Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Power of Learning Music

Young LionHeart at a Levine School of Music Suzuki Violin Recital.

Each fall before we embark upon another year of homeschooling, I do a bit of purging.  Since LionHeart is switching from Suzuki violin to piano this year, I thought maybe it was time to get rid of his Suzuki violin notebook.  For some reason, I was not able to throw it out.  Instead, I started flipping pages, reminiscing about my young violin player.  In the process, I stumbled upon some powerful words of wisdom from Dr. Shin'ichi Suzuki, founder of the Suzuki Method, regarding the Power of Learning Music:

1.  Dr. Suzuki says that "one on one education is a very unique and powerful way to learn."  As a homeschool parent, I know that to be true.  He goes on to say that the learning is customized for the student, the relationship between the teacher and student is unique and this relationship creates another level of personal accountability.  I agree.  Male children need multiple levels of accountability as they grow into young men.  Finally, he says that the "lessons are both intense and personal."  When my boys finish African drumming instruction for an hour, they are hot, tired and hyped! I would definitely call that "intense" instruction.

KingMan at a Levine School of Music Recital.

2.  Dr. Suzuki says that music instruction develops the "ability to listen."  We all know how our children can pretend to be hard of hearing when we are asking them to do something they don't want to do.  But music instruction teaches listening on two levels according to Dr. Suzuki: a) listening to instructions and b) listening to oneself.  He goes on to say that the deep ability to listen opens up "expanded opportunities for gathering information and knowledge" and the ability to "tune into oneself."  This is especially important when children reach the teen years.  Years of music study help children grow to really be able to "hear" better from parents, teachers and coaches.

Young LionHeart imitating his brother at church.

3Dr. Suzuki says we are born with "the ability to observe and imitate." We all know that children imitate what they see, so what they see should be worthy of imitation a friend once told me. A student taught by a master is able to use those imitation skills to create other successful experiences.  Dr. Suzuki goes on to say that "when you imitate something awesome you get to enter inside of it, see up close the secrets of what it is made of.  This is the validity of imitation." I saw that last night as my children's drum instructor demonstrated a rhythm they were about to learn.  LionHeart's eyes lit up as he observed the mastery. I could see the anticipation in his eyes saying, "when will I master that rhythm!"

4.  The Ability to Memorize.  Because Suzuki students are taught by ear first, Dr. Suzuki says they develop a quick "visual and aural memory."  Well, African drumming students learn complex rhythms from memory as well.  This training of the brain from an early age transfers into every area of a child's learning.

5.  The Ability to Concentrate.  Sitting still for long periods of time can be difficult for LionHeart.  But not when it comes to music study.  In his African drumming class the group is taught together.  He has to sit patiently and quietly listen to the instruction of the other drummers.  In the process, he develops concentration and he learns the rhythms of the other instruments from observing.  Dr. Suzuki says that "the beauty of music is that it simultaneously stimulates so many different parts of the brain."  The intense concentration and focus displayed during a child's musical performance is similar to what athletes refer to as "the zone," according to Dr. Suzuki.

6.  The Ability to Perform.  My children did not acquire this quality from their mama who is painfully shy.  Dad, on the other hand, did not have a shy bone in his body.  But I know this inherent quality was further developed through the study of music.  Dr. Suzuki says, "the ability to perform is really the ability to share what you love."  Naturally, these presentation skills carry over into areas where public speaking is required.

7.  Discipline! This quality is so very important for children, especially for males.  Discipline, or the lack thereof, can mean the difference between success and failure in any area. According to Dr. Suzuki, "nothing helps a child develop the ability to do something on a regular basis, like doing something on a regular basis."

8.  The ability to preserve.  The list of reasons why this quality in a young man is so important -- well there is not enough space to even list.  But I'll name a few.  The obvious places perseverance helps a child succeed are in education, sports, relationships - and later in life - work, starting a business, marriage and rearing their own children.  According to Dr. Suzuki, "children really want to conquer difficult situations and please their parents."  We can help them by instilling the skills necessary to weather frustrating times with "good humor and affection."

I guess this is the reason I was not ready to throw out LionHeart's Suzuki notebook from 2009.  There were still some gems inside waiting to be found.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our Geography Corner

What Are Continent Boxes?

Our Montessori-inspired Geography shelf is all set up.  It's amazing how much learning can be packed into such a small area.  To explore geography, we are using Montessori continent boxes and the Little Passports program.  Who doesn't love to open a little box? I know LionHeart does and it's packed with so many activities.  Continent boxes allow you to make geography a hands-on learning experience.  You can include maps, postcards, photographs - anything that will spark learning.  Once the learning is sparked, we visit the library for books, find videos on Netflix, listen to music or make food from the continent.  You can even do hands on projects to explore the physical features of geography.  We are definitely going to incorporate this graham cracker/yogurt idea for studying landforms.  Click here for details.  I dedicated an entire shelf to Africa.  I found the basket at a thrift store and purchased the miniature drum from a local art gallery that is going out of business for 50% off.  The continent boxes give us a reason to collect objects of meaning from around the world.

