Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One of the best things about being a home educator is that you can reinvent your home school as often as you need to. When you get bored with the schedule or when the routine stops working for the kids...just change it up!
We have needed a new chore and school work checklist system for awhile now. The nagging, begging, yelling and crying was not getting me far in motivating the troops. Shocking, no?
So, here it is. It's not beautiful. But it works. And that's all that matters to me.
These are made out of small poster board sheets. I cut a sheet up into strips to make the pockets, then stapled and taped them onto a full sheet. Then I cut brightly colored note cards into thirds and wrote each chore and school subject on the front of a card. All of the chores and school work are on green cards. You will notice that Julia also has an orange card in her top pocket. Orange cards are reserved for extra chores. Kids earn an extra chore when they don't finish their regular chores by 9:00am. On this chart, Julia is about halfway through her chores.
Every evening I make sure all their cards are turned to the side where the chore or school subject is written. We don't do every subject every day, so I only put in the cards that show the subjects assigned for the next day. When a chore is complete (and not before it's complete!), they go to their chart and turn the card for that chore around to "DONE". This way, they know what they have left to do, and I can make a quick visit to the charts to see their progress.
I keep all the charts on the dining room table so they are very accessible. One of the great things about them being so small and lightweight, though, is that they can easily be put away on a shelf or in a cabinet when we need to use the table for something else!

Even Astrid and Ezra have their own pocket chore charts. Theirs have pictures in addition to words, since they are not readers yet. And a bonus, their charts are extra small so they can carry them around while they move from room to room fulfilling their responsibilities!

And here are a few pictures of a regular day in the life of our home school.
Asa reading his history.

Julia reading Little Women

Ethan reading his history and snacking on an apple

Typical Astrid and Ezra antics

Juniper is forced into the "fun"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It has been 8 years tonight since I last heard the voice of my Granni.

Wow. One line written and I'm already getting all teary.

She was happy that night. She was going into surgery the next morning to have a brain tumor removed. Family members from another state were visiting. Granni liked visitors, so she was so cheerful. Confident. At ease. I told her that I was scared. Scared that I would never see her again. And she told me not to worry. Whatever happened, we would see each other again. I wished I was there, in Florida, with her. But I was in California, awaiting the arrival of a new baby we had traveled from Texas to adopt. I stood outside Chuck E Cheese that night, with the baby's birthmother inside playing games and waiting for labor, just wanting to hold the phone a little longer but feeling like I should get back in. I rushed her off. Telling her I needed to go. I will always wish that I held on just a little bit longer.

The next morning when the phone rang in our hotel room and Justin jumped out of bed telling me that the baby was on the way and he was leaving to take the birthmother to the hospital, I looked at the clock. Ironically, at that very moment, my Granni was going into surgery. I whispered a groggy prayer and fell back into a restless sleep beside my then two year old, Ethan.

Not long after, Justin came back to get me to go to the hospital. I don't remember much about getting ready or going there. All I remember is waiting. Waiting for the baby to come. Waiting to hear from my mom about how Granni was doing. Just waiting. At around 7:00am, the little one arrived. The birthfather came out to tell us that the baby was here and 15 minutes later we were being escorted in to see her. She was short and plump, with a ton of black hair. We watched her get her first bath and stood back, somewhat awkwardly, as it was decided who should hold her first. Eventually we all settled into a comfortable "oohing" and "ahhhing" over her absolute preciousness. I held her, and rocked her, and fed her a bottle. She was beautiful. She was ours. We named her Julia.

I remember walking out into a courtyard with my cell phone and calling my mom to tell her that Julia was here. I remember describing every little detail that I could about her. I remember my mom's guarded cheerfulness. I remember asking how Granni was doing. And I remember silence. Then my mom told me that Granni had suffered a stroke while in surgery. She said that she had been able to communicate with a hand squeeze but had not woken up. I remember becoming a little girl again at that moment. I pressed her to reassure me that everything was ok. And she tried. But she couldn't.

