Homeschool Year in Review – 2015-2016

I didn’t post updates about our homeschooling progress this past year as frequently as I would have liked, largely due to all of the other craziness going on in our lives during the year 🙂 We finished the school year later than I thought we would, but we finished! And I think we finished reasonably well 🙂

Last week we wrapped up our final days of Kindergarten/Pre-K – or at least that’s what we called it based on the girls’ ages, since that’s what it would have been if they’d been in public school here in Missouri, though we don’t really base our curriculum purchases on their stated grades. You can read more about the curriculum we used this year in this post.

Overall, this was honestly a really good school year. I’ve actually found that in the midst of good times or bad, home-schooling gives us the structure we need as a family to function well. We do best when we have some structure, and not only is this structure, but it’s structure that connects us relationally. We read together, we play together, we do science experiments together, and we talk through our drama together. One of the parts we actually most appreciate about home-schooling is that it allows us to consistently work on character issues together. This year we’ve focused on kindness, self-control, and appropriate actions when we feel angry.

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And of course we’ve also spent a lot of time on academics, with much growth evident! One of the most fun areas of growth has been in the girls’ reading ability. Miranda started the year reading pretty simple sections of just a couple pages at a time, and Madeleine CaiQun started the year reading only consonant-vowel-consonant words, and now they’re both ready to tackle (at least) 2nd grade readers! I often hear both of them, Madeleine CaiQun in particular, sitting on the couch reading out loud to themselves, which so warms my heart 🙂 Their love of reading has even rubbed off onto Atticus!

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Both girls have also grown in their math abilities, and we’ve studied and enjoyed learning about different areas of science. Their favorite has probably been studying space – that’s the last topic we covered, and the house has recently been littered with innumerable diagrams of the solar system!

The only area of our curriculum that didn’t really work well for us was the Language Arts package. Because Sonlight’s Language Arts curriculum goes with its readers, you select its level based on your child’s reading level, and my kids’ reading levels and maturity levels don’t necessarily entirely line up! We ended up modifying a lot of its assignments and, toward the end of the year, just ditching it entirely. But for kindergarten and pre-k, I didn’t necessarily think a comprehensive Language Arts curriculum was an absolute necessity, so that wasn’t a huge loss!

It wasn’t all fun and games – one kiddo in particular sometimes tells me she hates school, but in reality, she mostly dislikes the reality that she is not in charge of all things at all times, and that is, well, reality 🙂 And learning about that is also part of home-schooling! And there are times when home-schooling with a toddler feels crazy – that boy is a monkey!

But overall I’ve so appreciated this past year, the chance to read with my kids, to have good discussions with them, and to be part of all that they’re learning. I’m grateful to have another year of home-schooling with these great kiddos under our belts!

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Our Atticus Boy is 18 Months Old!

Our little guy hit that big 18-month mark at the end of last month! He is an amazing juxtaposition of all things little boy – he is sweet and snuggly while also being an adventurous lover of dirt.

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He is resourceful, regularly pulling a chair from the dining room into the kitchen to expand his reach – sometimes to see what he might be able to reach in the China cabinets, but other times in an attempt to be helpful.

IMG_0035He considers the dishwasher his personal domain, certain that he is essential to both unloading and loading it. Fortunately this works pretty well for unloading…

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…though when it comes time for his mama to load the dishwasher, he often finds himself relegated to the Toddler Tula 🙂

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With his sleep, he proves the statement that every child, even within the same family, is different. He has always been a pretty good napper, and while he generally sleeps well at night, he is my only child who, beyond a few months old, would regularly wake in the night not just because he needed something but in order to spend a couple hours playing. We’re hopeful that he’s growing out of that phase!

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He is a climber and an acrobat and a builder of block towers.

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He’s also an avid reader. He loves to listen in on his sisters’ reading, bring books to us to read, and look at books himself.

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Due, in part, I’m sure, to this reading, he seems on the verge of a language explosion. He doesn’t say “this” all that much anymore, but he does have a few other words. His favorite word is “moon,” and he also offers directions with a few words – “up” and “down” and “out.” Before he takes naps and goes to bed, he approaches each person in the room to wave and say, “night night.” In true boy fashion, he had multiple sound effect words – “boom” and “bump” – before he ever said “mom,” but the other night I did get a definitive “mom” from him, which made my day! He also occasionally says “ball” and “dad.” And he makes signs for more, no, and touchdown. He’s a fairly able communicator, employing pointing and grunting in addition to his words, but we are looking forward to his having more actual words!

One effect of his status as a third child is that at even 18 months old, he recognizes Star Wars paraphernalia and, much to his sisters’ delight, any time he sees it, he starts humming and dancing to the Imperial March!

