Saturday, February 16, 2013

Some things we use in homeschool

I get asked frequently about what I use to homeschool my kids and how I do it. This is part of a response I just sent to a friend about it, but I wanted to post it here in case its helpful to any of you. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE post other resources you have found helpful in the comments! Ok, here goes!

First, our educational philosophy is to do our best to prepare our kids to do whatever they feel called to do. So, at 18, we want them to be able to be prepared for college (if they so choose), hair dressing school, or whatever. If I don't do my job, though, and my kid wants to be, say, a doctor, then I have done him a disservice by not preparing him. We want our kids to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we believe that doing school is the best way to teach them to love and worship God by using their minds. Also, our choice to do Thai school has been a difficult one (with other families not choosing the same thing), but in the end, we landed on wanting our kids to thrive in this culture and be able to interact at church, be a part of what we are doing here, and have Thai friends. We are planning to be here for the long haul, so its important that our world isn't segregated from theirs. We want them to grow up loving Thai people and feeling like they are an important part of what we do.

 Here are the things I am currently doing (its mostly bare bones, just because of the addition of thai school in the morning--not a lot of time for fluffy. The good thing is, though, that with CC, the kids get a science experiment and science mini lesson with memory work, a fine arts lesson, an opportunity to practice public speaking, and then all of the memory work to go alongside of it.) Ok, I definitely like parentheses waaaayyyy too much, and that was to loong for a parenthetical statement, so I am coming out of it.

Here's a low-down of what CC (Classical Conversations) is. The way I would describe it is "the backbone" of classical education that SWB's WTM describes, just already planned out and done in community to increase fun factor. So, each week, there's a history sentence (set to music), a set of timeline events (usually 7--each year you learn the entire timeline of world history, along with all of the US presidents), a math something-or-other (first semester this year was skip-counting all of the numbers up to 15, now they are doing equivalents. this week is 2.54 cm=1 in, 12 in=1 ft, 5280 ft=1mile), a latin foundational thing (this year learning noun declension endings for all 5 declensions), a bible verse (this year is ex 20), science fact (this week is the three kinds of rock--sedimentary, metamorphic, igneous), geography (this is amazing--how it builds just by learning 5 places per week), and English (first semester memorized the list of prepositions with motions, this semester is helping verbs).

So, with all of those things already set up for us, it really frees me to not worry so much about memory work or feeling like I am missing something by not doing tests.

So, our nitty gritty every day (we start at 12:30) works out to doing some combination of these things:

Phonics Road
Basically, I love this. I get really happy inside when someone thinks through phonics, spelling, grammar, and reading in such a systematic way. I like it so much that I actually wrote the lady a letter thanking her for writing something so awesome and that it was people like her who made it possible for people like me to be overseas. A lot of grammar and spelling (including the Spelling Workout that SWB's WTM reccommends are just waaaaay too random for me and not systematic. Kids just forget things, especially when spelling is something that's taught according to rules. For example, if i give a kid all "at" words one week (cat, sat, bat, hat, etc), and I give them a spelling test, all I have actually taught them is that all they have to remember is that all of them end in "at" and that they really don't have to think. But for her, from the beginning, she introduces what she calls Rule Tunes that she teaches alongside the words, so all of the weeks are a mix of all of the rules and you're always reviewing. The emphasis is learning the rules of the English language rather than the words themselves. And it works. Its like this with grammar, too. In the second year, you start dictation, and after you have done dictation on monday, you go through and pick out the subject and predicate and noun and verb on tuesday, etc. Then you build each week as you do things. She also has each child keep everything in a reference notebook to have at the end of the year, and after year one, you transfer it all into your year two book (because you use it!). Ok, two other reasons why you will love it and I will be done 1)its set up to link up with the Latin Road, which is a study of latin that will prep them for AP Latin. 2)Its completely on video. This, to me, is a sort of love/hate relationship. Its supposed to be that you watch it beforehand in order to learn how to teach your students (which I might do, if i were teachng a class), but what we end up doing is let her just teach it, sing out all the rules as she's going through the words, etc. rather than me fumble through it. My kids really like it. Its such a new way of teaching language that it almost has to be modeled, so I see why they did it this way. The annoying part of it is that if you ever want to flip back through a handy now-what-did-she-say-about-that-word book, its not there. Its all in videos (or in the notes you have taken in the teacher's manual). So, while I like to just let the kids go, and pause when they need pausing, I also need to be engaged, taking notes, etc, so that I am aware of all of the little things she is teaching. Ok, if that explanation makes you excited, then we can talk more. If not, I think I have told you enough of why I like it for you to see my philosophy of education so that you can compare it to your own. (And, she offers missionaries a 10% or 15% discount--I forget which--so if you're interested, I can give you the info). One thing you need to know, though, is that its expensive (about $200 per year), but if you think about the cost of all the workbooks you would have to buy for spelling, grammar, language, reading, etc, it evens out. You just have to get over the psychological hurdle of this :).

Saxon Math--love love love. The "meeting" part of the lesson makes it really long for us, so with all of the memory work we do for cc, a lot of the times I skip that part and just teach the lessons. There's always a mad minute and always an a/b side of a worksheet, and they are ALWAYS reviewing. In fact, on each side of the worksheet, the new skill is only on there once! I am up to Sax 3 with my kids, and though it took tweaking, my kids love it. PS I started on Sax 1 with my older kids, but it was pretty easy. If your daughter already has math, you could probably go ahead and get into Sax 2, but I think there might be an online placement test. But, just so you know, even if you want to be safe and start with Sax 1 for first grade, its created in such a way that if you do one level per year, then the 12th year is Calculus.

First Language Lessons/3rd Eclectic Reader (ok, there are two versions of McGuffey, and at the moment I am not sure if this is the right one, but the one I am referring to is the one SWB recommends in WTM. These are leftover recommendations from SWB's WTM that I still do. I like the Ecl reader for practicing oral reading. First language lessons, I think that Phonics Road will cover everything, but it has poems that my kids love to memorize, so I am still incorporating it, even if less and less with our time constraints.

SOTW History/Activity Book You guys do this. I am not sure how you use it, though, so here is what we do. We do the map work, pointing out specific places that we will be talking about during the chapter (noting where it is on our map from CC as well, especially if they are places we have already learned), and have it in front of it as I read. When I mention a place, they touch it and its kind of like a game (that burns the places into their geographic book  shelf). After each section, we talk about the questions from the Activity book, then I have them do a narration (like SWB suggests). With our extra time, they can do the coloring sheet. Usually when we do history, we finish a whole chapter in a day (we don't do it every day of the week, but try to do 2-3 chps per week)

Memory work--through cc (try to go through 2x per day, once on the way to school, once on the way home, but once a week I have the two older ones copy the History Sentence for copy work). CC also has a website that you can join to download their songs and other things that other people have done. They give missionaries the same rate as if they were in a group in America--$6/mo , and you can do it month-to-month, so you're not required to do it for a whole year. I have their Foundations Guide book, which is a book with an outline of all of the memory work and extras, the tin whistles, and the other books they recommend on the website, but all of the songs and other resources all come from the web! amazing! I can give you the contact info if you would like it for the guy that can sign you up).

Reading Ok, phonics road teaches reading and has literature as part of the curriculum, but for the 2nd grade, its Little House in the Big woods all year long. They analyze, write character sketches, summaries, etc., but I want my kids to just be able to read! (And have a great place for a list of age-appropriate books my kids will love). What I have done the past two years is order the recommended reading list from Veritas Press  (this link goes to the lesson plans. its the quickest easiest non-committment way to be able to get the list of readers for a specific year--their website isn't super user-friendly) for the year. Last year, I ordered all of the study guides for lily's books, but this year I didn't. I thought she was already doing plenty of writing, and their questions seemed overly laborious for a 1st grader. I do LOVE their list of books, though. Lily has loved every single one. She is an avid reader, so one of the ways I slow her down is to have her write a summary of each chapter. this is helping her be aware of punctuation and capitalization (though her spelling is excellent already!). Another thing I do for her writing is to have her journal during her quiet time in the morning.

For Elliot, he's not as excited about reading but his reading level is right on par with his grade, if not higher. He's just reading the 2-3 pages required per day for LHBW on Phonics Road, and I try to have lots of books he loves (he loves science!) that he will try to read because he thinks they're interesting. So far that's working!

