - Foundation Course click the banner below.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Traditional ballets have some commonality with traditional fairy tales. Old stories of good and evil with a healthy dose of romance. Beautiful princess', handsome princes and strange characters offering temptations, fulfilling their own desires with magic or granting wishes for a price by way of poison apples, witches spells, dolls coming to life to dance or by some other wizardry. Maybe the common aspects come from the time and place originated. It is my understanding that the Grimm brothers weren't the actual authors of the many tales they recorded but the collectors of the tales. Many of both fairy tales and ballets have a dark aspect, a kind of creepiness included.
The story of Coppelia is one of the early ballet stories. The music was written by Clement Philibert Leo Delibes, a french composer of the Romatic era (1815-1910). The ballet is based on a short story written by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, (the same writer of the original novel the more commonly familiar Nutcracker ballet was based on). The ballet includes a comedic twist within it's theme of the potential havoc that results from a man attempting to create a live human replica based on his own desire.

As for traditional classical ballets, the stories are old and probably also based on stories from the oral traditions where they first appeared. Usually they include a romance, good and evil or at least some mischief and the everyone dances around happy ending. Or as a favorite stand up comedian, Brian Regan, shares about his efforts to understand ballet performances, "he loves her, she doesn't love him, she loves someone else and they all dance around for a couple of hours" his description could be a condensed version of Coppelia with the addition of  the wedding finale. In the story of Coppelia, one of the someones is a mechanical doll created by the toy maker Coppelias. The addition of the characterization of mechanical dolls adds to the variety of  physical dance movement, delightfully performed by the ballerinas.

Why am I writing about a specific ballet? (besides to share and brag a little) about the accomplishment of our last graduating home school student. Mostly, I want to share and give an example of learning by following a students interests, how so many subjects including academics can be covered by, or at least touched upon, by interest led learning. I want to share our experience so that it can serve as an illustration of the value of doing and learning in the bigger world. Participating in the world by following interests can lead to intense and relevant learning for any student.


My daughter's participation in this production is just one of the examples from our homeschooling experience of how it really can work. That most, if not all, subjects can be learned through actual participation in events, projects and work. Sometimes homeschool families need encouragement to follow the lead of their students. Sometimes, it is the students themselves, who need reassurance of the value of what they are doing. For some students, confirmation of that value may not come to them often enough before they venture into the real world as young adults.

My daughter, the aspiring ballerina/dancer was cast in the role of Swanhilde for this classic ballet. As a homeschool student, completing high school, we considered her acceptance of the role as a part of her completion of her homeschool high school journey. The many hours of learning and practice fulfilled more than one requirement for her transcripts. This was an interest led unit study. An extreme interest led unit study.

Based on learning this role, there was immersion into the story as told through the dance and the classical music of this ballet. Through her participation, she covered to some degree; subjects of music, western civilization & history, themes in literature, art history, technology, internet based research, performance, and business. For some of these topics her awareness was simply increased, for others a deeper understanding was achieved. There were the many hours of the physical demands of dance needed to learn the choreography. That combined with the listening, learning about the music and the history created an intense unit study. The dedication to continue was supported by her learning about the importance of attention to her own needs for rest and good nutrition. There was learning about planning, organization and following through on a big commitment.

An added bonus to this kind of a homeschool approach to learning: If you, as a homeschool parent, continue to have any reservation about the big question of socialization or are still confronted by the question from others, is how this answers those questions. An approach that puts you and/or your children right smack in the middle of projects like this offer a very real opportunity for what the goals of socialization really are; to interact in a real, professional way with people of all ages who are working to accomplish a common goal, where the outcome is dependent on dedication, trust and the need to support everyone involved to do their very best.

