Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Indecisiveness -> Plenty of Options

I'm a very indecisive person.

I research everything, trying to make sure I pick the best option.

I read reviews, I ask people for recommendations, and if I can, I try to check things out first-hand. I just don't want to make a "wrong" choice.

So when it comes to choosing what resources we use in our homeschool, it was very hard for me to pick just one and stick to it. Because of that, I find myself using multiple resources. Everyone has their favorites, and there is a lot of quality materials out there! Each one has different strengths and styles, so it's hard to know which to pick!

Math: I use both Singapore Math and Life of Fred.

Language Arts: I use Learning Language Arts through Literature, Institute of Excellence in Writing, as well as Writing Strands. I also use some ideas from Brave Writer and Drawn Into the Heart of Reading.

World History: I'm using Mystery of History, Story of the World, Critical Thinking's World History Detective and as an additional supplement, the Usborne Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

On top of that, I have all 3 volumes of KONOS, because I couldn't decide which one to start with! (Thank God for used book sales!)

When I plan out our weeks, I intersperse the different resources so we may use several in a single week, or sometimes I'll stick to one for a week, then switch to another for another week. This allows me to get broad coverage of topics, and hopefully Monkey is getting the benefit of the various strengths that each one provides. It also allows me to try it out, and rule out one or more options if I decide it won't work for us. It's hard to decide anything based on reviews and recommendations. When we actually use a something, we can see whether it works or not for Monkey.

Since most books tends to be set up for 1 year's worth of material, this means we have to either double up our workload, or spend a longer time on completing each book. I'm not worried about taking as long as we need. I'm also not worried about skipping sections that I think are repetitive from some other source.

Because I'm so new to homeschooling, I'm not sure how sustainable this is. Maybe at some point I'll have to just commit to one thing and run with it, but for now, I like being able to explore!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Kids' Chapter Books With Asian Americans as Main Characters

When I was a kid, there were virtually no books about being an Asian kid in America.  I grew up reading Sweet Valley Twins, Ramona, Boxcar Children, and the like, and I enjoyed them. However, there was never a character that I could really relate to, growing up as the only Asian in my grade at my school - looking different than everyone else, celebrating different holidays than everyone else, eating different food than everyone else, speaking a different language at home than everyone else.

Fast forward 20-30 years, and there's some great choices now available for elementary-aged kids, with main characters who are Asian American. Here are some of my favorites:

Grace Lin's Year of the Dog and sequels Year of the Rat and Dumpling Days. Young Pacy is in elementary school and grows up in an suburban America.  She lives her life as a clear minority in her school, but feeling for the most part like other American kids. As the books progress she notices that she's not as American as the rest of her friends. As she struggles internally with being Chinese on the outside, yet American on the inside, she learns about Chinese traditions and she learns to embrace her heritage and her unique situation of being Chinese, growing up in America.

Lenore Look's Alvin Ho series is a written from the point of view of a Chinese American elementary-aged boy. Alvin has many fears to overcome and the books cover a wide range of situations. It is very kid-friendly to read, with humorous lists, and many 'kid-comments' strewn throughout the book. It does not focus on his identity as an Asian, but he does struggle with not having many friends and being different from kids around him, which is a common situation among Asian American kids. We've read 2 of the books so far.

Lenore Look's other series Ruby Lu stars a 7-year-old Chinese American girl who has her share of antics. She reminds me alot of Beverly Cleary's Ramona-has her set ideas about stuff, gets into trouble, learns some lessons along the way, etc. There are little bits related to being Chinese woven throughout the book, but it is not the main focus. She goes to Chinese school and Chinese words are mentioned here and there(using Cantonese and Taishanese dialects), and the first book sets it up for some relatives from China to come live with them, but for the most part, it's the story of a little girl growing up in America.   I have not read any other books beyond the first book yet.

In the Year of the Boar and Jacking Robinson by Bette Bao Lord follows a 5th grade girl who immigrates from her comfortable, familiar life in China to New York City. While she deals with culture shock and being the outcast, she feels a connection to Jackie Robinson, as an example of someone of another race who lives the American dream, and discovers that she too can embrace America as the land of opportunity.

 Year of the Book is the first of a series of books by Andrea Cheng about an elementary-aged Chinese girl growing up in America. Being Chinese is secondary to the storyline, where Anna struggles to make friends and navigate the social dynamics at school. In the other books, her Chinese heritage comes more into play

My kids are mixed race, and that is a whole other ballgame. I haven't really seen many books for kids that deal with being bicultural, so I only have these to mention:

Half and Half by Lensey Namioka tells the story of a middle-school aged girl who is half Scottish and half Chinese. She faces comments made by various people who assume she must be more of one culture than another and she wrestles with what it means to be bi-racial. While she explores both of her heritages, she ends up with a dilemma where she is double booked and seems she must choose between doing 2 events, one highlighting Scottish culture, and one highlighting Chinese culture.

