Performing Arts Archives - Eva Varga

June 26, 2018

As the academic year comes to a close, you may be thinking of nothing more than your summer bucket list. Many students however, like my daughter, have their eyes set on pursuing opportunities that can better prepare them for their career choice or expand their extracurricular experiences.

image of teen girl giving an oral presentation or speech

This past summer my daughter attended a week-long engineering camp at the university. This opportunity not only provided her with insight into her field of interest but also connected her to key personnel in the department. She emerged with a greater understanding of the skills she will need to succeed in her field. She also collaborated with another teen on an engineering project and gave a presentation at the conclusion of the course.

Summer camps like the one I described and short courses in art or sailing provide youth with hours that can be used for elective credits. Unlike required courses, electives are classes the student chooses based on her interests. It is the perfect way to customize a child’s education.

ABCs of High School Electives

While most high schools offer electives that cover a wide variety of topics, homeschoolers have the opportunity to craft a transcript that is unique and the most reflective of a student’s interests and future career goals.

This past year for example, my daughter has been actively involved in the Debate Club at the local community college. While it is an informal group (they haven’t competed against other schools), they are engaged in forensic experiences. The hours she attends and the research she invests in preparing her speeches can be applied to her transcript.

The possibilities are endless. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

A – Art & Graphic Design, Aeronautics, or Architecture

B – Birding (Ornithology) 

C – Culinary Arts

D – Drama, Drones (Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems)

E – Electronics 

F – Forensic Science

G – Game Design (Coding)

H – Homemaking

I – Interior Design

J – Journalism

K – Kinesiology (Sports Science)

L – Languages

M – Music (Performance & Theory)

N – Naturopathy, Nursing, or Nature Studies

O – Oceanography (Marine Science)

P – Psychology

Q – Quilting (Fiber Arts)

R – Robotics

S – Sociology

T – Toastmasters (Public Speaking and/or Debate)

U – Urban Studies

V – Venturing (Scouting)

W – Web Design 

X – Xeriscaping 

Y – Yearbook 

Z – Zoology

It would be impossible for any single school – public or private – to offer every elective on this list; there are simply too many. Schools are forced to choose which electives to offer based on a number of factors including location, student population, resources available, teacher expertise, and student interest. Homeschools, on the other hand, are not restricted by these factors.

Translating Elective Hours on the Transcript

Translating the hours a child has invested in a particular area can be done with ease. Simply keep an activity log as documentation of the hours invested. Click on the image below to download a FREE copy for yourself.image of an activity log used to track hours of instruction

In Oregon, 1 high school trimester is equal to 1 high school credit hour. This translates to approximately 55 hours of seat time/instruction. Thus, the 61 hours my daughter volunteered at the art museum last summer earned her 1 trimester credit.

These hours can be accumulated by watching instructional videos, TED talks, attending local seminars, reading informative texts, taking a specialized course (either in person or online), or any myriad of things related to the field of interest.

Use the course descriptions provided by local schools as a guide as you write your own. Keep in mind that electives can have different names depending on the school offering them, even if they cover essentially the same topic (for example, a culinary arts class could also be called cooking, foods, or something similar).

On a related note, forensics has long meant the art of speechmaking and oral presentation. Debate clubs, on the other hand, involve students in researching a pre-selected topic and then trying to convince people of their position. It’s a cousin of forensics but not the same thing.

To add to the confusion, Forensics Clubs and courses in Forensic Science are popping up in many modern schools, inspired by popular television shows. Using an optional course description can help to alleviate any confusion.

May 25, 2017

My son has had an interest in music since he was just four years old. While immersed in a theme study of classical music he stated, “I want to be like Bach. I want to play piano.” His persistence led us to begin private piano lessons with an instructor.

While he was younger, he would spend hours at the piano, practicing the pieces he was working on with his teacher and even composing his own Sonatas and Preludes. Though his knowledge of theory and composition were limited, his eagerness to learn and his ability to pick up new music was remarkable.

