Monday, July 21, 2014

HomeSchoolPiano {TOS Review}

Homeschool Piano Review

Piano is a very big deal in our house. In fact my husband has been known to say that piano is a mandatory subject in our home-school. I was given the opportunity to try HomeSchoolPiano. I was offered a lifetime subscription for up to five students for HomeSchoolPiano The Complete Set of Books.

There are four books available;

1. Core Piano for the absolute beginner. (Broken down into 33 lessons)
2. Book 1 beginners. (6 Units - 7 lessons in each unit)
3. Book 2 beginner to intermediate. (6 Units - 7 lessons in each unit)
4. Book 3 intermediate. (6 Units - 7 lessons in each unit)

Homeschool Piano has two payment options.

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.

This program is suitable for all ages.

Each lesson is approximately 10 minutes long. This program is designed for all ages. In fact we have all been using it. Little J is using the core piano book, Boo, Jam and I have been using various levels, and my husband is planning on using it too.

To make use of these piano lessons there are a few things you need.

1. A piano (88 key full size preferably).
2. Internet connection (high speed is better for streaming or downloading.)
3. Something to watch the videos on - These can be streamed or downloaded. We have used my laptop and my Nexus pad. However, you could even use a smart phone.

My older two have had piano lessons for about 5 years and so I was really interested in seeing how my youngest dealt with these lessons. To be honest I think he is a little too young. He is 5 and the lessons didn't grab his attention. I am not saying he didn't benefit because he did. Sitting and watching the video's he picked up bits and pieces. He can tell you how to 'grab' the piano keys properly (and is quite verbal in correcting his older siblings if he thinks they are not doing it right'. I have started working through level one. I probably could have started higher as I have taken piano lessons before, but since we would be going back a few years I have forgotten a lot of the basics.

At the beginning of the review period we had a lot of problems logging on, but the companies customer service was excellent and after a server upgrade we haven't had any issues. I think it was a simple server overload.

I will be continuing this with Little J albeit at a very slow pace. Hopefully as he get's a little older and our regular school schedule kicks in he will sit for longer periods of time. The main issue right now is that he feels he can play and so spends most of his piano time 'improvising' on the keyboard. The other issue is the size of his hands. He finds it very difficult to play the keys correctly because his hands are so little.

As you can see in the photo above we used my Nexus pad to watch the piano lesson videos. This worked perfectly for use as Little J could watch and practice right there. We used my laptop once when my pad was out of battery. I printed off the 'core piano' booklet for Little J and used my handy dandy binder to turn it into a little book. Little J loved that he had his own piano booklet. Although we have been working on the core piano set for quite a few weeks we haven't really made much progress, Little J's age and attention span is the main factor in this though not the program.

This is definitely a keeper. My husband has talked about piano lessons and as soon as our winter schedule hits he wants to work on it too. He was impressed with what he has seen. My older two will continue their regular piano lessons. However I know that they have enjoyed learning more about improvisation. Boo is spreading her wings so to speak lately and is picking more of her own songs to learn. She is also learning how to 'jazz up' a song by adding touches of her own flair to the music.

This program can be used by so many abilities and has unending potential you really need to check out all the other reviews to see what they thought!

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Random Five Friday 18th July

 1. We didn't plant a garden this year. We planted 2 tomato plants and 2 peppers. Non of them are doing very well. The colder than usual weather is not helping.

2. We get to spend tomorrow at an all day swim meet. It's our summer championships. So I have been making homemade pizza all afternoon to take instead of sandwiches...sandwiches are not my favorite.

3. I took the kids to go to a Ronald McDonald Magic show. It was really fun. 'Ronald' did a awesome show. All of the kids went up to participate. Little J enjoyed it the most.

4. We went rock-climbing this week. Normally when we go Little J just puts one foot on the wall and says he's done. Monday he went half way up the wall. We will have to take him again soon. - He loved it!