Shanghai Messenger by Andrea Cheng follows a half Chinese girl of 11 who is invited to visit her extended relatives in Shanghai.  At first apprehensive about her visit, she discovers a wonderful new world in China among her relatives who welcome her.  This isn't actually a chapter book, but it's not quite a picture book either. It's written with poetic prose, with short glimpses of moments throughout this journey, and as you read about each event, you can see her letting go of her worries (of not being accepted for not being fully Chinese, of being among people who speak a language she doesn't speak, etc) and embracing her Chinese heritage.  Being half-Chinese plays a role in her insecurities, but I think even those who are full-Chinese, but grown up in America, would be able to relate.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Weekly Planners

I've tried 3 different ways to plan our weeks.  I'm still not sure which to stick with. Perhaps we'll just switch it up every now and then for variety, because each has its pros and cons. At first, Monkey didn't like option 3, because he wanted to know EXACTLY what he needed to do for the day, but option 3 is the one we've been using the past 2 weeks, and he found that he wanted to try to 'get more done' so he can have the rest of the week free. Ideally, I'd like for him to be able to budget and plan his own time, so I think personally, I like option 3.We'll just have to see if he really can stick to his own planning, or if it will have to switch back to daily schedules so that we don't get too far behind.

1. Daily Grid with Subject

This is what is pictured above. Days of the week across the top, subjects along the left side. We did this for most of the year. 

Pros: Can see exactly what subjects are covered each day. Sometimes we skip one or two subjects a day, so at a glance it's easy to see empty boxes. No arguments about what is supposed to be accomplished in a day.

Cons: If we don't get to something on one day, it annoys my 'control-freak' side to have an unchecked item. Monkey also tends to only look down the list for that particular day, and doesn't look back to previous days to see what he's missed, so he forgets to do leftover work from previous days. Monkey also doesn't really think to work ahead, and get the next day's work done in order to finish up early for the week. Also, it LOOKS like a lot of work each day, seeing the whole list taking up the whole page, so that sometimes feels overwhelming to Monkey.

2. Daily Lists

This is a list by day, listing the agenda for each day.

For example,

  • Math - Singapore p. 6
  • Language Arts - Lesson 1
  • Science - Read pp. 55-59
  • Chinese - iPad app game
  • Math - Life of Fred, Chapter 3
  • Language Arts - Lesson 2
  • History - Read "Pilgrim Stories"
  • Chinese - watch video
Pros: Short concise daily list. Looks more manageable when you only see a short list.

Cons: Hard to see a quick glance whether there's a gap in work for a particular subject. Also the same issue as the daily grid in terms of missed work or working ahead.

3. Subject Lists
This is a list of assignments by subjects, enough work for a week (or more). No dates are mentioned, so each day is flexible as to what work needs to be done. 

For example,

  • Singapore -  p. 6
  • Life of Fred - Chapter 3
  • Singapore - p. 7
  • Life of Fred - Chapter 4
Language Arts
  • Lesson 1
  • Lesson 2
  • Write Draft of Report
  • Read pp. 55-59
  • Milk Experiment 
Pros: Flexibility in scheduling what to do each day. If one item doesn't get done one day, it can be planned for the next day. Can easily do extra work and be finished early, and have free time at the end of the week. 

Cons: Have to decide what to do each day, which is an extra step. If not everything is done by the end of the week (or whatever time period), there's a mad rush to finish up. If Monkey is not good a budgeting his time, there's a lot of stress toward the end of the week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Library Visits

We go to the library a lot. We check out lots and lots of books! We depend on the library for much of our homeschooling. 
Books from the library (except for that Taboo game)
While we don't follow the Charlotte Mason model exclusively, I do love the CM philosophy of using living books, rather than textbooks for learning. It has really made learning come alive.  I feel like *I'm* learning so much, reading through these books. Perhaps I would have developed a stronger passion for learning as a child if I was reading living books, rather than textbooks! (I would say most of what I learned in history was textbook style. I read the text, memorized some facts, regurgitated it on the tests, got straight As, and promptly forgot everything I read.)

Most of what we've done for science, history, and geography has been done using living books rather than textbooks. I do supplement with a textbook sometimes, just to make sure I'm not missing anything, but I can tell Monkey loses interest quickly with them. So each week, at LEAST once a week, we visit the library. I usually reserve books online ahead of time, based on book lists from various curricula (Sonlight, KONOS, My Father's World).  We don't always use all the ones we check out, and sometimes we request things through Inter-Library Loan when our library system doesn't have it. It's been an incredible resource for us to keep our homeschooling costs low. I don't buy any books unless I'll have to use it for longer than a month. Most of our units go 1-3 weeks, and we can always renew them, for up to 3 months anyway!

With so many books checked out though, there's inevitably misplaced ones and overdue ones. While it's annoying to have to pay the fines, I think it's a small price to pay for the enormous amounts of books we have access to. I consider it a donation toward the library. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why We Love Homeschooling

There's a great post on Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers about 50 Reasons Why Homeschooled Kids Love Homeschooling. I love all the responses(although some of them don't really apply to us, since I work most days of the week, so we can't do field trips whenever we want), and I wanted to find out what Monkey thought. His answers were:

  • Because I get more time to play
  • Because I get to stay home with Mom
  • Because I can learn fun things
  • Because I can do harder stuff
I am so glad that Monkey is enjoying homeschooling, because I am loving it too! Why do I love it?
  • Because I can spend more time with Monkey (and hopefully Bunny someday too).
  • Because I can see Monkey become engaged with learning, rather than grudgingly doing assigned work.
  • Because I have the flexibility to teach what interests Monkey and to introduce different topics that I think are important.
  • Because I really enjoy planning and selecting material for different topics.
  • Because I am learning too, as I teach.
  • Because we have more free time so the time when we are home is not rushed and crammed with work that someone else told us we have to do. (Bunny is pretty efficient at her homework, so her time at home is only minimally impacted by homework).

