Friday, December 4, 2009

On reading to little (and not so little) ones

When Ethan was young, I wondered what I should be doing with him, given that we were living overseas and the options were not as obvious. The older homeschool moms and educators I met all said one thing, "Read to him. Read as long as he'll listen." Thankfully, that turned out to be a lot of time, as Ethan's attention span is vast. That helped a lot when I was pregnant with Megan and couldn't do much! We would grab a pile of books and read for up to an hour.

There was always a nagging voice in my head though that said, "Shouldn't you be doing MORE with him though?" Then today I found this article which encouraged me once again to say "no" to that little nagger. It also reminded me that I should never stop reading to my kids, even if they can read to themselves. Have you read to a kid today?

Saturday, November 21, 2009


When he was in high school, my brother got on this haiku kick. He wrote a lot of them. Here's one I remember:

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

If you don't know my brother, well, you should. Because he's funny like that.

Friday is poetry day in our homeschool (at least in theory, if not always in practice) so I chose haiku this week. Thankfully I had other examples to present to the kids. I didn't have high hopes for our time because the kids generally gripe at writing (which kills me, the obsessive writer). But I was more than pleasantly surprised that not only did they write quickly and creatively, they enjoyed it! Ethan even did two. Here they are:

Spring (by Ethan)
Warm in my jacket
Snowmen melting in the sun
Goodbye to the snow

Summer (by Ethan)
Shining sun so hot
Hot sand and salty water
Good fun at the beach

The Rose (by Megan)
A beautiful rose
shiny and red, blooming bright
with velvet petals.

Not bad for first goes. At least they stuck to nature instead of medicating cream.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Homeschool from the couch

I've been feeling a bit under the weather lately, having contracted the cold my kids had last week that kept them home from co-op. Yesterday it kept me home from co-op, and today it's keeping me on the couch.

No matter - thankfully the kids can do a lot of their schooling with a measure of independence, and when I can't be fully engaged, we pare it down. (Pare - that was one of their spelling words a few weeks ago. Good to see mom learned it too). So while I lay here, they peek in the door to the living room and say, "What next mom?"

It's not the education I'd like them to have for the long haul, but it gets the three R's done for today.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

There's no crying in homeschool!

I just started teaching a friend's daughter to play piano. She's highly motivated and eager to please, so she's progressing quickly and our lessons are pleasant. One of the biggest reasons is because there is no crying. When I teach my own children, inevitably there is crying because they are frustrated that they cannot immediately play a new song well. It is, in fact, one of the most difficult parts of homeschool and the one I am most likely to farm out to someone else.

The other time we're likely to see tears is the spelling test. Our kids both have perfectionistic streaks (hmm, I don't have to think long to figure out where that came from) and are competitive with each other. Add to that the fact that they are in the same level for spelling, and it means that if one of them gets one wrong (and the other doesn't), there are tears. Like right now. Ethan is in his room crying because he got 4 wrong out of 40 today - all careless mistakes he would not have made if he weren't trying to best his sister. He started the test before her, so I was giving them different words, and of course Megan was trying to catch up and Ethan was trying to finish first. Ok, so my bad and we won't ever do that again, but the crying is a little much.

Whenever there are tears, I think of that line from League of Their Own, "There's no crying in baseball. There's no crying in baseball!!" And I think the same of homeschool.

But the reality is, there is crying, and I think it's probably good. It reminds me that what I get from having my kids at home with me is them being real. If they were in school, I doubt they'd cry. But they'd probably want to, and instead take that hurt and not be able to express it. It might come out later (probably in some other way that would make me think, "What on earth happened at school today?") or it might not. Whether it's tears, rudeness, anger, frustration - I'm glad it comes out at home, because I can actually address it (though the fact that I'm typing this instead of talking to Ethan shows I don't always want to address it right now). Yet another benefit of homeschool.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Psst . . . your personality is showing

Our kids are currently hard at work drawing pictures of Native American housing, and the difference in their personalities couldn't be more clear. Ethan is busy replicating a Cahokian temple with his ruler, measuring the pictures and then drawing it carefully. Megan is drawing teepee after teepee so that she can continue decorating them in creative ways. It's fun to see their personalities come out in their work!

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's that time again

Being away from the States this time of year makes it hard to feel like I should be starting up school again. There are no constant reminders in the stores to buy back to school supplies, though there was one "back to school" sale wall at Carrefour yesterday. It included things like a 10 pack of chopsticks for 2 kuai, two microfiber cloths for 15 kuai, and garbage bags for 1 kuai. What do Chinese kids do at school?

The only thing driving me to start up again basically is the calendar. We will be traveling back to the States again this year for a few months, and I know the chances of us maintaining school time while we are there are slight, I thought we should get an early start so we don't have to do "year round school" come next summer.