5. We have this really cool bike attachment for Little J. It clips to my husbands bike. Last Saturday when I took the older two to their swim-meet Dad took Little J cycling. They 24 miles and Little J had a blast, cooled off after with a rare root beer treat.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Random Five Friday - July 11th 2014

Random Five Friday

1. Little J is on the verge of reading, I mean really reading. But for some reason we hit a attitude brick wall. He hasn't wanted to read for the last couple of weeks. So today I came up with a new incentive plan. Basically he reads a book and earns 15 minutes of screen time. The change in his attitude today was instant. He read 6 Bob books in a matter of a few minutes. It was funny because the more he read the more he enjoyed it. He was laughing at the little stories as he read. It was fun to hear. (I am in the process of doing a review for Bob Books which will include a giveaway)

2. We made a trip to the city this week to take my niece shopping at the closest mall. It was fun but I am so glad that I don't live in a city. We did get to go to Chick-fil-A which is a real treat as we don't have one near our home. I mentioned as I ordered that I had never tried their lemonade. Anyway after they brought our food, they also brought me a glass of lemonade to try. It was SO good. I will definitely be getting it next time we go. YUM!

3.  We made funnel cakes this week. They turned out pretty good for homemade. Little J rode his first horse/pony.

4. The weather is really weird here at the moment. It's not as humid as normal and really quite mild. I am hoping since we have the pool this year and not reliant on the public pool opening times that it will stay warm well into September. 

5. I can't believe how fast summer swim season has gone. Tomorrow is the last swim meet before the championships. So we have to leave tomorrow at 5:45am. The one thing I am looking forward too in two weeks. No alarm clock on a Saturday morning.

 Check out more Random Five over at The Pebble Pond.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

WriteShop - Junior Level E - (TOS Review Crew)

WriteShop Review

Boo loves to write and so I was intrigued when I was offered to try a new writing program. WriteShop is an award winning writing program designed for K- High-School. We were offered WriteShop Junior Level E which is designed for 4th or 5th graders (or even reluctant 6th and 7th grade writers). Boo was just finishing up her 5th grade year and so we thought we would give it a try even though she is nearer the end of the recommended age range.

What we got:
  • Book E Teacher's Guide: Spiral-bound Print Version $45.95 (digital download available for $35.50)
  • Activity Pack: Print version is $45.95 (digital download available for $35.50)
  • Optional Time-Saver Pack: Print version is $14.95 (digital download available for $6.50)
  • Optional Junior Writer's Notebook 1: Available only in digital PDF format - $3.50

WriteShop Review
Table of Contents:

  • Fables
  • Humor
  • Adventure
  • Science Fiction
  • Mystery
  • Poetry/Shape Poems
  • Personal Narrative
  • Descriptive Narrative
  • Book Report/Responding to Literature
  • Expository Writing: Nonfiction Report
 Skills Taught in Book E:

  • Writing in different fiction genres
  • Writing nonfiction and book reports
  • Answering journal prompts
  • Planning and organizing each writing project
  • Choosing strong words and synonyms
  • Developing voice and emotion
  • Writing sentences of different lengths
  • Learning to write using 5 paragraphs
  • Creatively publishing final drafts
  • Using references
  • Using a variety of self-editing tools
As I have said before Boo loves to write, in fact she has a book of poems she is working on, and a novel that she pulls out and works on from time to time. Her writing tends to go in fits and starts though so I thought that this program would be a good way to focus on learning some specific skills and writing techniques. The first thing I did was to put together the Fold and Go Grammar Packs. I used file folders that I already had in my supply cupboard. They are really colorful and easy to refer to. Each one includes quick reference bookmarks.

I loved that I received these already printed out. They wouldn't have the same effect in plain white. I would recommend if you purchase the PDF to buy the colored paper and print them out the same way. As you can see by my picture above I added the identifying name on the outside so we could find them. I love these packs and they will be invaluable to us in the future.

