Friday, December 19, 2008

Homeschool? What's that?

We're several weeks into our visit to America, and homeschool has mostly gone out the window. Or has it? They've been consuming books like crazy (we're in the land of free and abundant libraries!). They've been learning how to play and live in a cold climate. They're developing their relationships with family they see about once a year. Last week they learned how to ski in Vermont. They're discovering what it's like to live in a different culture. So has the learning stopped? No. I guess it's just changed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

BFS #112 - America’s Favorite Dessert - J-E-L-L-O

Intro: America’s Favorite Dessert J-E-L-L-O - What we read affects what we believe. When we feed the Scriptures in our spirit, faith comes alive and becomes a living force within you.

Assignment: Write about your favorite ‘faith food’. Tell about the books of the Bible that you read that help to build your faith. Nurture the seeds of faith inside you. ex: Acorns become Oak trees.

Funny that you ask that this week, because I just made the decision to lead a study on Ephesians next semester at our church. Why Ephesians? Because one of the most significant and life changing aspects of my relationship with God is understanding my identity in Christ - who I am as His child, my authority as a believer, my value and uniqueness in Him. And all of that is wrapped up in Ephesians. Chapter 1 is alone says we've been "chosen, blessed, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, sealed." I also go to Ephesians when I'm feeling spiritual battle, to remind myself that because of what God has done for me, I can stand firm.

Another favorite book of mine is 2 Corinthians. I know, it seems a little random, but it tells us about how God has made us competent in Christ, how He uses our trials to strengthen us and show His glory through us, how God multiplies our giving. Probably my favorite verse is 1:20, "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him (Jesus). That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory." Whatever God promises us, He will fulfill.

I also really enjoy Deuteronomy. I suppose it isn't usually on peoples' favorites list, but a few years ago I spent a semester studying it, and the theme that I walked away from it with was, "Do not forget the Lord." For someone like me, who tends toward self-sufficiency, it's always a good reminder that I desperately need God, and if I feel like I don't, either I'm not stepping out in faith, or I have just lost my focus.

But when I'm discouraged and need some instant juice, I'm most likely to go to the Psalms of David. I love his honesty. His psalms often begin with a lament of, "God where are you? What are you doing?" but they end with, "You're God, and you're good." I want to model the same transparency with Him - not hiding my emotions, not pretending everything is fine, not trying to wriggle out of my difficulties until I'm honest with God in how I feel. I know he can take it. But once I've poured out my heart, I want to honor Him by bringing myself back to the truth of who He is in my life.

Thanks for the reminder of the power of scripture!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Assignment #110 - Computers Help People Help People (IBM)

Share some of your favorite homeschooling sites. The only “rule” for this assignment is that you have to list at least one “free” site. Many homeschooling families have made the choice to live on very little income to do what they believe is best for their children and I want everyone to be able to benefit from this assignment. If you have other sites that are “paid” sites, feel free to include these also as it might be something someone would really appreciate. If you feel led, share your curriculum choices with us. I always love to learn what is out there that I don’t already know about. Please make sure to include links to the sites you share.

Although we live on a limited income, I don't stress much about finding free stuff on the internet. I think that any money we invest in curriculum is well worth it, especially great living books we'll read again and again. But I do love finding helpful resources on the internet for things like art, music, books, etc.

I have spent way too much time finding great sites on the internet - it always seems like one site leads to five more! Sometimes I've felt almost manic as my excitement over finding new resources builds to a boiling point - look at all these possibilities!!! And knowing that other people are posting about sites I might not know yet makes me giddy (but not in the Singaporean way, which means "dizzy").

So here are some of the sites I love:
Vegsource This is actually a vegan website. I am not vegan, but it has a great used curriculum page where I have found many things I need.

The Homeschool Mom This website has lots of fun free things, including a newsletter.

Art Projects for Kids I have had so much fun using this website - she regularly posts art activities for kids that are easy and creative.

Children's Books: What, When and How to Read Them This woman does not appear to be a believer, but I LOVE books, and she has given me a lot of leads on good books for our kids.

Squidoo This is a place where people can upload information about anything, so if you go to the main site and search on homeschool, you'll find over 750 pages! I found it while looking for information on how to lapbook.

Homeschool Share If you're into lapbooks and unit studies, this has a ton of free resources! I am just getting into them, so it's been a good introduction for me.

And one more thing - if you aren't familiar with the Usborne Internet Linked series, you should check it out! We have the history and science books (We use Story of the World for history, which references pages from Usborne History in each chapter). Granted Usborne is NOT written from a Christian perspective, but the kids have loved looking up the links to pages they've learned about. Recently we found several sites from it about the human body that had fun games and interesting videos. Plus, for my very visual learner, it gives great pictures to put with our stories.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Importance of Play

I read this interesting article this morning about the negative effects of school age kids not having enough time to play anymore. If your kids are in school, I highly recommend you read it! One thing it mentions is that the experts feel a lack of play contributes to diminished innovation and creative skills. Let me say that Singapore is evidence of the truth of this article! The kids in school here are pushed SO hard. All free time is wrapped up in "tuitions" (extra classes) with no time to be kids. The result is a society that is intellectually solid, but lacking in creative and initiative taking skills.

I am more and more convinced these days that homeschooling is a great thing. Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't do more work, since homeschool usually only takes up half the day. Reading this article reminded me that all that play time is a necessary part of their development.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Did It Again

I told you that background wouldn't last for long. How could it when they posted a hoard of NEW Christmas templates like this one? I didn't like the last one because you couldn't read much of the text at once, or see a full picture.

So here's a new background, and it's making me excited to head back to the land of snow!

BFS Assignment #109 We Bring Good Things To Life (GE)

Assignment: Share a field trip/lifestyle learning experience where you really felt you were bringing good things to life for your children, where something came alive for them, or ignited a passion.

I'm late with my assignment this week because I've been wracking my brain trying to think of some outing we went on that ignited a passion. We've been on lots of outings. Most memorable includes paper making in Mae Sa Valley outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, taking a kampong tour where we saw how rubber trees produce in Desaru, Malaysia, and touring a granite quarry in Vermont. And our children have many passions, among them writing, reading, Legos, building, archery, fishing, splashing in rivers, mothering (that would be one of Megan's), history, science, crafts, music, and China. But it's hard to connect any of these with a specific outing.

I guess I can see the genesis of one passion which wasn't in a homeschool specific context. Erik took Ethan with him to visit some friends one summer, where Ethan was exposed to fishing for the first time. It's something I never would have done myself because I'm not a fisherman and neither was my dad. But he was hooked, no pun intended.

He could do this all day.

Megan's not as big of a fan of fishing.

This is where we often find Megan with pen in hand, either copying something or composing her own stories.

It's fun to think though that one of these days who knows what experience will spark a life long passion in them. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Whales on Stilts: book review

In my endless quest for information (I'm like #5 from Short Circuit, "Need input!") I stumble across various blogs, which I add to my google reader list. Yours might be one of them, you never know. But anyway, one of them is the site of a woman who regularly reviews kid's books. One of the books she recommended was Whales on Stilts, by M.T. Anderson. So we picked it up last week at the library.

Megan quickly lost interest due to the minimal number of pictures, but Ethan and I enjoyed it. I think you probably have to have a bit of a wacky sense of humor (and I do) to appreciate the way this book is written, but even if you don't, you have to give it kudos for creativity. The plot is somewhat ridiculous, but at no point does it insist that you take it seriously. Ethan easily could have read it himself - though a good sized chapter book, the print was spaced well. But as usual he preferred that I read it. Some of the joking went past Ethan, but it wasn't inappropriate for kids.

