Cultivating a Love of Reading

One reason we chose to homeschool, and one reason we ultimately chose to purchase most of our curriculum through Sonlight, is that one of my hopes for my children is that they learn to love reading. Part of that is because I recognize its benefits – reading fiction can help develop empathy. It can help you cultivate a deeper spiritual life. But another huge part of it is that I love to read, and I love to connect with and share passions with my kiddos, and I’ve always hoped we’d be able to read and talk about books together.

Within the last year, I’ve been overjoyed to see my big girls developing an increasing love of reading. Madeleine CaiQun can often be found curled up on the couch with her nose in a book, and especially within the last week or so, I’ve started to see Miranda reading more and more on her own, too.

I actually feel myself rebelling and turning into more of an “unschooler” than I ever thought I would be as I realize how ridiculous it would be to pull my child away from reading a book she’s loving in order to insist that she read the exact chapter from the exact book our curriculum has assigned for the day. I’m definitely not actually turning into an unschooler (a perfectionist and a rule follower and a checklist-lover to my core, there’s no way I could actually “unschool”) – but if Miranda wants to spend 3 hours reading The Wizard of Oz, I’m certainly not going to pull her away from that! In fact, I may need to start stocking up more on these early chapter books that my girls can tackle on their own and really enjoy! Readers, what are your favorite third and fourth grade reading level books?

One of my goals for my littles for this school year has been to read more to them, and though they sometimes insist that they’re going to read their books “by myself!” they come running (or scooting) over any time I sit down on the couch and start reading one of their books out loud 🙂

And I absolutely treasure my moments of quiet with the big girls at bedtime – this is one of my favorite times of the day. We save our read-alouds to do together then, and we snuggle together in my bed, and I read to them.

I definitely have moments in parenting of feeling like nothing is going right, and I can do none of the things well, but days when I see my kiddos reading and when I get to read with them are an encouragement to my soul.

Fall Fun: A Visit to PeachTree Farm

One of the things I really enjoy about homeschooling is getting to do fun activities with my kids, particularly as we get to have those experiences as a family (though it’s true that Matt often has to work and can’t join us!). A friend of mine organizes a ton of outings for her kiddos and invites other families to join her, which is great, since I’m a homebody and a rule follower, and my natural tendency is to hang at home and just work our way through our curriculum, not taking time to enjoy the world around us and experience it firsthand or, especially, to initiate doing that with other families, too.

A couple weeks ago we visited PeachTree Farm, which we’ve done almost every year since my big girls were little! Here they are, back in 2013, about 8 months after Madeleine CaiQun came home, when both were 3.

Look at those babies! They were so tiny! And they were having so much fun 🙂

And the fun continued this year. Four years older, but they STILL love riding that hay horse 🙂

When Madeleine CaiQun is truly enjoying herself, her smile is simply radiant. I can’t help but share all the pictures!

And here she is helping little sister have her first hay-horse ride 🙂

Atticus, of course, wanted a turn, as well.

And FangFang spent some time happily pretending to drive the wagon that the hay-horse was pulling!

When we had talked about whether to commit to this activity this year, I’d told the big girls that Matt wouldn’t be able to come, because he’d be teaching, and I was willing to take everyone on my own, but the bigs would need to be willing to help out with the littles, as needed. I try not to ask them to do a ton of “junior parenting,” but sometimes the reality is that either they help or it’s not possible for us to participate safely, and they understood that this was one of those times. And honestly, I think a bit of it is good for them 🙂 Both big girls were absolutely up to the task and helped me to keep track of the littles (mostly Atticus, of course!) and keep everyone safe, and we all got to enjoy a fun afternoon outing together. I was so glad!

This year, thankfully, Atticus had moved through his fear of the hayride, so we all got to enjoy our ride around the farm together 🙂

Here are the littles themselves – I love the bond that they share. Like any sibling group, their relationship is not perfect, but they truly get along so well and enjoy playing together. I just love them both so much and treasure their fun interactions together.

Another favorite activity is always visiting and feeding the animals. There were quite a few goats this year, and all of the kids LOVED offering them food.

We have our favorite activities, of course, and it’s great to revisit those, but everyone also enjoyed a new addition to the farm this year – a giant corn pool! Atticus was a bit nervous about it at first – he likes to be in control of his sensory experiences! – but ultimately all of the kiddos had a good time with it.

