Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Enquine le gena adersashewu!

Merry Christmas!

From our family to you!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Homeschooling Older Adopted Children

One day last week while we were eating lunch, Minte began to look thoughtful (even a bit concerned) and then asked me a question.

"Mommy. Ahfter Chreestmas... Minte go to school?"

"Yes, after Christmas we've got to start our schoolwork again."

"No. Ahfter Chreestmas, Minte go? Out? (pointing to the door) To other school?"

"Oh, no baby. We're going to do school at home still. Minte will go to school here. With Mommy and Kyle and Bethany."

Then it was my turn to think, and perhaps be concerned. Maybe he wants to go to school. Maybe he feels like he's missing something. Maybe he's asking me, hoping I'm going to tell him "yes." Maybe...

So, of course, I asked.

"Does Minte want to go to school? To other school?"

His eyes widened and he replied, "NO! Minte no English. Teacher talk, Minte say, 'I don't know!'"

He seemed happy and reassured that we were, in fact, going to continue homeschooling. Of course, that made me happy and reassured me that we are doing the right thing for him.

He really is a "best-case-scenario", in the adoption sense. He was very well cared for and loved by all of his caregivers, in a consistent, well-run, small orphanage with a nurturing environment. He is generally happy, appears to be extremely resilient, has a positive disposition and a great sense of humor, has a deep, abiding faith in God, has positive memories of his "former life" and his Ethiopian parents, which he freely talks about daily. He seems secure and responds well to new situations. He's extremely obedient and courteous. He's highly intelligent, has the capacity to learn and retain large amounts of information, and can recall facts to a great detail. Overall, he's an excellent student. By all accounts and estimations, he would do well in a traditional classroom setting. But, at his deepest level, it's not what he wants. There is an underlying insecurity there, and I'm really glad he shared it with me.

I shared part of our reason for homeschooling him, and a little bit of background here. I am hopeful that sometime during our holiday break, while I'm at the computer putting the finishing touches on our school plans for spring I'll be able to share more specifically what we've been doing. But for now, I'll just share that it's working. It's working for me, our other children, and most of all, it's working for him. He is learning about family, about love, and about home. He's progressing academically, and learning a new language and culture at a manageable pace. He's learning that when he needs to, he can look me (and the others with whom he's in constant contact throughout each day) in the eye and ask questions using his broken English without fearing that he'll be misunderstood or made fun of. He's learning that he can throw some Amharic in there as well and that it makes Mom smile. He's learning that sometimes Mom will try to answer him in broken Amharic with a Texas twang, and that makes him smile. What could be a barrier in another setting is actually part of the bonding process in the home setting. Our bond is growing day by day, and homeschooling continues to be a major part of that.

Here are some articles I read and bookmarked as we began this journey. If you are adopting, and have the ability or inclination to homeschool, I highly encourage you to think about it. It's awesome. And I believe it's a gift. One for which I remain so thankful.

Homeschooling the Older, Adopted Child

Parenting in the Home School: Homeschooling Adopted and Traumatized Kids

Homeschooling The Internationally Adopted Child Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Fun Thanksgiving Song

**Originally posted November 9, 2007**

I learned this song when my kids were preschoolers, and I pulled it out of my files this week at our little "music co-op," not just for the little ones, but for the big ones who couldn't remember the date of the first Thankgiving!

The Pilgrims Sailed Over The Ocean
(sung to the tune of "My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean")

The Pilgrims sailed over the ocean;
The Pilgrims sailed over the sea.
The Pilgrims sailed over the ocean
So they could praise God and be free.

Pilgrims, Pilgrims
They had the first Thanksgiving Day
They all wanted
To sing and to feast and to pray.

Their Indians friends were invited;
They brought some wild turkey and deer,
They ate and they sang with the Pilgrims;
Sixteen twenty-one was the year.

Pilgrims, Pilgrims
They had the first Thanksgiving Day
They all wanted
To sing and to feast and to pray.

*Somewhat Tongue-In-Cheek Disclaimer: I do not wish to debate or discuss the historical accuracy of the song's stated reasons for the Pilgrims "sailing over the ocean," the use of the term "Indians" rather than "Native Americans" or any perceived references to whiskey. You are, of course, free to change any of above lyrics to accomodate your personal convictions. Thank you. ;)

WFMW: Learning His Language

A recent morning conversation between me and my 10-year-old Ethiopian son:

Me: Sent encoulat tehfalligalli? (How many eggs to you want?)
Minte: Yeh-teh-teh-beh-seh ena yeh-teh-kuh-kuh-leh? (Scrambled or boiled?)
Me: Yeh-teh-kuh-kuh-leh. (boiled)
Minte: Sent tefalligallio? (How many do we have?)
Me: Hulet (two)
Minte: Mmmmm, ...and tehfalligallio ( One, please)
Me: Eshi. (okay)

We're about 9 weeks into our transition home with our precious son, and since November is National Adoption Month I've been taking time on Wednesdays to post some things that have been "working for us" during our first few weeks home.

My first posts on this subject have been on my main blog, but since this one is sort of "homeschooly" I thought I'd bring it over here today! If this is your first time to visit either of my blogs, welcome! I'm so glad you are here! My previous posts on this topic have been about the benefits of establishing a routine, labeling the house, and how we have utilized afternoon movie times.

Today, as you can see from above conversation, I'll be discussing language. This has been a biggie! That's always been one of the first questions people have asked me, even before we brought him home, "Does he speak English?" The answer: "No." The language he speaks is called Amharic and is the primary language spoken in Ethiopia. It is a beautiful language, but bears absolutely no resemblance in sound or in written form, to English. He had very little English instruction in the school he attended while at the orphanage. It consisted mostly of copying English worksheets into a composition book. SO, I've started from the beginning with him. I listed some of our curriculum here, and I'm preparing to write another post on homeschooling ESL again soon. God is being so faithful to bring to mind ideas that are helping me... as I have no idea what I'm doing, and there aren't a lot of resources for teaching ELL's (English Language Learners), especially within the context of homeschooling.

As you can see from the photo, what has been "working for us" involves notecards. But hopefully, you noticed that there are two sets. His and mine. Every couple of days, we sit with his box of notecards and he simply names words he wants to know how to read. Sometimes he has had to point to an object so I could tell him the name of it, but frequently it's a word he knows (like "bike) but just doesn't know what it looks like. We pull the cards out every few days and he tries to read the words he has chosen. For the most part, he's successful because those words mean something to him: favorite toys, his siblings' names, our address. Even though he's really reading "word shapes" at this point, he's getting used to reading English print, which is a step. But that's not all this exercise is about.

You see, it's a two-way street. Mom has her notecards, too! Just about every day I ask him how to say something in Amharic (if he can give me a translation) or I get phrases from one of my three can't-do-without-'em resources: Talk Now Amharic, Lonely Planet Phrasebook, and Simple Language for Adoptive Families. He absolutely loves hearing me speak to him in his native language, and he loves the give-and-take of teaching each other. It is so sweet to hear him slowly pronounce things so I can write down what it sounds like on my card. Then I repeat phrases back and he corrects me, isolating certain sounds. I work on it (genuinely work on it!) and then use the words and phrases in conversation. His face absolutely lights up when I throw down some Amharic when he least expects it! He understands only a fraction of what he hears all day, everyday, and it's a welcome "interruption" when something familiar is spoken to him. He smiled SO big the other morning when I asked him in Amharic how many eggs he wanted! Such a small thing, but it meant a lot to him, I could tell.