It's a fun read aloud, and a great reader for kids who are at a 3rd grade level or so. Ethan's asking for the sequel, which is always a good sign.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

BFS #108 - Quality is Job #1

Intro: Quality is Job #1 (Ford)

Assignment: My family and I rarely do anything apart from each other. We don’t really have quality time together because all our time is together. We feel like the more special moments are when we have dinner together or when we worship God together. For this assignment, tell how you and your family spend QUALITY time together.

I think there's a bit difference between time together and quality time together. I do spend most of my time with my kids, but I know I am not always focused on them. I may be trying to shoot out an email, or distracted by my task list while they are trying to get me to engage with them. I find that the times when I tell myself, "There is nothing else in the world right now that is important other than being with my kids" I feel a great sense of freedom and enjoyment of them. If only I would remember that all the time!

One of the ways we've been trying to pursue making our time together fun and memorable is doing family active games together (this also doubles as phy ed time!). A few weeks ago we had a rousing game of "Run For Your Life!" which is something like what we used to play as kids when we hid, ran for "base" and yelled, "Oly Oly Oxen Free!" Now that I think about it, why on earth did we yell that? Anyway, Run For Your Life was great but now that rainy season has hit, and daddy's had a heavy travel month, we've brought our game times back inside.

The most popular game of late has been balloon volleyball. We connect the backs of two chairs with a rope and hit the balloon back and forth - you probably could have figured that out on your own without my explanation. What's funny to me is that because we basically don't have rules regarding how many times you can hit it, or even having to keep it off the ground, it's really just a game of "keep the balloon in the air." But the kids aren't complaining so why quibble the small stuff? It's become an almost daily activity lately. I confess I leave most of the moving to the kids who are sweaty and worn out by the time they're done, although last night Ethan and I had a pretty heated game that resulted in my arms feeling a little sore.

It's fun to hit on an activity that is quick, easy, and everyone enjoys.

I realize this doesn't look like a family activity - where are mom and dad? Dad was on a business trip and I'm taking the picture. But usually we're all involved!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Life is learning

My first exposure to homeschool came before I was even married. One summer day, feeling lonely, I walked across the street to introduce myself to the family I knew worked in another ministry on campus. The door was answered by a wonderful woman, Dee, who became mentor and friend to me in the next year.

She had three sweet little girls and one on the way, and she homeschooled them. I watched Dee parent them and talk about homeschooling - she mentioned how the smallest thing like seeing a firetruck drive by, or them watching her bake, was an opportunity for learning.

That lesson came back to me today when my son, who had been occupied measuring the living room furniture said, "Mom, do we have to go back to homeschool now?" We had read a book called Measuring Penny about a girl who measures her dog in every possible way, so the kids had grabbed tape measures and were hard at work measuring different things.
I said, "Ethan, you've been doing homeschool!" After all, he was learning, just at home.

One of the things I often hear is, "homeschooling is not school at home." In other words, you aren't trying to recreate what they'd have at school. But my personality demands structure, as does my time conscious son's, so while I want us to have an atmosphere of learning, I do find that I have a starting and stopping point each day. Part of my reasoning in that is that I want my kids to learn structure and how to be engaged in an activity for a prescribed time.

But as I reflect on our detour this morning, or the fact that right now Ethan is learning what happens when you burn rubberbands (yes, with permission - it's science!), or that earlier he observed the water tension on top of a cup of water and spend time reading about surface tension on the internet (more science!) I'm reminded that their learning isn't restricted to "school time."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

* BFS Assignment #107- When There’s No Tomorrow (Mercury) *

Assignment: We only have today. Should God take you today, have you accomplished everything that you wanted to, needed to. Have you said all the things that needed to be said? Let’s have no regrets, let’s make sure we get to those things, so that when we’re standing before the Lord, the only thing we need to do is to worship him.. and not regret not getting to that thing on our to do list. Stop - go take care of that thing…. then, come tell us what you choose to share. Don’t embarrass yourself or any of your loved ones

I'll be honest - when I think about standing in heaven, I have a hard time imagining that I will have any thoughts of this life at all. But if I do, I imagine it will only be not spending more of my energy on knowing Him and making Him known to others.

It's funny that this topic came up, because one night earlier this week, after I'd shut off the light, I scribbled this thought in the dark, "What will I regret doing or not doing in my life?" But the things I wrote down aren't things to be done in a day. They are habits of heart and mind, like, "Making the most of my relationships, especially with Erik and the kids" and, "Spending more time with God than I do on the internet."

This is a good reminder to me today as I am weary from another week of Erik being away, and I'm tempted to find a media babysitter for my kids and curl up in a ball til he gets back. But I know in the long run the time I spend with my kids is something I won't regret. That's why I took this picture of my daughter wearing my shoes - this is my "tomorrow" shot. Someday she'll fill these shoes and the things I do today will impact the woman who fills them.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blogger Friend School Assignment #107 - Have It Your Way

Memory Verse: Isaiah 40: 1- Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Intro: “Have It Your Way” (Burger King) - As cooler weather approaches and the winter eases into our doors I like to lounge by the fire after a hot shower. I love to make soups that are brimming with a rich and full flavor. In our home there’s nothing better than a hot bowl of soup or and a hot cup of coffee or cocoa on a cold winter night.

Assignment: Tell us all about how your have “your” relaxing time, more especially how during the cooler months you take time to curl up with your favorite movie, book, Bible study, and what your favorite warm drink would be.

My passport is ready for pick up. After 10 years my old one was filled with nearly 100 entry and exit stamps and visas, and two sets of additional pages because the old ones were filled. I'm incredibly thankful for all the opportunities we have had to travel, and to live in two fascinating countries outside our home culture.

Yet of all the places I've traveled, if I truly want to relax the best place anywhere is at my parent's house back in Rochester, MN. True, if I want to relax after a tough day a hot bath and a good book are a great thing, as is a cup of Russian Tea (I'll post the recipe below). But there's something about my parent's house that makes every care seem far away. Maybe it's because my parents are easy going people who open their home to others. Maybe it's because there are lots of cozy spots throughout the house, and always a book within reach (my parents gave me my love for books!). Maybe it's because their attention to my kids means I can relax knowing they're in good hands. All I know is that I feel the most comfortable there.

Alas, their house is 6,000 miles from mine. To my joy, in only about a month I will be relaxing there again while winter swirls around outside. We'll have fires in the fireplace and I'll play carols on the piano. We'll go outside and get chilly, and come back inside for hot cocoa. It'll be glorious.

But one thing all my travel has taught me is that even though I can experience great comfort here, it is not my home. C.S. Lewis said, "Our Father will refresh us with many pleasant inns on the journey, but he would not encourage us to mistake them for home." In heaven I will find my truest and deepest rest and comfort. So I guess I'm thankful that I retain this feeling of unrootedness that I've developed from living overseas.

Russian Tea

  • 1/2 cup instant tea powder
  • 2 cups orange-flavored drink mix (e.g. Tang)
  • 3 ounces lemonade-flavor drink powder
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix all ingredients together. Add 2-3T of the mix for each cup of hot water. I don't care much for tea, but I could drink this forever!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blogger Friend School Assignment #106 - M'm M'm Good

Intro: M’m M’m Good (Campbell’s Soup)
The fall is such a wonderful time of year. The beautiful foliage and cool, crisp morning air is such a wonderful change from the hot summer. I also love the M’m M’m good smell of fall cooking and baking. The wonderful fall veggies, fruits and Thanksgiving foods.

Assignment: Post your favorite fall recipe/recipes to share. I love trying new recipes, do you? It can be baking, main dishes, veggies, dessert or anything else you can think of. There are no limits. Mmmmmm..I can’t wait to take a look at some of those recipes.

