Monday, November 28, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conference

Other than talking to myself, I have never been to a parent-teacher conference until today. I had to meet with our kids' Chinese teacher to see how they are doing. What she told me pretty much lines up with what is true at home - Ethan knows more than he gives himself credit for, but he could be doing even better if he slowed down and was more careful, and didn't let his fear of being wrong get in the way. Megan is extremely motivated to do well and works hard. She memorizes things easily, but she gets easily distracted, especially when she has a friend with her (and her best friend is in the class).

But over all, the teacher enjoys having them and thinks they're doing well. Yep, that sounds like what their homeschool teacher thinks too. :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Reason to Homeschool

Almost every day of the week, our kids get a phone call from a neighborhood friend asking them to play capture the flag at 3 or 3:30. There's a sunken tiled circle at the center of our neighborhood where 15-30 kids ages 6-15 will converge to play unsupervised until the sun goes down. They generally come home dirty, sometimes with scrapes, always with stories about triumphs and losses.

Contrast that with this article about a recent ban on balls at a school in Canada, and I'm on the side of "I'm so thankful I homeschool" today. Not only that, but I guess I should be thankful I homeschool in China! I hear more and more stories of schools in the U.S. banning anything that might injure a child. Tag? They could trip! Handstands? Head trauma! Monkey bars? Never!

It's sad that safety seems to be becoming the value that trumps others - play, creativity, freedom, independence, survival skills. So thankful that homeschool allows our kids to have fun!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

All Kinds of Learning

"So, today school is cleaning?" asks Ethan.

It started as a consequence for fighting during school, actually. I decided they needed to do some manual labor instead of bickering with each other. Then Megan remembered that she has wanted to clean out her toys and sell some of them for awhile, so she tackled that project. We haven't seen Ethan's carpet in quite some time (don't worry, it's only a 1x2 meter piece - we don't let him get THAT messy) so he set about organizing everything I pushed off onto the floor while I vacuumed.

Ethan remarked that he wasn't going to finish his schoolwork as a result of all the cleaning. I told him that cleaning was taking the place of school, hence the comment.

I went on to tell him that cleaning teaches us to be responsible for our belongings, keeps our stuff from getting too dirty, and in the process helps us find those things we've been looking for.

Why am I telling you all this? Partly to remind myself that learning isn't just about school.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Homeschooling vs the Dog

One of my greatest hesitations about continuing with our dog journey is whether or not it's feasible to homeschool. The problem? She's most active in the morning, and our schoolroom is upstairs. We haven't allowed her to go up there because she's not house trained yet and I value my carpet. Not to mention she's a distraction. She had down times when we put her in her crate, but she can't possibly stay in there from 8-12 every morning. The Dog Whisperer would disapprove.

We tried several options the first week and a half. We tried doing school in the living room. We tried the kids doing what they could upstairs with me watching Scout, then cramming in whatever we needed to do together while she was sleeping. It's all felt quite chaotic and frustrating, and a lot of things have been dropped.

This morning I wrote in detail on the board what they both needed to do. None of it was really anything I HAD to be there to do with them, although some of it (history) I normally do. I decided for our sanity and to keep a less stressful atmosphere in the house, it would be better to let them try to do it on theier own.

Three and a half hours later, they are done with their work. I'm not quite sure how to feel about this - Jubilant? Dispensable? Dubious? Relieved?

I know there will be days when it isn't this easy, but in addition to watching the dog, I was able to go get supplies for a baby shower and buy more Coke Zero (necessary for survival). So it seems that we might able to continue homeschooling after all. Lucky dog.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mama Said There'd be Days like This

Actually, my mom doesn't really give me advice on homeschool, but she's a wise woman and a life-long educator, so I'm sure that if I skyped her right now she'd say, "Oh well. Tomorrow's another day." It started off pretty well - exercise, great talk with Erik, super yummy oatmeal with raw honey, flax seed and cinnamon (a daily joy), then it all kind of went wacky.