Reading sheet music has never been easy for my son. When he was an infant, he was diagnosed with congenital nystagmus, a condition whereupon his eyes move rapidly and uncontrollably from side to side. As my brothers are also afflicted with nystagmus, I had some familiarity with the condition.

His ability to play music has thereby always surpassed his ability to read sheet music. He has thereby learned to play by ear, a skill by which musicians learn to identify, solely by hearing pitches, intervals, melody, chords, rhythms, and other basic elements of music.

Garage Band Theory

We received a copy of Garage Band Theory in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  
All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Learn to Play by Ear

When learning a new piece, my son’s piano teacher would first play a few measures herself and after watching carefully, he would imitate the fingering. Within a few tries, he would be able to also match the intervals and rhythm perfectly.

As he got older and he wanted to learn a new song, he would find videos on YouTube and would watch clips over and over until he could play each measure.

He recently took part in his first adjudicated piano recital. One-on-one with a master teacher, his technique, music theory, sight reading, rhythm reading, and repertoire skills were critiqued. In preparation for the Syllabus, my son’s technique and repertoire were determined to be three to four levels higher than his music theory and sight reading skills.

He thereby tested much lower than he could have. In writing a thank you note to his adjudicator, he noted that his goal for 2018 is to test at the higher level. To do so, he needs to bring his theory knowledge up.

Much to our delight, we discovered Garage Band Theory, a book that teaches traditional music theory with the purpose of helping students learn to play by ear.

As students work through the lessons in this massive book, they  develop a solid foundation of practical music theory. This will propel them further as they begin or continue with formal music lessons.

Author Duke Sharp has done a remarkable job of creating a guide that requires no previous musical experience. Best of all, it  is suitable for any instrument.

Garage Band Theory

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Play Multiple Instruments

Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on social media knows that I am a huge Prince fan. His musicianship is unrivaled partly because he was capable of playing just about any instrument.

What I love about Garage Band Theory is that it includes tabs for guitar, mandolin, banjo, as well as piano. It also includes various different scales, arpeggios, and songs. Students can quickly look at the musical staff and see how it relates differently to other instruments.

“Something for every musician at any level. Especially helpful is the musical notation and tablature for a variety of instruments. This book inspires me to learn and practice more.”  ~ Sam Bush

Collaborate with Others

To develop one’s musicianship skills, it is important to play with others. In addition to the many musicians who have played in his live band, Prince made a very large name for himself crafting some of the greatest songs for other artists.

In addition to private lessons, you’ll want to consider group lessons, ensembles, community orchestra. While my son has not yet had the opportunity to play with others, we do plan to join a community orchestra this fall. He’s apprehensive as he fears he is too young but the director and other members are excited for him to take part as they don’t have a pianist.

Learn Music Theory with Garage Band Theory

A professional musician for over 30 years with five CDs to his credit, Duke Sharp has taught music the past decade. He has invested 13 years in writing and editing Garage Band Theory. The definitive DIY guide to learning music theory, it is over 500 pages but is written in a conversational style.

Garage Band Theory will help you:

  • Master the two aspects of playing by memory: understanding what you’re doing and coordinating sound production
  • Analyze what your favorite artists are playing
  • Play any song in any key
  • Anticipate ‘what’s coming next’ — the key skill you need to improvise
  • Figure out chords on your own and play basic progressions for any musical genre

My son is just beginning to invest the time required in learning music theory. The concepts will definitely take time and effort, but with Duke as a mentor, he’ll be jamming in no time.

If you’d like to know more about Garage Band Theory, you can visit Duke’s Garage Band Theory website. You can also follow Duke at the Garage Band Theory Facebook page.


May 23, 2016

Summer is fast approaching and with it, productions of Shakespeare are popping up all over the country, many of which are staged in local parks. I love Shakespeare!  While I never got to study it in school, I have delighted in discovering his wit and charm alongside my children.

shakespeare canon passportSoon after we first started homeschooling, I made it a goal to see at least one play each year.  The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, widely recognized as one of the best theater festivals in the world, has always been only a couple of hours from where we live. Thus far, we have not been far off that goal.