The day went on full of the most conflicting mix of emotions I have ever experienced. I held my new daughter and all I could think was that one of the most important people in my life might be gone. Unfortunately, the first day of my first daughter's life is mostly a blur.

The hospital gave us a room to sleep in, and Julia stayed with us. I can recall little Ethan kissing her and holding her. But the most vivid memory to me of that night is of facing reality in a dark room adjoined to ours. Justin was on the phone with my mom. It was clear now that Granni wasn't going to make it. Her heart was still beating. She was still breathing with the help of a machine. But, the "life" in her was gone. My mom thought she had been gone since the last time that morning that Granni had squeezed her hand. They had not been able to get any response from her since that moment. Almost exactly the same moment Julia was born.

In a tiny room that night I wrestled with grief so powerful that I thought it was going to rip me apart. I screamed and cried and wailed and threw my body on the ground. I just wanted to escape from the pain. But there was nowhere to go. It was inside me. If I had been able to literally rip my heart out with my own hands I might have done it. I remember Justin trying to quiet me, telling me "you can't do this". But I knew he was wrong. There was no stopping it. I simply couldn't NOT do it.

We booked a flight for me to leave California and go to Florida to say goodbye to Granni while she was still "alive". Ethan and I were to leave the next day but Justin had to stay there. Because of the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, we were not yet allowed to leave California with Julia. It could take up to two weeks to get the paperwork finished for Justin to leave the state with her. And her birthparents still hadn't even signed the papers to terminate their rights. So much was still to be done. And Justin was going to have to do it all alone.

The next morning I woke up vomiting. I vomited over and over and over all day long. I was 20 weeks pregnant with Asa, so Justin called my OBGYN and got a prescription for Zofran, so I could stop throwing up long enough to fly home with Ethan. He took me to the airport and dropped me off. I don't know how we did it. I was hardly capable of taking care of Ethan on my own. But I had to. I couldn't even hold my own body up, much less carry a two year old, so Justin had it arranged for the airport staff to push me to the gate in a wheelchair, Ethan on my lap, and holding a bag to throw up into. All I remember of the flight is holding onto my precious baby, whom my Granni loved with all her heart, and weeping into his sweet blond head.

Justin's family picked me up from the airport and took me to the hospital. The waiting room was full, wall to wall, with people who loved my Granni. Everyone else had already said their goodbyes. I was the only one left. The only one they were waiting for.

I sat beside her and held her hand. I begged her to wake up. To look at me. I studied the speckled arms that had loved and hugged me all my life. I willed with everything inside of me for her eyes to open and sparkle at me the way they did every time I walked into the room, and every time she said "we sure are special to each other, aren't we?"

I can recall very vividly being a little girl, lying in bed at night beside her. I was restless, as little girls often are, but she would always fall asleep quickly. I remember staring at her so many times and thinking that she looked dead sleeping there next me. I would imagine that my world might really fall apart if that were true and I'd scare myself so much with the thought of it that I would slowly and carefully snuggle closer to her and rest my ear on her chest, just to assure myself that she was still alive.

I wasn't there when they unplugged the machines. I did not see her take her last breath.

That was the last time I saw her. There was an open casket at the funeral. I didn't even look. I couldn't, for fear that I would not be able to stop the little girl inside me from lying down beside her and laying my head against her chest one more time in a hopeless and desperate effort to hear her heart beating and listen for her breaths of life.

Justin had been allowed to leave California much sooner than anticipated. He and Julia arrived the night before my Granni was to buried. During the funeral I held onto my sweet new baby girl. I passed her around and everyone hugged and kissed her, this ray of light in what might otherwise have been utter darkness for so many of us.

Julia was our gift. Not everyone gets a gift in the middle of their pain. But God saw fit to give us one. The months following Granni's death, the first months of Julia's life, were wrought with heartache. Sometimes it was hard to see this new responsibility as anything more than one more person to take emotional energy that I did not have to give. Sometimes I even felt anger toward that beautiful little baby for "taking me away" from my Granni when she needed me. But looking back I can see that Julia helped bring me through the storm. Today, I understand clearly that she was a divinely timed salve for my heart from The Healer.