Fall . . . fall . . . nope, not ringing a bell. Wait, does it have something to do with changing your clocks? Or maybe something about leaves falling? Oh right, fall - that time of year when temperatures dip and the trees are ablaze with color. I used to love fall. I still do, but honestly I can't remember what it feels like. You see, I haven't experienced fall since 2003, before I moved to the land of perpetual summer. So while I would love to hunker down with a big bowl of soup, it's hard to want to do that when it's 90 degrees outside.

But this time next year, I will (barring any unforeseen circumstances) be enjoying some cooler temps again, and I'm looking forward to foods that warm my belly and put me to sleep. Back when I used to cook for this time of year (I did grow up in Minnesota, so I'm no stranger to it) my favorite thing to make was this:

Wild Rice Soup

2 can cream of potato soup

2 pints 1/2 and 1/2 (I cheated with low fat milk)

2 c. grated American cheese

5 slices bacon (can be omitted, but then it's just not as good!)

2-3 T. chopped onions

1 c. wild rice (uncooked)

Bake wild rice in 2 c. chicken broth for one hour. Brown bacon (crumble) and onion. Add all ingredients to rice and heat until cheese melts. Do not boil.

When we lived in China, I bought what I thought was wild rice at the store. I neglected to rinse it, and when I added the milk, I discovered the rice had a dark dye to it, so I had purple soup. I drained and rinsed the rice and tried again, but I still ended up serving slightly purple wild rice soup to all my friends that Christmas. Lesson learned: there is no substitute for Minnesota wild rice, especially not at a Chinese grocery store.

Sometimes, to remind me of fall, I put a pot of water on the stove, throw in cinnamon sticks and whole cloves, and let it simmer. I think I might go do that right now! All this talk of fall has made me nostalgic.

I'm excited to see all the recipes people post and store them up for the future!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Kid Tested, Mother Approved - Gooney Bird Greene

I don't know if I've mentioned this book before, but it's one of our favorites, and the other day at the library we picked up the next two in the series: Gooney the Fabulous and Gooney Bird and the Room Mother.

The kids like the stories because they're fun. I like them because they peak my kid's interest in writing and gives them great examples of how to do it. The first book teaches them how to write interesting title prompts, and to tell stories well. The book we're reading now, Gooney the Fabulous, demonstrates how to write fables. I could have said to my kids, "Hey, let's write some fables" and I know I would have had moans or blank faces. But after reading a few chapters, I suggested we write fables - both of them ran off and wrote one (both with the moral "help your friends"). Megan even wrote two, and one of them we wrote an alternate ending.

The third book at a quick glance looks to be about a play, so I'm hoping we can use it to act out our own little play, or even write one. If you're looking for a fun activity for language arts, or just a fun book to read, these are great.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blogger Friend School Assignment #105 - Never Leave Home Without It

In the memory verse Jesus tells us that He will never leave us, not even at the end of the world. He assures us in this verse that He will be with us and that means through everything we go through in life. I thought it would be interesting to write about the things we would never leave home without. For some it might be baby needs, others it might be a gym bag and bottle of water, and for some it might be your Bible and a notepad or small journal, maybe even your son or daughters favorite blankie! I’d like for you to write about something that you would never leave home without.

For all my organizational skills, this is one area of my life where I'd love to improve - I just can't seem to remember everything that's important to me when I walk out the door! It's probably because I'm impatient and always on the go. So rather than write what I DO take with me, I'm going to make a list of what I wish I DID have with me. Maybe it will inspire me to action:

1. My wallet (which must contain cash, my NETS card, an EZ link card and our library cards)
2. My cell phone
3. a small notebook
4. my pencil case with several pens/pencils, bandaids, lip balm, nail clippers, lotion
5. kleenex and/or wipes
6. sunscreen - I'm on the equator!
7. water and snacks for the kids and me

Wow - now that I think about it, I do carry most of those things with me. My problem is that I have traveled and shopped in too many markets where cheap purses are available, so I'm constantly changing from one bag to another depending on my outing. I would post a picture of my collection of bags, but my new computer doesn't like to read my photo cards so you'll just have to imagine it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Squidoo mania

I suppose most of the people who look at my blog are other homeschoolers who do the Blogger School Friend class, and they all seem to be spectacularly brilliant people who have creativity and wisdom oozing from them. Which tells me that they've probably already found this website. But for those of you who like me, are still figuring out this homeschool gig, here is a GREAT website: Warning: it will suck you in with all the ideas and possibilites. I've bookmarked more pages than I can count, have printed off ideas, have the beginnings of a lapbook on England going from it, a lengthy Amazon wishlist from books I've found there, and a brain spinning with future plans. I'm feeling a bit manic about it to be honest. But what a blessing to find this resource!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Blogger Friend School Assignment #104 - Wacky Week

Have you done something crazy in your homeschool? Do you fingerpaint with your toes? Do you let your children do your hair? Do you wear your pajamas during homeschool? Oh, the list is endless, but it’s up to you and how much fun you want to have.

I'm late in doing my assignment this week because I've spent most of the week sick. And if I'm too sick to write, then you know I'm sick! Armed with a fresh load of drugs from my allergist, today I'm able to look at a computer screen without covering it with spray. Rejoice in all things!

What do we do in school that is wacky? The pure fact that I'm homeschooling my kids feels a bit wacky to me. When I tell people that's what we do for school, I get that brief bewildered look and then the obligatory comment that implies I'm some sort of saint. Well, the Bible does say I'm a saint, but not because of anything I've done, and certainly not because of homeschooling.

But back to the wackiness. Since it's taken me awhile to get into homeschooling, we haven't ventured too far off the beaten path. On occasion we mix things up and write all our subjects on pieces of paper, then pull them out of a hat to see what order we'll study things. The kids enjoy that.

This year I think I've become more relaxed, so we've had days where I said it was ok to watch the Olympics for two hours during our normal school time (it's educational! and the coverage here was incredible). The wackiness for me (which probably seems quite normal to people who've been gung ho about homeschool from the beginning) is seeing all of life as teaching, and not being so wound up about seeing tangible, boxes I can check, kind of learning. That gives us the freedom to follow rabbit trails throughout the day.

Oh, and the best kind of wackiness - the freedom to call a "teacher mental health day."

Monday, September 29, 2008

New background

I told you I would change my background frequently. I actually tried three different fall backgrounds before I settled on this one - it seemed the easiest to read. I have to use things like this to remind me that it is fall. Since we are leaving in less than 2 months to spend many weeks in Minnesota, my kids have upped the number of questions they ask about what it's like in the fall. I think a lapbook on seasons may be in order, though I don't know that it will even help. I'm sure stepping out of the Minneapolis airport into the frigid air on November 24th will be a learning lesson in itself.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What Price Will We Pay?

There are many reasons people use not to homeschool. Maybe one of them is the time commitment. It's true, I'm with my kids most of the day. We have a lot of time with other families, and I try to take time out when I need it, but for the most part my life is them. It's definitely a sacrifice, and I'll admit there have been many times when I wished I had my time back.

But lately several things have made me realize that there is no schooling option without cost. A new acquaintance of mine told me her son is enrolled in the local school system, where, "He hates it. The other kids pick on him for being foreign. He has no friends. He's an outsider." But her reaction is, "That's just how kids are."

Another friend has a daughter enrolled in an international school. She's thinking of pulling her out to homeschool her, because she's not enjoying it. She can't find anyone who shares her faith, so she's very lonely.

Other friends are disappointed that though their kids are in an international school, they aren't being challenged academically at all. They aren't able to work up to their ability.

Singaporean schools end early in the afternoon so that students can participate in "tuitions" which are extra classes, either to help students catch up or to get them ahead. My maid heard yelling a few days ago, and we realized that when we look out and down one floor, we can see a Singaporean woman doing math tuition for 4-5 students. She screams at them when they do wrong, and slaps the table with a stick. Sometimes she slaps them on the arm with the stick (yes, this is acceptable here).

