Some Tips for the Temporarily Homeschooling

We, like most Americans, are wondering what the coming days and weeks hold, as we wait on the brink of the coronavirus spreading more widely within the States. Three of the six members of our household have medical conditions that could complicate our prognosis in the event that we were to contract the virus, and we also find the argument for flattening the curve to be highly persuasive, so, when possible, we have started limiting our interactions with those outside of our household.

We, of course, already homeschool, but a number of families may be facing unexpected days or weeks of children being home from school. I posted on Facebook that I would be happy to give suggestions and/or resources to anyone who will unexpectedly have children home for some period of time, and I received a number of comments and messages requesting advice, so I’m sharing here some general suggestions.

First of all, I don’t think that any unexpected time away from a school setting has to be spent 100% focused on academics. This can be a great time to build relationships and just enjoy spending time together as a family. Additionally, there are so many fun ways to learn.

My older girls practice math skills by playing games (some favorites are Yahtzee and Masterpiece)…

…and baking (an activity we are hoping to resume soon – but one of the tasks on our list for today is to order a new range, as our oven died last week!). My oldest likes to make up her own recipes, which used to cause me a lot of stress…until I realized that even if the result was terrible, the worst consequence would be that I was out a couple dollars worth of ingredients. She would have had a great time and had the opportunity to explore an area in which she is interested.

Art projects are another great option for fun learning!

But also, I recognize that many families will want to continue some more formal academic pursuits for their children, and I think there is wisdom in that.

For the pre-school crowd, kids truly learn best through play, so my suggestions would be pretty simple – have some good toys available (puzzles, blocks, magna tiles, art supplies, play dough, railroad tracks), and avail yourself of those, in addition to reading to your children. Reading aloud is truly the most academic that I would get with young children. Many kids do best with some structure, so it might be helpful to create some sort of routine that will work well for your family, but it is simply not necessary to have a very detailed schedule focused heavily around academics.

For children in early elementary school, much of what they learn does not rely on prior knowledge – it doesn’t build on itself in a way that is entirely necessary. The same social studies or science concept can just as easily be taught to a 6-year-old as to an 8-year-old and vice versa. Kids can learn about plants, animals, chemistry, and space in any order at all. And I can think of no essential concept in those areas that is going to be taught to an early elementary school student and never revisited. That means that unless your school gives you specific guidance, it is not of paramount importance to study any particular concepts in an exact order. Doing some study of science, history, and social studies would be lovely, but really any area of interest of yours or your children’s would be a great focal point.

Beyond those generalities, if I were going to be temporarily homeschooling my children, I would focus my attention on 3 areas –

(1) Reading. I’d figure out where my child was at with reading and continue working with them to build their skills in those areas. You probably have a number of resources in your home already that will allow you to do that. If you’re wondering what a sample reading program might look like, we’ve used Sonlight’s programs for years. You can check out their offerings here (we’ve used every program listed here from Kindergarten through the E Readers). Obviously you will not need a full year’s program, but looking at these books can give you an idea of what sort of books you might already have at home that you could use in working with your child on reading. For kids who can do some independent reading, those with Kindle Freetime Unlimited have access to huge numbers of free books on e-readers. The Epic app is also a great resource for e-books for kids.

(2) Math. This is another area in which skills do build on one another, and it is helpful if your child continues to learn and grow. Ideally, you could figure out what curriculum your child is using and where they are with it and work with them there, but even doing some workbooks at your child’s general level or reviewing math facts could be helpful. The math app that we find most helpful for our older two kids is Xtra Math – it’s a game that helps kids build their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. It learns which facts your children need to practice most and works with them on those.

(3) Reading out loud to your child. Children, especially at young ages, can comprehend so much more than they can read themselves. They learn so much by having their adults read to them. You can read literature or non-fiction science or history books or any mix thereof. Reading with children is a great way to bond, to share experiences, to have great discussions, and to learn together. Our times curling up on the couch or snuggling in bed and reading together are some of the highlights of my kids’ and my days. My older two kids and I recently read through the Harry Potter series, and it was such a joy for all of us to share that experience together. You can also use those times of reading aloud to teach your children about history or science. Our core curriculum is from Sonlight, and many of their read-aloud packages include some great historical fiction that truly brings history alive in a different way than textbook reading does. We’ve read books like the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Caddie Woodlawn, Johnny Tremain, and The Witch at Blackbird Pond, among many others. My kids have also greatly enjoyed reading books about science (Sonlight packages here) – books about space, animals, plants, how things work, and much more. You may already have a lot of these books or others that are similar in your home, or you could consider ordering a few that look interesting to you and your children.

