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Practical Homeschooling® :

Is It Mom or Memorex

By Kathy von Duyke
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #4, 1993.

Kathy von Duyke's educational tapes save her a lot of trouble.
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Kathy von Duyke

Want to lighten your teaching load and enrich your homeschool at the same time? Take those hours while you're doing chores, stick an educational tape in your cassette player -- and use your ears!

Don't Just Sit and Listen

I can't imagine sitting down and listening to a tape without trying to accomplish something else at the same time. After all, that's the beauty of the medium. It leaves your hands and eyes free to do mindless work, which would otherwise be a total bore.

Dish washing for nine is a major daily job around here. By keeping a tape recorder near the sink with a basket of tapes nearby, the children got into the regular habit of listening while washing. This has helped their concentration. I doubt the children would have listened to some of the more boring tapes if they weren't chained to the sink!

As a side benefit of tape listening, the children time themselves through jobs, trying to accomplish a task before one side runs out. I've caught onto this and use a tape to keep them moving on through breakfast. It is easy to lose track of time and hard to remember to check the clock, but they know how many pieces play before the Bach Minuet on their Suzuki tapes and then breakfast is over.

Besides listening while they do dishes, the children like to listen as they draw or do crafts. They listen at night with headphones -- when they think they are getting away with something. They listen while we pick over fruits and vegetables for freezing, or while we bake over the weekend. My oldest found he could listen while he did his mowing business by wearing headphones and then hunter's ear protectors over that. He absorbs lecture after lecture during the hours he spends mowing.

Top Picks for Educational Tapes

Early on, I got very picky about the type of tapes I would leave in that basket near the sink. There are a lot of cutesy children's tapes, but I ask myself if they challenge intellectually and spiritually or do they merely entertain?

Without pushing them, the children have made surprisingly good choices.

Their absolute favorite over-the-long-haul tapes are America the First 350 Years, Your Story Hour, and Pilgrim's Progress (the whole book, not a shortened version). The children listen less often to, but still cycle back to the Lester Family Harmony tapes, Little Bear Wheeler tapes, The Patriot Pulpit series, Audio Memory tapes, the Homespun Songs series of Civil War songs by Bobby Horton, Wee Sing America for the American Revolution and Settler periods, Latin tapes, Suzuki tapes (ad nauseam), classical music, biographies of composers, various sermons, book on tape, and homemade tapes.

Artes Latinae's tape-based Latin curriculum is only way my children will ever learn Latin. I appreciate the way the Math-It series tape talks the children through the steps for memorizing tables. We've used Audio Memory's "The Presidents Song" and their geography songs; these song tapes make our units so enjoyable. The lyrics from Bobby Horton's Civil War tape make us feel with the people of the South at that time, "Jeff Davis rides a big fine horse, Abe Lincoln rides a mule. Jeff Davis is a gentleman, Abe Lincoln is a fool." Can't you just march to that? The words, "Hold on, hold on, better keep your hand right on that plow," from the spiritual "Hold On" by the Wee Sing people ran through my head and got me through the pushing stage of my last labor!

Besides using the songs from tapes as a labor aid, I've listened to "teacher training" tapes such as The Seven Laws of the Learner, a series on college grammar, Bible study tapes, sermon tapes, and health lectures. All of these have been important in keeping me motivated and sharp in my roles as wife, and homeschooling mother.

What Have They Learned?

  • How to Apply the Bible. I couldn't believe it when the children starting relating principles from the Pilgrim's Progress to their own lives. I know that's the obvious purpose of the book (which we have listened to on tape), but I didn't expect them to take it so much to heart. We've talked about Vanity Fair, and Pliable, and Mr. Worldly-Wiseman as situations and people have come into our lives. The kids can catch the flavor of what someone is saying and line them up with a character in the book. When a neighbor states, "I follow my heart when it comes to my belief in God," it reminds the children of the character Ignorance who says he knows he is on the right path based on "what my heart tells me." They remember Christian's response, "Don't trust thine own heart, because thy heart is deceitfully wicked." The children have learned that to base one's faith on an emotional response is a false premise. Faith must be based on God's word. They go on binges with the Pilgrim tapes. They won't listen to them for months, then all of a sudden I hear them playing again and the kids say, "Wait, pause it till I get back!" And they listen all the way through the series again in a few days.

  • How to Make Right Decisions. They also love the "Your Story Hour" tapes. I knew they would love the biographies, but what really surprises me is how much they like the Bible tapes. After all, my husband does read the Bible to them every day, but the tapes tell the Bible stories with such terrific inflection; Eve pouts "Don't you love me Adam?" every time she wants to manipulate him. The exaggerated character qualities of each person give the children a grasp on the nuances within each story. The character tapes in the series teach the pitfalls of wrong decisions and the blessings of right decisions in common situations. The stories are very real.

  • They Love and Learn from History. I often find that as the kids are listening, I get caught up in the lectures and stories. We listen repeatedly to the tapes that describe the era we are studying from the America: The First 350 Years series. This gives us all time to think through and process the lectures, making connections with other reading and studying we are doing. My oldest son refuses to sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" because he knows that Julia Ward Howe wrote that hymn to express her transcendentalist beliefs. The children have an emotional love for history that is so full, unlike the boring education I received in public school.