When I look at these situations I think, "Is it worth it to me to put my kids in any of these situations so I can have my time back?" Of course not. Every schooling option costs something. I'm seeing more and more the benefit of teaching my kids at home, and what it "costs" me is completely worth it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blogger Friend School Assignment #103

Assignment: How do you keep energized so you can get it all done? bouncy music? treat it like a workout? Do you use a schedule?, a housekeeping binder system? luck of the draw system?.. or is this an area where you need encouragement? Do you need God’s help to keep order and beauty in your dwelling place? Take this week to tell us how You diligently keep going with your housekeeping chores.

I thought it might come to this at some point, so here goes - my simple solution for keeping myself organized, on top of household chores and meals and everything else that goes into care for my home is this: I have a full time, live in maid.

Now before you hate me, let me explain. I live in Singapore. I've lived in Asia for nine years, and culturally it's commonplace. I had a part time maid for 4 years when we lived in China because it was so cheap it seemed criminal NOT to have one. Here, I held out for four years before my husband's heavy travel schedule and my severe allergy to dust mites (which are almost impossible to control in this humidity) drove us to hire a wonderful Filipino woman who manages my home with songs and prayers on her lips all day.

I am by nature quite energetic and organized, but even so my best system before can't compare to having someone take care of it all for me. I do have to say that having her has made me even more organized - I have to sit down once a week and plan out what we will eat for every meal (before I just did dinners) and I'm now able to finally tackle those around the house clutter projects (like reorganizing my recipes according to what we actually eat!)

Before we had our maid, we tried several different systems, usually settling back on doing a 4 day school week with one day for cleaning. I'd make a list of everything that needed to be done and the kids (who are box checkers) checked them off as we went. I do miss my kids participating in housekeeping (they don't). I need to think creatively about what chores they should still do. When my kids fought before, their consequence was always to do a job together. That doesn't work as well now - I find I have to invent chores for them. But this is hardly something to complain about!

Can we still be blogger school friends now that my secret's out?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blogger Friend School Assignment #102 - Try It! You'll Like It!

Assignment: This week I want you to do something for someone else. Do you have a neighbor that needs you? Do you know an elderly person or single mom that could use you? What about the homeless? Pack even one single sack lunch and give it to someone in need. Do you know someone in blogland that is struggling right now and could use a note from you about how much you care? Pray about this. Let God put on your heart the perfect thing for you to do for another. Now, here is the kicker…I DO NOT want you to post about what you do. Whatever you choose to do is between you and God. Our rewards are in heaven, not here on earth, Mathew 6:1. I want you to post about how doing this “act” made you feel. Was stepping out of your comfort zone in this area as hard as you thought it might be? Could you see the gratefulness in their eyes? Hear it in their voice? Tell it from their typing? Do you think you might make doing things like this a more regular part of your time? If this is an area that you are already active in, tell us how you feel this has impacted your life.

When I was challenged to run a half marathon earlier in the summer, I had just started training for a 5K, and my first run was 1.5 miles. I told my friend, the challenger, that if 1.5 miles was hard for me, I couldn't possibly run 13 miles. Fast forward 12 weeks, and I did it. It just took that time to build up my muscles and stamina.

Stepping out of my comfort zone is like building a muscle to me. What used to make me uncomfortable is second nature now. So honestly, I had a hard time thinking of something to do that would be difficult for me. I prayed about it, and asked God to bring someone to mind. Instead, what he did was bring to mind situations I am already in that require more of me. As I engaged in them, I think this assignment made me more conscious of going the extra mile instead of settling back into my comfort zone. I realize that several things happen when I step out of my comfort zone:
1. I am able to bless people to a greater degree. Of course that blesses me in return - it's what we were made for right? So why wouldn't it be satisfying.
2. I discover what I am capable of. I never knew I could do half the things I do now, but I have found them through stepping out in faith.
3. I find God. Someone coined the term, "God room" which is the space between what you can do and where you want things to be. Only God can get you the rest of the way. It's in that space out of my comfort zone where I'm just kind of hanging that I need him to show up and be my strength.

In so many ways, homeschooling is out of my comfort zone, though as time passes, I am feeling more and more comfortable with it. God forbid though that I ever feel so comfortable I forgot my need for him.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Fruitful Day

Some days in homeschool confirm every good reason to do it. Today was one of those days.

After reviewing our spelling words (because we didn't have time yesterday) we read Psalm 46. We made a list on the board of all the things God is and does in that Psalm. It's so cool that my kids are at a point where they can actually dig into the word! Next we read more about the Samurai for history. I had the kids tackle writing a haiku. I wasn't entirely sure how to teach them, but as I began I thought, "Wow, this is a great way to teach syllables!" Added bonus. I wrote a few haiku on the board, ignoring this one my brother wrote long ago when he was on a haiku kick which kept coming to mind:

Wind blows through the trees
It is blowing in the leaves
Preparation H

That's just a little glimpse into my brother's sense of humor. Anyway, at first they moaned and stared at their paper, but once I gave them each a topic - hippopotamus for Ethan because it has 5 syllables, and cats for Megan. They both came up with some great verse. I told them to take a break and do their readers, to which Ethan replied, "I already read mine!" I told him to find another book, expecting a protest, but he happily grabbed one of our library books. Afterwards, as is my habit, I asked them what the stories were. I was surprised when, instead of hearing, "I don't know" Megan launched into a summary of her chapter. It's those moments that are such a joy!

We moved on to some music games (double bounce - extra curricular and fun!). I showed them the clip from Sound of Music where Maria teaches the kids "Do Re Mi" and then we played some games focused on that.

Next: quick! Outside before it pours to do nature journaling. I love watching my kids doing their nature journals. Back inside for an impromptu lesson on "Why does the wind get so strong right before a storm?" Thank goodness for the Eyewitness Weather book.

Spelling test time is always an anxious one for Ethan because he is not naturally a good speller. But they both pulled off perfect scores and were quite creative in writing their original sentences once I gave them the goal of including as many words as possible (one star for each word). Admittedly, their sentences were a little more creative than made complete sense, but who wants to squash the fun?

Finally, writing. I gave Ethan the task of writing a short dialog. Megan is learning to write paragraphs. She wrote one on what she wants to be when she grows up. She said a homeschool teacher! And also, a taxi driver. Not sure where that comes from.

Sigh. I wish all days could be this easy. I felt like I could see tangible ways my kids are growing, and really enjoyed all the activities we can do together. I have to admit this was punctuated by a few trips to the bathroom (designated discipline room) for some discussions about attitude. But that's character training, and is as much a part of homeschool as anything else. I'm thankful for this encouragement today. Next week, ask me how Monday goes. :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

BFS Assignment #101 - Plop! Plop! Fizz! Fizz! Oh What a Relief It Is!

I have to admit that I think the title of this post is both fun and a bit creepy to me. Fun in that it is a creative way to introduce the topic, but creepy in that it reminds me of the commercials for Alka Seltzer when I was a kid. I was never quite sure what it was for, but it was obviously because you were in great discomfort and the Alka Seltzer itself wasn't going to be a pleasant drink.

Moving past my weird associations, this week I'm supposed to write about my worst struggles with a life style of homeschooling, and how God has given me the strength to get past it.

Have you ever walked through the woods and not known where you were? If you could see from above, you'd know exactly which way to go, but from inside the trees it's too hard to tell. I got lost in the woods once with some friends. We thought we heard voices, and decided to go toward the voices, though we had no idea whether or not those people knew where they were going either. We joked that we would someday, after weeks lost in the woods, nearly succumbing to starvation and wild animals, we would write a survival book called, "We Thought We Heard Voices."

