The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews
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Fun with Composers Review by Heidi ShawDeborah Lyn Ziolkoski
Fun with Composers
Whether classical music intimidates you or inspires you, you will love Fun with Composers. Deborah has worked in education for over 15 years, both as a music specialist and as a designer of teacher activities for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's school concerts. Her love for music and children is obvious. I decided to try out this product with my children and the other neighborhood homeschool children.
The idea behind Fun with Composers is to introduce the children to a famous composer or a musical concept, engage their minds with a story corresponding to a famous musical piece, have the children act out the piece, and finally use percussion instuments to play along with the music.
I eagerly inspected the contents of the program: the Teacher's Guide (which includes teaching outline, instructional DVD, and CD), the optional "Just for Kid's Guide" (which includes stories, composer biographies, and CD), and a bag of percussion instruments. I listened to the songs, which are very well done and are recorded first with lyrics and then without. I watched the DVD and read the first few stories, which are also well done.
I taught each lesson for 30 minutes, and we covered one composer/song over two lessons. I only wish the musical map provided in each guide was a larger pull-out for mounting on the wall. (I copied them into bigger posters, which took a bit of time. With a smaller group it might be easiest to have everyone crowd around the book). The other drawback is the cost of the program. In a homeschool co-op, however, the cost would be manageable. The benefits that the children receive from this program (while having a great time) are invaluable.
The children loved it! We used the level intended for ages 3-6, and all the children in our group (ages 3-8) enjoyed it equally--especially the action parts. Some of the younger ones had difficulty sitting still for the composer biography, but it is not overly long and could easily be condensed. The children's book includes a coloring picture of the composer along with the story. By the end of the second lesson, all the children knew who Mozart was, a song he wrote, and what forte, piano, staccato, legato, and allegro mean. (Those are musical terms for loud, quiet, quick and short, slow, and fast--all explained in the Teacher's Guide). The children eagerly asked to listen to the songs again and again.
The percussion instruments aren't really necessary to the success of the program, but they are a lot of fun and the kids love to use them. You could easily improvise with wooden spoons and other home-made instruments. The program can easily be taught year after year, with the children catching something new each year. It is fun and engaging and very well composed.
The second level of FWC is geared for ages 8-12. It is very similar to the first level, but the lessons are a little longer. There are worksheets and composer bios in the back of the Teacher's Guide. As with the first level, there is an optional "Just for Kids Guide" that includes fun activities to enhance the experience.
I found myself wanting to listen to the pieces on my own, even when the kids weren't around, and I loved the stories. I highly recommend Fun with Composers. It is so much fun with a group of kids. So find another like-minded family, split the cost, and have a lot of good fun on the journey! I am sure you will love the results.
Reviewed by Heidi Shaw (with help from Jessica Boy), The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2007
Product Update - May 2020
This review was done over a decade ago, but Fun with Composers is still going strong. Deborah has now worked in the education field for 29 years. As you can expect, improvements have been made to their programs over the years as a result of technological advancements and customer feedback.
The Pre K – Gr.3 program introduces children to a familiar piece of music and its composer, engages their minds with interactive stories, and leads children to sing, act, and move to the music. In the lesson plans, percussion instruments are recommended, but if you don't have any, "Found Sound" is described on their free video lesson page on their website. CD's and DVD's are no longer shipped as all the audio and video files are available through their website. Anyone who orders a hard copy will be set up with a digital account once they register their product.
The Grade 3-7 program presents new pieces which follow a similar approach but are more intriguing, challenging, and appealing for students in this age group. Secret Agents, Medieval Dancing Knights, Crazy Kings, and more!