You could also do some writing – practicing handwriting or just having kids copy out a sentence or two of good writing – to keep kids learning in those areas, but my top three areas of focus would be what I’ve listed above. If you’re a more fun mom than I am, doing science experiments together could also be a great option for learning!

For older children, I’d try to find some creative and fun ways to challenge them to grow while also keeping them engaged and interested. For instance, even children as young as 8 or 9 can do research projects – MeiMei and Miranda both wrote research papers last year about animals (MeiMei’s was on hummingbirds and Miranda’s was about cats). This year they each tackled a different science topic, with MeiMei learning about how sharks’ gills work and Miranda focusing on the planet of Mars. We’re about to dive into a project in which they each research and write a report about a state. Obviously older children would be capable of learning about even more complex topics or delving into them in more detail in a report or presentation.

Students might also read and learn and think and perhaps write about historical or philosophical topics – comparing and contrasting the Jesus of the Bible with To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch and/or Atlas Shrugged’s John Galt. There is more than enough classic literature to reach well beyond what any middle school or high school curriculum can include fully, and this would be a great time for students to check out some of the books on Sonlight’s readers lists or google a list like, “100 books to read before college.” Reading and discussing books like these would be a great learning experience.

This spring would be an excellent opportunity for students of any age to learn about the election process in the United States, following primary voting, learning about any current issues that interest them, or researching the history of suffrage in the United States. Sonlight has a free downloadable unit study or a US elections lapbook kit.

This time, facing the unknowns of a global pandemic, can obviously be stressful. However, it can also provide a beautiful opportunity for us to spend time together as families, and there are so many ways in which we can nurture our children’s minds even outside of school settings and large group gatherings.

Please let me know if you have additional questions or if there are other ways I can help! And if you’re local and would like to borrow some resources from our homeschool library, we would be happy to loan out whatever we can!

Homeschool School Year 2018-2019 (The Bigs)

This school year (Miranda’s 3rd grade year, MeiMei’s 2nd grade year) was one of learning and growth for all of us. We had a lot of “firsts.”

For one thing, this was the first year that the littles were officially doing school, and though their schooling was pretty light, it still introduced another element to our days. I’ll give the littles’ school year its own blog post soon!

Another new aspect of our school year this year was that everyone participated in a local homeschool enrichment group one morning a week, which was exactly what I’d hoped it would be! The kids did some academic learning, but more than that, they gained some additional opportunities for social learning. They needed to be able to learn from adults who were not me, walk in a line, raise their hands to speak in class – all valuable skills but all difficult to impart from home 😉 They also got to do some partner and group projects and even put on a play. I’m so thankful that they had those opportunities to learn in a different context this year!

My narrator…

…and my little beaver.

Beyond that, they just seemed to grow up so much this year. This is the first year for which their independent readers were chapter books whose content generally corresponded to the history learning we were all doing together through books I read to them. They actually each wrote their first research paper, complete with notecards and a bibliography!

There was also a fun new development, though – they loved using the Sonlight lapbooks with crafts and other projects corresponding to what we were learning! We still have a few projects to finish this summer, but this was a favorite for both girls.

Here are the girls with the stacks of school books we read this year!

I love hearing their reflections about their learning – and looking back on those later! – so I’m recording some of their thoughts here.

Favorite school book Mom read to you this year:
– Miranda: Biology Level I and The Landmark History of the American People: From Plymouth to the West
– MeiMei: Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body and Johnny Tremain and The Very First Americans and If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution

Favorite school book you read on your own this year:
– Miranda: Om-kas-toe and The Courage of Sarah Noble and The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and Naya Nuki
– MeiMei: And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? and Phoebe the Spy and Stone Fox and Sarah Whitcher’s Story

Favorite subject this year:
– Miranda: History
– MeiMei: Science

This was a great year – I really enjoyed learning about American History with the girls, and I can’t wait to continue our studies during this upcoming year!

I Ran (and Walked) a 5K! And Then My Girls Did, Too!

I shared a couple months ago that I’d taken up running, though I was experiencing some problems with my knees. Many of you chimed in with helpful suggestions, and after gaining a better understanding about proper running form, purchasing new running shoes and socks, starting some strengthening exercises, and doing some more stretching (including using a foam roller), my knee pain lessened dramatically, and I was able to keep running.

I did not actually complete the full couch-to-5K program – week five in which the runner is instructed to go from running a maximum of 5 consecutive minutes to running 20 consecutive minutes did me in! I decided, though, that it was still worth it to keep training. I could keep increasing (more gradually) the amount of time I was running, keep building my endurance, and just see what this first 5K looked like.

My friend Courtney and I did the ShamRox Run 5K on St. Patrick’s day, and it was a good first experience.