What distinguishes these moments from other ESL/ELL teacher-student situations is that this is my child. Part of our bond is being able to communicate with each other. Learning English is an all-encompassing task for him right now, and I think it "spurs him on" to see that Mom is doing the same thing. When we're having an Amharic conversation and I have to dissect e-ve-ry sound and see if I'm tracking with him, for that brief slice of time, I can feel how he feels every other second of the day. I can understand why "bucket" sounds like "basket" and how "popcorn" sounds like "pumpkin." I botch phrases all the time and he practically rolls in the floor laughing... I love it! Being an active learner of his language has gone a long way toward how we relate to each other, and it's really working for me... and for him.

For more ideas that work, visit Rocks in My Dryer.

There are many more precious children like Minte who need a forever family (and would love to teach you Amharic!) If adoption, either domestic or international, is something you're considering and you need a place to start, you can visit our agency's website here.

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back to Basics- Writing

This fall, as we have been in a time of transition as a family, I have needed to get "back to basics" in our homeschool.

Over the years, we have had many subjects going at one time and I have enjoyed planning and implementing different approaches, actually relishing the planning and teaching as I would a treasured hobby. Not so this year! I am tired! The adoption process and the subsequent travel and transition of our awesome new son into our family has left me very little mental energy for "mile-wide" school planning. All of my "systems" that I've used in the past are still what I default to (and I'm so glad to have them in place) but they only work if I *do* them! And it's been slow-going getting back into my tried and true systems of planning and organization. Add to that, that for the first time I have a high schooler, a middle schooler and an elementary schooler. Oh, and add to that that the elementary schooler speaks very, very little English.

So, it's been "back to basics" around here. Here's what I mean by that:

I sit at the park every afternoon while my sons play, practicing their basketball skills, Minte honing his bike-riding skills, all of us enjoying the change of seasons and getting some much-needed exercise. These daily outings to the park have afforded me the opportunity to read back through a few books that have become a lifeline to me as a homeschooler over the years:
  • The Well-Trained Mind -- I LOVE this book because I think it sets forth a vision of excellence, and a buffet of "doable" things- binders, schedules, etc. from which to choose. I *don't* follow it to the letter, but I have always loved how Bauer and Wise inspire me to raise the bar in my homeschool.
So it is, on these afternoons at the park after I walk my laps around the pond, I have sat with my coffee or Diet DP and perused these books, trying to re-energize myself towards our school, refresh my memory on what I've done that has worked in the past, and convince myself the "all is not lost" in certain areas in which I've let us get behind. Yes, we've gotten behind! There, I said it! Over the years we have taken mission trips, taken on ministries, adopted a child, and certain academic areas ::cough::writing::cough::: have slipped through the cracks. Whew, I feel better now that I've admitted it. :)

So. What to do about it? Two weeks ago during my "park reading" I came across a list in Ruth Beechick's language book that helped me greatly as I was mentally lamenting not being as diligent in writing as I should have been. I have read this list many times, it was highlighted in my book, and I have implemented it over the years. But this time I read it with fresh eyes: the eyes of a mom with an English Language Learner, a middle schooler who hates writing, and a high schooler preparing to tackle essays for college prep.

Here is her list of writing skills, leveled in difficulty from easy to hard:

1. Trace a model letter or word.
2. Copy a model word or sentence.
3. Write a sentence from slow dictation, getting all the help necessary to make it correct.
4. Write a familiar sentence from dictation fiven at normal speed and expression. Compare. Write again.
5. Write an unfamiliar sentence from dictation. Compare. Write again.
6. Study a paragraph. Write as it is dictated sentence by sentence in normal expression. compare and correct errors.
7. Write an unfamiliar paragraph from dictation, deciding from the expression how it should be punctuated. Compare. Talk about any differences between your writing and the model. Learn from these differences.
8. Write from dictation a variety of passages which are longer than a paragraph- dialogues, descriptions, news stories, and others. Compare. Learn.
9. Review by repeating two or three times any lesson in which you made too many errors. (If you keep on making many errors, find easier sentences or paragraphs.)
10. Make notes on a passage of writing, put the notes away for a few days, then try to rewrite the passage from your notes. Compare to the model.
11. Find a description, poem, or any short piece of writing that you like. Use it as a pattern to write something of your own.
12. Find a letter to the editor or other piece of writing that you disagree with (wouldn't blogs be great for this? ;) Write your answer.
13. When you have something to say, decide what form you will use- essay, poem, letter, or other- and write your thoughts for someone else to read.

This has helped me so much because as I read this list, I saw it at a sort of "writing continuum." I could see where my ELL-son is. I could see where my 7th-grade-writing-hater is. I can see not only where they currently fall on the "continuum" but where we need to back up, review and practice in order to get our "writing feet" back under us and keep taking those steps.

Dr. Beechick goes on to expound on implementing these steps as well as give grade level guidelines, discuss spelling, and give sample lessons in the book, so I encourage you to get it (it's only $4.00 new on Amazon, and only $.01 from some sellers!). But just this list of steps has helped me to assess my kids writing "skill level" and realize that all I need to do is back up a "step" and do that for awhile. Another thing I've had to do is give myself (and my writing-avoidant son!) a LOT of grace. So, rather than struggling, we've simply been doing some well-chosen copywork and dictation. He's reminding his brain what good writing sounds and feels like. Just like a piano student plays songs that have been been written and performed by many others before him so he can learn the technique, a writing student can copy beautiful pieces of writing that have stood the test of time. My English-language-learner son can copy modeled letters and words. I know what they can do and what the next step is. I can get out of "analysis paralysis" and take some actual steps.

I just wanted to share something that is working for us, and encourage you during this season when so many of us typically slow down school for the holidays (a good thing) but then get disheartened as we reflect on what isn't working or what we didn't get done this fall (a bad thing.) All is not lost! Maybe you just need to stop, take an honest look at where you are and get "back to basics."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Grace-Based Homeschooling

I have been reading through the book Graced-Based Parenting, by Tim Kimmel. I have taken my time getting through it, usually reading a few pages at night before bed. I have found that I (and my children!) benefit when I take the time every few months to read a book about grace. We all need it, daily, and I am a primary vehicle of God's grace in the lives of my children.

Over the past week, I read the chapter called "A Strong Hope." In this chapter, Kimmel points out that "the plague of today's children is a foreboding sense of hopelessness. It is the logical consequence of a generation of parents who took the permanence out of love and the absolutes out of truth. Premarital sex, cohabitation, divorce, and a series of live-in lovers have communicated to too many children that they can't put any hope in commitment." I think that is a great point. Hope is so central to every area of our lives, our children must develop a strong sense of hope to function healthily emotionally, intellectually or spiritually.

He then makes the connection to how being a "grace-based parent" produces a "hope-filled child." I so want this for my children!

I liked his three points in this chapter:

1. Children develop strong hope when they know their parents recognize their God-given abilities and liabilities and turn them into assets for their future.