2006 A Winter’s Tale *

2007 Romeo & Juliet *

2008 Othello *

2009 MacBeth *

2010 Twelfth Night

A Midsummer Nights Dream 2011 (Drake Park, Bend, Oregon)

 2012 Romeo & Juliet

2015 Much Ado About Nothing

2016 Shakespeare in the Park (select scenes from four plays at Shore Acres State Park, Oregon)

* The kids didn’t start attending until 2010 when our youngest was six years old, the minimum age required for admittance.


shakespeare canon passportShakespeare Canon Passport

With each production I have seen, I am more devoted to eventually seeing Shakespeare’s entire canon. To commemorate this feat, I have created a passport in which I can document a little anecdote from each play I’ve attended.

I printed the title page onto colored cardstock and the remaining pages on standard paper. I just love how it all came together and I know you will too. There is room to note when / where you saw the production as well as for a favorite quote from the play. It is available for purchase in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

If you are interested in learning how to incorporate Shakespeare into your curriculum, consider an earlier post, Much Ado About Shakespeare, where I outline a step-by-step plan to teaching Shakespeare to middle school students.

April 15, 20142

My son has always been very animated. He loves play-acting his favorite scenes from movies – particularly live action, adventure films like Indiana Jones. Upon watching Broon perform at a local Renaissance Faire last year, he found Broon’s show on YouTube and proceeded to watch it over and over again until he had memorized his lines and could recreate the show himself – with whip props and all.

He also loves to play the piano whenever he has an audience and after each recital, will play additional songs from his repertoire as the other students and guests visit with one another.  Seeing his enthusiasm, I knew I had to find a performing arts class or drama production.

In the winter, I read about auditions for a local production of Willy Wonka Jr.  I knew that a creative outlet like this would be the perfect experience for both kids. I signed them up and let anticipation build.

Days before the audition, my little man began to doubt himself. He was nervous and he stated that he didn’t want to audition.  He didn’t want to participate. I held strong to my conviction that he would enjoy the experience.  “Just give it a try.  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do another one.  I think you will really like it though, Sweatheart. Don’t give up before you even start.”


On the day of auditions, the kids came prepared to read lines and sing a song.  Upon arrival, we learned there were fewer kids than there were parts so they were not requiring lines to be read.  The only requirement was a song, to give the directors a little peak into their personalities.

My daughter chose to sing The Star Spangled Banner and my son sang 新年好 (XīnNiánHǎoHappy New Year).  She was her usual demure, quiet young lady.  He the giggly, boisterous boy. I wasn’t surprised when she was cast at Mrs. Beauregard (Violet’s mother) and he, as Mike Teavee.

On the first day of rehearsals (we began twice weekly rehearsals in early January with the performances slated for the first weekend in April), the directors talked briefly about all that they could expect during the next few months.  She even listed off all the life skills they would develop as a result of their experience in theater.

The Benefits of Theater Experiences

  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Problem Solving
  • Perseverance
  • Focus
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Dedication
  • Accountability
  • Receiving Constructive Criticism

They made friends with the other cast members, developed professional relationships with the directors, and discovered a passion for theater. They are already asking about the next stage opportunity.  As we are not connected to a charter school, this is a little harder than it seems.

Due to the contract agreement, I am unable to share a video of their performance.  It was an incredible experience, however, and the kids continue to share their humorous tales of backstage antics.  I know we will be singing Willy Wonka Jr songs for many months, if not years, to come.

