Friday, May 3, 2013

Composer Project Pack - A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

In March I was delighted to learn that I had been selected to review a product by Homeschool in the Woods (HSiTW) called Hands-On History Activity-Pak: Composers

Have you heard of Homeschool in the Woods? HSiTW is a small company that was created by a homeschooling mom named Amy Pak.
The Pak family has been a homeschooling family since 1996. (And their home really is in the woods!) The HSiTW business grew out of Amy Pak's own work with her family in History studies and creating time lines. I have known about HSiTW for at least a decade, and have used their time line products in my own home school. One of my favorite products has been time line figures printed on sticky label paper, that I can peel off and put onto whatever time line we are using.

So I was delighted when I learned that I would get to review their Hands-On History Activity-Pak: Composers.  I hadn't even know about their Activity-Paks! And it is so cute the way they decided to spell them "Pak", like their last name!
I received the Hands-On History Activity-Pak: Composers in the form of a zip file, which I saved and opened. I was amazed at the volume of materials included in the Activity-Pak! The photo above doesn't quite do it justice. It was, initially, overwhelming!

I had decided to begin with the lapbook. I have been home schooling for 21 years, and I love lapbooks. My older two students, now graduated, loved to make lapbooks. They also loved to color while I did read-alouds. My current student does not do either. He has always hated coloring, and he does not like making lapbooks. So I would be making the lapbook for him to use as we study our composers.

In home school with my son, we have always actively studied the composers, so everything in this Activity-Pak was going to be a good fit, but I had to start somewhere.  I opened up the unzipped file, selected "PDFs", and selected "Intro-Acknowledge-Resources"; within that file I selected "ComposersActivityPak-INTRO".  It is always a good idea to start with the Introduction; it's like seeing a file labeled "Read Me First".

The "Intro" revealed that the Project-Pak includes a section covering the Periods of Music; a vocabulary section on keyboard flip cards; flip cards of historic composers; a timeline of the composers; a section focusing on what the purpose was of various musical pieces that were composed; a section to help the students appreciate the music; a section focusing on instruments in an orchestra; and separate cards highlighting each composer. The Lapbook project contains the first six of the above-mentioned eight PDF files, and the other two are separate projects by themselves. In addition to all these materials in the PDF section, the Activity-Pak also includes mp3 files of 29 musical pieces from the included composers. An additional file gives links and information for even more resources to support your composer study. There is also a photo file
At my house, fast consumption of printer ink is always an issue, so I was very careful in my selection of what to print. Initially I printed out the "Intro", but as I began to see how much I would end up printing if I printed everything in the Project-Pak, I began to use more care in determining which things needed printing and which things I could just refer to on my open computer screen.
After looking at several files, I found a file called "LapbookAssembly" which really helped me get where I wanted to go. I had most of the necessary materials in my home, and I substituted and jury-rigged where I needed to. The Composer Lapbook begins with a clean file folder; I used green. 
The "Composers" cover sheet is supposed to be on white card stock paper, which I didn't have. I copied it on white and glued it to a sheet of blue card stock to make it sturdy. It is intended to be colored in by the student, but my son hates to color, so nothing in our Lapbook is colored. It is what it is.

Next comes a folder for "Music Appreciation", where a sheet gets put for each piece of music you listen to, and you document information about the composer. Next you tape in additional sheets of card stock left and right -- I never knew I could hate packaging tape, but I now do. (Just kidding!) An additional sheet of card stock gets taped to fold out from the top.

Next on the Lapbook comes, left and right, keyboards, with vocabulary words on each of the keys. Each key gets cut to flip up individually. I really regret the way I mounted the keyboards. Since I did not have white card stock paper, I just used white paper, and it is too flimsy. I should have glued it to a colored card stock, like I did the cover, to make it strong enough. I'll have to see if I can redo that part later. Next you make a pocket called "Pieces with a Purpose" which gets glued to the bottom of the right side of the right taped card stock. This pocket gets stuffed with a big variety of decorated cut-outs with various things printed on them about various musical pieces. It is the yellow pocket below.

I can see this will become a huge tome if I highlight every single aspect of the Lapbook, so I will just do the rest of the highlight with photos.


When I had completely finished the Lapbook, I looked to see if I would do the other projects during the review as well. They, likewise, seem like complete projects in and of themselves. It is an amazing amount of material to receive all in one purchase! I decided to focus on beginning my son using the completed Lapbook.

There are several sections of the Lapbook that we will gradually be filling in as the months go by. One section is the individual flap-book for each composer. 42 different composers are highlighted. There are pages that I printed out but did not photograph that JD will fill out for each musical piece. I will continue to walk him through reinforcing the keyboard vocabulary words; he really needs that. I am requiring him to do some of the writing, but I will fill in some of the answers too. I do not see "handwriting" as the purpose of this Lapbook for us. Instead, when we listen to a composer, let's say Vivaldi, I ask him to open up the flap-book about Vivaldi and read to me the information about Vivaldi. How you decide to use it needs to depend upon your own child's learning style. I, personally, learn more when I write the information. My son, not so much. He seems able to write without even paying attention to what he is writing. But when he reads something with his eyes and/or hears something with his ears, he seems to be a sponge. (He learns best, though, when we're covering material he cares about, and lately that isn't much... ::sigh::)

 I was so stunned to learned that composers are divided into different styles, similar to painters. There was a Baroque era, a Renaissance era, Middle Ages era, a group of composers known as Classical, another group known as Romantic, a couple known as Impressionist, and composers known as Modern. I knew nothing much more than Classical and contemporary. So the timeline material has truly helped me improve the musical education I am giving my son. We were more into the camp of home schooling for music appreciation and associating certain pieces with certain authors. Now our studies have new dimension. I will be making certain JD knows the style of musical piece we are listening to, and when I can learn it I will be teaching him the reason a composer wrote a certain piece (like Handel's "Messiah"), and who the composer's "sponsor" was.

I can hardly wait to put together the "Orchestra" project to help my son learn the various instruments that compose an orchestra, not to mention how many of each of various instruments. I am not certain if we will use the last section of the Project Pak, the individual Composer Cards. But we might. It makes into a card game, and it helps the student (and the teacher) memorize the correlation between 20 composers and the pieces he composed, where he was from, and where and when he lived.

The 29 mp3 files of selected compositions are also a treasure. There are also musical pieces we will want to listen to that are not represented there; we usually go searching on YouTube for compositions we do not already have handy. 

So I received this Hands-On History Activity-Pak: Composers for free to use with my son and review for my readers. What is our verdict? Mom loves this Activity-Pak. JD? He doesn't care for it. What can I say? He is going through a period where he absolutely hates being required to learn or work on anything that isn't his own idea. And he is currently majoring in Lego's, Boy Scouts, and hands-on Science and nature activities. It is rare that I review something and find that he loves it.

Homeschool in the Woods Hands-On History Activity-Pak: Composers is available as a download for $18.95 or as a CD for $19.95. This Activity-Pak is designed for students in grades 3-8, but in my opinion it has material in it that can help any age student learn more about composers. The youngest students can benefit from hearing the musical composition, seeing the picture of its composer, hearing the information about that composer. Older students (who like Lapbooking) can complete the actual activities by themselves. Middle or "tween" kids can color the parts of the Lapbook while mom puts it together. This is a very reasonably-priced product for anyone and I just loved it. I highly recommend it.

If you click on Homeschool in the Woods Reviews you can see reviews of other Members of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew. In addition to the Hands-On History Activity Paks — Composers, there are reviews of the Great Empires Activity Study and the The 20th Century in America Hands-On History Lap-Pak.

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