Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

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So glad to be reviewing one of the French Courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages. You know me, I love a good French curriculum for my kiddos. This came available to me through the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew. It doesn’t get better than free, right?

Boy and girl watching Le Petit Chaperon Rouge

My kids watching Le Petit Chaperon Rouge

I was entrusted with Elementary French for grades 3-5, obviously, geared towards students in grades 3-5. You might say, “Wait just a minute, Adriana! I thought your kids were in first grade and PreKindergarten. How come you are putting this curriculum in front of them, when it’s for higher – albeit elementary – grades?”  Continue reading »

Provided you said all of the above to me, including “albeit,” I would answer with a reassuring smile: “Never fear, dear friend! I am no pushy mama. My kids can handle this because it is a series of cartoons in French, followed by interactive exercises. I have been teaching them French for five months now, using other resources. Sure, the vocabulary in this course might be a bit over their head, but that’s where learning comes in. They get challenged to learn new words while repeating words they already know. The cartoons keep them riveted to the story line. My kids might even get some words from the context on the screen.”

Middlebury French Course Elementary

What we got out of it was lots of listening to French. Plus, my son, who can read in English and Romanian, was able to peek at the French captioning on the screen while the cartoons were going on – so a gentle introduction to what French sounds look like when you spell them out. Yes, this curriculum is great that way. You can hear AND see the words being said right on the screen.

The exercises are interactive. Kids either listen and choose the right words, or arrange numbers in order or click and move words around on the screen to match concepts etc. They are so varied. After watching the cartoons, which are classic stories like “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge” (“Little Red Riding Hood”), the students get to answer questions which drill vocabulary.

Middlebury Interactive Languages

The price for this is $119 per student per semester.

The curriculum repeats the cartoon after a few exercises. Repetition is the mother of learning, right? This is especially true with languages. After that, more exercises, including – I am not kidding – a language lab! How cool is that? Using your device’s mike, you can record your own voice and hear it back in order to correct your pronunciation.

Middlebury French Course Language Lab

There are also tidbits about culture, called CultureGrams, which allow the kids a window into how people who speak French interact with and greet each other.

Of course, this company offers several courses for different age groups, as you can see below.

Middlebury Courses

For your information, Middleburry Interactive courses for the K-2 crowd include a total of 35 lessons for the semester, while the Grades 3-5 program (what I worked with) has 45 lessons per semester. They recommend two days a week for Grades K-2, and 2-3 days per week for Grades 3-5.

Both the Middle School and High School programs have a total of 90 lessons per semester, with the recommendation that students complete a lesson per day for 18 weeks. All levels are self-paced, so the student can speed ahead or slow down as needed.

We were definitely self-paced. When my kids get into something, they can’t stop. They watched almost all the videos the first session. I sat and translated through them all, then guided them through a few exercises. The following session, they just wanted to watch the videos and do no exercises. I had to tell them we will not be watching any more videos until they work through the exercises.

So even though we did only two sessions per week, we got rather far, but we skipped over some of the drills. My plan is to go back and systematically work one lesson at a time and make sure we cover all the drills available. Otherwise, I don’t think they will remember the vocabulary.

Middlebury Interative Languages on Social Media

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Middlebury-Interactive-Languages/141015515949753
Twitter: http://twitter.com/MiddInteractive
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/middinteractive/
Google +: https://plus.google.com/b/110371351490550861545/110371351490550861545/posts

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Wizzy Gizmo Review

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This summer, my children have really enjoyed listening to an audio drama called “Who Created Everything?” produced by Wizzy Gizmo. In fact, they ask for it every time we get into the car. Sometimes we get back home from our errands and they stay in the car to listen to it to the very end – as if they have not listened to it before.  Continue reading »

This audio drama, all on one CD, features two girls and two boys who hang out with a scientist named Wizzy Gizmo, whom they call Wiz. One of the boys is new in town, and the other three kids make him feel right at home as they invite him to their adventure.

I liked the value instilled in kids as they hear the characters say, “He is new in town.” “Sweet! You gotta come with us!” So being new somewhere is not weird and scary. New people should be welcome and included in our activities.

Wizzy Gizmo Who Created Everything

The four friends go to Wizzy Gizmo’s lab, where they also interact with his two sidekicks – a robot duck called Quackie and a Mexican dog named Pepe, who speaks with a thick Hispanic accent. Wizzy’s new invention – the Gizmoblaster – is a machine that creates a lifelike world based on any book you read.

It’s the same idea as in many other children’s books or movies, i.e. a time machine of sorts which can take you places in time and space. The kids decide to go all the way to the week when everything was created.

