Happy First Day of Summer!

Hope StandingSummer is here without a doubt, and our house is not appreciating it.  Our AC quit on us yesterday so it’s up to a whopping 82 degrees in the house.  This is good news for you because it means I’m chilling with the kids in Jake’s office while he cleans and I get to write a blog, yay!  (Yes, that all must sound very strange, so I’ll explain.  Monday is his day off and it was cleaning day today and I was doing the cleaning like any good wife probably should, but then the baby needed help getting to sleep so I am getting a break while Jake does a few things.  Isn’t he awesome?  Yes he is.)

Anyway, so I owe you a bit of a catch up post.  This last couple of weeks has been rather tough for us.  Hope got her casts off at the beginning of the month, which I was looking forward to.  I thought she’d be happier without them, oh boy was I wrong.  The super loud little saw thing they use to get the casts off was traumatizing for her in every real sense of that word.  I was in Jacob’s post-op appointment and Jake was with Hope so I didn’t see any of it, but when I saw her afterward she was a terrible mess.  Her eyes were red from crying (rarely does she cry that much) and all the color was drained from her face.  She proceeded to cry the next 45 minutes until we could get back in the van to go home.

Jake told me how terrified she had been during the appointment; when the tech was trying to get her casts off she literally sat up on the bed and starting punching him.  This is not typical behavio,r as any of you who have followed along will probably realize.  Yes, she hits herself, but she is never violent toward other people.  He told me that he had never seen her that upset, even when she was in excruciating pain when her shunt failed last year.  Wow, has it only been a year since then? It seems like way longer.  Longest year of my life… so glad it’s over… anyway I digress.

When we got her home she did not improve.  Any time we would touch her, especially her legs or feet, she would jump and start screaming and crying.  Even if I accidentally brushed her toe while I was walking by it would cause a terrible fear reaction, any kind of touch at all was scary for her.  For the first couple of days I touched and moved her as little as possible.  We just tried to use very quiet, gentle voices and reassure her but it was like she wasn’t even hearing us.  She was not present.

Diaper changes, and putting her knee immobilizers and braces on were the worst times, and still are.  Whenever I would have to do any of those things it was like she wasn’t even in the room with me anymore, she was somewhere else reliving some horrible trauma, and I was the one triggering it.  The only way I could touch her without her screaming was to pick her up and wait a minute for her to calm down.  One time I did that, and when she came back to reality and stopped crying she just got very quiet and wrapped her arms as tightly around me as she could and grabbed my hair.  It was like she was holding on for dear life.  She’s never done that before, and while I’m glad she’s looking to me for safety, it was heart wrenching to see her like that.

It’s slowly getting better.  She has always had anxiety over people going near her legs and feet, so we are sure the casts must have caused her to have a flashback from some trauma long ago.  She also had other strange symptoms, fever, diarrhea,  seizure-like episodes, lack of appetite, etc.  We ended up having to take her to the ER (where I insisted she get some good drugs so as not to traumatize her more).  Nothing showed up in the tests and the meds they gave her worked great, she was very chill the whole time and didn’t remember it the next day.

She’s slowly improving.  My Hashimoto’s flared up very badly that week and the week after.  Stress is not good for autoimmune conditions, and I was quite devestated by the whole experience myself.  Now we are two weeks out exactly and things have settled down again.  I haven’t been blogging due to that and the fact that I no longer have a computer at the house.  We are rearranging our whole house from top to bottom and the desktop has not been set up the last two weeks so I really don’t have a great way to blog.  Planning on remedying that very soon.

In other news, we are starting school for the kids next week and everyone is very excited about that.  I figure we should probably start over the summer so that when life inevitably happens during the year we have some wiggle room and can still finish up all of our weeks by the end of the year.  And as for Facebook is concerned, I don’t miss it one little bit.  I really thought I would, but I haven’t.  I am so much happier without the drama of it all and the ridiculous amount of time and energy it took from my family.  I feel way more productive now and I’m overall more content and happier with life.  I’m more present with the kids.  It’s an awesome feeling.

And that is all for me!  But I do want to say, if you are interested in checking out another Lutheran pastor’s wife who is also adopting I suggest heading over to Hannah’s Blog.  They are adopting two kiddos and they are in-country right now!  Very exciting!!  Blessings on your week ya’ll!

Knock Knock…

Anybody home? Yes! I am! And we have lots to catch up on!  First and foremost, I wanted to announce the long overdue winner of our giveaway! Stefanie!  Congratulations!  I’ll be contacting you soon to work on getting your prize all set up!

Second, I am so sorry for not posting sooner.  The worst of the adjustment period seems to be over for us and I’m hoping that the next few months we’ll avoid surprise surgeries and unexpected setbacks and get to finally see what our new normal looks like.  We are also trying to get a more reliable internet connection at the house so I can blog more often.

It takes so long to upload a basic post that it hasn’t really been realistic for me to do much.  But now that we’re finding a groove, I’m ready to get back to it and a reasonable internet connection will allow that to happen!  It will also allow me to start uploading pictures again!  If there’s something that you’ve been dying to know about how our family’s doing please comment or send me a quick message and I’ll put it on the docket for posts.  Hope everyone has had a wonderful summer!  It’s good to be back!

