Homeschooling 2018-2019

We’re several weeks into our homeschool year for 2018-2019. This year Miranda is in 3rd grade, Madeleine CaiQun is in 2nd grade, FangFang is in pre-k, and Atticus is in preschool.

The idea of really doing school with all 4 kids was a bit intimidating for me, but so far I think we’re easing into it pretty well!

The big kids are able to do more independent work this year, so each morning they wake up to a list of their independent assignments for the morning, usually consisting of:

  • Math – Miranda is finishing up Singapore 3B, where she’s learned about multiplication, long division, fractions, area and perimeter, and more, and she’ll start Singapore 4A soon; and Madeleine CaiQun is working her way through Singapore 1B, doing some addition and subtraction and just starting to learn about multiplication and division. I teach any new concepts, and then they do their exercises of practice problems on their own.
  • Handwriting – Miranda is continuing learning cursive, and Madeleine CaiQun has just started learning cursive, both using Handwriting Without Tears.
  • Bible – some independent Bible reading.
  • Reading – some independent reading that corresponds to what we’re reading in our general History curriculum.

I try to work with FangFang and Atticus a couple times a week on their workbooks. We’re using Sonlight’s Developing the Early Learner series, which I think offers some good initial fine motor skill and “following directions” practice.

Everyone gets a break after we tackle those “table subjects,” and then we reconvene to start with the little kids’ “reading school.” We read a Bible story and a few stories from some of their school books, and we call it a day for them! We’re re-using Sonlight’s P3/4 package from a few years ago from back when the big kids were doing pre-school, and it’s been fun for all of us to revisit those great stories.

And after the little kids’ reading is done, the big kids and I settle in on the couch to tackle the rest of their school time. We’re continuing to use Sonlight curriculum for all of our core subjects, this time using Core D, Science D, and Language Arts D. Core D covers the first of two years of American History, starting with studying Native Americans and going through the 1850s. Language Arts D works with Core D, with the writing and dictation examples corresponding to one another. We’ve done some different Language Arts programs over the last couple years, so it’s a bit of a jump for the kids to get back into Sonlight’s Language Arts, and while there has been some frustration about that, they’re able to do the work, and it’s nice to have the inter-relatedness of all the areas we are studying. In Science, we’re studying biology, taxonomy, and human anatomy, and both girls are enjoying that, as usual.

I still need to add Spelling, Typing, and Chinese back into our regular school days, but I’m thankful we’re getting pretty well-established with the basics. It was a rough start – we got through one week of school, and then FangFang broke her femur, and we had a very intense couple days with a lot of pain and not much sleep. When I had her pain well managed, and I could keep her still on the couch, she did alright, but when I needed to move her or pain meds started to wear off, she was pretty miserable, and in addition to caring for her, I needed to reassure all of our other kiddos that in spite of the increased attention I was giving to FangFang, I still loved them, as well. It was quite a stressful start to our second week of school, but it was all made much more manageable when my friend Courtney came to help out – she walked in the door and announced that she was taking the other 3 kids to Bonkers for the afternoon, and I should try to nap with FangFang! Being a bit of an emotional mess when I’m tired, I instead sat down on the couch and cried with thankfulness, but after I had a good cry, I was able to rest a bit, and that made the entire rest of the day feel so much more manageable.

And thankfully, FangFang started to feel better after a couple days, and we were able to get back into our school routine. Now, a few weeks into everything, I feel like we have a pretty good routine established, and I’m excited for the year ahead of us!

on parenting my bigs

Our girls may be only 5 (and 5.5, Miranda would be quick to tell you!), but in our family, they’re the “bigs.” And as they get older, I find myself enjoying them more and more – or perhaps not even more, but in a different way. Their love of Mumford & Sons and Star Wars marked their entry into enjoyment of things that Matt and I also appreciate.

