Box Day and Homeschool Curriculum 2016-2017

As I shared recently, we finished our 2015-2016 school year the first week of August. Providentially, our box of books and curriculum for our 2016-2017 school year was scheduled to arrive the next day! In the Sonlight homeschooling community, that day is known as “box day,” and most – our family included – consider it to be worthy of celebration! The girls dug into the box with much excitement :)

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Its contents did not disappoint! They were both particularly excited to see this Magic School Bus book…

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…as well as this Bible, which they’d looked through at a friend’s house…

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…and they promptly sat down and spent the next couple hours looking at all the new books!

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We are continuing to use Sonlight for almost all of our curriculum. Based on their ages, this would be Miranda’s first grade year and Madeleine CaiQun’s kindergarten year, but I always have to stop and think about what grades they’re in when someone asks, because we just work with each girl at the appropriate level for each subject and don’t worry too much about what the label is.

For Bible, History/Geography, and Literature, we’re using Sonlight’s Core B, which is World History: Creation through the Fall of Rome. Both girls are using the Grade 2 readers, and they’ve really enjoyed digging into some of these books already! We’re also doing Sonlight’s Science B, which focuses on animals, astronomy, and physics. Given how much they loved the little bit of astronomy we did last year, I’m predicting that is going to be a favorite this year! We’re continuing with Singapore Math, using level 1 for Madeleine CaiQun and level 2 for Miranda. And for Language Arts, we’re pulling together materials from a few different sources, using First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1, All About Spelling Level 1, and Handwriting Without Tears Level 1 for Madeleine CaiQun and Level 2 for Miranda.

Overall, I’m really excited about our curriculum choices for the year! I’m looking forward to diving into history with more depth with the girls, and science has been one of our favorite subjects in the past, so I think we’ll all continue to learn well together in that area. I think it’s going to be a good year :)

And the girls seem to agree! I had thought we’d take off at least a few days after finishing our last school year, but as they looked through all the books that arrived, both girls requested that we begin our school year the very next day! I spent some time that evening putting everything together, and we went ahead and did just that :) I’ll have another post coming soon about our first few days of school for the year!

Moving Along in Adopting: DTC and LID

I shared last time I wrote about our progress toward adopting our next little girl that we were waiting on one last document to come back to us certified so that we could send the rest of our documents to Chicago to be authenticated and then send our dossier to China. It all finally came together, and on Friday, July 29 our agency sent our dossier to China (DTC)!

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That dossier-to-China milestone is huge – pulling together all of those documents is such a painstaking, detail-focused, perfectionistic process that it is a gigantic relief to be done with them all!

From there, we waited for our log-in-date (LID). That log-in date is essentially China’s official acknowledgement that they have received our dossier and have it in their system for review. Others who were DTC on the same date as us but with different agencies got their log-in-dates a few days before us, which made those extra days hard, but yesterday we got word that our dossier had been logged in, as well :)

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Now we start what we expect to be the longest wait of the process, the wait for our Letter of Approval (LOA), also known as Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC). That letter is China’s official approval of us as parents for our little girl. It’s basically the most important piece of paper we’ll get through this whole process, and it’s what we’re waiting on now. Sometimes the database system to which our agency has access will have updates on our status through the process of China’s review of our dossier and issuing our LOA – first it will show that our dossier is in process of being translated, then in process of being reviewed, then matched, and then LOA issued. Usually it takes about 60-90 days to receive your LOA, but right now the process is moving pretty quickly, and it’s averaging more like 30-50 days. We’re hopeful that that trend will continue, but you never know what to expect!

So right now, in terms of our official progress through the adoption process, we’re just waiting :) However, we’re using the time to gather additional funds. I’m working on some grant applications, I’ve been working extra hours, and Matt has continued to sell artwork, as well as embarking on a new project – he compiled a whole group of drawings he’d already made of friends of ours from our church and put them into a coloring book, which many of our friends have been delighted to purchase in order to support our adoption!

We’ve also been encouraged to receive an official update on our little girl :) We’re incredibly fortunate that her foster home has a significant Internet presence, so we actually get new photos of her quite frequently, much more frequently than is normal in international adoption, but it was still fun to get new measurements and a bit more new information. She has grown a little over an inch and gained almost 2.5 pounds in the last 5 months since she moved to this foster home, which is awesome! She’s also continuing to develop, sitting for long periods of time unassisted, smiling, laughing, and talking. We’re so thankful for the care she’s getting and loved getting even more of a glimpse into what her life is like now and how we can be preparing for her to join our family in a few months!