We started off running but took breaks to walk as we’d get tired. Since we live 2 hours apart, we hadn’t been able to run together leading up to the event, but it was good running with each other at the event. I’d trained more so had a little bit more endurance, but she’s definitely a faster runner, so we pushed each other. And we gained some insight about events like this – for instance, it turns out that when planning race courses, they do NOT work to avoid hills in quite the same way I do when I’m running on my own! Who knew?!

Matt and the kids came to watch and cheer us on as we crossed the finish line, which was sweet 🙂

We finished at 36:54.05, which was a pace of 11:55/mile. That’s obviously not a stellar result, but I felt like it was decent for people who had been running for only about 2.5 months! It’s a good baseline time 🙂

After our run, I started reading more about the run-walk-run method, and I actually really like it and think it would be effective for me. In fact, in my runs in the couple weeks after the 5K, I tried to use that strategy more as its creator suggests – taking walking breaks much more frequently, as opposed to pushing myself to run for as long as possible – and I found it helpful. I enjoyed the running time more. And in trying to run for as many consecutive minutes as possible, I was losing the opportunity to try to run fast. I actually ran 2.5 miles at a pace of 11:07/mile a couple weeks after our 5K, and my new goal is to have a pace of under 11:00/mile.

As I’ve been talking more about running, my older girls started to wonder if it was something they would enjoy. I took them out for a run with me one morning, and they said they wanted to do a “Color Run” 5K that a local middle school was hosting as a fundraiser for their girls’ track team, so we did that this past weekend. Our friend Sarah – after being assured that we’d be doing this at the girls’ pace and not at mine! – joined us, as well!

The girls’ opinions of the run were rather different. Madeleine CaiQun announced during lap 2 (out of 6) that she was ready to sit down and be done…and that remained her attitude throughout most of the rest of the race! Miranda, on the other hand, absolutely loved it. She kept wanting to run more and telling us how much fun she was having! Honestly, that’s mostly what I expected they would think about it (though I would not have predicted the heights of Miranda’s enthusiasm), but I wanted to give them both a chance to try it for themselves and see what they really thought. Miranda has asked me to find some more races we can run together, so I’ll look into that, and I’ll continue to enjoy other activities with Madeleine CaiQun!

My future runs may have to wait a bit – I’m currently dealing with a slight ankle sprain after attempting to run on an incline treadmill, but I’m following my doctor’s advice about that, and hopefully I’ll be back to running soon! I’m planning to do another 5K at the end of May, at least 🙂

What I’m Reading

It’s an icy, wintry day here in Missouri – perfect for curling up on the couch and reading!

I’m actually working my way through a large number of books right now – this is the stack of books in which I’m currently spending my reading time.

One thing I’ve loved over the past years has been building relationships via book discussions. One Thanksgiving, our whole family read and talked about a book. Matt and I have read books together for years. And I’ve loved talking about books with friends – and it is one of the great joys of motherhood for me that my children also love reading and discussing books.

I ordered Mary Oliver’s Devotions for Christmas, and Matt and I have been reading through it together. Her poetry is challenging and inspires contemplation but is also a peaceful resting place for my soul. We’re also reading All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung, a memoir by an Asian-American adoptee, and we’re finding ourselves encouraged to think about what it means to raise our children, particularly our Asian-American daughters, well.

My mom gave Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson, to Miranda for Christmas, and the older girls and I have started reading through it together as our bedtime reading book. Already it has prompted some interesting conversations about friendship, immigration policy, and intelligence.

Madeleine CaiQun received the first five books of the Wings of Fire series from my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas, and both she and Miranda are devouring them. They love them so much that they pleaded with me to read them, too, so I’ve been spending time in the world of Pyrrhia, reading about dragons and their adventures! I’m only on book two so far (Miranda is in book four, and Madeleine CaiQun is reading book seven), but they’re an enjoyable light read. The girls are delighted to have me participating in this reading with them, and I so enjoy that they want to bond with me over our shared experience of books.

My friend Courtney and I are currently reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, a fascinating and thought-provoking story interspersed with philosophical observations. It’s been the springboard for some interesting conversations!

And though these books I’m reading with others are absorbing most of my reading time, I’m also slowly making my way through Suffering and the Heart of God, by Diane Langberg. The question of how an all-sovereign, all-good God co-exists with a world filled with tremendous suffering has long been one with which I’ve wrestled, and I’m appreciating this book’s insights, as well as its counsel on how to love those who are suffering.

I’m enjoying these books – but also looking forward to what I can dive into next! Here are a few of the books currently waiting on my bedside table – gifts from my mom and my friend Marisa and my brother David.

And if anyone else has any great book recommendations – I’d love to have them! I’m always looking for more good reading material.

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!