I am most happy to say that this is, in fact,  the thing I am most proud of about my daughter's participation in this production. She handled herself with grace while consistently working over time to achieve the goal of knowing and performing her part to her full capability. Her character traits of a strong work ethic, support for other cast members, respect for teachers and of avoiding drama or gossip were evident throughout. These are all qualities that improve the result of any endeavor. Seeing this and practicing it in real situations provides value far beyond what I or an isolated classroom experience could hope to impart. Wherever my daughter's dance career takes her, these qualities will create the most value to herself and those she interacts with through out her life.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Hey Mama! Planner - A Review

I was provided the Hey, Mama! Schoolhouse Planner for 2019/2020 Year to review. Created by homeschooling mom, Gena Suarez , the planner is just one of the many useful homeschooling products available from The Old Schoolhouse®.

Planners seem to be a big deal these days. Everyone is selling one. I have used a personal planner for many years, almost every year. My planner enthusiasm is, like many, highest at the beginning of each calendar year. The hopes and dreams inspired by having a place to write it all down, to organize thoughts and plans, starts the year with added motivation to achieve those dreams. Hopefully it helps facilitate a doable plan of action to make it all happen.

Come August and September the same enthusiasm hits again, only with the intention of preparing for the school year. Fall is the beginning of the academic year, as we all have come to know it. Planning for nine months of academic learning is exciting and sometimes daunting. A planner to write it down in, keep track and record activities, is more than useful, it is a necessity. A standard planner doesn't always fit the criteria of what a homeschooling parent needs for planning and record keeping. Homeschool moms have been adapting typical calendars and planners for as long as families have been homeschooling. Notebooks, wall calendars, file folders (one per student, maybe) there are as many solutions as there are families.

The Hey, Mama! Schoolhouse Planner for 2019/2020 Year is a published calendar/planner that puts it all in one place. It is designed by a homeschool mom with homeschool families in mind. The author, Gena Suarez, is an experienced homeschool mom who has put together this and other extensive resources for homeschooling families. This planner is one of many of the resources available for families at The Old Schoolhouse. (You can find all of them at The Old Schoolhouse®).

Gena provides a solution to the problems presented when trying to use a standard planner for students by creating a planner specific to homeschooling. As a homeschooling mom herself she knows the ropes. She knows what reminders and prompts are useful for a family while homeschooling.

The Hey, Mama! Planner Homeschool Planner for 2019/2020 includes a devotional at the beginning of each section. These provide welcome encouraging reminders for those in the midst of the homeschool journey. There is a curriculum planning section, attendance record pages, books read pages and semester and yearly goals pages. There are enough of these specialized pages for five homeschool students. Using this planner also provides a place for notes and info for maintaining records of completed projects, activities and curriculum. There is a transcript template as well as a useful skills acquired checklist.

For our family, this is officially the last year of homeschooling. I am about to become a homeschool veteran mom with an empty nest. We have none the less, begun to use the planner for mapping out my youngest's transition to a full time dance program and a few college courses. She will be taking over the planning and record keeping herself, as she embarks on a somewhat non-traditional pursuit of higher education. This planner will give her a wonderful head start with prompts of some of what she needs to consider as she moves into the bigger world and continuing her education.

The Hey, Mama! Homeschool Planner 2019/2020 Year has sold out of close to 98% of the this printing and they do not plan to print more until next year. Get your copy soon!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Life With Dog - A Movie Review

The opportunity to review the new movie Life With Dog from Mill Creek Entertainment for the Review Crew turned out to be an opportunity to add to an unplanned date night with my husband to our weekend. My youngest is now 17 and social plans with peers are a priority. She left us on our own Saturday night so...

I had no idea what to expect from Life With Dog.  It is a captivating story of one of life's hardest transitions, that of losing a spouse or a parent. The acting is well done and believable. Actor, Corbin Bersen (anyone else remember L.A.Law?) portrays, the main character Joe Bigler. His character presents the difficulties of the transition to being a widower as he grieves the unexpected loss of his wife. The film allows us into some of the inner emotions of Joe's process of grief. His explanations for what has happened and his journey of coming to terms with his loss is the theme of the story.

