Homeschool School Year 2020-2021

It is so strange to think that this is already our 8th year homeschooling, and yet it is! This year Miranda is in 5th grade, MeiMei is in 4th grade, FangFang is in 1st grade, and Atticus is in kindergarten.

We actually started our school year back in June for a couple reasons. We are continuing to stay home almost all the time, including skipping our pool membership for the summer – it didn’t feel safe for us. But Missouri in the summer is hot and humid and miserable. The kids and I all agreed that we would rather do full time school in the summer and have a more flexible school schedule in the fall when the weather is nicer. Additionally, with me starting grad school this fall, it would be nice to have some of the kids’ schooling already under our belts to give me more room to adjust their school schedule as needed in order to allow me to do my own school work.

Tomorrow we will finish week 8 (out of 36 weeks) of our curriculum, so we’re already into a solid routine as we head into the fall. That was my goal, and I’m feeling so good about accomplishing it!

We’re continuing to use Sonlight for the main pieces of our curriculum, and, as usual, box day was an exciting day at our house. That is, of course, partly because of the boxes themselves!

The little kids are doing Core A this year, learning about world cultures. They’re using Language Arts 1, including the first grade readers, and both are doing Singapore Math 1. We’re also using Handwriting Without Tears, and I’ve just recently started All About Spelling with them. I think they’ll have a good, solid year. They love the stories – Atticus strongly identifies with Benny from the Boxcar Children, and we ordered the sequels to My Father’s Dragon so we could read through all of the books, as everyone wanted to know what happened to Elmer and the dragon next. They are also getting exposure to a wide variety of topics through one of our favorite books, The Usborne Children’s Encyclopedia, and we’re just all generally having a good time learning together.

I’m doing a bit of supplementing for all 4 kids. We’ve done a little bit of Telling God’s Story (which I’m on the fence about). And I’m trying to make sure they are all exposed to history beyond what is mostly centered around white people, so a book we’ve all been reading together is The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World.

The older two girls, of course, have their own curriculum. We are working our way through one of the Sonlight cores about which I was most excited – Core F, Eastern Hemisphere. We started off learning about China and then moved on to learning about North Korea and South Korea, and now we are studying Japan. I love that they are getting so deeply exposed to cultures other than our own at such an early age, and we’re finding so much of the material fascinating. We’ve talked about our visits to China, and we Facetimed with some of our friends who live in Japan and got to hear firsthand about their experiences last week. We’ve already ordered sequels to some of the books to read even more than what Sonlight assigns. I’m also super excited about their Science curriculum this year, which is about Health, Medicine, and Human Anatomy (though I am going to replace some of the materials about sexuality and gender, as we are more progressive than Sonlight is in this area).

MeiMei just started Singapore Math 3A, and Miranda will finish Singapore Math 5A tomorrow and start on 5B next week. Both are continuing to work through All About Spelling – we’re in the middle of level 2, because I slacked off on spelling last year, but I’m hoping we can finish 2 and get through 3 this year. Both girls would be better able to keep up with the flow of their thoughts in writing if spelling came more naturally to them. Both are also continuing to work on learning cursive and on typing. For Language Arts, we’re doing some of the Sonlight Language Arts F program, but I’m supplementing with other materials. I’m finding that since they are on the very young end of the recommended age for Sonlight’s materials, I sometimes need to modify assignments for them, and they could still use more work on the basics (sentence and paragraph structure) than what Sonlight sometimes offers. I talked with them about some options, and we decided together to use these Editor in Chief books, so we are working through those right now.

It is interesting – and so cool – to me that as the kids are getting older, they are expressing more of their own preferences about how they want to learn. This year the older two girls asked if we could do something different for Bible – they didn’t like just reading a passage on their own and reading a passage with me, they wanted to have more of a discussion about it. We decided – at Miranda’s suggestion – that the three of us would all read one chapter a day on our own and write down what stood out to us from that chapter and then discuss it together. That has been one of my favorite parts of our year so far. I love hearing their thoughts and getting to have those discussions with them.

With this being an election year, the older two girls are also going to be working through the US Elections Lapbook.

I’ve been loving our school year so far, and I can’t wait to continue to learn with my crew!

Homeschool Year 2019-2020 is Complete!

Last week we wrapped up our 2019-2020 homeschool school year!

We don’t care much at all about “grade levels,” but based on their ages, this was Atticus’s pre-kindergarten year and FangFang’s kindergarten year. Here they are with their books for the year (their Sonlight stacks, for those in the homeschool community), holding some of their favorites!

We primarily used Sonlight’s Pre-K or 4/5 package (centered around Exploring God’s World), along with Handwriting Without Tears and Singapore Math K. Both are learning to read, which is such a nerve-wracking stage for me as a mom – it feels like the most important academic skill to impart. Fortunately both of them did great with their readers for the year – phew!

FangFang reports that her favorite thing to study this year was Mother Goose nursery rhymes, and when she grows up she wants to be a doctor, and she wants to help animals with her sisters. She also says she would like to be an artist, a scientist, a police, a fire fighter, an ambulance, and a cooker.

Atticus says that his favorite thing to study was Uncle Wiggily and the Fox, and when he grows up he wants to be a fire fighter, a police, a boat rider, a diver, and a doctor.