What Goes Inside of a Continent Box?

Recently, while attending the annual Panafest, I purchased a miniature Buddha statute.  I can see this object sparking so much conversation about religion and ultimately geography.

 I picked up this item from an art gallery closeout.  This is a rendering of the Kariang of Northern Thailand.  Can you see where we can go with this? After identifying Thailand on the map, here's something LionHeart can hold in his hand as we explore the music, food and culture of the Kariang, also called Nyang, people of Northern Thailand.  It will also be placed in our Asia box.  Click here for ideas on how to fill your continent boxes with learning. 

Inside of our Africa continent box is a 3-part nomenclature card that has as image of the continent and the spelling of the name.  Manipulating these objects helps with the child's ability to identify the continent and correctly spell the name of the continent. Also, inside of the Africa box is a miniature mask from Ghana and a hand-made card from Swaziland.  I also plan to add these maps from Montessori Print Shop.  When we study the continent, we'll visit the places where the objects originate from first because a connection has already been made.

Setting Up Your Continent Boxes 

 A good friend and fellow Montessori trained homeschool mom gave me this idea for the Continent Boxes. I purchased the containers came from Family Dollar for $2 each.  Those beautiful labels are courtesy of the Dollar Tree.  They're actually window clings that I glued onto the container with clear Elmer's glue.  Continent boxes can be created in a multitude of ways.  You can use baskets, folders, or anything that allows you to store items from to the continent you plan to study.  Click here at Living Montessori Now for more continent study ideas.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Learn Math Fast System

I am a big fan of simplicity, especially when it comes to curriculum. There is something soothing about a text that has lots of white space, little color and an absence of distracting text in the columns.  The Learn Math Fast System, developed by a homeschool mom, is a no-nonsense, no frills program that gets right to the point.  Starting with addition and going all the way through Algebra I in six volumes, Learn Math Fast can be used for a variety of needs.

When I first saw the program, my thought was it would be ideal for unschoolers or for children who do not "love" math.  According to the website, you can learn years of math in a matter of months.  So let's just say you have been unschooling a child whose primary interest is art and that same child would rather pull off his fingernails than spend time with a math text.  Learn Math Fast allows the child to literally see the progression of the whole math thing from start to finish.  Steven Covey's famous quote, "start with the end in mind," can be a powerful motivator for a child to get through this program.  When I was in college, I abhorred math so much that I took an intensive 4 week math class that met on - gasp - Friday, Saturday and Sunday, just so I could get it over with.  I don't feel that way about math anymore, but there are some who do.

Learn Math fast can also be used for parents whose children attend traditional schools where they are doing all kinds of fancy "new" math that leaves a parent clueless.  This text can provide both parent and child a way of learning and understanding traditional math concepts together. The Learn Math Fast System also provides a way for parents to help a child who is behind in math, but unable to afford expensive tutoring.  All answers and fully worked out solutions are provided in the back of the book so the child and parent can see how the solution was found.

If you have multiple children on varying levels, the cost of purchasing individual math programs can quickly add up.  Learn Math Fast can be used with multiple children of varying levels because all worksheets are provided on the website at no extra cost when you purchase the program.

If you are using this program with a child that needs to catch up or review and don't know where to start, there is a free place test on the website.  Click here for more details. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dyslexia Games for the Visual Thinker

I received a sample of Dyslexia Games to review.  I know so many families whose children struggle with reading or some sort of visual disability, that I thought a review of the program would be a great resource for parents.  Creating art to improve reading is a brilliant and fun concept, especially for children with Dyslexia.  According to experts, when children diagnosed with Dyslexia learn to read, brain scans show right brain activity. Consequently, traditional phonics-based programs may not work for struggling readers.  Simply put, most phonics programs are left-brain based and Dyslexic readers learn differently.  According to Dyslexia therapy experts, teaching a child with Dyslexia to read requires a parent or teacher to get creative with 3D images, art, logic, creative thinking games, manipulatives and other hands on techniques. When I asked LionHeart to give the worksheet a try he stomped over to his table with lips poked out.  Because the worksheets are fun and appeal to a right-brain learner's creative side, struggles quickly fade away.  Once he got started, he couldn't stop.

