Homeschooling: It’s Not All (or Mostly) About Academics

Today’s post is a follow up to yesterday’s post with our mid-year update on our homeschooling year. At least in our house, homeschoooling is not all – or even mostly – about academics. We’ve found that the opportunities to address and build character are plentiful – generally more plentiful than we’d like. More than we want them to learn academics, we want them to grow as people.

This morning was no different. One of my girls needed to do a math lesson. The actual work of the math lesson would take her less than 5 minutes. However, from the time we got started on it until the time it was done, an hour and 15 minutes elapsed. Most of that was taken up with addressing issues of personal growth, in particular emotional growth.

A big thing we’re working on with our girls is emotional development. Specifically, we’d like them to be able to identify and self-report their emotions, and we’d like them to have healthy ways to self-regulate when they are dysregulated – when their more negative emotions are feeling overwhelming. We’ve found that the movie Inside Out is a great tool for us in that endeavor.

Today the daughter with whom I was working on this particular task drew two pictures for me as we were working through this situation. This was the first.

Here, Sadness is in charge of the control panel, and she’s giving a speech. Anger is throwing bricks to build a wall to keep Joy away, even though she is still in the control center. Joy is calling to Sadness to help her, but Sadness wants to listen to Anger, so she is saying, “Joy, stop talking!”

As my child and I talked through the situation, she told me she was ready to draw a new picture, and this is what she drew.

Now Joy has broken down the wall, about which Anger is not happy. Joy is running back to the control panel, telling everyone else, “Get out of my way!” Sadness is letting her take over again.

After that picture, we were ready to have another conversation about tackling her math work. When we’d first started the morning, she’d asked if she could have one minute to play a game of tic-tac-toe with her sister before she did math, and we’d made an agreement that that was fine, but she then needed to start math right away. However, once the game was over, she wanted to cut out their game and glue it onto another paper before doing math, and I’d said she needed to honor her agreement and get started on math, but she could cut it out as soon as she was done. That was what aroused some strong emotions and prompted our opportunity for pursuing some growth.

In our conversation after we had worked through some of those emotions, I told her I realized it was important to her to cut out the tic-tac-toe game, and I wanted to help her get to a place where she could do that. It was important to me, though, that we get started on math, since that was what our agreement had been. Perhaps we could make a compromise, though – she could do half of her math exercise right away, then cut out the tic-tac-toe game, and then finish her math. She countered with a proposal that she do only a quarter of it, but I showed her what the math exercise was and how quickly she’d be able to do it, and she agreed to do a full half.

Then it took less than five minutes for her to do half her math exercise, cut out the tic-tac-toe game, and then finish her math work.

And this mama was exhausted and told the big girls they could have a Wii bowling break before lunch, and we’d do more school after lunch!

Homeschooling 2016-2017 – Mid-Year Update

It’s been rather a while since I’ve written about our progress with homeschooling this year, so I think we’re due for an update! I wrote in detail about our curriculum choices for this school year here, and we are in large part finding that those are working well.

Our curriculum outline lays out a pathway for getting through all of its materials in 180 days (36 weeks). By the time I left for China in December, we’d made it through 11 weeks of curriculum, something about which I sometimes felt a significant amount of stress. I knew life was only going to get crazier once FangFang came home, and I was worried that we’d never finish “on time” if we couldn’t even get through a third of the material before I left. Fortunately, there actually is no “on time” in homeschooling, particularly in these early elementary years. It doesn’t really matter if you read about the fall of Rome 10 months or 14 months after you start with Creation. And actually, we’ve been moving faster post-adoption than we did pre-adoption (go figure). In the 4 months between starting this school year and heading to China, we made it through 11 weeks of curriculum; in the 2.5 months since Christmas, we’ve accomplished 8.5 weeks of study. Phew! We will eventually finish 🙂

We’ve definitely had to revise our routine since our homecoming, though. I’ve found that math has to happen first thing in the morning, or it doesn’t happen at all. It’s my girls’ biggest “workbook” type subject, and they don’t have the focus or the patience for it later in the day, whereas if they start with it, they work through it pretty quickly and do a good job. We’ve actually made some changes in Madeleine CaiQun’s math curriculum. I’d started the year with Singapore grade 1 math for her, and I’d known within a few weeks that it might not work for her for the whole year. The program is very heavy on mental math and on grasping numbers as abstractions, and she just doesn’t see things that way right now, so nothing was sticking. Right now I have her doing some Rod & Staff workbooks to really solidify basic addition and subtraction facts in her mind, and once she finishes those I’ll make a decision about what to have her do next. I love that we can investigate and find resources that work well for each child as needed!

