Homeschool School Year 2020-2021

It is so strange to think that this is already our 8th year homeschooling, and yet it is! This year Miranda is in 5th grade, MeiMei is in 4th grade, FangFang is in 1st grade, and Atticus is in kindergarten.

We actually started our school year back in June for a couple reasons. We are continuing to stay home almost all the time, including skipping our pool membership for the summer – it didn’t feel safe for us. But Missouri in the summer is hot and humid and miserable. The kids and I all agreed that we would rather do full time school in the summer and have a more flexible school schedule in the fall when the weather is nicer. Additionally, with me starting grad school this fall, it would be nice to have some of the kids’ schooling already under our belts to give me more room to adjust their school schedule as needed in order to allow me to do my own school work.

Tomorrow we will finish week 8 (out of 36 weeks) of our curriculum, so we’re already into a solid routine as we head into the fall. That was my goal, and I’m feeling so good about accomplishing it!

We’re continuing to use Sonlight for the main pieces of our curriculum, and, as usual, box day was an exciting day at our house. That is, of course, partly because of the boxes themselves!

The little kids are doing Core A this year, learning about world cultures. They’re using Language Arts 1, including the first grade readers, and both are doing Singapore Math 1. We’re also using Handwriting Without Tears, and I’ve just recently started All About Spelling with them. I think they’ll have a good, solid year. They love the stories – Atticus strongly identifies with Benny from the Boxcar Children, and we ordered the sequels to My Father’s Dragon so we could read through all of the books, as everyone wanted to know what happened to Elmer and the dragon next. They are also getting exposure to a wide variety of topics through one of our favorite books, The Usborne Children’s Encyclopedia, and we’re just all generally having a good time learning together.

I’m doing a bit of supplementing for all 4 kids. We’ve done a little bit of Telling God’s Story (which I’m on the fence about). And I’m trying to make sure they are all exposed to history beyond what is mostly centered around white people, so a book we’ve all been reading together is The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World.

The older two girls, of course, have their own curriculum. We are working our way through one of the Sonlight cores about which I was most excited – Core F, Eastern Hemisphere. We started off learning about China and then moved on to learning about North Korea and South Korea, and now we are studying Japan. I love that they are getting so deeply exposed to cultures other than our own at such an early age, and we’re finding so much of the material fascinating. We’ve talked about our visits to China, and we Facetimed with some of our friends who live in Japan and got to hear firsthand about their experiences last week. We’ve already ordered sequels to some of the books to read even more than what Sonlight assigns. I’m also super excited about their Science curriculum this year, which is about Health, Medicine, and Human Anatomy (though I am going to replace some of the materials about sexuality and gender, as we are more progressive than Sonlight is in this area).

MeiMei just started Singapore Math 3A, and Miranda will finish Singapore Math 5A tomorrow and start on 5B next week. Both are continuing to work through All About Spelling – we’re in the middle of level 2, because I slacked off on spelling last year, but I’m hoping we can finish 2 and get through 3 this year. Both girls would be better able to keep up with the flow of their thoughts in writing if spelling came more naturally to them. Both are also continuing to work on learning cursive and on typing. For Language Arts, we’re doing some of the Sonlight Language Arts F program, but I’m supplementing with other materials. I’m finding that since they are on the very young end of the recommended age for Sonlight’s materials, I sometimes need to modify assignments for them, and they could still use more work on the basics (sentence and paragraph structure) than what Sonlight sometimes offers. I talked with them about some options, and we decided together to use these Editor in Chief books, so we are working through those right now.

It is interesting – and so cool – to me that as the kids are getting older, they are expressing more of their own preferences about how they want to learn. This year the older two girls asked if we could do something different for Bible – they didn’t like just reading a passage on their own and reading a passage with me, they wanted to have more of a discussion about it. We decided – at Miranda’s suggestion – that the three of us would all read one chapter a day on our own and write down what stood out to us from that chapter and then discuss it together. That has been one of my favorite parts of our year so far. I love hearing their thoughts and getting to have those discussions with them.