Hope is out of the hospital, she’s doing wonderfully.  We are still working through some issues though.  The catheter that drains fluid from her brain became infected, and the bacteria was present in the spinal fluid of her brain.  Life threatening stuff!  But we have the amazing gift of medicine, and we give great thanksgiving to God for the miracles He accomplished through our doctors.  After spending two weeks in the ICU and going through two more surgeries, she is now healthy and thriving once again.

The unfortunate piece of this, however, is that Hope’s self-harming behaviors were the cause of the infection.  She constantly jabs and picks at her catheter.  It was never an issue before, I think, because it was an old surgery (from when she was a baby) and it was fully healed before her stimulating behaviors started.  But when she received a new shunt and catheter back in April, the tissue didn’t have time to completely heal.  We did keep her away from it for several weeks afterward, but that wasn’t enough time.

Now we are in the difficult position of preventing her from touching her catheter until it is fully healed – her neurosurgeon said six months.  The area we need to protect runs from her neck all the way down to her stomach, it’s a very large space.  There is absolutely no behavioral redirection that prevents her from picking; it is a compulsive stim and she just can’t help it.  This means that when we aren’t able to be one-on-one with her and watching very closely, we have to keep her safe some other way.

We are working so hard to find a solution that doesn’t include pediatric restraints.  It took us a month before any of her doctors or therapists would even have a serious brainstorming discussion with us.  We tried some solutions with our own creativity, but nothing has panned out yet.  Hopefully soon.

In other news… Jacob and Evangeline are starting 1st grade!  We have lots of great books to get us going and I’m super excited for both of them.  Technically Evangeline would be in Kindergarten this year, but since we are homeschooling it gives us a lot of flexibility to go at their pace, so I opted for an early 1st grade start and if we need to take more than a year to finish it no one will be stressed out!  Having them start in the same grade will also be super helpful for me, as I only have one lesson plan.  Yay!

I’m telling Stephen that he gets to “start Preschool” with them, which really just means I’ll have schoolish things for him to do when he feels like it.  Hope is definitely in school with us, but she isn’t really classified in any grade level yet.  I’m hoping that by the time Stephen is ready to start 1st grade her attentiveness will have grown enough that she can listen to the books and music and enjoy them along with him.

The children have reached lots of milestones since I last updated.  Jacob is now using crutches around the house instead of a walker!  He still uses his walker to go to church and back, but he is getting really strong and we are so proud of how hard he’s working on his walking.  He even walked up the stairs for the first time ever a few days ago!  Tomorrow is Jacob and Hope’s first baptism birthday and we will have a dinner and cake to celebrate with them.

Hope is now able to sit up on the edge of her bed and help me put her shirt on.  This is a huge accomplishment!  She does it without prompting and seems to enjoy participating in her care.  She is getting more interested in being a part of our family every day.  It’s amazing to watch her come to life.  I’m working on teaching her to tell me when she wants to be picked up and also showing her how to go from a laying to a sitting position.  She’s strong enough to do it, she just needs to learn that she can!  We started putting her in her stander for a while but we’re breaking from that.  Her braces aren’t exactly correct and she has some alignment issues, so we’re going to try and sort all that out before doing any more standing.

Evangeline has her very first loose tooth, which she is impatient to get out.  She also started her first dance class last week.  She is in a ballet and tap class and is really enjoying it so far!  It has some of the same elements as gymnastics, without the flipping on bars way off the ground, which she didn’t care for much.

Stephen, on the other hand, loves gymnastics!  His first class was also last week, and even though he was shy at first, once he got in on the fun he never stopped smiling once and he zoomed through all the skills.  I was impressed!  He is getting more interested in reading now and would be happy reading several books all in a row if I had the time for it.  He just had his third birthday and is turning into a sweet, sweet kid.

Kyrie is growing like a weed; she is already in 2T clothes and she has four teeth!  Ack!  How did that happen!?  Last week she said her first word “Dada”!  She won’t say it for us every time, I suppose it’s on her terms. We are diaper free now except when we go out in town.  I still take her potty when we’re away, but we use a diaper just in case we can’t find a potty fast enough.  She stays dry through the night for us, which is awesome, and she typically has a few accidents throughout the day, but we’re doing really well for six months and I’m enjoying not having to buy so many diapers!

 

First Week of Kindergarten

I have not done a post devoted to just our sweet first daughter in, well… years.  She made us parents and she is so very often a ray of light and joy in our home.  I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it.  Last fall I had planned to start doing a bit of formal schooling with her here and there, but that never actually took root.  There has been so much chaos that it hasn’t happened, and I had initially expected Jacob to tag along in her studies on a more serious level.  But he’s just not ready for that yet, and so our first few tries failed considerably.

photo (57)After I got off of bed rest I thought we would just wait to get a routine like this going until after the baby came, but one week passed… then two weeks… and I realized that I simply didn’t have that kind of patience!  So I decided to jump in and go for it.  Tuesday was Evangeline’s very first day of kindergarten.  See?  I even took a picture!  She picked the pigtails.  :)

Our school week goes from Tuesday through Friday, although we do some things on our weekend days too.  I have a lot that I would love to cover with her before we officially start “1st grade”, but I decided going slow and adding things as we can would be the best way to do it.  This week we have been dabbling in: arithmetic, poetry, hymnody, Bible, Catechism, reading and ASL.  If I’m really confident we’ll get our nature study time in tomorrow too.  Next week we will start with our memory work  and hopefully nature studies and handwriting.  Music, art and handicrafts will follow after we are doing well with the rest.  History and foreign language will probably be the last subjects we add down the road.

