Friday, July 29, 2016

Mid-summer Reflections

Now that we're midway through the summer, I'm looking back over what I envisioned, compared to what it has been. The weeks have been packed with camps and visits (us going, family coming), and we've only had one week of 'free time' which was then packed with a playdate almost every day, until Bunny got sick. Whew! So much for having a carefree summer of lounging around and relaxing!

It's a nice change of pace and there's good and bad to it. I love that the kids are getting to do some things they normally don't get to do at their camps(ice skating, cooking, robotics), spending time with lots of other kids, and I am finally getting a long stretch of the day ALONE! After being with them almost 24x7 most of the year, I'm really enjoying some quiet time. However, it comes with a LOT of chauffeuring them to different camps for drop-off and pick-up! The driving itself is exhausting! I'm spending up to 2 hours per day in the car, since they have had camps that are almost 30 minutes away and they attending separate camps due to their differing interests. It also comes with packing lunches and snacks (which is one of the things I DON'T miss about school), and then unpacking their stuff at the end of the day, and just filling up most of the day so there's very little free time left.

Today, they are in the same camp, in town, and I have a HUGE stretch of time to myself since I don't have multiple dropoff/pickup locations/times. I was so tempted to just take a day off of work and have a day to myself! Woo hoo!! But I eventually talked myself out of it, because 1) I couldn't figure out what I'd do for fun anyway  2) my to-do list was gigantic, between planning for VBS, random errands, and work stuff that I couldn't really *enjoy* a day off, although a day to get a lot of stuff done probably would have been productive, just not worth using up my vacation days 3) I use up too much of my paid time off during the year for co-ops, mid-day church activities, and trips.

Thankfully, it's quiet at work today, so hopefully I can still knock out most of my to-do list, while still logged on to work.

We've been slowly doing the World Geography reading over the summer, but it's mostly been me reading aloud to them and sampling foods from the various regions. They are reading maybe 1-2 books from the region each week, mostly short picture books, but even though they are older, I still think there is value to a well-done picture book.

So, sadly, there hasn't been much time for just "Summer Freedom". I'm certainly enjoying the freedom from lesson planning and teaching, and they are enjoying the break from formal schoolwork, but they haven't had time to just spend hours with unstructured playtime, or even a chance to get bored. I think when we are at the point where they can get bored, then that would be the point at which I can say, "This is what a carefree summer is all about!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Incorporating World Geography and the Olympics into our Summer

Of course, taking the summer off from formal school doesn't mean we stop learning. Life is learning, learning is life! With the Summer Olympics taking place this summer, I'm planning on doing some informal World Geography and Olympic Games units.

Using the book recommendations from  Give Your Child the World, I'm getting many books from the library to scatter around the house, and maybe a few to read out loud, for the kids to read over the summer months. As they encounter the different countries represented in the books, we'll find them on the globe, and hopefully by the time the Olympics start, they will be familiar with many of the countries represented at the Olympic Games. We are also planning on listening to Around the World in 80 Days on CD during one of our many long car trips.

For the Olympics, a quick google search or Pinterest search finds SO many ideas for incorporating fun activities based on the Olympics. These are just a few I found:
I'm not going to assign anything, and hopefully just let their own curiosity lead them this summer. With news coverage of and cultural references to the Olympic games, I think it will just flow naturally. Perhaps will have a "Game Day" here and hold our own Olympic Games here!

Summer Break Freedom

This is the first year we are taking a real break for summer. I had intended to go year round, especially since we take most Fridays off, but I think we were all ready for a break.  I was tired of planning and teaching, they were tired of doing schoolwork.

With all their camps (ice skating, robotics, cooking, crafts, Bible) planned for the summer, plus vacation plans, we don't actually have that many free weeks.  Part of me has been enchanted by the idea of nostalgic care-free summers of the past-no camps, no plans, no schoolwork...just sleeping in, staying up late, running around outdoors, learning what to do about boredom, using their creativity and imagination to fill their time, hours of free time, maybe exploring some topic they are passionate about...Of course, we probably will have only about 4 weeks that we can even do that at all! But I did want to give them at least a *little* taste of that 'free summer' (I remember summer feeling like it was SO long when we were little!) without schedules and assignments.