His hair is still one of his defining features – it was the first body part he learned to identify 🙂

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It can be tamed somewhat, though, and he cleans up pretty well! He was the ring-bearer in my brother’s and sister-in-law’s wedding last month, and he LOVED the pocket watch they gave him!

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Though his presence in our family certainly makes life somewhat more complicated, it also brings so much fun. We’re so thankful for these past 18 months with our little buddy, and we can’t wait to see what the coming years hold!

on identity and hope

I’ve been thoughtful, these last few weeks about my identity and about the source of any hope that I have. Honestly, these recent days have been discouraging. Matt and I started winter break talking about everything we’d like to accomplish during these weeks in which he had no teaching obligations and I had no extra baby-watching obligations. At the top of the list for me were getting Atticus’s room more organized, cleaning out my closet, working some extra hours, finishing up thank you notes that I’d meant to write over the summer but never finished for people who helped us after Atticus was born (you know, a mere 13 months ago) , and maybe even reading some fun books or writing some blog posts.

And with about a week of winter break left, I’ve accomplished exactly zero of those things. Matt threw out his back the weekend after Christmas and was in excruciating pain for days afterwards. Just as he was beginning to be able to move around a bit, we were struck with the great plague of 2016 – Miranda woke up at 4:00 am on New Year’s Day with a stomach bug, which ran its course through all 5 of us before departing to the homes of some of our friends (sorry). Due, in part, to those unanticipated events, we’ve been far less productive than we’d hoped during these Christmas vacation weeks.

As a naturally task-oriented person, it’s so easy for me to fall into frustration and discouragement in this situation. I want to catch up on all of these items that perpetually occupy my “to do” list. And while I love my husband and children to no end…

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who could resist these cuties?

…I also like to feel like I exist as my own person, distinct from them and from my serving of them.

I’ve been wondering, lately, how do other moms stay themselves? Particularly other homeschooling moms, who are with their children 24/7 – what do they do? How do they take time away from their families as a blessing, enjoying it but equally enjoying their reentry into family time, taking care of the dishes that have piled up in the sink and the crumbs that have covered the floors during their few hours away, without complaint? What do they do that is their own, not about their husbands and children, and how do they do it while still caring for their husbands and children?

As I’ve contemplated these ideas, I’ve become convinced of a few things –

  1. My life doesn’t begin the instant I move outside of serving my family but exists in serving and loving my family. I can (and do!) find joy in building a train track on the living room floor, curling up on the couch and reading together, tickling my baby, and hanging out with Matt at the end of the day. That those moments constitute a large majority of my time is a blessing and fulfills the calling I believe God has on my life.
  2. In many cases, I can choose the lens through which I see my life and circumstances. I can accept with gratitude and thanksgiving whatever God sends my way, or I can spend my time wishing for something else and becoming increasingly discouraged.
  3. My sense of self and ultimate hope cannot be based in my checking tasks off my list, in meeting budget goals for the month, or any other earthly accomplishment. When Peter exhorts us to be prepared to give an answer to “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15), he’s referring to nothing less than our trust in Christ. If I am binding my sense of self and hope to anything else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Only if I center my life around God and being and doing what He has called me to can I live a life filled with true hope and joy.

Lord, please help me to live a life of gratitude, even if my hours are filled more with cleaning up vomit than with accomplishing tasks on my to do list!

Homeschooling 2015-2016 – Curriculum and Plans

Given that we started our school year over 4 months ago, it’s about time I share a blog post about what we’re doing this year 🙂 When pressed, we say that this is Miranda’s kindergarten year and Madeleine CaiQun’s pre-k year, but for the most part we just work with each child wherever they are and work on learning and growing.

We were super happy with our Sonlight curriculum for two years ago and last year, and we’re using Sonlight as the primary basis for our school curriculum for this year, as well. Sonlight packages together several primary subjects as cores – Bible, History/Geography, and Read-Alouds – which allows you to explore the year’s main theme from each of those angles. This year we’re using Core A, which is Intro to the World: Cultures.

We’re finishing up the 12th week of the curriculum, so we’ve made it through about 1/3 of the material, and we’re really enjoying it. We’re always looking for more good kids’ Bibles, and this one is pretty good. In history and geography, we’ve been able to read about ancient societies (Greece, Rome, and China), and we’re now up to somewhat more modern times (Spanish explorers, Dutch traders, Pilgrims and Native Americans). The books present the material in interesting, age-appropriate ways, and honestly, all 3 of us are learning about these different cultures and enjoying doing it! The read-alouds are awesome, as well. We’ve already read everything from The Boxcar Children to Curious George to Dolphin Adventure to Little House in the Big Woods. My biggest complaint about the read-alouds is that we love them so much that we’ve read through them faster than the curriculum guide dictates, and I’ve needed to supplement them! That seems like the best type of problem to have 🙂 Beyond that the only modifications we’re making have been to the Bible curriculum. Our girls are participating in Awana this year, so they’re memorizing the Bible verses that their Awana groups are working on instead of those from our school curriculum. I’m also supplementing the Bible curriculum by having the girls memorize answers to catechism questions, as well. Going through this book is helping them synthesize some of the Bible information they’re learning, and they are learning about ways in which God’s truth applies to our daily lives from the accompanying stories in the book.