It all sounds very ambitious, but we follow a primarily Charlotte Mason approach.  She advocates for very short lessons, a ton of free play and outdoor time, and would defnitely balk at the idea of “formal lessons” for my almost five year old.  :)  But all of you who know me know that my brain just doesn’t work that way and it has to be formally written down or else I will lose my mind!  And with two children with special needs and a new baby on the way… without some sort of structure I just wouldn’t get these quality moments in at all.  With all that said, this week has gone very well, and I’m pleased with where we’re headed for the rest of the year.

Our days are pretty simple, we have to schedule in time for therapies and meals, and I have two school times each day.  We have a school basket and each child gets to pick which lesson they want.  It takes about fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon.  All four kids are present, but not all of them are listening or participating at the same level 😉  The only child I have any expectations for at this point is Evangeline, but they all enjoy sitting in on the fun.

For arithmetic I found a great resource for the early years.  It is quite aged, but their reasoning is spot on and I really don’t see a reason to reinvent the wheel if this works perfectly well!  The book is called The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers”, and the arithmetic section we are working through begins on page 105.  Google reader has the text available for free here.  Every morning I put six random household objects in our school basket and we first practice recognizing a group without counting (How many oranges are on the floor?).  Stephen can recognize what one orange looks like and Jacob can recognize up to two objects.  I always let them do the easy questions before getting more in depth with Evie.  After that I ask her how many objects I need to add or take away from the group to make a different number (How many quarters do I need to put on the floor so we have four quarters?)  

She is now at a point where she can add and subtract objects up to five with almost 100% accuracy and she can recognize a group of six objects without counting them.  Once she masters that we’ll keep moving up through the number 10 and then she’ll “graduate” to the next phase of the arithmetic program.  I’ll have to write a more in depth post about this approach because I just love it so much.

We also do poetry, which is one of my favorite subjects to teach right now, partially because Evie loves it so incredibly much and it’s a pleasure to do it with her.  We are working on learning one classic children’s poem by heart each month.  Since this month only had a week left I picked a really short one to start with, it’s “Clouds” by Christina Rosetti and she learned it by heart after only two days of hearing it once or twice each.  She enjoys reciting it now, and her expressiveness is awesome.  Recitation is definitely a strong suit for her!  After we recite our poem I let each of the kids pick one other poem they want to read before we move on.

Bible is nice and short.  Each day we read one of the readings for Church on Sunday (an Old Testament, an Epistle and a Gospel reading).  We read each one twice during the week so that they can recognize them during the service on Sunday and understand a little better what’s going on.  We briefly discuss what the readings were about and I let the kids ask any questions they have before we move on.

For Hymnody we do two hymns at a time.  We have a weekly hymn we sing every day, which is also from the next Sunday’s service.  Our goal isn’t to know it by heart, but just to be familiar with it so that we can sing it well at Church.  I love to incorporate the children in the liturgy as much as possible, and this is part of that conscious effort.  We also have a monthly hymn we sing every day, and that varies according to the Church year.  Our goal for this is to memorize it by heart and add it to our family’s repertoire of hymns that we can enjoy on a regular basis.  I will usually have us sing one of the hymns at school time and we’ll sing the other during our family hymnsing before bed.

Catechism is done by Daddy so I really don’t know what he does for that… I do know he uses the My First Catechism book by CPH and our family also loves the “Follow and Do” series as well as the Sing the Faith CD, which is Luther’s Small Catechism put to music.  The Catechism is certainly part of our education, but we schedule it after Daddy gets home rather than during our normal school routine.  I would love to add in some instruction on the liturgy as well at some point, but we might wait until next year for that.

Reading is another subject that I am thoroughly enjoying (although really, it’s all been fun!)  We try to keep only quality children’s books around, (I use the suggested reading list from Ambleside Online) and reading takes place all throughout the day.  I do pick a couple of books out specifically to read once or twice during school time just to be sure that everyone is getting some reading time in at least once a day!  Our reading lessons, though, take place individually and spontaneously.  When Evie asks me to read a book I’ll ask if she wants to read too.  If she does, we pick a new word from that story for her to learn and I let her read all the words in the book that she knows while I fill in the rest.

I’m also writing each new word she learns down on a 3×5 card for her to “practice” if she feels like it.  That way, if she wants to read with Daddy or Grandma, they also have a list of all the words she knows.  She gets very frustrated if you read “her” word!  Lol!  I am teaching her phonics rather than just relying on sight words.  Every time she learns a word she has to tell me what sound each letter makes, and as new rules come up (ex: when t and h are together they make a different sound) we talk about them.  If she struggles to remember a word I encourage her to sound it out and she’s getting pretty good at it!

Last but not least, we are also continuing sign language (ASL) with all the kids.  My goal for Evie is for her to be conversational by the end of the year.  We have been signing with her on and off since she was a baby and she’s always loved it.  So far we’ve mostly just used Signing Time, but I am working through the Life Print Course  and modifying it for her as we move toward mastering grammar, comprehension and creating dialogue.  This week we are learning to finger spell our names (she figured it out without any help, because she loves to spell) and learning a majority of the content in Life Print’s 1st lesson, all the content that’s relevant for a five year old anyway.  😉

All in all this has been a much better week and I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back to a productive learning environment.  I know she’s not even five yet, but these early years have so much potential for setting ground work for a future love of learning.  Home school has always been one aspect of parenthood that I couldn’t wait to start and I’m so glad we’re finally here!

