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: 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!

Why I Marched

I’ve generally stayed away from politics on this blog, and I don’t intend to change that in large scale. But I do write about our values, our experiences as a family, what is important to us, and what we do – and all of that affects our politics. I was raised by liberal Democrats; became a Christian and a conservative Republican in college; and have now transformed into an independent who tends to vote Democrat. The details of all of those changes are beyond the scope of this post, but their outline gives a bit of context.

I don’t expect everyone – or anyone – to agree with me. I don’t think my views are typical in America today. But I want it recorded for our family, for my kids, how we are working to think through these difficult issues and try to act honorably in the world.

I’m pro-life. I believe that babies are people, both before and after they exit the womb. I believe that, once created, they have a right to life. However, I also believe that black men are people, that just as the unborn baby in the womb of the woman considering abortion deserves to live out her life, that black man choked or shot by police officers deserved a right to his life. I believe children in Syria have a right to life. I believe children living in poverty in America deserve food and high quality schools and to be treated with dignity. I believe health care should be affordable. I believe people with disabilities – including my daughter – should have the same opportunities as everyone else. I believe in a healthy middle class and in prioritizing support for those who are less fortunate instead of subsidizing those who are most wealthy.

I realize that the Women’s March in Washington DC is, in part, about protecting a woman’s right to get an abortion. However, I do not believe that abortion access is all that’s included under the umbrella statement, “Women’s rights are human rights.” Women’s rights also include the right not to be sexually assaulted by anyone – including the President of the United States – no matter what she’s wearing, no matter how much she’s had to drink, no matter what. Women’s rights include the right to be treated with as much respect as a man in a similar situation. Women’s rights include the right to be seen as leaders instead of as bossy and to be seen as more than just their bodies. I support all of those rights.

my sign

Additionally, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s been proven that prohibiting abortion is necessarily the most effective way to cut abortion rates. It seems to me that, similar to our “war on drugs,” focusing on the demand side has much greater potential efficacy than attempting to regulate supply. Shannon Dingle wrote this past summer about why, as a pro-life person, she was planning to vote for Hillary Clinton, and that post resonated with me to such a high degree that I shared it on my own Facebook page multiple times. It seems to me that the Democratic Party and the causes associated with it is, to a much larger degree than the Republican Party right now, the party of life. It grieves me that there is no party with which I can identify and support completely. However, faced with a choice between two imperfect alternatives, I’m going to choose the better one. I’m going to choose life.

The event here in Columbia was marketed as being for trust, equality, freedom, hope, peace, justice, rule of law, dignity, and prosperity. It was described on the Facebook event page as being meant to “demonstrate a broad opposition to the Trump agenda” and to “show unity in the fight for the rights of women, other marginalized groups and issues including climate change, environmental concerns, minority rights, peace and social justice.” 

I’m for all of that.

bigs signs

babies

And I want my children to see that there are things we can do, even in defeat. Back in November, on election day, I let the big girls stay up late, expecting to celebrate with them as we saw the victory of the first female president in history announced. Instead we had a somber bedtime that night, and we’ve had many conversations since about what Donald Trump stands for and why we’re disappointed that so many people voted for him to be the leader of our country. I want my children to know and see that even when we don’t win one battle, we continue to work and fight for the principles in which we believe. I want them to be thankful for the many blessings of living in America – not least among them, the peaceful transfer of power and the right to assemble in protest. I want them to see what that looks like and have the opportunity to participate in it.

And so today, Matt and I loaded everyone into the van and went to meet up with the rest of the marchers.

familywalking

And together with so many others, we marched through downtown Columbia.

crowd

My big girls chose what they wanted their signs to say. In support of her new sister and her rights, Miranda’s proclaimed, “People with OI matter!!” Madeleine CaiQun’s announced, “I am the future!”

miranda

I was proud to march with them today.

me with girls

Homeschooling So Far This Year

My last few blog posts may have given the impression that my life these days consists entirely of adoption-related activities, but that’s actually not quite true! While my time and my heart are quite occupied with adoption, as the mama of three kiddos here at home, I have a lot of other things going on, too!

We are about mid-way through our 7th week of homeschooling, and when I shared about our curriculum for this year, I promised I’d write about how our school year was starting, so I want to do that now!