This was a great fall activity, and I’m so glad we got to have another year of enjoying the fun!

Another New Activity for Us – Swim Team!

I wrote this summer about how both of our older girls had opted to leave gymnastics behind for a new adventure of horseback riding. They’re still doing that, but we’ve also added another activity for Miranda – swim team!

She loves being in the water and loves swimming, and we realized this summer that she was actually a strong enough swimmer to be able to do swim team – kids just have to be able to swim one length of the pool in some approximation of freestyle and one length in backstroke, and while it wasn’t pretty, she could do that! She said she wanted to try it, so we signed her up, and she is loving it.

The first day was pretty overwhelming – there were so many people, but since then, it has calmed down significantly!

You can see Miranda in the front, next to the starting block for lane 2, dipping her toe in the water

For her age group, there is a 45-minute practice each day, and swimmers are asked to make it to one practice per week but are welcome to come daily, with most families choosing to have kids attend 2-3 days per week. There are a few days that I’ve made the choice of whether we’re going to go or not, based on what else we have going on and how everyone is doing, but when it’s left up to her, she almost always chooses to go!

swimming in lane 2

She is definitely a sensory seeker, so having this built in activity for many of her days is really a blessing for her. She’s also ready to be having more social interactions with other kids, and swimming provides her with an opportunity for some of that.

She’s one of the younger kids in this entry-level group of swimmers and one of the least experienced and one of the slower kids. That’s something of a new experience for her – being the oldest child in our family and the oldest child in our small group and one of the older kids at our church as a whole and being homeschooled, she’s used to being the top dog. We think it’s good for her to be able to experience working hard and persevering and celebrating doing her best, regardless of where that places her in the rest of the pack, and being able to have fun in the midst of all of that.

Last Friday evening was her first swim meet ever, a team intrasquad. I appreciate her coach’s perspective of taking things slowly and letting young swimmers just have fun and enjoy swimming. Our club is actually hosting a huge meet later this month, and her coach advised me not to sign Miranda up for that at all and to keep things very simple for her at this first intrasquad meet, just signing her up for one event. She’s really enjoying backstroke, and I do think it’s probably her strongest stroke right now, so she chose to swim the 25m backstroke for this first meet.

She was nervous beforehand, and honestly, I was a bit nervous for her. I’ve attended some swim meets with friends over the years, but this was the first time I’d been a parent responsible for a swimmer at a meet, and I was nervous that I’d somehow miss where she was supposed to go for her event or say something silly and discouraging before she had to race. But I think we did alright 🙂 We got her set up with her events written on her arm (she was so thrilled to have a legitimate reason to have Sharpie on her arm!).

And we made it to the pool in time for me to get a good seat to watch her race and for her to do her warm-ups, after which we had some time just to chill.

my nervous swimmer pre-race

(Don’t you just love her Christmas themed swimsuit? We were instructed to buy our swimmers endurance suits, which are more durable than regular swimsuits, and as she and I scrolled through the options on Amazon one evening, this is the one she really wanted. I verified that she planned to wear it for more than just December before purchasing, but while she has another one, too, she chooses this one virtually every day – I think it’s pretty adorable :)) 

She had a snack and played an ipad game while the older kids warmed up, and then we got her ready to race! They had a bullpen staging area for the 8-and-under crowd where coaches and volunteers got them lined up appropriately for their races, so I helped her get into her spot there, and then I went back to my seat to watch her.

I’d talked with her a lot about how Matt and I would be proud of her no matter what – she might win her heat, she might be somewhere in the middle, she might come in last, or she might get disqualified for some reason, and no matter what, we’d be proud of her for doing a new thing – her first race in her first swim meet.

I cheered hard and took a video of her, watching her and the swimmer next to her as he slowly edged in front of her as they swam across the pool. I knew she’d be disappointed if she finished last in her heat, but it also wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for her to experience – and as I saw the swimmer next to her pass her, I was pretty sure she was going to finish last.