Home-Style Preschool

So far this is what we have been doing lately…  (AKA not school).

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Now that most homeschooling mamas have spent all summer planning their curricula and have had pajama parties and fun zoo adventures to celebrate their first week back at school… I have finally got my planning hat on to gear up for the year. Ya’ll know what I was doing all summer (not planning for school, that’s for sure) and with the new family dynamics, we just needed to figure out where exactly our new children’s levels would be at before I could even begin to plan our days.

For those who are new to the blog, we have four children, two newly adopted. Hope and Jacob are just recently home from Ukraine. Hope is nine, but developmentally a baby. Jacob is six but developmentally about four in most areas at this time. Evangeline is also four years old and Stephen is two. So when I talk about home school and curriculum, we are basically doing preschool level activities, so keep that in mind!

However, we are quite settled in and I feel ready to begin! (With a rhyme even!) Today I just wanted to blog about what the goals for our littles is going to look like; then, later I can go back and detail how we’re reaching those goals and scheduling our time. So here is what our learning goals are for this year in each subject:

Christian Living

This early in the ball game they need to learn the vocabulary of the Church and to experience the vibrant life of the Church before they can begin to understand the meat and potatoes of theology or to appreciate the nuances of Church history.  So what do I want my very young children to know? I want them to know the words, the prayers of the Church, the Catechism and the Bible. I want them to sing hymns and learn how to cultivate a daily life of prayer and how to be reverent and attentive during Church. My goal for Evangeline is that she would learn by heart twelve hymns and that she would sing them beautifully.

For the other three I am aiming simply for exposure, to engender a love of hymnody and that the boys would attempt to sing some of the hymns they know, as their language skills are not polished enough for entire songs quite yet. (In English Jacob and Stephen are about in the same place verbally.)  I also want Evie to know the Catechism by heart, and for the boys to be familiar enough with it to speak it from memory when their verbal skills permit.  And my last goal for this subject is to study and memorize, as a family, ten whole chapters from the Bible.  Daddy and I will be memorizing the full chapters, and the children will recite what they are able, according to their abilities.

Reading & Literature

Ah reading, one of my favorite things to do with the littles. For now my goal is just to expose them and teach them to enjoy quality children’s literature and poetry. That’s really it! I am going to be spending about 5-10 minutes a day with Evie on actual reading lessons. She is so ready for them, and it would be lovely to have her reading at a basic level before our school year next year. Not to mention, she just wants to be able to read so badly! How could I deny a desire like that?

Arithmetic

Jacob and Evie are the only two who will be getting any practice in numbers this year. Maybe Stephen will learn to count to ten, maybe he won’t. We’ll see. He will pick it up when he’s ready. However, I do want Jacob and Evangeline learning the basics of addition and subtraction this year. Evie can already add and subtract numbers up to four in her head. We haven’t worked on this, we just discovered it one day! My goal this year is to have both of them adding and subtracting numbers up to ten.  That way they’ll be ready to start more formal arithmetic lessons next fall.

Art & Music

This is one subject I am de-emphasizing. I really have no goals. I would like to do some basic drawing lessons and to get them listening to some children’s songs and classical music each day. If I can do that, I will be quite pleased! We are considering piano lessons for Evie and possibly Jacob, but that will be a ways down the road I think.  Sometimes you just have to cut corners to get everything in, and this is something I’m comfortable cutting down on for now.

Nature Studies

Nature studies! So fun! Ok, so my goals here are to get the littles outside as much as possible. They were truly made for the outdoors! I also want to start teaching them basic directions (N,S,E,W) in relation to our home, the sun rising and setting, which way the wind is blowing, and other tangible markers. I want them to be familiar with the hills and ponds and woods and pastures around our home and for the older ones to describe those places. I also want to start teaching them how to identify flowers, trees and birds in our area.

This will be taking up a lot of our day, especially in the nicer months, and I am so excited. This is more than science; this is endearing them to their Creator through His creation, and it’s learning how to learn through observation! This is giving them the tools to take in information and use it meaningfully.  It’s experiential learning and not just absorbing through books. Both are so important!

History

My goal for history is just to start teaching the children that history exists. Very basic, yes? I have twelve little events from history that I am going to be telling them as stories. With each new story we will do a library run to find other books on the event or person, we’ll do a fun project or field trip, a timeline and markers on our world map, and just make it into a fun exercise. I definitely want Evangeline and Jacob to be able to tell back these stories, even just very simply, by the end of the year. But I’m not holding us to any real standards other than that.

Foreign Language

Another one of my favorite subjects this year! Yet, I have struggled more with this than any other. When we only had one little I imagined that she would be close to fluent in ASL by now and starting Spanish. Ahem… being in survival mode for so long that didn’t quite happen. She does know quite a few signs, but not anywhere near conversational. And with having adopted two Russian speaking children, we have decided that Russian would be a better foreign language than Spanish for our family.