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thanksgiving Art, Science, and Thankfulness project

We're just started a unit that will center on Thankfulness for these next 2 weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. We did this project Saturday which incorporated art, science, and character building.

We collected an assortment of leaves outdoors, and brought them inside to examine and identify them. We mainly used this leaf identification website, Tree Leaf Key, to identify leaves and talk about things like pinnately lobed vs palmately lobed leaves, alternative vs opposite veins, and different varieties of trees. The website didn't have every possible tree type, but it has the major common ones. (I didn't find gingko leaves in there, but we can identify those easily).

Then we copied, cut out, and added detailing to enough leaves for 4 of us to each have a leaf until Thanksgiving.

Each evening, we will each write down something we're thankful for and tape it to our door frame as we reflect on the many blessings we have in life.

"Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" - 1 Thessalonians 5:18 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Finding Balance Somewhere Between Common Core and Unschooling

Something that I've struggled with as I learn the ropes of homeschooling is finding the right balance of what to teach. How much do I dictate what is taught according to some schedule vs. letting Monkey's interest guide what he learns?  There's such a wide range of teaching strategies, and everyone has their own opinion. On one end of the spectrum is the rigidly laid out standards, with specific academic goals for specific grades (e.g.  Common Core State Standards) and at the other end is unschooling.  Honestly, I can see the benefits of and reasoning behind both sides, yet feel they are both too extreme. One doesn't leave room for individual nuances in learning, and one doesn't seem rigorous enough to fully prepare for what will be expected of students as they take college entrance exams and attend formal classes someday (as I anticipate Monkey will do someday.)

Part of evaluating either end of the spectrum is thinking about what the end goal is. Is the goal that the student have a knowledge that sets them on equal footing (at least) with everyone else, when competing for college entrance or in the job market? Or is the goal to nurture a passion and curiosity that they can pursue without restraint, so they can discover their talents and abilities and develop them fully without distraction of other unnecessarily forced subject areas? I would say BOTH are important.

I found that Monkey really doesn't like to be told what to learn. He's naturally curious about many things, and I want to capitalize on that. Would unschooling, or interest-led learning work? But I also want to make sure he knows 'the basics'- the stuff that any other person his age should know, so if he does take standardized tests or if he's talking to other people, he's not lacking in knowledge. I do want him to go to a college someday! It's hard to let go of being worried about 'what if he's not learning enough or the right things?', coming from an academically-focused family.  If I let him choose, will there be huge gaps in his knowledge?

So I'm aiming for something in between. Honestly, in every education, there's going to be gaps. Honestly, probably most people don't remember much of what they learned, and only retain the things they are actively interested in or actively use in their vocation,and they are doing just fine. I really can't remember anything about the Punic Wars or about British poets or anything to do with physics. Doesn't really affect me at all, missing that knowledge. Probably wouldn't hurt that much if I had never learned about them at all!

After trying out a pre-planned curriculum the first 9 months of homeschooling, I realized that having it planned out was too restrictive for Monkey, and that was one of his complaints about public school. "Why do we have to learn about abc?!? I want to learn about xyz!" So this is what we're currently doing:

Science: I'm going to try letting science be interest-led for the most part. He can pick whatever topics he's interested in, and we will find materials and research it. He can go as deep or as shallow as he likes.

Social studies:  Monkey has very little interest in history, geography, government, etc, so that's something that I will have to plan out, so he can be exposed to these areas. I do want to make sure I sequentially go through history though, so he gets an idea of how things flow together. We'll start with ancient world civilizations probably in January, but I'm not going to really push memorizing dates and people and places, etc. I just want him be aware of what's going on around him and what's happened in the past, and how that affects us today. Of course, if he gets hooked on something he finds fascinating, we'll certainly spend more time on those topics and can explore further.

Math: I feel that math is an area that we have to deliberately ensure that certain topics are learned, so we are going sequentially through the material we are using (Singapore Math and Life of Fred), but I'm not worrying about how quickly. He'll progress through it as he masters each concept.

Language arts: This is not a strong area for him, but since it's hard, if it's also boring and rote, he will resist it more. We're using a literature-based approach, rather than daily grammar lessons or weekly spelling lists or practicing responses to reading comprehension questions (like they do in school to prepare for the standardized tests). This is one of the areas I'm most unsure in, because I do feel that good writing and grammar are necessities in terms of academic goals.  I just hope what I'm doing will work! We're using both Learning Language Arts through Literature (which goes through a variety of grammar, spelling, and reading comprehension based on reading excerpts from (but I will probably have him read each book fully) specific books) and Drawn Into the Heart of Reading (which has a series of worksheets to focus on literary elements and Godly character traits, but you can use any book you like). We'll do a monthly writing project (this idea is from BraveWriter) too-something he can work on long-term, drafting, editing, refining, etc. But mainly, I want to encourage a love of reading, so we are doing a lot of read-alouds, which help him to be motivated to read on his own, because given his choice of books, he wouldn't be getting much quality literature in his reading repertoire. I pick books that I want him to read, and read aloud to him until he is interested, then he gets hooked, and he reads it on his own.

Foreign Language:  Since I'm still figuring out what we're doing, it's really haphazard. Sometimes he asks how to say something in Chinese and we go with that. Sometimes I decide that he needs to learn something specific, so we do that. We aim for a little bit every day though.

So, we're somewhat child-led, somewhat teacher-led in this household. We 'do school' for only about 3-5 hours a day. I hope this works out!

Evolution of a Unexpected Homeschooler

Sometimes I suddenly have this feeling like, "Whoa! I'm homeschooling! How did I get here?". I NEVER, ever thought that I'd be a homeschooler. I hadn't even heard of it until I was an adult. But this is how it came about.

1990sI heard that the winner of a national spelling or geography bee was homeschooledHuh. People homeschool? Never heard of it.
Around 1999An acquaintance from church began homeschooling her kindergartnerOh! People HERE homeschool? That's unique.
Around 2006A friend casually mentioned that she thought maybe someday she'd homeschool her childReally?? Why would you want to do that? Seems like a lot of effort.
2009Monkey starts public school kindergarten and hates it, cries getting on the bus and after school.Well, it'll get better, he'll just have to get used to school.
2010-2012Monkey gets stomachaches at school, gets excluded from recess games, gets bored and silly in classWe try to set up play dates and activities to help him make friends, we talk to him about paying attention in class.
2012A different friend started homeschooling her son for kindergarten.Sounds interesting! Seems like a great fit for her and her child. I start asking questions, but really have no clue about what it entails.
Winter 2012-2013Monkey starts asking if he can be homeschooledUh. No.
Spring 2013A new friend considers homeschooling her son again after a some time in public schoolWe have numerous discussions about the pros and cons of homeschooling. Sounds like a great idea for HER, I encourage her to go for it.
Summer 2013Monkey still asking if he can be homeschooled. Dreads starting school again in the fall.Uh. No. He'll just have to learn to accept that school is a part of life.
Sept. 2013Someone doing work on our house mentions he homeschooled his now-grown kidsREALLY!? How did they do it? What are the kids doing now?
Fall 2013Monkey is not liking 4th grade, continues to ask to be homeschooledI start reading about homeschooling on the internet and checking out books from the library.
Fall 2013Found out that 2 women from church were homeschooled, one fully, one only for the younger years.Hey, these are vibrant, bright ladies! They turned out great! What did they think of their homeschool experience?
Fall 2013Went to a kids' event at a local church and met a mom, who mentioned she homeschoolsOh! How coincidental! I've been thinking about homeschooling!
Fall 2013Went to a book launch, and met the daughters of the author, who were both homeschooled.Oh! More homeschoolers! They're everywhere!
Nov. 2013Hubby and I are in agreement that there's no harm and much benefit to homeschooling, we should do it.Now what?? Start researching curricula.
Nov. 2013Conference with Monkey's teacher. She tells us Monkey is often unfocused (we knew that). We talk about how he is bored with the math, but she says they don't have any advanced track for math for another couple of years.Told her we're considering homeschooling
Dec. 2103Gave official notice to the school that we are withdrawing Monkey. He will stay in school until Christmas break.We order teaching material and start telling people. I'm excited to start!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Core Values for Our Homeschool

Sometimes, often after a rough day of homeschooling, I get a little panicked and I suddenly think thoughts like:

 "He doesn't remember anything I taught him for the last 4 months!"

 "What if he's not keeping up with what the school is teaching?" (Sometimes, a friend of his in his grade comes over, I'll ask the child what they're doing in math, or what science topic they're covering.)

 "Will he ever learn to spell?"

I have to step back and remind myself to look at the bigger picture.

What are my goals for my kids? What are my goals in homeschooling? There's a lot of overlap. When I look at the big picture, these smaller worries don't seem too big.

A long, time ago, I read about 5 C's to aim for in raising kids. I've long since forgotten where I read about these, or which 5 were on the original list, but I thought it was cool that they all began with 'C'! I've expanded the list to 7 traits I'd like to help the kids develop:
  • Competence - Developing skills that will allow them to contribute to the community, make a living, and fulfill God's calling for them. Competence will lead to confidence. 
  • Compassion - Seeing the needs of others and looking beyond themselves to help and serve others.
  • Character - Exhibiting godly character in every situation, including honesty, respect, and doing the right thing.
  • Courage - Having the heart to try difficult things and face difficult circumstances, trusting that they can "do all things through Christ who strengthens." (Phil. 4:13)
  • Commitment - Persevering in finishing what they started, and doing what they say they are going to do.
  • Creativity - Nurturing their ability to think outside the box and solve problems.
  • Contentment - "Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have." I don't know where I saw that quote, but I love the sentiment. 
Life is more than learning skills. Education is more than academics. I want to teach my kids how to navigate through life(not that I have all the answers), so I have to remind myself that if I can teach them to have wisdom and life skills, they will better prepared to handle whatever comes their way in the future. Yes, having the multiplication facts down cold would be great, or getting a high SAT score may help him get into a good college, but in the end, these are not the ultimate goals in life.

In addition to the 7 C's, here's some other life lessons I want to instill in my kids:
  • Learning is fun. 
I want them to be curious and excited about the world around them. I don't want their learning to stop at the end of a 'school hours', or be limited to 'school days'. If they have a love of learning, really, it doesn't matter what we miss in our homeschool, they will have the passion and skills to learn it on their own. 
  • Hard work will get you far, when talent and circumstances leave you behind. 
Some things will be difficult to learn or difficult to accomplish.  Sometimes they'll have to work harder for something that comes easily to someone else. Even if they ARE blessed with talent and circumstance, that isn't a license to slack off. Hard work will always be appreciated and yield results.  In our homeschool, Monkey has an easy time understanding math concepts, but writing and spelling is a huge hurdle, and he really has to work extra hard, when Bunny can do the same things without even trying. With the extra time we're able to spend on it now that he's not in public school, his writing and spelling have improved significantly. He still dreads it, but...
  • Life isn't always happy and easy, don't expect it to be.  
Whether it's losing a game or a girl/boy friend, or being treated badly by others, or health problems, or financial stress, or losing loved ones, when difficult things happen, don't give up hope, don't blame it on others, don't wallow in self-pity.  Yes, it will be hard, but God can use hard times to draw people closer to Him, to build their strength, and to help others who have gone through similar hardships. 

For now, there's not much hardship for my kids, besides some basic "I'm not getting what I want", sibling rivalry, and maybe some difficult school assignments. In the homeschool realm, I try to instill that they can't always have everything they want(like taking a month off of school), and if something they are working on is hard and they don't want to do it, they can't just skip it. It's part of life to have to face things you don't like.  

So when I get panicked and worried about whether Monkey is 'learning enough', or when we have days when life gets in the way of getting any academic work done, or when he puts up a fight about not wanting to doing an assignment, I remember that there are greater goals beyond our academic goals.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Videos in Chinese for kids

Something else I've been using is stories told in Chinese for kids on YouTube.

Fun to read Chinese - Many picture books, read aloud in Chinese, with Chinese characters and sometimes English words on screen. The videos are short, 1-2 minutes. The voice is very 'high-pitched', little-kid-ish, but I guess that fits with the content of the books.

Miss Panda's Reading Playground - Miss Panda reads popular English kids' books in Chinese (e.g. "The Hungry Caterpillar","Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?" There's only 6 at this point, I hope maybe there will be more someday!

Short Chinese Stories for Kids by MandarinChinese Lessons- These are a series of 100+ short cartoons for kids, narrated in Chinese, with Chinese subtitles (no pin-yin though). The videos are less than 2 minutes long each, but it's hard to know what's going on in the story sometimes.

Kids Chinese Songs by MandarinChinese Lessons - These are cartoon videos of Chinese songs/rhymes with Chinese subtitles, including pin-yin. Each one is less than 2 minutes long.

These are geared for pretty young kids (probably preschool to younger elementary), but I think even my 10 year old and 8 year old are OK with this as an introduction to hearing Chinese and trying to follow along with pictures. It may seem a big babyish, but we're going to use these until they can understand more, then move on to more complex cartoons. I'll post some more complex ones when we move on to those.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Finding our Chinese Heritage in an American Home.

My kids really don't look Asian (e.g. Monkey has hazel eyes, and Bunny was born with almost blond hair, which has now darkened to brown, but still gets blond streaks sometimes). We speak English at home.  I only cook Chinese food maybe once every 1-2 weeks. We rarely eat with chopsticks (unless it's just 'for fun'). We don't go to Chinese school. The only Chinese holiday we celebrate is Chinese New Year.

How are my kids going to connect with their Chinese heritage? 

I started out speaking Chinese to Monkey for his first 1-2 years of life, until he started speaking, and then the 'Why?' questions started, and my limited Chinese vocabulary could no longer keep up.  He could actually understand it during those years, but has since lost that ability.  It's definitely harder to keep up when one parent doesn't speak the language.  I'm not a frequent speaker of Chinese myself, as I don't have anyone else in the household to speak with. When we started homeschooling though, we made an active choice to teach him Mandarin as his foreign language.

The kids have had a on-again-off-again interest in Chinese culture. Over the years, they've asked to learn Chinese or learn how to use chopsticks. Unfortunately, the interest usually subsides soon after. Sometimes I wonder if they even think of themselves as Chinese. At one point, I tried to read a book to Bunny with a main character who was Chinese, hoping she would get a glimpse of someone else who is Asian, growing up in America, but she made a comment about how she couldn't relate, because she 'doesn't feel Chinese'.

That was a wake up call. 

Now, given, she is only half-Chinese, so the stories about growing up looking different, or having parents who don't speak English, are not going to resonate with her, but I would've hoped she felt a *little* Chinese at least.  Even if she didn't experience the same emotions, to be able to connect with experiences that her mom or grandparents went through, would have been nice.  So. I've decided to actively incorporate more of Chinese culture in our lives.  I'm trying to speak to them in Chinese more often.  I'm trying to cook more Chinese food and introduce more Chinese vegetables and foods to them.  I'm going to persevere in teaching them to use chopsticks, no matter how much food is dropped.

I realized that some of our lack of Chinese culture in our home stems from my own lack of interest in Chinese culture growing up. I was too busy trying to fit in and be as 'American' as possible. Unfortunately, that means I don't know much about Chinese holidays or traditions.  So this is a wake up call for me too. I'm going to start learning about holidays, traditions, history, and people, so I can teach my kids, in hopes they will appreciate and embrace this heritage from which they come. As a start, we did a unit on China and expanded it alot more in depth than what was in our My Father's World Curriculum.

Standing Up Against Racial Ridicule

An incident happened when Monkey was still in public school that made me so proud of him.  Monkey is a shy, soft-spoken kid, who doesn't often speak out for himself when other kids tease him or exclude him. He's not one to make waves. But one day, he told me about something that happened in the lunchroom.

Boys at the lunch table were pulling their eyes into slants and making 'ching chong' mimickry of the Chinese language, and doing that old rhyme 'Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these'. I've heard all this before growing up, and I'm saddened that it still goes on. This school and town certainly has a lot more racial diversity than the one I grew up in, and there's a lot of Asians in this general area. This type of racially-charged ridicule was new to Monkey though.  He felt bad hearing it. And he spoke up and said quietly, "I'm Chinese". It was met with some surprise, since Monkey doesn't look Asian, but thankfully, the boys stopped their antics.

