Classical Homeschool Curriculum- writing the Music portion
  • irwinsong
    Posts: 1
    Dear Friends,

    I am a musician myself, classical voice being my first love, though I am also a pianist, a songwriter, and play french horn and a few other instruments.
    I am a Catholic homeschool mother, and we have been using the classical model of education for my children's curriculum for the past several years.

    I am trying to put together a Vocal program for the classical curriculum I am doing with my children and other families, and in short- I want to do a basic singing foundation with the kids, and base it on beginning chant.

    I am also looking at methods, such as the Ward or Kodaly methods to help with the vocal technique training. Though I would love to attend conferences/workshops, currently that's not a feasible option, as several of my children are very young and this is not the 'season' in my life which would allow for me to do that, unfortunately. So, thus I do what I can!! :) I have been a music director at several parishes over the years, (we have moved about 5 times in the past 8 years, thus the 'several' part!) However, I have done nothing in the realm of chant/sacred music, which is all I hunger for now! Now, I am blessed to be able to focus on homeschooling. :)

    More details about our program-
    I am specifically looking to prepare something for 2 different age levels-
    K-3 and 4-6
    (We do also have the need for 7-9 and 10-12, as well, though I wanted to start and focus on the younger ones first).

    -We are a classical education program that meets once a week for a full day. The parents stay with their children, and they are basically learning alongside them, too. It's more of a 'mentoring program', where the parents then go home with the curriculum framework they've been given and they 'flesh it out' the rest of the week. :) We cover, in the K-6 age group, memory work, oral presentations, readaloud/book discussions and socratic method of discussion, writing/grammar/spelling/poetry/copywork/handwriting, and then we have art, music, or science. I am in charge of developing the music portion. We are currently in the 3rd year of 3 total cycles, and then we start over with Cycle 1 next year. This is the last 'beta year', so we are really hoping to firm things up now, this year, with how we want to do our music program each cycle from here forward. (The past two years they did a hodgepodge of different things; now we have a better vision/idea of where we want to go and what we'd like to accomplish....I just came on board this year, and have been christened the music person! : )

    Regarding the music portion of our program each cycle:

    -We have 60 minutes to work with, for 9 total weeks. However, the 60 min is probably going to broken down into thirds as such:
    -We are probably going to do 20 min every week, for 9 weeks total each yearly cycle, of some sort of vocal technique/training that I think should include Solfege, tonal recognition, breathing techniques, simple notation, vocal exercise, etc. I don't see this changing each cycle, but rather keeping the same program for each yearly cycle, since it would be difficult to teach something new to children who start the program during, say, Cycle 2 or Cycle 3, and haven't started with Cycle 1. But this way, it wouldn't matter when they come into the program, as they'd be getting the same vocal program every year, and it will be great review for all the children anyway. I would love very much to have an extended curriculum to have the parents continue with their children outside of class, reviewing what we've done and building slowly upon it. This would ensure that, in the very least, the children will have daily review of what we've learned in class one week, and they'll come back ready to build upon it the following week. I myself have never taught Solfege; I am a classically trained vocalist/performer, but it's been a long time since working with my coach/teacher, and I've only actually taught a few students since then, but never with Solfege. (I have briefly read about the Ward method and its use of Solfege and specific hand positions that are taught with each tone- I'd love to incorporate that in what we do!)

    -The next 20 minutes, we'd like to 'put into practice' what they just learned, in a sense. During the second half of the year, even though we won't have any more formal music portion to the program, the children can sing the different chants they've learned during our Sanctuary time at the beginning of the day, when we all meet together for prayer, saint of the day, and virtue training. This way they will continue having the opportunity to sing together each week. We will probably have different chants spread out over the three cycles, giving some nice variety for the children to learn/sing.

    -The final 20 minutes will be more of a Music Appreciation portion, focusing on listening to music and learning more about different composers/time periods/styles/techniques/etc. This portion of the Music program will indeed change each cycle, focusing on different time periods/styles each Cycle. (By the way, this portion hasn't been written yet- any resources you might suggest? Currently I'm looking at "How To Introduce Your Child to Classical Music in 52 lessons" by Leslie and Robert Spencer, but I'd love any other suggestions! The goal is to teach them how to listen to music well, and most importantly to leave them with a great love for music, wanting to go home and learn/listen more!)