"We need to be enthusiastic about helping them build disciplines around their gifts and skills. This will require grace from us," he points out, "because our children's gifts and skills might be our areas of natural weakness." Yes! How many of us math-phobic moms are homeschooling budding mathematicians? Or left-brained, analytical moms schooling right-brained, artsy types? When our children see us taking on areas outside of our expertise or interest and know that we are doing it on their behalf, Kimmel says "these efforts five them great hope... They gain hope when they realize that their parents aren't trying to make them into mini-clones of themselves or trying to rewire them from the schematic that God assigned to them."

Working with our children every day also puts us in touch with their weaknesses like no one else. This is where grace plays a HUGE part in homeschooling! Kimmel says, "These (weaknesses) test our patience and our sanity. Children need to see parents who approach their shortcomings without venom or condescension. As they find parents who take delight in building into them life skills that compensate for their shortcomings, they develop a strong sense of hope for the future. They realize that someone in their lives loves them supremely and wants the best for them." I love that as a homeschooling mom, I get to be the teacher that loves them that way. What a privilege!

2. Children develop a strong hope when their parents lead them and encourage them to live a great spiritual adventure.

When we started our adventure as a family into short-term missions several years ago, I realized I was abandoning "safe Christianity." Kimmel points out that "safe Christianity is an oxymoron," anyway! I remember as we first got shots for our then 8 and 10 year olds and journeyed with them to Africa, my confidence had to be in the Lord. When I sent my 12 year old to stay in China with some missionary friends for 6 weeks, I had to rest in the knowledge that God loves her even more than I do! Kimmel says, "We must put our confidence in a God who would not bring anything unpleasant into our children's lives except for those things that He deliberately desires to use to mold them into His image." He had to first deal with me, my lack of faith, my own insecurities, and my illusion of control over their heath and safety so that He could draw them, and our entire family, closer to Himself and show us new rooms of His heart. I am so glad that by His grace I allowed Him to do that! I hate to think of what we would've missed!

As homeschoolers, we already live on the outside of what's considered "normal." It's tempting, while in "control" of all areas of curriculum, field trips, exclusive homeschool groups, etc. to end up insulating them from any risk. While it's wise to be prudent, Kimmel points out that "it's easy to want to build a safe hope in them, rather than a strong hope." My prayer is that my parenting is helping to build a strong hope in the God of the universe.

3. Children develop a strong hope when their parents help them turn their childhood into a series of positive accomplishments.

"Our children are going to have to know how to work hard, get along with difficult people, solve confusing problems, handle money, repent, forgive, take good care of their bodies, minds and spirits, fear God a lot, fear their fellowman very little, laugh at the right time, cry at the right time, and bring out the best in the people closest to them." Is that on your list of "basic skills" in your curriculum this year? When I read through that I was reminded again that the purpose of educating them is NOT all academic! They could get a perfect score on the SAT and still not be able to do what matters most in this life, which I think is summed up very succinctly in the above sentence. I loved this reminder.

But, what came to mind as I read the word "achievement" in this chapter, is how easily we as homeschoolers can focus on it. After all, it is a bit affirming to hear that homeschoolers win Spelling and Geography bees, or are being pursued by ivy league colleges. While it is God-honoring to pursue things with excellence, Kimmel points out that "grace dictates that we keep achievement goal in context with the children's bigger role as members of God's chosen people. They need to see their commitment to achievement as a way to glorify God as well as a way to make them more valuable to others. Grace helps us keep achievement in its rightful place, as a means to an end."

I've wondered a bit over the years about competition, and what place it should play in my children's lives. I've got one who's highly competitive and one who, when he senses competition (even with a timer) he gives up, taking himself out of the competition rather than come up short. I know some Christians who don't play competitive sports at all because they believe it is exaltation of "self." I know other Christians whose children spend up to 5 hours per day honing a competitive skill. One sentence in this chapter that jumped out at me was this:

"Grace also keeps us from unwittingly turning our children into overachievers. In almost every case, overachievement is at the expense of something greater than what is achieved....Many disciplines that parents build into their children's lives don't make them better people; they just make them more proficient than someone else."

As homeschool parents, we've got a huge opportunity to be vehicles of God's grace in the lives of our children. This book is helping me to examine why I do what I do. Grace and mercy do not come naturally to me, for some reason. I am glad that I'm reading this book now, as I am currently smack in the middle of my "fall stall" and my "February Freakout" is just a few months away! I need grace! And if I need it, how much more do my children need it? Something to think and pray about.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Election Propaganda and Fallacies

Last year, we enjoyed going through the book Fallacy Detective, by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn. Did you know that at the Fallacy Detective website there are videos, articles, blog links, audio lessons, and a even an e-newsletter, the Fallacy Detective News, to help you and your kids sharpen your critical thinking skills? It's a fabulous resource, and during election time especially, there is no shortage of material on which to practice!

This week's exercise is Name the Propaganda. It's really interesting! Click on over to watch the Youtube videos and see if you can determine what type of propaganda is being used. Last week's was equally good, about fallacies in both campaigns.

A simple man believes anything,
but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.
Proverbs 14:15

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge,
nor to be hasty and miss the way.
Proverbs 19:2

Test everything. Hold on to the good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21

Monday, October 06, 2008

Homeschooling ESL

Okay, now I've done it. I've titled this post in such a way as to attract Google searches from people researching how to teach ESL at home, people looking for how the "experts" do it, or some brilliant ideas. Well, I apologize in advance if that's what led you here! I can't promise any longtime-ESL-teacher wisdom, brilliant research or a scope and sequence for how to do it. In fact, as I researched this topic myself, I didn't find much on the subject. I would have LOVED to come across the blog of a fellow homeschooler who recently adopted one older child and was homeschooling him. If that describes you, welcome! Let me know who you are and let's encourage one another!

A couple of posts ago I wrote about how God is "doing a new thing" in our homeschool. He's doing many new things, actually, one of which is bringing a precious English Language Learner into our midst. What an adventure this is! We've been home for about two weeks with our new 10 year old Ethiopian son. When we met him about 4 weeks ago, he knew and spoke very, very little English. In the few weeks we've been together, he has learned multiple new words per day, and our communication is mostly nouns and charades, but we are bonding wonderfully and communicating effectively nonetheless. God is so good! But... what about school? How do I approach academics with an English Language Learner? Isn't it best to leave this to the professionals?

In case this is your first time to read my blog, I'll give a little background on myself. I received my MEd in 1991 and taught public school for four years before coming home to stay home with my children. We began "officially" homeschooling in 1999. I have a daughter who is 15, working at approximately the 10th grade level, a son who is 12 doing 7th grade this year, and our new son, a fourth grader. We have always homeschooled, and plan to always homeschool. Yes, even through high school. So, when we decided to adopt an older child, it was with the intent of homeschooling him just like our other children. I know other homeschool families (whose blogs I've read) have handled it differently for very various reasons, but we feel strongly that we are to homeschool our new son. Our conviction to homeschool our kids has not changed because someone with different needs has come into our midst. In fact, homeschooling has become the perfect answer to those needs.

