A New Activity – Horseback Riding!

Our two older girls began participating in gymnastics just over 3 years ago, but this summer, they’ve expressed interest in trying something new. That was initially somewhat bittersweet for me, as I’ve always loved the sport of gymnastics, but ultimately, we have definite priorities in what we want in our kids’ extra-curricular activities, and they don’t really have anything to do with participation in the sport I’ve enjoyed participating in and watching!

Madeleine CaiQun came to us one day and said that she really wanted to try horseback riding. We value making sure that our children know they have a voice, so I told her I’d look into it, and after soliciting recommendations for child-friendly horseback riding lessons, I made a phone call and got her set up with her very first lesson.

She was rather intimidated when she saw the size of Lulu, the pony she was to be riding, up close and personal, but she got up there!

She got to practice leading Lulu around…

…and, while she had both Courtney (her instructor) and me physically holding onto her for most of her lesson, she was okay with us letting go so that we could take a few photos of her on Lulu by herself.

She loved it and told me definitively that she wanted to come back and ride again.

Before her second lesson, though, Miranda had her turn. Miranda had not exactly been thrilled that, while she was the older sister, she did not get to be the first child in our family to enjoy this activity! We did get her set up for a lesson, though, and after hearing about Madeleine CaiQun’s lesson, she made sure to tell me on our drive out to the barn that I would not be holding onto her leg while she rode, and true to her word, she was an adventurous first-time rider, even trotting during her first lesson!

She learned about holding her reins…

…and two-point…

…and weaving.

And of course she posed for a photo with Delilah, the pony she was riding 🙂

One thing that stands out to me in our short tenure as parents with kids involved in activities is that having a good instructor is truly paramount, and we’ve been quite blessed in that regard. Our girls’ first gymnastics coach was superb – nurturing and fun while also teaching – exactly what they needed as young pre-schoolers starting out in their first activity not taught by me. And their horseback riding instructor, Courtney, is awesome. She’s able to switch gears on a moment’s notice, and she’s great with both horses and small children (not to mention the small children’s mother, who knows next to nothing about horseback riding). She’s able to nurture both of my very different girls, teaching to them exactly where they’re at, and they are having a great time and learning.

They’re learning about horseback riding, but they’re also learning other skills, and honestly, those are far more important to us than their skill at the particular activity they choose to pursue. I love that they’re learning perseverance, hard work, courage, and productive ways to channel their intensity!

I appreciate that they are getting opportunities to interact with other people outside of our family, using their words and negotiating their needs. I’m glad that they’re learning about kindness, both to people and animals.

So far this new activity has been a hit!

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!

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!