I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.
Over the past 3 months my children have been rounding-out their extra-curricular activities with virtual classes in piano and self-defence through Practice Monkeys. This is a longer review because the courses are quite extensive, and my children have been moving up and we’d like to give you a thorough look at our experience.
What is Practice Monkeys?
Practice Monkeys is a subscription-based virtual program for piano, violin, guitar, cello, and self-defence. The music lessons (ages 3+) are based on the Suzuki method, while the self-defence class (ages 5+) is based on Gracie’s Brazilian Ju-Jitsu.
You sign up for one instrument/self-defence class per family, and you will receive lessons for every family member, even if they are working at different levels, all for one price. Of course, you may sign up to many (or all) of the different classes, depending on your family’s interests.
Practice Monkeys base their music lessons on the Suzuki method. The short version of what this is is that children will learn to play by ear right from the start. This isn’t something that I learned in my 2 years of piano lessons when I was in elementary school, and it’s not something I’m likely ever to be able to do, but I do think it’s a great way to learn and can invoke creativity when children pair this with making up their own songs. By doing this, children become more familiar with the sounds of the notes and gain confidence, as well. Yes, it can be frustrating at time, but that becomes an accomplishment when they finish a song!
In addition to this, students are also learning to sight read music, as well as theory, so it becomes a well-rounded way of learning. I believe Sarah explained to us that children are learning the most difficult stuff first to build the foundations, and then the rest seems easier as you go.
What we Received
My children (13 & 11), were signed up for both piano and self-defence. This would count as 2 subscriptions (two different types of lessons), but they could both learn at their own pace within each class. We received a 3-month subscription in order to write our review.
To start off, the children attended a live 1-2-1 placement session where the instructors evaluated what the children already knew, or didn’t know. They were both placed in level 1 of self-defence, Kallista in level 1 of piano, and Tristan in level 2 of piano. Everyone was put at ease as we learned more about how Practice Monkeys worked and what we could expect.
Each practice session is 15 minutes Monday-Thursday at set times. If you can’t make it in person, you have access to class recordings from the previous 3 months. It is expected that children will practice for an additional 15 minutes a day Monday-Saturday, giving them a total of about 2.5 hours of practice a week.
For self-defence, because the children had previously taken Ju-Jitsu (though not Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, which is related, but a different sport), they were familiar with some of the moves, so they were able to advance up to level 2 within about 6 or 7 weeks. Brazilian Ju-Jitsu is all based on floor skills, much like wrestling, rather than the kicking, punching, and throwing skills my children were familiar with, so learning the two types are quite complimentary.
If you complete the self-defense courses through Practice Monkeys you’ll be up to the equivalent of a blue belt in BJJ.
For piano, the children had taken a few lessons many, many years ago, but could no longer even remember where middle C was, they started at the beginning – Kallista at level 1 and Tristan at level 2. This being said, Tristan still needed to learn everything from level one to advance past level 2, so they were learning things at about the same rate in the end.
Currently, the piano course goes up to Suzuki book 3, but books 4-7 are in the works. Book 1 is learned over the course of 5 levels.
What Is Included?
What’s included in Practice Monkeys? Oh, so very much! Everything is housed in their ‘Treehouse’ platform. The Van Kleek’s give you access to each level that your children are currently studying. Through the Treehouse you can access the lessons and videos to learn the materials.
Each level is divided into 10 essential steps/skills, which will take students varying times to complete, depending upon the difficulty and the student’s abilities.
Four live practice classes a week (held via Zoom) are also included, as well as weekly Help Sessions on Wednesday, for which you need to sign up for in advance when you need them. In these sessions students receive 1-to-1 help with anything they are needing a little extra help with, or to provide them with extra instruction on the piece they are currently learning.
What Did We Need To Provide?
Although the classes are virtual, we did need to provide some materials for our classes:
- a soft area for the kids to practice self-defence (we used yoga mats that we already had)
- suitable clothing for self-defence (sweat suits, leggings, shorts, t-shirts, etc.)
- A keyboard (we borrowed one from a family friend)
- We purchased the Suzuki Piano Book 1 as well as the 2 recommended theory workbooks for level 2 (these were optional purchases, but I found them extremely valuable). This meant that both children skipped the level 1 theory books, but I was able to help them out, and Sarah was very helpful when we had questions about a term, etc., that I wasn’t familiar with. She also provided the workbook answers.
- I wasn’t able to access the recommended flashcards here in the UK, but I was able to source some free downloads from previous music classes that were fit-for-purpose.
- Print-outs of some of the music to help students learn at the beginning.