After we tackle math, we usually have a bit of play time, and then we move on to “reading school,” by which I mean Bible, History, Geography, Literature, Science, Language Arts, and Reading – all of the subjects whose focus centers around my reading out loud to the girls. I always envisioned us snuggling on the couch and reading together, but it turns out that small children’s vision does not always coincide with mine, particularly when the littles are incorporated into the day 🙂 Usually I bring out some toys with which all the kiddos can play while I read, and it’s been a process to learn which toys work best. Trains still require my assistance to build a good track, so those work only if we build the track before launching into school.

Wooden blocks, Duplos, Whittle World, and Magna Tiles are all good options for us. The general rule for the big girls is that as long as they can play without talking and interrupting while I read and they can talk with me about what we’re reading when I ask questions, they’re welcome to play during reading time! We obviously do a lot of parenting-everyone-mixed-with-school, but we’ve found that it works well for us. We’re usually done with our school day before lunch, and in the event that we’re not, we just pick up whatever we have left to do in the afternoon, either after lunch or after rest time. Then I leave our literature reading for bedtime, which is a much more relaxed, snuggly atmosphere in which to get through those longer portions of fun reading.

The littles have completely given up napping for me, and I’ve decided to embrace it. I could keep fighting for it and block off hours of every afternoon for my generally-fruitless attempts to get them to sleep, which produce high levels of frustration for everyone, or I can just accept the fact that for whatever reason, this is our new reality, and we need to make our choices in light of that fact. It actually frees up our day quite a bit. It means we have more room for walks and park outings. We don’t have to finish school before lunch. I can let the kids play longer when things are going well. I’d dreaded this milestone, but I’m actually enjoying it, though I am pretty wiped out by the time Matt gets home in the evenings.

Anyway, in terms of school itself, we’re enjoying what we’re learning. I appreciate the early exposure to some topics I don’t remember covering until much later. We’ve learned some Greek and Roman history and read some mythology, which was a lot of fun. Most recently we are learning about ancient China, reading about the Great Wall, and enjoying some stories set in China, which has obviously been a great connection for our family! The girls are learning about nouns and verbs and memorizing some poetry. We finished a long unit centered around animals and are now studying the human body. We’re talking a lot about the Holy Spirit right now as we study the Bible, and we’re memorizing some Bible verses related to things we’re working through personally right now. Most recently, Miranda and MeiMei and I memorized Psalm 103:8 – “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,” reminding ourselves of who God is and how He calls us to follow after Him in acting in compassion, grace, slow-ness to anger, and love, but He also makes it possible for us to do so. Right now we’re talking about how God has a different path for each of us, but we can all follow Him in the individual things we’re doing, and we’re memorizing Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” It’s fun that the littles also ask to have turns repeating the Bible verses as we work on them, and I enjoy including them in those small ways as we go through our school days! We also do just a few things that are truly centered around them, singing songs together, reading simpler books, and working on shapes and colors.

The big girls have continued to do gymnastics, with Miranda in particular starting to develop her own goals there – namely to climb the rope all the way to the top of the ceiling and ring the bell. She’s been working hard, and last weekend she was able to accomplish her goal!

Additionally, we try to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves for us to take the kids out to special events. A few weeks ago, the big girls and I went to see the ZuZu African Acrobats with some friends from church.

And last weekend, we went to a Mandarin for Tots activity at the library. We attend a number of art-related events, as well. Obviously most of our social interaction occurs within the context of our family, but we’re also attempting to teach our kids how to engage with our community, too.