With this being an election year, the older two girls are also going to be working through the US Elections Lapbook.

I’ve been loving our school year so far, and I can’t wait to continue to learn with my crew!

On Power and Autonomy and Working It Out in Unlikely Places

I sit on the couch, eyes red from crying, as she asks me, “So you’re wanting to take back your power?”

Jarred out of the sea of my emotions, I respond with an emphatic, “No! I don’t want power!”

Curious, she leans in, “Hmmm…why not?”

I tell her, “If I have power, then I am responsible. I am accountable. I am to blame. If things just happen to me, I am a sympathetic character. If I have power and want things and make choices and people disagree with those choices, they will blame me, not have sympathy for me. I don’t want that.”

Questions of identity swirl around in my mind these days. Who am I? What is most important to me? What am I doing with my “one wild and precious life?” Where am I going?

And the fact that I have choices – that I am a responsible actor, an agent in my own life – is an ever-present under-current.

Isn’t it odd that I’d lost sight of that for a time? I have this beautiful life, and I absolutely set myself along this path. I have always wanted to be good, and I have striven to live up to that ideal. I am a Christian wife, a homeschooling mom to four kids, two of whom are adopted, I have spoken at women’s retreats, and I am smart and I am kind, and I am generally good at most things that I do. And yet something has been missing for me, in me, along this path.

And I’ve wondered, as I’ve moved forward, am I a passenger, or am I the driver? I have sometimes lived as if I am walking out a formula, doing all the right things – not like I’m having an adventure in this beautiful world.

I realized recently that all of this is part of what I’m working out, what I’m practicing, in what is perhaps an unlikely arena.

I remember starting to ride horses. Miranda had a scary fall and was resistant to getting back up on her pony right away, so I rode him around for a little while before we got Miranda back up there. It was intimidating! It felt like I was so high up in the air (two years in, this is hilarious to me – he was just a pony!) – and like I didn’t actually have any control over what we were doing. But also? I had fun. And I took the risk of asking if it would be ridiculous for me to take lessons with the girls after that. It felt vulnerable to pursue something that I knew I wouldn’t be good at and something that would be just for my enjoyment. And then when Courtney said it would be fine for me to start doing lessons with the girls, I was both anxious and excited.

I’ve shared before about what I was learning through riding – about having fun, about being the learner instead of the teacher, about being vulnerable, about asking questions, and about persevering.

I’m still learning, but I’m finding that the lessons are different right now.

I’ve started jumping recently, and I love it. For a second, you’re flying. But it requires more of you as a rider, and there is more risk involved.

I’m learning that sometimes what looks the most intimidating ends up being the most fun.

I’m learning that the people around you matter. It helps to watch, to pay attention to what others are doing and to be able to observe and reflect. It helps to have a guide – someone on the ground who can tell you when you’re going too fast and when you’re pulling too hard on your reins and how to use your seat and what in the world just happened there.

But I think most of all, what I’m learning is that if you want to be a good rider, you cannot be a passenger – you are responsible for riding your horse. You cannot just sit there and expect that things will go well. Whether you take action or not, you are still responsible for the outcome. Where your horse goes and what they do along the way is, in large part, up to you. There are a lot of things you cannot control – but you are still responsible for working with what you have. You use the tools you have, you work on developing your skills, and you grasp at the glimmers of deeper understanding that flash before you. Even if you’re not the rider you wish you were, even if you don’t really know what to do, you are still responsible for doing your best and trying to make it happen.

Courtney tells me that I’m not as afraid as I should be. I’m certain that this is largely because it has been a long time since I’ve fallen. I know that another fall is coming, and I’m scared that once it happens, I’ll lose that willingness to try anything Courtney and Kris point me toward. I don’t want to lose it. This is where I’m practicing being brave.


Dispatches from my Dining Room (No 6): Day 99: Activities Outside Our Home?