Joe, consumed by his grief is the primary focus but, there are characters orbiting around him through out. While attempting to assist Joe through the adjustment to life without his wife, Joe's daughter is struggling herself. Joe benefits from a few unusual visitors throughout the story. One of those visitors, Dog, is a constantly returning image in the film. My husband first guessed that Dog's presence would lead to some clues to resolving the mystery in the movie.

While this story deals with life's ever present difficulties of loss it is not presented in an overly heavy way. Resolution and life's continued joys are included as well. There are a couple of intense scenes that include the character Joe handling a weapon but are still acceptable viewing for most audiences. Worth the watch, the story is most likely to resonate with those who are closest to the stage of life depicted. Enjoy an at home movie night by grabbing the dvd from one of the retailers linked below.

The newly released video is available at Walmart beginning June 4th.
It is also available to purchase online at amazon:

You can see a trailer on the Mill Creek Entertainment website by clicking the images here:
'Life With Dog' See the trailer.

Mill Creek Entertainment

You can read more reviews by Review Crew members by clicking the image below.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Community College as a Choice for Higher Ed

Two years of reduced tuition or no tuition = huge savings in acquiring a degree. Choosing to homeschool our children included the decision for us to remain a one income family. As a result we have had fewer financial resources to fund the college aspirations of our kids.

If this sounds like the beginning of a plug for Community Colleges, well, it is. While I continue to have some respect for the reputations of prestigious institutions of higher learning, (I do have a degree from Tufts, after all) that respect has honestly, dwindled over time. As we began to look at the options for our own college bound children, the practical and financial became a major issue in our decisions. Community College tuition in Illinois is 1/3 of the cost of even the more affordable public four year school options in state and easily 1/10 of the cost of some of the private four year institutions in our area. Two year full time study of general education requirements are also available tuition free with the required ACT or SAT test score. That's halfway done with a degree with no tuition. When looking at those financials, the local stay at home for two year opportunities became the obvious one for us as a family.

In Illinois, where we live, I have seen the wonderful supportive resources that are available through a variety of programs at Illinois Community Colleges. The resources are there to assist each and every student to be successful at the community college level and beyond. A student simply has to be willing to utilize the support available to them.

We have known homeschooling families that have taken advantage of the dual credit options enrolling high school students to receive both high school and college credit simultaneously for completing a community college class. These programs can speed the higher ed process as well as preparing a student for a smoother transition to college.

Community Colleges tend to have smaller class sizes. Even in freshman general education classes the student to instructor ratio is low compared to the huge auditorium filled classes that often encountered at big universities. Smaller class size means more available and approachable instructors. All of this makes it easier to become accustomed to attending college level classes.
For life long homeschooling students this makes for an easier transition to classroom learning in general. Community colleges in our area have pre-established transfer programs allowing associate degree earning students to transition to a four year institution with ease and guidance.

I have heard critical comments from student's peers made to community college students about their attending a community college. I remember similar sentiments expressed way back when I was a high school student myself. (Way back in the day!)

Fortunately, for homeschoolers those kind of misinformed comments may have less weight on their decisions. Many homeschooling students are usually less concerned about the opinions of their peers or even the opinions of the general population. The decision about where to begin a higher level education will include a multitude of factors. Family resources, field of study, near home, away from home, student maturity level, how much to take on moving into adult responsibilities while also attending college level classes, all of this plus has been on our a family's list of considerations.

The homeschooling parents I have met, regardless of their approach to home schooling, laid back, un-schooling, rigorous academics, arts based, etc. all have tended to have high expectations for their children. Perhaps we want to see proof of the rightness of our choice to homeschool. Like all parents we want to see our children be successful adults in whatever field the chose to work in.

Having high expectations for our young people's performance is a gift to them but it doesn't require over- priced- out of reach- mega debt- name brand- higher education to accomplish goals and live dreams!