Miranda and MeiMei insisted upon sitting on the couch for their photo, which actually hides some of the substantial amount of work they completed this year! Based on their ages, this was Miranda’s 4th grade year and MeiMei’s 3rd grade year.

Obvious from their choice of books to hold in their photo, both loved some of our Science studies this year! Miranda also really enjoyed History. This year we used Sonlight’s Core E package focused around US History 1865-Present, and our Science studies was the Science E program, Electricity, Magnetism, and Astronomy. Both continued their math learning using Singapore, with Miranda finishing the 4B book and starting 5A and MeiMei about to finish the 2B book. They have also started learning to type this year, clocking about 10 wpm at this point. This year they also really took ownership of their lapbook projects, completing most independently and then coming to tell me about them afterwards.

MeiMei’s favorite thing to study this year was human anatomy (which she learned about in our homeschool group and independently – so, basically, nothing that I taught her!). When she grows up, she wants to work at an animal shelter with Miranda. When she’s not working, she’ll stay at her house with Miranda (they plan to live together) and read and play and do grown up stuff.

Miranda’s favorite subject this year was…Science, especially the microscope book! (“Mom,” she tells me, “put in the ‘dot, dot, dot’ and then an exclamation point, so it looks exciting!”). When she grows up, she wants to work at an animal shelter and help animals and study animals. She’s talked about getting a PhD in either Biology or Zoology. She’d also like to be a famous author.

It was absolutely a strange year, but honestly, staying home so much enabled us to finish our school year much earlier than we sometimes do, which feels so nice and freeing. We celebrated by making homemade pizza, a favorite meal of the entire family!

It was a good year. I love seeing the growth in each one of my kiddos!

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

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

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

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

I really resonate with this tweet –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Big Birthday – Miranda Grace is Ten!

Miranda is our kiddo who most wants to have birthday parties with friends, so there was much dramatic discussion leading up to her birthday about whether it was even worth celebrating her birthday this year, since she couldn’t have a party. I told her that it was very sad that she couldn’t have a party, but we still wanted to celebrate her. We’d have to see what the coming months look like in terms of the possibility for a party, but in the meantime, it is good to celebrate each person and acknowledge their special days.

We went out of our way to do what we could to make her tenth(!!) birthday a special day within the context of the limitations of our social isolation, and we tried to celebrate it as well as possible!

The day began with some birthday gifts – first up, some homemade cards from sweet MeiMei <3

Usually Matt and I try to give a lot of our gifts in the form of certificates for future experiences we know our children will enjoy…but that, too, is rather impossible this year. Both Miranda and MeiMei have been spending copious amounts of time reading lately, and especially with the public library closed, we used Miranda’s birthday as an opportunity to expand our personal “upper elementary reading for pleasure” library. She also received some new art supplies, as well as several stuffed animal dragons (the Wings of Fire series has been a favorite for some time, and the kids all enjoy playing with dragons).

Some of our good friends drove by to wave from their car and say happy birthday to Miranda, which she enjoyed, as well <3

Her biggest request for the day was that we not do school, and I was happy to give the kiddos a day off. Fortunately, we had beautiful weather that day, and we spent a good portion of the day playing outside.

Several family members also called and FaceTimed with Miranda, which she loved!

In our family, when it’s your birthday, you get to choose a special breakfast cereal (Froot Loops) and whatever dinner you want. Miranda actually got a bonus meal, in that Courtney asked her what she’d like for lunch and sent her delivery from a local favorite Chinese restaurant, House of Chow. Her dinner of choice was homemade pizza, and she helped make her favorite – cheese pizza!

For her birthday dessert, she chose a “Peep cake,” though we had to substitute marshmallows, since stores were out of Peeps by the time I made our pre-birthday grocery order. I completely forgot to order candles, but luckily Matt came up with the idea to melt together two candles we already had to make a Roman numeral X for her.

There was no grand party, but we certainly enjoyed celebrating her as a family. In addition to our standard “high/low/buffalo/act of kindness/looking forward to” dinner activity, we added a category for each person to share something they love and appreciate about Miranda – she soaks up that affirmation.

It’s so strange to think that she is ten years old now. If she is ten, that also means that I have been a mother for ten years! On some level, that seems so natural to me – I have always wanted to be a mom, more than anything else. But it also seems like it was just yesterday that she was born!

She is undeniably her own person. We think she is an Enneagram 8 – a challenger through and through. She has firm convictions, which may or may not line up with Matt’s or mine. She views the world in black and white, and to say that she much prefers leading to following would be a gross understatement. She feels all feelings big, and we work hard on distinguishing between emotions, thoughts, and actions. While that sometimes presents challenges for her, it also means that her love and compassion are more than generous. She thrives when given opportunities to take responsibility, whether for cooking a meal or putting her little sister to bed (a ritual she and FangFang have recently started choosing for themselves most nights). Her love of animals is her reason for being a strict vegetarian, and she is great with our cats – the only cat allowed to sleep in a bedroom at night is Rosie, who spends almost every night on Miranda’s top bunk with her. Miranda dreams about wanting to be a baker and an engineer and a scientist, as well as wanting to be in charge of any number of things!

Being her mother is one of the great challenges and great joys of my life <3

Happy birthday, Miranda Grace!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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