    So, as you can see, we're attempting to do much in a short time, as a way of 'painting a broad brush stroke of beauty' that then inspires the children and parents to go home and 'paint more'! :) So, we either throw our hands up in the air and say, "It's impossible, because our time is too limited!", OR we take what we have and see it as an opportunity to give them little 'snacks' from the musical buffet of learning, introducing them to various things, and then leave it in the hands of each family to pursue more outside of our time together if they are so led/inspired to do so! Now, we just need to figure out the best way to do so! :) :) :) And, because we are just simple homeschooling families that are coming together to do this, we can't guarantee that every one of our branches will have an expert musician available to take on the music portion of the program, SO that is why we write the program the way we do, making it accessible to 'nonexperts' in the different subjects, so it can indeed be duplicated/taught by any of the mothers who choose to be what we call 'mentors' for each classroom. (After all, as the Church teaches, parents are the primary teachers of their children anyway; so our hope/goal is to empower the parents with tools to successfully do this.) What I mean is that the curriculum is all written and set, and the mentors' role is to present the information in ways that are accessible to the kids so they can then go home and 'flesh it out' more deeply with their parents. The 'easier' we can lay it out for the mentors, the more successfully it will be implemented. Ideally we can put together something for the music program that we can have the mentors become familiar with (perhaps via dvds/ instruction booklets, something of that sort), create a syllabus for each week, plus some sort of extended syllabus for the parents to go home and do for the rest of the week with their children. We hope to give them a deeper love and appreciation for singing and for sacred music, and whet their appetite for more!

    Anyway, we are on a bit of a time crunch... we start in September, though we train our 'mentors' (the classroom 'teachers') at the end of July. But there is breathing room, since we don't actually begin the program again until September, and we could technically have a special day of training for our mentors once the music material was completed. The other thing I was thinking about was that, since most of our mentors will probably not be musicians by trade (they're homeschool mothers, basically, with every which kind of skills! :), it might be good to put together not only a curriculum manual/book for the music portion, but also an audio or video aid to know that it was being properly taught to the children in each classroom. Anyway! I'm throwing all my thoughts out there right now to detail what we're hoping for/envisioning. Any help/advice that can be offered would be so appreciated! I'd rather not 'reinvent the wheel' if there's already something(s) out there that would fit our needs.

    I apologize for this over-lengthy post! Just trying to be very thorough as to what we're trying/hoping to do!

    Blessings to all of you in JMJ,
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 987
    This is fantastic, Michelle, and our prayers are with your efforts.

    It can be relatively threatening to throw someone in as the "expert" to teach something they know little about. So you may want to position that role as "facilitator of the group's learning", which gives permission for the leader to be learning along with the rest of the group. Quite seriously, I've described my role as director to "try to stay 5 minutes ahead of the rest of the schola" and it's worked well. All of us are learning as we go along, I just try to be out ahead a little bit, looking out more broadly for resources which would be useful. When I learn something new that contradicts or replaces something we've been doing differently, well, we're all just learning as we go along. There will be surprises.

    As a facilitator of learning, then, the leader needs to:
    * Actively go out and look for resources and knowledge, and try to filter out the things that seem most useful
    * Figure out how to engage the kids and parents in the learning process (little lecture, lots of participation and playing)
    * Monitor progress to try to keep things moving in the right direction
    * Stay engaged as learner and participant, nurturing a sense of wonder and playfulness

    I'm sure there's a lot of expert educators here in the crowd that can help to develop this. I'm just saying what's worked for me in my experience in teaching, workshops, and directing.

  • I highly recommend Ward as a goal because once you are trained, the lessons are already prepared for you. When you are crazy busy and have your own family, there may be little preparation time. Also, Ward takes care of 40 minutes of what you are looking to do, with the other 20 (Music Appreciation) being something you can easily add in.
  • Michelle, It's been over a year since you posted this, and as a music appreciation teacher for my homeschool co-op, I have had the same frustration with finding the right resources. I'm wondering what you've figured out over the past year and whether or not we might be able to assist one another. One thing I've noticed is that most of the music curricula out there, even that which is suggested by classical ed vendors, tends to begin with the Baroque period, completely skipping over the ancient and medieval periods, which of course is where Catholic sacred music and chant in particular has its roots. In my opinion, by beginning post-Reformation, you actually end up with a bit of a Protestant spin on music history. I have been toying with the idea of writing a music curriculum that does our Catholic heritage justice and is easy for non-musical parents to sit down and use without much preparation and without having to buy too many materials. We should chat!

