Tuesday 27 May 2014

Should home educators use school books?

Early in our home education journey, I was given some school textbooks. I started to use these but soon realised that plenary sessions weren't really going to work with an eight year old, two year old and three month old baby. Over the years, it has become obvious that certain school materials are difficult to use as a home educator. Signs which make a curriculum difficult for a home educator are
  • plenary sessions.
  • assuming large groups of children. 
  • materials that can only be bought in large quantities
  • materials that are very expensive. This seems to apply to worksheets for photocopying and to interactive whiteboard resources.
  • using materials that are going to be difficult to obtain out of school.
Some other materials can work well for home educators. Positive signs are
  • some mention of home educators on the website/reverse of books.
  • books that can be bought in ones.
Is it ever worth using school curriculum? After all, now specific home education materials are available for most subjects and there is no requirement for home educators to use the National Curriculum. 
UK state school materials follow the National Curriculum. For home educators, this can be a positive or negative. 

  • easier to take exams in the future particularly in the case of a subject like maths.
  • it may take a future transition to school easier.
  • some of the materials seem tedious. I have not been able to find a UK primary science curriculum that is particularly interesting although I would welcome suggestions.
  • National Curriculum materials tend to be written from a secular humanist perspective. This may be valuable if teaching the children to appreciate the worldview of materials but often will not give an adequate explanation of a Christian worldview.
  • the concept of living books tends not to appear.
  • materials often aren't particularly hands on. My daughter's recent maths sheet asked her to draw containers which could hold more or less than a litre. At home, it is easy to find containers and pour water in them to check how much they can hold.
UK materials that we have found easy to use are
  • Schofield and Sims for mental maths, handwriting and spelling. Our world map also comes from this source. Their books tend to be cheap and cheerful!
  • Galore Park primarily supply the private school market. We have used their maths and English textbooks although we found the geography worked less well.
  • Cambridge Latin which has a helpful website with extra resources. We only used the first couple of books.
  • 2Simple for French and typing.
What do you think? Are you a home educator? Do you use school books at all?

This post is linked to The Home Education Weekly link-up.

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Friday 23 May 2014

Summer survival

The summer holidays are approaching fast. Not quite so soon here as for my US friends. We still have almost a couple of months to prepare.

For most families, much of the time will be spent at home with perhaps a smaller proportion of the time spent away. This time at home can be quite challenging! As a home educating mother, I'm quite tired by the holidays. In September, when my Facebook feed is taken up with friends rejoicing that they can now go out for coffee, I, and many other home educators, are strengthening their arms for the new academic year. So the summer holiday needs to be relatively restful.

BUT I want my children to have a happy holiday and this isn't always completely compatible with a rest for me! The holiday weeks take some planning to achieve a happy balance.

These are the principles that I use when planning and I hope they may be useful for others.

  • Some of the best activities take place at home with relatively little input from adults.
  • Just because we are having a break from formal learning doesn't mean that learning ceases. I become an unschooler in the holidays. This means, for us, letting the children explore their interests and some strewing of vaguely educational books/games etc around the house.
  • We do go out most days around home to run off energy.
  • Bigger, all day trips, I try to limit to once a week. This doesn't always work out!
  • We try to make the most of local events. Over the last few summers, we've been on bat walks, teddy bears' picnics, birds of prey displays and art sessions all in our local area. 
  • Sometimes having to find an activity sparks the imagination. These nature collections were the children's idea.

So rather than a list of staycation ideas in London, here is a list of some of our more generic summer ideas. These are all things we have enjoyed.

  • barbecue
  • camping in the garden
  • reading in a tent in the garden
  • making dens-indoors, outdoors both at home and elsewhere

  • different park
  • picnic in the park
  • poetry picnic
  • cooking
  • writing the week's menu and cooking/helping cook depending on the age of the child
  • writing the week's menu and ordering the food to budget
  • flower arranging
  • paddling pool
  • art in local museum/gallery
  • walks in the woods/countryside

  • bat walk
  • packing cases and pretending to go on holiday to very exotic destinations
  • making ice cream/ice lollies
  • using a magnifying glass to melt chocolate. Needs adult supervision!
  • paint with mud-very popular and very messy!
  • invite several families around for a big outside lunch
  • explore a new local walk/cycle ride
  • help harvest garden produce
  • blackberry picking and eating
  • volcano making - the children never seem to tire of this. I can't imagine a holiday without at least one volcano "experiment".
  • reading scheme either from the library or elsewhere
  • making a scarecrow
  • board games
Over to you. I need to write a list of ideas for this summer. Do you have some that you could share?

