Homeschooling Black History Month

In general, we follow our Sonlight curriculum pretty closely for homeschooling. In fact, Sonlight’s curriculum being pretty much “open and go,” requiring very little preparation from me before our school day begins, is one of the reasons we’ve chosen it for much of our curriculum.

But one thing I took away from my reading of Teaching From Rest was that curriculum is so much more than the package I order. The books and plans I order from Sonlight are a great starting point, but I need to make sure I’m giving my kids what I think they need to know.

In the context of the current events of the past year, we’ve been having a number of conversations about race and racism, and I thought it was important to honor Black History Month somehow, taking some time specifically to learn about and grow in respect for Black Americans.

Last month, on the designated day, we took some time to learn about and honor Martin Luther King, Jr., but I wanted us to go beyond that, to know more amazing Black Americans.

One of my kiddos asked me at the beginning of the month why we were specifically studying Black Americans. She wanted to know – was that because Black people were more important than white people?

No, I replied. Absolutely not. But when we read history books, who do we hear about? White people – mostly white men. When we look at the people who have been in power in Europe and America for hundreds of years, who have they been? White men. And can we truly understand history if we really only know what the most famous people from one particular demographic were doing? No. If we want to understand the history of our world, and in particular our country, we need to understand what was and is happening with men and women, with Black people and white people, Native Americans, Chinese Americans, Irish Americans, and other people groups throughout history. Because many books focus most on the same demographic (white men in power), we need to make a concerted effort to learn about what other people have done and are doing.

And so we’ve been diving in this month, learning more about Black people and their current reality and their history. Two books we’ve been using are Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship.

Our big girls have been so enjoying both books – they often choose to start our school time with them, and I’ve found them both reading them on their own, as well.

Both books have been great starting points for conversation and learning more. Matt and I have had great talks with the kiddos – Miranda in particular – about why Black people have been economically disadvantaged in America, why the Civil Rights movement was needed, what the KKK was and is, and how God calls us to live, even in the face of fear and real danger.

Our kids are still so young, but even young kids perceive race and have begun to develop ideas and attitudes about race. Our kids are going to develop their racial understandings somehow, and we can either be a voice for equality, progress, and justice, or we can be silent. Matt and I believe strongly that we want to work toward progress. We don’t know everything. We don’t have it all figured out. I’m sure there’s more we could be doing. But we can either let our inability to be perfect prevent us from doing anything, or we can start somewhere, however small. I’m thankful for this opportunity to teach (and learn with!) my kiddos this month, and my hope is that we can build on this for future months and years, as well, as we seek to raise kiddos who are good citizens of the world.

If you are a home-schooling family – or even if you’re not! – I’d love to hear how you honor Black History Month and seek to incorporate learning about Black Americans into your family’s life during this month!

Book Thoughts: Teaching from Rest

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will already be aware that the first book I chose to work toward my 2018 goal of reading more non-fiction is Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie.

Every time a question comes up in the homeschool mom groups on Facebook asking for book recommendations for moms themselves, this book is suggested over and over again. I couldn’t figure out what could possibly make it that popular. Surely it couldn’t be that good, right? Wrong. It is that good.

Even the foreword of my copy is covered in hand-written notes!

Early in Part One of the book, the author shares a quote from C.S. Lewis:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination.

She follows that with some practical application for homeschooling moms: “Surrender your idea of what the ideal homeschool day is supposed to look like and take on, with both hands, the day that is. Rest begins with acceptance, with surrender. Can we accept what He is sending today?”

Wow.

As a mom of 4 kids ages 7 and under, my day is full of “interruptions.” I never accomplish all that I write down on my “to do list.” Never.

And yet this is the life God has given me. I need to slow down and accept, moment by moment, that this child, the child in front of me right now, the one who is melting down because she didn’t get her way or the one who is celebrating the pee art dinosaurs he has just made on the couch (true story – see below), needs my attention and my affection and my loving teaching. And that is exactly what God would have me prioritize (as opposed to the next item on my list or, worse, the next post I could scroll to see on Facebook), and when I accept that, my attitude will be much more peaceful and in line with where God would have me focus my attention and energies.

pee art – “two dinosaurs”

I also appreciated the reminder of what I’m truly called to do. The author writes, “Most of my own frustration comes for forgetting what my real task is in the first place. He’s called me to be faithful, yet I’m determined to be successful.”

Yes. Obviously I need to have goals for my children – but especially as they grow older, I cannot force them to accomplish any given objective. In truth, my job is to be a faithful teacher. I need to pray. I need to meet each child exactly where he or she needs me to meet them. I need to teach, to present materials and ideas and concepts, and to encourage thoughtfulness. Each child will do something different, something unique and very much their own, with what I present to them, and my job cannot be to force those results, but to be faithful in what I teach.

I also so appreciated her writing about what curriculum is. She says, “Curriculum isn’t something we buy. It’s something we teach. Something we embody. Something we love. It is the form and content of our children’s learning experiences.” And a few pages later she writes, “Remember, how far we progress in a book does not matter nearly as much as what happens in the mind and heart of our student, and for that matter, in ourselves.”

