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.


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