The younger children can only take so much of a lecture tape at one time, but are drawn to Little Bear's history story tapes. I have to admit, his speaking voice grated on me at first. I was tempted to hide the sample tapes permanently. I didn't though when I noticed how much the kids loved the stories. They take in the moral messages on each tape, and we all find ourselves humming the songs that Little Bear incorporates in the stories.

My youngest children have had a great side benefit from all this audio action in our home. When I go back to do the history units with them they'll already have a rich background of vocabulary, people, and songs for each era.

Enhances Dramatic Abilities. The kids have picked up some great accents from the professionally done books on tape from the library. We've heard such tapes as The Three Musketeers, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and The Secret Garden. We love the section in Alice in Wonderland where Alice asks the Mock Turtle about his school subjects and he replies that he studied, "derision, distraction, uglification, and the regular yawning and feinting in coils -- laughing and grief." Sounds like the public schools!

One year I persuaded a grandma to read fiction books on tape. These tied into our units under study. I sent our own books and she spent hour after hour "reading" to the children. Not only did this save me loads of time that year, but the children still listen to those tapes!

Homemade Tapes or "Store-Bought"?

I thought that I would use the tape recorder more creatively than this -- you know, making wonderful tapes for schoolwork, using them to drill my children, etc. Somehow it never happened that way. For one thing, making a tape is time consuming, and for another, drilling lacks accountability if no adult is present. Our best homemade tapes have come from recording Dad as he reads to the children. It's cute to hear their voices from earlier years as they talk with Dad on tape.

At different times the children have used a tape recorder to interview someone, to read into, to make up a radio dramatization, to read in original stories, to spy on each other, and even to get assignments from Mom. These uses have all met a need at a certain point, but our most consistent use and enjoyment has come from purchasing high quality tapes and listening to them repeatedly.

Where to Find It

  • Artes Latinae -- see ad p. 52. Easy-to-use "programmed" Latin curriculum with instructions and pronunciations on cassette.

  • Audio Memory -- see ad p. 24. Kits for Grammar Songs, World Geography Songs, States and Capitals Songs, Multiplication Songs, Addition Songs, and Subtraction Songs. All these inexpensive kits include lyrics; some also have workbooks or posters. A great place to start!

  • Bobby Horton, 3430 Sagebrook Lane, Birmingham, AL 35243. (205) 967-6426. Series of Civil War songs, from both Union and Confederate sides.

  • Cornerstone Curriculum Project, 2006 Flat Creek, Richardson, TX 75080 publishes Music and Moments with the Masters. Call 214-235-5149 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST for a free brochure.

  • Covenant Publications, 224 Auburn Ave., Monroe, LA 71201 publishes America: The First 350 Years, a lecture series from a Christian point of view. Many fascinating facts you've never heard before. No sound effects, music, or other glitz. Best for teens and up; OK for preteens if they're chained to the sink while listening. (318) 323-3061.

  • Lester Family -- see ad p. 76. Tapes that teach your family to sing together, in rounds and in harmony.

  • Lifetime Gifts and Books, 3900 Chalet Suzanne Dr, Lake Wales, FL 33853-7763 is a one-stop-shopping source for Pilgrim's Progress, Your Story Hour, Wee Sing, and many wonderful history and music-appreciation tapes. Orders: 1-800-337-0390. Inquiries: (813) 676-6311. Fax: (813) 676-1814.

  • Mantle Ministries, 140 Grand Oak Dr., San Antonio, TX 78232 publishes Little Bear Wheeler's historical storytelling and re-enactment tapes. (512) 490-BEAR.

  • Mayflower Institute, PO Box 4673, Thousand Oaks, CA 91359 publishes The Patriot Pulpit, a set of tapes reflecting pre-Revolutionary War sermons.

Top Picks for Cassette Players

We've used a variety of tape recorders. Of all the models we've tried, Radio Shack brands and the Sony Walkman for kids have held up best. The Sony has no radio, is used with or without headphones, and has a limiter on the volume to save little eardrums. There is no eject button. You remove tapes by pulling the front open, which is a bit tricky for my toddlers -- I consider this an advantage. It has no record feature, so you'd need another recorder to make homemade tapes. The Sony brand sells from $30 to nearly $50, depending on the stores in your area. A more readily available resource might be Radio Shack which sells a tape recorder with similar features, plus it records for $70 -- $80.

We've purchased a double cassette tape recorder. Why do we need a machine that can copy tapes as well as play them? Because the newest up and coming toddler each year always becomes the household Tape Monster. No matter how carefully we try to keep the tapes up in their neat wall holders or baskets, the current tape monger always finds a few left out and . . . riiiiipppppp! All the tape guts get gleefully yanked out and strewn all over the floor. My husband has a current pile of tape innards to fix on his desk. He is the only one who can successfully rewind and repair those tapes. I've learned to keep the original tapes and use our dual-deck machine to make copies for daily use, not of everything, but those we use often.

A source for a good inexpensive tape recorder is Library and Educational Services, 8784 Valley View Dr., PO Box 146, Berrien Springs, MI 49103. (Cassette player/recorder is $14.95.) -- Kathy Von Duyke

For those of you who need to listen to a lot of "lecture"-style material and want to speed the process up, Radio Shack sells an adjustable-speed cassette player. This gizmo allows you to speed up the tape while adjusting the pitch so the speaker sounds normal instead of like Donald Duck. You can actually get Gregg Harris to talk fast! Your local store might not have one on hand, but you can order one through them. -- Mary Pride

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