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.