For more ideas for Summer Staycations do click on the picture below (available from 28th May).
Favorite Curriculum Choices

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Tuesday 20 May 2014

Micro Business for Teens: a Review

Over the last year I've been running a distribution small business. This is something for which I have had no training so the learning curve has been steep. When I had the opportunity to review some books from Microbusiness for Teens I jumped at it, despite not having been a teenager for many a long year!
Micro Business for Teens Review

Carol Topp is an accountant in the US who has written books specifically for tweenagers and teenagers from 10 to 18 starting what she calls microbusinesses. She defines these as being easy to set up and close down, having one owner and typically no employees, a learning experience, low risk as generally debt free and often home based. She states that these are ideal first businesses for teens. The books Starting a Micro Business,

Micro Business for Teens Review
Running a Micro Business

Micro Business for Teens Review
and Micro Business for Teens Workbook

Micro Business for Teens Review
 have all been written to support those starting a micro business. I reviewed the pdf ebook version of these books.

The books start with basics and assume no prior knowledge. They are clearly aimed at teenagers and the many examples are of teenagers running businesses.  In the first book, Starting a Micro Business, the chapters are
  • What is a Micro Business?
  • Getting an idea
  • Problems and pitfalls and how to avoid them
  • Writing a business plan
  • Financing your business without breaking the bank
  • Taking care of business
  • Encouragement
I was fascinated to learn that one in eight Americans own a micro business. I haven't a clue about the proportion in the UK. 
The ideas suggested are practical for teenagers including things such as babysitting and cleaning. One of the things that had prompted Carol Topp to write this book was reading about unrealistic business ideas for teenagers such as opening a restaurant. There is none of this here: the ideas are sensible and have been tried and tested by teenagers.
The workbook has a section for brainstorming ideas and then working through some of these ideas.
The problems and pitfalls chapter details difficulties for Micro Businesses and  also points out the differences between those with products and those with services. I certainly didn't fully appreciate the difficulties of having products to store. This is one of the issues which are detailed.
The chapter on writing a business plan is something that should really be part of everyone's education. I certainly remember being in meetings for doctors where we had to be taught the importance of business plans. The business planning in the book is quite simple but goes through the business concept, marketing plan including researching the competition as well as a financial plan.

The second book, Running a Micro Business, is aimed at the teenager who has already started a business although it would be important reading of anyone about to open a micro business. Its chapters are

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Customer service
  • Record keeping
  • Bookkeeping basics
  • Using software
  • Legal names and numbers
  • Reducing risk
  • Time management
Again, the book was practical particularly around how to make a sale and market the business. Time management is, of course, always relevant especially for teenagers who are balancing other responsibilities with a business.
The workbook covers the contents of both books and goes through what needs to be done on a step by step basis. For example, the chapter on business planning has sections for writing about the business concept with detail such as thinking through trends in the industry and whether there is an opportunity in the field plus much more; followed by step by step marketing and financial planning.

I found these books easy to understand and helpful. They would have been ideal for me to read a year ago. I am working on some of the ideas to improve my systems.

In terms of the UK, there are some differences

  • under 18s are not able to be business owners here so would have to work with a parent.
  • the regulatory/tax framework is different. 
This doesn't negate the utility of this book. 
Obviously, mothers owning businesses have some different issues but many are similar.  I  highly recommend this set of books for anyone who has little or no business experience and has either just opened a business or hopes to open one.

Do pop over to the Microbusiness for Teens website to see some samples of the type of information in the book plus many ideas for businesses.

The books are very reasonably priced and Carol makes the helpful point that their cost can be deducted against business taxes. The two books, Starting a Micro Business and Running a Micro Business both cost $4.95 (about £2.94) as ebooks and $9.95 (about £5.91) as paperbacks. The workbook costs $9.95 (about £5.91)as an ebook and $14.95 (about £8.88) as a paperback.

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Saturday 17 May 2014

Learn Free Conference 2014

I'm just back from the Learn Free conference arranged by the Christian Home Educators of Warwickshire. The conference was held in beautiful surroundings at the King's Lodge, Nuneaton.
Beautiful grounds.