We’re also embarking upon a new adventure in schooling – we’re officially enrolling FangFang in public school. However, she won’t actually attend school outside of our home. In our efforts to do everything possible to make sure she has every chance to grow and develop to her potential, we went ahead and had her evaluated by the local school district, and her delays are significant enough that she qualifies for services. However, given the current fragility of her bones and the fact that we are still very much working on building attachment, everyone agrees that the best place for her right now is at home. I’ve heard horror stories from parents pursuing and working through IEPs for their children, but honestly, we’ve had an incredibly positive experience. It’s pretty awesome to me that in these assessments and meetings we’ve had to evaluate her development and discuss the best possible situations for her, there have always been at least 3 adults (usually more) from the school district involved and offering their input and expertise. Everyone has been happy to answer my questions and to listen to what I had to say – whether about the effects of osteogenesis imperfecta or our focus on attachment – and thus far, it has been a very positive experience. The current plan is that a special education teacher and a physical therapist will come to our home (or we can meet at a park or someplace where we can work on some of our PT goals) once a week for 30 minutes, and an occupational therapist will join them every other week. I’m excited to get started working with them and see how they can add to our efforts to help FangFang grow and develop!

Overall, I am really enjoying our school year, and I love getting to work with the big girls on formal school activities but also give them hours of time to play and enjoy being kids. I am thankful for the opportunity to homeschool and look forward to continuing to learn together!

pressing on through weariness

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). 

These past couple weeks have been wearying. There are the early mornings, the doctor appointments (and PT appointments and dentist appointments and on and on), and other physical demands of caring for 4 small children – and on top of that, seasonal allergies have arrived here in mid-Missouri. Beyond that, there is the emotional and spiritual exhaustion of parenting. I so often feel so inadequate to be the mother my children need.

And yet…I am the mother God has given them, and they are the children with which He has blessed me. I have no doubt that He is growing each of us through our interactions with each other.

A couple weeks ago, we watched the movie Inside Out again, and we’ve since had some good conversations about when Riley made the best choices, whether it was when anger was in control, or when she was feeling her other emotions, too. Most of the conversations have involved my teaching my kiddos, but one day, Miranda said to me, “Mom, you are letting anger control your choices right now.” And I was. And the intensity of my emotions dissipated immediately, and I apologized, and we moved on.

That’s a lot of what we do these days – moving on, putting one foot in front of the other, and pressing on. It’s all we can do really. In the harder moments, I’ve been thinking about the Bible verses, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). So much of parenting is true joy, but there is also the pain of seeing your children make bad choices, of leading them toward righteousness and seeing them turn away. Some days, I just feel done by 2:00. But done or not, we’ve got hours left before Matt arrives home, and I need to press on, and I hope that I am growing in my ability to endure well and growing in character. I hope that my children are, too, though it’s sometimes hard to see that in the small, day-to-day interactions. Yesterday afternoon one of my precious children told me angrily that she didn’t see why she had to clear her plate from the table after lunch – it was a waste of her time, and she didn’t used to have to do it herself. We talked about growth and building character. I’m not sure she believes it to be worth it at this point, but we’ll keep calling her to that standard.

There are many days on which I feel like my level of spiritual endurance is approximately equivalent to that of a six-year-old who resists at every turn the policy that she clear her things from the table after a meal. I want to grow, though. I want to have endurance, character, and hope. I want not to grow weary of doing good. I want to have hope that my children will grow to be kind, loving, and thoughtful human beings who follow the Lord. I want to trust that He is working in both them and me for good through these hard parenting times, and I want to do what He’s calling me to do as their mom.

And as God brings us to your mind in the coming days and weeks, please pray for us to that end.

Hard Work and Much Progress

Since FangFang arrived home, we’ve been working hard to get her in to see all of the doctors and specialists she needs to see, run all the tests we’ve needed to run, and connect her with all the services for which she qualifies. Make no mistake about it – this has been work. She’s been home just over 2 months, and so far we’ve tackled 3 assessments, seen 4 doctors who are going to be integral to her care, done our first adoption post-placement visit, started weekly physical therapy, and started the process to obtain a wheelchair. I’ve also had approximately 587 phone calls and occasionally some e-mails with various nurses, schedulers, and insurance company representatives. In the next couple weeks, we also have appointments with another 3 doctors and a dentist, plus an IEP meeting, and we’ll start physical therapy through the school system. Every once in a while we have a week with only one meeting or appointment (our regular physical therapy), and that feels so amazing and free, because most weeks register at least two appointments, sometimes more – this week has five. And it’s real work, coordinating all of those. There are a lot of balls to juggle in being a mama to a kiddo with special needs. Add to that the fact that it has been about 2 weeks since I’ve gotten both littles to nap at the same time on the same afternoon, and this mama is spending quite a bit of time emotionally and physically exhausted.