God sent us life in the midst of death.

Isn't that just like Him?

Happy birthday sweet Julia Faye Elise Allen. You are a miracle.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

One morning this week I walked outside and was greeted by sweet smelling, pleasantly crisp air. Rain from the night before had gifted us with comfortable temperatures, a welcome break from the oppressive heat that has been plaguing us for weeks on end. So after the kids finished their morning chores, I suggested that we sit outside for our daily Bible lesson. Most of the kids were excited about the change in routine. One, however, was not.
"In the front yard?" Ethan asked incredulously.
"Of course in the front," I replied, "the dogs will jump all over us if we go to the back."
"I'll put them in the garage," he said quickly and firmly, "I DO NOT want to do Bible out front."
"Come on, it's no big deal," I responded as I walked out the front door balancing four Bibles, 15 scripture memory cards, and two lesson books.
He reluctantly followed and we joined the other kids, who were waiting expectantly on the front walk. I proceeded with our Bible lesson, but Ethan was hesitant to participate. There was more than one eye roll, a few heavy sighs, and a blatant lack of audible recitation when we said our memory verses together. I saw him scurry to hide the illustrated "baby Bible" when a delivery truck drove by during our prayer time. He even verbalized, "I DO NOT want to do this or anything else out here, it's so embarrassing", when a couple of ladies walked by (on the other side of the road) during their morning walk.

I was disturbed. What had gotten into my sweet boy?

I talked to him alone afterward. The ugly truth is this: My ten year old has been bitten by the "cool" bug. And sitting out on your front walk, reading the Bible or doing your lessons with your mom and younger siblings apparently falls DEEP into uncool waters.

Man, I hate this. I've seen it coming. With his penchant toward flat billed hats, the effort to learn to like pop music, and the recent request for an abercrombie shirt (because, even if you hate the look of the shirt, it's still better than one you actually like because it has those 11 little letters on it, right?).

Now, before you start saying things like, "He's just at that age", "All kids go through this", "It was bound to happen at some point", "It's normal". Let me just say this.

I. Don't. Care.

I don't care how normal it is. I don't care how many kids go through it. You can brush it off with as many cultural rationalizations as you want. I am not assuaged.

Living for "cool" is a trap. It's an enemy. It's temporary, and unsatisfying, and insubstantial, and selfish. It's a manifestation of fallen-ness. Yes, I realize my children are fallen. But they will only be sucked in to living for "cool" over my cold, lifeless, un-chic body.

What's the big deal, you ask? Yes, I can read minds (isn't that cool?)
One word. One powerful but undervalued word.


Some people live their entire lives trying to be something that everyone else thinks they should be. Trying to wear what everyone else thinks they should wear. Saying what everyone else thinks they should say. Listening to what everyone else thinks they should listen to.
These people live empty, shallow, unfulfilling lives. Why? Because cool doesn't last. Just when you think you have reached this unattainable goal of fitting in, or have even become the awe-inspiring trend setter, "cool" changes, and you inevitably come crashing down, lying on the ground, your fleeting hipness being trampled by the next trend.

It's a sad existence. And not what I want for my kids.

I want them to be genuine. Real. Not false. Not a copy or a counterfeit. To seek God with their whole hearts and come to a deep, rich, absolute realization of who they were created to be. And BE THAT.

I realize that this means that my kids will not always agree with me. They won't always see things the way I do. Or make the choices I would make. But God did not create them to be copies of me. They were made for something much more remarkable than that.

So, anyone want to start a trend with me? ;)

Redefine Cool. Embrace Authenticity. (We'll make bumper stickers and sell them to all the people who want to be cool like us.)

Because there is nothing cooler than being authentic.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I think the heat is getting to us.