Wizzy walks them through what the Bible teaches about how God created everything. The kids learn and react to information. When Wizzy tells Eli, the new boy in town, that Eli picked an auspicious day to visit his lab, the kids ask, “What does auspicious mean?”

Quackie provides an answer in a rap song which reveals his ignorance. He thinks auspicious is something delicious and nutritious. “Slice it, dice it, give it to me fried…” Pepe explains the real definition of the word after the kids tell Quackie that he is wrong.

Pepe and Quackie seem to balance each other out throughout the audio drama. Pepe tends to be more realistic and informed, while Quackie is whimsical bordering on weird.

Wizzy Gizmo Logo

The kids sing songs here and there and so does Wizzy Gizmo. At one point, Wizzy sings a song about how much he loves mangoes. Quackie chimes in towards the end and it gets out of control. Pepe remarks, “That was really weird!” And, frankly, it is.

The mango song is followed by the strawberry song. One of the girls sings that beautifully, but Quackie again breaks in with his falsetto voice. Pepe puts him back in his place with, “Quackie, that was incredibly… weird.”

My favorite bit is when everything goes dark as they travel to the very beginning of time. Quackie says with a scared voice, “Wizzy, I think I just felt something behind me… and it’s HAIRY!!!” Pepe quips, “Por favor, let go of my tail…” I laugh out loud every time.

As they go through each day of creation week, a baritone male voice reads the corresponding Bible passage. The musical background is nice and what you would want to have as the Bible is being read.

This audio drama is 36 minutes long and there are also 24 minutes of bonus tracks. It is intended for children ages 4-12, but, obviously, the whole family can enjoy this if they can put up with Quackie’s craziness. The CD costs $14.99.

I liked several things about Wizzy Gizmo:

  • the publishers present biblical concepts to children
  • my kids tell me things like “God created everything out of nothing, mommy!” I have gone over that with them in our regular devotional times, but somehow it stuck after listening to this audio drama over and over again.
  • Bible passages are read respectfully
  • it makes my children laugh
  • it explains vocabulary like “auspicious,” “firmament,” and that “heaven” can be referring to space, but also sky
  • the characters behave politely and speak respectfully

Things I did not like about Wizzy Gizmo:

  • most of the music is Christian rock
  • the actors’ voices sound over-the-top, like they are trying too hard
  • Pepe’s Hispanic accent is so thick, it sounds exaggerated
  • when presenting definitions, the actors break into song and the dialogue becomes unnecessarily entertaining; do we really need to rap while learning vocabulary?
  • too much fluff around the core message

Wizzy Gizmo on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wizzygizmo
Twitter: https://twitter.com/wizzygizmo
Pinterst: http://www.pinterest.com/wizzygizmo/
Google+: http://www.plus.google.com/+wizzygizmo
Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/wizzygizmo

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HomeSchoolPiano Review

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For the past couple of months we have had the privilege of learning piano from HomeSchoolPiano, an online subscription program created by Willie Myette. Besides the lessons, which are 10-minute videos, we also received access to HomeSchoolPiano – Complete Set of Books. These three books (PDFs you must print yourself) will take you from an absolute beginner level all the way to the advanced level of creating different arrangements in various musical styles.

HSPianoLogo

Continue reading »

These online piano lessons are for all ages. Willie is very engaging. He tells jokes and makes intentional mistakes to see if you are paying attention. He repeats concepts several times in the course of the lesson so that new ideas will stick. As long as your child understands English, he should be able to follow along.

HSPianoScreen

Some of the lessons have some practice and others are more theoretical. So, besides piano techniques and posture, you also get music theory, which is very helpful, especially if you yourself have never had musical training.

I took four years of piano as a child growing up in Romania, so I don’t need the basics, but I like to hear these lessons anyway because of specific musical terms and vocabulary in English. I will give you an example. The treble clef in Romanian is called the G clef. Well, in my son’s music theory book, which we got from Amazon at the recommendation of our violin teacher, the treble clef is the treble clef. It’s not called anything else but the treble clef.

HomeSchoolPiano Tablet

In his introduction of the treble clef, Willie explains that there are two names for this symbol: the treble clef OR the G clef. Thank you, Willie! I’m a linguist and words and terminology are important to me. This might not be a big deal for somebody else, but it was for me. I feel more informed about the English musical terms and vocabulary.

HSPianoBinderCDs

All you need to use this curriculum is internet access. As you saw above, the site can be viewed from mobile devices, as well.

You can purchase HomeSchoolPiano in two ways, because they provide two payment packages. 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. 

There are so many benefits to learning a musical instrument. But time to drive to and from a piano teacher’s studio may be an issue for your already crowded schedule. Money may be an issue as well.

