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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kinderbach: Music for Little Ones

is a subscription-based online piano program for kiddos aged 2-7 years. It was designed by entrepreneur Karri Gregor, a mom who was frustrated because she could not find piano lessons for her young children. So, she did it herself. What started out as a successful classroom program was eventually reborn as an online program that could be shared with children around the world. All you need is a high-speed internet connection, a printer, a keyboard and some common household and art materials, and your little ones can learn to play the piano. I recently received a trial subscription to Kinderbach to try out with my little ones, 3-year-old Peter and almost 5-year-old Mary.

Kinderbach is divided into weekly lessons (a total of 30 weeks). The Learning Center where you will access your lessons looks like this:

Each week's lesson is divided into 4 sessions of streamed video, accompanied by downloadable pdf files that contain accompanying activities. Some of the activities are simply coloring pages, some are song sheets and some are reinforcing activities to be used either during or after watching the video.

While watching the videos, your child will meet some cute cartoon characters, including Frisco and his friend Dodi. The characters are used to help personify the various aspects of music. For example, a quarter note is referred to as a "walk note" and is accompanied by a picture of Frisco walking. Sets of 2 black keys on the piano keyboard are referred to as Dodi's house (that's Dodi, the donkey, and his house you see in the screen shot). Note, the characters are not animated, but drawn characters that are shown on the screen while the video is playing. You will also meet Karri Gregor in the videos as she demonstrates proper finger placement on the keys and use of rhythm instruments. Karri also sings familiar songs kids songs, accompanied by video compositions and little fun doodads to illustrate the concepts.

Your child will learn about keeping time with rhythm instruments, how to read quarter notes, half notes, etc., which fingers to use on which keys, rising notes, etc., etc...and will eventually play a tune. Be forewarned, though, these lessons are designed for 2 to 7-year-olds. Do not expect a piano virtuoso when you're done. Do expect your child to have a firm grasp of some of the elements that go into music and to be ready for more formal music lessons.

Peter and Mary love Kinderbach. In fact, whenever their older brother needs some quiet time to work on a lesson, I just say Kinderbach and they are out of his hair. Of course, they are also fighting over the electric keyboard and digging in my kitchen drawers and cabinets for rhythm instruments, but I love their enthusiasm. The sessions are very short, maybe 15 minutes each at the most, so they don't want to just do one session a day, they want to do more like a week a day. Not a problem when you are reviewing a product, but if I wanted to use this program long-term, I would worry about retention and finishing a year's worth of lessons in a couple of months. Ordinarily, I would suggest repeating the lessons, after all, since it's an internet subscription you have unlimited access for a full year. For some reason my kiddos just were not interested in repeating any of the lessons...Peter had no trouble informing me "We did this one! I want a different one!"

Ideally, I would like to see more activities to be done off-line that reinforce the lessons. Each session has an average of 1 activity page that goes with it and many of these are intended to be used while watching the video. My kiddos finish the video and activity page and they want more. Yes, we could continue to tap out the song about Dodi's house on rhythm instruments to practice quarter notes...but that gets a little old after a while. I think more activities of some kind, whether they be coloring pages or hands-on activities, could be incorporated for use off-line and would add a lot more value to this program. You'll notice on the screen shot that there are icons for games and a songbook...these are coming attractions that are not yet available and apparently will not be included in the basic "bronze" subscription.

Another little wrinkle we had with the program was the logistics involved in having 2 kiddos seated in front of a computer monitor with a keyboard, activity sheets, crayons and/or rhythm instruments. With a little more practice, I might get the hang of this, but it still makes me a little nervous to have crayons outside of our normal safe drawing area (know what I mean?). And let's face it, our computer desk is a bit prone to collecting short, getting things set up is a bit of a production for us.

Other than that, the program requires very little prep work for you, the parent, but you will want to load the week's lessons ahead of time in order to download the activity pdfs and print them out. There seems to be a glitch where you cannot always open the pdfs in your browser (you'll get an error message), but they download just fine. Some of these you will need to have available to your child while she is watching the lesson. Each activity must be downloaded separately when you load the video for that session. This is another thing I would like to see: a download page where you can access all the activities for download. This would be a great time-saver. On the other hand, you may want to watch some of the video sessions yourself before deciding to print out all of the activities...some of them are song sheets for your child to follow along with, but they are clearly displayed in the video lesson so you won't need to print them out unless you'll be using them again afterwards.

And is it effective? That largely depends upon the age and ability of your child. While 3-year-old Peter loves participating in the lessons, he has no more understanding of rhythm now than he did when he started. Long term use might change that, but I think trying this program a year from now might help more. Mary, on the other hand, has developed a better understanding of rhythm and changes in pitch, etc., than she had before starting the program. Continuing with Kinderbach would probably benefit her much more.

The lessons are available through streaming and are not available for download. They really do require a high-speed internet connection to work properly. You can also purchase the lessons on DVD, however, with accompanying activity and songbooks.

Which leaves us with the big question: How much does it cost?
You can access the first 2 weeks of Kinderbach for FREE at their website to try it out.
For a 1-year subscription (access to all 60 weeks of lessons), you'll pay $85.95 (that's $7.16/month).
For a month subscription, you'll pay $14.95/month.
You can read about and purchase the DVDs here.

For more reviews on this product by other homeschoolers, click the link below:

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