There have been some grumpy, ugly attitudes at my house lately. Complete with nasty looks, eye rolling, voice raising, door slamming, and purposely irritating.

And the children haven't been too nice either.

I kid. Mostly.

Really, my darlings seem to be getting under each other's skin. Possibly the most disturbing sound to this mama's ears is a sharp word spoken by one of my children to a sibling. Let them jump on beds, slide down banisters, leave a trail of Oreo crumbs on my clean floors, forget to shut the freezer after sneaking popsicles, put a hole in their best shirt, and neglect to flush the toilet where Juni likes to splash. I'll take all of these over hearing my kids speak unkindly to one another. Harsh words between my children are like little bees stinging my heart, making me flinch and recoil. Their unwelcome stingers injecting feelings of frustration and fears of failure. After all, if I were creating my ideal home atmosphere of peace, love, and unicorns, this wouldn't happen, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

How much of this is really my fault and how much of it is just plain ol' pesky sin nature is hard to say.

All I know is this. I want to fix it.

As I tidied up (my Mary Poppins imagery for today) the downstairs this afternoon, all 6 of the kids played together upstairs. Usually, this goes very well. Not today. Instead of the melodic tones of chiming giggles and sweet loving words, or the quiet shuffle of toys being exchanged between gentle sharing hands, this is what I heard:

"GIMME THAT BACK, 'TUPID" (That's "stupid" minus the "S", for anyone who is not familiar with Ezra-ese)
"OW OW OW!" (followed by dramatic wailing)
"I'M TELLING MAMA!" (followed by angry feet pounding down the stairs)

At this point, I couldn't decide whether to run or play dead. Unfortunately, I had time for neither before the wailing one and the telling one found me in the dining room, on my way down to the floor, attempting to assume the fetal position until bedtime.

I put my finger over my lips to silence them and walked upstairs, followed by a satiated wailing one, who thought vindication was coming, and a smug telling one, who thought someone up there was about to get in trouble. I stood in the middle of the play room.

"Everyone put down whatever you're playing with and come stand in front of me." I ordered in a stern tone.
Five pair of uncertain eyes paused and looked at me. Juni just babbled and rolled a ball across the floor.
"Why? What are you doing?" they asked.
"I'd like to make one thing quite clear: I never explain anything."
(Okay, I didn't really say that, I just wanted to throw in another Mary Poppins reference. Did you catch it?)
"You'll see. Just come here."
They came.
I bent down to look them straight in their trepidatious wide eyes.
"I have had enough of this. The way you speak to each other is so ugly. I can't take another second of it. So I'm going to do something about it right now!"
Concern flashed over 5 little brows. "what...?" someone cautiously asked.
I paused. For effect, of course.

"GROUP HUG!!!!!!!"

I enveloped 5 relieved offenders in my embrace and 10 happy arms hugged me back. They smiled, and giggled, and planted random kisses on whichever head was closest.

"Now, play nicely, please. Love more. Yell less. Ok?"

As I walked out of the room, Ethan called out to me.
"Hey Mom?"
"What's up?"
"Thanks. I really liked that. It actually does make me want to be nicer now. That felt good."
I smiled at him. "I'm glad. Me too."

And it did feel better. Imagine that. A simple hug and, at least for the moment, my ideal atmosphere was back. Minus the unicorns.

I will not play at tug o' war.
I'd rather play at hug o' war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.
--Shel Silverstein

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's the night before public school starts. I'll admit that there's a little nostalgic twinge of excitement I feel for those who will be beginning a new school year tomorrow. I remember first days of school. The fuss over what I should wear, the giddiness about seeing friends again, the anticipation of using fresh new notebooks, sharp pencils, and backpacks not yet scuffed and stained. I see all those joys shining in the eyes of my children's traditionally schooled friends. And for just one, tiny, whizzing-by-so-fast-that-you-will-miss-it-if-you-blink moment, I think maybe my kids are missing out. After all, for a child, the First Day of School Eve is second only to Christmas Eve in heart aflutter expectancy. But for my kids, tomorrow is just another Monday. Tonight is just another Sunday night.