In between determining which kind of worms our new little pup has (finally nailed it after a discussion with the vet - roundworms. Bonus: I now know how to say different kinds of worms in Chinese), cleaning up to make sure we don't get the worms (he said don't worry), escorting a VPU from our office to a friend's house, and planning my teaching time for this afternoon's co-op, homeschooling my own children sort of went out the window. Occasionally I would throw a worksheet or a book at them like, "Here! Learn something!" Thankfully they are pretty independent learners, and they can recognize when mommy needs a little space. We didn't end up doing half of what we planned to do, but it'll all get done eventually.

Now I'm inhaling a salad while waiting for kids to show up at our house (one came 40 minutes early - it's her first time and her mom didn't know how long it would take to get her here) before I throw some stuff in the slow cooker for dinner and head off to teach.

Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Good Day

Today was a good homeschool day. It was a "the stars aligned, birds sang, flowers bloomed and the peasants rejoiced," kind of day. I felt like I saw the kids learning and they were having fun doing it. They worked hard. I hardly worked.

Now they are outside playing a "wear us out so we sleep well" game of Capture the Flag with about 20 neighborhood kids ranging from age 6-14. That doesn't even include the family with 5 kids and the other family with 6. Yeah, we really worry about socialization here.

To all who wonder if homeschool is a good choice, today I say yes. :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Our current "read aloud" book is The Island of Mad Scientists, by Howard Whitehouse. It's subtitled, "Being an Excursion to the Wilds of Scotland, Involving Many Marvels of Experimental Invention, Pirates, a Heroic Cat, a Mechanical Man and a Monkey," which tells you a bit about the humor of the author. This is the third in a series - we finished the second one last week and jumped straight into this.

The reason I bring up this book is that whenever I read books, I try my best to do different voices for the characters, particularly if it's obvious that they should have different accents. I mean, can you really read Lord of the Rings and not do Gollum?  

I committed to this during the first book of the series which wasn't difficult because although it was set in Britain, all the characters were British aside from a southern American. I can do decent British and Southern accents. 

By the middle of the third book, we've added a lot of variety and it's been challenging to keep up. At last count we have standard British, cockney British, Scottish, Indian, German, imaginary "Chiligriti" accent, southern, Canadian, robot, parrot, and most recently, a Russian pretending to Scottish. On top of that, there's male and female voices. Sometimes I get mixed up and it comes out as some kind of accent no one ever uses. But it's fun to try!

Another day in the life of a homeschool mom. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Things I Never Knew I'd Need (but Which Have Become Essential)

There are a lot of things you assume you'll need when you start homeschooling, like books, pencils, paper, table and chairs, comfy places to read, legal stimulants and maybe a padded, soundproof room (for me, not the kids). But then there are other things that it doesn't occur to you that you'll need which become the things you couldn't do school without.

That is the subject of my post today. In particular, the copy machine.

(My previous never-knew-but-now-essential object was the laminator. I don't laminate much these days but in the younger days of flash cards and whatnot, I was a laminating fool!)

Now that the kids are older for some reason I cannot live without a copy machine. I didn't actually realize this until 3 weeks ago when we bought one. Previous to that, I would lug a bag of books over to the office about one every two weeks and spend an hour photocopying. What was I thinking? Then my husband, who must buy something electronic every month or so or he wilts, bought a wireless printer/scanner/photocopier for the homeschool room and ta da!! I use it daily. I almost seek out things to print so I can use it. I especially love freaking out whomever is in the homeschool room by printing remotely from elsewhere.

Who knew?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mental Health Days

Ok, we're only three weeks in, and thankfully I don't feel a need for a mental health day yet (knock on wood) but I found this list on another blog and thought I would share it. I'm sorry, did I say share it? I meant save it, because there's an off chance it might come in handy for me later in the year. :)