Jacob already speaks Russian, albeit not clearly, as he has a speech delay related to his Cerebral Palsy. But he understands all of it perfectly. I really don’t want him to lose that! Also, our Hope loves it when we talk to her in Russian. Besides, I think it’s a good foreign language for a few reasons, politically there is a lot of upheaval in that area of the world right now.   Russian is an official language of five countries and has 155 million native speakers. Russian is also a difficult language to learn, which means, we get this one down and picking up Spanish, or any other language that our children are interested to know down the road, will be a piece of cake.

We are also friends with several fluent Russian speakers, so our children will be able to have access to conversations outside our family, which is so important for language learning.  Anyway I am off topic. Goals. Right.  So my first goal for this year is that our family would maintain the level of Russian we have.  My husband and I learned a substantial amount before travelling, and our bio kids have picked up several words and phrases as well. I’ve already noticed Jacob’s Russian grammar starting to slip, so we really need to get ourselves immersed in the language more in order to accomplish simple maintenance.  Next year I plan to focus much more intently on Russian, after I have a chance to learn more myself.

So on top of maintaining Russian, we will be really pushing sign language this year. I want Evangeline to be at a conversational level by the end of the year, and for the other three to follow along at their own pace. Signs are a little more difficult for Jacob because of his fine motor skill issues, but I think it’s a great exercise for him!  Hope is also going to benefit from it, as signs will likely be a main mode of communication for her in the years to come.  And if Evie is conversational by next year, I’ll feel super comfortable diving head first into Russian while being able to maintain her ASL and slowly build her up to eventual fluency in both.

PE/Therapy

My goal? Just do it. For some reason corralling four hyper children into specific physical positions and feats is not my idea of a super fun time. Usually I would just let them run around the yard and check off the box, but Evie is in gymnastics and has practice at home to do and Jacob and Hope have stretching and physical therapy that are going to need to be at least a once a day routine. So we’ll just schedule it and give it a name, right? :) Oh also, we caught Jacob doing like twenty push-ups one morning just because so… maybe that might be a fun bonding activity for him and Dad.

Life Skills

And last but not least… or maybe least, life skills. There are two reasons I even glorify this as a school subject. One, My kids need to learn how to be more self sufficient before Mambo gets here. And two, life skills are an actual serious necessity in our home now that we have children with special needs. Tracking life skills will help me to know where Hope and Jacob need extra support and I think we can make it a fun way to encourage everyone to learn new chores and responsibilities. Again, with this my goal is just to do it, to make a chart, track things, encourage the kids to reach new levels… I don’t care how fast or slow they go. Just as long as we’re making a little progress here and there, that would make me more than thrilled.

Learning to Read!

For a while I have thought that I would probably not “teach” Evangeline how to read.  “I’ll just let it happen,”  I said to myself.  “We read books all the time.  She’ll make the connections on her own!  And when she really wants to, she’ll figure it out and ask for help if she needs it.”  Sure there are lots of other people who have done it that way, and who have been successful.  But let’s face it.  I am not equipped to sit back and just wait for her to learn it herself.  I simply don’t have the patience.

I see it in her!  I know she’s ready!  And at the ripe old age of four, if she doesn’t learn now she never will!  Right?  Well ok… not really.  It’s not a race, and we’re not in a hurry, but she seems interested and I think it will be fun!  So we started today.  I was initially going to start with just teaching her letters and their sounds, we did that in the fall and she knew all of them.  (Has since forgotten most of it…)  But not then or now has she ever been super interested in learning what a bunch of random letters say.

What she does like, however is learning what the words in her stories are.  So we are going to go with that.  I know there are lots of great reading programs with helpful steps and progressions, but I enjoy reinventing the wheel sometimes, and I still can’t bring myself to pay for a program to teach her something she’ll learn on her own anyway.  So what’s a good way to gently speed up the process while keeping her interest?  Here’s what I started trying today…

Word of the Day

Every evening before bed I will ask Evie to pick out a book she wants to read in the morning for her reading lesson.  That way I know it will be something she likes and it gives her a fun anticipation for our time together.  After the kids are in bed I will look through the book and pick a word that appears relatively frequently in the text and make it our “Word of the Day”.  I generate a handwriting worksheet for that word and make a flash card for it.  Today’s word was “Mossy” from her favorite book of the same title.

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I can just hear you saying HOLD UP!!  Handwriting!?!  At four!? Waaaaay to young.  And I would probably agree with you if it wasn’t Evangeline we were talking about.  She has always been more interested in writing words than reading them herself, and she has been copying letter shapes since she was one and a half (legibly copying them…)  Getting to write the letters and words keeps her interested in actually learning about them, how they sound, and what they mean.

I might never teach another child to read this way, but I think that this is what’s going to work well for her.  And Day 1 certainly went smashingly!  I chose the book this time, and the word, because she already knew how to read the word “Mossy” and I thought it would be easy to start with something she already knew.  We read the book, then did the worksheet.

(In the future, I will tell her the word of the day before we read our story, so she can look for the word and help me read it as we go through the pages.)  For every letter on the worksheet we talked about what the letter is, she knew all of them of course.  And then we talked about the sounds they made (she didn’t know all of those).

Once we learned the sound of the new letter on the line, we sounded the letters out together.  “…….M says mmmm and O says ahhhhhhh, in this word.  Put them together and that says?? Right!  Mahhhhh.  Ok, what’s the next letter?  Right, it’s an s!  What sound does the letter s make?……”  We did that through each line, and by the end she knew all the sounds for all four letters and she could sound out the word and recognize it.