  • I have been toying with the idea of writing a music curriculum that does our Catholic heritage justice and is easy for non-musical parents to sit down and use without much preparation and without having to buy too many materials.
    Please hurry with this project! I have been searching and struggling for many years trying to find this for our homeschool and children's choir. I've basically consigned my children to Protestant piano teachers and while I've been pleased with their "classical" music education for the most part, agree it's incomplete and would love to see a solid Catholic music curriculum.

    Thank you and God bless you!

  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,335
    Words with Wings
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • I've been casually reading this forum for a little while now, but this post inspired me to join! I too stumbled into a Classical Studies Home Schooling Enrichment Program just last year. I have a degree in music education from a State University and have only recently discovered the Ward method. I wish I had known of it sooner. It is wonderful! Mrs. Ward's original books can be found on the Musica Sacra website. I attended the training session at CUA this past summer and absolutely loved it. The instructors were excellent as were all of my fellow classmates. I am attempting to implement it into our program as we speak. The genius of Ward is that you ideally start young and have a short (20-minute) lesson daily. The fact that you have the parents attending the classes is perfect as they can then continue the Ward lessons at home and you can introduce new concepts at the weekly class. I don't have the same luxury, so we will see how much I can get through this first year having only 1 session per week with the students. I am also working with older students (middle school).

    My wife and I are also trying to implement a music class for younger children and their parents. It's just a matter of finding the time. I have purchased several of the John Feierabend Books (First Steps in Music and conversational solfege) from GIA and have been using them with my own young children with much success. Unlike Ward, which has sacred music as the end goal from the onset, the Feierabend books are not Catholic or even religious. Still they are pedagogically sound and are similar to the other major general music methods such as Dalcroze and Kodaly. Each has its own idiosyncrasies but generally takes the sound-before symbol approach. What's nice about Feireabend is that you can buy all the materials and study it on your own without having to pay for a specialized training course. That being said, Ward is inexpensive and well worth it.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I'll be using Words with Wings and teach recorder. Kids have lots of fun playing recorder while learning to read notes (I teach them both modern and chant notations) and breath control which helps them singing chants. There are lots of recorder books that come with fun accompaniment CDs.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Hi Michelle,
    I know this post is from many years ago - but I am starting an elementary music class at our Catholic Co-Op this fall and I was wondering how your program turned out. If it went well, would you be willing to share it? Thank you!
  • Kodaly would be the best method for your needs. I would counsel firmly against Ward, particularly because of its antiquated and disproven approach to plainchant. I say that, knowing that there will be a firestorm of contrary opinion from some of my esteemed colleagues on our forum.

    I have nothing but admiration for what you are doing and your dedication.
  • Outdated theories aside- and I do agree there are some- there are lots of valuable aspects of Ward. I use some of the solfege games and drills, and drills that seem like games. I also like composition games and basic interval games, and my choristers thrive with some of those. There is a physical approach to games and drills that directs the energy of the squirmers.

    Kodaly also has many worthwhile aspects.

    A wholesale rejection of Ward would be almost as short-sighted as a rigid application of it.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    Indeed. Jeffrey Morse has had great success using Ward then the RSCM curriculum.
  • janetgorbitzjanetgorbitz
    Posts: 922
    The CMAA just ran its first class in the Ward method this summer with Scott Turkington teaching. It went very well... with great comments from the participants. Can't wait to hear about how they are using it back home.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    I've had good success with my students using Kodaly. For teaching solfeggio, I use Curwen signs, and we do limited exercises on the board using modern notation, with fixed DO. For the older students, you can begin teaching them keyboard as well as voice, and this will be a good transition to the organ should they desire to pursue it. The first music education seminar I went to for professional development was on elementary music methods, and the professor giving the presentation said this: "How many of you find yourselves doing a lot of singing in your classroom? (many hands go up) That's good. The most valuable thing you can give your kids is a singing voice."