But as all the children in our neighborhood and beyond gathered their school supplies, laid out their clothes in preparation to be roused before the sun, washed behind their ears for the first time since June, and laid tucked in their beds before dark with visions of assigned seating dancing in their heads....we headed out for adventure.

Straight from our favorite pizza joint after a day at the pool, ungathered, unprepared, unwashed, and untucked, we made a spontaneous trip out to our 30 acres of happily ever after (land we have purchased and hope to build on some day). The golden sun was already hanging low in the sky, lazily dipping behind the treed hill next to our future home site as we bumped down the rocky dirt road. Windows down, a warm breeze caressing our cheeks, fireflies dancing, kids giggling, and the sounds of endless summer nights emerging from the branches and brush around us. Grasshoppers assaulted Helga (our mammoth van) and we all dissolved into fits of laughter as Daddy bid them adieu with a flick of the windshield wipers, sending them slipping across the glass like tiny bulgy eyed cartoon characters. We parked Helga beside our creek and the kids rambled one by one out of her doors and windows and climbed to sit on her roof. We sang a few songs and made silly jokes. The boys got a little rowdy and someone may or may not have tumbled off the top of the van and and someone else may or may not have gotten a "talkin' to". But as the sky grew darker and the night sounds more pronounced, everyone turned their attention upward as the stars of the show we had come to see finally emerged from their secret summer roost and appeared all around us.

Bats! Wings furiously flapping they flew over us, beside, in front of and behind us. Dipping, lurching, careening, cutting through the cool dusky air like furry kamikaze pilots. There were shrieks of delight, pointing, giggling, and at least one choke hold of surprised uncertainty...

We spent about a good while enjoying their antics, with Asa bouncing around on top of the van, the girls sitting cozy under a sleeping bag, and Ethan relaxed on his back with Ezra beside him, snuggled close for big brother protection. We searched the sky, each trying to be the first to spot another bat, talking about what they eat, where they live, why they only come out at night, and how they find their food. We decided we would build a bat house on our land as a "thank you" to these tiny magical creatures who come out to dine on the mosquitos who would otherwise be dining on us!

When the coyote's howling began to punctuate the darkness, we loaded Helga with sleepy little sun kissed and night enchanted bodies and headed for home. We stopped to admire the almost full moon. Ezra yawned and asked if we could follow it all the way home. Justin said of course we can Ezra, you just watch and make sure it doesn't get away from us...and we did. We followed that bright and shining Night Before School Starts moon all the way into our driveway, passing by homes in which slept children brimming with anticipation. We carried drowsy little ones up to their rooms and put them in their beds. Unwashed, unprepared, and unaware of tomorrow being anything other than another Monday. And tonight being anything other than another Sunday night.

As I kissed them goodnight and my 10 year old almost grown up boy asked me to hug him just a little longer, I was sure. Sure that no matter how many First Day of School Eve's end with just another goodnight kiss and a "what are we doing tomorrow Mom?", I need not give a second glance to that whizzing-by-so-fast-that-you-will-miss-it-if-you-blink little doubt. There is nothing that can take the place of the untethered life of a homeschool family.
My kids aren't missing out on a thing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Today was a special day. It has been 364 days since I met my sweet Juniper. Today was her last day of being just "months" old. The brothers and sisters told her all day that she is turning 1 tomorrow. So she took this last day of babyhood to heart and had some fun.

She helped in the school room by getting the pencils out for her kids.

Then she threw them one by one on the floor. Gotta keep those kids busy and give them something to clean up!

Don't let that innocent smile fool you. She knew exactly what she was doing. But it's ok...she can do what she wants. Because she's a baby for one more day!

She reached just a little bit farther than ever before.

She climbed the stairs and smugly settled halfway up. Because now she can. After all, she's almost not a baby anymore.

