Homeschooling 2017-2018

Our 2017-2018 school year is well underway! We’re about 8 weeks into our curriculum, which is, as usual, not quite as far as I’d like to be but is absolutely far enough ๐Ÿ™‚ This year we have Miranda (2nd grade), Madeleine CaiQun (1st grade), and our two littles, Atticus and FangFang, along for the ride.

I do actually have some goals for the littles this year! This will be the last year for which I do no formal schooling with them at all, but I want to start getting them prepared for that. To that end, we’re working on learning letters and numbers, and I’m more intentionally spending some time reading books to them (which is, honestly, most of what their “pre-school” year will look like anyway!).

Things are a bit more intense with the bigs ๐Ÿ™‚ We are using primarily Sonlight curriculum again, and everyone was super excited for our box day!

As usual, the girls dug in and started reading through a few of the books right away ๐Ÿ™‚

This year, we are using Core Cย for our History-Bible-Literature package – it is year 2 of World History (picking up after the Fall of Rome). Honestly, while I know there are people who are passionate about ancient history (I’m looking at you, David!), I’m enjoying getting to slightly more modern times.

We’re also usingย Science C, which has some biology but also focuses on geology, meteorology, and mechanical technology. So far we’ve been learning about animals and about how our human bodies work, which has been fun for all of us.

One thing that is new this year is that I have the girls each doing their own level of readers, with Madeleine CaiQun actually at the higher level. I knew even toward the beginning of last yearย that she was a notably strong reader, and while she struggles a bit with appropriate expression when reading out loud, she continues to be an excellent reader. She’s using the Grade 4 Readers this year. Miranda is also a great reader, and for this year she is working her way through the Grade 3 Readers.

This is the first year during which I’ve allowed the girls to do any of their reading silently on their own, just reporting back to me afterwards and talking with me about what they’ve read. I know this is the beginning of a transition for us, toward them being able to do more schooling independently. To be honest, it is a bit sad for me, in that I’m no longer intimately involved in everything they’re reading and doing, but it’s all part of the process of growing up and gaining independence, and I know it’s ultimately a good thing ๐Ÿ™‚ And one advantage is that I more often catch them digging into good books and curling up on the couch to read all on their own!

We generally start our days with seat work. Every family has to find their own routines, and over time, we’ve found that this is what works best for us! Miranda is continuing with Singapore math – at the beginning of the year, she finished up their 2nd grade curriculum, and she is now well into 3rd grade math. Math is pretty intuitive for her, and it brings me a lot of joy to work through it with her. It’s so neat to see her grasp new concepts – this week we tackled two-step word problems, and I wasn’t sure whether she’d understand the logical leap right away, but she absolutely got it!

Last year we tried a few different things for Madeleine CaiQun, for whom Singapore was not as good of a fit. She does best with a slow pace and with the incorporation of manipulatives and a gradual transition to completing the same math problems without those manipulatives. We ended up landing on Math-U-See as a math curriculum for her. Obviously it would be convenient (and cheaper!) to have every child in our family using the same curriculum, but one of the benefits of homeschooling is that weย can work with each student in the way they best learn, and this is an instance in which we see that playing out well in our family. We started with this curriculum mid-way through the year last year, so Madeleine CaiQun is wrapping up her Alpha year, and when she finishes that, we’ll start on Beta.

We are continuing to use Handwriting Without Tears for handwriting practice, with Madeleine CaiQun having another year of practice with printing (with her book modeled by Atticus!) and Miranda starting to learn how to write in cursive.

To round out our Language Arts curriculum, we’re using First Language Lessons: Level Twoย and All About Spelling (continuing in Level One).

We actually tackle our school work throughout the day, starting with seat work at the table (math and handwriting) and then taking a break. Miranda, in particular, does best if she gets to move around before spending a lot more time doing school. After our break, we move to the living room and snuggle on the couch for most of our “reading school,” after which our afternoons are usually pretty free (though we’re often finishing up something that didn’t quite happen that morning!). But our days conclude with the last of our school work, as Matt puts the littles to bed, and the big kids and I snuggle in my bed and use our read-alouds as bedtime stories.

Overall, the year is off to a good start ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m thankful, yet again, for awesome curriculum options, and I’m thankful for this time I get to spend with my kiddos!

A Different Kind of School Day: How is My Engine Running?

I realize I have yet to do a blog post outlining what we’re doing in our homeschooling this school year, but we have been plugging along at it ๐Ÿ™‚ Yesterday we did something different, though, for part of our school day. I’d had in the back of my mind for a long time – months – that I needed to do a craft with my big kids that I’d seen Karyn Purvis using in one of the TBRI DVDs we’ve watched.

I mentioned in my last post that, since my weekend away in Chicago at the Refresh Conference, we’ve been seeing a good amount of dysregulation here at our house. For those not familiar with the term, I thought that Paris Goodyear-Brown gave a good definition at the conference – she defined dysregulation as “an abnormality or impairment in one’s ability to adjust, organize, or control.”

Academics are important, yes, but I was reminded in a breakout session that Cindy Lee hosted at the conference that 2 of our main goals for our children should be: (1) for them to be able to be who God created them to be; and (2) for them to reach a place of secure attachment (being comfortable in their own skin, being able to give care, being able to receive care, and being able to negotiate their needs). It really needs to be of primary importance for me to help my kids work toward those goals (and of course, work we do in moving toward those goals will also help to provide a firm foundation for academic learning!). And so, yesterday, we devoted several hours to that.

All four of my kiddos and I made “How is my Engine Running?” meters.

