Maestro Classics – The Nutcracker

A few years ago we received Peter and the Wolf from Maestro Classics. We have always enjoyed listening to classical music but I was amazed at how much my children loved Peter and the Wolf. Even more wonderful was how much they learned by simply listening. Today, it is still a favorite in our home.

Was it any surprise when we heard about the newest release, The Nutcracker, from Maestro Classics that we jumped at the chance to review it? There may have been even some stalking of the mailbox for The Nutcracker to arrive. When it finally arrived, there was no delay in listening and enjoying this beautiful presentation of a holiday classic.

The Nutcracker composed by Tchaikovsky (a favorite composer here) has become a Christmas classic that tells the story of magical toys and dolls. In the middle of the night, the toys comes to life, Clara’s special gift, a nutcracker, becomes a prince, and they travel to the beautiful land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. In this one hour production, Jim Weiss, well known for his captivating storytelling, narrates this magical story and helps listeners of all ages enjoy all the action that plays out in this composition. The narration is weaved throughout the music and blends together beautifully.

The Nutcracker is intended for ages 5 and up. However, be warned, those younger than 5 will likely enjoy listening and dancing along.

We have enjoyed listening to The Nutcracker once, twice, and again and again. During lunch, rest time, or while doing school work, The Nutcracker provides for excellent “background” noise. Rainy afternoon and need a bit of exercise? The Nutcracker can be the answer! Heading out to do errands? Perfect time to pop in The Nutcracker cd.

It is possible that my fifteen year old daughter and myself are enjoying The Nutcracker more than anyone. Tchaikovsky is a favorite composer of my daughter and I think the music of The Nutcracker is delightful. I actually have it playing right now and I can’t help but see the toy soldiers in my mind as I type.

While we can simply enjoy the music and narration of The Nutcracker, Maestro Classics has provided a Free Curriculum Guide to enhance the musical experience. Whether used in a formal manner or just for added fun, the guide is a great way to take the music of The Nutcracker into all areas of learning.

Math, Science, History/Geography and other subjects are included in the guide. The guide includes links to other sites that have printables, videos, and other resources. While there is a short biography of Tchaikovsky included in the CD Booklet, I think we are going to use resources from the Music section of the guide to learn more about Tchaikovsky. I debated doing it now but decided to wait.

Why wait on the curriculum guide? We are simple enjoying The Nutcracker! And I wanted to wait until we were a bit closer to Christmas to implement a few of the resources.

As we begin to prepare for the holiday season, this is the perfect time to include The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics.  The music is stunning, the narration is perfect, and the story is ageless. This is an excellent way to encourage your children to not only appreciate but fall in love with the beauty of classical works. They are timeless.

Thank you Stephen Simon and Maestro Classics for another excellent production.

Want to get a taste of The Nutcracker? You can listen to a sample. The Nutcracker is available on a CD or MP3 format. Don’t forget about Peter and the Wolf and the other productions Maestro Classics has to offer!

Maestro Classics Review
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SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers – A Review

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to implement a variety of resources to encourage learning. While we are conservative on screen time in our home, especially with our younger ones, we know that visual media can be valuable. Understanding the learning possibilities through media, SmartKidz Media has created SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers. We were able to review this media library over the past several weeks and I’d love to share a bit about it with you.

SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers provides a wide range of educational videos and other resources. The topics include: animal kingdom, history, culture, science, music, sports and more. Along with the videos, SmartKidz has downloadable study guides, flash animated e-books, and educational games.

Smartkidz Media content is “streaming” so there is no need to download anything to your computer or device.  Since this is a subscription based program, there are no ads or pop-ups to deal with. SmartKidz Media Library has two options for subscriptions:  monthly or yearly.

A 14 Day Free Trail is available to see if the content would be appropriate and beneficial to your home. It does require credit card information.

How Did We Use SmartKidz Media Library in our Homeschool?

We used SmartKidz Media Library very informally in our homeschool.  Instead of using it to supplement specific topics we were studying, we just watched different videos that my children showed interest in. There is no doubt that the Wonderful World series about various animals was a favorite. My thoughts, initially, were that this would be great for my younger ones. It never failed that when the videos started, everyone gathered around to watch. Who can resist polar bears, beavers, elephants, and monkeys?

It was interesting to see, even when using it informally as we did, how often we learned about animals we had come across in our school readings. Seeing the connections being made is a wonderful thing!

Another set of the videos we enjoyed as a family were the How Did They Make That? series. In an afternoon we learned how marbles, candles, and money are made. In one episode, while learning about birthday cakes, we discovered where cream of tartar comes from. I will confess that I had no idea!

There are other selections that I am interested in viewing but I am slowly previewing content. While this media library is designed for families, everyone has personal standards for what their children are allowed to view. What is acceptable for my older ones may not be beneficial to my younger ones.

New content is added regularly to SmartKidz Media. Recently some history resources for World War II and The Cold War have been added. I know my older children will likely enjoy these when we reach those studies in our history. We are a documentary loving family!

SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers has been a fun and educational addition to our resources. Using it informally on rainy afternoons or when we need a bit of downtime has worked really well. Children are always learning! I am working on a plan for using the World Wide Discovery Travel videos with a bit more structure. Perhaps we will take a few imaginary field trips around the world.

Want to learn more about what SmartKidz Media Library has to offer? Check out reviews by other Crew Members!


