Dispatches From My Dining Room (No 2): COVID-19 Extreme Social Distancing: The First Couple Weeks

As I shared in my last post, our family started staying home whenever possible on Thursday, March 12. For us, the transition is nowhere near as significant as for others. We already homeschool our children. Matt already had some flexibility to his schedule and was home some during the days.

But it is still a very different situation. We are intentional in providing opportunities for our children to learn from the world around us and interact with other people. In our normal life, all four kids swim multiple times a week. The older girls and I usually ride horses about once a week. All four kids participate in a homeschool enrichment group 3-4 mornings a month. FangFang has weekly physical therapy. We have outings to the library and the park. We attend art shows and go to the zoo. This homeschooling world in which we’re all now living is very different than actual, normal homeschooling. That said, again, I acknowledge that the transition is much less jarring for us than it is for those being thrust into homeschooling with just a few days’ notice.

Really, compared to what many families are facing right now, we have virtually the ideal scenario. The primary structure of our lives is staying mostly the same. Both Matt’s and my jobs are pretty secure, at least in the short term. Many people are far less fortunate than we are.

We spent our first couple days at home doing our regular school days and trying to better prepare ourselves for going out less. I emptied out our deep freeze entirely and re-organized it and cataloged its contents. Our oven had died, so we researched ranges and ordered a new one. I planned meals for the next two weeks, and Saturday morning I made what I planned to be my last in-store grocery shopping trip for quite a while. By this point, though, other people had also realized that this was going to be a thing. The run on toilet paper had begun. I arrived at Aldi before it opened to find a line forming outside the door! There were a few items I was not able to get at Aldi (almond milk, butter), but between Aldi and Hyvee, I was able to get everything I needed, plus add a bit to our supply of stored food downstairs.

It’s hard to know how much to buy. On the one hand, we are a fairly large family – I spend over $200 a week on groceries on an average week, so to shop for two weeks at a time is a significant undertaking. In an average week, we probably make one mid-week stop at the store for something, and obviously we’d want to limit that, too. And in this time of uncertainty and increased risk of illness, it seems wise to have some additional items on hand – cough medicine, for one thing, Gatorade, Sprite, etc. I’ve settled on trying not to go completely crazy with stocking up but also trying to be well prepared.

Mizzou was continuing to monitor the situation and update their plans for the semester. As of Thursday, March 12, they had said that all teaching was to be done remotely, but faculty and staff were still to report to campus as needed but start planning in case it became unwise to do so. On Friday, March 13, they announced that the switch to remote teaching, as opposed to holding in-person classes, would be extended through the entirety of the spring semester.

Courtney was supposed to come visit that weekend, and we canceled that. Her job is still requiring her to come in daily, and she would still be giving riding lessons for another week, and even now (with multiple cities in Missouri under stay at home orders), she is continuing to have to do appointments for potential adoptions. She is attempting to minimize her exposure – she certainly is not interested in getting the coronavirus – but there is not much she can do if her job is requiring her to interact with the public. With multiple high risk people in our house, she and I talked about it and decided it just wasn’t a good idea to risk having her come. That was one of the first big changes for our family life, in this period of staying home – not just not going to big events, but not having anyone at all come over.

Although Columbia Public Schools were still in session, most people acknowledged that we were slowly marching toward closure – not a question of “if” but “when,” and I started receiving inquiries about homeschooling advice, which prompted these two posts, as well as some e-mails and private messages.

We continued our usual school activities.

Finding ourselves with a bit more time on our hands than usual, the big kids and I have been catching up on some of their lapbook projects.

On Monday, March 16, Columbia Public Schools announced that they would close effective Wednesday. On Tuesday, March 17, Boone County recorded its first positive test result for COVID-19 (there were 16 positive cases in the state at that time), thereby confirming that it was truly here, and Mizzou announced that same day that all buildings were going to be locked, and everyone possible would need to begin working from home. Matt went into campus to get everything he thought he might need in the coming weeks and months from both the art building and his studio. On Thursday, March 19 (still just 1 positive case in Boone County – with 1 death; 28 cases statewide), Mizzou reiterated that no one was to work on campus unless specifically directed to do so by their supervisor.

With some of the big changes in our lives and schedules relating so heavily to physical activity, I’ve known that we would need to be finding time to get outside and move around as much as possible. We’ve been taking a lot of walks, though as this Snap suggests, it has been something of a strange experience.