I’d like to suggest some productive-but-not-text-book-related ideas for those days when everyone could just use a break:
  1. Watch a documentary.  (science, history, nature study)
  2. Watch The Magic School Bus.  (science)
  3. Go outside and play.  (P.E.)
  4. Clean house.  (life skills, cooperation, problem solving)
  5. Bake together.  (home economics, math, reading, following direction)
  6. Plan next week’s menu.  (home economics, health/nutrition)
  7. Take your menu and go grocery shopping.  (economics, comparison shopping, personal finance)
  8. Go on a nature walk.  (science, nature study, art)
  9. Paint, make collages, sculpt with clay, make crafts. (art)
  10. Cuddle up in bed and read together.  (reading)
  11. Build with Lego’s, Kinex, Lincoln Logs, blocks. (spatial reasoning)
  12. Write a letter to a relative or friend.  (writing, reading, spelling)
  13. Build a sugar cube tower 5 feet high — yes, I saw that on The Biggest Loser. (spatial reasoning, problem-solving skills)
  14. Spin the globe, select a random country and look it up on the Internet or in an Encyclopedia. (geography, research skills, reading)
  15. If they’re old enough, let the kids cook the day’s meals. (home economics, life skills, health and nutrition)
And by the way, I found this website that has tons of free documentaries. I haven't watched any of them yet, so they could be horrible, but they look interesting!

Here's to mental health and enjoying homeschool!

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's not the academics, it's the character

If homeschool were only academic, it would be a breeze. Our kids thankfully don't struggle with any subjects and actually excel at a few of them. No, the thing that gets in the way of a smooth ride is that pesky thing called character.

For example, right now Ethan is sitting across from me crying because I took away his computer time today. And the reason I took away his computer time was as a consequence for his disrespect during our school time. I want our homeschool time to be fun and relaxing, but there's a fine line between that and swinging from the rafters making monkey noises while I'm trying to review Chinese with them.

The tough part of homeschool isn't the schoolwork. The planning, the execution - these things come easy. But then our sin natures show up to play, and suddenly a math lesson isn't just a math lesson - it's whining and complaining and stubborn wills. But it's also an opportunity to do what is really most important - for their (and my!) hearts to be shaped.

This is one of the great blessings of homeschool - the privilege of being part of the shaping. I have to remember this, so that rather than shrinking from these times or hurrying past them I will engage fully in what God wants to do in them, and in me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Startin' Slow

We've done 4 days of school now and I've decided . . . it's time for a break!

Instead, let's call it "easing into school." Since we've only been back in country 2 weeks, and I have discovered (not a new discovery, just finally trying to address the issue) that I am not good at pacing myself, or knowing when I am being drained, we are taking it slowly.

This is in part because I learned this summer that I am anemic. This makes sense and explains why I have been tired and not able to run. In an effort to regain health I'm taking lots of iron and B vitamins, and trying to do less than normal.

Last night I slept 10 hours because I fell asleep at 8. This morning I feel good, but looking ahead at the next few days I know that I probably need this morning to do some catch up on life.

The best part of this is that when I announce this change of plans to the kids, I will be declared the Best Mom in the World! Pretty sure that's not what child social services would say but I'm 6,000 miles away from them so what are they going to do about it? :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Gift

Our kids work independently quite a bit. This leaves me with a fair amount of time to just sit there. In the past, I've brought my computer upstairs because we often need it, but then I end up getting involved in stuff on it myself to pass the time. This leads to me being very distracted and feeling a bit frazzled when the kids suddenly need me.

Enter the Mac Mini. Erik bought one this summer for the kids to use rather than always asking for mine. We set it up here in the homeschool room, and I've realized that it has brought the added bonus of taking away that distraction for me. For some reason I'm really not tempted to get on their computer to do anything. So I just sit here and watch them, sometimes planning ahead for things or organizing stuff around the school room.

For someone who has been trying for awhile to slow down and just be, this is gold! I feel like I came away from school this morning with a quiet heart, not to mention finishing an hour before lunch. And to think I questioned Erik's wisdom in buying it! Here I didn't think the kids needed it. Turns out I did.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A New Year

Well, we started the new school year this morning with a few changes. First up was an earlier wake-up for the kids. Actually, it's not so much an earlier wake up as it is making the most of the time when they're already awake! They were instructed to get up at 6:30 and read their Bibles, then come down at 7, which they (mostly) did. Ethan substituted the book Holes for the book of Leviticus and I can't say I blame him. (I gave him permission to skip to Deuteronomy tomorrow).

