Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Practice Monkeys (A Homeschool Crew Review)

  DISCLAIMER:  I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew


Sadly, this is my last official review as a member of the Homeschool Review Crew but if there was any  review to go out on, this would be it.  This is a product that we have really enjoyed with our kids.  For the last few months, we have been doing music instruction in our home with Practice Monkeys, an online music instruction program that offers violin, piano, cello, guitar and even offers a self defense course. 


About Practice Monkeys

Practice Monkeys is a browser based source for all ages to learn how to play musical instruments as well as an available self defense course.  Using the Suzuki method of learning, the website is the work of veteran violin teacher Mrs Van Kleeck,. The website offers both Live group classes as well as recorded lessons that help students master their instrument and subscriptions allow students access to both live and recorded classes each week.

 Classes offered are:

  • Violin Classes through Book 7 Suzuki
  • Piano Classes through Book 3 Suzuki (Books 4–7 are in development)
  • Guitar through Suzuki Book 2 (Books 3–7 are in development)
  • Cello through Suzuki Book 3 (Books 4–7 are in development) 
  • Self Defense (Not Suzuki based)

The live classes are streamed four times each week in early afternoons while the recorded classes are available from the website 24/7 and can be accessed at the students convenience.

The website is well organized and easy to navigate.  After enrolling and being granted access to the appropriate level lessons for your student, parents will find a treasure trove of information, mostly in the form of very concise videos, such as how to tune the instrument before each practice, demonstrations of the skills the student will be working on, how the parents can help the student throughout the process and how often the student will need to work with the instrument.  Along with these videos, the weeks four previously recorded lessons are also accessible as well as PDF downloads for practice sheets and skills checkoff lists for the level your student is working at.


The subscription price is considered a family price and you pay for the instrument rather than the student.  This means that if you have two students who both on the violin, you would only pay the one price for both students.  Also, Assessments for progression to the next level is a separate purchase and would be per student.

Live classes allow your child to interact in real time with their instructor. By using the computers camera and microphone, the instructor is able to see and listen to the students during the class time and make suggestions, corrections or praise the student during their class time.

Our Experience

For this review, we enrolled Garrett in the violin course and Ashleigh was enrolled in Piano.  



The first step of their journey was a one on one assessment with Mrs Van Kleeck.  This assessment was simple to schedule thru the website and allowed for both kids to interact with Mrs Van Kleeck and allow her to see where they stood with as far as experience and knowledge of their instruments.  The assessment was on a Saturday morning and took roughly 15 minutes per child. I found this assessment to be a great starting point for the kids as it allowed them to also understand what to expect out of the classes.  Mrs Van Kleeck did a great job explaining to the kids what the kids would be expected to learn for each level they would be working at.  At the conclusion of the assessment, Garrett was placed in Violin 3 while Ashleigh was placed in Violin 1. (Note: Ashleigh was offered the opportunity to be placed in Piano 2, but she chose to be placed in the lower class). 

Once the kids had each been placed in their levels, we were able to access the "Treehouse" for those classes.  The Treehouse has all the information for the course available for the student and parent.  There were instructional videos that introduced the kids to the different music pieces that they would be working on which really helped them to understand the various techniques these pieces used.  These videos were especially useful when it came to Garrett, who could quickly pick up a piece of music but didn't necessarily play it using the technique.  Having access to these videos allowed for us to go back after Garrett had a good understanding of the notes for the piece and then focus on the technique he needed to be using.   The Treehouse also contained a checklist of what skills they would need to master in order to know when they would need a new assessment to progress to the next level, as well as the schedule for live classes and links for previously recorded classes.  


That Monday, we were ready for live classes.  These classes are conducted via Zoom, last roughly 15 minutes each, and included all students from that level who logged in that day.  Students are expected to attend either a live class or view a previously recorded class, and then practice on their own for another 15 minutes on their own after the class.  During the live classes, the students receive instruction from the instructors as well as feedback on what they can do to improve.  For example - Garrett has a habit of not keeping his wrist straight while playing.  There were a few times during class that the instructor would bring this to his attention for him to correct it.  Below is a video of Garrett during class time being asked to play a piece for the class, where he is helped with an issue he was having as well as being given instruction by Mrs Van Kleeck. (Wide view for the privacy of other children in the class)


Both kids jumped into live classes enthusiastically and both found the classes enjoyable.  However, Ashleigh quickly lost interest and getting her to do classes proved to be stressful.   Garrett however, quickly picked up his instrument and jumped in both feet. 


For the majority of his time, Garrett attended live classes, occasionally if his other lessons ran late he would view a pre recorded class. These classes were taught by either Mrs Van Kleeck or another instructor, Mrs Deb Peterson.  Between the classes, the videos available on the treehouse and his practicing outside of class, he quickly picked up the music that he was expected to learn for Level 3.  After a month of classes, Garrett was told by Mrs Van Kleeck that she believed he was ready for an assessment to see if he was ready to progress to Level 4.  Scheduling this assessment was much the same process as scheduling the original placement assessment. 