Obviously, as homeschoolers, the primary structure of our lives was already set up pretty well for staying home before the pandemic hit. However, my kids did lose all of their activities outside of our home – in addition to play dates with friends, we used to be part of a homeschool enrichment group, all four kids swam 2-3 times per week, the big kids and I usually rode horses a few times per month, and we attended other activities (art shows, concerts, museum shows, etc) as we could. We stopped all of that abruptly mid-March. That seemed like the wisest course of action – particularly for our family, with multiple vulnerable members.

It has been a long few months, though, without that social interaction, without the ability to swim (especially now that the summer weather has arrived!), without the ability to move our bodies in ways other than walking, running, and biking. Matt and I have been talking about whether there are ways we could give ourselves and our kids some opportunities to leave the house and have fun without seriously compromising our safety. We’ve been reading articles about how the coronavirus spreads and looking at rankings of activities in terms of their risk levels.

Where we’ve landed is that we need to maintain our separation from most of the activities in which we had previously engaged. It just isn’t safe to go hang around indoors with large numbers of people. It isn’t even safe to have sustained close proximity with others outdoors.

But the one activity that seemed much less risky than others was horseback riding. It’s basically an activity that requires social distancing – if you get closer than one horse-length away from another horse and rider, you’re putting your horse (and yourself!) in danger of getting kicked!

I talked to our trainer, who has put into place guidelines limiting numbers of people at the barn at any one time, which made us feel safer returning. She also has rules about social distancing – essentially, if you can’t tack up your own horse, you can’t come right now, because that would require having someone outside of your household super close to you as they helped you prepare to ride and take care of your horse after riding.

I returned to lessons a couple weeks ago – obviously taking care of my own horse and riding outdoors and staying distant from everyone else. I love having an activity that challenges me in a different way than my everyday life and that is purely fun.

And this week, I took the girls to ride, and we made sure to schedule their ride for a time when no one else would be in the barn. They aren’t self-sufficient, but having a mom who participates in the same activity as you and can help you catch and care for your horse has its advantages.

It was so nice to give them this opportunity to leave the house and get back to riding! This was only the third time since March that Miranda had even been in a car at all. And this was the only actual activity they have done in months (other drives included exciting missions such as “going to the hospital parking lot to change a flat tire” and “going to throw rocks in the river” and “taking recycling to the drop off sites” and “just going for a drive”). This was significantly more interesting 😉

They didn’t do a lesson or focus on building skills – this was all just about having a chance to ride and have fun.

Miranda was thrilled to be given the opportunity to help a pony who has a pretty low weight limit (and thus can’t be ridden by most of the adult and teenage riders who have been at the barn recently) get back into work.

MeiMei wasn’t sure she remembered horses being this large!

It took a bit of time for them to get used to being back in the saddle, but once they got going, they were back to trotting, weaving, and riding all around!

I’ve certainly enjoyed getting back into riding, and I’m glad the girls were able to go this week, too. In this world in which we almost entirely stay home, it’s nice to have one very low-risk activity we can do!

Back to School – for Me!

I’ve written recently about re-evaluating the stories I’ve told myself about my life and about contemplating these questions, “Am I living the life that God designed me to live? Am I using all of the gifts He has given me? Am I experiencing the resonance that comes with doing what I was born to do?”

I wrote in that post, “I do not feel like I am wildly alive. I debate with myself about whether this matters. Is this just a first world problem? Am I having a mid-life crisis? Do other people feel this way? Am I selfish to want to feel wildly alive? Am I fulfilling my self as I go about my daily life? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I like my life. I like the work I do. I want to keep doing it. And yet, I think there is more to it than being whatever anyone else needs me to be in any given moment.”

I took some flak for that post. Some people seemed to think that I was writing about becoming more selfish and inwardly focused.

That wasn’t it. I am looking at myself, my life, and the ways in which I interact with the world around me – but not just to obtain gains for myself. I am passionate about loving people well. I believe that all of us, when working together, can help one another grow so much more than any of us can on our own. I think I could do more to use my gifts and talents.

I started examining myself, thinking about what those gifts and talents are, contemplating my own interests and passions. I thought about what nourishes my soul and what I could see for my future. I sought counsel from friends. I talked with people who know me well.

And I decided to apply to graduate school.