A useful and thought provoking day with speakers, brain storming with other home educators and of course, looking at curriculum.

Sally Ann Wagner gave some vivid stories of home educating in South Africa. I'm grateful that I don't have to tackle black mambas in the garden! The session on the Secondary Years had insights from three mothers who have taught or are teaching this age group. 

 As well as the vendor stools, there was a helpful session called Teaching Toolbox where people stood with their favourite resources and talked to others about them. 

Now, there is plenty to think about and research. My notebook has several pages of notes from the talks and seminars. 

I am grateful to Juliet English, Mary Nevin and their team for organising this event.

England isn't known for its home education conferences but if you missed this, there is another day conference on 31st May, at Whiddon Valley Evangelical Church in Barnstaple.

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Friday 16 May 2014

So Many Good Things and How to make Red Cabbage Acid/base Indicator.

This week has been almost overwhelming with good things. After a week like this, I have no concerns about socialisation although I might worry about finding time to work. 

My younger two went to two home education groups, this week. We are now meeting with three groups which may be a bit too much! Youngest Daughter had to give a talk as Dick Turpin, for the first group, as part of a presentation from the children to round off a Georgian study. We also met Jane Austen, Napoleon, John Newton and James Cook to name just some of the selection. I can't say that I knew much about Dick Turpin before but could now give a little speel on the subject.

 After the history was over, we had fun learning about acids and alkalis. Red cabbage water is a splendid indicator. I'm not so struck with turmeric. 

Red cabbage indicator:
Put two red cabbage leaves in a clean saucepan with two cups of water.
Bring to the boil.
Allow to cool.
Drain off the water which will be blue. 
Add vinegar or lemon juice and observe. 
I doubt that this indicator would last beyond a day or two so don't try to store it!

At the second group, a friend led a session for the younger children around painting van Gogh's sunflowers using this post as a base and the pictures from Simply Charlotte Mason. I was impressed with the results.

On the in-between days, the children managed to play with friends, in the late afternoon, and go to a sports activity. 

Today, all three of my home educated children and I have spent most of the day in the country along with over 100 other home educated children and their parents. It was a time to meet up with old friends and make new. Home education can feel lonely, at times, and days like this help counteract this.
Now we are happy, tired, a bit sunburned. Maybe summer is here.

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Monday 12 May 2014

Logic of English: a review

Some children find learning to read easy but for others it is a long and difficult process. We have a child in the latter category so were interested in the opportunity to review Logic of English.

Logic of English Review

 Interested-yes but cautious as we are veterans of several reading schemes: an English synthetic phonics, a UK version of a US synthetic phonics scheme, a phonological scheme for struggling readers and an on line synthetic phonics programme alongside everything else. So, a spreadsheet later, the decision was made: Logic of English Essentials

Logic of English Review
seemed to be a good fit:
  • It isn't childish
  • It covers grammar as well as reading and spelling
  • It includes games
  • The rate of progression can be varied
  • It is scripted
  • Designed to be used one to one.
To my delight, we were selected for the review. A little later, and after some anxious tracking of a parcel across the North Atlantic, a parcel arrived. It contained

  • a teacher's manual
  • Student workbook- we chose manuscript
  • Game book
  • two decks of phonogram cards
  • phonogram flash cards (basic and advanced)
  • grammar rule flashcards
  • spelling rule flashcards
  • phonogram and spelling rule quick reference chart
  • spelling journal
I knew that it was going to take me a little while to get my mind round all of this. Probably, the most important two things to read are the instructions at the start of the teacher's manual and the game book. 

The instruction manual helpfully gives different schedules for using the programme according to the type of learner

  • struggling readers and spellers: 8 year old to adult not reading at grade level
  • struggling spellers: 9 year old to adult students reading at grade level, needing spelling remediation
  • emerging readers and spellers: 6 to 7 year old students
  • young emerging readers: 5 to 6 year old students
My seven year old is using Logic of English (LOE) so we started off with the third category. This suggests taking 30-60 minutes a day and taking a week over each lesson. In order to start the lessons the student needs to know single letter phonograms, have a basic level of phonemic awareness and write lower case letters. There are plenty of games to go with learning the phonograms and the introduction provides activities for working on phonemic awareness. The suggestion is to spend one to thirty hours before starting the book on these parts of reading. 