I am so guilty of thinking that the curriculum I use in teaching my children lies solely in the materials I purchase. And then I become bound to those purchased materials, obligated to complete them in their entirety within a less-than-12-month time period. And that’s just not reality.

It is my job to educate my children. The materials I purchase are the tools at my disposal for pursuing that objective. If this year’s poetry selection in our purchased curriculum just isn’t doing anything for us, but I’ve heard about another book that is stellar, a substitution may be a great idea. If we take breaks from our purchased curriculum to study emotional self-regulation or visit a museum and learn about dinosaurs or listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches or to go to the fire station or to do a unit study on the Olympics and that enriches my children’s education, that’s just fine.

It is my job to nurture my own children, connect with them, prioritize my relationships with them. No one else’s homeschool will look exactly like ours, and that’s the way it should be. In working to serve God and my own family, I have freedom to teach what and how my kids need, in a way that works for our family.

I was encouraged by this book to grow myself, to be a person who slows down and reads and contemplates ideas. I want to live a life that I’d be happy to have my children imitate. I want to slow down, seek God for our family’s homeschooling journey, and really focus on relationships with each of my children. I want to take each moment as it comes, whatever it brings, and teach my kids throughout the day. I finish the book encouraged and refreshed in this long winter stretch of homeschooling, excited to live out these ideas of teaching from rest.

Homeschooling 2016-2017 – Mid-Year Update

It’s been rather a while since I’ve written about our progress with homeschooling this year, so I think we’re due for an update! I wrote in detail about our curriculum choices for this school year here, and we are in large part finding that those are working well.

Our curriculum outline lays out a pathway for getting through all of its materials in 180 days (36 weeks). By the time I left for China in December, we’d made it through 11 weeks of curriculum, something about which I sometimes felt a significant amount of stress. I knew life was only going to get crazier once FangFang came home, and I was worried that we’d never finish “on time” if we couldn’t even get through a third of the material before I left. Fortunately, there actually is no “on time” in homeschooling, particularly in these early elementary years. It doesn’t really matter if you read about the fall of Rome 10 months or 14 months after you start with Creation. And actually, we’ve been moving faster post-adoption than we did pre-adoption (go figure). In the 4 months between starting this school year and heading to China, we made it through 11 weeks of curriculum; in the 2.5 months since Christmas, we’ve accomplished 8.5 weeks of study. Phew! We will eventually finish 🙂

We’ve definitely had to revise our routine since our homecoming, though. I’ve found that math has to happen first thing in the morning, or it doesn’t happen at all. It’s my girls’ biggest “workbook” type subject, and they don’t have the focus or the patience for it later in the day, whereas if they start with it, they work through it pretty quickly and do a good job. We’ve actually made some changes in Madeleine CaiQun’s math curriculum. I’d started the year with Singapore grade 1 math for her, and I’d known within a few weeks that it might not work for her for the whole year. The program is very heavy on mental math and on grasping numbers as abstractions, and she just doesn’t see things that way right now, so nothing was sticking. Right now I have her doing some Rod & Staff workbooks to really solidify basic addition and subtraction facts in her mind, and once she finishes those I’ll make a decision about what to have her do next. I love that we can investigate and find resources that work well for each child as needed!

After we tackle math, we usually have a bit of play time, and then we move on to “reading school,” by which I mean Bible, History, Geography, Literature, Science, Language Arts, and Reading – all of the subjects whose focus centers around my reading out loud to the girls. I always envisioned us snuggling on the couch and reading together, but it turns out that small children’s vision does not always coincide with mine, particularly when the littles are incorporated into the day 🙂 Usually I bring out some toys with which all the kiddos can play while I read, and it’s been a process to learn which toys work best. Trains still require my assistance to build a good track, so those work only if we build the track before launching into school.

Wooden blocks, Duplos, Whittle World, and Magna Tiles are all good options for us. The general rule for the big girls is that as long as they can play without talking and interrupting while I read and they can talk with me about what we’re reading when I ask questions, they’re welcome to play during reading time! We obviously do a lot of parenting-everyone-mixed-with-school, but we’ve found that it works well for us. We’re usually done with our school day before lunch, and in the event that we’re not, we just pick up whatever we have left to do in the afternoon, either after lunch or after rest time. Then I leave our literature reading for bedtime, which is a much more relaxed, snuggly atmosphere in which to get through those longer portions of fun reading.

The littles have completely given up napping for me, and I’ve decided to embrace it. I could keep fighting for it and block off hours of every afternoon for my generally-fruitless attempts to get them to sleep, which produce high levels of frustration for everyone, or I can just accept the fact that for whatever reason, this is our new reality, and we need to make our choices in light of that fact. It actually frees up our day quite a bit. It means we have more room for walks and park outings. We don’t have to finish school before lunch. I can let the kids play longer when things are going well. I’d dreaded this milestone, but I’m actually enjoying it, though I am pretty wiped out by the time Matt gets home in the evenings.