We are schooling in a new location this year - new country, new apartment, new school room. This one has a rounded wall of windows that looks out over our little plot of backyard and across to a beautiful park. It's really quite a lovely view! We've filled our room with bookshelves, a table that folds flat on both sides, a tall IKEA desk, and two oversized bean bag chairs. Oh, and a hamster. I think she's going to go in Megan's room though because she's not contributing. After only two days she is the pint size equivalent of the ADD kid in the class - run on the wheel, chew on the bars, climb up the side of the cage, fall down, repeat. A bit distracting.

We're back to using Sonlight this year for history. We'll see how it goes, because so far it doesn't take much time at all. That leaves room for creativity in adding other projects and reading which is fun. We're going to supplement with the Homeschool in the Woods Colonial Life lapbook so there's a start.

In a few weeks our co-op will start and I'm very excited! We haven't been part of a regular, structured co-op before. Since I'm new I don't have to teach - just assist - but I'm already thinking ahead to what I will teach in the spring. I think we're off to a good start!

Friday, June 26, 2009

So this is what it would be like . . .

I just heard Megan's sweet voice on her way out the door, "Bye mom!" It's 8:06 a.m., and truth be told it's a late start for her. Usually she and Ethan and their friends are outside playing by 7 these days. Partly it's because they're all early risers, partly it's because the daytime highs here are in the upper 90's so they have to make the most of the cooler part of the day.

Yesterday the kids were out the door at 7:30. I saw them again at 4:30. They ate lunch at a friend's house and then she took them to the mall nearby for some play place and ice cream action. I was feeling a bit under the weather and I have to be around to check on the progress of our apartment painting, so I'm grateful for her ministry to me.

I've been reflecting that this is what it would feel like if they were in school. Out the door at 7 or 8, back home at 3 or 4. To be honest, I don't like it. Certainly I am thankful that they have loads of time with good friends, but I can see the impact of less time with me. In fact, one of the other moms and I made an agreement that the kids would have "quiet home time" every afternoon after lunch so that we actually get to see them! But also to have quality time with them. So we spend it reading good books and playing games (usually "Ticket to Ride" which is our favorite).

It's funny - I always have had a curiosity about what it would be like if my kids were in school. I thought I'd love the freedom, the alone time. I do of course, but I never realized how much I'd miss my kids!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Home Stretch

When I ran that 10K in March, the torturous part of it was that in the end, we ran past the finish line half a block away on our right, but then had to continue running around a giant city block in order to reach it. The block was an open field, so we could see the finish line the whole time, but still weren't there. When I finally got to that last 1/2 block, I had intended to give a last burst of energy to knock off a few seconds. But, whether it was the fact that I saw I had run much faster than anticipated, or the fact that I just had nothing left, I slugged my way to the end.

That's about how I feel right now with homeschool. We have just three weeks left (technically we should have four if we're trying to do a 36 week year) before the movers come and take us to another country. I decided that trying to do anything that week or thereafter would be akin to trying to swim upstream.

What's making it difficult to continue is that a) the kids are well ahead of where they "should" be for their grade levels in most subjects, and b) I'm just kind of tired of this, and so are they. We are basically finished with our history book except that we kept out the chapters on China so we could have a China unit before we move there. We've come to the point in our Bible reading where the Acts of the Apostles are just a little boring for a 7 and 9 year old. I just decided that I don't like the language arts we've been doing and picked up a new curriculum (I know - three weeks out, what am I thinking?!?) but don't want to dive in yet. Piano needs some time to simmer. Can you see why I'm slowing down?

It's probably a good thing, given that the next few weeks will be crazy with doing last minute things, but I had hoped to finish well, not just stumble over the finish line. But so it goes.

Monday, April 6, 2009

You just never know . . .

When it comes to curriculum, most of the time it feels like a shot in the dark. I'm always surprised by what connects for my kids and what doesn't. But when I come across something that does, it's such a joy to watch them light up and take off.

This week, it was Megan. I found this story starters page on Scholastic, and showed it to the kids. Ethan basically shrugged and walked away, but Megan sat down and had me type out a two page story about hamsters who climb Mount Everest. Then she wrote a letter to a friend about a stinky cowboy who sings. Today, she couldn't wait for homeschool to get over so she could do more. She wrote four stories on her own!

I've been trying to get the kids to write stories all year. They're ok with it, but never has one of them jumped on it like this. You just never know what's going to catch their interest.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Different Skill Set

My kids couldn't swing on their own until they were about 6 years old. I think that's probably later than usual, but in their defense, they didn't have much exposure to swings until that time. Asia, particularly China, is relatively swingless.

On the other hand, our kids are fairly adept at using chopsticks, they could swim like fish at an early age, and they can navigate airport security and customs without assistance. Overseas living develops a different skill set.