She did finish the race (in what I thought was last place), she got out of the pool, and her coach gave her an enthusiastic high five and told her she’d done a great job, and she was beaming when she made it back to me 🙂

She was bummed when I told her I was pretty sure she’d finished last, but she took it well, and we got her dressed and got ready to head home. But on our way, I texted Matt and asked if it would be okay if I took her out to eat – everyone else had already eaten at home without us, and she’d been asking for a date with me for a while. She and I headed out to Olive Garden and enjoyed some sweet one-and-one time for the rest of the evening and talked about how proud I was of her for doing a new thing and working hard and swimming her best.

I actually realized later that night, after she was already in bed, when I went back to watch the video of her race, that it looked like she really did finish before one of the other swimmers in her heat (one on the far side of the pool, on whom I hadn’t been concentrating at all), putting her in 4th place in her heat instead of last. I told her that the next morning, and she was happy, but really, I was very pleased with how she handled it all even when she thought she had finished last!

Overall, I’m really thankful for her swimming experience thus far. It has upped the ante for us as a family in terms of these extra-curricular activities. Gymnastics – at the level at which Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun had been participating – was very much an activity where we paid our money and showed up once a week and that was it. Participating in a swim team is a whole different ballgame. We pay our money (though it’s actually a pretty low cost, given the number of hours she can be in the pool each week for that amount!), plus we have a fundraising expectation, plus we are required to volunteer at every meet our club hosts (and not just for an hour here or there – my required volunteer shifts for this upcoming meet will total something like 11 hours). And because of the timing of the practices, I can often be found parading into the pool building with 4 kids in tow, after having prepped most of dinner ahead of time, which I know is the only way we’ll be able to eat before 7:00. At least for now, though, the younger kids are all completely on board with going to swim practice, mostly, I think, because I let them play on old iPads of Matt’s while we’re there, an activity that is not generally allowed at home 🙂 Ultimately I think it would be neat if swimming became a whole-family sport – but we’ll have to see what the future holds for us in that regard! For now we’re just enjoying Miranda’s participation in it.

I do, though, really appreciate that swimming is such a good lifelong, healthy activity. Especially with Matt’s health history, it will be important for Miranda to establish good exercise habits from a young age, and my hope is that this will be part of that. It’s a great fit for her with her sensory seeking tendencies, and it’s a really good opportunity for her to get some experience interacting with the coaches and other swimmers, people outside of our family. Plus, she’s enjoying it 🙂 It’s a welcome addition to our repertoire this year.

The Enneagram and Self-Knowledge

Being a mom, it’s easy sometimes to lose track of yourself as a person, too. Of course you exist in relationship to other people – in particular your children – but there can be times in which you aren’t sure who you are or what you’re doing, except in relation to said children.

It was fun to dig into a book this summer called The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. A friend asked if I wanted to read it with her, and we ended up having a small group of women from church get together and discuss it. We had people of most different personality types represented there, and one of the most interesting parts of our conversation was hearing about how everyone felt their very different personalities affected their lives and relationships.

Wikipedia describes the Enneagram as “a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types.” There are a few things I really appreciated about this understanding of personality types. For one thing, it incorporates tendencies toward optimism or pessimism, which I think is an important dimension of personality that isn’t always captured. But I actually don’t love the system as a whole. It seems to me to be 9 semi-random groupings of personality traits, as opposed to a systematic evaluation of where different people fall along various dimensions (like the Myers-Briggs personality type system) – and as someone who prefers logical thought and analysis, I really dislike that. I also think it’s a lot easier to type some people (me) than others (Matt). He and I read much of the book together and had interesting discussions about who we thought might fit which personality type and what that meant for how they interacted with the world, and we got our families in on it, asking my brothers and sister-in-law and then his mom and sister (who were visiting while we were reading it) what types they thought they were.

Even not loving the classification system as a whole, reading the book was still beneficial and fun. I suspect it comes as a surprise to no one who has spent more than 5 minutes with me that I am a One, otherwise known as “the perfectionist.” I’ve been aware of my tendencies toward perfectionism for quite some time, but it was still helpful to read and be reminded of the strengths and weaknesses associated with those tendencies. The summary description of this personality type in the book includes statements like:

  • People have told me I can be overly critical and judgmental.
  • I don’t feel comfortable when I try to relax. There is too much to be done.
  • It seems to me that things are either right or wrong.
  • I notice immediately when things are wrong or out of place.
  • I like routine and don’t readily embrace change.