Among other reasons, bonding is a key issue. That's 35+ additional hours per week that he will be with his family. When he lived in Ethiopia, he lived in an orphanage and went to a school. He was exceptionally well cared-for, loved, and taught but the reality is that he spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in some sort of institution. It is time for him to spend that kind of time living and learning family. He turned 10 the week after we arrived at home, and I already felt time ticking. Homeschooling has always felt like God gave us a big, beautifully wrapped box and inside it was T-I-M-E. I have LOVED that aspect of it most of all. It has never felt like the gift of time as it does now. I thank God daily for that gift!

Another reason is that though he is 4th grade age, he is not, at this point, functioning at a fourth grade level. There are many reasons for this, but I am so glad that he can be in an environment in which that is not a problem at all. I have materials in all subjects beginning at the preschool level, so he is able to have curriculum which is tailor-made to fit his academic needs in all subjects and allow him to experience success and build confidence as he begins to learn a new language, and learn subjects in that language.

Enough of the "why's" (because there are more, and I could go on all day!) and on to the "how."

Like I stated earlier, I'm not an "ESL" expert, or specially-trained in that area at all, but from my years as a teacher and now as a homeschooling mother I know how children learn, so I'm basing what I'm doing on how I've taught my other two, my "gut instincts," random ideas that just pop into my head, and a couple of things I read on a Yahoo group. God has been so faithful to lead me to information just when I need it!

I was planning on waiting several weeks after bringing him home before starting school. But, he had been on a school break for two months when we got there. All of his friends were going back to school the Monday after we got back, so I think he was in "back to school" mode. I, of course, was not in BTS mode, but after a week and a half back, he needed the structure and my older son needed to get back to his school work. Last Monday we began our main subjects: Reading , Math, and Life. (I'll add the others in as his English gets better.) As you can see from the photo above, today he played with Play-doh. We are doing lots of playing and talking. Talking and playing. He used all of the cookie cutters and cut out shapes, which we talked about... colors, animals, textures, etc. We have spent lots of time blowing bubbles, kicking the ball, writing with sidewalk chalk, painting pictures, building with blocks, playing with the RC car, listening to music, playing with puppets, reading books (in English and Amharic)... anything to spur creativity and foster conversation. So, before I get going on the curriculum aspect of our school, please know that it is a small part of the big picture right now.

For reading we are currently working our way through the Scaredy Cat Reading System, developed by Joyce Herzog. (No, it's not for people who are scared to read, it's referring to the fact that vowels are "scaredy cats"... they make different sounds when they are scared. Cute!) I came across these materials at our homeschool book fair back in May and I just loved them. I only purchased Level 1- The Alphabet, and I am deciding if I want to purchase the next level for vowels or keep going with other materials. So far he has responded very well to the videos, songs, visual aids and workbook. I was afraid it would be "beneath" him a bit, since some of his schoolwork in Ethiopia was done in English. But once I got him home and got a chance to sit down with him and his composition books full of written English, I realized he could not read me any of what he had written. I realized that we needed to start at the beginning. So, though some of it is basic (for instance, he knew what the letter "A" was) it's good to teach phonics thoroughly, sequentially, and in context, so that I can know that he understands it before moving on. Besides, there is so much in his life that he doesn't know right now. Everything is new for him. There is a degree of comfort in hearing information repeated that one has already learned, and it gives him an opportunity to feel successful. Additionally, it is helping solidify his understanding of our written alphabet and the phonics rules and is filling in inevitable gaps. It helps me to ensure that he has thorough phonics/English instruction. (Any English he knows right now, after all, was taught to him by teachers for whom English was not their first language.) So, it's okay if some of it is review. He needs to hear it and I need to teach it, and we are enjoying our time together!

Part of learning to read is distinguishing between different sounds. To that end, I purchased two fun Bingo-type "Listening Lotto" games: Sounds at Home and Outside Sounds. We played the "sounds at home" game today and he *loved* it.

An additional supplement which was shared with me by an elementary ESL teacher is the website We have been doing the ABC link (at the top) and going through the letters as we do them in our Scaredy Cat reading. Each letter has an activity that goes with it. Later the program works through the vowel sounds and and words, and reads stories to them and has fun games, activities and printables. A very helpful resource!

Of course, I've got one of my favorite resources, Phonics Pathways ready, as well as Bob Books. Unless I feel like he needs to continue with Scaredy Cat Reading, I may transition over to those after we finish the alphabet. Those are my "tried and true" resources that I used with my first two, plus I already own them and it would save some money.

Speaking of money, that's always been one of my weaknesses when I face a schooling challenge-- throwing money at the problem! So, what did I do last week? I went to Sam's and bought every level of Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills books from grade 1 through 4, as well as Math K-3 and Phonics K-3. He loves doing those colorful sheets, especially for math, he's on such different levels in each subject, and will progress at such differing paces and they were only $7.86 each. (So, I didn't throw too much money...) I think those will be a handy supplement over the next couple of years.

Oh, I can't go any further without mentioning some of my favorite resources EVER-- the books by Peggy Kaye: Games for Reading, Games for Math, Games for Learning, and Games for Writing. My copies of those are well-worn and loved, and I've already got many of the games made from using them with my other two. Playing games is one of the best ways to learn, in my opinion.

Well, this post has gotten long enough! I'll close for now and post again about what I found for English and Math, as well as some wonderful games and other resources I've found. So many links, so little time!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I haven't posted since August??? Wow!

Well, if you have visited my regular blog at all, you know we've been up to something pretty big! We came home from Ethiopia the week before last with our new son. It has been, and continues to be, an amazing journey.

But now... it's time to return to *some* sort of school schedule (which, when I'm overwhelmed usually means Math, Reading and Life) so that's what we've begun this week.

More on that later... more on what it's like to teach ESL for the first time ever (which is going GREAT, by the way), more on what curriculum we're using... just as SOON as I have some time and another big cup of Ethiopian coffee. For now, here are some "school" pictures I snapped this week so far...

Yesterday I gave Minte a book (in Amharic and English, which I ordered from here) to read while I prepared lunch. Momentarily I heard the back door open and close, and here's what I saw when I looked in the backyard:

Isn't that a great way to enjoy a book and the cooler weather? Pretty soon his brother caught on and joined him. I thought this was so cute!

As for math... Here he is after playing a math game, working on his addition using the Flashmaster, which he LOVES:

So, we're back! And I'm still here! I hope to post more soon. Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope your school year is going great!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"A New Thing"

"Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert."
Isaiah 43:19

First of all, we have had BIG doin's at our house in recent weeks, so if you don't normally check my "regular" blog, you can click on over and see our newest addition to our family. We are SOOO excited! We have a new son! We are very prayerful that he will be joining us in the next 2-3 weeks. Please pray with us that we could travel SOON!

My mind has been all a-jumble the past few weeks with the adoption and preparing to travel, but school hasn't completely been on the back burner. However, I haven't posted on my homeschool blog in WAY too long, and I hope to get back to it regularly once we get back from Ethiopia. I've got so much to post, but so little time it seems.

God is truly doing a "new thing" in our family. I love the verse above, as it speaks of a God who brings new things to pass, creates life, makes things "spring forth" and makes rivers and roadways into new territories. That's what I'm trusting Him for this year! This is a year of "new things" for us, for sure!