A typical 30-minute instrument lesson can be around $40. If your child takes weekly lessons, you will have spent around $300 in two months. HomeSchoolPiano is a great value when you look at it that way, because you get a lifetime subscription and work at your child’s pace. Not to mention, if your family is smaller than six members, everybody in the family can learn!

To introduce this curriculum to my children, I just logged into my account and started playing the first video lesson. They came running. They heard a new voice and they rushed to see what it was. They watched the first couple of lessons with rapture. The two keyboards on the screen looked very different, I suppose. Plus, Willie can be funny.

When he gave them the assignment to find all the Cs on the piano, they ran to the piano. That’s how I realized that I need to take my laptop with the video lessons into the room with the piano.

The following day, I started the lessons in the same room with the piano. My son proudly demonstrated all the Cs on the piano. My daughter is only four and she did not know what to do. She learned as she watched her older brother.

And so we continued with less and less interest from my youngest – although she hangs around when we do the lessons and practices. She learns by osmosis, like any younger sibling.

My son, on the other hand, has learned a few things directly, not by osmosis. I think the most important thing for him at this point was the grab technique. The tissue trick was great. My son was spreading his pinky all over the piano key and no matter how much I told him to hold his hand together as if he were holding a tennis ball, he would not do it. But we practiced grabbing the key with a tissue and then I only had to remind him twice. His hand position is greatly improved.

Overall, the curriculum is easy to use, but it can get a bit boring in places. My son lost interest after a few lessons and it was rather difficult to get him excited about it again. I liked it for me, but I am an adult. I suppose an older child or a really motivated child would find it easier to use.

HomeSchoolPiano Six Step Technique

Here are the social media links for HomeSchoolPiano:
 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HomeschoolPiano
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jazzedge
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/jazzedge/

 

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Go Science DVDs Review

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Recently, we received two of the seven Go Science DVDs (Series 2) from Library and Educational Services. What follows is a review of DVD 4 – Motion, Friction, Electricity, Light – and DVD 7 – Engineering, Design, and Flight – , as well as a general overview of this set and the experience my children had while watching.

Ben Roy, a science professor from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, recorded different science experiments for a children’s program on a Christian satellite TV station. Later on, he put them together in these DVDs. Continue reading »

The result is great because he had a live audience watching and participating and anticipating the result of the experiment (the scientific method at work). Children range from preschool age to tweens in his audience, which is pretty much the age recommended for these DVDs: 4-12.

Go Science DVD Set

The titles are as follows:

DVD 1 – Sound, Gravity and Space

DVD 2 – Life Science, Weather, and Light

DVD 3 – Air

DVD 4 – Motion, Friction, Electricity, Light

DVD 5 – States of Matter and Water

DVD 6 – Chemistry

DVD 7 – Engineering, Design, and Flight

The whole set costs $59.82. Each DVD costs $8.97. One must create an account with Library and Educational Services in order to take advantage of these whole-sale prices.

By the way, Library and Educational Services offers so many other products, you will probably refer to their site over and over again. I think it’s great that they offer these discounts to homeschoolers.

I have to tell you that once you turn these DVDs on, you cannot stop. I was going to do only 30 minutes at a time initially, but when I saw how much the children enjoyed it and how quickly time seemed to go by, I let them watch one whole DVD in one sitting. The next day, we watched the other one.

Library and Educational Services

My four-year-old daughter enjoyed watching the DVDs right along her big brother, who is six. They made predictions, clapped, and shouted YESSS or NOOO when Ben Roy asked his studio audience a question. In that sense, watching the DVDs can be interactive.

Each experiment is a separate video clip, not longer than five minutes. I like that format because the children do not have time to get bored. Also, because it feels like you cover a lot of material (because you do!) but in less time.

The videos follow the same format, too, which helps with predictability and routine. Children like to know what to expect. By the third video, my children knew that the experiment was over and Mr. Roy was going to draw a spiritual lesson out of it. They started talking over him – they were more excited about things exploding, spilling, or breaking, than about the spiritual application. But that’s OK, they still caught some of what he was saying.

Mr. Roy ends every video bit with “You know, children, when you learn more about science, you learn more about the Creator, GOD!” If your children just get this sentence as a principle for their education, you have accomplished a great deal in your homeschooling efforts by watching these DVDs.

Even though I believe low-tech educational experiences are superior to the ones involving my children staring at a screen, I have to say these DVDs are a great addition to my homeschool. I can think of those low-energy days when I just can’t seem to get it together. I could pop one of these DVDs into the DVD player and cuddle up with my children (or stay away, if need be).

They have just been shown some amazing tricks (I mean, science experiments), I get some rest, and the voice of my conscience has been silenced because they are “doing school” and learning a lot. There is something to be said about delegating my children’s education to somebody else for one hour at a time, now and then.