For science, we’re doing Sonlight’s Science A package, which focuses on Biology, Botany, and Physics. I’m pretty impressed with it. There’s interesting science reading, some of which comes with links to internet videos about the topic at hand (Madeleine CaiQun’s favorite part), and each week there’s information about how to do at least one science experiment, sometimes more. In and of myself, I’m not super creative or hands on, so I very much appreciate the activity suggestions!

experimenting to see which substances from our refrigerator will freeze when put in the freezer
experimenting to see which substances from the refrigerator will freeze in the freezer

For Language Arts we’re also using Sonlight packages – Language Arts 1 for Miranda and Language Arts K for Madeleine CaiQun. This is the part of our curriculum about which I’m most ambivalent. This is probably my girls’ least favorite part of our school day – they say they enjoy it, but it’s the aspect of school about which we have the most conflict. I think that is in part because the choice of Language Arts level is dependent upon the child’s reading level, but reading level and maturity level are not necessarily the same. Additionally, there is a big jump in the expectations between the kindergarten and first grade packages, both in the types of assignments given and in the amount of work included. I find myself altering specific assignments in both girls’ programs, and I’ve pretty systematically altered Miranda’s first grade package by removing the spelling component. She just isn’t ready, at 5, to do a spelling program, and she really doesn’t need to be – she’s only 5! I actually suspect that she’ll pick up these spelling words without any effort just given some additional time reading, and if she doesn’t, we’ll come back and pick them up later.

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What I do really appreciate about the Language Arts program is that it has been a great tool in teaching both of my girls to read. It moves slowly enough that they build a lot of confidence in their reading abilities as they go, but it also introduces them to increasingly complex words, so their abilities really are growing. On top of that, because the Language Arts and the reading aloud portions of the curriculum are linked, the Language Arts concepts we discuss often show up in the reading, giving the girls experience dealing with punctuation, compound words, etc. as we discuss them.

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Both Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun love reading out loud and are continually growing as readers, which is so fun to see. And we do have some fun Language Arts activities, as well. Both girls love playing Sight Word Bingo!

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All that to say, Language Arts is going pretty well this year, and everyone is definitely learning and growing, but I probably will explore what other options we might have for next year, just to see if there’s something else out there that might work even better.

The last piece of our main daily curriculum is math, and we very much enjoy our math curriculum! We’re continuing with Singapore this year – grade K for Madeleine CaiQun and grade 1 for Miranda. Both girls love, love, love math – most days I have to cut them off and announce that we need to move on, or they’d just keep working their way through lesson after lesson.

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It’s really fun for me to see them growing in their understanding of numbers, simple addition and subtraction, and other math concepts and truly enjoying it all. It happens quite often that Miranda will run up to me and announce excitedly, “Mom, I thought of a number sentence for you!” She’ll tell me an addition equation, smile, and run off to play again. We’ve also been playing some games like Shutbox, in which they can practice their addition skills without even realizing it, and they could not be happier.

Overall, we are really having a great time with school and with these materials in particular. We love the reading – frequently my favorite part of the day is curling up on the couch with the girls with some books. The girls are learning about science and history, they’re learning language skills, they’re learning to read, and they’re growing in their math abilities. It’s so encouraging for me as a teacher to see them developing in all of those ways, and I pray these years of quality time plus foundational development will be a great blessing for them in the years to come!

Summer 2015 Goals – Mid-Summer Update

It’s the middle of July, so we’re about halfway (or more!) through the summer, so I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how I’m doing with these summer goals! See my initial thoughts about this season’s goals here.

1. Work with the girls on moving toward learning how to swim.

Yes! We joined a pool, and we’ve been going multiple times every week, weather permitting. Both girls did great with their swimming lessons and definitely grew in their comfort with being in the water. Miranda in particular has been growing by leaps and bounds even since then. Earlier this week she was celebrating her ability to put her head under the water unasked and without plugging her nose by doing it over and over again. I’m really happy that they’re making progress toward swimming, and we’re all enjoying our pool time!

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2. Be consistent in working with the girls to develop self-control, kind words, and gentle hands.

We’re working on it! One encouraging development has been that we’ve been having some times in which the girls are really playing well together without my constant refereeing. I’ve been honest about the fact that we’ve been in a difficult season of parenting, and it has been very encouraging to me to see these glimmers of hope.

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3. Work through 4-6 weeks of school curriculum.