Honestly, I’m really happy with all the curriculum we’re using. The girls are plugging along with hand-writing, not really learning anything new per se, but continuing to hone their skills.

img_2343

Math is going well. Miranda regularly reports that math is her favorite subject, and she does well with it, though as she’s gotten older and the lessons are longer, she sometimes has a hard time staying on task and motivated for long enough to finish an entire assignment – but she understands the material and loves learning new concepts.

img_2341

I think I may have let Madeleine CaiQun speed through Kindergarten math a bit too fast last year, so this year we’ve taken some time to slow down and make sure she is really grasping the concepts being taught – I’ve had her use manipulatives when she isn’t coming up with the correct answers for addition and subtraction questions right away, and that helps her tremendously. Singapore Math seems to be very heavily a mental math curriculum, and while it’s awesome for Miranda, I’m not sure it will continue to work well for all of my kids all the time, but we’ll continue to re-evaluate that for each child as needed. One thing I love about homeschooling is that we have the freedom to do that 🙂

One area in which Madeleine CaiQun truly shines is reading. This girl loves to read and has grown in leaps and bounds in her reading ability in the last year and a half – I started her last year reading consonant-vowel-consonant words, and now she excels at the grade 2 readers I have her doing and could really probably be tackling more advanced books! She does enough of that on her own, though, that I think it’s good for her to hang in there with the grade 2 books for school, just getting some practice slowing down and enunciating as she reads out loud with these. Her consistency and desire to learn have really paid off in this area.

IMG_1901

It’s interesting to me that both girls recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and see where the other shines, as well, but neither appears to be jealous or angry about it.

We’re all enjoying the Bible and Language Arts curriculum we’re doing this year, and I see the girls learning in both arenas. We’re studying some characteristics of God this year, which has been cool. And in Language Arts, they’re beginning to learn about some simple grammar (i.e. nouns), memorize some poems, and acquire the basic building blocks for learning to spell. This Language Arts curriculum feels more focused and straightforward than what we were doing last year, so I feel good about making the choice to switch and try something new, and the girls like it better, too.

And, of course, we’re enjoying Sonlight’s read-alouds, the literature books I read out loud to the girls each day. We started off with Charlotte’s Web, and when we finished, we had a family movie night to enjoy the film!

I wasn’t sure what studying ancient history with 6-year-olds would really be like, but so far, it’s going well! We’ve learned about archaeological digs (and had a conference call with my brother, who spent a summer working on a dig in Italy!), and this week we’re reading about ancient Egypt, mummies, and King Tut.

In science, we’re learning about animals, and the girls are really enjoying that. The internet-linked capacity of our animal book is something they really love, getting to watch videos of many of the animals about which we read each day. We also took a day recently to drive to St. Louis with some friends and visit the zoo to see many of the animals firsthand (and, of course, to ride the train).

img_2665

img_2672

img_2675

I’d say the biggest struggle for me is fitting it all in each day – and the result is that we usually don’t fit it all in each day! I’m constantly going back and forth about whether that’s okay (they’re six! they learn through play! they don’t need to spend 5 hours a day doing school or hit every subject every day!) or whether I really need to get us on track now (we’re going to bring home another toddler soon, so we need to accomplish as much as possible before then! we should have a solid routine that allows us to accomplish everything each day! we should check things off our lists!). Being a checklist-oriented person, I still cringe inwardly every time I think of taking 8 days or so to do 5 days’ worth of scheduled work, but I also think it’s what’s working best for us now. We’ve had a number of doctor appointments recently, we’ve had adoption paperwork to do, we’ve taken advantage of some nice days to meet friends at the park, and I don’t want to sacrifice those things in order to guarantee that we hit every subject every day.

img_2477-2

The girls are learning and growing. We’re taking time to talk about character when needed – it may not be on any checklist, but I have to remind myself nearly every day that addressing character issues and teaching my kids about what it looks like to follow God is so much more important than getting through every subject on the list each day.

I do worry about how we’ll all adjust once we have two little mischief makers underfoot instead of just one, but I imagine we’ll figure it out 🙂

img_2346

And if it takes us more than a year to get through this year’s curriculum, but we do it well, so be it. They’re six, and it’ll be okay – or so I keep telling myself 🙂

img_2401

We’re spending time together as a family, learning about God and life, learning about the world, and (even if not as quickly as I’d like), checking off the boxes on our curriculum 🙂