Homeschooling has felt a bit like that for me. It's a journey of unknowns, far out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I feel very alone (especially when few of my friends homeschool). I get tired, weak, and wonder how I got where I am. I think my greatest struggles have been two-fold: First, realizing that I can't MAKE things happen for my kids. They may not want to learn. I may not know the right way to teach them. I can't force things in this journey. Secondly, I have struggled with staying in this place where most of my time is spent with my kids and it takes so much energy, patience, wisdom, and other things I do not always have in abundance. Sometimes it seems like it would be so much easier just to send them to school and let someone else do the work.

But even though I feel a bit lost in the woods at times, I know that God can see the big picture, and He knows the path I should take. He can give me all the supplies I need for the journey. Since I started teaching my kids, a phrase that keeps coming to mind is from a Rich Mullins song, "I can't see how You're leading me, unless You've led me here to where I'm lost enough to let myself be led." I think the greatest blessing of homeschooling for me personally is being forced into this position of humility. Some of can't be led until we get so lost we know we can't depend on ourselves anymore.

I mentioned in my last post that after a few months of homeschool, I wilted in front of God and conceded defeat. That was my first step toward victory. From that point I began to ask God for wisdom and discernment in knowing what to do when my son refused to read, or my daughter wouldn't cooperate. I know that He knows my children far better than I do - what motivates them, how they learn best, what will develop that love for learning in them. I know that I may never see much further than a few steps on this path, but I can trust Him with what's around the bend.

Recently, I had a day when I was already feeling under the weather, and it seemed that the children were particularly wired for irritating each other. The thought that kept coming to my mind was, "Even this, Gina. Even in this I am sufficient. I have more than enough of what you need to get through this day." I kept wanting to argue with God that no, it was just too hard. But arguing with God is never an argument you'll win. I'm thankful for His gentle reminder that no matter how lost I feel, He's going to be with me. He won't let me succumb to the elements.

Just reflecting on this has been a good reminder to me that no matter what the struggles are - be it with my children's attitudes, or my own, God is sufficient. This is an invitation to more of Him, and for that I'm grateful.

Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Blogger Friend School Assignment #100

While perusing other homeschool blogs, I stumbled on this website with this purpose: "BFS is a full school year of fun-filled assignments to Build Friendships, Strengthen Faith, and Journal your Memories! Our goal is to encourage a community of homeschool moms to learn together while writing out special memories."

Well, it all sounds good to me, so here's my first crack at an assignment:

I may be the most reluctant homeschooler ever. Don't get me wrong - I love my kids more than life, and I'm all about investing in them. But I have other interests as well, and I always thought that when they got into school, I would be free again to pursue those interests. I knew though, that raising my children overseas with questionable schooling options meant I might someday, for some period of time, need to homeschool them.

The first time I gave it any serious thought was at a conference for our ministry where I found the book Things We Wished We'd Known. If you're not familiar, it's a book in which 50 veteran homeschoolers share their wisdom. At first glance, I thought, "I'm not one of these people. They have lots of kids, and they live on farms with goats and they seem ridiculously creative and committed to this." I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do with my then 3 year old son. Feelings of fear that I could quite possibly screw up his education by making the wrong choice were beginning to creep into my mind. Living in a country where children are sent to school at age 2 didn't help me feel like I was doing the right thing by keeping him at home and just spending time with him. But that book gave me assurance that at that age, the best thing was to spend quality time with him, and above all READ like mad to him. It also gave me hope that if God called me to it, homeschool might be a possibility.

When we moved to Singapore in 2004, our son was 4 1/2 and it was time, I thought to do something. Since several of the families around us were homeschooling, I thought, "It's kindergarten. How hard can it be?" Famous last words, those. So when he hit 5 1/2 I cracked open our new big box of homeschool supplies and began our journey.

At first I wondered whose children those were in the catalog pictures, with captions about how they love homeschool so much they want to do it all the time. That wasn't us. In fact, after about 3 months, I remember distinctly sitting in a chair in the corner of my room, saying to God, "I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing." And He said quite clearly to me, "It's about time you admitted it. Now let Me help you."

So what began with reluctance has become a journey of dependence. We have good days when I can see that my kids are learning. We have bad days when we cry and get frustrated with each other, and I wonder how much that international school really does cost. We even have great days when my kids DO look like the kids in the catalogs (imagine that!).

We're in our fourth year now, and I have to say that for the first time, as I sat down to plan out our semester, I was excited! And not just about this year, but next year too. Four weeks in, and I am feeling like the steep learning curve of homeschool is starting to level out and I can relax and enjoy the process a little more.

Many times homeschool moms talk about their own poor schooling process as a motivator for teaching their own children. I can't say I had a bad experience, maybe because I was blessed enough to be in a school where children had more freedom to work at their own pace. I do remember being able to work ahead in math in 2nd grade. My teacher did this by letting me take the post test at the end of a chapter. If I scored 100%, I could skip the chapter. Guess what - it was multiple choice, and I guessed correctly. To this day, I am a little shaky on mean, median and mode.

Other than that unfortunate event, I have to admit that my education was good. But when I look at my kids now and think about my own education, the part of homeschooling I enjoy the most is the fact that my kids don't have to deal with all the negative social aspects of school. I wasn't scarred for life by that socialization, but it did little to build my self esteem. When I look at my little girl who is so easily swayed by her peers, I am thankful that I have this time to direct her heart and her friendships in a way that gives her a good foundation.

Fear and trembling, over-confidence, despair, joy, discouragement, excitement, peace, gratitude - I've felt the gamut of emotions through this process. I'm sure there's still more to come. What I know for sure is that right now in my life, this is God's assignment for me. I constantly go back to Psalm 16:5-6 which says, "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup. You have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance." God's assignments are always for our good, leading us into more life. And that alone is enough to make me perseverance.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

If I didn't have these . . .

Last week the printer ink in my homeschool printer went berserk and decided that though it was full, it wanted to say it was empty. Of course this happened while Erik was gone, in keeping with Murphy's Law which operates more strongly when he is away.

It killed me. I can't tell you how many things I wanted to print or photocopy (this was compounded by the fact that the other printer's ink really WAS out). It got me thinking about all the things that I depend on to do homeschool. I made a list this morning, in case any newbie homeschoolers are out there wondering, "What supplies should I have in my homeschool room?" Here's what I can't live without:

1. Photocopier - what did I do before this? I use it almost every day
2. Paper cutter - a big one
3. Giant white board
4. 3 hole punch (yes, though I live in the land of 2 hole punch, I will not submit. I bring 3 ring binders from the States. They just work so much better).
5. A really good pencil sharpener. And a back up in case I can't find the first one.
6. Laminator - I want a bigger one!
7. good art supplies - I've stopped thinking about how much they cost and just get them because they're worth it. Of course as much as I can I still get them in the U.S. where they are a fraction of the cost.

Who said homeschooling was cheap?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Best Laid Plans . . .

I am a planner. In the past I've planned out my homeschool semester using my history book as a guide. I printed out my blank homeschool template for each week, filled in what we'd be doing for history, then left the other subjects to be decided week by week. This is a pretty good approach, since many of the other subjects are straight forward, like math. You just write down the next lesson.

But this semester I had some time (imagine that - this, even before my maid came!) so I decided to go all out and I planned every subject through December, even down to extra curricular activities like art, music, PE and life skills. I felt a great sense of relief, knowing that each Sunday night I just have to breeze over my schedule and see if I need to gather any supplies.

It looks great on paper, until your son decides that his math chapter is too easy and instead of taking a week to do it, he takes a day. Or when he loses the book he's reading, so we just jump ahead to the next one. Suddenly I'm checking things off in next week, and the week after. I could rewrite it, but I know it will keep happening, so I guess we just go with it and see how it comes out in the end.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review: Spell to Write and Read

I wasn't looking for a new language arts program, per se. But I have a boy who is quite logic smart and as a result is not a good speller - it just doesn't make sense to him logically, and the program we'd been using taught rules with too many exceptions. (in other words, their rules aren't very good rules).