But you know who is working harder than I am? This girl.

For all of the time we’ve known her, she’s been quite adept at scooting herself around on her bottom, but she’d never independently shown us any ability to crawl. In fact, she acted like she’d never done any sort of “tummy time” before, but even so, it took her exactly one week of physical therapy and working on skills at home to start army crawling. The next week she was rolling over multiple times in a row and also pushing her stomach up off the floor to get into a crawling position. She’s also been telling me, “Stand up!” She loves being held in a vertical position, though I’m careful not to place any real weight on her legs.

Seeing her hit these milestones is amazing. She’s my fourth kiddo, and I’ve never celebrated a first army crawl with this level of excitement. She is clearly pushing herself – in fact, she’ll regularly look at our physical therapist or at me and say, “so hard, so hard.” But she’s also so excited to be able to master these skills that she sees others using. The joy on her face as she experiences the fruit of her labors is beautiful.

And now? FangFang is trying to pull to a stand. This is actually a rather dangerous situation, so we’ve strongly discouraged it for now. With her current bone density and the degree of bowing her right femur is showing, attempts to support her weight on her legs are highly likely to result in the snapping of that femur – an experience we’d all like to avoid. We’ve scheduled bilateral femur rodding surgery for the end of this month, and we’re hoping we can make it to that date without any issues. I cannot wait to see her progress after that surgery! I imagine it’s going to blow us away. Whether she walks or not is not important to us, per se – we love her because she’s our daughter, not because of her capabilities – but we want to facilitate her growth to whatever her full potential is in every area of her life, and it’s exciting to see her moving forward day after day. She’s an amazing kiddo with a huge sense of determination, and we’re fortunate to be traveling together with her on this adventure of life.

Citizens

This week we received FangFang’s Certificate of Citizenship, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I’m both thankful that we have it and saddened that, this time around, I have felt much more of a sense of urgency as we waited for its arrival. The current political and cultural climate surrounding immigration is frightening to me. Today we have reports of customs agents checking the identification of every passenger disembarking from a domestic flight. When Miranda was a baby, I flew with her with no thought to any need that might arise for me to prove her citizenship. That will never be the case with my other daughters. Earlier this week there were cautions that those who look like immigrants should make sure not to leave home without their passports. You can argue that these measures are aimed at illegal immigrants.

But it’s not too much of a stretch to think that those currently in power in our country – President Trump, his advisers, and the Republican-controlled Congress – might go a step beyond that. Trump advisers have cited the internment of Japanese Americans – citizens of our country – during World War II as a legal precedent for actions they might consider.

My daughters have some access to my own white privilege at this time – but the fact remains that they are immigrants. Legal immigrants, yes, citizens even, but immigrants nonetheless. I have, twice now, entered a US Consulate in another country, in order to complete the formal application for an immigrant visa for a child whose adoption I had recently finalized.

We now have the document that is the gold standard in proving citizenship for both of our foreign-born children. We’ll be applying for FangFang’s passport soon, so that all 6 of us have passports, should a situation arise in which we’d feel a need to travel abroad quickly. I hope that the coming months and years prove that to be an unwarranted fear – and I think it likely is – but I’m not willing to say that I’m 100% certain of that, so we’re going to take what we believe to be the necessary precautions.

And I would ask that, in the coming months and years, when you hear discussions of policy proposals and recommendations surrounding immigration policy, you remember my children, two of whom are immigrants. Immigration policy is, of course, about politics, but for our family, it is also deeply personal. When you make blanket statements about immigrants and their place in our country, please remember my children. They are immigrants, and they – as well as all other immigrants here in our country – deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.