Today was a day for trying new things. Like a green marker for breakfast. (This is what happens to a diapered hiney when it's owner eats markers for breakfast.)

She ended the day with a drive in a cardboard ambulance. She's a big girl now. It's time to start some serious career planning.

Yep, it's been a big day for my baby toddler girl.
A bedtime, the kids and I reminisced about the morning she was born. Their version of that day makes me smile. They remember standing at the front door and hearing a cry come from the bathroom. They told me they didn't come until after hearing it a second time. They giggled when they talked about running into the bathroom and being shocked to find Juni and me in the tub. Julia made a face and recalled the "yucky stuff" all over her. Ethan got tears in his eyes as he talked about seeing her for the first time. He said he was so happy that day that he cried.
She is a gift to us all. Juniper is sweetness in an 18 pound package. She is a joyful soul. A lover. A hugger. A kisser. A giggler.
She is Ethan's pride and joy.
She is Julia's living doll.
She is Asa's charge and "buddy".
She is Astrid's future friend.
She is Ezra's forgiving sweetheart.
She is Daddy's little girl.
She is Mama's love and sunshine.
She is just who we all needed. Just who we all wanted.

Happy last day of babyhood precious one.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

As wonderful as my kids are, they aren't perfect. Sometimes we have to deal with what we call, "heart issues". We all have them. They aren't limited to children. Julia's biggest struggle with her heart is honesty. This is a huge deal to us. So when she lies about something, the consequences are serious. This past Tuesday, it happened again. Sweet Julia lied about doing a chore that she had not done. I could see it all over her face. And even after I called her out on it and showed her the evidence that she had not done what she said she had, she continued to insist that she was telling the truth. It wasn't until I began the conversation about her heart that she finally gave up and admitted that she had been dishonest. I gave her the choice between two sets of consequences. I do this sometimes because it helps them understand that they have choices in life. They can choose righteousness or sin. And when they later complain that the consequence is unfair, I can remind them that they not only chose the infraction, but they chose the consequence too. Then their frustration is more with themselves and less with me. Julia ended up having to write 30 times, "I will tell the truth the first time", losing her beloved blanket for a week, and not being able to play with friends for a week.

Fast forward to Thursday. We were invited to Chuck E Cheese for a friend's birthday party. The kids were very excited! We rarely go there so it's a special treat for them. They talked about it all day long. What games they were going to play, the prizes they would choose, the pizza, all the fun friends who would be there. Shortly before it was time to leave for the party, I reminded Julia that she had lost the privilege of playing with friends for a week, so she would not be participating in the fun at the party. She would have to sit with me the entire time. Her world fell apart. She cried and pleaded. She offered to do extra chores. I hugged her and told her that nothing was going to change, the consequence was in place, and hopefully this will help her stop herself next time she considers telling a lie. She was devastated. I wanted to give in, but I knew that I couldn't.

It was time to go and I was in rush mode. Pushing the kids out the door with a "hurry, hurry, hurry!", grabbing the gift, finding shoes. As I scrambled out the door, Asa grabbed my hand.
"Mom," he said with tenderness, "I want to make a deal with you."
"What is it?" I asked.
"I can't stand to watch Julia sit out the whole time at the party. Please let me sit half the time and take half of her punishment."
My sweet boy stood here, with hopeful eyes, pleading for mercy for his sister. Asking if he could sacrifice himself for her.

What an example of Jesus' love my son was to me that day. Our God could not stand to see us miss out on his love and spiritual riches. He had done nothing wrong. We were the ones who had messed up again. We are the ones with the heart issue. But he wanted to be the one to take the punishment.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16

Sure, Asa didn't offer his life for Julia, this time. But to a 7 year old, an afternoon at Chuck E Cheese is pretty darn close.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I frequently have people ask me "how" I homeschool. Sometimes they mean, "I can't imagine how hard it must be, HOW do you do it?" But often, they want to really know HOW. How do I decide what to teach? Where do I get curriculum? How much does it cost? And some who may be a little more homeschool savvy may ask "What's your homeschooling style?"