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Homeschool Year in Review – 2015-2016

I didn’t post updates about our homeschooling progress this past year as frequently as I would have liked, largely due to all of the other craziness going on in our lives during the year :) We finished the school year later than I thought we would, but we finished! And I think we finished reasonably well :)

Last week we wrapped up our final days of Kindergarten/Pre-K – or at least that’s what we called it based on the girls’ ages, since that’s what it would have been if they’d been in public school here in Missouri, though we don’t really base our curriculum purchases on their stated grades. You can read more about the curriculum we used this year in this post.

Overall, this was honestly a really good school year. I’ve actually found that in the midst of good times or bad, home-schooling gives us the structure we need as a family to function well. We do best when we have some structure, and not only is this structure, but it’s structure that connects us relationally. We read together, we play together, we do science experiments together, and we talk through our drama together. One of the parts we actually most appreciate about home-schooling is that it allows us to consistently work on character issues together. This year we’ve focused on kindness, self-control, and appropriate actions when we feel angry.

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And of course we’ve also spent a lot of time on academics, with much growth evident! One of the most fun areas of growth has been in the girls’ reading ability. Miranda started the year reading pretty simple sections of just a couple pages at a time, and Madeleine CaiQun started the year reading only consonant-vowel-consonant words, and now they’re both ready to tackle (at least) 2nd grade readers! I often hear both of them, Madeleine CaiQun in particular, sitting on the couch reading out loud to themselves, which so warms my heart :) Their love of reading has even rubbed off onto Atticus!

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Both girls have also grown in their math abilities, and we’ve studied and enjoyed learning about different areas of science. Their favorite has probably been studying space – that’s the last topic we covered, and the house has recently been littered with innumerable diagrams of the solar system!

The only area of our curriculum that didn’t really work well for us was the Language Arts package. Because Sonlight’s Language Arts curriculum goes with its readers, you select its level based on your child’s reading level, and my kids’ reading levels and maturity levels don’t necessarily entirely line up! We ended up modifying a lot of its assignments and, toward the end of the year, just ditching it entirely. But for kindergarten and pre-k, I didn’t necessarily think a comprehensive Language Arts curriculum was an absolute necessity, so that wasn’t a huge loss!

It wasn’t all fun and games – one kiddo in particular sometimes tells me she hates school, but in reality, she mostly dislikes the reality that she is not in charge of all things at all times, and that is, well, reality :) And learning about that is also part of home-schooling! And there are times when home-schooling with a toddler feels crazy – that boy is a monkey!

But overall I’ve so appreciated this past year, the chance to read with my kids, to have good discussions with them, and to be part of all that they’re learning. I’m grateful to have another year of home-schooling with these great kiddos under our belts!

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A Summer of Rest

This summer of 2016 has been such a blessing for us. We started out with the express goal of using these few summer months to recover, to rest, and to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead. While we wish we could have a few additional months of life at this pace, I think this time has been a success.

Last winter and spring were filled with some of the most intense months of our married lives, as we contemplated and then committed to pursuing another adoption, as we faced the completely unexpected death of Matt’s sister, as Matt suffered a heart attack while we were in New York for her funeral (parts one, two, three, four, and aftermath), and then as we began to work out what all of that meant for our lives. We needed some time to recover and rest.

This is the first summer in years in which Matt has not had any undergraduate teaching responsibilities. It’s also one of the only summers in years in which we have not traveled to New York to visit our extended family there. We’ve said yes to some requests and invitations, but we’ve said no to many other opportunities – many of them good ones – and making all of those decisions has been hard.

However, the things to which we’ve been able to say “yes” instead have made it all worth it. I’ve had multiple one-on-one outings with each of my girls.

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It’s so fun to see their different personalities come out in their own ways when I get to spend time with them individually!

Matt has also been able to spend a couple days a week focusing on time with the kids, which has been a blessing for them and for him. They do school together, take trips to the library, make art, and have all sorts of other fun experiences.

That has given me large blocks of time to do adoption paperwork, put in some extra work hours, and work on some household cleaning and re-organization. It’s been such a blessing to feel like there’s real space for those things to happen, instead of trying to work them into my schedule in bits and pieces while the kids are playing happily for 5 minutes at a time or after they go to bed.