This was mainly revision for my daughter but she enjoyed the games. The part that was new to her was learning all the different sounds for each vowel, in order of frequency. I certainly couldn't do this before using the games and flashcards.

Logic of English gives explicit, systematic instruction in phonics making it ideal for struggling readers and spellers but of value to most learners. There was plenty that I didn't know which might explain my rather weak spelling skills-I'm very thankful for spell check.

The actual lessons are divided into three parts:
  • Part one which emphasizes phonics
  • Part two which is mainly around spelling
  • Part three is a grammar lesson
We started by taking a week over a lesson. The first lesson was mainly revision and didn't take so long but as new or less familiar phonograms were introduced we slowed down.

As there are several components to LOE Essentials, I will go through each of them.

  • Teacher manual: This is a hard cover, 537 page book. It contains a 61 page introduction which really needs to be read before starting. I found myself referring back to this once we were in the swing of using LOE. Each lesson has a chapter with full instructions; in fact, most parts are scripted. The book indicates where the student book needs to be used and has suggestions for further practice. There are helpful notes, for example, on where spelling errors are likely to be made.

  • Student workbook: This is a soft cover 480 page book. There are two versions: manuscript and cursive. LOE advocates the use of cursive and there is a helpful section about this in the teacher manual. Whilst, I agree that there are advantages to using cursive, the only difference between the manuscript and cursive versions of the student workbook, is that some examples are written out in the appropriate hand. We chose the manuscript version because the cursive style used is quite different to the one that Younger Daughter is using. The cursive style is so different that I was concerned that she would not recognise all the cursive letters. The workbook is perforated so that completed sheets can be removed.

  • Game book: this is a soft cover 96 page book and is invaluable. There are so many ideas for games and practice. We started using the phonogram games and activities and after a few weeks realised that using the spelling games would be particularly helpful. These games provided much enjoyment.
  • Phonogram cards: we were provided with two decks. Many of the games require two decks of cards. We have a red manuscript and a blue bookface sets. These are sturdy cards. It is worth keeping them together with a rubber band. We separated out those we were using from the others.
  • Phonogram flash cards (basic and advanced). So far we've just used the basic set. These cards show the phonogram on the front and on the reverse, the sound/sounds of the letter and examples of how it is used.
  • Grammar rule flashcards are used in the grammar section of each chapter.
  • Spelling rule flashcards. We found that a helpful way to remember these was to skip out the rule!
  • Phonogram and spelling rule quick reference chart. We haven't used this much as yet but it will be helpful to have around the desk while writing once we've covered more rules.
  • Spelling journal-72 page soft cover book. This allows the collection of words with the same phonogram together and also can help decide which phonogram to use. So far, for us, this has been used as another way of practising the words.

So how has Logic of English worked for us?

Yes, but it has taken us a while to work out a rate of progression through the book which is sustainable.

The single letter phonogram practice and the first couple of chapters were really revision. My daughter likes the games and requested them outside of her usual learning time. The first double letter phonogram introduced is qu which wasn't really new and was followed by the double letter ck. However, after this more phonograms were introduced per chapter: not new initially but by chapter 4 when the phonograms were oi, oy, ai and ay we had to slow down.  Breaking this up into small chunks and going slowly seems to work well. We have found that we need to be flexible about the rate at which we use the book.

I was a bit concerned about actual reading practice as the manual contains a few words to read to illustrate phonograms but no actual reader. Having appropriate level reading material is something important for us and we were pleased to discover very recently that there is a new LOE reader set available on pdf.

The spelling section has again proved to be something that we need to take slowly. 15 spellings with different patterns are too many in one go and using the slowest suggested rate with five a day seems less overwhelming. The basic pattern is to go through these once but we are needing to review these more. The games book has helpful suggestions for spelling games and activities. We need to incorporate these on a regular basis.

We live in the UK and write UK English. There are some notes about this. For example, in lesson 4, around the word grey. Apparently, the UK spelling is gray. I hadn't realised this but thought that they could be used interchangeably. However, on the same lesson, there wasn't a note about favor which we would always spell as favour. Later, in lesson 37, there is a section on American and British spelling for -or/-our where the difference in spelling of favor/favour is noted.