Because I am a researcher at heart, I spent hours pouring over websites and talking to representatives of various programs. I evaluated what features were most important to me. And then I took the plunge and applied to my top choice program.

I heard back from them quickly, and I am proud to share that I will be starting the program to earn my Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Bradley University this fall!

I am intimidated by the prospect of continuing to be a full-time homeschooling mom, a part-time employee, and now also a part-time grad student. However, I think it is important for me to work toward a career about which I am passionate. I think it is important for me to continue to learn. I think it is important for my kids to see me doing those things. And while I recognize that there is immense privilege in saying this – because we need to stay very isolated while the pandemic continues to rage, I actually have more free time to begin an undertaking of this nature than I have had in years.

I believe those years have prepared me well for this moment, though. I love academics and was an excellent student during my time at Northwestern University. In the years since then, I have maintained a strong commitment to introspection and personal growth. I have spent countless hours doing “lay counseling” and informal mentorship in church contexts. I’ve worked hard to learn how to cultivate relationships with each of my children, with their own unique personalities and their own backgrounds. I’ve had to learn about and practice trauma-informed parenting, and I now help others to do the same. All of those experiences have shaped me into the person I am today and will inform my studies of counseling and ultimately prepare me to become a counselor. I am so excited – I can’t wait!!

Homeschool Year 2019-2020 is Complete!

Last week we wrapped up our 2019-2020 homeschool school year!

We don’t care much at all about “grade levels,” but based on their ages, this was Atticus’s pre-kindergarten year and FangFang’s kindergarten year. Here they are with their books for the year (their Sonlight stacks, for those in the homeschool community), holding some of their favorites!

We primarily used Sonlight’s Pre-K or 4/5 package (centered around Exploring God’s World), along with Handwriting Without Tears and Singapore Math K. Both are learning to read, which is such a nerve-wracking stage for me as a mom – it feels like the most important academic skill to impart. Fortunately both of them did great with their readers for the year – phew!

FangFang reports that her favorite thing to study this year was Mother Goose nursery rhymes, and when she grows up she wants to be a doctor, and she wants to help animals with her sisters. She also says she would like to be an artist, a scientist, a police, a fire fighter, an ambulance, and a cooker.

Atticus says that his favorite thing to study was Uncle Wiggily and the Fox, and when he grows up he wants to be a fire fighter, a police, a boat rider, a diver, and a doctor.

Miranda and MeiMei insisted upon sitting on the couch for their photo, which actually hides some of the substantial amount of work they completed this year! Based on their ages, this was Miranda’s 4th grade year and MeiMei’s 3rd grade year.

Obvious from their choice of books to hold in their photo, both loved some of our Science studies this year! Miranda also really enjoyed History. This year we used Sonlight’s Core E package focused around US History 1865-Present, and our Science studies was the Science E program, Electricity, Magnetism, and Astronomy. Both continued their math learning using Singapore, with Miranda finishing the 4B book and starting 5A and MeiMei about to finish the 2B book. They have also started learning to type this year, clocking about 10 wpm at this point. This year they also really took ownership of their lapbook projects, completing most independently and then coming to tell me about them afterwards.

MeiMei’s favorite thing to study this year was human anatomy (which she learned about in our homeschool group and independently – so, basically, nothing that I taught her!). When she grows up, she wants to work at an animal shelter with Miranda. When she’s not working, she’ll stay at her house with Miranda (they plan to live together) and read and play and do grown up stuff.

Miranda’s favorite subject this year was…Science, especially the microscope book! (“Mom,” she tells me, “put in the ‘dot, dot, dot’ and then an exclamation point, so it looks exciting!”). When she grows up, she wants to work at an animal shelter and help animals and study animals. She’s talked about getting a PhD in either Biology or Zoology. She’d also like to be a famous author.

It was absolutely a strange year, but honestly, staying home so much enabled us to finish our school year much earlier than we sometimes do, which feels so nice and freeing. We celebrated by making homemade pizza, a favorite meal of the entire family!

It was a good year. I love seeing the growth in each one of my kiddos!