Learning to Read Right Brain Style

A mother's love and determination to help her own daughter is how Dyslexia Games was born.  Frustrated with her daughter's slow movement in reading, Sarah Brown began researching everything she could about Dyslexia, current therapies being used and brain development options.  Unable to afford costly therapy, like most trailblazing homeschool moms, she created her own program.  The program transformed her daughter in a matter of weeks, helping her improve in reading and handwriting.  In fact, Brown's daughter even illustrated a book, A Day Like Tomorrow.  Brown credits the program with helping her develop her artistic skills.

How Does It Work?

Dyslexia Games use visual art and puzzle exercises designed for children who think visually.  The workbooks start off with art, puzzle games and 3D drawings.  When the child is working on the games, the right brain is activated.  Gradually, the art and puzzle games become symbols, letters and numbers.  Finally, these games are transformed into reading exercises, and according to the website, over the course of 2-3 months, the child is now using the right brain to read. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Geography Costco Style!

I can always count on Costco to have something I can use in my homeschool.  This year it's a large magnetic world map for $19.99.  It's nice and sturdy, the usual high quality product you find at Costco.  We’ll be using this map along with Little Passports for our geography study.

 To ensure that we don't lose any pieces,  I separated the countries from each continent and labeled colorful sandwich storage containers I purchased from the Dollar Tree.  Mentally, I think this will also help LionHeart to understand that each land mass has individual countries that make up the continent.  My plan is to visit the library and let LionHeart choose a book about a particular country, then we’ll explore it on the map.  Since he loves music, we search the music and other important features about the country we choose.

The cuisine of Mozambique from the Travel Channel Show No Reservations

We also plan to study whatever country his aunty and cousin study in their Geography unit which will be based upon the Travel Channel show No Reservations with foodie Anthony Bourdain. His cousin loves to cook, so her mom has wisely chosen to approach Geography from the palate's point of view.  That is the beauty of homeschooling.  A child can learn any subject through his or her particular interest.

We're using the World Edition

Of course when LionHeart's package arrives in the mail from Little Passports, we'll explore that country and focus on areas of interest to LionHeart, like the sports of the country. I'm sure it will be the highlight of the day. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

African-Centered Algebra

NKALA Environmental

Yaw Agbede and his wife founded NKALA Environmental, an engineering, consulting and educational firm, to provide a place of employment for students who had been educated in African-centered schools and programs and desired to work for a firm that embraced those same principles.  The husband and wife team are just as committed to education.  Nkala Educational services is the second pillar of their firm.  What started out as online tutoring has grown into curriculum publishing.  What Baba Yaw found is that he spent so much time combing through his math texts and creating worksheets for the students he tutored, that it would serve him better to create a workbook of his own.  This is how African Pre-Algebra was born. Baba Yaw's work seeks to correct the misconception that mathematics cannot be taught from an African-center.  Why is this important? For the same reason knowing our history is important.  The oldest math textbook in the world was written in Africa.  But when our children encounter higher level mathematics, they hear names like Fibonacci and Pythagoras, totally alienating them from ownership.  Baba Yaw goes even deeper saying that teaching Algebra and other higher level mathematics from an African center is also political. "The biggest motivation for me to do what I do, for me and my children, is that I want them to use their skills for our people; and, if they are going to do that, they need a political education in every single subject, including math and science." Approaching mathematics in this way encourages our children to start firms and not just work for others.

NKALA Educational Services

African Pre-Algebra is the first in a series of workbooks that NKALA Educational Services plans to publish.  African Pre-Algebra is more than 300 pages and includes basic counting lessons in Akan and Twi. Click here to see a sample, including the scope and sequence. Baba Yaw says it is important to learn African languages as it relates to math because it expands a student's knowledge of traditional number systems and patterns, which develops skills in mental math.  Future workbooks will include Algebra I, Geometry, Trigonometry and Calculus, but not necessarily in that order.  

Translating The Ahmose Mathematics Papyrus

Another project NKALA Educational Services will embark upon this year is the translation of a 3,800 year old math text from ancient Africa.  The Ahmose Mathematics Papyrus will show specific examples of Algebra, Trigonometry, Sine, Cosine, Tangent, Cotangent, Area, Circumference and more.  How can we be afraid of something we originated!

Tutoring Services

In addition to traditional tutoring services in mathematics and engineering, NKALA also offers custom, project-based or skill-based tutoring programs.  For example, one of their clients, a college graduate, wanted to learn everything there was to know about Solar Panels.  Baba Yaw designed a program, tutored, mentored and prepared him to take the assessment.  This kind of unique tutoring is ideal for out-of-the-box learners who have ideas and projects that require more than a parent can offer.

Stay tuned

This year NKALA will also publish Numbers and Nature:  A Guide to Counting in 4 African Languages (Twi, Kikongo, Yoruba and Swahili).  Baba Yaw, who speaks 3 African languages fluently, says that studying languages helped him be more creative and have more clarity as it related to his technical studies.

For more information, visit their website: