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

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 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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pi Day Fun

Since yesterday, 3/14, was Pi Day, we celebrated by doing some pi-related activities, I used Khan Academy to have the kids learn and practice some pi-related concepts. For Monkey, we did volume and surface area of a cylinder and volume of a sphere. For Bunny, we did circumference, diameter, and radius of a circle.

For dinner, we made a quiche:

And for dessert, we made berry pie, with a 'pi' crust: 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Homeschooling an Extrovert in a House Full of Introverts

Bunny is an extrovert and I don't know where she got that from, because neither me nor my husband are extroverts. She's always wanting to have friends over or visit friends, she makes friends easily in new environments, and she loves a big gathering of kids. The rest of us, however, like to be alone. We like our quiet downtime. We get overwhelmed by too much socialization. After spending time with people we want to crash.

Before we began homeschooling  Bunny, I knew that one  area of concern could be meeting her need for friend time. I hate the misconception that homeschoolers are isolated or don't get enough socialization, because homeschoolers rarely just stay home all day. Even before Bunny joined us, we were out multiple times a week at activities and we saw friends not just on weekends, but also sometimes on weekdays too, because we had more time for play dates during the week. We were happy with this level of social engagement, but anticipating Bunny's increased need for time among other people, we joined a co-op that meets every other week. She has met a few friends through this co-op and now often asks to get together with them.

I'm ok with SOME play dates during the week, but in the past 8 days, she has had play dates 7 out of those 8 days. The one day we decided to just go up the street to the park, she wanted to know what friend we could meet there. I, on the other hand, was looking forward to just having a quiet time at the park, just the 3 of us. After the past 8 days, I'm exhausted from being around people so often. Admittedly, that week was unusual for us to have that many social plans in a week, so it's definitely more than average. I'm glad this week has nothing scheduled! Ideally, I think I can handle social events maybe 4 out of 7 days of the week. I do hope though, that this is enough for Bunny. She misses time spent with kids at school, and I'd really hate for her to start resenting homeschooling because she misses the  social environment at school. So, I'll have to come up with some plans with friends this week after all...

Friday, March 4, 2016

Chemistry for Tweens

Monkey has always been interested in learning about chemistry, even in early elementary school. Unfortunately, chemistry was not one of the areas covered in public school. When we began homeschooling, we were excited to finally have the time to teach him some chemistry! We began with:
Christian Kids Explore Chemistry - I think this was a great introduction to concepts and terminology of Chemistry. It had an activity for each unit, and was laid out very simply, with review questions that were easy to use. It covers the parts of atoms, molecules, acids and bases, chemical symbols, and even some very basic introduction to organic chemistry (hydrocarbons, esters, etc). It's a pretty straightforward text, with simple explanations, but it wasn't EXCITING...

We completed this at the end of his 4th grade year and sort of forgot about it. Recently, Monkey again expressed interest in learning more chemistry, and after asking him about what he learned already, I realized he didn't retain a lot of it (mostly not remembering the alkanes/alkenes/alkynes, acids/bases; the basics of atoms and bonding were among areas he did remember). So we searched for another Chemistry curriculum, since I had already sold the Christian Kids Explore Chemistry book.

We found Ellen McHenry's book:

The Elements - This starts from the basics, so some of it is review for Monkey, but it works out great since Bunny wasn't with us the first time we covered chemistry. This one is written in a way that kids can really relate to, with humorous drawings and explanations, and LOTS of hands-on ideas. There's 'worksheet'-like activities to reinforce the lessons, there's jokes, and games to print out, and links to resources on the internet. We are LOVING this! It really makes chemistry a lot more fun! For a reluctant chemistry student like Bunny, this is perfect. For the more serious student, this might seem too goofy, but as a kid, I think they would still enjoy the casual, everyday language and the references to more relatable ideas like baking.  We will follow up with her second chemistry book: Carbon Chemistry

Along with this, we are using Fizz, Bubble, Flash , which goes through various elements by families with lots of hands-on activities/experiments and interesting tidbits about compounds made with those elements.

These books are both fun and engaging, cartoony, yet filled with a LOT of information. Definitely beats a science textbook for this age range.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Language Arts Options For Kids Who Like Variety

I've hard such a hard time sticking with one Language Arts program.  Because of this, we've tried a variety of approaches and materials.  Maybe one day we'll find the perfect fit, but until then, it is trial and error. I like getting a taste of the different approaches because:
  •  I don't think there's one single "perfect" way to teach Language Arts-there's many learning styles and many different needs among all kids. 
  •  I don't think there's any program that will 'teach everything' that encompasses Language Arts-some will focus on writing, others on spelling, or vocabulary or grammar. Honestly, I tried teaching spelling separately and gave up. It just got too be too much, when adding writing on top of that, and grammar, and we only recently started adding vocabulary formally. 
  • I don't think that there's any one program we could always stick with forever for any one child, because the child's needs change over time. Maybe they need work on grammar one year, maybe an emphasis on writing another year, and maybe creativity in yet another year. 
This is what we've used/currently use:

Writing Strands, Level 3 : The text is written to the student so it can be done independently. It gives specific assignments, how much to write, what order to write it in, but doesn't give much guidance in making it sound good. We used it for about a year and then switched to IEW for writing. 

Learning Language Arts Through Literature, Purple Book :  This is a very gentle approach to LA. It covers copywork, spelling, grammar, a little bit of writing and vocabulary, all based on a literature passage. There's some passages which have a whole book study included in the book, and some passages are just passages from another book that the student may or may not have read. We intended to read all the books referenced, but found that 1-2 were not easily found (not in the library). Each day's lesson may only be as short as 4-5 practice words/sentences to practice that day's lesson. It didn't seem very systematic in presenting the spelling or grammar rules, it's just based on what is found in the literature passage. It makes it less 'rote' and 'dry', but may seem a bit haphazard to do '-es' plurals one day, and prepositions the next day, then 'research this person' the next day. But at the same time, it gives variety so keeps it from getting repetitive or boring. The kids thought it was too easy though, but at the same time, these were new lessons to them in terms of various grammar rules or spelling. I think that just speaks to the fact that it makes grammar and spelling seem not-so-out-of-reach. I liked that the spelling words are picked from the passage and chosen by the student based on what they don't know yet.

Institute of Excellence in Writing (IEW)- This is a GREAT writing tutorial! We did the Student Intensive A, which has a video that teaches how to structure various styles of writing (e.g. reports vs fictional narratives), and also how to make it sound good with what they call "dress-ups" (sentence openers, adverbs, clauses, transition words). It's VERY specific about asking students to incorporate certain techniques, giving them practice in using them. My kids didn't always enjoy writing this way (being told they HAD to use certain "dress-ups"), but they definitely expanded their writing styles and sounded much more polished after going through this. We are currently using American History Volume 1, but they chose not to write on the topics given. We were still able to use the techniques being practiced, but they chose their own topics to write about.  The topical guides include vocabulary so we have been using this set of words for vocabulary this year. 

Grammar Land - Very old story with the parts of speech as personified characters in a court case. It was pretty amusing and a good introduction to the different parts of speech. I think some of the older language style was difficult for the kids to grasp, but overall, I thought it was a fun way to learn about parts of speech.

Brave Writer, Writer's Jungle - We used elements of this writing approach. It's almost the opposite of the IEW approach, but I think both have valid points about the teaching of writing.  While IEW focuses on specific methods to create structure and style, Brave Writer's approach is more 'question driven', personal, and free-flowing.  The premise to her approach is that writing is an expression of yourself, so you want to be gentle and let students find their voice, and become comfortable expressing themselves in the written language, rather than force them to write on topics they are not excited about and using specific structures that feel awkward to them. I think you need both, so for some periods of time, we use the IEW lessons, and other times, we use the Brave Writer approach, with a lot of 'free writing', and copywork and limited 'must add these things in your writing'.

The Word Snoop - This is a fun book that explains all kinds of interesting tidbits about the English language-palindromes, anagrams, lipograms, malapropisms, oxymorons, etc., plus a history of the evolution of the English language-where it came from way back in history, to current day text-speak. We all loved this-very informative, yet fun to learn about. 

Life of Fred Language Arts - My kids love Fred. He's quirky and smart and talks about a lot of random facts that the kids find very amusing. Even though these are supposed to target high schoolers, my 4th and 6th graders have been doing OK with them. The first one definitely is OK for younger kids, but I've read that the other three books are much harder.  We are now in the middle of the second book, and it does introduce a lot more concepts that may or may not be above their heads, but so far, they are still absorbing the information, if not mastering it.  I believe these books are meant to be read and re-read, so I don't mind them not mastering it all on the first time through, as they will encounter it again later, and at least now, they have been exposed to the information.  This, like the Life of Fred math books, does not go in any particular order and does not present anything as a straight-foward 'lesson', but as Fred's story unfolds, he throws in all kinds of grammar lessons in the midst of telling the story. The downside of this series though, is the lack of practice questions (this would be a 'plus' according to my kids though, as they hate repetition). But because of this, for additional practice and correcting errors, I've started using this next product.