One of the newest things recently is that this is the first year I've "farmed out" any classes for any of my children. My daughter, who is beginning her 10th grade year, began taking some courses at a local homeschool "resource center." It's not exactly a co-op (since I don't have to teach or volunteer) but she is being taught by some other highly qualified teachers/homeschool moms in a few subjects. I originally signed both of my older kids up for a few classes each for this year because when we began this adoption I wasn't sure if we would be adopting a baby, toddler, one baby, two babies, a baby and a toddler, etc. SO much was unknown! But, I knew I would need help, especially for the high school courses. We went last spring and registered for Biology, Writing, Rapid Math/SAT Math prep, World History/Literature, and Study Skills. I chose those classes for her because they either involved curriculum that she/we already wanted to use.
  • Biology is Apologia. I understand that there are many schools of thought on this, but it is important to us that science be taught from a Christian perspective. This will be our first year to use Apologia, as I've always chosen BJU for its "meatiness." (We are finishing up BJU's Physical Science 9 DVD course and were headed toward using their Biology as well... I still may with my younger two when it is time.) However, this class is being team-taught by two sharp teachers, so I'm confident that it will be a good fit for her.
  • The World History/ Literature course is a combination of BJU 's World History text (which she liked and already wanted to use, remember she's my textbook girl!) as well as an excellent booklist which already had several books on my list for her (from Veritas' Omnibus I-III books.)
  • Her writing class is a combination of writing assignments and online grammar activities, to be completed and emailed weekly.
  • Rapid Math is a combination of math tips/tricks and weekly SAT Math practice (especially in the word problems/logic area.) When I figure out what curriculum the teacher is using, I'll post it. It looks great!
  • Study Skills will probably be one of her most challenging and beneficial classes, in my opinion. I'll take more time in another post to explain what they're doing, but all I can say is I wish I would've had that class in high school! Wow!
SO, that's the first "new thing." Other teachers teaching and assigning. Syllabi coming into the house that I didn't prepare. Projects due that I didn't assign. The control freak in me is getting restless! She started her classes this week and I have to admit, it was strange. She would say, "I've got Biology homework," and inwardly I would think, "What Biology homework?" because I wasn't the one who assigned it! But, it will be good. The classes only meet one day per week, God directed us to do this, and most of all Bethany herself is loving it.

She will still be completing Geometry and Chinese at home.
  • Geometry will continue to be with Teaching Textbooks (through Algebra 2, at which point I will evaluate whether we will continue with that curriculum.)
  • Chinese is a combination of Pimsleur Mandarin, Rosetta Stone Mandarin, Shaum's Outline of Chinese Grammar, and we have also begun a relationship with a wonderful woman who works at a Chinese restaurant in our town who is from the province in China where Bethany loves to go, who is willing to meet with her on a regular basis and work on her pronunciation. One thing I think is great is that Bethany prepares Bible verses to say to her for her to help with her pronunciation. It truly helps Bethany, and God's Word is spoken. Love it. If someone would've told me when she was in kindergarten that her high school foreign language was going to be Chinese, I would've said they were crazy! But, this is another "new thing" that God has done in our family over the years. He is so good!

SO, outside classes are one of the "new things" going on around here. It may feel strange now, but in a few weeks I will welcome the fact that someone else is teaching her one day a week because the other major "new thing" that is going on around here is that I'll be a 4th grade ESL teacher for our newest son. More on that in my next post...

Monday, June 30, 2008

I'm Still Here!!!

And I've got lots to post!

  • all of the goodies I found at our homeschool bookfair in May
  • how we're trying to wrap up school over the summer (now that my daughter's back from China and we're counting down the weeks until we go to Africa!)
  • all of my thoughts about homeschooling an older, adopted child
  • what I've been finding as I've researched ESL instruction
  • how EXCITED I am to be homeschooling our new son when he gets here
  • a different approach I'll be taking with my younger 2 next year
  • fun stuff I've been wanting to order
  • Deep Meaningful Homeschool Mom thoughts. You know, because I have so many. LOL
SO... now that our adoption has calmed down for the time being and VBS is over, I plan to get back to this blog!

We received some fun adoption news today, so if you don't usually read my "regular" blog, pop on over (in the sidebar. :)

Have a great week!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Educational Choices

I'm still here! I canNOT believe it's been over a month since I posted on my homeschool blog. Incredible. BUT, we do have some incredible things going on in our household... things I can't wait to post about but things I find hard to put into words at the moment. On the school front, we have been plugging along, winding up our year. Tomorrow we will go to our big ole' book fair/ convention. I'll try to post what I found and what our plans are. Even if it doesn't help anyone else, it helps me to get it written down and formulate some thoughts! In a way I've needed the breather, but in many ways I've missed this blog. I'm sure I'll be post-happy this summer and make up for my time away!

I came across this today on Josh Harris' blog. Years ago God used his father Gregg's words to speak truth into our family and into our homeschool. Then I became familiar with Josh through is books, and now his blog. I just love him and his Godly insight about so many things. I know this is the time of year when so many of us are evaluating the school year we just had and making plans for next year. I just wanted to share what he said on his blog and to his church. May his words encourage you as you are deciding how to proceed with your children's education. May we all support each other as the body of Christ.

I'll be back soon!

Friday, April 04, 2008

What We Have Been Up To

I'll start this post with one of my favorite Todd Wilson cartoons:

Taken from the Official Book of Homeschooling Cartoons

According to the calendar, we should be right

Does that look like you? I just looked in the mirror and it definitely looks like me! Happy April!

I remember at a MOPS convention I went to years ago, Elisa Morgan showed a picture of a shriveled up juice box with straws sticking out of it all over, and she asked, "Is this what you feel like??" I just wanted to cry! I was that sucked-dry juice box! To this day that image pops into my mind from time to time.

Well, what in the world have we been up to in our homeschool, anyway? It's been weeks since I've posted, so we must be doing SOMEthing... I haven't posted a "school update" in months. But, believe me, we have been doing school. Boy, have we! Well, since I posted the cabbage juice post last month, I might as well follow up with the pictures of the pHun we had testing the pH of various substances.

As you can see, the cabbage juice being poured in is purple, but as it hits the substance in the cup it changes color. Pretty cool!

Here are some of the substances we tested:

It looks like we were dying easter eggs, doesn't it? It was a fun experiment, and very easy to put together using (non-yicky) ingredients from around the house. It was in our BJU Science 6 curriculum, but there are some links for similar experiments in this post if you want to try it. And, if you're one of my friends who lives nearby, I've got a jar of extra cabbage juice!

This semester we made a switch in my daughter's science as well. Since we are in the midst of an adoption, and we're not sure when our new addition(s) will arrive, we are trying to make hay while the sun shines and really get ahead, to give us some margin after we get home from Africa. I've been thinking for some time that I'd like to try a BJU dvd course for science to see what I thought of it for possible use for Biology or Chemistry for high school. For various reasons the co-ops around us aren't a good fit, and I acknowledge that I need some support in the area of upper-level science. SO, we ordered the BJU Physical Science 9 dvd course for this semester (continuing in the summer.) We started it after Christmas in January. We wrapped up the Earth Science 8 in December. It was a push, but I condensed the chapters and feel that she got a good grounding in Earth Science/Astronomy. (The grade 6 book had a substantial amount of that as well, so she had it two years ago...)