Honestly, if you want to know my heart, I think I might be a closet "unschooler". I truly do believe that we all learn best when we are interested in what we are learning. I love the idea of my kids exploring subjects and ideas of their own choosing, and learning about them out of a thirst for knowledge, rather than just completing an assignment. I would rather them press to learn more because they want to know more, as opposed to suffering through just getting done with whatever I've told them they need to know. But, alas, I stand in fear and trepidation of ending up with children who, when left to their own devices, will end up knowing nothing more than how to build an alternate Lego universe, or the intricate details of the battle habits of a killer squid, or how many fingers the characters on Phineas and Ferb have (anyone?). So, year after year I research curriculum. I ask friends what they are using. I try to figure out what will interest my children the most and keep them enjoying learning. And I buy what appeals to me. Now, I can't promise that we will finish what is intended to be a half year of math in an entire school year. But, by golly, it's here in the house if we decide we want to use it. And we do, when there's nothing better to do. ;)

So, in our sixth year of homeschooling, here are a few of the vehicles of our academic pursuits....

We begin each day with chores. When they are completed we meet in the family room for Bible lesson, scripture memory, and prayer. After that, on designated days of the week (and when the mood is right), our school day begins!

Each school age child has their own "school bin". All of their workbooks, reading books, CDs, and writing paper is in these bins. Each child has a different color. They can stay in the school room with their bin, or they can pick it up and carry it wherever they want to settle in to work. And for anyone who might be curious, Ethan's is gray, Julia's is green, Asa's is blue, and Astrid's is pink.
For language, we use Primary and Intermediate Language Lessons by Emma Serl. These were recommended by the box curriculum we used last year (My Father's World) and though we are going back to a more eclectic approach this year, we loved these books so much that we are sticking with them. They were written in the early 1900's so they have a sweet vintage charm to them. The old fashioned language is simple yet rich. Throughout these books you will find life lessons, creative writing opportunities, exploration of the intricacies of grammar, picture studies, and vocabulary lessons. Of all the language curriculums I have used in home education, this is by far my favorite series!
This will be my 6th year with the Explode the Code series. Just last year we discovered Beyond the Code and added it to our study. It's a wonderful spelling curriculum. Each of my kids have really loved working through the Explode the Code books to learn phonics and rules of spelling. The artwork is by children, and the lessons build on each other. Each lesson follows the same format beginning with introduction to a group of words then slowly and effectively leading to the final page of the lesson where the kids must spell the words themselves. Beyond the Code is a supplement to Explode the Code and it focuses more on the rules of spelling, reading comprehension, and building sentences. There is even an Explode the Code series for pre-readers that Astrid will be working on some this year. We just got some new books in the mail today and Asa actually cheered when he saw his new Explode the Code book!
Ethan has completed the Explode the Code series and now uses Building Spelling Skills by Christian Liberty Press. This is last year's book but we got his fifth grade book in the mail today and he was excited to look through it. There are great lessons in these books teaching spelling and vocabulary. It's also written with the Christian family in mind and often includes Bible verses and encourages kids in their faith.
For the first time this year, Ethan will be using Notgrass America the Beautiful for his independent study of American history. This curriculum was introduced to us by another homeschooling family. They are starting it for the first time this year too, but after hearing the mom talk about it and looking through her copy, I decided to try it out. It seems to be a very comprehensive curriculum with opportunities at the end of each textbook lesson for kids to go further in their study through Bible lessons, Timelines, Map Study, related literature, and creative writing assignments. We won't do each of these after every lesson. But I like the opportunity to choose from a variety of activities. Asa and Julia will be using the Christian Liberty Press History for Little Pilgrims. We read through this history book together year before last, but this time they will be reading it independently.
We have been all over the map with math curriculums. We have tried Horizons, Math U See, Saxon, Singapore, and Time for Learning. This year, after hearing several people sing the praises of Teaching Textbooks, we decided to jump right into math on the computer! Ethan began his Math 5 a few weeks ago and is loving it. Asa and Julia started Math 3 just this week and have also been enjoying it. In comparison to other math curriculums we have used, I would say that Teaching Textbooks is a little more basic. However, I see this as a positive thing because it's giving my kids more confidence in their math abilities and helping them establish a stronger math foundation before moving ahead. Each Teaching Textbooks lesson consists of a lecture, practice problems, and graded problems, and the program keeps a gradebook for parents so you can see how your child is doing and go back and review the things they may be having trouble with.
Just like her siblings who have gone before her, Astrid hopes to learn to read this year with the help of BOB books. These are simple books, with simple drawings, but the kids love them. They are a great introduction to the world of reading and the kids feel such a sense of accomplishment because they books are quite short and they can finish a whole book even in the very early stages of learning to read. We have Set 1, 2, and 3 of the BOB books. After completing Set 3 I find that my kids are good enough readers to then move on to real storybooks and "readers".
For science this year we will be doing Apologia's Exploring Creation with Zoology: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day. This is a Christian and creation based science curriculum and is just one in a series of amazing books. They are full of wonderful information, experiments, activities, and projects. I can't wait to really dig into this science and enjoy learning with my kids.
Reading plays a huge part in our home education! The kids are required to read 2 chapters a day of whatever book we have chosen as their school reader. They can range from biographies, to missionary stories, to historical fiction, to classic literature, and everything in between! Usually, they each have a recreational reading book going just for fun at the same time as their school reader. They also each have one book in the Christian Liberty Nature Reader series that they read a small section from each day.