But, first and foremost, these DVDs can be used as a science curriculum supplement. Also, if your child needs a cool Science Fair Project idea, you have plenty to choose from in these DVDs – for different levels of maturity and courage.

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10 Lessons from Our First Year Homeschooling

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We finished our 180 days of Kindergarten last week. Whew! What a ride! We learned several lessons and, hopefully, we will not make the same mistakes next year.

Overall, we are very proud to have chosen this educational route with our children. We pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as we continue on this path.

Today, The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog featured our homeschool under their heading, Spotlight on the Crew.

I wrote the post about the 10 lessons we learned exclusively for their site. You can find it here.

In a couple short months, I will teach a first grader and a pre-kindergarten student. I will need this whole summer to adjust to this new identity for my children in my head.


Kinder Cottage Publishing Review

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In our homeschool, we lean heavily towards a literature-rich approach. We limit screen time to 30 minutes per day. We fill our days with time spent outside and lots of reading. So I was very glad to review How Peter Rabbit Went to Sea and Peter Rabbit Goes A-Visiting from Kinder Cottage Publishing.

These are small, hardback books and cost ony $4 each. They are part of a series of 10.

Kinder Cottage Peter Rabbit Series

Ten little books that will give you hours and hours of reading pleasure with your children

These books were originally written by Duff Graham for the Henry Altemus company over 90 yrs ago and are in the public domain. They contain vintage illustrations and the language has been updated for the modern reader (bicycle instead of velocipede, for instance). However, the sentences are well constructed and the vocabulary is rich. This is the number one reason you should read these books to your children.

They are meant for ages 3-9. The little ones will love looking at the pictures while listening, while an older child could actually read these books out loud or to himself.

They both have 64 pages, with an illustration on every spread. Peter Rabbit Goes A-Visiting is shorter than the other book mentioned above by simply having less words on the page. So on a day when I feel tired, I reach for this less wordy book.

Peter, “as all good little children know,” is a naughty little rabbit who lives with his Mother and his sisters: Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail. Cotton-tail is very fond of Peter and she always takes his side, asking Mother to spare him from discipline whenever he misbehaves.

How Peter Rabbit Went to Sea contains the story of the naughty little rabbit who got into trouble because he disobeyed his mother yet again. She specifically told him not to go to the brook, but, sure enough, he decided playing Pirate was exactly what he wanted to do for the afternoon. His sisters asked him not to look for trouble, but he did.

How Peter Rabbit Went To Sea book cover

He built himself a little boat and then sailed on the brook, which flowed into the sea. Peter thus met a whale, a shark, a seagull and several other creatures who completely scare him. By the time he got back home, he tells his Mother he never wants to play Pirate again. She does not punish him. She was a wise mom, who understood natural consequences will discipline and teach more than parent-imposed punishment.

I took this book with us to the Gatlinburg Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park because I knew we would play by the river. I wanted the kids to experience the story in similar surroundings.

Boy and girl sitting on rocks and reading by the river

My children reading How Peter Rabbit Went to Sea on the river bank in the National Park

In Peter Rabbit Goes A-Visiting, Peter gets to experience some serious adventures as he veers off his mission to hang out with Jack the Jumper instead. When Peter had to fetch medicine for Flopsy, who had a toothache, he ran into Jack, who invited Peter to go to a party with him.

Peter Rabbit Goes A-Visiting book cover

Peter took a moment to consider what to do. I told my children that’s called the valley of decision. Many times in life they will find themselves in a situation where they know they must do something, but they feel like doing something else. That’s when they will come up with an excuse to avoid the call of duty – or somebody else will provide that excuse, as was the case of Peter and Jack.

The number two reason to read them is because they contain lessons about obedience and the consequences of disobedience. I have read these books to my children several times already and every time I feel inspired to stop in a different spot and point something out.

There is an illustration where Mother Rabbit is spanking Peter Rabbit with a rather thick stick. There is also a night when Peter goes to bed without supper, as a form of discipline. Modern day parents might not choose to discipline their children in these ways and I want to let my readers know about it in advance.

Even if you do not use such drastic measures to get your children’s attention, you can still use these illustrations as a means to inform them of what other children go through or used to go through.

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Apologia “What On Earth Can I Do?” Review

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For almost two months, we have had the privilege of using a worldview curriculum called “What on Earth Can I Do?” from Apologia Educational Ministries. This post is a review of the set which contains a hardback book ($39), a notebooking journal ($24), junior notebooking journal ($24) and coloring book ($8). This set is volume 4 of the What We Believe series.