Non homeschooling parents I meet often praise me with wows and kudos for homeschooling and comment that it must be hard to do. While of course there were difficult moments (all parents/families have some). They can't imagine how hard it must be to teach their own children. My usual response is that it isn't really as hard as they are imagining it. It is not like re-creating a classroom. In my opinion, that would be very hard and also, in my opinion, not necessarily conducive to as much learning. Barring any specific learning disabilities, most children, most humans of any age for that matter, are really learning machines, we are made to learn and given the proper supportive and rich environment we will.

Given a sensory rich and supportive environment children, teens, young adults and adults will learn. In a nurturing environment children will learn something! And new college students can learn in the a community college environment with a more palatable price tag and still become high achieving productive adults.

Always working to be and encourage life long learners!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Could it Really be True?

Gotta have art!
There are big changes coming in our family. We are in the midst of our last year of homeschooling. Late this spring, I will officially be done homeschooling my children. Hip Hip Hooray and all that jazz -  celebrations to ensue, but there will be more than just a tear or two being shed through these final months of homeschooling. Mostly, they are tears of joy, for all that has been accomplished by us as a family and by each of us individually. I will miss so very much our homeschooling lifestyle.

Homeschooled pets are lucky creatures.
I am anticipating a major shift in my life and daily activities. We still have a couple of things to complete with our home schooled high school senior. Baring any dramatic changes, she will be given her high school diploma in June of 2019, just a few short months away. She is currently preparing for her own independent adventures as a young adult. Our two sons are also making their plans for establishing there own domestic domains. With all three leaving the nest there will be big changes in this household! 

Milestones and next steps.

As a result, there will be new blog topics for me to explore in the months to come. I hope to be posting more about my own activities, the plans I am making and the adventures I am looking forward to. Homeschooling was in part an outcome of my own interest in intentional life long learning. My own education continues, anyone interested in joining me as a life long adult un-schooler?

Technology and classical ballet meet.

For our daughter this winter and spring, the final homeschooling agenda has included her completion of some course work and taking care of some of the details of high school graduation. She will finish some language arts requirements which in our 'school' continues to require daily reading and writing. Just a few things beyond that for her to complete, including the completion of a math component and  she'll be completing the official testing required. I'll be completing her transcripts.

Acquiring a driver's licence is in the mix for her to top it off with some additional real world functioning. Add the attainment of an actual drivers licence and she's off!

For my daughter the next few years will include more dance training and auditions in hopes of participating as a dancer in an actual ballet company. She plans to begin college classes while continuing her focus on dance.

Thankful for amazing online resources.
It has been an amazing journey. A learning adventure where the adage about how the teacher learns more than the student has consistently been realized over and over in our home. in full force!  I do not regret for a moment, our choice to home school our children. I am in fact sad to see it end even as I know it's eventual ending was the ultimate goal. I can barely remember any difficulties of learning on the part of my "students" I do remember some frustrations with myself as a "teacher".  

Oh those days!
My own inadequacies were overly obvious to myself and probably my children time and again throughout all the years of homeschooling. Each display of my lack of skill whether it was simply knowledge, preparation or organization, was an opportunity to show the value of life long learning, growth and character development. The need for growth for all of us in character was and is always more imperative than any immediate need of academic requirement. 

There were moments, hours, days and sometimes, though not frequently, weeks, when I questioned what or how we were homeschooling, but never the choice overall. My children have been eager learners and good sports as we wound our way through growing together. They have been wonderful companions and I  delighted in allowing them to keep their childhood curiosity and wonder alive as they grew. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. So far each of our children have taken steps and begun to step out into the world with a solid foundation and in a positive direction. I am extremely proud of each of them.

Over our homeschooling years, one of my main go to resources has been It is is an online product with downloadable, printable elements as well as online classes and video components. There are online classes for homeschooling students of all ages. There are encouraging parenting resources and forums for the addition of a potential community of other online homeschooling families.

It is a valuable resource worth looking into if you haven't already.
April is a great month to do so because there is a wonderful promotion going on. ~ ( 
This is an online product with downloadable, printable elements as well as online classes and video components.