Teaching reading to Sam using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This is one of the least classical things I do, but I tried The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and it made me want to vomit. This book is wonderful is that it takes some shortcuts (with orthography-to make each letter represent only one sound--for example sh is connected at first, etc) to get the child reading quickly, then slowly takes away the crutches, and at the end of the book, the child is at a 2nd grade reading level. Technically, phonics road teaches beginning reading, but I have just split if off because its worked already for the other two, and it was really nice that they already knew how to read starting phonics road. My recommendation is that if you have an early reader (who might not be ready/able to write yet) I would just go ahead and do 100 el and save PR to start around the first grade age so its not a shock to do all at once. Sam (4) is loving it and he practices writing his letters on a little Melissa and Doug placemat that someone bought us from Mardel.

I think that's everything. Let me know if you have any questions. Hopefully through this I have given you a little insight into my personality as well (INTJ--I like systems, efficiency, etc), so that you can make some good decisions for yourself. Obviously, what we like isn't for everyone!

Ok, now its time for you to tell us your best resources! What do you love?? I wish I had a giveaway...all I have for you is a imaginary cyber pat on the back :) Don't you feel it? Also, are there any boxed curriculums that you love for moms who are just starting out? Tell us your loves and why it is that you like them!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Susannah Wesley is da bomb.

There is an oft-quoted story about Susannah Wesley that says that in the midst of her many children she would throw the apron over her head and spend time in quiet with Jesus.

Susanna Wesley is probably best known for being the mother of Charles and John Wesley, and many people consider her the Mother of Methodism.

Confession: I am not Susannah Wesley (though I deeply admire her; what an amazing woman!).

Nor did God create me to be her. But, I came under condemnation feeling that I needed alone time and when it was difficult to really connect with God with screaming (or even well-behaving sitting on their blankets playing quietly) children around me.

I think I was under the illusion that I couldn't have time alone. I felt myself shriveling. So, in case it's helpful for you, here's a couple of things I have done the in the past year to help me get the alone time I so desperately need to internally process and connect with Jesus (and my husband).

1. We put the kids to bed earlier. Most nights our kids are in their room by 7:30. Sometimes we have them read to themselves and be quiet. Sometimes, we let them play. We go in later and turn off the light around 8:30. This lets my husband and I have some time to unwind and catch up before it gets too late, and it also lets our children have time to either exercise creativity playing games or stretch their imagination reading books. They love this! And it helps us do #2, which is...

2. We get up earlier. When I get up is irrelevant, because my schedule is different than yours, but last year I decided that it was so important to me to have time alone before anyone woke up that I was going to set back the clock until I had enough time to spend with the Lord, plan, and exercise before my kids woke up. I can't tell you how much this has helped me! I sure am not Susannah Wesley, but I am getting what I need.

Disclaimer: some of you are in a season of life that it seems impossible to do all of that. My advice to you is to do what you think God is asking you to do (for your specific situation). Please don't feel condemnation if you're nursing a baby through the night! AND please don't feel like you have to be me if you're more like wonderful Susannah!

I also wanted to refer you to a wonderful website Inspired to Action, which is really encouraging for practical things like this!

What are some things you have done that have helped you get sanity in the little years? I'd love to hear what you have to say! If you have any practical tips for us, don't be stingy! We want to hear them!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Feeding Kids Bigger Portions

Over the coming months, I hope to introduce you to friends of mine who are also finding joy in the blink of raising children.

My first guest blogger is my great friend Carrie (see her blog here, and she's coming out with a book soon, too!). She lives with her husband and five children in China. One of the things I admire most about them is that they are always asking the question "what's it gonna take?", living a life of difficult decision making and joyful sacrifice, and passing it onto those around them. They they make it all look easy, and its because they flow out of a deep conviction of who is Lord over their lives. That challenges me so much. Oh, and she's darn funny, too! This is the first of many guest posts I hope to have from her.

(aren't they cute?)

So, without further adieu...

What does it really mean to be a Christian parent?

Does Christian parenting mean that we choose our names from the original Greek or that we put Chris Tomlin music on our pregnant wombs?

Does it mean that we say a two-line prayer before dinner and paint our nurseries like a Noah's ark petting zoo?

I think our calling as a Christian parent is hard, complicated, and full of satisfaction. What a privilege that the Lord has given us as parents!

Here is just one of the many ways to separate us as Christian parents, instead of just nice moral ones:

Find ways to intentionally build Scripture into our days.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 is going to encourage us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and might. And we are to teach these things diligently to our children. Loving the Lord is not something our kids learn simply by proximity of Christian parents or a good children's program at church. We have to instruct our kids in the ways of the Lord. This will require a lot of work on our part. If, as Deuteronomy 6 says, we are to talk about the Lord when we sit in our house and walk along the way, then we have to give our children the raw materials to be able to talk about.

The Jesus Story Book Bible is a great beginning story Bible to get your kids to understand that the whole of the Bible is about Jesus. From beginning to end, Jesus is being announced as King. And don't just assume that because there is a cute picture of Jesus simultaneously petting a lamb and a child on the cover of a children's storybook Bible that the theology is great. So many children's Bibles jack up the stories and make them very man-centered. Do your homework and stick with the kid's Bibles that actually keep God central. This is an important foundation in building a solid theological foundation in kids.

The Desiring God children's curriculum will help you as a family begin to talk about theology. While there are lots of good children's ministries out there, we find that most don't assume your kids can handle theology. We have found that kids can actually handle the bigger truths of God with relative ease when it's communicate at their level. This curriculum does a fantastic job of just that. We talked about the omniscience and sovereignty of God with our 4 year old. It gives our kids a chance to move beyond David and Goliath and sink deep into a rich understanding of God. Choose a night a week for a family time of worship. Go through this together. Sing, pray, confess and plead to the Lord together.

The Westminster Catechism for kids is a series of questions and answers for our kids to set in their hearts. Basic fundamentals like "Who Made You?" and your child would reply with "God."

Seeds of Worship is a series of worship albums of Scripture that don't make me want to pound someone when my kids want to listen to them over and over again. I love hearing my kids sing Ephesians and John as they run through the house wearing only a feather boa and their underwear.

Memorize Scripture together. Desiring God has Fighter verses that will give you plenty to work through. Make it fun by giving them characters that move through an enchanted forest each time they get a verse done. At the end, go get ice cream or tell them you'll do a cartwheel. Or maybe that your husband will sing John Denver at breakfast.

Will people look at you strange when your child is singing, "Who is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God!" in Target? Probably. But people find it cute when a four-year old sings "All the Single Ladies." We need to start redeeming the minds and hearts of our children at a young age. Sometimes we have people who give us a hard time about the amount of Scripture we try to build into our kids. When Dt. 6 uses the word "diligently," I see no other way around it. The world is offering my littles a buffet of temptations and I need to remind them that the Word of the Lord is the only thing that will feed their souls. They aren't going to learn this on their own. It is our responsibility as parents to breathe this into them. These are the children the Lord has entrusted to us for a time. It's only for a season. A very brief season.

Let's take this season back from what the world is offering them and give it to the Lord so that He can write His promises into their souls.

Friday, January 6, 2012

When the nations are in uproar and kingdoms fall...

...He lifts his voice, the earth melts (Ps 46:6).

Israel has fallen.

Sennacherib's emmisary is threatening violent attack on what's left of Judah, speaking in their native tongue. All can hear.

And what does King Hezekiah do? He petitions Isaiah the prophet to ask for prayers for his people "...children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth." (2 Ki 19:3)

Sometimes I experience this in the spiritual. The enemy is closing in, threatening me with what should be nonsense with the God I have, and I have no power to move forward bearing His fruit. Its tempting to believe what the enemy says. It seems so true.

And I am faced with a choice: will I turn to God in my attack as Hezekiah did, or will I turn away and try to fight my enemy on his terms like Hoshea, the king of Israel tried to do (see his story here).

"Further up and farther in." That's the goal, isn't it, until we get to our real country? As long as I am retreating towards God and not away, eventually I will get to the point where I am defended, because my Defender is Strong.

Its in this kind of environment that the idols crumble--in our retreat to him.

And this is how he wants it. He wants all that we're depending on to be crushed and shaken and whittled away, so that what remains can be pure.

All of the other nations Assyria attacked just crumbled before them. False gods couldn't protect.

And Hezekiah cries out to God, reminding him of His character, and declaring truth "they were not gods...therefore they were destroyed." (2 Ki 19:18). But You! You, Lord are not like those wooden things they trusted in!

Some things God reminded me of this morning as I was reading this...
1. Hezekiah pulled into God in the face of attack.
2. Hezekiah wasn't afraid to share his grief with others and ask for them to intercede.
3. Hezekiah did not neglect going to the Lord himself.
4. Hezekiah refused to believe that the lies were true.

And God responds: "...the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward." (2 Ki 19:30).

Just beautiful.

And this is why Israel's story is important. Its important to know our roots and know the history of our God, and know how we fit into the Bigger Story. Israel's story is my story.