So when I was in China last spring visiting some friends and they mentioned this Spell to Write and Read program, I was interested. Each of them though seemed to have a hard time summarizing exactly what the program teaches. This is not a reflection on my friends. It's just a complex program. In fact, if I had just picked up the book without a recommendation, I'm sure I would have dropped it and run.

The premise is that you teach reading and writing by teaching spelling. You teach spelling not by teaching the letters, but by teaching the letter sounds and phonogram sounds. What appealed to me is that the rules are much clearer and there are fewer exceptions - perfect for my logical boy. What also appealed to me is that I did a pretest and found that my kids scored at the same level - meaning I only have to prepare one language arts lesson each day.

I did three weeks of the program in the spring, mostly just teaching the basic sounds of the letters and phonograms to the kids. After that I did another placement test. With a little help using the new rules, Megan scored a grade level higher, and Ethan, two levels higher.

After our first two weeks this fall, things are going well and I'm glad I chose this program. I am not using it exclusively (it is meant to be all inclusive for language arts). I still have them reading other books and doing things with those like writing and grammar, because I prefer that. This program also insists you start cursive first. I'm not being a stickler with that either, because Ethan is already writing cursive, and Megan is writing far beyond her level but doesn't want to write cursive yet.

If you are interested in this book, I highly recommend setting aside a few hours to read through the entire instructor's guide first. It seems daunting, and it's good to have a friend who's done it available for questions, but you get a better idea once you've read the book. In the States I believe there are seminars you can attend to learn how to use it. I know some of my friends in China were able to attend one and said it's a must. They haven't come to Singapore, so I've had to muddle through on my own. But once you start doing it, you see the method behind the madness.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back to School

We started school again this week, and I think it went pretty well. It was a little off beat, punctuated by breaks for watching the Olympics (but hey - there's tons of learning there!) and going to the chiropractor. Highlights of the week included:

1. Something clicked with Ethan on the piano this week, because he opened up the book after not playing all summer (some things you just let go) and played his last piece with little effort. I knew he was encouraged when he went back and played the whole book to that point, and practiced his new song without complaining. Megan is determined to be better. The competitiveness comes from Erik.

2. We started a new language arts program in the spring called Spell to Write and Read. The kids both placed at 2nd grade, 7th month in May, so we started the program a bit into it. Even so, the first day this week Ethan said, "Mom, can you give me something harder to do?" It's fun to see that he's feeling confident.

3. Ethan is highly motivated to write in cursive, and he's quite good at it too. For a boy who, at the end of 1st grade, was still writing in huge block letters, this is amazing.

4. I decided that we'd have a more flexible schedule this year, where each day the kids can choose in what order they want to do their subjects. We just did it yesterday and today but it's cut down grumbling considerably.

5. Megan is turning out to be a bit of a sanguine (where this comes from I don't know). Everything is, "This is the BEST __________ EVER!!!!" or "I LOVE __________!!!!!" We actually heard a few of those comments this week in regard to some of our activities.

6. My personal favorite - today when I picked up the Bible (we've started reading the New Testament) Ethan decided he wanted to read along, so Megan grabbed a Bible too. Ethan stopped me after two verses and said he wanted to read the next one. Of course Megan didn't want to be left out, so we ended up taking turns reading the whole thing. It was wild to hear my kids read scripture like that. When we were done Megan wanted to keep going. I told her she'd just have to wait for our next day of homeschool.

Well, so far so good.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Homeschool . . . it's a lot like running

If you read my other blog, you know that I've been slowing torturing myself for the past eight weeks by training for a half-marathon. I've already posted there about what I am learning from running, but here I want to write about how it has been leading me to reflect on homeschooling. In fact there are several parallels for me in both activities. Here they are:

1. Running and homeschooling both require perseverance. You have good days and bad days, but you don't give up.

2. It's good to vary your activity to strengthen different muscles and keep your body sharp when you run. In the same way, it's good to change things up once in awhile for homeschooling. We do this by adding activities like art, music, science, nature walks, computer. And by throwing in fun games here and there. And my personal favorite, calling a "Teacher Mental Health Day" and doing nothing.

3. When you say, "I can't" what you really mean is "I don't want to." I used to say this about running, but the truth is, I CAN run. It's taken time to build up my stamina, but I can say now that running five miles isn't a big deal.
The most frequent comment I get when I tell people I homeschool is, "You're so brave. I could never homeschool." And really what they mean is, "I don't want to homeschool." That's cool. But don't limit yourself with "I can't." If God calls you to something, you can do it.

4. People ask me if I'm enjoying running. My answer is, "Sometimes." It's true of homeschool too. Sometimes a whole mile passes without me realizing it because I'm just enjoying the time Sometimes I even feel something of a runner's high when I think I could run forever. And there are days when homeschool is great - the kids are happy and learning, and I get comments like, "This was really fun mom!" But there are also days in both activities when I want to drop to the ground and stay there. I keep going because I enjoy the benefits.

5. Snacks are helpful. That's pretty self-explanatory.

6. Rest is good and necessary. I know last year because we started later in the year, we didn't take enough breaks. I tried to plan more free time in this year so I don't stumble over the finish line come June like I did this year.

I've spent a good part of this morning planning homeschool for this fall. I decided to go crazy this time and plan out everything for the whole fall. In the past I just planned history to get my big picture, and planned other subjects week by week. But this year, maybe fueled by my running stamina, I am planning all my subjects through January. I know, it's now how a lot of people operate, but I think my Strengths Finders (communication, belief, strategic, focus, input) would back me on this. It's how I work best.

Gearing Up

I bet you thought I forgot I had another blog didn't you? How could I forget? I've just been storing up the goodness to share with . . . well, whoever's out there.

We've been on summer holiday, which doesn't translate in a country with no seasons. I often have people in public look at my children and ask, "School holiday?" At first I'd tell them we were off for the summer, but it soon became apparent that it was better to say, "Yes, school holiday."

But we've got one more week before we start up again, and I have to say that I am feeling something I haven't felt much before with homeschooling - excitement! It may last all of a week, but for now, I'm excited. I've spent some time over the summer looking through new resource books, looking back through old idea books, and planning out our year. I got some great new materials like nature journals for the kids (we tried those out last week and they LOVED them), and new music and art supplies. I'm also feeling good about this new language arts we started in the spring, which I will have to post about later because it's - well, it's different. I'll leave it at that.

So what color is excitement? Yellow? I'm going with yellow. Color me yellow. I think it's going to be a good year.

" Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. "
-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Favorite Homeschool Resources

There are millions of books out there about homeschooling. Even here in Singapore, where homeschooling is akin to a freak show, you can find books on how to homeschool. My favorite title is "Homeschooling for Dummies." Should dummies really be homeschooling? A question for another post, maybe.

Homeschooling is a mystery, especially for those of us without a degree in education (does having two parents with education degrees count?). I read a few books before I started, but as I flush out what this really looks like, my hunger for wisdom has grown and I've found some real gems that have helped me. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Things We Wished We'd Known: This is a collection of short articles by homeschool parents, many of whom have written the curricula that's out there. Many times I turned to a new chapter, took a look at the giant family in the picture all dressed in their Sunday best, and all clutching musical instruments and thought, "I don't think I fit in with these people." But I keep going back to their advice, because for the most part it is, "Relax. Love God, love your kids. Enjoy learning with them."

2. 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, by Cathy Duffy: This book is invaluable! How on earth can you possibly choose what curriculum to use when there's so much and it all promises to make your children into creative genuises? Cathy Duffy helps you decide what learning style you and your kids have, and then has a chart of her top 100 best reviewed materials categorized by learning style, homeschool style (i.e. Charlotte Mason, classical) and other helpful categories.