Of course, in this day and age, I had to qualify the "free time": It's "free time", but NOT hours and hours on electronics, which I'm sure they would choose if they were completely free to choose. I'm sure we played Atari for a good amount of the summers when we were young, but my fondest memories are roller skating into the late dusk hours, lying on the grass and watching clouds go by, wandering around the field and woods around our house with our neighbor. Sadly, I feel like this kind of summer is unattainable now. First, ticks/Lyme disease is a serious risk in grassy areas. Second, wandering around unattended in our neighborhood just doesn't feel safe anymore (and I'm sure that topic can be debated, but with the speed at which cars drive on our street, the risk of being accused for 'neglect', "stranger danger", and the lack of friendships with the neighborhood kids, I just can't feel comfortable letting them roam around unattended like we used to.) Third, even if we did have neighborhood kids around to play with, kids these days just want to play on electronics, whether phones, iPads, gaming consoles, etc. so I purposely DON'T want them to just go over to someone's house and end up playing on screens.

But I hope in the days that they are home, they will still be able to spend hours climbing trees, shooting their bows and arrows, playing Legos, building couch cushion forts, reading, and doing all the things that make summer memorable.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Our First Standardized Test

Our state doesn't require annual standardized testing for homeschoolers, but we decided to have the kids take a standardized test (the Iowa Test) anyway for 2 reasons: 1) Practice taking a timed test, because eventually they'll have to take the SATs and other tests 2) See if they are on track academically.  I wasn't really worried that they would do poorly, and I knew their specific weaknesses and strengths so I was prepared for certain areas to be better or worse than others.

The testing itself took place at a fellow homeschooler's home with a group of other students, over 3 separate days, each day being 3-4 hours long. Each subject was given a short time frame (maybe 15-30 each). We don't do timed tests at home (nor any tests really, I do ask them what they know, so if they don't know, we review it, until they can tell me what they know correctly), so this was something new that they needed to adapt to, and they were frustrated that they did run out of time on a few of the tests. One of the benefits of doing these tests is learning test taking strategies too-doing easier questions first, gauging time, etc, so I was glad they had this experience.

We got the test results back last week, and they did way better than I expected! There were no big surprises. The spelling and punctuation was weaker than the rest, but still at grade level, for Monkey, which was not a surprise at all, because these are areas he's always struggled with.

In the report, the test breaks it out by subject, and then also by topic within the subject (e.g. Division by a whole number, Capitalization of Places, Holidays, and Names, etc), with the % they got correct, and the national average for % correct. This was immensely helpful to allow me to know which areas they need work on. So this summer, we're probably going to do some heavy emphasis on spelling and grammar! It also helpful in relieving my anxiety about whether they are at grade level or not, so knowing they are at and even beyond grade level, gives me more freedom to not worry when I want to spend more time doing some non-standard topics like home skills, etiquette, Bible,
computer programming.

Overall, a good experience! I will definitely have them test each year, just to keep a record and keep assessing where we are, and may try different tests in other years.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Learning Chinese as a Visual vs Auditory Learner

I've known Monkey is a visual learner for a while, and I've been slowly introducing Chinese to the kids for a while...but it wasn't until recently that my dad made an observation that prompted me to change the direction of how I teach my kids Chinese.  What my dad said was, "Oh, then he must be pretty good at remembering Chinese characters!" Well, up until that point, I hadn't even bothered to teach them any of the written characters, because I just figured I'd speak and they'd pick up on words, the same way babies learn language-they don't learn to read until they know how to speak and make connections from the written word to a language they already can understand, and I'd eventually move on to reading/writing after they could converse.

Anyhow, I went ahead and started adding Chinese writing about once a week and reviewing it each week, and what I found is that Monkey really does remember how to "read" the words, however, he can't remember how to say those words in Chinese! So if he "reads" the Chinese, he tells me what it means in English, not what it says in Chinese.  Bunny, on the other hand, who is more of an auditory learner, can remember how to say a lot of phrases and words we've worked on, but can't remember how to recognize or write the words! So, I guess the challenge ahead is to find a way to keep going with the skills that each are good at, but at the same time, not to lose the other child who isn't grasping it as easily.

Many years ago, I had 2 cousins who visited Taiwan together. One could speak the Chinese fairly well, but couldn't read, and the other could read(in the same way Monkey can-he could read and know the English equivalent), but couldn't speak. I thought it was so strange, yet so perfect, that they could travel together and get around with each having half the knowledge of the language! Anyway, I suppose I could just teach each child the skill they are most comfortable with, but I would really like them to be able to both speak and read.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I Need Quiet Time as an Introvert!

So lately, I've been struggling with not having time alone. The kids have been on a later bedtime (9:30) for a few weeks, and it's taking its toll on me! I don't get any time alone until after they are in bed, plus, the time after they go to bed is the time I usually work on other things, like tidying up, church ministry responsibilities, responding to emails, as well as my downtime. However, with 9:30 (which inevitably turns into 9:45+) bedtime, and wanting to be in bed by 11:30 for my own sanity, that's not much time!