I don't know if it stopped it long-term, or if they just did it behind his back. But for that moment, he stood up against racial prejudice, and the kids stopped.  It doesn't come easy for him to speak up for himself, but I'm so thankful that he did.  Thank God for victories both big and small!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Christian Book and Movie Reviews

I like to know what my kids are reading/watching and whether there is questionable material in them. So far, they have only recently started to pick their own books, and often, I don't know anything about them. I found these 2 websites that have reviews from a Christian perspective. (Even if you're not a Christian though, these can be very useful tools, as you may have similar concerns as Christians regarding profanity, violence, sex, and content.)

Book Reviews:

  • Plugged-in- There's too many books in the world for any review site to cover all of them, but this has a lot of the popular ones. Contains plot summaries and notes about Christians beliefs, other beliefs presented, profanity, violence, sex, and also has discussion topics to use with kids. 

Movie Reviews:

  • Movie Guide - Gives a rating for content, broken up by language, violence, sex, and nudity, and a separate rating for movie quality. Contains a synopsis of the plot. 
  • Plugged In by Focus in the Family - Huge selection of popular entertainment, including movies, video games, TV, music and some book reviews. Gives a plot synopsis, plus notes on spiritual content, sex, violence, profanity, alcohol/drug usage, and a rating from the reviewer, and sometimes a gauge for whether it's appropriate for kids, teens, or adults (red, yellow, or green rating for each age group).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Being in the Minority

All my life, I've been in the minority.
  • As a Chinese American: I was the only Asian in my grade during my elementary school years. Middle school and high school improved a little, I was one of 3 Chinese people in class of 250+ students. There were probably 10 Asian Americans total in my grade. Our town is pretty diverse, compared to where I grew up, but still, going to PTA meetings when Monkey was in school, I was often the only Asian in attendance. 
  • As a conservative Christian:  In college, being an Christian in a secular school was often met with disdain. Where we live now, there's just a general feeling that Christianity is irrelevant. People don't go to church.  Sports games and birthday parties are regularly scheduled for Sunday mornings. People don't really talk about Christian values.
  • As a homeschooler: Well, clearly, we are outnumbered, although the number of homeschoolers is estimated at over 2 million now, and is growing fast.  In my state, and my town, there just doesn't seem to be that many.  At our various extra-curricular activities, we are the only homeschoolers.  Our state doesn't have any reporting or requirement laws about homeschooling (which is great!), so there are no records of how many kids are homeschooled. 
  • As a Christian Asian Homeschooler:  I'll be honest, I haven't met that many that are in this category. It doesn't matter what race anyone is, and I love connecting with people regardless of race or religion, but sometimes it does help to have someone with a similar background or way of thinking to relate to. I've met a couple of Asian homeschoolers(like, only 3), but I hear there ARE some out there!  My guess as to why there are not too many is the whole Asian culture that almost idolizes school. Stepping away from formal school is probably unheard of in Asian countries. I'm glad to hear that there are pockets of Asian homeschoolers, even in my state (just not near me).
Anyway, sometimes I just get discouraged, feeling isolated and 'different' from everyone else. But I have to remind myself that God created each one of us uniquely.  He doesn't want us to be the same, and maybe, being different is God's way of sending ambassadors to others so they understand people from a different perspective.

YouTube Chinese Lessons

Since we don't have a formal curriculum for Chinese right now, I've been looking into YouTube videos.  There's a wide assortment of channels available, but the ones I've found that seem most friendly to beginners and have a whole series of tutorials (though not necessarily 'kid-friendly') are:

Learn Chinese with Chinese101 - This has a wide variety of video series, such a Chinese Holidays, Chinese in 3 Minutes, Weekly Chinese Words.

Yoyo Chinese's Beginning Conversational Chinese - This teaches basic conversational Chinese. This is VERY basic, starting from 'Ni hao'.

Yoyo Chinese's Intermediate Conversational Mandarin  - A step above the Beginning videos. They also have many other series, like Grammar. She covers alot of basis sentence structure and word order. The videos are less than 10 minutes long, usually 4-5 minutes.

None are really aimed at kids, so kids don't find it fun or exciting, but I think the content is decent, and they are produced by native Mandarin speakers (which also means they speak English with a Chinese accent, but their English is fine.)

As I find for more, I'll add to this list.

Virtual Homeschooling Communities

I've been homeschooling now for about 10 months, and have met a handful of homeschoolers so far.  Being an introvert and working 30 hours a week, it's just hard to get out there and meet other homeschoolers. There are no other homeschoolers in my church.  There are no homeschoolers in our neighborhood. I do know of 4 homeschoolers in my town of 38,000+ people.  I wonder if there are more, but it's rare around here.  I have one friend who lives over an hour away who homeschools and I have one friend who lives 10 minutes away, who is the only homeschooler with whom I have regular contact.  None of my other close friends homeschool.

I live in an area where homeschooling just doesn't seem very popular. Yes, there are co-ops (none of which I can attend due to my work hours). There are Yahoo and Facebook groups for homeschoolers in my state, but seems that all the events and get-togethers are far enough away to make it quite a drive (and not doable with the number of hours I'm working).