So I just finished yet another (and I think finally successful!) lesson in "How to Tie Our Shoes." It's hard to believe that kids who are 9 and almost 7 don't know how to tie their shoes, but consider this: aside from the annoying habit of shoe companies making shoes with velcro almost exclusively, our kids have spent the last five years in a country where only sandals are required. On top of that, they are homeschooled. They are barefoot most of the day.

Our two months spent in the States last winter, finally wearing something other than sandals with consistency, convinced me that it's been long enough. It's just in time too, since we will shortly be moving back to China, where there is more shoe variety.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Red Letter Day

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been praying and thinking a lot lately about how to encourage our kids to reach their potential, and for wisdom in knowing what that is. It's been on my heart because Megan is highly self-motivated and is whipping through her school work with lightning speed. She's easily 2 grades ahead of herself, and catching up to Ethan in most subjects. Ethan is somewhat bothered by this, but is unmotivated to work harder than he does.

So part of my prayer is seeing where Ethan is excelling so I can affirm his strengths. Yesterday it was easy to do. The previous day I had the kids practice printing s, e, r, and a, because they had both become a bit sloppy in them. Ethan took it to heart, and yesterday his printing was excellent! You could see he'd really put in some effort. Later, I had the kids try to copy Monet's "Impression: Sunrise" painting (which I love). I gave them chalk pastels and said, "You don't have to copy it exactly. I just want you to try to follow the colors he used and blend them like he did." Ethan came in later with a picture that looked strikingly like the original! We ended our day finishing up reports we are doing for presentation day Friday. At first Ethan was stuck, not sure how to put his notes about hippos down on paper. When I took over typing for him, he was able to organize them into a paper more easily. He then got excited about printing hippo pictures that corresponded to his work, and pasted them into a folder with a introduction on the front and his paper on the back.

It was an encouraging day for me as well as for him. I feel like God opened my eyes a little to how well both our kids are doing. It's probably been there all along and the difference is that I was looking for it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How much is enough?

So, what curriculum would you recommend for a 23 month old?

That's the question someone just posed on the homeschool website here. I have to shake my head at this, but from a cultural standpoint I can understand the pressure this mom feels. Kids start school full time here at age 2, going through four years of preschool before primary 1.

When Ethan was young (starting around age 3) I did start actively focusing on teaching him things. Each week I chose a theme like "Space" and searched the internet for activities and books we could use covering that topic. But the focus here is much more academic. If kids aren't reading fluently by age 4, parents feel they've failed.

My homeschool friends and I have been talking about concept lately - where should our standard be? It seems the international schools here (the ones that are "IB" accredited) have standards that are off the charts. Kids are pushed to the limit. Then I hear that schools in the US are sub-standard, not challenging kids enough. I have spent a lot of time in prayer lately, asking God to show me just where our schooling should fall. I want our kids to be challenged, and to reach their full potential. I need God's wisdom in seeing what that is, and I know that He will show me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What a homeschool mom thing to do

I just lost something that I've had for more than 20 years. It was a silver filling. It had to come out because it was in a tooth that has had a crack for 15 years, and the crack finally formed a cavity. My dentist deemed it necessary to take out the silver part as well to make sure he got the entire filling. My thoughts went like this:

Cool! I'll ask him if I can keep it, so I can take it home and show the kids. We can talk about how they used to make them that way, but they've made them better now. We can talk about how technology changes over time. I can use Megan's Playdough Monkey Dentist to make a tooth, and show them how he drilled out the old stuff and filled in the new stuff.

When he was done, the left side of my face was so numb I looked like a stroke victim, or like someone who's had too much Botox. That was the part that was most interesting to the kids when I got home, so much so that Ethan took a picture, which I would post but the batteries in the camera just went dead.

Is that a homeschool mom thing to do or what? Turn everything into a learning experience. I seriously thought about bringing them so they could watch, but I thought they'd either be bored or terrified. That's the fun thing about homeschool though. Learning isn't just about academics. It's about learning character, life skills, relational skills, how things work, why we do what we do, what the world is like. There are just some things that are learned better outside of the classroom.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dabbling in art

One of the subjects I am not confident in teaching is art. I mean sure, I can put paint or pastels or other fun mediums in front of children and they'll make something. But helping them develop their skills - well, that's another story.

But today I started taking pictures of the art we've done and I thought, "This may not be fantastic, but it's fun." One of the things we've started lately is doing an artist study, though quite slowly. Once a week we pull out a painting by Monet (I printed some off the internet) and we talk about it. They seem to enjoy this, mostly. Then we either try to make it ourselves, or we try to use a similar technique. At other times, we've done projects from the book Discovering Great Artists. Here's some of their work:

We tried doing watercolor on wet paper to show how the colors soften and blend, then later when it's dry doing darker colors over it. I did the umbrella for him, and Ethan added the interesting blotches in the ocean after it was dry (to see what would happen).