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watching Episode VI together

They are able to have increasingly complex conversations and be more and more helpful at home. They are often tasked with entertaining a baby for a few minutes at a time. And we’d even started having regular chores (unloading the dishwasher and sweeping)…until the dishwasher and the broom became 2 of Atticus’s favorite things, making it impossible for them to complete their assigned tasks without his interference!

We are realizing more and more the importance of one-on-one time and have been making an effort to spend bits of time with the girls as individuals.

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an Aldi outing with Madeleine CaiQun

And as they get older, we’re seeing them express pieces of their individuality and interests.

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Miranda, dressed in a swimsuit, listening to music on the digital piano my dad got us for Christmas

And yet, it’s so beautiful to see their sibling relationship continue to develop. Leading up to Christmas, they spent a series of nights alternating which sister’s twin bed they’d sleep in, snuggled close together.

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Mei mei even shared her beloved brown blanket with Miranda!

They maintain their own distinct roles within their relationship, though! I shared this conversation on Facebook the other day – it would be difficult to capture an exchange that more typified a relationship than this one!

Madeleine CaiQun – “Mom, if me and jie jie want to be flower girls in Uncle Danny and Sharon’s wedding, we’ll have to practice – it’s a big job for 5-year-old girls!!”

Miranda Grace – “I have practiced enough. I even knew how to do it before I practiced. Watch me.”

Only a few months apart in age, they still fall into those typical first-born and second-born roles 🙂

And as they grow, we are exploring new strategies to parent them. One of our more successful attempts has been a re-introduction of an afternoon rest time. After they gave up naps, I had had them spend an hour or so playing or looking at books in separate rooms each afternoon for some quiet time for them and work time for me, but once Atticus was born and began napping upstairs in the afternoons in one of the rooms we’d used for their rest times, I gave up on that idea. More recently, I’d let them watch tv while he napped, and I was able to accomplish a lot during those times, but I didn’t love the idea of them watching so much television. I do still let them watch a show or two most afternoons, but we have transitioned to using much of Atticus’s nap time for “blanket time.” I spread out a blanket on the living room floor for each child, and they’re each allowed to choose one basket of toys – even the kept-up-high-so-Atticus-can’t-get-them toys! – and play with them independently on their blankets.

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They love it! They have quite a bit of free play time each day, most of which they spend together, and I think they like having more of a low pressure, independent play time for a little while during the afternoons. Plus they get to play with some of the toys that have been gathering dust since Atticus became mobile!

It’s always nice when parenting strategies that we try seem to work well 🙂 Another one from which I’ve loved seeing the pay-off is our frequent attempts to give our kids a voice. We’ve invested pretty heavily in trying to communicate to them that we are all on the same team in our family and that we’re interested in their thoughts and feelings. We’ve worked hard at helping our girls identify and share their emotions (in true home-school mom fashion, I even have a feelings chart hanging prominently in our playroom!). And, as a parenting book I read recently suggested, sometimes when our girls are overwhelmed and aren’t able to verbalize their feelings, we’ve asked them if they’d like to draw pictures of how they’re feeling. Miranda has taken that suggestion to heart, and every once in a while she hands me a picture like this to communicate to me about what’s going on with her – I love it!

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I’m hoping and praying that as our bigs get bigger we’re able to continue to foster open communication with them! Though we have our challenges, of course, I feel so blessed to be their mom!

Home-Schooling 2014-2015 – Year in Review

As of yesterday, we have finished our 2014-2015 school year! Miranda completed her pre-k year and Madeleine CaiQun her pre-school year.

"Why, yes, Mom, we'd love to pose for a 'last day of school' picture for you!"
“Why, yes, Mom, we’d love to pose for a ‘last day of school’ picture for you!”

The work they did was sometimes in line with those grade levels, sometimes not (for more on our curriculum choices for the year, see this post), but everyone worked where they were at and grew, which, I think, will always be our goal!

Hand-writing is an easy area in which to see progress, and this morning I was looking back at some of the girls’ early work and was encouraged to see how they have grown. It can be hard, in the day-to-day, to notice the ways in which they are learning and growing, but looking back over the course of the year, I can definitely see it!