True, true, true.

And it’s so important to be aware of all of those tendencies in myself! Being aware that I prefer to operate in black and white in the midst of a world of grays helps me not to get so frustrated by the intricacies of different situations and to be willing to look at both sides. Knowing that my tendency is to focus on things that are incorrect is a reminder to me to look at all that is correct, too. Realizing that there are reasons for my love of routine helps me to give myself space to deal with change when it has to happen.

And all of that awareness helps me to be a better wife, a better mom, and a better friend. Just because I am a perfectionist and want everything to be done just so does not mean that my children will appreciate my attention to detail. Because it is so easy for me to notice the negatives, I need to make a special effort to look for the things Matt is doing that are helpful and express my appreciation.

I also appreciated that this book was written from a Christian perspective and included information about spiritual strengths and weaknesses of each personality type. I don’t think I’d thought of my personality influencing my relationship with God in quite that way, and it was a good exercise. Some words that stood out to me were, “If you’re a One, you believe the only way you’ll know peace on the inside is if you perfect everything on the outside. It’s not true.” It really is a temptation for me to pursue peace by getting my external world in order – devising systems for regular toy pick-up, planning our meals and our school days, etc. But true peace comes from Jesus, from being real with Him, working through our thoughts and feelings with Him (the book highlights the importance of Ones being honest about their anger!), trusting in Him, and relying on His Spirit.

Since reading it, I’ve been more cognizant of the ways my personality may be affecting me throughout my days and in my relationships. I still don’t love the Enneagram system as a whole, but I have found that taking the time to look at who I am and what that means for how I live my life was illuminating and helpful!

Madeleine CaiQun’s Birthday Celebration

Last month we celebrated Madeleine CaiQun’s 7th birthday! One thing that was super special about this year was that Matt’s mom and sister Stacey came to visit us the weekend of her birthday, so we had family here to help us celebrate, and that made the whole weekend seem like a fun treat. We don’t get to see them often, so it’s very special when we do.

Stacey had ordered a giant cardboard house for the kids to color, which the kids thought was amazing.

We talked to Mei Mei about how she’d like to celebrate her birthday, whether she wanted a party with friends or to go somewhere special, or what sounded best to her. I wondered what she’d choose – I thought she might say she wanted a party like Miranda did, not because that would necessarily be most enjoyable for her but because that’s what her sister had done. I was glad, though, that she thought about what she’d really like and chose accordingly. She said wanted to celebrate with just our family, to have a fun day at home, to get Chinese food for dinner, and have a pinata. We told her we could certainly make that happen!

She got some fun gifts, and we all enjoyed diving into them. The game Blokus will, I think, be a good one for our family, and Madeleine CaiQun is a very spatial thinker, so I think she’ll be good at it.

And she was happy to share her jewelry making kit with Miranda (she’s super generous), and of course both girls still love all things Star Wars!

I was exhausted – Madeleine CaiQun’s birthday fell at the end of the week during which FangFang’s tooth started hurting tremendously, and neither she nor Matt or I was getting much sleep – and by that afternoon I felt like I couldn’t put together a coherent sentence and went upstairs to get just a bit of sleep. Grandma Nancy and Aunt Stacey stepped in to help the girls make the birthday cupcakes, and then we all enjoyed Chinese food and cupcakes for dinner!

I love it when Madeleine CaiQun smiles – when she does, she radiates joy 🙂 She is such an incredibly sweet child and brings so much joy to our lives. That sweetness was evidenced by the fact that she was totally fine with sharing a bit of the spotlight on her birthday with little brother, who was incredibly jealous that she got to blow out a candle!

And, I blame it on my sleep deprivation, but I completely forgot about her pinata until the morning after her birthday! No worries – we had just as much fun with it then as we would have the day before 🙂 She had chosen a gigantic dinosaur pinata – the largest one at the store – to our amusement! We’d filled it with candy…

And then we let the kids take turns whacking it with a stick 🙂 Matt had to help a bit to get it to break open, but everyone was quite entertained by the whole experience!

Madeleine CaiQun is such a beautiful soul. She’s sweet and kind and has a strong sense of justice. She’s self-aware and thoughtful, and she loves to snuggle. I am so thankful to have her in our family <3