Anyway, in terms of school itself, we’re enjoying what we’re learning. I appreciate the early exposure to some topics I don’t remember covering until much later. We’ve learned some Greek and Roman history and read some mythology, which was a lot of fun. Most recently we are learning about ancient China, reading about the Great Wall, and enjoying some stories set in China, which has obviously been a great connection for our family! The girls are learning about nouns and verbs and memorizing some poetry. We finished a long unit centered around animals and are now studying the human body. We’re talking a lot about the Holy Spirit right now as we study the Bible, and we’re memorizing some Bible verses related to things we’re working through personally right now. Most recently, Miranda and MeiMei and I memorized Psalm 103:8 – “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,” reminding ourselves of who God is and how He calls us to follow after Him in acting in compassion, grace, slow-ness to anger, and love, but He also makes it possible for us to do so. Right now we’re talking about how God has a different path for each of us, but we can all follow Him in the individual things we’re doing, and we’re memorizing Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” It’s fun that the littles also ask to have turns repeating the Bible verses as we work on them, and I enjoy including them in those small ways as we go through our school days! We also do just a few things that are truly centered around them, singing songs together, reading simpler books, and working on shapes and colors.

The big girls have continued to do gymnastics, with Miranda in particular starting to develop her own goals there – namely to climb the rope all the way to the top of the ceiling and ring the bell. She’s been working hard, and last weekend she was able to accomplish her goal!

Additionally, we try to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves for us to take the kids out to special events. A few weeks ago, the big girls and I went to see the ZuZu African Acrobats with some friends from church.

And last weekend, we went to a Mandarin for Tots activity at the library. We attend a number of art-related events, as well. Obviously most of our social interaction occurs within the context of our family, but we’re also attempting to teach our kids how to engage with our community, too.

We’re also embarking upon a new adventure in schooling – we’re officially enrolling FangFang in public school. However, she won’t actually attend school outside of our home. In our efforts to do everything possible to make sure she has every chance to grow and develop to her potential, we went ahead and had her evaluated by the local school district, and her delays are significant enough that she qualifies for services. However, given the current fragility of her bones and the fact that we are still very much working on building attachment, everyone agrees that the best place for her right now is at home. I’ve heard horror stories from parents pursuing and working through IEPs for their children, but honestly, we’ve had an incredibly positive experience. It’s pretty awesome to me that in these assessments and meetings we’ve had to evaluate her development and discuss the best possible situations for her, there have always been at least 3 adults (usually more) from the school district involved and offering their input and expertise. Everyone has been happy to answer my questions and to listen to what I had to say – whether about the effects of osteogenesis imperfecta or our focus on attachment – and thus far, it has been a very positive experience. The current plan is that a special education teacher and a physical therapist will come to our home (or we can meet at a park or someplace where we can work on some of our PT goals) once a week for 30 minutes, and an occupational therapist will join them every other week. I’m excited to get started working with them and see how they can add to our efforts to help FangFang grow and develop!

Overall, I am really enjoying our school year, and I love getting to work with the big girls on formal school activities but also give them hours of time to play and enjoy being kids. I am thankful for the opportunity to homeschool and look forward to continuing to learn together!

Box Day and Homeschool Curriculum 2016-2017

As I shared recently, we finished our 2015-2016 school year the first week of August. Providentially, our box of books and curriculum for our 2016-2017 school year was scheduled to arrive the next day! In the Sonlight homeschooling community, that day is known as “box day,” and most – our family included – consider it to be worthy of celebration! The girls dug into the box with much excitement 🙂

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Its contents did not disappoint! They were both particularly excited to see this Magic School Bus book…

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…as well as this Bible, which they’d looked through at a friend’s house…

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…and they promptly sat down and spent the next couple hours looking at all the new books!

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We are continuing to use Sonlight for almost all of our curriculum. Based on their ages, this would be Miranda’s first grade year and Madeleine CaiQun’s kindergarten year, but I always have to stop and think about what grades they’re in when someone asks, because we just work with each girl at the appropriate level for each subject and don’t worry too much about what the label is.

For Bible, History/Geography, and Literature, we’re using Sonlight’s Core B, which is World History: Creation through the Fall of Rome. Both girls are using the Grade 2 readers, and they’ve really enjoyed digging into some of these books already! We’re also doing Sonlight’s Science B, which focuses on animals, astronomy, and physics. Given how much they loved the little bit of astronomy we did last year, I’m predicting that is going to be a favorite this year! We’re continuing with Singapore Math, using level 1 for Madeleine CaiQun and level 2 for Miranda. And for Language Arts, we’re pulling together materials from a few different sources, using First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1, All About Spelling Level 1, and Handwriting Without Tears Level 1 for Madeleine CaiQun and Level 2 for Miranda.

Overall, I’m really excited about our curriculum choices for the year! I’m looking forward to diving into history with more depth with the girls, and science has been one of our favorite subjects in the past, so I think we’ll all continue to learn well together in that area. I think it’s going to be a good year 🙂

And the girls seem to agree! I had thought we’d take off at least a few days after finishing our last school year, but as they looked through all the books that arrived, both girls requested that we begin our school year the very next day! I spent some time that evening putting everything together, and we went ahead and did just that 🙂 I’ll have another post coming soon about our first few days of school for the year!