  • Blue is for “too slow” – when I’m feeling lethargic, tired, or sad.
  • Green is for “just right” – I feel content and calm; my state of alertness is perfect for the activity I’m doing right now.
  • Yellow is for “speeding up” – when I feel agitated or restless.
  • Red is for “too fast” – I have very big feelings, my lid is totally flipped, and my actions may feel out of control and are probably inappropriate for the situation.

We used a railroad track to demonstrate what it looks like for a train engine to be in each of these states and as a catalyst for discussing what it looks like for us to be in these states.

Then we hung up our meters in the living room in a place in which they would be easily accessible to us throughout our days at home.

(We left a spot for Matt to hang his after he gets a chance to make one, too ๐Ÿ™‚ )ย 

All of the kids loved running over all afternoon and adjusting their meters. The littles (2 and 4) are still picking up on the idea, but the bigs (age 7) are all over it. They are noticing when their own meters are edging off of “green” and when their siblings’ are – and when mine is beginning to creep toward yellow, as well!

Paying attention to your own emotional state is such a huge part of being able to address it and eventually to self-regulate. I’m particularly interested in helping my kids notice when they are drifting into that “yellow” area – some of my kiddos canย seem to go straight from green through the tiniest of tiny yellow slivers, directly to red, and that’s not ideal. Both they and I need to do a better job of noticing when they start to enter into yellow territory, and having these meters has helped us be more cognizant of that.

Karyn Purvis talked a lot about the process of child development and how babies, when they’re born, rely almost entirely on external regulation. They require assistance in meeting all of their basic needs – hunger, temperature control, cleanliness, etc. As children grow, they enter a phase of co-regulation, in which they begin to participate in the process of getting their needs met, but they still require assistance from others, generally parents. And as these children mature even more, they are increasingly able to self-regulate, to meet their own needs and calm themselves. If our kids are having trouble self-regulating, we can help them learn those skills by assisting them with co-regulating.

After we made our “How is my Engine Running” meters, we talked about some strategies for co-regulating and self-regulation. None of these are revolutionary, but they are all strategies that I need to do a better job of practicing when my kids are actually calm so that they are more willing and able to do them when they are dysregulated.

I’ve found that my children are highly resistant to taking a deep breath when they’re really upset. We all know it would help, but they’re so upset they won’t do it. Sometimes, if their lids aren’t completely flipped, if I just start breathing deeply, their bodies will follow, almost unconsciously – but that’s not an entirely frequent occurrence ๐Ÿ™‚ But this week something serendipitous happened. Miranda asked if we could buy flowers at Aldi, and they weren’t very expensive, so I said that she could pick out a bouquet of roses. And now? Now when someone is having a hard time, I say, “Would you like to smell my flowers with me?” And the child invariably says yes! Deep breath in; deep breath out. “Smell another flower!” Deep breath in; deep breath out. And…calm.

We also read some of this book.

We talked about what mindfulness is (the book defines it in an accessible-for-kids way as “paying attention to everything right now or as it happens”).ย And we practiced some of its exercises. We practiced doing the Sharkfin. We practiced mindful breathing. We practiced mindful noticing our feelings. And we practiced doing a body scan.

(Some of us had a bit more of a handle on the recommended posture for the body scan than others!)

We’re working on building our capacities for paying attention to ourselves, our feelings, and our bodies. And we’re working on developing more strategies for helping ourselves get to that “just right” state in which we’d so often like to live.

It was a good day. I’m glad we took the time to make this initial investment of time in growing in these areas, and we’ll continue to nurture these skills as we move forward!

Note: For more information about the ideas behind the “How is my Engine Running?” concepts, feel free to check out this basic info from The Alert Program and/or this information from The Zones of Regulation.ย 

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.ย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

And the fun continued this year. Four years older, but they STILL love riding that hay horse ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 Good Parenting Tool: The Hoot Owl Hoot Game

In my family of origin, we grew up playing games. As the oldest child, I learned games like Monopoly and Risk at an early age – primarily, I always thought, so my dad would have someone with whom to play! I loved playing games, too, though. My brother Danny and I played quite a bit on our own, and we’d play games as a family. I have fond memories of spending hours fighting to conquer the world in Risk. We played card games, too, especially a game called Sheepshead, which is played primarily among the German-American population of Wisconsin. It’s rather cutthroat and even includes insults specific to its play. And yet game-playing, and specifically that game, were so integral to my experience of time with my family that when Matt and I started dating, it never even occurred to me that he might not learn the game.

And now my children are getting to the age at which we can play games together! That is glorious – except that they (some in particular) are fairly bad winners and very bad losers. That severely limits the games we want to play with them and the times at which we are up for playing games.

However, we recently came across a game that has been such a blessing for our family! Matt’s birthday was last week, and (among other things) we got him the game Hoot Owl Hoot for us to play as a family. It’s a cooperative game, so all players work together to accomplish their goal (getting all of the owls back to the nest) before the time runs out (when the sun rises).

We’ve played it with all of our kids, and they ALL love it!

Atticus will sit with me and “be on my team.” FangFang doesn’t entirely understand the strategy of it, but she loves choosing which color to play and moving the pieces around the board and just generally being a part of it all with her big sisters. Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun are old enough to understand and even be part of formulating a strategy to try to work together and win the game.

When we lose, it’s not such a heavy blow, because we all lose together. And when we win, we all get to be thrilled together!

Obviously our kids do need to learn to win well and lose well – but this game also reinforces the idea that we, as a family, are in this life together – we’re a team. And that lesson is of primary importance for us. Collaborative games are a safe way to ease into experiencing the ups and downs of winning and losing (both in life and in games) while knowing that your family is with you.

We’ve played this game over and over again since we got it, and it has been a great, fun, connecting tool for us with all of our kiddos! If you have young kids (ours are currently ages 2-7), I’d absolutely recommend it!