Summer School 2018 and Why We’re Schooling Year-Round

We finished up our 2017-2018 school year last week (blog post on that coming soon)…and so, obviously, the thing for us to do this week was to jump into our summer school routine!

In general, we’ve done school year-round, sometimes in different ways and for different reasons, but we’ve found it works really well for our family.

First, it allows for us to have a generally consistent structure to our days. Our kids don’t do well with extended periods of time of no structure. And, to be honest, really don’t do well with extended periods of time of no structure. We lighten things up over the summer, but we can keep our general structure pretty similar to what we do during the school year. The day starts with math and handwriting over breakfast, and then everyone gets a bit of play time before we tackle anything else, and we do some more work before and/or after lunch. The little kids are continuing to be exposed to the idea that they have some choice in what we read, but I get to read the books to them, and we all sit on the couch and read together for a period of time in the afternoon.

Second, it allows for us to continue to work on building skills that would otherwise stagnate or start to decline if ignored for months at a time. We’re continuing on with math, handwriting, reading, and Chinese, all areas in which I think it would be harder for my kids to jump back into their work in the fall if left alone all summer.

Third, we can pick up some study in areas in which I want to prepare more for the fall. We’ve jumped around a bit in terms of our Language Arts curriculum over the last couple years, and we’re going to try Sonlight again in the fall, and I think I need to work with my girls a bit on writing before we start that program. With the little kids, I want to work more on letter recognition over the summer.

Fourth, a lot of the rhythms of our lives just incorporate homeschooling. Matt and I usually read out loud to the big kids before bed, and a lot of the books we use are our Sonlight read-alouds. That’s part of the rhythm of our family life, not something we want to drop just because it’s summer time. Similarly, we’re attempting to cultivate a lifestyle, not a checklist. Yes, my kids are required to read every day…but we want them to read because they have a lifestyle of learning, not just because any given day is classified as a school day.

Fifth, schooling through the summer gives us so much more flexibility during the year. If we’ve continued on with even a portion of our school work during the summer, I don’t feel at all bad about taking days off to go to the park or visit friends and family during the school year, and our many doctor and PT appointments don’t throw off our school schedule. We can create a schedule that works best for us and includes a good deal of flexibility, because we’ve already done a lot of school work, even before the official school year starts.

Of course, we’re also spending a good deal of time just playing outside, going to the pool, and generally enjoying life and the blessings of summer! But summer school is also part of our family’s summer life, and I’m thankful we’ve gotten started on that 🙂

Witnessing the Power of Connection

Matt and I have, for years, embraced the parenting philosophy often known as trust-based relational intervention (TBRI) or, to use more commonplace terminology, parenting with connection. One of the tenets of this philosophy relates to the idea that corrective discipline should be designed to teach, not to punish. That part is easy enough to grasp (though sometimes difficult to practice!), but one element of the philosophy that has taken us longer to really understand – and to implement – has been the importance of the work of relationship-building outside of situations of conflict.

If we want our kids to respect us and be willing to work with us when the heat is on, we have to make the investments in our relationships with them ahead of time – not to mention that relationship investment is just a huge part of loving someone. In some ways, we’ve been doing that from day one. Wanting to have relationships with our children is one of the primary reasons we homeschool, and I obviously have a great deal of time with all of our kids during the day. But the fact is that we’re also very task-oriented during much of that time together. During school time we are, obviously, doing school. I take one child with me each week to go grocery shopping, and we do get some good time together while we’re out, but the focus is still on the task of grocery shopping. Honestly, with four kids, it’s hard to make time for pure, individual relational connection, but we’ve known for a while now that it’s important, and we’ve been trying to make time for it. I’ve been doing some one-on-one dates with kids, and I’ve tried to find other opportunities for individual connection (or connection with smaller groups of kids) throughout the day, and that has been so good. Sometimes it looks like asking a child to go choose a book to read together. Sometimes it looks like playing our Teddy Bear Memory game together. Sometimes it looks like letting a child choose something to make with me in the kitchen.

And it has brought me so much joy recently to see growing moments of connection between Matt and our kids and to witness the fruit of his growing pursuit of them. One night, as he and I discussed ways to cultivate empathy in and connect with our big kids, Matt proposed that we start reading through The Chronicles of Narnia with them, as he remembers reading those books as a touchstone of his childhood. As he reads, Madeleine CaiQun curls up next to him, and both girls are so excited for all four of us to be reading these great books together. They’re really into the stories, and they love that connecting time.

And the other day, one of our kiddos was having a difficult time after really working hard on some challenging math concepts. She was totally dysregulated, unable to play well with the other kids, and uninterested in engaging with me or working on her own in any suggestion I made. Matt asked her to come down to the studio and make some artwork with him. Half an hour later, she emerged, totally regulated, with artwork to distribute to everyone as gifts.

We are seeing more spontaneous affection, more willingness to work through periods of dysregulation – and more connection in general. Those moments of investing in relationships with our kiddos are so precious and so important!

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!

Cultivating a Love of Reading

One reason we chose to homeschool, and one reason we ultimately chose to purchase most of our curriculum through Sonlight, is that one of my hopes for my children is that they learn to love reading. Part of that is because I recognize its benefits – reading fiction can help develop empathy. It can help you cultivate a deeper spiritual life. But another huge part of it is that I love to read, and I love to connect with and share passions with my kiddos, and I’ve always hoped we’d be able to read and talk about books together.

Within the last year, I’ve been overjoyed to see my big girls developing an increasing love of reading. Madeleine CaiQun can often be found curled up on the couch with her nose in a book, and especially within the last week or so, I’ve started to see Miranda reading more and more on her own, too.

I actually feel myself rebelling and turning into more of an “unschooler” than I ever thought I would be as I realize how ridiculous it would be to pull my child away from reading a book she’s loving in order to insist that she read the exact chapter from the exact book our curriculum has assigned for the day. I’m definitely not actually turning into an unschooler (a perfectionist and a rule follower and a checklist-lover to my core, there’s no way I could actually “unschool”) – but if Miranda wants to spend 3 hours reading The Wizard of Oz, I’m certainly not going to pull her away from that! In fact, I may need to start stocking up more on these early chapter books that my girls can tackle on their own and really enjoy! Readers, what are your favorite third and fourth grade reading level books?

One of my goals for my littles for this school year has been to read more to them, and though they sometimes insist that they’re going to read their books “by myself!” they come running (or scooting) over any time I sit down on the couch and start reading one of their books out loud 🙂

And I absolutely treasure my moments of quiet with the big girls at bedtime – this is one of my favorite times of the day. We save our read-alouds to do together then, and we snuggle together in my bed, and I read to them.

I definitely have moments in parenting of feeling like nothing is going right, and I can do none of the things well, but days when I see my kiddos reading and when I get to read with them are an encouragement to my soul.