Apologia What In The World Can I Do

The thick hardback book, with full color illustrations and glossy paper, like anything else coming out of the Apologia Educational Ministries store, is impressive in both content and presentation. The junior notebooking journal contains coloring pages, word puzzles, word searches, mini books, craftivities and room to write or draw. It is a younger version of the regular notebooking journal. The coloring book contains only pages for little ones to color.

Apologia Junior Notebooking Journal

I read to my children from the book. Then, my son, who is in kindergarten, worked his way through the Junior Notebooking Journal, while my daughter, a preschooler, colored the corresponding pages in the Coloring Book.

Apologia Coloring Book

One lesson, about 50 pages long, divided into some 17 sections, looks at the same concept from a different lens. There are references to Hollywood movies (The Sound of Music), actors (Charlie Chaplin), Christian authors (Corrie ten Boom), Jesus’ parables and character development.

This worldview curriculum contains enormous amounts of information on different topics while following the main thread of stewardship. As Christians, we view the world through the lens of biblical concepts. Our children must be taught how to look at everything in life and ask, “What does the Bible say I should do in this situation?” The characters presented in the book modify their thoughts and behavior after answer that question, thus setting an example for all of us.

You may want to use it to supplement your history learning or, better yet, as a family devotional. Through all the lessons, the authors answer spiritual questions and draw real life applications. It’s really closer to a Bible curriculum if you don’t mind all the references to pop culture in the context of Bible class.

The Apologia “What In The World Can I Do?” worldview curriculum is intended for students in grades 1-6. They mention, on the Apologia website, that it is  “adaptable” to younger ages. In my experience, this curriculum takes a lot of adapting for younger children (PreK and K ages). So, if you have the energy, creativity and motivation, you can venture. If not, I suggest you wait a few years.

Apologia suggests a sample lesson plan which covers one lesson in the book in six sessions – two classes per week, over three weeks, for instance. I can tell you that the hardback book contains a lot of material and you will not find it difficult to keep your children busy.

In some cases, I had to adapt the writing quite a bit. They say the writing is on a fifth grade level, but it seems almost high-school level to me. My local newspaper is on a fifth grade level. This curriculum is higher than that.

We had a lot of new vocabulary to explain, but that was not all. I found some of the concepts quite mature – definitely not for children under 10. So we skipped over some things.

Apologia Educational Ministries

We worked through the first four lessons, which deal with World War II issues (Hitler, Churchill, the von Trapp Family, the blitz of London, the moving of children from London to the country side, the final victory) from the perspective of an English family.

I did not know how scared my children were of this story until we got to chapter four. Before I started reading, my son said, “You are reading this to us because if the war comes to Tennessee, my sister and I will have to be separated from you and daddy. We will have to go to the countryside to escape the fire bombs.”

Of course, I had to do some damage control right then and there.

In spite of all that, my children really connected with Colin and Jenny, a brother and sister, who were part of this English family. Another connection was the scene where Colin helps firefighters protect St. Paul’s Cathedral. My son loves anything that has to do with fighting fires.

St. Paul's Cathedral protected by firefighters during the Blitz

My son enjoyed coloring this page about how firefighters kept St. Paul’s safe.

When we started the fifth lesson, they just could not forget about Colin and Jenny. A new set of siblings is introduced, this time from North Africa, and my children could not move on. So we made chapati to get them into the new story, following the recipe from the book. It was quite good when fresh and hot.

Boy rolls chapati dough

My son loved rolling out the dough for chapati

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this worldview curriculum from Apologia to older elementary or even high school students.

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Here are the social media links for Apologia:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/apologiaworld
Twitter – https://twitter.com/apologiaworld 
Google+ – https://plus.google.com/105053356034237782125/posts
Pinterest – http://www.pinterest.com/apologia/

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Maestro Classics Review

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An integral part of our homeschool, car schooling includes listening to music, stories, audio books or audio drama in the car, on the way to appointments and classes outside the home. Recent additions to our car school curriculum, My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel are produced by Maestro Classics.

The conductor, his wife and one of their sons all worked on producing this story CD, alongside famous musicians and narrators. When it comes to CDs for children, I am rather picky. So many of them feature rhythms that make the kids want to shake their behinds.

If you, like me, would like to train your children’s musical taste buds to appreciate classical music, you will want to check out this series. The stories keep their attention while the classical music is woven throughout the CD. The CDs expose their minds to vocabulary, concepts and stories beyond just classical music.

Maestro Classics Review
I read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to my children about a year ago. When I brought out the CD out, they did not know what to think. Was it a movie? No. Where can they see pictures? No pictures. We just listen to the story. But why is there music? The music threw them off.

I persevered.