For this assessment, Garrett met one on one with Mrs Van Kleeck.  He was asked to play 4 pieces of music that he had been working on, showing the proper techniques that were in the videos and taught in the classes.  Again, we found Mrs Van Kleeck very kind, friendly and encouraging and Garrett got thru his assessment no problem, which took about 15 minutes.  Mrs Van Kleeck said he was ready for Level 4 Violin and then took another 10 minutes or so showing him the music he would be learning as well as displaying a more advanced way of holding the bow and a few new techniques that he would be focusing on during Level 4, such as lifting his bow and circling it around to play a different note.  After the assessment was completed, his Dashboard in his Treehouse showed that he was now Level 4, giving him access to the videos for that Level, much the same as when he was in Level 3. 

Garrett during his Assessment with Mrs Van Kleeck

Level 4 has begun teaching things such as music theory to prepare the students to begin reading music.  So in addition to learning the pieces that are required for the level, he has also had to begin memorizing which notes are on each scale played per string, ect.  For example - the G Major scale on his first string consists of 8 notes - G A B C D and F#  while the A Major Scale is A B C# D E F# and G#.  His responsibility for this level is to memorize each of the 4 Major Scales and begin putting those together with what he is playing, so as he plays each note of the scale, he has been saying what that note's name is as he plays it, as well as working on the music pieces he has to learn for the level. 


Overall, Practice Monkeys has been a wonderful experience for Garrett. We found both Mrs Van Kleeck and Mrs Peterson to be wonderful instructors and Garrett's definitely done well under both of their instructions.  I honestly wish Ashleigh would have put more effort into piano and she did say she found the instructor (I did not catch his name but he was really good!!) fun and she enjoyed the class, she just didn't have interest in piano, and I didn't force it.  However, I am very pleased with Garrett's progress and I look forward to seeing how far he will progress using the classes.   I also found it interesting that during the course of this review, we met a young lady who played the guitar. After finding out that Garrett was learning violin, she offered Garrett the opportunity to strap the guitar on and play around with it.  So, who knows, since Practice Monkeys offers guitar classes, maybe that is also in our future ;) 

On a final note - Instrument classes can be expensive.  On our previous base, violin instruction was 60 for a half hour of instruction and I find that tends to be a pretty average price.  Even meeting with an instructor once a week for 30 minutes 4 times a month, that is $240 a month, more if you opt to have instruction more than 1 time a week.  Practice Monkeys offers their classes for $49/month and again, if you have two or more students playing the same instrument, that $49/month covers all.  For that price, you get 1 full hour of instruction per week (4 fifteen minute sessions on M-Thur) for the entire month, making it very cost effective. Not to mention that the recorded classes they can access for even more instruction.   Because Garrett has done so well with the classes, we will gladly be paying out of pocket for the monthly tuition so he can continue because even on a single income military budget,  the price point is within our budget and we recognize the value we are getting. 

We highly recommend Practice Monkeys and suggest that if you're interested, take advantage of the ability to try their course for free (yes, Free!!) to see if it will work for your family.  Info on how to do this can be found in the FAQ on the Practice Monkeys website.


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 Members of the Crew have been using Practice Monkeys in their home to learn Violin, Piano, Cello, Guitar and Self Defense in their homes.  Click the banner below to read their reviews today. 

Online Lessons for Children: Violin, Piano, Cello, Guitar, and Self Defense

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Giving Manger (A Homeschool Crew Review)

  DISCLAIMER:  I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew


Each year, when the holiday season rolls around, it tends to be that the meaning of Christmas is often lost in all the Black Friday sales, Christmas lights and presents under the tree. The secular takes over, and the birth of our Savior and the amazing gift he gave to us when he gave his life is more times than not, forgotten.  More often than not, the focus becomes about what we will receive rather than what we can give to others. 

For this holiday season, we are trying to change that in our household using The Giving Manger from WorthyKids. Disguised as a simplistic holiday decoration to place in your home, The Giving Manger is actually a great tool to be used to help your family focus on acts of giving. 

The Giving Manger was packaged very nicely in a presentation box that included a hardcover picture book, a three piece wooden manger that was easy to assemble, a infant figuring to represent the baby Jesus, and a bundle of straw. 

The concept behind the set is that the family gets together and reads the storybook written by Allison Hottinger and photographed cut paper illustrations by Emily King.  The book explains the idea behind the Giving Manger and helps to drive interest and enthusiasm for it.  The book focuses on the words of Matthew 25:40 and tells the story about two siblings, Ann and Ben, who are informed that the parents have decided rather than purchase gifts for the children for the holidays, they have instead decided to focus on giving and serving others with a grateful heart.  The children of course are not very grateful to hear this news, but as the story progresses, they find that there's a completely type of gift to be had by serving others. 

After reading the book as a family, for the holiday season, family members work on acts of giving.  As these acts are done, a piece of straw is added to the manger, in the hopes that by the end of the holiday season, the manger is filled with straw to cushion the baby Jesus before he is placed in the manger on Christmas.  The book provides ideas for age appropriate ideas for how different age groups can find ways to serve others, such as for children, for teens, and ideas to do as a family unit.

  The book also provides a journaling section entitled "Manger Memories" where families can write down particularly memorable acts of service that they would like to remember in years to come. 