Being an introvert, and having an introverted child, I often feel that we're ok on our own.  Meeting new people and making new friends is exhausting for both of us. We have a small group of closer friends already, which helps us not to be socially isolated.

But 99% of those people we have contact with in 'real life' are not homeschoolers.  We have lots in common, but not homeschooling. We don't really talk about curriculum or teaching philosophies or graduation requirements or scheduling ideas.  Sometimes I want to vent about a particularly trying day of homeschooling, but often, I feel like if I vent, the unspoken solution that they might be thinking is 'Well, you could just send them to school.' I'm not saying they're unsupportive. In fact, most are, but it's just something that we don't often discuss.  It's just hard to find someone to talk to about homeschooling.

So what do I do to feel connected? How do I keep from getting discouraged? (Because I DO get discouraged.)  Do we NEED to have a physical homeschool community??

So far, I'm finding virtual community through blogs on the internet, Facebook pages, and Yahoo groups. It's not too personal, yet I find inspiration, encouragement, and ideas.  It's nice to hear others' ideas, to comment and to get some replies. Sometimes I end up emailing a blog author briefly or just communicating through the comments of blogs. It helps me to feel a little less isolated.

Here are some of my favorites:
  • Eclectic Homeschooling - A family that homeschools with an eclectic philosophy.  They are learning Mandarin Chinese, as well as Greek and Arabic. I like their emphasis on global education. 
  • Simple Homeschooling - A blog with a variety of authors that offers a lot of encouragement and tips. This blog is FULL of ideas and inspiration, and a great read when feeling discouraged about homeschooling. 
  • The Unplugged Family  - A homeschool family whose philosophy seems much matched to mine. She also posts unit studies that I get ideas from. 
  • Home, School  - 2 working moms who decided to homeschool and explore alternatives to traditional homeschooling.
  • Gifted Homeschoolers - Especially for homeschooling gifted kids. I don't know if Monkey is quite 'gifted', but he's a sharp cookie with interests beyond that typical kid his age, so I find there are a lot of great resources here. The Yahoo group is quite active with ideas, and are a great resource also for twice exceptional (2e) kids - kids who are both gifted and have identified learning differences or other emotional or mental health disorders, such as ADD/ADHD, Autism-Spectrum Disorders, auditory processing disorders, etc. 
  • Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers - Another eclectic homeschooler. Love her posts - there are ideas, reviews, humor, inspiration, and profound thoughts.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of homeschool blogs and websites.  As time goes on, I discover more and more. I can't keep up with them all, so I pick a few that I follow via Facebook or through email feeds. I get ideas for making my day go smoother, opinions about various teaching resources, links for tons more information, and encouragement and reminders of why I'm homeschooling when I get discouraged.

I hope to someday find more 'real life' connections, but until then, the internet keep me from feeling isolated in this journey.

Monday, November 3, 2014

iPad Apps for Learning Chinese

I went through all the free Chinese apps that we've downloaded over the last couple years to evaluate them to find one that would be both fun and educational. I created a spreadsheet to track what features each app includes, with categories such as games, Chinese characters, pin-yin, writing practice, and kid-friendliness(based on kids under 10). (Note, this may not be 100% complete nor accurate and it is a work in progress, as I went through each app and quickly played around. There may be some features I might have missed during this cursory review and I will continue to add to this as I play around with the apps.)

In the end, we decided to proceed with paying for the full package for Kids Learn Mandarin by Fingerprint. It has a series of games the kids can play for each category, such as numbers, animals, etc. The free version only comes with numbers.

Fun Chinese by Studycat was a close second, but it has fewer categories to add on (but it is also a lot less in price for the full pack).

In general, the apps seem to fall into 3 categories:

  • words with pictures (all have audio) 
  • writing
  • dictionary

I only included one dictionary in the spreadsheet, because it was specifically for phrases, not just words, as I didn't have much opinion regarding how good the other dictionaries were. They were generally acceptable. The writing apps were not flashy and fun, but they were functional. Maybe there's not much creativity that anyone can muster for something as mundane as writing Chinese characters.

One drawback of almost of the 'words with pictures' apps is the inclusion of only nouns. Of course, nouns are important for vocabulary-building, but you can't make sentences with only nouns. I've taught the kids basic verbs in the past few months, as well as pronouns, so they can form basic sentences, but are limited in what nouns they can use in the sentences, so I hope this new app will help them expand their vocabulary.

Learning Chinese

Now that we are homeschooling, I've been trying to teach Mandarin Chinese to Monkey.  I grew up speaking Chinese at home, went to Chinese school for 10 years, and placed out of the foreign language requirement in college because I spoke fluently enough, but rarely use it now, as my husband doesn't speak it.  I've always wanted my kids to learn to speak Chinese, but aside from Monkey's first year of life, I was unsuccessful in using enough Chinese for them to absorb. We've never done Chinese school because of the time commitment required (2-3 hours every Sat or Sun, plus homework). Fortunately, over the past 2 years, the kids at least have had Mandarin Chinese taught for a couple semesters at the public school.  Periodically, I would teach them phrases at home, but usually my efforts would dwindle after a few days.