Editor-in-Chief , Critical Thinking Company - We are using Level B1 right now, using their software package rather than the printed book.  This product gives a variety of passages with errors that need to be corrected (grammar, spelling, punctuation, and I think later on, content matching the illustration), The student acts as a 'detective' in searching for these errors and marking the corrections, based on a series of options which they select.  I love the concept, but I think I would go with the book next time. The software is interactive and has 'bonus games' as a reward for completing the lessons, but trying to click on the right reason for the error has been very frustrating for my kids (does the subject/verb agreement fall under 'Usage'? or 'Grammar'? or 'Spelling'?).  They know it's wrong, but can't find where to locate the reason in the menu system.  Both of my kids need a lot more practice in detecting errors in their own writing, but, going by the 'Brave Writer' approach, being critical of their own writing is disheartening, so I like the idea of searching for errors in SOMEONE ELSE'S writing.  

Total Language Plus Study Guides - This incorporates reading comprehension, grammar, spelling, and vocab all based on a piece of literature. There's many guides for specific book titles. We used the one for "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch".  I was drawn to it because it covers reading comprehension, as well as the other areas of LA that LLATL covered, but it includes the entire book in depth, chapter by chapter, not just short passages. I like that this includes vocabulary/spelling with words found in the book, and discussion questions/reading comprehension questions for each chapter. The grammar is mostly dictation and 1 'activity' a week of correction, underlining parts of speech, etc.  I felt that having more direct grammar teaching would have been more useful. I don't know if other study guides are similar, since I only have experience with this one. We ended up skipping a lot of the spelling exercises, just because I don't feel like it was all that necessary. Some kids may enjoy the various spelling practice though (my kids don't).

With all these options, we tend to mix it up every few weeks. Some weeks, we do 1 day a week of copywork/cursive, free write, Editor-in-Chief, Latin/Greek roots(just looking up 2 assigned root words on wikipedia and making an index card for their notes), and 1 chapter of Life of Fred.  Other weeks, we do a week-long writing assignment from IEW. Some weeks, we focus on a single book, like the Word Snoop or doing a study guide from Total Language Plus. I think breaking it up makes it more enjoyable for the kids and keeps them from getting tired of the same thing week after week. 

I'd love to hear any other suggestions of what has worked well for other people and perhaps we'd add it to our medley of choices!

Celebrating Chinese New Year

We don't do many Chinese cultural traditions around here. I cook Chinese food maybe once a week sometimes not at all in a single week, and when I do, we don't even use chopsticks! Maybe it's a product of being raised here in the US; the cultural traditions become more and more diluted the longer people are away from the origins of those traditions.

Every now and then though, there are occasions that prompt me to bring back some traditions, and be purposeful in sharing them with the kids. I want them to know their heritage and have memories of Chinese traditions, even as a half-Asian.

Most of our closest friends are Asian (is that coincidence? is that my own tendency to lean toward common experiences in choosing my friends? and if so, why doesn't my husband have his own tendency toward Caucasian friends? ), and they are in the same 2nd-generation-boat that we're in...grew up here in the US, sprinkling a few Asian traditions in here and there.  We don't sit around talking about Asian-American issues or send our kids to Chinese school, but we DO like to celebrate Chinese New Year together, reliving fond memories from our own childhoods.

Making dumplings as a group is a memory I specifically wanted to pass down to my kids. I remember family gatherings where my parents and the my aunts and uncles would all work together to make lots and lots of dumplings together. They always asked us to help, and occasionally we did, making funny-shaped dumplings, laughing at our awfully mis-shapen results, and then we'd run off and play with the other kids.  It was like history repeating it self when our group of kids do the same thing...but over the years, they are getting more proficient at making dumplings.

We used's Asian Pork and Cabbage Dumpling Recipe for the filling, and my dad's dough recipe, which is 6 cups flour, 2 1/2 cups water, 1/2 tsp salt (knead together until thoroughly mixed and workable). 

We also had a hot pot, with plenty of meat, fish balls, seafood, and noodles, which is another favorite tradition of mine. 

For dessert, we had a huge assortment of Asian treats-egg tarts, pineapple cake, rice cake ('nian gao') in 2 flavors, almond jello, oranges, and sponge cake (not sure that was specifically Asian, but it's reminiscent of the lighter, fluffier cakes that are common in Chinese bakeries)!