We’re doing pretty well with this! Our summer has been pretty laid back so far – on most days we work through half of a day’s worth of curriculum, so we’re almost halfway through our 3rd week, which puts us on track to have about 4 weeks finished by the end of the summer. I’d love it if we were closer to having 6 weeks done, but really, we’ve been enjoying our weeks of summer, and we’re all learning and growing, so I’m not going to sweat it 🙂

4. Get set for a mobile baby – and some days, 2 mobile babies! 

We’re working on this – in actually a much bigger way than I’d anticipated. I mentioned to Matt one day that I had an ideal vision in mind of what I’d like to do, but I wasn’t sure what to do in the meantime. When I told him about what I really wanted to have long-term – essentially floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves in the playroom – his immediate response was that we should just build that now!

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We (and by “we” I really mean Matt) are actually quite a bit farther along than this picture shows. It’s all coming together really nicely, and it’s going to be such a huge help to me!

5. Organize the playroom.

See above! Right now the room looks like a total disaster – toys piled on top of each other, tools all around – but we’re making real progress, and I’m excited about the room’s potential.

6. Blog!

I have pretty much dropped the ball on this. Between the playroom bookshelf project and doing some extra work to train a friend who is starting to work for my company, our last few weeks have been very full, and there just hasn’t been much free time. I’m hoping to get a few more posts written during the last half of the summer, though!

7. Read more, in particular the parenting books I ordered this spring.

I’m working on this one! After finishing No Drama Discipline, I started Ruth Beechick’s The Three R’s, and I finished that a couple weeks ago, and I’ve now started How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which I’m enjoying. Matt bought me Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Oprhans Taught Me About Moving Mountains for our anniversary, so I’ve also been reading that. Its author founded Half the Sky, an organization that worked in the orphanage Madeleine CaiQun lived at, and I’m so thankful to them for the benefits I know she received from their care. My heart is feeling increasingly drawn back toward adopting from China again.

8. Make it a priority to have fun. Say yes to things like walks, time at the park, and time at the pool.

We’re definitely having fun this summer! Spending time at the pool has been a big way in which we’ve been doing that, but we’re also having popsicle picnics on the porch, reading books, doing science experiments, and just playing together. This afternoon the girls and I rolled around on the living room floor, and I tickled them and gave them airplane rides – we all had a blast simply playing, and this evening at dinner all of us listed that as the “high” from our day.

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9. Enjoy Atticus.

Of course there is always more I could be doing to enjoy our little guy, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of taking time to snuggle him, play with him, laugh with him, and generally enjoy him. He really is such a sweet little boy, and even though parenting kids over a larger age range feels like more of a challenge than just having our close-together girls, this boy is such a blessing for our family, and I’m so thankful he’s here.

10. Write in each child’s journal at least once.

So far I’ve written in Atticus’s journal but not the girls’ – I need to get to theirs soon!

11. Finish writing and sending thank you notes to people who blessed us around the time of Atticus’s birth.

I’ve written a few more of these but still have a lot to do.

12. Go on at least 2 dates per month with Matt.

We did this in June, and we’re scheduled for another date night this week, so I just need to plan one more for July, and we’ll have hit this goal for 2 months in a row!

13. Replenish our savings.

We’re working on this! Thus far it hasn’t been so much of a replenishing of savings as much as earning enough to keep up with the playroom update expenditures, but we’ve been able to do that, so I think it’s a win so far, and I think by the end of the summer we will have been able to put more money away in savings.

14. Build a more consistent prayer life.

Honestly, working toward this goal has been one of the most encouraging parts of my summer. I think, as a mom of littles, I am constantly seeing new areas in which I need not to let the “perfect” become the enemy of the “good.” What I would like for my prayer life is to have a long period of totally uninterrupted time each day to read my Bible and actually write out prayers to God in a prayer journal. That just isn’t going to happen right now, but that doesn’t mean I should throw in the towel. I realized that I do have multiple periods of the day that are quiet and somewhat solitary – when I’m nursing Atticus before he takes naps and goes to bed at night. After he would start to drift off to sleep, I’d been using those times primarily for checking my Facebook feed, but, wonder of all wonders, when I made Facebook less of a priority, there was more room for prayer! I’ve also been re-reading David Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes with some friends, and I’ve found his words about prayer to be particularly helpful and encouraging. I’ve also been faced with daily reminders to pray as a young man from our church came down with a sudden illness a few weeks ago and had to be life-flighted to a hospital 2 hours away and is still fighting for his life there, and our church family has been praying for him continuously. I’m praying more often with more depth and am feeling anew my dependence on God and the contentment that comes with that realization.

Overall I’m pleased that I’ve been able to make progress (or recruit my husband to make progress!) on a number of these goals, and hopefully I’ll have more progress to report at the end of the summer!