My daughter loved the initial part of the programme with the games on sounds where she was confident but has found more recent elements rather overwhelming. In lesson 4, the broad a sound was discussed alongside the different ways in which the long a sound can be written. This was too much in one go. We skirted round the broad a and concentrated on the long a sound.

Every five lessons is a review which starts off with an assessment. In the first review lesson, there were 15 phrases for dictation, 20 words and up to 60 spellings. The spellings are those from the last four lessons. The teacher is to select those spellings which need more practice.

Would I recommend Logic of English? Yes, it is a wonderful resource for weak spellers and would have been helpful for one of my other children who finds reading easy but spelling difficult. I'm in much the same situation and have found it logical and useful. For my struggling, seven year old reader, even the slowest pace has been a bit too fast. Ideally, there would be more words to read with each phonogram and repeated practice of these each day. In many ways, I could remedy this by making spelling word flash cards plus some more. I am keen to go through LOE with my daughter as I am sure that she will benefit but needs to work slowly and with more repetition.
For most children, this is a useful resource to start once they know basic one letter phonograms and can blend consonant-vowel-consonant words. In my opinion, they need a half hour concentration span. The vendor recommends this for children/adults aged 7+. This seems realistic. .

The complete Logic of English Essentials set retails at $243 (about £144.08). Yes, not cheap but this is a large set and so thorough in its coverage of English phonics and grammar.

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Friday 9 May 2014

Assessment 2013-2014

There are times when this year seems a blur of teaching reading and then teaching reading again. It is easy to feel weighed in the balances and found wanting. Yes, this is probably true but it is helpful to sit back and assess what has happened and what has gone well. It is also worth thinking about what has gone less well but probably not so profitable to be shared!

One of the downsides of being a home educator is that it can be difficult to fine tune.  These thoughts are offered in the hope that they may encourage others and by explaining where I would have improved, help to fine tune these ideas. This assessment is really around components of the education of my younger two aged 5 and 7. I teach my teenage child less as much of his learning is provided either on line or through a tutor.

Memory Work. I have worked on teaching the younger two a Bible verse per week. This has worked well. Sometimes, this has been learning with the children rather than me teaching them. We have found that adding in a visual component helps both reading and learning. This can mean sorting the words into order, rubbing them off a chalk board or copywork. Using the Bible on the Kindle while I read an ordinary Bible is popular too. The Kindle means that the font can be altered to enormous.

Fine tuning: learning more than one verse per week hasn't really worked for my 5 and 7 year olds plus we could do with more regular review.

Singing. We have tried to sing a hymn each week that we either sing in church or the children sing in Sunday School. We sing the hymn about five times in the week.

Fine tuning:We aren't the most musical of families so sometimes working out the tune to which a hymn is sung in Sunday School can be challenging. It has been helpful for the children to recognise and be able to join in with the singing.

Poetry: a poem per half term. The poems that we have used have been
  • Cats sleep anywhere
  • Walking through Woods on a Snowy Evening
  • I wandered lonely as a cloud
  • The months
  • What is pink?
Fine tuning: We have read the poem about three times a week along with a few others often including the one that we are reviewing.
Cats sleep anywhere was most successful probably as it seemed relevant.

 I wandered lonely as a cloud wasn't really a hit-sorry Wordsworth! The months performed a useful function in sorting out the order. We added a months puzzle and daily date review.

Chapter books: This year has really marked the end of picture books as main reading material for Youngest Son. As a result, my husband and I have been reading aloud many chapter books. We have also begun to explore the world of audio books. I'm hoping this is a temporary phase before the children take over their own reading.
Fine tuning: I would like to link the chapter books into our history and geography studies in a more intentional and organised way.

Our favourite books have been
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Rebecca Davis' books Stories of God at work
  • Jungle Doctor
  • Various Enid Blyton adventure books
  • The Railway children-I read this aloud last year but my husband reread it to Younger Daughter this year. It was probably a greater hit second time round!
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Regular phonics and maths: of course, we have done this before but this year, regular phonics and maths have been the major feature of our mornings. 
Fine tuning: It is easy to feel that no progress is being made but this isn't true. Often little seems to happen for a long time! One of the children has just taken a big leap forward so I am encouraged. However,I've started to use six monthly reading ages and plan to video the children reading at the start of the next academic year so that they can look back and see progress. Maths games have been a tremendous success.

