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!

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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂

This year, we are using Core C 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 using 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 year 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 🙂 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 we 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 Two 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 🙂 I’m thankful, yet again, for awesome curriculum options, and I’m thankful for this time I get to spend with my kiddos!

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!

Homeschooling 2014-2015

Everyone else got their “back to school!” posts done back in August or September…and I’ve been telling myself that it would be great if I could get ours up before we hit November 🙂 We’ve had a lot going on, but still, I’ve wanted to share about the start of our school year. This year is Miranda’s pre-k year and Madeleine CaiQun’s pre-school year.

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We actually started our school year – in a very laid back fashion – at the beginning of July. We decided to start then for a couple reasons. First, I was starting to feel better as we got well into the second trimester of this pregnancy, and I was ready to do something more structured with the girls. Second, we knew that this winter and spring would be somewhat crazy with Atticus’s arrival and all the unknowns that will come with that, and we figured that if we could get ahead on school stuff before then to allow us more flexibility after he arrived, that would be great. We also like to take random days off during the year. For instance, my dad was just here visiting for a long weekend, and we took that whole time off from doing school and just enjoyed the time to hang out with him. Other days we just have a lot of errands or appointments, but it’s still nice to feel like we have the space not to have to feel pressured to get school material in every single day. And the last reason we started school in the middle of the summer is that the girls really love doing school. They were disappointed on the days this spring that I just didn’t have the energy to do full school days with them, and they were thrilled to get back into it as soon as I was ready. We did take a very relaxed approach to starting school, though. There were a number of days we didn’t do school but instead spent time at the park or at a sprayground or doing some other summer fun activity.

The upshot is that we have been doing school since the beginning of July but are just finishing up week 9 of our curriculum. In terms of curriculum, we’re using Sonlight for the core of our curriculum again this year – specifically, the pre-kindergarten package (with a few modifications). We all love the literature-based focus, and I like that it seems academically rigorous and includes everything we need but can also be customized as desired. Miranda is ready for more than what the workbooks in that package offer, but CaiQun is doing those workbooks, and Miranda is instead using the Language Arts kindergarten package, along with the Handwriting Without Tears kindergarten package, and the Singapore Math kindergarten package. In general, I absolutely agree with Sonlight’s philosophy that it’s not necessary to push kids into reading or math or anything else at super early ages – but Miranda is already reading and doing simple math in her head. One of the things I love about home-schooling is that it’s possible to work with each of my kids where they’re at, so we’re supplementing the pre-k materials with some kindergarten stuff, since that’s what she needs to be learning and growing right now.

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CaiQun is also working through the Sonlight workbooks much faster than their schedule specifies, mostly because she does a bit of Miranda’s language arts curriculum with us but mostly likes to keep working on her workbooks for the whole time that Miranda does the rest of her language arts and math work. Once she completes those workbooks, I’ll have her do the same Rod and Staff workbooks that I used with Miranda last year and perhaps add in the Handwriting Without Tears pre-k materials.

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Overall, we are liking the curriculum and the school time this year. Things seem to be going well with our language arts and handwriting and math studies. Math is by far Miranda’s favorite subject right now, so we save it until after handwriting (not her favorite!) is done.

Honestly, I was surprised that there wasn’t more literature reading expected each day from our Sonlight curriculum. The pre-school package we used last year is much less structured, so we’d just choose the books we wanted to read each day and then spend 30 or sometimes 45 minutes reading. This year, if we stick to the assigned reading for each day, we regularly finish in under 20 minutes, and the girls are usually itching to do more. I’ve dealt with that in part by starting to condense some of the schedule – now every 4 days we usually do 5 days’ worth of assignments. I’ve also tried to, at times, let the girls just choose stories from their school books for us to read, regardless of when they’re technically assigned, and I probably need to do more of that.

We sometimes do the fun activities suggested in our curriculum materials but also sometimes skip them entirely or substitute our own.

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And of course we do a lot of other fun, educational stuff that we don’t technically count as part of our school days. Both girls consider the globe that my brother Danny sent for CaiQun’s birthday one of their favorite toys, and we often end up sitting around it on the living room floor and discussing world geography. Matt and the girls have also found all sorts of educational videos to watch online, often about various animals.

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We’re finding that in addition to academics, school time is a prime opportunity to address character issues. By and large, I think the girls and I all really enjoy our school time and learning together, but we do have difficult days. In those moments I try to remind myself that even though it’s hard, I’m ultimately thankful that I get to be the one who is here with the girls, helping them to learn about what it looks like to behave appropriately and how we all fall short of that, but we can look to Christ in those moments and pray for ourselves and for each other.

Overall, I think we’ve gotten off to a good start for this school year, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year holds!