May 20, 2012
In January, Sweetie enrolled in a drama class taught by another homeschool mom with extensive experience in performing arts.  The class met once a week on Monday afternoons for rehearsals.  The play was an adaptation of the timeless story of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, Tinkerbell, and the other fairies in Neverland.
The girls were also able to choose their own colors and thereby create a costume of their own design, providing another opportunity for the students to take part in all aspects of a drama production.  Sweetie chose yellow of course and we delighted in adding small elements that hinted of her passion for nature small flowers were sprinkled across her wings and petal skirt.
Prior to casting, the students were asked to prepare a charade of an historical person.  At the time, we were reading a biography of Marie Curie so naturally, Sweetie selected her.  As a result, Sweetie was selected to play the part of Breena, a clumsy fairy with a passion for science.  Each of the girls’ characters brought out something of their true personality … thereby allowing them to focus on being comfortable on stage and memorizing their lines, rather than on creating the allusion of a another character.  As this was a beginning drama class, I thought this was wonderful.
The script was given out in segments and the kids were expected to practice at home to memorize their lines.  Though tears did flow on occasion, this was a wonderful life experience with deadlines and expectations.
Performance night and we were delighted that Grandma Raandi and her swim coach, Luanna, and Luanna’s daughter, Jenny, could all attend.  It was wonderful to share the experience and to know that she had a large and supportive cheering section in the audience.
Everyone’s performance was enjoyable and though a few forgot lines and a scene was even omitted by mistake, we were all very proud.  After the cast took a bow, the teacher gave each of the girls a rose, a very thoughtful token of appreciation for their hard work.
I hope that she’ll consider taking part again.  It was so fun to watch her on stage.  Her voice was strong and her performance was spot on.  I am indeed a very proud mama.  🙂


August 19, 20104

I have always loved learning and believe that education is a community effort.  As an elementary teacher, I continually sought out service learning projects that enabled my students to become involved in the community while simultaneously complementing our classroom lessons and skills.  As a parent, I want my children to grow up with volunteering as an integral part of their lives.

My children and I began volunteering together in the spring of 2006 when my daughter was 3 ½ years old and my son was 15 months.   We volunteered as Living History Interpreters.  We dressed as homesteaders near Prineville, Oregon in 1880 and interacted with the public as they visited our homestead.  In this role, we utilized our knowledge of the region’s history to educate the public about the past.  With the exception of the winter months, we typically volunteered one day a week for approximately 5 hours.

We also worked with the Adopt-An-Animal program, whereby donors provided financial support for the care of the animals at the museum.  In turn, we sent the donor a thank you letter and a packet of information specific to the animal they selected which included an animal fact sheet, a certificate with a color photograph of the animal, a decal, and an activity sheet.

The children helped me by finding the necessary photographs and thereby learned to identify the names of our native wildlife.  They also learned about why the animals are in our care — all were unable to survive in the wild, typically because they were injured or became dependent on humans for food. Specific needs of the animals such as diet, habitat, and medical care provided great learning opportunities as well.  We typically worked 1-3 hours a week throughout the year.

While we no longer volunteer at the museum, I continue to involve the children in a variety of activities around our community.  We collect trash and pull non-native, invasive weeds along the river when we go for walks.  We donate canned food for the local food banks.  During the holiday season, we donate gifts for children in need.  Last spring, we began a garden to grow a few organic vegetables for our table.

Each service learning endeavor helps the children to think about what it means to take care of our community, animals, and the environment.

Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches learning by engaging students in meaningful service to their communities. Young people apply academic skills to solving real-world issues, linking established learning objectives with genuine needs. They lead the process, with adults as partners, applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills to concerns such as hunger, pollution, and diversity.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what sort of volunteering made sense for young children. In selecting activities, I take into consideration the interests and concerns that each of my children have developed.

One of the least expected outcomes was recognizing how the children have discovered themselves.  When we started, my daughter was a little timid and slow to talk with adults. In a short time, she learned to interact with the staff and other volunteers as individuals, carrying on conversations and discussing her thoughts openly.  On the homestead, she was always eager to show visitors how to pump water for the garden and can easily identify the vegetables we grow.

It is already clear that their life experiences and these service learning opportunities have helped to ensure that they will be self-assured and outgoing.