It’s strange how quickly the intensity of the current guidance to stay distant from other people begins to feel almost normal. I find myself watching tv shows and alternately marveling at how close the characters are standing to one another and wanting to jump up and warn them that they are putting themselves at risk!

One of my current irritations is with parents who allow their children outside without supervision when those children clearly do not understand the idea of not getting within 6 feet of any other people. Obviously each parent must determine for themselves whether their children are mature enough to be outside without supervision, but that standard changes a bit during a global pandemic. In my normal life, I would love to hang out with all the children – but not right now. And if I have to tell your child to back off, then your child is clearly not mature enough to handle being outside without supervision during this time.

Other than that, though, we have been enjoying our walks and our time outside!

Yesterday we even had a picnic and did some of our school reading outside!

Of course, there are days when the weather is not so nice, and those are harder. I’ve been doing some workouts on our elliptical, and the kids and I have all been doing some body-weight exercises and exercises with some small dumbbells.

Being without an oven for several weeks – especially during this time – has been challenging for me in planning meals, but also for Miranda, our resident baker. One day she and I looked up recipes and she tried making a cake in our bread machine! The bottom got a bit burnt, but otherwise it was good, and it was a fun experience for her.

We did finally get our new range this week, for which I was very thankful. After a delivery scheduled during a generally unhelpful 12 hour window – during which the store actually failed to deliver the range – and many phone calls and much follow-up from me, it arrived on Wednesday, a day after it was supposed to come. It’s nothing special but nice to be back to having a fully functional kitchen!

Having more time at home, I’ve been trying to tackle some projects around the house.

Another thing I’ve enjoyed has been having more time to read. I have been making my way through a few different books, and the older girls are also really into reading right now. We’ve been trying to have a quiet reading time at least a few afternoons a week.

And as for the statistics, after having 16 positive test results on Tuesday, March 17, a week later, on Tuesday, March 24, Missouri had recorded 255 cases (with Boone County having 20 positive cases). Effective Wednesday morning, we are under stay at home orders from both the City of Columbia and Boone County. As of yesterday, Thursday, March 26, Missouri was reporting 502 cases (with 25 in Boone County) and 8 deaths. As of yesterday, the United States, for the first time, reports more cases than any other country in the world (with 81,321 cases and over 1,000 deaths), and also as of yesterday, the worldwide count of cases surpassed 500,000. Watching the numbers, I suspect we will pass 600,000 worldwide today.

My mom was supposed to visit us this weekend, but as the Director of Emergency Management for her county (so far 56 cases out of Wisconsin’s 755 total), she is working 14-16 hour days and will not be able to come see us.

In terms of our own personal experience during this time of the coronavirus and social distancing, I am missing the ability to see people outside of my own little family unit. I’m sad to be missing out on plans I’d made to see both Courtney and my mom, as well as other friends. My dad’s visit for next month will likely also need to be canceled.

Beyond that, it honestly feels somewhat relaxing. It’s a strange juxtaposition, being faced daily with the gravity of the situation, knowing that people are dying every day, that medical providers in our very own country are being forced to work without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and knowing that what I do may have grave consequences, both for my family and my community – but that what I am supposed to do, stay at home as much as possible, feels not like acting the part of a valiant warrior but more like having a stay-cation.

The first thing I do each morning and the last thing I do each night is check my phone for coronavirus news updates. It feels of supreme importance – and yet, actually, no matter what the websites and articles say, today will be another day of staying home. I spent the early days of our time at home posting articles on Facebook encouraging social distancing – but now, I know that those who are going to understand the gravity of the situation probably already do, and there is likely nothing I can say to those who choose to to continue to listen to President Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, despite its dissonance from the opinion of every respected medical professional.

I wonder what is ahead for us all. While I obviously do not want to see the economy continue to crash, I think it is inevitable. Sending people back to work – to get sick and die – will not help. I wonder how helpful the relief bill Congress is working on will be. We can definitely use the money but are generally okay financially for now. While we are home, I’m also trying to work some extra hours to help us rebuild our emergency fund.

I hope and pray that others in my city, in my state, and in my country will stay home if they can. I hope that the PPE and ventilators our medical professionals and our hospitals – and ultimately, we – need will arrive in time. I hope we can flatten the curve. I hope we can see our friends and family again soon. I hope they’re all okay. I hope this isn’t as bad as I suspect it will be.

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!

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!