After a few paragraphs, they got into it. So much so, that they asked to hear it over and over again. They like to dig like Mary Ann, faster and faster, as the story progresses and the music picks up.

Children watching a documentary about steam shovels

My children watching a short documentary about steam shovels

After listening to it four times, over a few days, my son started saying things like, “I really like the music, mama.” Bull’s-eye!

The CD booklet has several activities which enhance the learning process: a puzzle, a maze, a mirror word game, etc. My son loved finding out the words. It’s the first time he solved a cross-word puzzle, so this is one for the books.

My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music was a bit harder to introduce to my children. I was surprised, because they like listening to Handel’s Messiah. I was expecting them to perk up at the mention of Handel’s name. But, again, I worked with their reluctance and gently asked them to listen to it.

Maestro Classics Review
My daughter is four and loves princesses, so when she heard them mention a king, she started paying attention. Isn’t that always the case? We must link new information to their existing database of knowledge. Then, when they see a connection, they are more willing to work with the new concept.

I think the story is really cute, how Handel, ever the showman, managed to weasel himself back into the king’s heart with Water Music. The more modern story about Handel’s living in England (I won’t give it away, you will have to get the CD and enjoy it firsthand) is even more intriguing. I never knew about that other theory.

Children watching animated explanations about the Panama Canal operations

Watching animated explanations about the Panama Canal operations

All this to say I, too, learned a lot from listening to it, besides enjoying the music.

Their website also produces free curriculum guides as companions for their CD series. Definitely worth looking into. You might have to adapt some of the activities based on your children’s ages and philosophy of education, of course. But you have a whole FREE unit study for each CD, with history, art, music, geography, science, language arts, and math.

The CDs cost $16.98 for the CD (plus shipping) and $9.98 for the MP3 download. Considering their quality and how much learning you get out of them, I think they are reasonably priced. I have always said that our children’s education is worth every penny.

The ideal age range for Mike Mulligan is 4+, while the ideal range for Handel is 5+. I can see how my four-year-old lags behind in appreciating them. My six-year-old got into Mike Mulligan after some coaxing, but now he loves it.

In order to stir more interest into My Name is Handel and Water Music, I did some of the activities suggested and the kids enjoyed playing with water and boats, guessing what will sink and what will float, and looking at pictures of royalty. We learned about the Panama Canal, the Industrial Revolution and the steam engine. My son, a budding engineer, loved every moment of it. We colored pictures of a steam shovel.

If you are looking for classical music for children, look no further. This CD series will help your kids appreciate classical music and learn so much more besides.

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Connect with Maestro Classics on Facebook and Pinterest.

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Media Talk 101 Review

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As a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I recently had the opportunity to watch Captivated, a documentary about the plugged-in world we are living in, produced by Media Talk 101, a small company dedicated to informing the public about the dangers of a lifestyle that takes a bit too much advantage of the digital age.

From the very beginning, I was impressed with how professionally the documentary was put together. The script is well written, too. The producers brought in a series of leaders in modern Christianity, as well as medical doctors and family therapists, to analyze the proliferation of screens in our lives and its effect on relationships.

This DVD costs $16.95.  The shipping is free. If you wanted to order a second one for sharing, it’s only $5. If you have teens, they should definitely watch it with you. I have small children and I did not show it to them. If you have middle school age children, it’s your decision. The movie has been approved for all ages.

I liked the images of the film’s creator in Times Square – the epitome of our fast lifestyle – in the beginning and at the end of the documentary and how they tie the message together.

Another telling image is that of a man on his cell phone in the middle of a corn field. “Where can I go to flee from your presence?” exclaimed David toward God. That might as well be our cry towards screens, which surround us no matter where we go.

The documentary begins with a bit of history and it zooms in on the advent of the telegraph. It was a significant moment in human history because, for the first time, the message could travel faster than the messenger. For the first time, people could be connected remotely without needing to walk, ride a horse, a car, or a train.

I met my husband online, so I was delighted to hear that people met vicariously as early as 1890. “Wired Love,” a love novel from that era, was inspired by a true story. Two people who met via Morse code finally met in person. Since they could not really communicate with each other and it all seemed awkward, they walked in two separate rooms and he proposed via the telegraph. How romantic, right?

The documentary is divided in five parts: Media Consumption, Content, Captivity, Battleground, and Freedom.

Want some startling stats? Today, we have more TVs than children in our homes. In some homes, there are more TVs than people in the home. American children spend over 53 hours per week in front of a screen.

Captivated Movie Review

We wonder why our youth seems so passive and unmotivated. All that screen time tricks the brain into thinking you have done something, when, in fact, you have just wasted your time and accomplished nothing.