While our family has not begun adding straw to the manger, as we are saving that to do during the Advent season, we are really looking forward to making this a focus for our family during the holiday.  Christ teaches us that we should take care of "the least of these", and I admit that over the years, our family have become more focused on the consumer aspect of Christmas and had really neglected how we can serve others in our community.  I think The Giving Manger will be a great tool to help our family focus on doing things for others. 

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Many members of the Review Crew have received The Giving Manger. Click the banner below to read their reviews today.

Start a New Christmas Advent Tradition with The Giving Manger

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Progeny Press (A Homeschool Crew Review)

 DISCLAIMER:  I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew


One review we always look forward to is the literary study guides from Progeny Press because they always help the kids think more about the stories they are reading.  For the last few weeks, the kids have been reading Redwall  and using the Redwall Study Guide to dive deeper into the story. 

For this review, we were given two study guides - the Redwall Study Guide as well as the Cricket in Times Square Study Guide.  While we have only had the time to go in depth using the Redwall guide, both of these guides follow the same format and we look forward to using the Cricket in Times Square study guide once we are finished with the first study.

Progeny Press is a publishing company who offers E-guides for literature with a Christian perspective. Offering guides for reading levels from early elementary through high school, each of the Progeny Press guides are designed to help students to better understand the story they are reading as well as to recognize the themes presented by the author. 


However, what makes Progeny Press different from other literature study guides is that Progeny Press uses Biblical teachings, backed with scripture, to tie the story into practical lessons. While many books contain content or beliefs that do not align with Christian beliefs, Progeny Press guides direct students to instead study what God says about such things so they will be better prepared and strong in their faith when they face such behavior, language, and philosophy in life.  



Progeny Press literature guides break the assigned book into weekly reading assignments. Students read the assigned chapters and then they complete different activities that correlate with what they have read.  These activities fall into four categories to help expand the student's knowledge about what they have read.

First, vocabulary activities help to introduce words that might be unfamiliar to the student in ways that help with retention.  These questions can be matching the word with a definition as well as asking the students to use the word in a sentence of their own choosing.
Second, reading comprehension questions are used to be sure the student is understanding what they are reading.  These are both direct questions that can be answered straight from the reading as well as questions that require the student to think about what they read and determine why a character might have done an action, thought the way they did, or what they might do in the future. These questions also include asking students to paraphrase quotes from the story as well.

Next, literary techniques that are used by the author are introduced with activities that help the student understand concepts such as alliteration, metaphors, conflict, compare and contrast, mood and coming of age. 
Character Values and Moral Lesson help the student recognize traits that either honor God or that conflict with Christian beliefs or living, such as acceptance, honoring parents, lying,  patience, and dealing with fear.  Students are given Biblical references that correlate with the values being taught to solidify what God says and how they relate to the situation the characters in the book find themselves in.  
Finally, suggested activities and writing assignments are offered to expand that help to expand on the book.  These included field trip suggestions, plant research, creative writing assignments, discussions about safety, research topics, and science connections that can be used to tie in with the book.  Additional reading selections that can tie in or are similar to the novel being read are also suggested. 

How We Used The Literature Guide

For this review, we were given the digital e-book versions of the interactive literature guide as well as the digital answer key that corresponds with the guide for both books.  For the review period, we opted to use the Redwall Study Guide.   The guide for Redwall is written by Janice and Robert DeLong. This  interactive guide is a 75 page PDF file that can either be printed out for the student or it can be used on a computer.  The guide is formatted in such a way that the student has the ability to type answers and use drop down selections to answer the material and then print the pages, which was extremely convenient for us as Garrett prefers this method.  This makes for a great option if you have a student who either dislikes writing or just prefers typing over using a pen/pencil. 

Much like the Redwall Study Guide, the Cricket in Time Square study guide is also a PDF file that can be printed out or used on the computer. This guide is 52 pages in length and is written by Andrew Clausen.  This guide also focuses on the same format as the Redwall study, but includes activities that include opera music, cooking Chinese food and using chopsticks to eat it. 

Incorporating the literature guide into our daily work was easy.  The kids and I would read the required chapters on Monday and Tuesday, then spend the rest of the week working on the activities and questions that go with the reading. This worked really well for us. 
As a homeschooling parent, I really enjoy using the Progeny Press study guides with the kids. They really help the children to understand the literature they are reading and dig deeper than just reading the story. I also really appreciate the Christian perspective the guides use that help to really tie Christian teaching into the study, because it gives my kids the opportunity to see how scripture teaching can be used in a real world setting.  
For more information about Progeny Press and the large selection of study guides for literature that they offer, be sure to visit their website.  You can also find more information by visiting the company's social media sites:

Members of the Crew were offered their choice of five literature guides for grades K-12.    Be sure to click the banner below to see their reviews today.  
Progeny Press Literature Study Guides

Wordless Wednesday

The other day, my husband came across a story in regards to post mortem photography.   He was reading the story when suddenly he is freaking out.. Why?  Because in one of the examples of the photography, the deceased girl looks exactly like our youngest daughter. 



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