History: Youngest Son has become an active participant this year and has developed his own interests. Pompeii and timelines are the recent area of interest. Pompeii wasn't quite where we were studying but it seems sad not to make the most of an enthusiasm! 
Fine tuning: I'm hoping that the timeline will mean that different historical interests won't get muddled up.

Sticker books: Yes, these are important enough to have their own section! The younger two children love sticker books and these have proved a helpful way to introduce a subject. I would have said that they provide occupation but Younger Daughter can now get through a sticker book rather fast!
Fine tuning: Sticker books are sold at various different prices. It is best to think in advance and not have to pay full price. I know from experience of not thinking ahead!

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Thursday 8 May 2014

Candace Kate story: a review and giveaway

Nancy Fileccia and her husband, Rusty, knew when they adopted  a blind child  that there would be challenges ahead but not quite how complex or heart rending these would be. Candace Kate turned out to have issues far beyond "just" blindness with a rare and fatal illness known as Batten's Disease. They had just five years with their daughter before her death aged 13.

Candace Kate was adopted from China aged eight. The Fileccia family had been told that she was blind but not about other difficulties. It soon became apparent that she didn't have a large Chinese vocabulary and had learning delays. It didn't become obvious for a year or so that she wasn't progressing as expected and that there was something else going on. Something which eventually turned out to be Batten's Disease.

The book, More than a Memory: The Candace Kate Story is written from Nancy's personal diary jottings and documents Nancy's family life through the difficult years of Candace Kate's illness including realising that something was wrong, the complexities of getting to a diagnosis of a rare disease and the distress of looking after a child who is loosing abilities and becoming more ill. 

This is a moving book and has some important messages.

Probably the part that struck me most is right at the end of the book where Nancy writes

I would not trade one day of having Candace. The five years she spent with a family who loved her was far better than living those same five years in an orphanage with no mom and dad.

This book is an encouragement for anyone who is bringing up a family in somewhat challenging circumstances. Nancy brings out some important factors which helped her: the support of others especially that of her best friend, Paula Winget; having times of respite and help in the home. Through this difficult time when Nancy and Paula spent much time around Candace's hospital bed, they started their company, A Journey through Learning.

More than a Memory is a moving book and is likely to bring tears to your eyes but it is worth reading how Nancy was able to walk with God through this most difficult time and is very honest about her questions and thoughts.

I really don't think I can do this. I find myself begging God to please take this away. Is this how Jesus felt in the garden?

I would recommend this book. It is a moving read but a testimony to God's grace in challenging circumstances.

Nancy has kindly answered some questions about the book.

What was your goal with writing this book?

My prayer for this book is exactly what I DID NOT have, INFORMATION!!! When Candace got sick, I had never known another sick child. I had never seen a family struggle. I did not know what to do, who to talk to, who to question. I felt so alone. Then, during her illness, I had so many feelings going on. I did not know if they were "normal!" Was it ok to be mad? Who was I mad at? How much do I let friends really see me in pain? I pray that through this book, parents will now have the answer to these questions and more!

What is one lesson you learned from writing this book?

How hard it was to read through it from beginning to end. The day Candace died, I put the journal away. It was two years before I ever picked it up again. Even then, it was months before I could read through the entire thing. I guess the biggest lesson I learned was just how strong my family was. My husband and I survived what many couples don't. My children were living their lives for God, where many others turn to the world for answers. I realized just how blessed I really was.

 Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing a book?

GRAMMAR!!! I have suffered from dyslexia my entire life. The  weird part is most people with dyslexia hate to write, but I love it! I was very blessed in high school to have an English teacher who encouraged me to not be afraid. She told me that putting my thoughts on paper, being creative, and telling a story was the hard part. She said that anyone can edit! I have been very blessed to be able to surround myself with people who look past my horrible spelling and grammar and look at the story. Paula is my biggest support!! Felice Gertwiz and Susan Marlow who both are the reason this book even exist are my angels!! I am sure their side of this story is very different!!

Buying the book
More than a Memory can be purchased either as a download currently at a sale price of $5.95  (about £3.51) or as a book for $13.95 (about £8.23) again a sale price.
It is available from Amazon in mobi format for Kindle for £3.65. It is also available form Kobo for £4.44.

The first two people to leave a comment on this post will receive a pdf copy of More than a Memory.

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Tuesday 6 May 2014

Maestro Classics: a review

We were delighted to have the opportunity to review two products from Maestro Classics

Maestro Classics Review
Maestro Classics produce classical music for children. The productions include a narrator and orchestra. Maestro Classics make music fun for children whilst explaining the background.

We received digital downloads of My name is Handel: the Story of Water Music

Maestro Classics Review
 and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

Maestro Classics Review

Recently, we had been learning about the Georgians: the series of English Kings called George, lasting from George I to George IV, with William IV thrown in at the end!  Handel, the famous composer, not only lived in the reigns of George I and George II but wrote music for both.

 George Frederick Handel first worked for George I when he was Elector of Hanover and then visited London. Handel outstayed his leave from the Elector but was caught out when his former boss became king George I of England. The story goes that the Water Music was written to placate George I.

 The scene where the music was first performed was familiar to the children-the Thames. OK, it probably looked different in Handel's day!
My name is Handel tells the story of Handels's life and centres around the circumstances in which he came to write the famous Water Music which was first played to George I as he traveled on the Thames in a royal barge.

One of our favourite London museums, the Maritime Museum,

even has a real royal barge. Hearing the music and particularly, for us, knowing some of the places brought the whole event into focus. I learned much that I hadn't know before. The second track gives an alternative version to the famous story that Handel had outstayed his leave of absence from Hanover. It also explains why London was such an attractive place to an entrepreneurial young musician.
The children loved the song My name is Handel set to the hornpipe from the Water Music.
In total there are six tracks in My name is Handel:

  • The Story of the Water Music. This is, by far, the longest track and tells the story of Handel and the Water Music interspersed with music. This is narrated by Yadu otherwise known as Konrad Czynski. The music is played by the London Philhamonic Orchestra conducted by Stephen Simon.
  • About Handel and the Story
  • My name is Handel song-short but very popular here!
  • About the music with the Maestro-an explanation of some of the music with the conductor, Stephen Simon. This explains some terms such as overture and concerto.
  • Prepare to perform
  • My name is Handel sing-along.
The Maestro Classics website has an amazing, and free, section called Homeschool Music Curriculum guides for Maestro Classics CDs. Don't miss this: there are so many ideas and links. For Handel, these include information about the English monarchy along with a link to a portrait of George I; activities about floating; a link to how to make a flute; the recipe for fish and chips and much more. This guide is dividing into subject areas and there is sufficient for a study lasting at least a week.

My name is Handel has a recommended aged of 5+ and families. I wouldn't have any concerns about younger children listening in too. 

The second product that we reviewed was Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel. The website says that this is suitable for children aged 4+ and families. I think that an interested three year old would probably enjoy this too and it certainly appealed to my 5 and 7 year old.  The book of this name is popular here, we've spent time reading it and even made our own model steam shovel. So listening to the story was a winner. This production is a musical rendition of Virginia Lee Burton's classical book. Again the narrator is Yadu. The instrument chosen to play a leading role in the music was the Irish pipes. More about this instrument is explained in one of the tracks. 

Mike Mulligan  has seven tracks
  • Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel- the story with music.
  • About the author from the ellucidator, Bonnie Ward Simon. This is not a dry biography but an fascinating story of how the story came to be written and how Virginia Lee Burton welcomed children's input into her stories.
  • Mike Mulligan song
  • About the music with a particular explanation about the Irish pipes.
  • Now that you know a little more: the story again
  • Prepare to perform
  • Mike Mulligan song-sing-along
Like My name is Handel, this comes with a pdf with the words and music of the song, information about those taking part and about the music along with a crossword, a maze puzzle and a musical code puzzle.

Again, there is a curriculum guide with links including to a site showing how steam shovels work. 
This review has had me searching for where we can see a steam shovel in southern England, without much success-if anyone knows please do let me know.

What we thought
We loved these MP3 downloads. Both the children and I learnt from them although they were both about topics that weren't completely new to us. In many ways, I wish that we had used the Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel when we spent time learning about the book earlier. My five year old's comment about the download was 
I love every part of this.

My name is Handel was a worthwhile addition to our learning about the Georgians.
Highly recommended. I'm planning to buy more from the Maestro Classics range!
The Maestro Classics website has short tasters of each recording.

Both My name is Handel and Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel are available as CDs and MP downloads. The MP3s are $9.98 each which is about £5.92. The CDs cost $16.98 (about £10.07).

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