I'm not much for making breakfast but special days call for special food so I made banana crepes with whipped cream. Later we had leftover pudding pie for a snack (this is my not-so-subtle way of making them like the first day of school).

In addition to the early wake up time we're doing some different subjects. We switched back to Story of the World: Ancient Times for history. We've added in geography and science (rather than just relying on homeschool co-op for those) and now that we've mostly finished our spelling book, we'll switch more to Latin and vocabulary for language arts. Ethan's actually been asking to learn Latin, the crazy kid! I'll resurrect what I learned from that nun at the Convent and see how it goes.

Last, they're adding typing. They've dabbled in it, but haven't ever learned properly. I don't want them to end up typing like me - I can type quickly, but my fingers are all over the place and I never use the right shift key. Pretty sure that's wrong.

Because of our early start we were able to finish before noon, which is important because three days a week they have class in the afternoon (two days of Chinese and one day of co-op). I think it's going to be a full year!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Baffling the Chinese

I just had a conversation with a young woman who waited with us for the elevator. She was impressed with the kids' Chinese when she asked them their ages (that's why I love this language - two words spoken well makes them think you're stellar), but then she asked Ethan what year he is in school.

I've tried to prepare the kids for the various questions people might ask them. Just the other day I was quizzing them in Chinese on how to answer the question, "Where do you go to school?" but I hadn't anticipated this question. In fact, it took me a second to realized what she'd asked him.

I told her I teach them at home and the look on her face made it clear that she believed I couldn't possibly have understood her question. So I continued, saying that they don't go to school, I teach them at home.

She was stunned, and stammered something like, "Are you joking?" Then, as she stepped out of the elevator, she asked, "But how do they pass the exams?!?"

I explained to the kids later that this question is extremely important to Chinese when I try to explain homeschool (it's the most common one they ask) because their kids have to pass difficult tests at each level of school in order to continue. The results of these tests determine the quality of schooling they can enter, so it's vital that they do well.

I had been about to explain to the young woman that in America homeschooling is quite normal, but since I didn't have a chance, I'm sure she is now discussing the weird American lady and her unschooled, exam-failing children with her friends. Just another day of baffling the Chinese with our lifestyle.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

If I Could Do It Over

I am in the midst of my annual curriculum collection before I go back to China. This means that one entire suitcase will be full of books (or in this case, probably one and a half).

I've been reading through The Well-Trained Mind this summer in an effort to transition more to a Classical Education philosophy (I figured I should really nail myself down a little more to something and this appeals to my structured self). In reading it, I've been realizing what I like about the curriculum and methods we've chosen so far.

So by way of retrospect and possibly encouragement to any potential new homeschool moms, here are my thoughts on "If I had to do it over again from the beginning" not only in curriculum but also in practice:

1. I would read to them even more than I did
2. I would start from the beginning using Math U See, Spell to Write and Read, Story of the World, Easy Grammar, and Considering God's Creation.
3. I would make reading, writing, and math the main things and do other things occasionally.
4. I would spend more time reading and memorizing poems and scripture. Thankfully AWANAs helped me out with that latter one.

Hmm . . . actually not as much I would change as I was thinking there was! That's good. Not that I was regretting anything, because I think that this is a process and God uses the turns and trials to shape us and help us understand how we learn and what we like. It's just good to write out since it helps me see more clearly where I want to go from here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You Know You're a Homeschool Mom When . . .

You have nightmares about those standard tests the kids took. Seriously!

Last night I dreamed that I got a notice in the mail on the flimsy paper people often use for receipts here. It said that Ethan had failed the math portion of the standard test and he would have to retake it. This seemed odd at first because he said the math was easy, but then I panicked a little. Then I woke up and gradually unpanicked as I realized it wasn't true. Yet. Nor likely to happen.

I fell asleep again, then dreamed that I got reports on both the kids, and neither of them had scored higher than the 20th percentile in anything. Mostly they were in the single digits. I had to wake up again and realize that while I don't know what scores our kids got, I'm fairly confident they won't be that low given that they said the tests were easy.