Madeleine CaiQun really could not write recognizable letters on her own at the beginning of the school year, and now she can write her name (though she still needs help remembering what all the letters are toward the end)!

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Note also the addition of “Anna” to her name – we’re just slightly obsessed with Frozen these days!

And here is a sample of Miranda’s copywork from week 4, followed by some of her copywork from week 34!

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Miranda has been practicing reading, and CaiQun is ready to start reading out loud, which is definitely exciting for this book-loving mom! Both girls have grown in their understanding of math and numbers, as well. We’ve all been memorizing some Scripture together (we’re trying to finish up 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 right now). Another cool development has been the lengthening of their attention spans, such that we are able to read longer chapter books now. All in all, I’ve really enjoyed doing school work with them this year.

Of course, character is king, and our big growth areas continue to be kindness, gentleness, and self-control. We’re working on it!

I took the girls out for ice cream last night to celebrate the completion of our school year 🙂

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When asked what her favorite part of the year was, Miranda replied enthusiastically, “Math!” That’s also what she reports she is most looking forward to about our upcoming school year. This girl loves her math 🙂 She says her favorite book that we read this year is our final science book, Why Do Tigers Have Stripes, in particular the part about panthers. I asked CaiQun what her favorite part of this past year was, and she told me it was, “L, because I like doing the down and then the over.” Funny girl 🙂 She said she was too busy eating to talk to me about what she was most looking forward to about next year or about her favorite book from this year. Overall, though, some of the books both girls really enjoyed were all of our science books and The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook.

I’m also thoughtful about what I’ve learned about teaching my kiddos this year. It really isn’t a problem to do school with Atticus around (which I’d been worried about before he arrived!), but I need to be careful not to start something new with the girls when he’s getting fussy but instead to wait until I’ve gotten him to a good place. Both of the girls like having choices – choices about what work to do first, which books to read first, what writing implement to use. Miranda responds best to my setting out my expectations in some external way from the beginning – if I give her a list of all the work she’ll need to accomplish on any given day, it goes over better than just telling her verbally (CaiQun likes having a list, too, but I think that’s mostly just because Miranda has one). And sometimes, even if they have choices and have their lists, things don’t go well. My personality is to love checklists and love challenges, so I need to be thoughtful, in those moments, about whether I’m pushing too hard and setting us up for problems or whether they’re being rebellious and need to be shepherded through that.

We’re all learning together, and I’m looking forward to diving into our next school year with my girls! Kindergarten and pre-k, here we come!

Our Homeschooling Year Thus Far

This 2014-2015 homeschooling year has been a journey of learning for all of us. Since we’re well over halfway through our curriculum and our school year, I think it’s about time for an update here 🙂

The primary basis of our curriculum this year has been Sonlight’s pre-k package. I posted more about the specific choices we made for our school year this year here, but the basic idea is that I’m doing all of our reading and activities together with both girls, and that covers most subjects – Bible, Reading, History, Science, and World Cultures, and then I have them doing Language Arts and Math separately.

One thing I’ve very much enjoyed this year is seeing concrete developments in our girls’ knowledge and thinking. CaiQun is now able to count to 39 reliably (and needs just a little help thereafter). Miranda is now consistently able to count beyond 100, is building the foundations for understanding our base 10 number system, and can do simple addition and subtraction. CaiQun recognizes all her letters and knows the sounds they make and can read and guess spellings of some simple words. Miranda is able to sound out words that follow pretty straightforward rules of pronunciation and reads a book to CaiQun and me each day. Miranda’s handwriting has gotten dramatically better, and CaiQun is learning how to write letters and numbers. Both girls know the days of the week, months of the year, and the four seasons.