We've been very pleased with the DVD course so far. The teacher, Mr. Harmon, is pleasant to watch and, while he's not completely goofy, he doesn't take himself too seriously so he holds her interest. It's a very thorough course (as I've found BJU science to be... packed with information!) and she's really understanding it.

I went ahead and ordered the Science 9 Kit from Home Science Tools because it had some things in it we didn't have (like a bunsen burner, test tubes, etc.) and some chemicals that I didn't have around the house like, oh say, sulfuric acid... It's been SO handy to have it all ready for labs. At $399 the course seemed pricey to me, but when I compared it to the $40 or so a month (plus fees) my friends pay for 9-10 months of a co-op, it came out almost the same. Also, with the DVD's, she has instruction every day and not just on Fridays. I do have to set up the labs and help her with them, but in return I'm not driving her to a class and volunteering in Cooking with Tots, and/or finding somewhere for my son to be or paying for him to take a class he doesn't necessarily want to take (and thus, volunteering my time on his behalf as well) so it works out, at least for us. And, I enjoy teaching science, I just needed support. My son enjoys watching some of it as well, and it's preparing him for some of his upper level work as well.

We took a brief break from Omnibus I to read something "lighter" for the past few weeks. She's finishing up Christy by Catherine Marshall and then it's back to Genesis to begin the Omnibus Primary books. I have found that it helps sometimes to alternate between something really heavy and serious to something lighter and a bit easier to read. That may not work for everyone, but it works for us. It's something I've done in my own reading over the years.

Kyle read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 recently, per the Veritas grade 6 list. It was quite a challenging read but it lead to some great discussions. There is a synopsis here if you don't remember that book from high school!) We checked out the movie from our library and watched it after he finished the book. It's interesting, the wall-TV's that were so "futuristic" in the mid 1960's are the flat screens that are common today. People in the book went around with tiny earphones in their ears as well... Hmmm.... This book sparked (pun intended!) some great discussions about media, reading, v*oyeurism (and the link between that and watching "reality TV"), etc. I'm glad we tackled it. This week, for something a bit lighter, he read Two Williams by Doug Wilson, a new sequel to Susan Creek and Blackthorn Winter, which he read and enjoyed last year. These are very well-written and historical books, and beautifully illustrated. I highly recommend these for logic stage reading. Speaking of beautifully illustrated, next up for him is The Yearling, which we checked out from the library. The version we found is from the Scribner Illustrated Classic series and was illustrated by N.C. Wyeth.

For Kyle, we took a break from Teaching Textbooks when we got to the decimals and percents chapter and he is working through the Zeta: Decimals book in Math U See. I wish I had done that with Bethany when she was in the Pre-Algebra TT book, as we had jumped right into TT from MUS without completing the decimals section of MUS and she experienced some frustration. Hopefully we'll adequately cover decimals and percents and he can jump right back into the Pre-Algebra in a few weeks. It is going very well right now.

Bethany is continuing to enjoy TT Algebra I. She attended an SAT/PSAT prep class this week and is ready to jump into Geometry (she was at a distinct disadvantage for PSAT prep without it thusfar... but she's only 8th/9th grade, so it's coming!)

We've FINALLY wrapped up Latina Christiana I and are getting into Level II. Believe me, when Leigh Lowe said, "There's no reason to hurry through Latin" I took her at her word! Let me encourage you... Latin is wonderful and worth it, so go for it! There's no reason to hurry through it, and it's a very valuable endeavor. (I wrote about why we study Latin here.)

It's always worked for us to study one language that's not spoken (Latin) and one that is (a modern language.) Kyle is continuing to enjoy studying Spanish, and is gaining quite a vocabulary! Last year at our annual book fair, Sr. Gamache invited Kyle to help him run the Clase Divertida booth this year, so he's really been working. Bethany continues her Chinese, which I can tell is a truly God-given passion and gift for her. In fact, she will be returning to China next month, so she'll get to use what she's been learning.

Our current missionary study is Amy Carmichael. This is our second time to study her. I LOVE HER. In fact, it is very likely that our next daughter will be named Amy. Her life and her writing has spoken into my life so much. We are enjoying our study of her. She was amazing. Truly amazing.

We are also enjoying reading Grandpa's Box. You can go here for more info about the book and to see the corresponding projects we are doing. I highly recommend this book.

Well, there it is. That's some of what we've been up to. (There's more, but this post is long enough!) We're continuing to plug along, and when the sun is shining we read on the patio.

Spring is here!

Monday, March 10, 2008


Al Mohler will be discussing the California homeschooling issue today on his radio program. You can listen to it online here from 5:00- 6:00 PM Eastern Time. (Or if you're a podcast junkie like I am, you can subscribe to it here.) His blog article about it is here. I really appreciate Dr. Mohler's perspective on SO many issues. He really is a voice of reason in my opinion. I'm ready to hear what he has to say on this issue.

Have a great Monday!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Whose Children Are They?

Can you imagine the public outcry that would be heard if it were suddenly brought into question whether parents could legally be in charge of feeding their own children unless at least one parent became a certified, registered dietitian? What if, in order to prepare your children's food in your own home it was mandatory to be under the ongoing supervision of a credentialed, registered dietitian?

How do you think the general public would feel about their state assuming that since one family didn't adequately feed their children (as determined by the courts) now all families must receive training and certification as dietitians and cooks, or else bring their children to state-funded nutrition centers for all of the meals for their minor children? Because, obviously, parents can't be trusted. They're not qualified. The feeding of children is too important an issue. We can't leave dietary decisions and menu implementation to amateurs! Even amateurs who love these children with their very lives and are doing everything they can to educate themselves and feed them properly. Parents either must receive the necessary qualification and certification to cook for and feed their own children, or let the proper professionals handle it. In fact, it should be the law.

This sounds a bit absurd in the realm of nutrition, but this is exactly what's happening in the realm of education. The underlying assumption is that parents simply can't be trusted to educate their own children.

This week's California Court of Appeal decision is found here. If you haven't already, I encourage you to go read it. The language is clear. It's not just about this one family. The decision is now on the path to become a legal precedent for other cases. I don't think it's alarmist at all to listen to James Dobson's radio broadcast for today and consider seriously what is discussed. It's not paranoid to join HSLDA or at least your state's support group. It's not irrational to go here and sign this petition on behalf of thousands of homeschoolers in California. You never know when your family might benefit from the work that's being done on behalf of the rights of parents. Parents who happen to want to nourish the minds of their children themselves... through homeschooling.