Now I know I told the kids we didn't really care what scores they get, but I think some dream analysis here might indicate that that is not entirely true.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Roots of Culture

At Ethan's request, we are currently studying Chinese history. It's fascinating! Did you know that the Great Wall as we know it isn't the one that was built during the Qin dynasty (the first dynasty when China was united as a country, and from which we get the name China) like everyone thinks? That one was further north. This one was actually built during the Ming dynasty, several hundred years ago. So much for thinking that thing is 2,000 years old.

But even more interesting was our study of the main philosophies of China - Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, and Buddhism. The first two were developed during the Zhou dynasty, centuries before Christ, but as we read some of the tenants of them yesterday, we realized that the principles are still prevalent in Chinese culture today. For example, Daoism believes in non-interference with others; the Chinese will rarely step in and get involved in a situation that doesn't involve them. Or take Confucianism, which encourages education and harmony in familial relationships. These values are strong in Chinese society. And so on.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but since I have never met a Chinese person who says "I follow Confucius" or "I follow Daoism" it was surprising to see how much these philosophies have infiltrated their culture. I suppose it's similar to the ways that we still see Christian principles evident in American society, even if many do not profess Christianity. It's just lasted a lot longer here!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Standardized Testing

Today is day 3 of the kids participating in standardized testing. The tests are being conducted at one of the international schools in town. The kids were incredibly nervous about it before the first day, and I absorbed all their anxiety to the point where it made me sick the first day (good thing a friend of mine drove them down there!). We've learned a few things from this process:

1. Standardized tests are not that hard (or so the kids tell me). This was my main objective in sending them, so yay!

2. Megan wants to go to school (mostly because she's seen that some of her friends from church go there)

3. The amount of stress involved in getting the kids out the door by 7:15 is equal to or greater than the amount of stress I have in an average day, but crammed into 45 minutes. Yuck.

4. Never drive south from our house between 7-8 in the morning. It's just depressing how slowly you move.

Some unexpected lessons in there, but all in all it's accomplishing what we'd hoped - teaching them that tests aren't a big deal and seeing where they are lacking. I'll be glad when this is done though!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tamen kaishi shuo

The title of this post means, "They begin to speak." I can finally say this about our kids when it comes to Mandarin. They have been taking class for about a year now. It's become more intense as this semester as they have it four hours a week. I also made the decision to have them start over in a more beginner class with some friends - best decision I could have made! In my experience, the people who speak Mandarin well are the ones who did the basics more than once. If you don't master the tones, forget it. You can just pack up and go home!

Since they have started over, it's really clicked for them. They are so far managing to remember how to read and write every character they learn. Even better, they are starting to use and understand it in public. I fear the days of Erik and I speaking Mandarin as code are numbered, as already Megan will overhear me speaking with our Chinese helper and understand what I've said.

I think the most fun is hearing them use colloquialisms like, "Wei?" (what we say when we answer the phone) or "Ai yo!" (their version of "Oh no!") or "Wa sai" which is more recent slang to express shock or amazement. Here they are hard at work writing:

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Attitude

I was fairly convicted this morning by this quote by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized.

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Good words for a homeschool mom this morning. Good words for anyone actually!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


This spring I plan to have our kids take a standardized test, partly to see how they are doing, and partly for them to have the experience of taking a timed test. I decided it might be a good idea to have them try some practice tests online. Yes, that was a very good idea! Despite having a math curriculum I really like, it appears that there are huge gaps in their education like, oh say, the entire subject of geometry? Honestly, I couldn't tell them what a vertex was either so I wasn't much help.

So as I generally do, I hopped online to look for resources. I found this great website which has practice "tests" for subjects I have a hard time believing are really being covered in public schools in America. It's leveled by grade and gives the kids rewards for practice time, questions answered, and subjects mastered. Of course this isn't free, but they like it so much and are so motivated to do it that it's absolutely worth the money.

Yay for finding new resources to fill in gaps!