Next I presented her with her very own “Reading Box” and as a celebration for learning a new word we put her Mossy flashcard in the box!  She can keep it with her and look at her words anytime she likes.  Not only did we have fun with the exercise, but the benefits of it have been following us throughout the rest of our day too.  Later on she asked to read “Cat in the Hat”, and after I finished reading one page she stopped me and pointed to the word “Mess”.  She said “Mommy, that word looks like Mossy.”  (Notice she knew it wasn’t quite the same word!)

I responded, “Yes!  It does, doesn’t it?  Except which letter is different in this word?”  She said that the “e” was different, and I enthusiastically agreed :)  I then told her that “e” can make an “ehhhhhh” sound or an “eeeeee” sound and in this word it makes the “ehhhhhhh” sound.  Next I prompted her to sound out the word using the new letter.  Which she did with minimal assistance!  She figured out what the word was and I was (of course) just totally giddy about that.

Later on in the day I showed her some moss on a tree, as I wasn’t sure if she had ever really looked at moss before knowingly.  And we talked more about the word “mossy” and how we can use it in sentences.  She so enjoyed seeing real moss that she went around the yard looking for it and showing me more mossy patches!  It was great fun and, dare I say, nature study?!  So all in all it has been a fabulous start and I’m really excited to see where she is at a week from now!  I know I’m not a certified teacher, and I’ll admit, teaching reading isn’t something I have greatly educated myself on.  I know a little about teaching reading and a lot about my sweet girl.  And I think that will be enough for us to figure this out together!

I have been busy…

Doing lots of things! I am technically taking a two week break from blogging and Forty to Forever and all non-essential internet type things… but… today has been going SO well I thought I would sneak in and give you all an update.  The past week and a half has been H.A.R.D.  And today is really the first fruits that I have seen in any of it.  We have been really trying to get our household back in order.  With the move, the adoption, the launch of Forty to Forever and all the fundraising… to be honest, I just was not doing my job here at home.  I was emotionally and practically being pulled in six different directions at once, and neglecting many of my basic basic duties.  So I decided to take a break from outside distractions and focus on getting our family back to a good place.

It has been a real struggle, try and fail, replan, refocus, try again and fail again.  That’s what it’s been looking like for us.  Until today.  I sat down and made myself a meticulous chore sheet of EVERYTHING I wanted us to accomplish every day, week and month of the year.  What needs to get done in the morning?  Afternoon?  Evening?  Chores, meals, school, devotions, etc.  Everything is on there!  It’s like my brain on paper.  Chores are separated into categories and each small task has it’s very own check box.  Next I went over the first two days of October.  On a typical day, what was I actually getting done?  The blue ink is everything I was doing for the ENTIRE DAY.  And if you’ll notice, Jake’s initials are even on a couple of those boxes.  So if all the boxes on that sheet need to be checked in order for our home to run smoothly, how do you think our house had been running?  Yeah… not at all.

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However!  You will note today’s work, in the lovely Autumn orange color, I have many more boxes checked!  Not all of them, I didn’t expect perfection on the first day, but we are doing SO much better!  I am really excited to go into more detail about my new system for running things around here.  I mean, not only did I get that much more done, but I had time to sneak in a blog during the kids’ nap too!  The kiddos (3yrs and 1yr) have been helping me with all the chores, and I have been doing a much better job of keeping them close and focusing on discipline and nurturing.  That is probably the single most exciting thing about this new system; it allows me to manage my home with my children and incorporates them into the daily flow of family life.  I am making a point to only work on my chores when they are awake and with me so I can learn the best ways for us to do these tasks together.  I have been enjoying them so much more today, and I know they are soaking up my love and attention as well.

This day is awesome, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the week and month goes!!

Church for School

Homeschool!  Love it.  Especially right now.  Well… my oldest is only three, so when you read “school” read it loosely.  But I do try to set up our days to be most effective for teaching my children about the important things in life, and what is more important than raising them in the faith?  So the other week when we “started homeschool” again after our summer move and break, I decided that the first routine we were going to initiate was daily church, Matins to be precise.  Church for school?  Gasp!  That is as crazy as breakfast for dinner!  Mmmm…. pancakes…

Anyway, back to the story, after two very difficult weeks in church flying solo with the children I told my dear pastor husband, “You may not be able to sit in church and help me with this kids, but my house is right next door to the church and we will practice every single day until they figure this out!”  And that is what we did.  I am pleased to say that after just two days of fighting me (read screaming during the service) my sweet, year old son finally figured it out.  Mommy is not going to take you out just because you’re crying.  Sit still and be sweetly quiet.  Now, would I want to do that with pews full of people?  No… but it worked just fine for us and our empty church.

They are doing much better on Sundays now, although service cuts right in the middle of nap time, but we have been able to make do.  And we are actually growing quite fond of early morning Matins in the sanctuary before Daddy has to work.  They say that being a pastor’s wife has many hardships, but many more blessings.  I would have to say this is most certainly true.  Go to church?  Every day?  And you don’t even have to drive there?  Yes please!