- Sarah recommends a folder to hold the materials. We did this at the beginning, but later moved on to coil bind the materials to avoid mislaid papers.
For both classes:
- A laptop (or a PC, a tablet, or even a smart phone) to view the class materials and access the live classes
- Print-outs of the practice charts to keep track of the days practiced and what was being worked on, as well as the assessment sheet and skills page so the children could keep an eye on their goals.
- Private lessons and assessments to move up to the next level are not included in the monthly pricing, and are charged per student for a 25 minute period.
In the time period leading up to Christmas (mid-October to mid-December, Practice Monkeys have also been offering a weekend class free to families for either Improv Piano or a Family Chamber Class!
My children are working their way through the Improv class, which you can see goes over some of the basics to further get them feeling comfortable at the piano. This class is taught by Mr. Rad aka Samuel, Sarah Van Kleek’s son, who also leads half of the level 1-3 practices during the week in the regular class.
How We Used Practice Monkeys
As you will see from our photos, our set-up isn’t ideal, but I think that also proves that children can be successful without all the bells and whistles one might think are needed. We used what we had already, along with a borrowed keyboard that sat on a TV table/tray during live practice sessions and for other lessons & practice was on the top of a dresser. I do hope that Santa will help us out with a keyboard stand and stool, now that we know how Practice Monkeys works, and that it’s a good fit for our family and the children will continue on with their studies.
Practice Monkeys Piano
Practice Monkeys Self-Defence
For Self-defence classes, the motto for practicing is, 2x’s Practice Monkeys, 2x’s Independent and 2x’s FUN! This means that students will spend time learning new techniques, time practicing them on their own, as well as time to experiment with what they’ve learned in their own way, unscripted.
Once again, all the lessons and videos are housed in Treehouse. Each week (or when necessary-everyone works at their own level), the parent will assign a new skill to the students to learn. They can watch the video in Treehouse, and then practice a skill (that one, or another one, depending on what the focus of the live class is that day) during the live practice sessions.
Due to the time difference, my children didn’t attend any live self-defence classes, but they were able to watch previous practice sessions. These videos are kept for 3 months so children can watch them time and time again at their convenience and work on particular skills they need extra help with.
For this class, I tried to have the children watch the lessons with me, and then watch the recorded Zoom practice sessions with Phil and he watched over their practices while I was working.
My children met up with Dr. VanKleek live for their assessment and progressed up to level 2. Life should start to slow down in a few weeks, at which point I would like them to attend a few help sessions, as they are a little earlier than the practice sessions and could be done if they stay up later than a usual night.
When you think your child is ready to move up to the next level (you can do a self-assessment using the form provided), you can book an assessment, which is scheduled for 25 minutes, but can take more or less time, depending on the class. Sarah did the piano assessments with my children, and Dr. Van Kleek did the self-defence assessment. They are very encouraging and give some constructive criticism, disguised through offering suggestions on how to better achieve the desired outcome. Sarah spent about 40 minutes with Tristan last week during his piano assessment, giving him some great praise, balanced with things he should continue to work on, and how to go about improving those aspects. She was very thorough, and I think I was more nervous than the kids! Next week they should (hopefully) both be in level 3 in piano and level 2 in self-defence.
What do we think about Practice Monkeys?
I will start by saying I won’t deny that there were times when the children weren’t thrilled to practice, and at times they became frustrated with learning a piece by ear, but we have all had times like that when learning a new skill, or at least I know I have. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the positives!
This is what Kallista wanted to say about her experience:
Here are my pros:
- These classes are a great way to add in music or PE to your homeschool or extra-curricular activities.
- Pricing for each instrument instead of per student means better value for families.
- The instructors are knowledgeable, encouraging, and promote creativity.
- Students work at their own pace and can move up to the next level at any time throughout the year.
- As students learn more, their motivation increases.
- There’s no need to travel and class recordings are available so you can learn and practice at any time.
- Practice classes are fun and everyone in included and encouraged to participate.
My children have enjoyed their classes with Practice Monkeys, and Phil and I have enjoyed watching them learn new skills. I have wanted our children to have piano classes for a long time now, but they are generally quite expensive and you need to work around someone else’s schedule. With Practice Monkeys, we do find it more beneficial for the children to be in the live classes, but should they not be able to make it, they can still catch up with a replay. Everyone works at their own pace, so there isn’t the pressure of having learning at the same speed as the rest of the class. While I am able to afford the lessons, our children will continue with Practice Monkeys and grow their skills and creativity.
More About Practice Monkeys
Click here to read 17 reviews about Practice Monkeys by the Homeschool Review Crew that include guitar, violin, piano, and self-defence.
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