**Edited to add: This is not just a homeschool issue! Al Mohler has a great post about this on his blog here. Dr. Mohler states, "This is a controversy that demands the attention of all parents. After all, if parents have no constitutional right to educate their own children, what other aspects of the parent's choices for their own children lack protection? This question reaches far beyond educational decisions."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Lie # 7

**This is the seventh post in a series that I have been writing from the book Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe, by Todd Wilson. (If you haven't read my other posts on the topic, you can find them by clicking on the link in the label at the end of this post.) **

That's what I love about this blog. I can start a series of posts, leave off, and pick up the series a year later! If you are a serious blogger you probably can't imagine doing that. (If you are a homeschool mom, you probably can. ;)

It's March 6th. Finally! It's March! Did you make it through the "February Freakout?" Do you typically have a FF? I do. Every year in February I have that "WHAT am I DOING??" feeling. The momentum of fall is gone. The Christmas rush is over. There are no more holidays in sight until spring break or Easter. Some of the curriculum I *loved* last summer and eagerly started last fall is staring at us, no longer fun and new. The books have creases and pages are torn out. Some of the things I thought my kids would get a kick out of got an "eh" and a shrug. Several of the plans I made in my August back-to-school-coffee-fueled-plan-a-thon were too much trouble to actually put into practice. My clothes are no longer cute. The weather doesn't know if it wants to be cold or warm (where we live) but my legs attest to the fact that it is NOT time for capris pants.

If you don't do this in February, chances are you feel this way at some point (or at many points!) in your schoolyear. It's in seasons like this that you run into.... her.

You've seen her. The "perky homeschooler."

She's perpetually dressed cute, or even worse, looks cute in *whatever* she wears. She's always in a good mood. She's excited about what she and her kids are doing in school. Moreover-- her kids are excited about it! You usually run into her when they've just come from one fabulously enriching activity and they're on their way home to write about it in their Enrichment Journals. She loves all of her curriculum and wouldn't change a thing. Just being around her makes you feel extremely guilty about your own feelings about homeschooling at the moment. Why? Because you've bought...

Lie #7: Every other mom loves homeschooling her kids.

Most of the moms I know like homeschooling most of the time. In fact, the majority of them love it (in theory) the majority of the time. But the truth is, in practice, many of us don't LOVE it each and every day. Some of us love the results of it, but not the everyday-ness of it. And... that's okay! It's hard work!

If you look at what you do that's really good for you, it's not always easy. Taking vitamins, for instance. The mediocre vitamins I get at Wal Mart that are good-but-not-that good for me are a pleasant color and not that hard to swallow. The vitamins I get from my vitamin store that are the bestest-vitamins-in-the-universe are huge, green horse pills. Which do you think I *like* taking? Which do you think actually make me feel better and more energetic?

Exercise, eating certain healthy foods, certain spiritual disciplines, ministry tasks, motherhood... most things that are best are hard! Most moms I know who are homeschooling are doing it because for whatever reason they (along with their husbands) have decided it is best for their children. But it is hard! And things that are hard are usually not The Most Fun Everyday.

I am motivated by a deep love for my kids and a commitment to do what's best for them. My husband and I have decided that homeschooling is best. (Yes, through high school!) I LOVE knowing that I'm doing what I know God has called me to do. Do I always love doing it? No. I *love* what homeschooling is. On most days I *like* what it involves. But, I *live* the reality of each day, relying on God's power and not my own energy or emotion. In fact, on the days I don't really "love" it, it's more of an offering to God and I find I'm more reliant on Him. If I love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind, and homeschool as though working for God and not man... it doesn't matter if I love it all the time.

Not loving homeschooling for a season is not the reason not to do it...Not loving it is not a sign you're not good at it...Not loving it does not make you "less" of a homeschooler than your perky friend...Not loving it gives you an opportunity to lean more on Him, and gives Him an opportunity to work His character into you as you persevere...Not loving it brings an opportunity to make necessary changes...Not loving it is okay, and it is normal.

I'll close with a quote from Wilson's book. "The things that are the easiest are usually not very good for you, but those things that take blood, sweat and tears are worth everything. So take heart. Homeschooling must be really, really good because it's really, really hard."

Everyone (even Perky Mom) has those "not-lovin'-it" seasons. Don't believe the lie!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cabbage Juice, Anyone?

Next week's science at our house involves using purple cabbage juice to test the pH of certain substances. There are different suggestions out there of how to get purple cabbage juice, and even substitution ideas. Here's a quick and easy way we did it. (And, though it may be suggested that red onions work too... I found that no, in fact, they don't, and I'm still burning candles to get rid of the boiled red onion smell. ;)

First I started water boiling in a kettle on the stove. While it was heating, I chopped cabbage. We only need two cups of the solution, so I just used half a head of cabbage.

I chopped it into small pieces.

I put it into a eight cup bowl.

Once the water was boiling, I poured it over the cabbage, just enough to cover it.

This is what it looked like after about 15 minutes.

It didn't get much darker, but this is how it ended up 30 or so minutes later.

I then strained it into a jar, and ended up with more than I thought so I needed two jars! Once site suggested pouring vinegar over the leftover cabbage and using it as a relish. Um, we didn't do that, but if it sounds good to you... go for it! I read said to store it cold, so it's now in our garage refridgerator awaiting our science experiments next week!

The procedures we will be doing are in our BJU Science 6 book, but here are some sites which offer fun ways to test acidity with cabbage juice:

Zoom Activities: Cabbage Juice Indicator

Children's Museum (Connecticut)

Coal Education

Cabbage Patch Chemistry

Suzy's World (exceptionally clear explanations)

We'll see how it turns out. It should be "pHun!"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Kind of House Are You Building?

Originally posted Feb. 13, 2007.

"A wise woman builds her house,
but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down."
Prov. 14:1

God has whispered this verse into my spirit so many times as a mom, in the midst of a tirade against my children or while being self-indulgent. "Are you building your house or tearing it down right now?" Oh, how convicting. There is no more satisfying feeling than knowing that I am actively engaged in building my house. There is no feeling more awful than knowing that I am tearing it down with my own hands. As moms, we have the power to do both.

I've been thinking of this verse in a new light lately, though. I've been considering it as it applies to homeschooling.

If you think of someone literally building a house, you think of the expertise they bring to the project. Some homes are brick, so you would want someone with masonry skills to do the work. If you wanted a sided home, you might hire a different contractor to do it, not necessarily a bricklayer. I've seen some gorgeous stucco homes (there is a stunning one in my neighborhood) which involves a totally different set of skills. Any of those types of homes are nice. They fulfill their purposes- to provide shelter for those who inhabit them. Though there are certain advantages to each different style (cost, energy efficiency, regional tastes, etc.) mostly it's personal preference which leads to one choice over another.

Much has been made over the past 20 years or so about "learning styles" of children as it pertains to effectively educating them. That has been a particular interest of mine, as it was the topic for my "research proposal" that I wrote for my masters degree. As homeschooling moms, though, I think we must take it a step further. What about our teaching style? Are you sequential, textbook-y, unit study-ish, holistic, scheduled, loosey-goosey? Whatever you are, however you are wired, I believe it is God-given, and it is your "building style."

Much frustration would come to the bricklayer who was hired to do a sided house. So, too, for the mom who buys curriculum for one type of "house" when that's not her style or expertise. A bricklayer could possibly build a sided house, but it would not be as quality a job since it is not his area of expertise. A thematic unit-loving mom would go nuts trying to implement a structured school-in-a-box approach. She could do it, but it might not be done as well as someone who loves how those fit together and enjoys that approach. Similarly, someone who loves writing her own curriculum would be frustrated following someone else's plan for the year. She could make it work, but the end result might not be what she was aiming for. What kind of house are you building? What kind of house are you gifted to build? Go with that! God did it! Our loving, sovereign General Contractor knew just what kind of house you were to build for your family and gave you desires and skills that fit it perfectly.