And you can see what happens to Sennacherib here.

How do you fight when the enemy attacks?

Guest post today at Ordinary Life in the Wild

Today, I have a guest post at my friend Alina's blog Ordinary Life in the Wild on bringing life to dead places.

The beginning of the year is such a time for newness! Take a walk on the wild side and comment to let us know how you are starting new!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

tradition, Tradition!

With the holidays rolling around I have been thinking about traditions a lot lately and how to make things more meaningful for our family, especially around Christmastime. Traditions can be such a powerful method of building family unity and story, building anticipation together, creating expectation, entering into the gospel story together, and really learning to celebrate (which, for my melancholic personality, is sometimes forgotten!).

So, more than anything I wanted to send a shout-out and ask for ideas for traditions from your family. Maybe I can compile comments (and links--hopefully you will send some over!) and re-post the ideas people send in so that we can help each other.

Here are some things that we have loved and are growing to love more...just some ideas to get you thinking about how you celebrate:

1. Celebrating Advent. The past few years we have done a Jesse Tree as a vehicle to share the gospel story with our kids. Its really helped us all to see the big picture of why it was so important that Jesus came.

2. Celebrating Lent. I don't know what we'll do this year, but we definitely went through some devotions leading up to Easter last year. Does anyone have any great ideas for helping kids enter in?

3. Doing a Passover meal. Our first was a little boring, I think, for the kids, but hopefully in the years to come it will be a lot more meaningful. We'll see how this develops.

4. Having special breakfast on each of the kids' birthdays (and celebrating Jesus' birthday with a special breakfast and birthday cake, too!).

Also, I was reading a book today (Hopefully I'll write a little ditty soon on what really impacted me from the book, but just take it from me and buy it. Its $3.99 on kindle now!) that suggested taking a closer look at the church calendar as a way each year to live the gospel story together, starting with Advent, then moving to Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Paschal Vigil, Easter, Pentecost, and then taking the rest of the year to focus on the Gospels. Now, if you're like me, you don't know what these words all mean yet. Its ok...but what I am really asking its, "Do any of you do this?"

What other ideas do you have? Please send all the links you can muster! What did your parents do when you were younger that was really a treasured thing for you?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

little deaths that bring resurrection

Hey, this isn't more than just a thought, but I was thinking about how very few people come to the end of their life with hope. I mean, a lot of people older than me (and my age) are living jaded--with disappointments, fears, despair. Its so difficult not to want to give up along the way. Its easy to stop making the choices to get healing from the scarring that this world causes me. Sometimes it just seems so difficult to put down the anxiety and responsibility I feel. For some reason it just seems better to hold onto it--to the little deaths I feel inside--and never get healed.

I have blogged about this before, but I have more thoughts.

First, a song. Please listen. Its so life-giving.

Dress us Up
by John Mark McMillan
Dress us up in your righteousness
Bring us in with a ring and a kiss
When you walk into the room you know we can't resist
Every bottle of perfume always ends up on the floor in a mess

You make us sparkle and you make us shine
Like the stars who sing on your chorus line
Through space and time we'll harmonize
Where deep meets deep like the ocean meets the sky

The sun and the moon
They come out of their grave just for you
The dead man and the cynical too
They're coming out of their grave
And it's just for you

Cause the love of God is stronger
The love of God is stronger
The love of God is stronger
Than the power of death

Dress us up in the blood of a son
Who opened up his veins so that we would overcome
Hell and the grave in the power of his love
After three dark days he showed us how it's done
And he still does

You make us sparkle and you make us shine
Like the stars who sing on your chorus line
Through space and time we'll harmonize
Where deep meets deep like the ocean meets the sky

The sun and the moon
They come out of their grave just for you
The dead man and the cynical too
They're coming out of their grave
And it's just for you
Cause the love of God is stronger
The love of God is stronger
The love of God is stronger
Than the power of death

His love is stronger, his love is stronger, his love is stronger, his love is stronger
His love is stronger, his love is stronger, his love is stronger, his love is stronger

I was really hit by the fact that God can resurrect even the most cynical of hearts. Whatever we feel—the death of hope, faith, a friend, an animal—God’s love is powerful enough to bring us through the death we’re facing, even if its only saying goodbye again.

Without death there can be no resurrection. No triumph. No victory.

He makes all things new.

Lord, renew us today.