With Monkey at home now, I figured this would be a great chance for him to really learn Chinese. I don't have a curriculum we're using yet, but my plan is to include 10-15 a day of speaking Chinese, with short lessons, introducing a word or 2 per week, and otherwise, just speaking so he gets a feel for it. (I'm really regretting not speaking Chinese around the house when the kids were younger.) We covered numbers (and I used that to drill his math addition/subtraction/mult/div facts), greetings, age, colors, pronouns, possession, and a variety of verbs such as is/are, go, want, have, eat, take, give, etc. He can put together some basic sentences and answer questions. We have not started learning reading/writing yet. I've had him watch some Chinese cartoons and language lessons on YouTube, but they really haven't been too effective yet, but perhaps I haven't been very consistent with them either. I am going to start using iPad apps for learning new words.

If anyone has any ideas for workbooks, learning packages, videos, iPad apps, etc., please let me know! I don't want to spend a lot of money on this at this point, but I'm open to suggestions.

Breaking the News to my Parents

Choosing to homeschool is a choice that many people may not approve of.  I've heard countless accounts of people whose parents or siblings or friends or even husbands, don't approve of their choice to homeschool. I think EVERY homeschool parent faces this to some degree. There's a need to defend or prove themselves, but those with the most confidence just take their path and ignore the naysayers.

Coming from an Asian perspective, there's even more stigma against not attending school.  School is a HUGE part of Asian culture. Lives are made and lives are destroyed by test scores and grades in Asian countries. Performing poorly in school doesn't just reflect badly on the student, but causes disgrace for the whole family. Parents pay for extra tutoring for kids to go from an A to an A+.  Kids spend many hours above and beyond the homework hours on extra test prep for standardized tests. They are enrolled in academic summer camps, rather than sports camps. Teachers are to be revered and honored. Going to school is the only path out of poverty and parents often sacrifice a lot to get their kids in the best schools. It's a culture that is hard to escape. 

So with this background in mind, telling my parents we were going to pull our son out of school to homeschool was terrifying to me.  Before breaking the news, for weeks I'd mention how unhappy my son was in school, how bored he was, and the difficulties he was having feeling accepted at school.  When the word "homeschool" was finally mentioned, casually over a Thanksgiving visit, it was met with complete dumbfoundedness. "What does that mean?" "Does the teacher come to the home?" "Is he getting kicked out of school?" I answered the questions, clarified what homeschooling entails, and dropped the subject.  I (and they) were not yet ready for this. 

A few weeks later, over the phone (we don't live near my parents), I finally said it. "We decided to go ahead and homeschool". Again, more questions. "Will the school give you material?" "How will you know what to teach?" "Does he have to go to the school to be tested?" "How will he graduate and get into college?", "How will he get social experience?" But getting my parents to the point where they are OK with this, never mind thinking it's a good idea, will probably take years. They are not hostile to the idea, yet they aren't really on board either.  They've accepted that we're doing it, but it's an awkward topic to discuss, as they have their own biases against it.  Sometimes I tell them about things Monkey is learning and sometimes we completely avoid the topic.

But no matter what, I'm grateful we started on this journey. Monkey is so much happier now, which is the best confirmation that we made the right choice for our family.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

How it All Started

We took a giant plunge at the beginning of 2014. We took our 9 year old son (I'll call him Monkey) out of public school 4th grade to homeschool him. This was a long time coming, as he had been asking us to homeschool him for at least a year, and for the years before that, he was just miserable and hated school. Honestly, for most of that time, homeschooling was out of the question. We never got past "It's not gonna happen, so stop asking." But it was so hard to see him struggle with kids excluding him, being bored with the material, and spending hours on homework that really should not have taken hours, just because of his highly distractable personality. We barely had time as a family to spend together having fun or to work on things like life skills and character training, or explore other interests he had, because we were so tied to the school/homework/activities schedule. He came home so built up with frustration and anxiety that he was often angry and sulky after school. He would dread going to school each night before a school day, and come August, when 4th grade was approaching, he dreaded the start of it. Finally, last October, I started to seriously look into it (not 'consider it', just 'look into it').

I spent a month intensely researching homeschooling both on the internet and in books. As I prayed about it, suddenly God brought so many homeschoolers into my life.  Before this, my whole entire life, I had probably met 2-3 people who homeschooled their kids. During this time, I was meeting complete strangers who homeschooled!  I wasn't looking for them, they just suddenly were there, and I was able to ask questions of them and find out first-hand what it was all about. I met some adults who themselves had been homeschooled and asked about their experiences.  By mid-November, I was convinced this was the direction we were going. And gave our notice to the school in mid-December. Monkey's last day at school would be the day before Christmas break.

After making the decision, I was up to my ears in curricula research.  So many options, so many reviews! Since this was brand new to us, someone suggested we buy a packaged curriculum to get us started. We ended up choosing My Father's World, Exploring Countries and Cultures because I wanted him to learn about other cultures more in-depth than a single 'Multi-cultural Day' at school.  We finished that at the end of September (we kept up with it over the summer, but modified it/skipped parts, to fit in our summer travels and to try out other material), and now we are on our own, making up plans a week or two in advance.

In the past 10 months, I've learned so much about learning!

I've learned to be more flexible. 
I've learned that there's many paths to the same goal.  
I've learned that we don't HAVE to do everything the curriculum lays out. 
I've learned that sometimes kids have better ideas than parents/teachers. 
I've learned to listen, really listen, to my son.  
I've learned to enjoy the process.
I've learned it's OK to skip some days of school, or alternate subjects by day, or by week!
I've learned to give myself some slack. 

It's been a huge learning process, and I think one of the best parts is getting to spend more time growing closer to our little Monkey. He is learning, he is thriving, and he is just a happier and more relaxed kid than he was a year ago.