Sunday, March 29, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: Ireland Unit Study

Since my kids are half-Irish, and St. Patrick's Day was last week, it seemed a great time to learn a bit about their Irish heritage.  To be honest, we have done a lot more on the Chinese side than the Irish side, in terms of teaching our kids about the cultures of their ancestry.

So, our plan was to do our planned Ireland Unit Study in one week, but we didn't get to it all, so we finished up this week. We all enjoyed learning about some Irish culture and history!

The  Great Hunger (1845-1850) - a.k.a .Irish Potato Famine

  • - This kid-friendly, interactive website was great for learning about the causes of the famine and the conditions the people endured. 
  • Read Feed the Children First. We skipped over some of the more disturbing recollections of awful conditions and deaths, but they did get enough to learn about the how terrible it was.
Irish cooking
We tried out some Irish cuisine, which included potatoes for 4 out of 5 meals during the week. This is what we tried, in order of how much we liked it:

Folk Tales and Legends
We Read a variety of folk tales and traditional stories from these books:

St. Patrick & St. Brigid
We learned about St. Patrick (book pictured above) and also St. Brigid.  

We covered mapwork, flag, time difference, and copywork in our lapbooks (Both Monkey and Bunny made one, even though Bunny wasn't officially homeschooled yet. I wanted to try things out with her and see what she thought about lapbooks) :

Fiction Reading
Magic Tree House - Leprechauns in Late Winter - Jack and Annie go visit Ireland in the 19th century to help Lady Gregory be inspired to bring back Irish legends and culture. (Monkey read this one)
Lara and the Gray Mare - Story of the 9-year-old daughter of the clan leader in 14th century Ireland who gets captured by a rival clan. (Bunny read this one)

Weekly Wrap-Up

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Quelling My Homeschooling Fears

Before we made the decision to homeschool, and as I started homeschooling a year ago, I was filled with a whole bunch of fears, which left me doubtful and anxious about our decision to homeschool.  Once in a while, they still sneak in, but in the past year, but I've learned to quell those fears and trust God to lead us and to be our children's ultimate Teacher.  I wouldn't say they are completely overcome, but when they come up, I have some ways to combat them now.

1. Fear of what other people will think about our decision to homeschool.

I'm a people-pleaser by nature, which is something I've tried to overcome all my life, but it always creeps into my life again, so when we decided to homeschool, I was so worried about what other people would think. Not just family and friends, but also just acquaintances, like the kids' extracurricular activities' teachers, or people at the store who see might see the kids school, or my dentist when I bring my child in with me to appointments! I was worried about whether I would have a 'good answer' if people asked me why I was homeschooling. I was worried that people might be judgmental and make comments that would put me on the defensive.

What I tell myself now: 
Why should I care what other people think of me and my decisions? This is my life and my kids, and different things work for different people. There are definitely going to be people who will think I'm strange...but really, I'm sure there are other plenty of people who think I'm strange whether or not I homeschool!

2. How will I know if I've taught my kids everything that "should" be taught? 

When thinking about the whole breadth of knowledge that would need to be imparted to my children, I was overwhelmed with the thought that I wouldn't cover everything that Monkey would need to know, and he would "miss out" on some subjects and wouldn't be "prepared for the world", or at least, "prepared for college".

What I tell myself now:
Partially this fear stemmed from a mentality that was stuck in "school-mode", wanting to teach what would be covered in public school, but everyone has gaps in their knowledge base, even public schooled kids! Even the top students in school don't know everything about American history, or world history or various fields of science. And even at the end of a good, solid education, I would bet most people when they leave high school (and definitely, 5-10 years after), don't remember most of what they "learned" in school.  What's important is that they learn how to learn about what interests them, and know how to find the information they need when they need it.

But what about the 'basics'? What if I skipped some important math concept? I've come to realize that if it's THAT important that they would need it on a regular basis, we're bound to run into it in every day life at some point, and therefore, it would be covered, even if we skipped around using different curricula that didn't follow the same scope and sequence.

Plus, with all I've been learning about right-brained learners, the schools' expectations are based on left-brained learners. Right-brained learners often learn in a different sequence...delayed reading/writing/arithmetic, but earlier science, social studies, etc. This completely takes the fear and stress out of 'Oh no! Monkey can't ever remember to punctuate!' (or can't spell or has trouble reading aloud, or keeps making simple arithmetic mistakes when he completely understands the math concepts). Every kid learns at a different pace and pressuring him to conform to some outside expectation just adds unnecessary stress.

3. What if I pick the wrong material to use? 

I did so much web research on various curricula, comparing and contrasting them, thinking ahead to when I would cover what topics, that it really took up way more time than it should have.  What if I purchased something and it is terrible?

What I tell myself now:
Worst case, they hate it, we lose some money, and have to buy something else. More likely case, it's not a great fit, but they do learn something, even if it wasn't that engaging, efficient, or effective. I can always try to sell the material used, and use that toward buying something else (or using free stuff on the internet, of which there is PLENTY!) or give it to someone else as a blessing to them.

4. What if I can't manage all the juggling?

On a global scale, between working an almost-full-time job, serving at church and other organizations, extra curricular activities and house stuff, what if I just couldn't juggle it all? On a smaller scale, I'm a 'checklist' type of person, and it bugs me if things are left undone. What if we just can't finish everything I planned to do for the week between all our other time commitments?

What I tell myself now:
There will be days/weeks when things are not all going to be done. I won't be able to juggle it all, and that is OK. If that means the house stuff doesn't get done, then it doesn't get done. If I have to say no to some things, I should not feel bad about saying "no".  If we don't finish everything on our homeschool weekly plan, it's OK! That's the beauty of homeschool! We can put off something to another day or the next week, or we can skip it altogether, if it's really just not going to add much value to the teaching. It's not really about trying to do everything, it's about finding a balance to choose what is most important.

5. Isn't having Monkey with me all day, every day going to drive me crazy?

I was quite comfortable with the kids being at school for 7 hours a day, plenty of time for my job and for miscellaneous errands, and sometimes a lunch out with other moms while their kids were at school. I'd be trading a nice flexible schedule for dragging the kids around with me for all my errands, appointments, and lunch dates! Plus, honestly, doesn't every parent need a break from their kids?

What I tell myself now:
Yes, it's a trade-off, but it's been such a blessing to have time with Monkey, creating that bond between us and helping us to really understand each other. Do I need a break from him? Yes, I do! In some ways, that's where having my job sometimes works out to my benefit. He goes to a babysitter twice a week. It's not 'free' time for me's work time, and I try to get as much work as possible done for my job during those hours because on average, I'm probably NOT getting as much work done the other days of the week working from home with him with me. But even if it weren't for my job, I'd make a point to schedule time for him to play with other kids (as a drop-off playdate), or signing up for a co-op or a homeschool class, and time for me to go out just by myself when my husband is home. As an introvert, I NEED to be alone at some point.  So yes, it's been an adjustment to not have the freedom to just pick up and go run to the store by myself or grab a quick lunch with friends...but at the same time, I've gotten used to it. I don't plan for alot of errands, and when I do, I think of it as a chance for Monkey to see what people do in the real world and what moms need to do (we don't just sit around all day on Facebook!). As for lunch dates and appointments, sometimes I'll just take him along, or ask people to meet at my house so he just plays on his own for a bit, and I'm thankful for friends who will sometimes watch him for a short while when it's just not something I can take him to.

6. What if I mess up my kids? 

This one is a biggie, but it's also the most uncalled for. I think every parent thinks this thought at some point in their parenting journey, not just homeschooling moms.

What I tell myself now:
Does homeschooling make it more likely that my kids will be "messed up"? Probably not any more likely than they'd be "messed up" by any other decision, even if public schooled. And really, it's not all in my hands(ultimately, their hearts and lives belong to the Lord)! I think I'd be giving myself too much credit if how "well" my kids turned out is dependent on what I've done or not done. We can have influence, but so much is out of our control anyway, so I'll do my best and leave the rest up to God.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Homeschool Schedule as a Working Mom

This is something that I've struggled with a lot this past year. Before, we started homeschooling, I didn't know how it would work out, being a working mom and a homeschooling mom. I knew it was doable, because other moms have done it, but I had no idea how things would work out for me. I

Thankfully, I work at home 3 days a week. I go to the office the other 2 days and a sitter watches Monkey.  When I'm home, I usually have some flexibility in my work and my hours, so I can work with Monkey throughout the day. Usually the work I do with him might be 1-2 hours, while the rest is independent. However, it never seems to be 1-2 hours in a row! It's a lot of interruptions, and alot of trying to split my attention between my job and my child, and it's really, really frustrating sometimes. Monkey is not a routine, check-list kind of person, so each day is different. Some days he does math first, some days he does science first. I didn't mind too much if it's independent work, but when it involves me, I need it to work with my job demands. Sometimes when he had something he had a question on, but I had an urgent task for work, I'd just have to put him off until I finish, which might be hours sometimes.

So now that we decided to bring Bunny home to be homeschooled (in 2 weeks!), I'm frantically trying to figure out how to get into an actual routine. I could tolerate the lack of routine when it was one child, but I figure I'm going to go nuts with two if I don't have a better plan (Twice as many interruptions! Twice as many "Have you worked on this yet?")

I did some google searches, and I came across this article that had some good tips for scheduling when you're a working mom.

So after some thought this is my plan:

  • Bible
  • Math/Language arts, with me working with math with one child at a time, if needed
  • Either Social Studies or Science (not both) with me reading to them or doing an experiment 
  • Free Time until Lunch
Afternoon (This is when I'm planning to do most of my work for my job):
  • Computer Skills (currently using CodeCademy, and Scratch ) for Monkey, Nature Journal for Bunny
  • Free Exploration - No electronic screens during this time, but otherwise, they can do whatever they want: read, play outside, build couch cushion forts, play board games, art, WHATEVER! 
  • Guitar practice (Monkey) 3 times a week
  • Help with dinner (kids alternate days, with the other child allowed to have screen-time during this period))
  • Evening extracurriculars (seems like they have something every night of the week!)
  • Reading after getting ready for bed (read aloud or independently)
On days I go to the office, They will do the Social Studies/Science/Math/Language arts independently at the sitter's house, and we will do Chinese during lunch, snack or dinner (most of it involves practicing words, watching a video, or practicing writing of a new word, which is the only one that we can't really do while eating).

On Fridays, no formal Social Studies/Science/Math/Language arts, but they will have a Friday Free-write, and work on home projects around the house (Laundry, Cleaning, Garden, etc. to help them learn these skills and to help me keep the housekeeping up.) Friday is the day that there is often a church event that we need to help with (we help with childcare for the moms who attend), so half the day will be taken up with that. 

Well, probably a month from now I'll look back on this post and laugh about how different it is from reality, once I really start homeschooling Bunny!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: Fungi and Volunteering

This week we went back to a normal schedule for school and followed up on the yeast topic we stumbled upon last week during our unschooling, and I pulled together some resources for learning about Fungi.
  • Planet Wild Fungi video
  • Assorted books from the library (none that are noteworthy so I won't note them here. I just pulled whatever I could find off the shelf)
  • Experiment with yeast in warm water (and one with cold), with added sugar, salt, or flour. 
The sugar and warm water worked best, and even the sugar and cold water worked fine, just took a lot longer to produce as much carbon dioxide. The sugar and salt and warm water produced some, but not as much, and the flour and warm water produced a little bit, but not much.  The one with no sugar at all, didn't do anything, as expected.

  • Experiment with growing mold on bread (swiped in sink, swiped in sink and put in fridge, and not-swiped in sink):
 The kids were surprised that the mold didn't grow on the bread in the refrigerator. At first,we were going to monitor this for 10 days, but it got so gross, we decided to cut it short and end after Day 4.                                                                                                      

The other thing that filled up our time this week was starting up some routes for picking up  leftover food from local restaurants and delivering as part of some volunteer work for Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. I recently began volunteering with them to start up some new routes here, so it's been a busy week of coordinating pickup/drop-off times, communicating with potential volunteers, meeting volunteers, and actually driving around.  It was eye-opening for Monkey to see the amount of food that would have been thrown away as we packed it into our car and delivered it to the food pantry. 

I've always wanted to find a way for my kids to volunteer and serve the community, but it's often hard to find something that will allow kids to help (usually for safety reasons) and that fits our personalities.  We tried volunteering at a nursing home last year, but all of us being introverted, quiet types, it really didn't work out as an on-going activity, as we just couldn't converse naturally.  We've done a few one-day volunteer events in the past, but I'm hoping that this work with RLC will be a great way for the kids to see that we really can make a difference and to give them a heart for serving others. 

Weekly Wrap-Up

Ireland Unit Study

With St. Patrick's Day coming up this week, we are going to do a week on Ireland this week. I'm excited for the kids to explore their Irish heritage (they are half-Irish)!

These are our plans:

  • Map of Ireland - label major cities and landmarks, and also family origins of paternal grandparents

History & Culture:
  • Try out recipes - including Irish soda bread
Creative Project:
  • Lapbook - We will use some of this free lapbook

  • Selections from this Book list for kids, including traditional Irish folk tales and historical fiction.
Language Arts:

Additional Resources:

I'll post our actual reading selections and the final lapbook on our Weekly Wrap-up at the end of the week!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lessons Learned in My First Year of Homeschooling

In January, we passed the 1 year mark of homeschooling. I can't believe how fast it went by!  I definitely feel much more comfortable now, but I am, by no means, an expert, and I'm sure I will be continuing to learn as we continue.These are some of the lessons I have learned this first year:

1. There is no ONE single BEST curriculum.

I pored over reviews and scoured the internet reading forum discussions trying to decide what to use. I'm not saying thorough research is wrong, it's just ridiculously time consuming if I'm going to try to determine which one is "the best" before I buy, because what is best for one child or family is not going to be best for another.  There's really no way to know until we try it, after making an educated guess as to what looks like a good option.  I was worried that if I bought something, I'd have spent the money and locked us in. However, in the course of the past year, I realized that if it doesn't work out, we can just sell it used and recoup at least part of the money spent.

2. Trial and error is not a waste of time.

The idea of just trying things out to see if they work out was scary for me, as a Type A planner. I didn't want to waste time on things that weren't going to work out. What I realized is even if it doesn't work out, it doesn't mean "nothing was learned." It may not have been the best method or most efficient, but at the very least, I learned what does NOT work, and hopefully at least some of the material sunk in.

3. We have a lot less "free" time than I envisioned.

Don't get me wrong, we certainly have a lot more time than we did when Monkey was in public school and doing hours of homework each night, but it is still less than I than I thought we would have. Partly, that may be due to Monkey's ADD, but even beyond that, between the academic work and the extracurriculars, plus the many great opportunities for field trips, get-togethers, homeschool classes, play dates,  service opportunities, I'm finding that we have to be deliberate in not over-scheduling.

4. I need to plan to have my own time alone. 

Being an introvert, having someone around all day,  24/7, is completely draining for me.  I didn't realize how bad until 2 weeks into homeschooling, I was melting down because I didn't have time to myself. After the kids were in bed, my husband was around, and I'm not a night owl, nor a morning person, so pretty much at any waking hour, I had someone around me, and it drove me a little batty.

5. If I want to find homeschool connections, I have to put in the effort.

Since there were not many homeschoolers in my social circle, I have to go out of my way to make homeschool connections.  I find most homeschoolers that I meet welcoming and friendly, but that doesn't mean it will be easy (especially as an introvert) for me to develop close relationships with other homeschoolers.  I found it difficult to enter into established groups as a new member, or joining homeschool field trips where it's open to anyone, and then feeling lonely because everyone else knows each other.  That doesn't mean I should give up trying though, it's just an uncomfortable feeling that I have to deal with if I really want to make these connections.

6. I don't have to do every subject, every day. 

Maybe this is obvious to veteran homeschoolers, but as a newbie, I thought teaching meant doing the 3Rs every day, at the very least.  I had to re-train my thinking to not think the way traditional schools work.  It frees me up to try different schedule variations, to concentrate on a few subjects for a few days or weeks and then switch, or to alternate days. I love this freedom!

7. Falling into a rhythm will not happen overnight.

....or even over a month, or a half a year, or a year. We are still 'figuring out our rhythm', and it's not a bad thing. We try things, they don't work, we try something else.  I think I expected to have a certain schedule and then just stick with it. Easy-peasy! Didn't happen. Sometimes we get in a good groove, but that may not be our 'rhythm' forever, so enjoy it while it lasts, but don't expect it to be the same forever. Life changes, schedules change, activities change...

8. Look at the big picture.

Rather than getting all worked up if we didn't accomplish everything we set out to for the week, I learned to let go and realize that in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter if we finish everything listed on our agenda. I don't have to stress out about having gaps in his education, because EVERYONE has gaps in their education! No one person knows everything about every subject. If he doesn't learn something at the expected age, that doesn't mean he will never learn it.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Informal Chinese Lessons

We haven't plunged into really teaching Chinese as a formal school subject. With this past year being our first year of homeschooling, I didn't want to overwhelm myself (and I certainly WAS overwhelmed!) with yet another subject to teach during the day.

But I DID want my children to learn some Chinese. Even the local public elementary schools teach Mandarin, I didn't want my half-Chinese kids to end up behind the public school kids' Chinese!

So we've been working on about 15 minutes per day of Chinese (usually done during afternoon snack), rotating among a variety of learning activities including:
  • Kids Learn Mandarin by Fingerprint -  iPad game app- colors, animals, professions, food, etc. (We also use other apps listed in my spreadsheet, but we like Kids Learn Mandarin the best).
  • Mandarin Language Lessons by Yangyang Cheng - Grammar, conversation
  • Tone Practice 
  • YouTube videos of stories narrated in Chinese 
  • General conversation in everyday life- I'll ask a question in Chinese like "Do you want to eat a banana or an apple?" and they answer in Chinese, or when we're about to go out, I'll state in Chinese, "We are going to xyz's house". And we just practice a variety of phrases that they've learned. 
Since my husband doesn't speak Chinese, the kids don't get the benefit of hearing Chinese in the background and absorbing it, the way I did growing up. I always have grand intentions of just speaking to them throughout the day in Chinese so they hear it and get used to the sound and pick up some meaning through context, but, admittedly, I'm pretty forgetful about this!

After the realization that Monkey is a visual learner and would probably easily memorize the pictoral Chinese characters,  I'm going to start teaching him how to recognize and write some words, using some workbooks we have at home that show some simple words and some of the iPad apps  that focus on writing. 

The disadvantage of these informal lessons is that there is no tracking of what we have accomplished. At this point, I guess it's OK, we are not formally studying it, but just trying to give them a feel for the language. 

As a note to myself though, for future reference, here's an attempt to list what we have covered:
  • Hello, Goodbye, Thank You, Excuse Me
  • What's your name?
  • Verbs - be, go, carry, want, have, come, sleep, sit, eat, take, like, know
  • Nouns - colors, relatives, animals, fruit, kitchenware items, professions
  • Pronouns
  • Possessive
  • Other - today, tomorrow, or 
  • Question words - What, How many, Who, Where
  • Time

Friday, March 6, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: Trial Unschooling Week

The concept of unschooling was something that was on the edge of my radar. It's not something I really set out to do or even research, but through various internet groups, I've heard quite a few people who embrace this philosophy of learning. The book I'm reading about right-brained learners, The Right Side of Normal also mentions unschooling as a great option for right-brained learners. I don't think I have the right personality or courage to really embrace full-time unschooling, but I loved the idea that they can spend time on what interests them and learn from those pursuits, and not be bogged down with 'formal learning' lessons that often take up most of our day (because of Monkey's distractability) and don't capture their interest. There's a lot that can be learned in just every day wondering and exploring!

The other week, through the Weekly Wrap-up, I ran across a post by Angelic Scalliwags where she told about her idea of incorporating unschooling alternating with her formal schooling weeks. I loved how she asked her children to "stop thinking about the unschool week as a holiday week but to think of the two weeks together as a two-week schedule which would be repeated. The first week I would schedule and the second week they would schedule."So it's kind of like "partial unschooling", which to true unschoolers probably doesn't really exist. Anyway, I don't know what this would be called officially, but I really loved this idea! I really have a hard time 'letting go' to just let Monkey's learning be completely up to him, so this hybrid method really appealed to me. 

So we tried our first week of unschooling this week, and Monkey spent most of his time programming video games on Scratch - as in, ALL DAY Monday and Tuesday, except for short breaks for eating.  Yes, it's educational, but there's alot of playing around on the other games on the site too! But I tried to not interfere and let him explore and create.  This is his Scratch profile with some of the games he has worked on: . A lot of his work is unpublished, as he worked on various games and ideas and didn't complete them, but I hope one or two will be finished products. One of the things I need to embrace is that it's not all about a finished product. He is learning through the process of experimenting with different games and animations.

When he wasn't using Scratch, his time was spent on these pursuits:
  • We baked some bread from scratch and learned about yeast, fungi, and fermentation.
  • He played chess with a variety of opponents.
  • He and Bunny dug out a couple snow forts during this past snow storm.
  • We watched an episode of Brain Games (on Netflix) and learned about how our brain uses past experiences to make assumptions about what we see, and how we end up seeing optical illusions because of that.
  • We read aloud from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Fields of Home (Ralph Moody).
  • He built and played with Magneatos and the smaller version with thin rods and marbles.
  • He read some books about dinosaurs, Mars, and robots that he borrowed from the library
  • We watched Robot Adventures-Introduction to Robotics

I have to admit, the first day was rough. My control-freak, planning-loving, check-list personality couldn't bear the eight hours of Scratch. I kept thinking 'What if this is ALL he does the whole week? What if he doesn't learn anything? What about language arts?' I was so antsy, but I kept myself in check and allowed him to finish the day out without interference.

The second day, I told him, well, you STILL have to practice guitar and do daily Chinese work, because those are skills you will lose if you don't work on it regularly. He wanted to make bread, so we did that, and in the process, talked about yeast and carbon dioxide. He still spent the remainder of his time on Scratch,

The third and fourth days, he finally took a break from Scratch as he went to the sitter while I went to work, and we had a big snowstorm that provided some great snow for snow forts and he branched out to a few of the other pursuits mentioned above. 

The last day (today), he had a variety of activity, including some Scratch, but also watched the Robot Adventures movie (with prompting by me), among other things. 

So as I evaluate this at the end of the week, I know Monkey loved it.  I do think if we did this again in a couple weeks, I would maybe give a little more direction, but not require anything...but suggesting the Robot movie turned out to be good move, as he really enjoyed it. It was very difficult for ME though, to just sit and not direct his time. But at the same time, it was really nice to not be nagging him to start something or complete something. 

Next week, we will go back to our formal learning, with Fungi as our science unit. Ideally, when I first started homeschooling, I thought we'd do 'formal' work in the morning, and child-interest-led activity in the afternoon, but the reality was that he rarely had time for that free exploration time in the afternoon, he would be so drained from working on the assigned work that he didn't have any mind for exploration at that point. I hope that alternating weeks of formal and unschooling will allow him the time to explore and learn, while still giving him structure to learn the things that I feel are 'must-dos' (math, writing, science/history, Bible) at a deeper level than he would get by just letting him lead (because honestly, I don't think he'd ever really dig into writing or history). 

Weekly Wrap-Up