It's definitely taking its toll because I've been so irritable, and pretty unreasonable in my control-freak-discipline about getting them to bed at 9:30 on the dot. I've reacted pretty awfully when they are up any later, and daytimes are filled with being annoyed at just about everything.

One of the hardest things for me to get used to, when I first started homeschooling, was having someone around 24x7. Even on days I go to work, the kids are in the car with me until the last 10 minutes of the drive...and then I'm at work with more people! It drove me crazy and I had more than one meltdown over it. It got better when I realized I needed time alone, and for a while, I regularly had time after they went to bed and gave myself permission  (because I'm the type of person who will say 'yes, sure, I'll hang out', to any request, and I always felt guilty if I didn't hang out with my husband at night, since we don't see each other all day). to just be by myself, and not feel guilty about not spending time with hubby, or not make plans with friends, etc.Anyway, that was 2 years ago, with a 8:30 bedtime.

Bedtime slipped to 9:00 at some point over the past 2 years, but there were still 8:30 nights mixed in. About a month ago, we started allowing 9:30, as the kids are getting older, and because we enjoyed some evening activities together (since I'm working during the day, I actually don't get to spend a lot of 'quality time' with the kids, as I bounce from working and teaching and cooking) and didn't want to cut them short.

BUT at the same time, I started getting more and more stressed out, anxious, and snippy. It finally dawned on me that I am missing my alone time- to just be by myself, to reflect, to think, to plan, even to just get something done, so I don't have to wait until after bedtime to get it done.

I saw this post today on FreeHomeschoolDeals.com:


This was EXACTLY what I needed! I always felt guilty just having 'quiet time' to myself while the kids were awake because I felt like I needed to interact, spend time together, teach, bond, etc, if I wasn't doing some kind of work. I already lose so much time with them because of work, I felt guilty taking more time away from them for myself. Plus, I hate the idea of just letting them play on screens while I get downtime, which is what I'm afraid they would do, because they already get more screen time than I like.  So now I'm trying to figure out how to do this. Maybe a 'quiet reading period'? Maybe institute screen time for ONLY during this 'quiet time' period, so they don't double up and have screens during 'regular time' AND 'quiet time'? Not sure yet, but this post really hit the nail on the head, and I'm determined to find a way to incorporate some quiet time for me during the day, even if they are awake. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How much Free Time is Enough?

One of the reasons I was drawn to homeschooling was the hope of more free time for the kids...free time for exploring their own interests, being creative, and building relationships. There's been a recent backlash against over-scheduling- so many activities, sports, classes and events that kids are involved in that there is no downtime, no time to just wander around, no time for boredom. There's been articles about why letting kids get bored is a good thing, because it teaches them to rely on themselves rather than having others provide entertainment for them. I certainly agree with all these points, so I purposely don't fill our day with enough schoolwork and activities to last the whole day. When they finish, they can have plenty of free time (if they work efficiently, which they don't always do.)

On the other hand, there's much talk about how too much free time leaves kids (maybe more for teens) with "too much time on their hands" and landing them in trouble as they seek out "fun" to fill the time, whether it's alcohol, drugs, vandalism, etc. Without meaningful work for the kids to do, they  float around without purpose and just enjoy "killing time". For younger kids, the temptation is probably toward more and more video games, rather than "trouble", and personally, I think over-indulgence in video games can be just as harmful, but that's a whole other rant.

Anyway, when Monkey complains he "doesn't have enough free time", it infuriates me because he already has way more free time than probably most kids his age, considering they have to be in school for 7-8 hours a day plus homework, and activities.  How much free time does he want?!?! How much does he really need?!?! What does he want with even more free time?!! If it's just to play more video games, then I don't want I add more free time and I start thinking I want to cut back on free time.

So, I'm pondering, how much is ideal? I don't know...I think having some structure and plans is beneficial, playing all day just leads to idleness. Maybe some kids could fill all that time with something constructive, but mine will only do so for a while before succumbing to the call of video games. (Not all video games are bad, but I just don't like when they rely on them for their entertainment, rather than the numerous other choices they have). So is 2 hours enough? 4 hours? Is that too much? They can easily spend hours reading when they are hooked on a book. They might use their free time to play outside, build Legos, make a game, program something in Scratch, act out storylines with stuffed animals or action figures, etc. I love that they have time for this stuff, but then when it comes to having something to do(chores, going someplace, schoolwork), they get all upset that they "don't have enough free time"! Yes, there are times (many times) when they want to do or play something worthwhile and we just don't have the time, so I do feel bad about that. Despite my attempts to slow down and not over-schedule, we still have many days that are packed full. So... I keep trying to find that right balance of freedom and responsibility.