The Fold and Go Grammar packs include the following topics:

Lesson 1-Punctuation Marks
Lesson 2- Self-editing
Lesson 3- Nouns
Lesson 4- Pronouns
Lesson 5- Verbs
Lesson 6- Adjectives
Lesson 7- Adverbs
Lesson 8- Prepositions
Lesson 9- Capitalization
Lesson 10- References

This program is not an independent program. It is designed to be used by the parent and child together. Even though Boo works very well independently she also loves having some one on one time with me. (Unless our lesson gets gatecrashed when they hear us having fun.)

I can imagine it being difficult for a child to write a fable or write poetry if they have never read any examples of these types of work. WriteShop has a suggested book list to help you in this area. Luckily Boo had already read most of the books suggested for lessons 2 - 5 and so we were able to jump straight in.

The standard lesson plan given in the teacher guide suggests a three week lesson plan. Using this suggested plan the book would last one year. It allows for two days off a week. There is also a guide for a two week lesson plan this allows for one day off per two weeks. For the period of the review we worked on a two week schedule. Boo could work at a faster pace so we still only needed the 3 day week assigned in the 3 week schedule so we will probably finish the course a lot earlier than suggested.

I found it best to gather the materials listed for the assignment before calling Boo to come for her lesson. In fact, on page 9 of the teacher manual it lists all the supplies needed for the whole book. I liked that this makes it possible to plan ahead and be prepare with the least amount of effort.

I also received a print copy of the Book E Activity Pack, I love the fact again that I didn't have to print all of these pages. Recently I have used a lot of downloadable curriculum and so it made a real treat to have it all ready for me.

Boo even took to coloring it.

We completed lesson 1 as suggested and did all of the suggested pre-reading activities. However, as we progressed through the lessons we made some changes to make it more suitable to her ability. Boo reads at a high school level and although we haven't spent a lot of time on writing skills as such, she found some parts of the program very easy.

Boo found some of the suggested activities a little young. I really wish I had this program a couple of years ago when we first started homeschooling. She would have loved the little 'craft' additions then. For example instead of the suggested way to 'publish' the finished piece (creating little books etc) Boo decided she wanted to publish it on her own blog page, which I thought was an excellent idea. It also helped her practice her typing and computer skills. (I know it's sad when the kids grow up!) Boo's blog is here
if you are interested in reading any of her posts.

The Writers Notebook Worksheets are optional. However this was something we used during her 'brainstorming' sessions. It also helped her focus more. Boo took the extra writing as a challenge.

When you turn to a new lesson in the teacher manual it breaks down each step for you. This made it easier for me as I knew exactly what I needed to do. It's scripted but not in a way that makes you feel tied to it. I used it as a guide while preparing, and then didn't refer to it much during the actual lesson. However a couple of years ago I would have felt a lot of comfort having it there to fall back on.

Each lesson is broken down into sections. This helped me organize what we did or did not want to cover. Part 1 is Fold-N-Go Grammar and reading log. I didn't keep a reading log with Boo as she reads older longer books. We tend to write down a book as she completes it. However I am going to start a reading log with Little J as he reads lots of little books. The Fold and Go was pretty self explanatory (the instructions are included in the Activity Set 1:1) I reviewed each concept with Boo but she worked through the worksheet by herself. You really can take as much time as necessary with this step as it's important to make sure that each concept is understood.
We are working on Lesson 3 at the moment, which Boo is enjoying because it is all about adventure stories. I love how the pre-writing activities take off some of the pressure found in other programs. Lesson 3 has a 'create a scene' activity. Boo loved this one, in fact everyone joined in.

We haven't finished lesson three yet, but I can't wait to see what Boo writes for her 'Adventure' Fiction final piece.

Although Boo could have handled a harder program. I think this is a fun introduction into formal writing instruction for her. She has felt very successful and it has been a fun experience so far. We will definitely cover each of the lesson topics, albeit at a much faster pace.

If you want to follow WriteShop or ask them any questions make sure to follow them on the social media sites links below;


There are 50+ members of the Schoolhouse review crew using WriteShop at the moment. These reviews cover the levels from K-6 so make sure you check out the link below and see how others used the program.

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