The youth seem to think they can multi-task. That they can study while watching TV and monitoring their cell phones which, besides text messages, alerts them instantly of any social media updates. Experts agree that nobody can multi-task.

This life spent plugged into some sort of virtual reality is slowly but surely changing the definition of what it means to be a human.

The documentary recommends a series of books for further study: “Distracted” by Maggie Jackson, “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerlein, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman – among others. I thought the word “amuse” spoke volumes: amuse = a + muse, where a = not and muse = think. So next time you go to an amusement park, think again. I have never liked amusement parks and now I know why.

The documentary introduces the idea of a media fast. You know how Jesus mentioned there are some type of demons that can only leave us alone with praying and fasting? I believe that is true for the mind, as well. You try to go on a day media fast and you will see how hard it is not to reach for the cell phone or the iPad. Try a week or a month. Are you already coming up with excuses describing how legitimate your need is to log into your Facebook or email account? There’s your answer.

“Captivated” lists the physical downsides of technology: obesity, sleep interruption, hearing problems, eye strain, carpal-tunnel syndrome, just to name a few. What is alarming though is the reality that media addiction is worse than a drug addiction.

The documentary also shows a case study from a school where the parents complained their children had ADD. The principal said, “It is your decision as parents to put your children on medication. But, before you do, please take a month and do the following:

  • give your children three nutritious meals a day
  • put them in bed by 9pm
  • limit their screen time to 30 minutes per week
  • have them play outside one hour per day
  • have them play outside three hours on weekends

Then come back and tell me what you have found out.”

The parents agreed and, at the end of the experiment, came back to the principal to report that their children did not have ADD symptoms anymore.

Captivated Movie Review

The documentary also shows Shepherd’s Hill Academy, a residential facility where teens go to overcome their media addiction, which has made them out of control. Their testimonies were touching. I used to work in a similar place and it brought back memories.

Parents need help discerning what kind of content to put in front of their children, if they decide on allowing screen time at all. We are so bent these days on not censoring anything, that we have forgotten the Bible teaches we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ.

Let me paraphrase another great quote from the documentary. They said television was a vast wasteland in 1961. Well, if that is true, television now is a toxic dump. These are words from television executives and people involved in the Parents Television Council.

Ever wondered who is behind the uber-useful website PluggedIn.com (run by Focus on the Family), where you can read reviews on pop culture products from a biblical perspective? I did. Well, his name is Bob Waliszewski and he appears on “Captivated.” He encourages parents to remember that it is OK to deny ourselves and our children. We are called to take up our crosses and follow Him.

The documentary manages to present our challenge as Christians and parents today without being too preachy. I thoroughly agree with the message of this documentary. We limit our children’s screen time to 30 minutes per day. But here are some things they could do better:

  • the documentary should be heavily edited for length; do we really need to spend 107 minutes in front of a screen which tells us about the evils of sitting in front of screens? That’s an irony which will not escape those who oppose the message. My husband gave up on it after about 45 minutes. We did not show it to our young children.
  • the families portrayed in the documentary have six or more children; that’s unusual to those of us who are not of the “quiverful” persuasion; it can be a turn-off to the mainstream American family.
  • the ladies on the documentary wear very long skirts; I understand conservative circles will watch this DVD and may have paid for the making of this DVD, but mainstream Americans do not dress that way. They might feel as if they have stepped into some kind of back country compound bordering a cult sub-culture.
  • if you propose we turn off the screens, please give us more ideas about what to do with ourselves, besides reading the Bible, foraging, playing an instrument and learning new skills. Not everybody is excited about foraging and the documentary spends a good ten minutes presenting this family’s new found passion. Not everybody is musically inclined. Not everybody can read the Bible for an hour at a time. As for new skills, when one has small children, online courses are the golden ticket but oops, that’s more screen time.

For sure, as parents, we need discernment in every aspect of our parenting ministry to our children. Media is a huge one and “Captivated” will help you focus and find some solutions for your particular situation.

For all their bashing of social media, the producers have accounts there:

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/CaptivatedTheMovie
Twitter @CaptivatedMovie

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Mango Languages Review

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When it comes to learning foreign languages in our homeschool, I feel right at home. No pun intended. As a polyglot, I naturally want my children to pick up as many languages as possible. You know how some people want their children to learn piano AND violin? I want my children to speak several languages.

They are bilingual to start with, so why not add a few more languages to their repertoire? Enter Mango Languages, an online language learning program. Featuring 60+ languages, the Mango Homeschool Edition can help your homeschoolers pick up a language by immersion. I like the fact that they employ native speakers. You can really tell the difference.

Mango Languages recording feature used by children

My son and daughter loved the recording feature of Mango Languages. They got really silly with it, but I allowed it because I remember acting silly when I first took language lessons, too.