Not quite sure what our next homeschool routine to add will be, probably chores.  Chores are good…

Our Bible Memory Program

A note before you begin:

I had a request for my Bible memory program, so I decided to post it here.  That way anyone who is interested can have access.  But first, a little background about what I’ve created.  I am more than happy to share this, but it took me many long hours to put together.  I ask that you do not copy or disseminate this.  Instead, please link back here for others who you think would be interested.  

I realize that not everyone will want the same choices for Bible passages that our family has chosen.  We even change it around as we go!  With that in mind, I loaded it as an Excel document, making it easy to download onto your own computer and make changes to fit your own family’s needs.  Again, I would ask that you not publish or share any copies or revised versions of this, please use it only for your own family.  If you wish to pass on the program, direct people to come here.

This is a rather rigorous program, and it might not be for everyone.  However, if you think a chapter a month is too much for you, it would be quite easy to spread the memory work out over a longer period of time.  There are two basic parts to this program, the initial memory work and the review.  I will write a separate post specifically on review later.  Right now I will just focus on the initial memory work.  You can easily take the first part of the program and leave the second or vice versa.  But if you think this is too rigorous I would suggest, rather, that you use it as a whole and spread it out over a longer period of time.

I created this with two main goals in mind.  First, that our family would write on our hearts a vast repertoire of Scripture and second that we would retain it and benefit from a lifelong retention of what we memorize.  Taking away either the first or the second parts of this program would negate one of those goals.  It would be better, I think, to complete the rotation in 20 or 30 years than to sacrifice one of the aforementioned benefits.  All this to say, if you think this is too difficult, spread out the memory work over two or three months instead of doing it in one.

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IMG_2642I created this document for my own use, so I hope it is not too complicated to follow.  If you have any questions feel free to write them in the comments below and I will answer as best I can!

For this post I am only writing about the initial memory work portion of the program.  I will write a follow-up post shortly going over how to review your verses so they are not forgotten.  Looking at the Excel spreadsheet – for the initial memory work you will only need to pay attention to these columns: Chapter, Key-In Verses, Topic and the green Year columns.  Disregard the rest for now.

Chapter: This is (obviously) the chapter you will be memorizing on any given month.  I took great care in choosing the chapters that went here – and there are many other fine portions of Scripture that I had to leave out.  Each family will have different needs and preferences on this.  Feel free to substitute chapters as you see fit, but before you do, I want to point out a few particular thought processes of mine to aid you in your decision making.

When I first sat down to decide what to memorize, I came up with three reasons why our family wanted to have Scripture written on our hearts.  The three main reasons are: to aid in time of trouble or temptation for comfort and strength, to have a large portion of the Biblical narrative always at our instant disposal and to use in apologetic situations in order to refute heresy.  The first and third reasons will vary most from family to family.  What is comforting and inspiring to me may not be so to you, and the doctrines I find most in need of defense may not be the same for your time and place.

However, the Scriptural narrative will be more difficult to substitute.  We chose to memorize the Gospel of Matthew, and so much of the program revolves around that.  The chapters from other Gospels were chosen because they include accounts not written in Matthew.  I also find the first three chapters of Genesis to be crucial to the understanding of the Gospel, so those are in the rotation as well.  We chose to memorize two Epistles in their entirety as well: Romans and Ephesians.

Key-In Verses:  This program is for our entire family.   It is meant to be flexible enough that everyone can participate.  The Key-In verses are shorter passages that I chose for the younger children to memorize before they are ready for full chapters.  Again, this is very flexible and changeable, but the document does include my suggestions.

Parable or Psalm: You will notice that each Year column is denoted with either “Parable” or “Psalm”.  I wrote this with a Charlotte Mason themed homeschool in mind.  Charlotte Mason has a list of attainments for a child of six.  We will be working through these in our household, and I wanted each child (no matter which year in the rotation we were) to be able to have their psalm and parable learned by heart while also continuing to follow along with the family rotation.

We plan on completing the parable and psalm requirements over the course of two years when the young children are beginning to work through longer memory work passages.  So, with that in mind, there is at least one parable to learn every other year.  (This was surprisingly difficult to accomplish without repeating chapters!)  There is a Psalm each year, but I denoted years without a parable as “Psalm” years for my reference.

As a note for those who are also homeschooling… This was designed so that toddlers could learn along with us and gradually work up to longer passages.  I intend our children to be reciting full chapters by Year 1 (first grade).  With this schedule they will have the entire 120 chapters learned through Year 10 (10th grade).  This leaves them free to learn their own preferred passages in years 11 and 12 (Junior & Senior years).

Topic: Just for reference I included a brief topical note for each chapter.

Year: This column is your schedule.  Year 1 is where you begin.  Each number in this column corresponds with the month you memorize it in.  (Ex: 1 = January, 3 = March, 10 = October)  Chapters often correspond with the Church year.  So, in year 1, you learn the nativity account in November and December.  You will also want to keep this in consideration when making substitutions.

To find your assigned chapter pick your year and choose whichever passage is listed on the same row as the month you are in.  The chapter for December’s Year 2 reading, for example, is Hebrews 1.

Scripture Memory

Click the link above to go to the document.  Again, I know this is a lot, so please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions at all.  Any feedback is very welcome!

Baby School

img_0864The new American fad seems to be start your kid in school as early as possible.  The new phenomenon of “pre-preschool” is just… well laughable really.  Or is it?  As I sit here with a frame entitled “Evangeline’s School” (aka my almost 18 month old daughter) hanging on the wall opposite me – I find myself reevaluating my presuppositions about school for very young children.