After reading about Van Gogh, we tried making his Sunflower painting with crumpled gouache paper and chalk pastels, over which they painted watercolor. Ethan chose black for his background. Megan, of course, chose pink.

I was surprised when Megan said she wanted to try Monet's Japanese Garden. I helped her quite a bit with mixing the colors (my kids are pretty concrete sequential - they just want to do straight up colors that are mixed well - I was trying to get them to be a little more free). I also helped her with some of the background, but the bridge is all her. :)

This is Megan's try at Waterlilies by Monet. I helped her some with the placement of the flowers, but mostly this is her work. She really enjoys painting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kid's Picks - February

This week we picked up a book I brought back from the States called Rascal, by Sterling North. I have a suspicion that this is a classic - if nothing else, it isn't new! It was published in 1963 and appears to be a true story. But it's new to me, and the kids, and we're loving it.

Rascal is the story of a boy who finds a baby raccoon and raises it as a pet. Raccoons are intelligent and curious creatures, which is leading to all kinds of interesting adventures. Our favorite part so far was when Rascal was given his first sugar cube. In true raccoon fashion, he tried to meticulously wash his sugar cube in his milk. He didn't make that mistake twice! Ethan was greatly amused.

The chapters are a bit long, and the vocabulary is a challenge. I've given up trying to define new words for the kids (gosh, there are some words he uses that I'm a little uncertain on!) and am just letting them absorb it. I'm thankful that it's not dumbed down for them!

Reading about baby raccoons led to some impromptu online searches about how big they are, and how fast they grow. It's also fun that it takes place in Wisconsin, so close to where our family is from.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Creative Journal for Children

In my on-going quest to help our kids not only be good writers, but enjoy writing creatively and expressively, I picked up The Creative Journal for Children, by Lucia Capacchione (and I got it really inexpensively! If I could remember how I did that I would share it with you, but I don't).

I have wanted my kids to be in the habit of journaling each day, but I dreaded what I thought would be the inevitable, "I don't know what to write!" This book solves that by giving suggestions for journaling that start simply with allowing the children to draw what they are thinking. Now, honestly, I thought this would be worse for Megan because while she enjoys writing, she is not a confident artist. I don't know what it is though - maybe the option of drawing and/or writing each day, but they both really enjoy it! When I said it was journal time today Ethan said, "What do we have to do for it?" in a tone that implied he was excited. They've needed very little prompting.

The author suggests parents and teachers to allow the journals to be private so as to encourage kids to be as open as possible. I told the kids they didn't have to show me their journals, but so far they have wanted to do so. I'm glad because it was fun to see that on the day Megan was supposed to write about how she was feeling she wrote, "My neck hurts. I don't really feel anything today. But I feel sort of sleepy." Not exactly mining the depths, but I am so excited that daily journaling could be something the kids do without complaining and even enjoy! (this is after only a few days though, so ask me again in a week what they think!)

The topics in the book are meant to help the kids be more self-aware and expressive, which is my goal in journaling (rather than the actual act of writing - they do enough of that in other school work). If you're looking for something like that too, you might want to check this out!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Didn't Anticipate This

We came back to Singapore at the loveliest time. There's a span of a few weeks some time in January and February when the rainy season is over but the breezes linger. We can leave the windows open all day and enjoy the fresh air. If only it could stay this way!

We jumped back into homeschool this morning, and I found a strange reluctance, even a sense that something was wrong. I then realized what it was - it feels like summer! It feels like a nice Minnesota summer day, so why on earth should we be doing school? Never mind that we just spent essentially a month playing hooky there and we really need to get cranking on the books again. I've been highly trained to associate this weather with no school.

Well, either I'll get over it soon or I'll have to make myself get over it soon. It's back to school time!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An abundance of patience

When I tell people I homeschool, one of the most frequent comments I get in response is something like, "Oh wow - I could never homeschool. I'm just not that patient." I don't usually respond to this. If I do, I mutter something about God helping me. They are unconvinced.

But what makes me laugh about this comment is that it implies that I AM patient. Like I sat around thinking, "I am SO patient. In fact, I think I might have too much patience. Where can I find an outlet for this excess of tolerance? Ah yes, I will homeschool."

I know that really, people aren't thinking through this comment at all. They just want to distance themselves from the idea of it with what seems like a plausible excuse.

This has come to mind again this week because we picked up homeschooling again after a long than expected break (there was just too much travel in December!) and I am finding once again that my reserve of patience is nowhere near what I need for this task.

So should only the patient homeschool? Or should those who homeschool (or parent, or nurse, or drive, or cook, or live in any way) find what is needed in Christ?

"The Lord will guide you always. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a stream whose rivers never fail." Isaiahd 58:11