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!

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!

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!

Dispatches from my Dining Room (No 5): Day 76: Staying Home in the Midst of Re-Opening

It is now day 76 of our staying home whenever possible. America is strange right now.

There is no vaccine for the coronavirus. While there are a few treatments that may offer glimmers of hope, nothing has proven to be dramatically efficacious.

And yet Americans are tired of staying home. Some believe the coronavirus is not as serious as people are making it out to be. Others are annoyed that they can no longer be served as usual – there were protests in my rich, white hometown (just miles from Milwaukee, in which the Black community is suffering and dying at alarming rates). Some are convinced that they personally are young and healthy and are likely to survive, so they would prefer to risk exposure in order to return to business as usual. Whatever the reasons, many people want to be out and about and would like to return to their lives as they existed pre-pandemic.

I really resonate with this tweet –

Wishing for something doesn’t make it so – but we seem to be pretending that it can.

For our governmental leaders, the move to re-open the country seems to be primarily politically motivated. People are filing for unemployment at unprecedented rates. Many do not have savings to sustain them for long periods without a paycheck. People and businesses need relief. The solution presented by our politicians is that the country should begin to open again. However, as businesses re-open their doors and call employees back to work, even those who do not feel safe returning are rendered ineligible for unemployment benefits. It is a terrible situation to face. I wish that, in America, we were willing to look for economic solutions to economic problems – instead of forcing people back to work in situations that may cost them their lives in the name of preserving the economy (and/or politicians’ political futures).

Our family is incredibly fortunate that, at least for now, Matt and I are both able to work from home. We don’t have to go anywhere on a daily basis.

Even we, though, have not been able to maintain our policy of zero tolerance for contact with the outside world.

Matt, who suffers from interstitial lung disease, was having lower oxygen levels than his pulmonologist wanted to see, so he needed to go in for additional testing and an appointment. He actually had to be tested for the coronavirus (video here) before he could do any of that because of the high risk nature of all of the patients in the pulmonology clinic and the risk of spreading the virus during the types of testing they do. I’m thankful he was able to go, though, as he is now feeling better, and he now has access to supplemental oxygen when he needs it.

Additionally, FangFang receives quarterly Pamidronate infusions to strengthen her bones, and she was due for another one this month. These aren’t absolutely life sustaining, but they greatly improve her quality of life. They also reduce the risk of serious fractures, any of which could necessitate an emergency trip to Omaha for surgery, which would be a much higher risk situation than a day at the hospital for an infusion. I consulted with her endocrinologist and decided to go ahead with the infusion but moved it up to May 7 (as soon as possible after Missouri’s re-opening date of May 4, to minimize the likelihood of widespread community transmission), and she and I spent the day at the hospital. The hospital has policies in place to minimize risk (only one parent and no siblings allowed to come with her, no waiting in the waiting room, no playrooms, no wagon rides, placing us in a private room with a private bathroom, and everyone was asked about symptoms and had temperatures taken upon arrival, and we were required to wear masks). We also brought all of our own food, so we would not need to interact with any food service personnel.

And then, in an unwelcome development, when we came out to the parking lot, we saw that one of our tires was completely flat. Matt had to come put on our spare tire so we could drive home, and the next day he took the tire to get patched. As low as we would like our exposure to be, we need our van to be drive-able.

I’ve been missing the ability to interact with friends and family, and while it is 100% worth it to me to keep our family safe, I also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to go see Courtney while her risk of exposure was minimal. For a couple weeks, her workplace was closed to the public, and she wasn’t doing appointments or lessons at all, employees were wearing masks and keeping their distance from one another, and she stayed out of stores and public places and didn’t do any of her supplemental jobs. After two weeks of that had passed, I got to go visit her for a weekend, which was a nice time of relaxing and fun.

We continue to order our groceries to be delivered (and try to tip well for those who do that work and assume the risk that we are avoiding). We order everything we can online, whether books, household supplies, or clothing. This past weekend I made my best guess at shoe sizes for the older girls – we’ll see whether they fit when they arrive! Matt had to go to Menards one day to get some supplies that we couldn’t easily order online to fix our leaking freezer, and we took advantage of that opportunity to have him pick up some paint and supplies so we could paint our hallway – ready to tackle some quarantine home improvement projects!

We’re still trying to stay home as much as we can, and overall, life feels pretty peaceful. In addition to our regular school work, there is time for board games, playing outside, and reading books for fun.