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They’re also growing in knowledge and understanding through our reading. We’ve read about types of matter, classification of animals (though they still express disbelief every time we discuss the reality that human beings are considered to be mammals or any type of animal at all!), and the earth itself. We’ve read about different professions, and both girls have developed ambitious goals in this arena – Miranda says, “I want to be half ambulance driver, half mom, half doctor, and half fire truck girl.” CaiQun is going to be a mommy (she’ll have Miranda be the doctor who helps her give birth), and she’s also going to be an ambulance driver, a firefighter, and a gymnast. They both want to attend college in China, though Miranda is only planning to take classes on Tuesdays so that she can live at home with us the rest of the days of the week 🙂

Another thing we’ve been enjoying together this year is Scripture memorization. Our curriculum suggests a weekly Bible verse to memorize, but I wasn’t always thrilled with their selections, so leading up to Christmas, we ditched them in favor of memorizing John 1:1-5. Once we had that passage down, though, the girls wanted to keep going, so we now have through verse 10 pretty solidly memorized and are working on 11-13. It has been fun to work on that with them during our lunches each day and to discuss what the verses are really saying. My hope is that it will serve them well in the future to have some good passages tucked away in their memories.

And we definitely enjoy reading the different stories, whether tales of Uncle Wiggily’s adventures or stories told by various cultures from around the world or Milly-Molly-Mandy classics. Both of the girls are really loving the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories right now. Their attention spans and interest in reading books without pictures on each page have grown tremendously in the last year or so, and I really enjoy that they’re now able to read and enjoy some longer and more complex stories.

We’re almost always able to accomplish our entire school day in under 2 hours, usually all before lunch time, though we often finish things up in the afternoons if we’ve had morning errands to run or spent some time with friends in the mornings.

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One of the things I enjoy most about home-schooling is the time. Because it is so flexible, I am able to allow the girls so much free time, time to do various art projects of their own creation, time to play in the playroom, time to play games or do puzzles with each other or as a family. And, as has been the case recently, there’s time to play out in the snow when weather permits 🙂

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And when weather isn’t ideal for outside play…we get to do things like meeting friends at Bonkers when it’s empty, because everyone else is in school 🙂

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I also enjoy being able to spend so much time with the girls. That is an area in which I’d like to continue to grow – I’m very task-oriented by nature, and the demands of caring for 3 small children and managing a household are pretty intense for me right now, so when we have 30 minutes free, I’m much more apt to think about what task I can accomplish than to come up with a fun activity for us to enjoy together. The lure of quality time does occasionally win out, though, and I’m grateful for the times it does! This year’s curriculum is actually very good at suggesting activities to do that tie into what we’re reading. Some of the activities aren’t appealing to us at all, but a lot of them are fun when we do them, and I’d like to take the time to do more of them.

There are some weaknesses in the curriculum. I actually wish it were more intense. The girls often want to read more than is scheduled, and I need to be better at indulging them in that, too. I thought there would be more content and more focus than there is, and those are some things I’m really looking forward to about Sonlight’s curriculum in future years.

Those words may come back to haunt me, as we embrace added intensity next year but have our growing little boy spending his days with us, too. Hopefully the challenge will not prove to be too much 🙂 This year I have sometimes felt harried as I’ve tried, simultaneously, to introduce a math concept to Miranda, give direction on handwriting to Madeleine CaiQun, and bounce a fussy baby in need of a nap, but we’ve been managing to work through everyone’s different needs, and I imagine we’ll continue to figure it out.

And the hard times give us opportunities to work on and pray about character issues. We’ve devoted a lot of time this year to self-control, and while we still have a long way to go, I’m glad we’ve been able to focus on it so much. Home-schooling gives us an opportunity to talk about and pray about so many different things. Just the other day we had an extensive lunch conversation about a decision facing them in which they could choose to be selfish or to be kind, good friends to another child, and on the first day, they were 100% committed to selfishness, but after we talked, we prayed about it, and the next day they announced that they had changed their minds and wanted to choose to try to be kind.

Overall I really think the year is going pretty well. The girls continue to enjoy school, and I continue to enjoy teaching them and seeing them learn – and they are clearly learning. I think we’re seeing spiritual growth, as well as intellectual growth, and we’re enjoying our time together doing it all!