I’ve also been able to take more time to read, one of my greatest pleasures! I’m currently making my way through J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God, and Sally Clarkson’s Own Your Life. On top of that, I’ve been working out 2-3 times per week. I’ve been researching and learning about osteogenesis imperfecta and how we can be the best parents possible for our next little one. And Matt and I have been re-reading the Harry Potter series together and greatly enjoying that.

Matt has also been able to use the summer well. He has finished up cardiac rehab and transitioned to regular workouts at a local gym. He’s been able to write and to paint. He’s enjoying lunch dates with friends. And he’s generally appreciating having more space and time to think.

And in my regular days with our kids, it feels like we have a good rhythm that has allowed us to continue doing schoolwork but also have a lot of fun. We do park dates and pool time.

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We celebrate adoption milestones.

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Overall, it has been so good to re-evaluate our priorities and really focus on what is most important. I’m a child of God, a wife, and a mom, and everything else comes after those roles. There will be other years for travel, other times for saying yes to great opportunities for serving and for living. But for this summer, time for rest was exactly what we needed, and I have every confidence that these times are going to set us up well for the year to come!

an adoption update

I’m ever so grateful for the time this summer has afforded me to focus on moving through the steps toward our adoption of our sweet little baby #4! Over this past month and a half, God has been slowly guiding us forward, one step at a time, in every area.

On June 10 our home study was approved by WACAP! I picked up that precious stack of papers from our social worker and overnighted an official, signed, and notarized copy to WACAP for them to file our I800A application with US Citizenship and Immigration Services. In the adoption world, this form is always just referred to as the “I800A,” but its true full name is “I800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country.” Even though this step is supposed to be something of a formality – your agency and social worker should know whether you’re going to encounter issues or not – every time I see that official label, I feel a twinge of intimidation – what if they determine we’re not suitable?  But on July 8, our officer approved us, and we received the official approval notice on the 14th!

We took a family trip to Jefferson City the next morning to get the rest of our Missouri documents state certified – and, of course, stop for ice cream at Central Dairy, because if you’re that close, how could you pass up that opportunity?!?

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And now we’re just waiting for our one Illinois document to come back from its Secretary of State office. That in and of itself is very frustrating for me – we have had many document issues this time around. We’ve had 2 documents declined at the Secretary of State level, because the notary signed them with a signature that looked nothing like her signature on file with the Secretary of State’s office. One person used a signature stamp instead of actually signing their name (I didn’t even know that was a thing!). A notary forgot to sign their name on one document. Multiple documents had non-matching dates between the signature and the notary. And when this one Illinois document had to be re-done, we had issue after issue after issue in getting the document actually re-done and signed, and now it’s waiting to be certified at the slowest and least sympathetic Secretary of State’s office of which I’ve heard.

But while all of that is frustrating, ultimately we trust in a sovereign, good God, and we press on. Every adoption hits hurdles and delays, and we can’t control any of that, we can only press on in our work. We have all the rest of our dossier documents at our agency or on their way, waiting to be sent to China once the dossier is complete, and tomorrow I’ll put together all the forms for document authentication, so we can send our remaining documents off to Chicago for authentication as soon as we get this one last document back – and that’s the last step before they go to our agency for our dossier to be sent to China :)

And meanwhile, I have also been applying for grants. The financial aspect of adoption always involves a leap of faith for me. In neither adoption have we started with all of the money in hand – but we’ve started with a sense of God’s calling to us to adopt, all the savings we could pull together, and a commitment to live frugally so as to be able to come up with as much money as possible ourselves. Thus far we’ve had a grant from our agency cover some costs, and we’ve paid a lot of the costs we’ll incur, primarily in home study fees, placing agency fees, immigration fees, document fees, and postage, and we’ve had every penny we needed on the date we needed it! From a financial standpoint, so far we’ve paid about 40% of the costs we expect to incur in total, with approximately 60% still to come, and we’re trusting that God will provide those funds as needed, as well, both through our savings and earnings (including Matt’s artwork sales) and grants and generous gifts of friends and family, which we so, so appreciate.

And all the while, as we are walking our way through the process on this side of the ocean, our little girl is living life and growing and developing in China! I mentioned recently that she’d broken her femur while playing, which was so sad :( We’re hoping she can stay break-free for a long time now, but we know that’s often not the reality of life with osteogenesis imperfecta, and we’re thankful she’s getting the best care available in China. We can see from the pictures her foster home has been posting that she now has her cast off and is back to sitting independently, eating cucumbers, and modeling different hair bows! We can’t wait to smother her in hugs and kisses – metaphorically of course :) I’m hopeful for December or January travel!