We have acknowledged that, two months in, we need to use wisdom, not absolute zero, as our guide for interactions outside of our home. Life is not black and white. We have very high risk family members. We will not be taking any significant risks. But we do have weigh the different risks involved in the various shades of gray and make the best decisions we can for our family. We can’t allow our health to deteriorate or our van to become un-usable or our freezer to leak perpetually, so we take those risks. But that doesn’t mean we have to throw caution to the wind and engage in ridiculous behavior. Some of the most dramatic examples of people flouting expert recommendations are coming out of Missouri this past weekend. It’s hard to have standards that we know others aren’t following.

I am mourning. Our neighborhood pool is opening for the summer, and while others enjoy that lovely activity, we’ll be at home, trying to find other ways to cope with the humid, 90-degree weather of Missouri summers. Our two almost-swimmers will not be mastering that skill this season. As Miranda’s swim team resumes practices again, she’ll be staying home.

We see pictures of friends out at parks or gathering together. We miss our people, too. We miss feeling like we belong to a community (an experience obviously exacerbated by having resigned our membership in our long-time church just months prior to a pandemic). We see others returning to life, more or less as normal.

Psychologically, it’s a strange experience. It feels almost like collective gaslighting. So many others are acting like there is no problem at all – like everything is normal. I’ve had moments of beginning to wonder whether I’m the one who has the truly skewed perspective. Am I over-reacting? Are the lengths to which I am going to keep my family safe (and protect anyone with whom we would need to come into contact) absolutely ridiculous?

And then I look at the statistics. And I read the stories. And I remember – the risk is DEATH. And for several members of my family, that risk is high. And we have no way of knowing the risk factors of anyone with whom we may need to come into contact. I’ll trade my summer at the pool to give us the best chance to preserve their lives. Everyone has to make their own choices. But as for me and my house, we will be staying home.

Dispatches From My Dining Room (No 4): Day 43 At Home: How the Kiddos are Handling It All

As a mom of four children, obviously one of my major concerns and questions heading into this time of social distancing was about how my kids would handle it.

This is definitely not the case for everyone, but honestly, most of our kids are generally really enjoying it!

When I asked them their thoughts one recent evening, Miranda told me that she LOVED it – she had so much more time to do fun things like reading. She and MeiMei are really into the Wings of Fire series right now and have read the books multiple times. She said that she feels so free at home. In addition to doing school (here she is working on one of her History lapbook projects), she’s been using her time to read, to bake, to make art, and to play creatively.

MeiMei says that there are things she doesn’t like, but mostly she likes it. She says that she definitely likes getting more time to read, and she likes going on walks (she did ride for part of our walk here but also walked for a significant portion!).

Poor FangFang is our sole true extroverted child, and I think she is the least happy with this period of social isolation. She tells me that she doesn’t like staying at home and likes going to HEaT (our homeschool enrichment group) and going places in general. We are doing our best to give her some fun at-home experiences, though!

Atticus tells me that he loves being home – that there is much more time to build with Legos and read and do fun stuff! He really has been spending a ton of time playing with Legos. I’m also treasuring the little conversations we’ve been able to have. The other night, I was brushing the tangles out of his curls after his bath, and he told me, “Mom, I love my hair. I want to keep it long. I don’t want to look just like everyone else. My hair makes me look cool.”

Honestly, this has been a very interesting experience for me. It makes me wonder whether maybe we’re doing too much. We always talked about how, as we homeschooled, we wanted to be very intentional about giving our kids opportunities to interact with other kids and to learn from other adults. We have worked very hard to find awesome opportunities for them to do that – we love our homeschool enrichment group, our swim club, and our horseback riding lessons! But also…I do love that my kids are getting opportunities just to relax – to read, to have creative fun play on their own, and to be outside more.

I made a rare exception to my general prohibition of high fructose corn syrup and bought my kids a box of these popsicles, which they (mostly MeiMei) request multiple times a day! Ah, the joys of childhood…

I also feel like there’s more time to say yes to things like just playing a family games together.

Some families are able to do all of that AND get through their school curriculum and do all of their extra activities. Maybe someday we will. The fact that I need to get in some work hours each day, too, is definitely a limiting factor on our time. I don’t really know how we’ll structure our lives once we get back to “normal.”

Honestly, I think “normal” is pretty far off for us. Even once our state re-opens (currently our governor is saying that will happen on Monday, May 4; as of today, our state has 6,321 confirmed cases and 218 total deaths), we will stay home. I have seen no data to suggest that we are better able to limit spread or offer effective life-saving treatment or are anywhere close to having a vaccine, and with multiple members of our family being high-risk for complications from the virus, it is safest for us to stay home. But someday…I hope we can make those choices again. And I wonder what that will look like for us!