3. How Am I Smart? by Kathy Koch: You maybe have heard of the eight intelligences before, but Kathy Koch writes about them from a Christian perspective, showing how sin weaves in, and how we approach God from the perspective of our intelligences, among other things. Did you know that kids usually get in trouble in ways they are intelligent? Oh, so that explains why my logic smart son wants to take everything apart, and why my word smart daughter knows exactly how her words can cut like a knife. On the other hand, she can turn around and say the sweetest blessings to everyone, and he can actually fix those things he takes apart. This has been helpful not only for homeschool but for understanding my kids in general.

4. Homeschooling Year by Year: I just picked this up from Borders, and it's been a very reassuring book. It outlines what kids should be covering in each year of school, so you can see where you might have gaps or be behind. It's particularly valuable if, like me, you don't think public schools necessarily twist children into mindless, insecure, hell bound people, and you might someday put your kids in one of them. It also gives lots of suggestions for other books and resources that are helpful at each level. I'm happy to see my kids are on track and even ahead in some ways.

The Best Advice I Ever Received

Are you ready to hear the best advice I've ever been given about homeschooling? Now, I haven't had all that much (not because I don't need it) because I don't live in an area where there are a lot of homeschool moms who could help me. But this came from a mom whose kids are now in school (one just graduated actually). She said, "Be prepared to waste money."

I can't tell you what freedom that has given me. I started homeschool using Sonlight, which seems to be the place where most Christian moms who are clueless begin. It's a good place to start, because it gives you an idea of what homeschool should/might encompass. But the problem with any curriculum is that it might not work for your kids because of learning style or temperament. Instead of plowing through it, causing hair pulling (you) and hatred of school (your kids) just buy something else. I've been through three science curriculums, two history curriculums, two math curriculums, and at least 3 or 4 language arts programs. Right now in all those subjects, I'm using something that my kids and I love.

So if you're homeschooling, don't feel guilty about leaving that book at page 3 if it doesn't work for you. In the long run you won't remember the money, but your kids will learn, and that's what's important.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wish I'd had this years ago!

Right now my children are drawing. It's a free afternoon, and they are choosing to draw. This is unusual, but I can credit it to a brilliant move my mom made recently by sending an old drawing book I had as a kid. It's called Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals, and they love it. For the first time, they are drawing with confidence and enjoying it. Granted, these are cartoon looking animals, but if I'd had this book years ago, they might be further on at this point in their skills. Certainly in their enjoyment of drawing! I just scanned Amazon and put several more of his books on my wish list. If you're looking for a good beginning drawing book, this is it! Thanks mom!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More books you need

Back when I first knew Erik, he knocked himself off his pedestal just a little bit with this comment, "Poetry is a crock." At that point in my life, poetry was one of my main means of self-expression. I decided not to hold it against him, but instead to enlighten him, shall we say, to the beauty of poetry.

In an effort to avoid the same cynicism growing in my children, I've been trying to expose them to poetry from the beginning. So many recommended poetry books for kids I find just plain weird and not likely to develop anything but a healthy distrust in my kids. But I've continued searching and here are a couple I really enjoy:

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
You've most likely heard of this one, but it's a classic - you have to have it. Also enjoyable are Runny Babbit and A Light in the Attic, also by Silverstein. Erik read the latter and even copied one of the poems down because he liked it so much. Erik! The poetry is a crock man!

Poetry Speaks to Children
This is a wonderful collection of poems read by the authors themselves (the book comes with a CD). I wish they'd make a second version of this. My kids have memorized a few of the poems and they'll sit and listen to it for an hour.

If anyone knows of more poetry collections that are fun, please let me know!

Boredom isn't bad

I used to think that if my kids ever said they were bored, I was failing as a parent. Lately, I've been rethinking that. Although it doesn't please me when my kids say they're bored (which really translates to, "I don't feel like exerting myself to do anything more than stare at a computer or television screen can I please please please?") I think it's actually a good thing.

Being bored is something I think few kids are these days. On top of spending most of the day in school, they get ferried off to extracurricular classes and playdates, and use the rest of the time to do homework, eat, and probably stare at a screen. One of the great blessings of homeschool is that my kids have lots of time to just be kids. If I'm creative and proactive, we can spend that time doing interesting things. But even then, it's not uncommon (especially with dad gone and a sick mom) to hear "I'm bored!"

Like any good mother, when they say this, I usually do one of several things. Most often I launch into a list of things they could be doing. Why I do this, I don't know, because they never, ever respond with, "Gee, mom, you're right! I'll go read right now!" Next I'll say, "Well, I guess if you don't want to play with any of those toys, we'll just get rid of them." Seeing this in writing makes me realize the complete futility of this line of argument. Sometimes I just get fed up and go all grandma on them, "When I was your age we didn't have computers! We had 12 channels on the TV and sometimes there was nothing on for kids! We played outside all day long and we liked it!" And my children stare at me like I was raised on the prairie.

Today, when they gave me the "I'm bored" line I went into the playroom, got out some cars, and made a few ramps. That entertained them for about 5 minutes. I got out another toy, which also entertained them for 5 minutes. Sometimes that's what they want - for me to stop what I'm doing, sit down, and actually play with them. I guess not today though.

But what I'm discovering is that most of the time, when they say they're bored, if I let them be, soon I'll find them doing something on their own. I've decided that boredom is the doorway to imagination. I think it's good for kids to stop being entertained by the world around them, so that they can remember that there's enough inside them to entertain themselves. So here's to being bored.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ah, the freedom

No, I'm not talking about the freedom of summer. You'll know when we hit that because it will evoke an old testament, Davidian dancing in the streets in our underwear kind of celebration. I love my kids, really, but who would rather work than not?

I'm talking about the freedom I'm about to exercise today called "Teacher Sick Day." I just announced to my kids that we aren't having school today because I feel like a lump. I want nothing more than to sleep my morning away, after the accumulation of 2 1/2 weeks without my husband (he streaked through here for 12 hours a few days ago but that was insufficient), an off and on tension headache, and a year of homeschool.

So I laid out the 3 R's for them on the homeschool desk with instructions to do a few things, then entertain (and, they insist, EDUCATE) themselves, with the Jump Start 3rd Grade computer game. Granted, if they were in school I could sleep every morning away. But my responsibility quotient is too highly strung to do that. As it is, I'm barely comfortable doing this, even though we could really quit school right now and my kids would be none the worse for it.

I'm yawning and will soon be incapable of making coherent sentences. Rejoice with me in my freedom to zzzz . . . .

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I'll Make a Writer of Him Yet!

Ethan is not particularly interested in writing, unless it involves making lists of the Legos he doesn't have and how much they are in both US dollars and Singapore dollars. This grieves me, naturally, but I will not give up on developing, if not a love for writing, a competency in it.

I was encouraged on Friday when Ethan willingly submitted to an exercise in making acrostic poems. He did such a great job in fact that I feel compelled to share them. Here they are, with almost no prompting from mom:

Excellent at building
Tough wrestler
Healthy person because I eat a lot of fruit
A smart person
Not that musical

Excellent at reading
Gentle when someone's hurt
Always singing
Not into Star Wars Legos

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Anger and other things we wish we didn't have to deal with

One of the blessings (and sometimes I say "blessings" by faith) of homeschool is that I am able to observe and address the issues that my kids have, be they emotional, behavioral, or attitudinal (is attitudinal a word?). My kids are the kind, bless their hearts, who teachers and babysitters love because they're just so "good." That's because they've used up all their evil on their parents. Or maybe because they don't feel the same kind of freedom to express their evil. Yeah, let's say that because it sounds better. Regardless, just because kids don't misbehave doesn't mean they don't want to. So I guess in that sense I'm glad it comes out at home so I can help them with it.