There are so many wonderful resources available to homeschooling families nowadays. These are just a few that I have found that get me excited and keep my kids engaged. We take our time in getting through each book and enjoy fun times, breaks, and relaxing days of child directed learning (also known as play) along the way!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A few nights ago we were blessed with about an hour of rain. It's been so hot that I think we almost forgot what it was like to hear the gentle roll of thunder and feel the sweet offerings of the clouds falling on our heads. A light steam curled up from the hot pavement when the rain hit it. But within minutes the wet heat gave way to a refreshing coolness and a light breeze. The kids were in heaven. The splashed and ran around with their umbrellas. They laughed and squealed and made umbrella forts. Then Asa and Astrid cuddled up together under a down comforter in the garage and laughed at inside jokes while they watched the rain fall from their front row seat.

It seems that when a family grows to the size of ours, and larger, natural friendships and separations form. Even though Asa and Astrid are right next to each other in the "line up", they have never been especially close.

They get along great, but neither of them seek the other out when in need of a playmate. I think that's why it warmed my heart so much to see them enjoying each other's company that day. So, on the spur of the moment, I suggested a little photo shoot, and they happily agreed!

They were huge hams out there that evening. They posed, and acted, and giggled, and teased, and splashed, and made silly faces. They just had a grand time being together. They are both my little photo shoot lovers, so together they had a cute chemistry in front of the camera.

One of the values that I think is very important to teach my kids is that they are each other's best friends. That their brothers and sisters are going to be the only ones who are always there for them, who know the good and bad and love them anyway. Since they were very small I have referred to the boys as "best brothers" and the girls as "best sisters". They don't always see it that way, but I hope that as they grow, so will their love for each other. I hope they will realize more and more over the years what a gift their siblings are to them.

And when those days come when it's easy to turn your back on each other for people or things that seem, at the moment, more valuable, I pray that they will remember times like this. Moments when they were happy just being together. Building blanket forts. Running lemonade stands. Jumping in the creek. Catching fireflies. Having late night whispered talks. Sharing ice cream cones. Splashing in the rain. Praying together. Creating LEGO worlds and baby doll nurseries. Working, living, playing....loving life. Side by side. Best brothers. Best sisters. Forever.