I have gone through a lot of inner searching during my time preparing for homeschooling.  I knew that every school had a philosophy and I wanted to be sure that I knew what mine was before beginning to delve into any particular curriculum.  I wanted to teach with a purpose in mind, not just for the sake of school in and of itself.  So I began to inwardly digest all the education oriented material I was reading, meditating on teaching and raising children in light of what the Scriptures gives us and considering it all in the context of broader humanity – that is to start from the beginning of Creation rather than at my tiny point on the timeline.

I feel that worldviews are very important in making life decisions and even decisions such as whether to use this or that curriculum.  My “whys” for doing things have always been very important to me.  The worldview I started with in building my homeschool philosophy was that “school” has never been a required element per se in raising children or teaching them what they need to know to thrive in society.  Teaching and educating, however, have always been a requirement of good parenting (and even bad parenting) from the very beginning.

Knowing that the institution of “school” was not God-ordained and that many people throughout time have done just fine without it, I began rethinking what homeschooling might look like from a more organic and less cultural perspective.  Many families I know have drawn the same conclusions and prefer unschooling to any curriculum.  I briefly considered this as well, but I soon realized that intentionally educating your children is an important aspect of parenting.  Without such an intent I fear there is to much room to teach what you never meant to teach and to neglect that which you should have taught.

Indeed, I began to come to the notion that rather than no school at all I had fallen into a different category altogether: school all the time for all ages.  This goes wonderfully with the concept of fostering a lifetime of learning, and indeed that is exactly what I hope to do.  In fact, I believe that most schools of thought (no pun intended of course) encourage this particular take on life and education.  But my philosophy does differ greatly from two of the main currents, and I will explain how.

On one side of the spectrum we have those who believe that children should learn only those things which they want to learn, nothing more and nothing less.  They believe that learning is primarily building relationships and that as a child becomes interested in a topic or subject he may pursue it as long as it continues to be a pleasurable and profitable experience for him.

On the other side of the spectrum we have those who believe that education is less up to the student and more up to what is actually important.  In this method children have little say in what they must learn – education is a training and a preparation of sorts that must be gone through in order to prepare the child to enter adulthood.

The former method tends to give birth to more a more lax form of schooling while the latter tends to produce a more rigid and rigorous curriculum.  I think most of us who have considered it are somewhere in between the two.  I agree with the former on this point: that education is mainly the job of building relationships between our children and all that surrounds them in the world.  Here is where I diverge…

Some assume that since education is about relationship building between a child and nature or a child and music or what have you, they assert that you cannot force a relationship – it must be a mutual bond that grows as the two learn to get to know one another and become more acquainted.  If they do not get along then it is not up to you to continue trying to fit two unlike pieces in a puzzle, just as you would not force your child to be friends with a girl she is not interested in.  And this is sound reasoning as far as it goes.

However, I do not think it goes far enough.  Of course I would not force my child to be good friends with a child who they simply do not get along with.  What I would insist on is that they are always cordial and good-willed toward that person and that they do not make assumptions about him, but instead seek to come to a mutual understanding with one another.  This way if there are future interactions with said person, they do not have to be an unpleasant chore, but rather they will go about working together well enough to effectively and efficiently perform the needed task before moving on.

This is the backbone for my educational philosophy… or at least my philosophy in its infantile form.  I realize I am young and have much to learn, but I will learn as I go and that which I have not yet learned by experience I am leaning heavily on my worldview to supply me with wisdom.

From the very moment of conception our children begin to make connections with the world and, I believe, that our duty as educators begins at that moment, and arguably well before (as planning has proven itself to always be a better than not idea).  This is why I can empathize with those parents who have come to realize the benefits of early childhood education and consider pre-preschool as a viable option.  I think that their solution is misplaced as, especially in the earlier years, children are much better off learning about the world from their mother and father.

Rather what I have done is to begin this process in the home with what I have affectionately coined: Baby School.  Charlotte Mason would argue that a structured schooling before the age of six is inappropriate and I do tend to agree.  But the decidedly “J” part of my INFJ is horrified at the idea of not charting and scheduling everything always (just ask my poor husband).  So if you are as J as I am perhaps this idea will resonate with you as well.

I plan on closely following the Charlotte Mason model for school which starts in Year 1 and one of the curriculums I am utilizing does gives some tips for Year 0 (or kindergarten).  But what of all those years before kindergarten?? What is a person to do?  So I have developed more years for myself that I am putting in place now.  Should babies have structured school?  Probably not.  Should I have an idea of what I want their early childhood education to look like so I can be intentional about what I am teaching in these very formative years?  I think so.

And that… is how Baby School was born in our home.  It is subtle enough so that Evie doesn’t even quite know it exists.  But it is helpful enough that my brain is much more relaxed having a chart to work through every day.  Call me crazy, but it works for me, and if you think it might be helpful to you as well stay tuned.  There is much more about this philosophy that needs unpacking and lots of sorting out the hows and whats of my curriculum, so I will certainly be going into more detail about our Baby School soon!

In the meantime, what is your philosophy on education?

P.S. – Yes… the chart does say Feast Day on it because today is the day for Michael and All Angels.  Happy Michaelmas to you!  So we are taking a break from school today in order to celebrate.  How are you celebrating Michaelmas?

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