In light of the current issues in our house, I picked up a book called Helping Your Kids Deal with Anger, Fear and Sadness. Ethan has developed, within the last year or so, what we call the "disproportionate emotional response" when he doesn't get what he wants. Maybe he's making up for the first seven years of his life being easy going, or maybe he's dealing with the great emotional upheaval of our family life in the last year. Again, I'm going with the latter. I've never thought of Ethan as angry, but I think it's because I never identified these symptoms as being expressions of anger: changing the rules of a game, not liking change and being resistant to it, being resistant to learning something new and easily frustrated by it, and being a poor sport. Ethan does all of those, in addition to the occasional new outburst of screaming and getting a little wild with his belongings (ok, I'll say it - sometimes he throws things).

Last night we had a classic exhibit A. My friend Jen whose house we have overtaken suggested a movie night for the kids. They couldn't decide between two, so Jen made a fair and executive decision to choose for them. Since it was the one Ethan didn't want, he lost it. Imagine a high pitched squeal starting from deep within and coming to a high crescendo within 2 seconds, sending everyone around him running for shelter. Me - sigh, "Ethan, into the bedroom." In the end, it all worked out, but it brought back into sharp focus the need for me to be reading this book and addressing his anger.

What's most interesting to me is that in reading it, I can recognize the anger in myself. It should be no surprise to me that what has been true of most of this journey is true in this as well: so many of the issues with my kids have their root in my own attitude and behavior. If you homeschool, or are considering homeschool, you should be aware of this oh so true fact: you will learn and change as much or more than your kids. Be prepared for a mirror to put in front of your face every day. You may not always like what you see, but do we really want to go through life blind to the things that keep us from fully living?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Story of the world

I love history, so I'd probably be into any history curriculum I pick up, but we love Story of the World. We started last year in Volume 1 and are just finishing up Volume 2 this spring. The reading book has short, interesting chapters, often incorporating a folk tale from a particular time period. The accompanying activity book has suggestions for comprehension, map work, crafts, and further reading.

Ethan has inherited my history gene, so I think I could read the whole book to him in one sitting. Megan sees me pull it out and runs, but she's just not that into history period.

We bought the test booklets this spring just to try them out. I don't necessarily recommend them. I think covering the comprehension questions in the activity book will suffice. We use them more as review.

This may be the most dull post I've ever written in my life, but I've wanted to share reviews of curriculum for awhile so this will be the first in a line of many. Hopefully I can instill a little more oomph into future reviews.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Book recommendations #1

I'm guessing that vast majority of posts on this blog will be about books. I think I just heard some people fall asleep. Hey, no one told you that you had to read my blog. I love books. This love was instilled deep into me by my book loving parents - my mom was a librarian. How could I not love books? I'm eternally grateful to them for that. So here are a few books that we've loved as a family recently:

1. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
My mom turned me on to this (of course). It's about a china bunny who is full of himself. He gets lost from the little girl, Abilene, who loves him far more than he deserves. He is passed from stranger to stranger, getting more and more shabby. Along the way he finds his heart. It's a terrific read aloud because the chapters are quite short. Except for the last chapter, which I read two or three words at a time, pausing to collect myself while the kids kept asking, "Mommy, why are you crying?" Yeah, it's that kind of good.

2. Mercy Watson Fights Crime, by Kate DiCamillo
I give the Mercy Watson series credit for teaching my five year old to read. Since the chapters are short and there are lots of pictures, it held Megan's attention while it challenged her with bigger words. As a read aloud, it's quick and fun - what's not to love about a toast eating pig who's treated like one of the family?

3. The Man Who Wore All His Clothes, by Allan Ahlberg
This is one of a series about a funny family, the Gaskitts, that has crazy adventures. The illustrations are great and the story has our kids laughing out loud. They're disappointed that they've read them all already.

All about us

I'm assuming that most of the people who are reading this already know plenty about us. But I'll give a quick "who we are" introduction in this post. To begin, we have our son, Ethan. I refuse to refer to my children as ds and dd. People seem to do that a lot on the internet. I think it's weird. So I will just refer to him as my son, if it's all the same to you.

Ethan turned eight on February 23. He was born in China, moved to Singapore at age 4 1/2, and is still fairly convinced that he is Chinese American. He is an engineer in training, following his daddy. His obsessions are Legos and computers, particularly combinations of the two like the Star War Lego computer game. When it comes to school, he majors in math and science. He's not a big fan of language arts, though he's a good reader. He's an auditory, logic smart learner. He's not much for sports aside from biking, fishing, archery and ping pong. He loves being in the Cub Scouts. He's a pretty even keeled kid who goes with the flow, but he is known to get upset if you pull him away from the computer unexpectedly.

Our daughter, Megan, just turned six on April 15. Yes, I know, it's tax day. But it wasn't tax day in China, where she was also born. I was just glad she wasn't born on the fourteenth of April, because it's an unlucky day there and while I don't believe it, I didn't want the Chinese thinking she was cursed. Megan sings and dances her way through life, currently to the soundtracks from High School Musical 1 and 2. She loves to read and write, but she hates history. She started Tae Kwon Do recently and is in love with it. That's usually the case with any sport she tries. When she irreparably tore a tendon on her toe this year, her only concern was whether or not she could still play basketball. Megan's trademark is her long red hair and yes, she has the temper to match.

I always say that life with my husband is like climbing a mountain - in a good way! You know those amazing guys who lead expeditions up Everest? They seem to have a superhuman strength and endurance. They're encouraging, challenging, and you trust them with your life. That's Erik! He's an adrenaline loving, godly man who has an engineering bent. His current role as an Operations Director means that he's always figuring out bigger and better systems for how things operate - including in our home. But he not one of those "great tech skills poor social skills" kind of people - he's been voted "friendliest in the office." People love him because on a team he's so approachable and capable. Can you tell I'm blessed? He's fantastic, which is a good thing, because I could never do this homeschool gig without his undying support.

As for me, the defining truth I know is that I am a deeply loved child of God, and I try to live out of that as my identity. I want to live a life of humility and dependence on God. That's a big reason why I homeschool - nothing has driven me to my knees more than this!

I am a native Minnesotan with a degree in organizational communication. I am most alive when I am able to communicate the lessons and insights God gives me into myself, into life, into knowing Him. Put me in front of a thousand people with something to share and I will be thrilled. I wouldn't say I'm cut out to be a homeschool mom, but I have my strengths, and I'm learning to rely on God in my weaknesses.

That's it - there's our whole family. No plans for 10 children or a farm. We won't be milking our own goat or making our own clothes. Our kids don't build pretend pyramids in their spare time or play any musical instruments. But they're learning a lot and enjoying the freedom of just being kids, and I'm enjoying a prolonged time with them before I release them into the world.

If you found this blog and expect it to be a litany of the glories of homeschool, you're wrong. What you will find is the honest expression of what we're learning, resources and techniques we've found that are working, and probably some venting.

As if I needed another thing to do . . .

Being a homeschool mom, my time is limited. And yet, I still find time to waste. And time to start another blog. I amaze even myself.

So why AM I starting another blog? Well, aside from the fact that I love writing more than anything, I just felt a moment of inspiration to make a blog where I share solely about our homeschool experience, which I often term in my mind "The Grand Experiment." Homeschooling my kids is something that sort of happened to me by virtue of our circumstances, rather than because I possessed deep convictions about the superiority of homeschool. It is probably the most daring thing I've ever attempted. It has been intriguing, challenging, frustrating, terrifying, and at times quite satisfying. And in the process I've learned a lot about myself, my kids, how to homeschool, and how not to homeschool.

So this blog is partly educational, partly therapeutic. Hopefully with a dash of entertainment.