SmartKidz Media Review
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Homeschool Piano ~ A Review

In our home, music is an interest we all share. Whether it is listening to the radio or singing while cleaning the kitchen, music is always happening. You will often hear the piano as well. It varies from my daughter playing hymns to my little ones banging out their unique melodies. The past several weeks we have been working on building our piano skills with HomeSchoolPiano. Reviewing HomeSchoolPiano – Complete Set of Books has been a fun addition to our summer. If you are interested in piano lessons for your children (or yourself), this might be the perfect resource!

HomeSchoolPiano is an online piano instruction course for all ages. Piano teacher, Willy Myette, instructs the student throughout the four levels in this program: CorePiano, Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3. Each of these levels incorporate a six step cycle of instruction.

CorePiano – This level is for beginners or those who might need a review of core piano techniques. Some of the thirty-three topics covered in CorePiano are: How to Sit at the Piano, Time Signatures, The Pedals, Chords, and Playing Hands Together.

Book 1 – This the beginner level for HomeschoolPiano. There are six units and each unit includes an original piece of music.There are lesson quizzes as well. Through this level, students will learn to read music and even improvise.

Book 2 – If you have a bit of experience playing the piano, Book 2 could be a good starting point. Book 2 builds on the foundation laid in Book 1. The format is the same with the six step cycle and lesson quizzes.

Book 3 – At this point, you have a sturdy foundation in piano and are ready to create original piano arrangements and put to use all the skills you have learned. Once you have completed this book, you should be quite the pianist!

All four levels include downloadable PDF books that provide sheet music and other resources for learning the piano.

“I really liked it. Willie is really funny. Being able to watch him while listening is really helpful. I liked the ear training lessons and enjoyed the quizzes.” Lydia ~ 10

Instruction is presented in a video format. The screen shows Willie, his piano keyboard and then a virtual keyboard that lights up as Wille plays. The lessons vary from just a few minutes to around ten minutes in length. HomeSchoolPiano has recently made some updates and you can now slow the videos down. This is an excellent feature! If your student doesn’t quite catch what Willie is showing her, you can slow the video down.

Willie is engaging during the lessons. He speaks in a manner that various ages can understand his instructions; he doesn’t talk over or down to his audience. One aspect of Mr. Myette’s teaching that even my youngest ones noted was to have fun. Willie encourages the student to diligently practice the technique or skill taught. However, he also tells them to play around and try out different things as well.

HomeSchool Piano allows the parent to see the progress the students are making with the program. You know which lessons have been completed and how they are doing on quizzes.

You can try out a free lesson!

HomeSchoolPiano Complete Set of Books with unlimited lifetime membership (for up to five students and including bonuses of downloads, jam tracks, and sheet music) has two purchasing options.

  • *One time payment of $299 or….
  • *Three payments of $99.97 for three months

You will then have instant online access to the program. All you need then is a full size keyboard and a device to to view the lesson!

When you figure the cost of traditional lessons for five students, HomeSchoolPiano is quite reasonable. This could be a great resource for families in a variety of situations. Missionary families living abroad, families in rural locations, or families with multiple children desiring lessons.


“This is a nice option for homeschoolers who want to take piano lessons but can’t go out and about for lessons. I would prefer to have lessons with a live person. It was hard for me to keep my focus on the videos. I do better having someone working beside me. If you have a question, you don’t have anyone to help you.” Mary ~ 14


Our Thoughts

During our review period, I had four students using HomeschoolPiano. Their skill level ranged from beginner to one who is perhaps intermediate level. Their experiences:

My older daughter, 14, used this program independent of me. She decided to use the CorePiano as a review and to make sure she had a good grasp on the basics. She decided that Book 2 was a safe place to start. Mary, unfortunately, didn’t enjoy the video instruction. She feels she does better with in-person instruction. For her it is a personality/learning style issue.

“I like the piano lessons. The quizzes were the best. I like knowing how to read notes.” Hannah ~ 8

Mary was also concerned about how you would handle the issue of needing help if you didn’t understand a lesson. I utilized the live chat feature at HomeschoolPiano and asked this very question. If you need clarification on a lesson or concept, just email Willie. It will take a day or two to get a response, but he will offer help and guidance via email.

My three other students were 10, 8, and 6. The ten and eight year olds were basically independent with this as well. I love this as I am in no way a musician! At times, I joined them for a lesson or offered technical advice. Accessing the videos is very simple and it reminds you where you stopped previously.

Sarah watching a lesson while she waits for the piano.

My six year old needed me to work with her a bit more closely. She is easily distracted. Her progress through the Book 1 hasn’t been as timely as the others. That is ok! We can re-watch a lesson as often as needed and progress at a rate suited to Sarah.

One of our biggest challenges was balancing the time needed and scheduling. While lessons can be viewed on mobile devices, my computer was the only available viewing device. We even had a close call when one daughter forgot she was plugged into the computer via ear plugs. That piano lesson ended in a crash. Thankfully my computer and my daughter’s ears are safe and sound.

HomeSchoolPiano has been great overall. If you are looking for beginner instruction or need an affordable/convenient option, take a moment to check out HomeSchoolPiano. You can learn more by visiting HomeSchoolPiano’s Blog; they have lots of helpful information there.  Also check out what other Crew Families thought about HomeSchoolPiano!


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