And I don't think He randomly assigned kids with learning style a,b,and c to a mom who's teaching style is x, y, and z. He didn't just put us all together and say, "Well, good luck with that!" chuckling to Himself as He walked off. He knows the blueprints for the house He has called you to build, and He has given you the raw materials. He will make it work! I am just now discovering in my 8th year of homeschooling that some of my frustration over the years has been from following someone else's blueprint, or building a brick house when God gave me stucco abilities. I'm sitting on a pile of bricks, with "Masonry For Dummies" books strewn all about, when what I'd really like to do is grab my trusty trowel and stucco like I know how to do. (Okay, an over-abundance of symbolism, but hopefully you get what I mean!)

However, having to work at it doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. Building a house is hard work. But the key question is: Is the house being built? Is there progress? Perhaps if you are building along and finding holes and leaks, it's time to go back to the drawing board and see if you are building according to the right blue prints, using your God-given giftings and preferences not someone else's. Or maybe you just need to go back and patch up some spots and work more diligently in the future. God will honor our attempts to work hard at something. I don't believe He will honor our attempts to get out of working at it, or to make it easier on ourselves, though. Only through prayer will you know if you're building the wrong kind of house or if you're just not being diligent in the work you've been doing.

Your "house" will not look like mine, and mine will not look like yours. But may they be functional and beautiful, built to the glory of God.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What Every Kid Wants for Valentine's Day...

A day off!

Nothing says "I love you" like meeting Gram at Starbucks for a muffin and a latte. And for Gram and daughter to go shopping at a favorite mall to shop for some much-needed clothes. And for mom and son to spend the afternoon at the library and the Army/Navy store. And then for everyone to meet back at home for a wonderful Valentine's day dinner with Dad.

Oh, yeah...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chinese New Year

Xin Nian Hao!

It's not too late to celebrate Chinese New Year!

It officially started last Thursday, but my daughter's Chinese friends say that they are celebrating it for 15 days.

Last week we had a small Chinese New Year Party with two other families. Here's the group, the girls dressed in their "qi pao," Chinese party dresses. Their American Girl dolls were dressed for the occasion as well! I posted a slide show on my other blog, but I thought I'd post over here about the resources and games we used.

My daughter used this site at to create each party guest their own Chinese name. We put them on name tags, and it was interesting to see how each person's name truly reflected their character!

After the guests arrived and put on their name tags, we sat and read a story. We read the book Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin. It is a beautifully illustrated and easy to understand story of a Chinese family. The explanations of the customs are clear and understandable for a wide range of ages, as we had preschoolers up to a 14 year old at our house, and all enjoyed the book. One of my friends even pointed out how we can "adapt" some of their customs and put them in a Christian context (instead of sweeping out last year's "bad luck" we can sweep out bad habits and sins that have accumulated over the past year, etc. A very interesting discussion!)

We then made some "Year of the Rat" picture frames and Chinese lanterns that I ordered from Oriental Trading Company. We used sticky dots from the craft store as well as glue sticks and they worked great... and we didn't have to worry about glue drying.

We made up a "Ladybug Game" (sort of like a "cake walk"...we got the ladybug idea from the Chapman's book, Shaoey and Dot, a favorite among the families who were at the party who have precious daughters adopted from China). We laminated some ladybugs and taped them in a circle on the floor. Each ladybug had a differen number of dots on its back. We played some Chinese music while everyone walked in a circle.
When the music stopped each child stopped on a ladybug and counted the number of dots on its back and we drew a number out of a bag. The child on the corresponding number won a prize. The prizes were items we bought in China while we were there, but also a Chinese New Testament and some coins with John 3:16 in Chinese. As each child won a prize we removed that number and ladybug, so each child got a chance to win. (This photo was taken after most of the kids had won and were sitting on the stairs with their prizes...)

We also played a story game, the "Left/Right Game." The children sat in a circle while my daughter read a story she had written. There was a gift to pass around while the story was read. When she said the word "right" (or "Wright" or "write") the gift was passed to the right. When she said "left" it was passed left. It was a cute story she wrote about the "Wright family" and how they celebrated Chinese New Year. (Story below.)
When the story stopped, whoever was left holding the gift got to keep it. In this case, it was a wonderful set of small figures from China representing the 56 people groups. The winner was so excited, because his sister is from one of the people groups!

We had some yummy Chinese take-out from our favorite Chinese buffet in our town. We have made friends with the owner and his wife... His wife is from the province in China that we visit. She helps my daughter with her pronunciation and is very helpful to translate any shirts we buy at Target (or wherever) that have Chinese writing on them... I want to know what they say! We ate lunch at the restaurant and then ordered take out for the party for later. We gave her one of our coins with John 3:16 on it, and she read it with interest. We hope to get to know her better in the future. My daughter has been learning Scripture in Chinese and we want to get her to help her with her pronunciation. What a great opportunity to let God's Word speak for itself, and perhaps open the door for the gospel.

After crafts, games and food, the kids played for awhile upstairs and then we had fun cranking the Chinese "hip hop" music (that we found on iTunes) and then popping party poppers. It was a great time!

If you'd like to learn more about China or Chinese New Year with your kids, here are some additional resources:

Kids On Mission: China

Kids of Courage

Activity Village

Enchanted Learning

Apples 4 the Teacher


Left-Right Game

The Wright family was preparing for the Chinese New Year. For the Wrights, if you did not celebrate Chinese New Year, than that was just not right. The Wright family lives in Fuzhou, China, but they soon left to travel right up the coast to Shanghai, China, where the rest of the Wright family members were left waiting for them to begin the celebration. The Wright family finally arrived at their family's house which was on the left of the street, right across from the market place. Their family was preparing for the New Year by sweeping out the bad luck left over from the last year. Uncle Wright decided to write a good luck poem to hang on the left of the door outside. Grandma Wright gave the little Wright girls a fresh hair cut, and Auntie Wright left to fetch their new gowns. Next, the entire extended Wright family began the celebration right away with a huge feast. The Wright's feast had just the right amount of food to feed each Wright, but left plenty of leftovers for tomorrow. After everybody was finished eating, the Wright family members left the kitchen to stand right outside and pop firecrackers. When there were not any poppers left, there soon came the best part of all, the dragon dance. Each Wright family member left any bad thoughts behind and gathered around as Auntie Wright colored in the left and right eyes of the dragon. The dragon's eyes were now opened so that he could see. The music began blaring from the instruments being played right to the left of them, and the dragon began its dance. Left and right, left, left, left and right and left it swayed. It followed the sun right then left, then right and right again. Left it turned, swaying further and further left, right. Right as the music started to calm down, the dragon reared to the right and came to a halt. The Wright family roared in laughter and applause and each Wright hugged all of the other Wrights. Right at the end of the clapping, each Wright left their places and gathered closer, singing and shouting, Xin Nian Hao! Yes, the Wright family was right, the old year was left far behind and the New Year was finally here.


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