Once you decide which package will work for your family and purchase it, they will provide you with login information for every student. Of course, parents can learn, too. My children are taking French, Spanish, Latin, and Romanian. I am studying Italian and brushing up on my Latin.

Here are the price packages available:

1 subscription is $18/month or $125/year total
2 subscriptions is $28/month or $175 /year total
3 subscriptions is $38/month or $225/year total
4 subscriptions is $48/month or $275/year total
5 subscriptions is $58/month or $325/year total

Anything over 6 subscriptions is a special group rate that will depend on the number in the group. As far as homeschool curriculum goes, I think these prices are more than reasonable. The question is, once you have it, will you use it? That’s always the question, whether it’s a backyard pool or a book you bought at a seminar or a subscription to language learning online. But I digress.

Personally, I am already trying to immerse my children in other languages. As we live our lives, I speak to them in Romanian. When daddy is around and he has to understand what I am saying to the kids, I switch to English. However, I read to the children in English, Romanian, French and Spanish, depending on the books they pick. I also mention to them several things in French and Spanish as we go through the day.

Mango Languages Review

It’s really random, as these idioms strike my fancy. So I used Mango to organize our language instruction. The kids loved it in the beginning. It was a new experience. It was computer time. They don’t get much screen time (TV or computer) because I don’t believe it is good for their brains. Besides, they will spend their adult lives in front of screens, so I want their early school years to be as low-tech as possible.

Over time, they started getting bored with it. Mango Languages is pretty much a set of virtual flash cards that get repeated so you can get drilled. By repetition, you can store up vocabulary in your long-term memory. You know what they say, “Repetition is the mother of learning.”

This is the screen you should see once you are logged in. The directory of languages looks impressive, doesn’t it?

Mango Languages Review

I love Mango Languages because I am motivated to learn languages. But, if the why is not strong enough, the how will not follow.

That’s where the going gets tough. Do you have the mental fortitude to continue, once the newness wears off? With my kids being so small, I did not enforce instruction if they did not want to do Mango Languages on a particular day.

Even so, I dare say they learned quite a bit. And so did I. If nothing else, all this language immersion, whether by me, at random, or systematically, through Mango Languages, has trained them to wonder how we say something in another language. Now and then, throughout the day, they ask me, “How do we say this in French (or Spanish, or Romanian)?” You know they want to learn when they ask questions.

I first thought we should study only French and Spanish. Then, I thought I should look into Latin, as well. Just to show them how close it is to Romanian and some of the things they already know in French and Spanish.The children asked for Romanian, too, taking me by surprise. It was fun to sit there and listen to my mother tongue being drilled into my children. As if they don’t get enough of it daily. But it was neat for them, I think, to get Romanian from somebody other than mommy.

Personally, I appreciated the grammar notes. I love grammar, so any bit of grammar I get helps me with my database of knowledge about what is or isn’t acceptable in a language. The other thing that I took great pleasure in was the explanations of the literal translation in different idioms.

We say, “What’s up?” in English, but nobody looks up when you ask them that before they answer you, for instance. The same goes for other languages. Knowing the literal translation helps with creating the sentence – at least, for me. It also fascinates me to see how different cultures view the world. Where the English ask how you are, the French would ask how it is going, while the Romanians ask, “What are you doing?”

I did notice that some translation was a bit random. For instance, we do not say “What is your name?” in Romanian. We ask, literally, “What do they call you?” However, the answer can be, literally, “My name is…” or, “They call me…” So when the English version was “My name is…” and I wanted to translate, I used “They call me…” and it was wrong. They supplied the literal translation of “My name is…”

I suspect the same is true about other languages. I noticed it in French. Regardless, there is a lot of learning that goes on and, should you learn one way of saying things, you should count yourself blessed. At least, you know one way of expressing yourself in a different idiom.

There are tests and there is tracking coming up as they continue to develop this software. Personally, I am in awe of this whole experience, even in its beta version. One thing I have not done is get in touch with other people who study the same languages. There is a community with chat rooms one can take advantage of in the software, if you should feel so inclined.

Since my children are only four and six, I need to be there for technical support, for guidance, to help them navigate the different screens and to help with any questions. Older students would not need their hands held through the process though. The software is intuitive. The product is intended for ages six through adult.

By far, the best aspect of using Mango Languages for my children was the recording feature. The student listens to a native speaker pronounce a phrase. Then, the student can record her own voice pronouncing the same phrase. One can play both recordings simultaneously to really listen for differences in syllables, accent and pronunciation. My kids loved that feature.


Here are the social media links for Mango Languages:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MangoLanguages
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mangolanguages/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MangoLanguages

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