Homeschool – Taking stock

Since this is our trial year for homeschooling, I have decided to ease into it. Reading books such as Homeschooling for the Rest of Us has convinced me that we are already doing a lot of “homeschooling” without trying.

  • Growing a garden
  • Singing songs
  • Painting and drawing
  • Going on nature walks
  • Writing on mommy’s laptop
  • Playing with play dough
  • Reading so. many. books. Seriously.

And when I take stock, it’s comforting to see how much she has learned already.

  • Colors
  • Basic shapes
  • Counting sequence up to 18
  • Counting of objects up to 5
  • Recognition of most print numbers, 0-9
  • Letter names
  • Recognition of all capital letters except K and Q
  • Recognition of many lower case letters
  • She can spell and write her first name
  • A lot of basic biology (seeds, seedpods, some kinds of trees, many kinds of flowers, how to plant seeds, etc.)

I haven’t been trying to teach any of this really. We read. A lot. I answer questions. A lot. I have added a few activities as they seem appropriate. I bought a set of letter cookie cutters and added those to her play dough toys. I have occasionally played a phonics game such as “I spy” with her. Or pointed out rhyming words.

None of this has been purposeful. No drills. No schedules. Just finding a teachable moment or an activity she enjoys and jumping on it. Honestly, I wouldn’t have pushed as much as I have on things like letter recognition and phonics if she hadn’t shown real interest already. Without even trying, I think we’ve laid a good base. Now I just need to figure out how to move forward.

Oh, is that all.

Update: In the time it took me to actually edit and publish this post, the list of accomplished skills is already out of date. The list should now look something like this:

  • Colors
  • Basic shapes
  • Counting sequence up to 20
  • Counting of objects up to 7
  • Recognition of all print numbers, 0-9
  • Letter names
  • Recognition of all capital letters
  • Recognition of many lower case letters
  • Knows most phonemic correspondences (i.e.’M’ makes an “mmmmm” sound)
  • She can spell and write her first name
  • A lot of basic biology (seeds, seedpods, some kinds of trees, many kinds of flowers, how to plant seeds, etc.)
  • Cardinal directions (North, South, East, West) and she can correctly recognize them in our house

 

So long old friend

I had to bid farewell to my well loved Trek 800 this week.  The loss was a rather sudden one. My rack came unbolted and wedged itself in my rear wheel, binding itself in a few spokes as I was leaving the local food co-op with a rack full of groceries–including a couple gallons of milk.  On the hottest day of the year.  Since any point in town where I go is less than 5 miles from home, I almost never carry a repair kit.  So, I chain my bike back up and lug the groceries home before the 90+ degree air turns the milk to cheese (or worse).

I *should* have immediately returned with the car and retrieved my bike, but for various reasons that didn’t happen.  So the next morning I head out with toolkit in hand to unwedge the rack from the wheel and let it wobble home beside me–it was time for a tune-up anyway.

As I approach the rack, I am at a loss for words.  The bike isn’t there.  This is in front of our food co-op, across the street from the police and fire station.  Just gone.  Unable to cope I jog home.  Angie later called around to make sure the co-op or the police hadn’t removed it.  No such luck. However a couple other bikes were stolen that night, including one belonging to an employee.  This was before the store closed at ten.

So…I find myself researching bikes.  There’s a dizzying array out there.  Do I buy new or pick up a refurb from the local bike shop?  What style do I get?

 

Another Dose of Perspective

I tend to be a bit hard on myself. I get frustrated when I don’t meet my own lofty goals. Every so often, I get a much needed dose of perspective.

Right now I’m frustrated that 9 months after we moved into our house it’s still a disorganized mess. That means that it can get wrecked FAST. (Having a 3 year old helps, of course).

On the other hand, friends who have done a large remodel themselves have commented that they can’t believe how clean and put-together our house is. Uhm, really? Are you looking at the same house I am? Sure we maintain a basic level of cleanliness and neatness so the kid’s don’t get hurt or break things but… really?

Then it hit me. Oh, right, we’re living in a construction zone and have two small children.

Thanks. I needed that.

What we’re reading….

Angie:

I’m still nursing a sore back, so I’ve had plenty of time to read.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character is a fascinating and fast read. The author argues that our culture focuses on IQ as the sole determinant of success in school and life. He gives good evidence that character (a.k.a. personality (a.k.a. non-cognitive skills)) have an important role in children’s success and that these skills can be taught. I just wish there were a bit more “how-to” in addition to all this theory.

 

I’m also reading The Highly Sensitive Child which is a fascinating but longer read. The author’s description of a “highly sensitive child” fits Julie very well. “Uncanny” would be a good descriptor. Not surprisingly, it sounds a lot like our childhoods, too.

 

 

I’ve also been researching cycling and, especially, cycling with kids. Cycling has become one of our favorite modes of transportation. We started Julie when she was 1. Emi was just cleared by her pediatrician for regular cycling but our bike trailer was not designed with under 1yo’s in mind. I’ve been researching options for cycling with kids, especially little kids. It takes some digging, but you can find good information. Of course, some ideas are better than others.

 Julie (selected):

 Maple Syrup Season is lovely and reminds me of our time in the ill-fated Prairie Sugar Collective.

 

 

We’re working our way through the Yoko Series by Rosemary Wells. The latest installment is Yoko Learns to Read which is A) well-written and B) appropriate given that Julie is making good progress on early reading skills.

 

 

We have also been reading Thomas the tank Engine books (that obsession is still going strong) and oh. so. many. Pooh books. Pooh was her first love and transcends time and Thomas, so there you go.

Homeschool – Feeling Daunted

Matt and I have been talking about homeschooling for a long time. Now that Julie is 3 and school is on the horizon, it’s time to put our proverbial money where our proverbial mouth is. Proverbially.

Cue heart attack.

Like all good nerds, I dove right into a pile of library books. Reading all those books was simultaneously comforting (Wow, I’m practically homeschooling already!) and terrifying (I have no idea how to do a literary analysis. What is the state capital of Wyoming? I know nothing about history. Ack!). I may not be having a heart attack but I am still daunted. Very daunted.

If ever we are going to try, now is the time, though. Preschool is easy in many regards – no state requirements to meet, I’m comfortable with all the material to be covered, and it’s easy to bow out if it doesn’t work. Plus, we want to try before Julie gets too entrenched in the school-is-a-place-you-go idea. This year she went to a 2 morning a week preschool for 2-3 year olds. She loved going and had a wonderful teacher but we still feel that homeschooling may be a better option long-term. So here I go down the rabbit hole.

Renovation: Part 1 – The Before

When we bought our house in August 2012, we knew it needed work. The decor had gone from dated to disaster. The main bathroom toilet had a water leak. The windows were painted shut. The electrical box was a rat’s nest.

Iphone backup 12 18 2012 2445

Exhibit A: Bathroom needs help.

I could keep going.

Iphone backup 12 18 2012 2930

Exhibit B: Ugly, ginormous vanity and mirrors. Also, that carpet used to be yellow. Yeeeeaaaaaaahhhhh.

Largely the work was within our capabilities, though, and the price was low enough that we could afford the repairs. The space had a good feel and lots of natural light, too.

Iphone backup 12 18 2012 2783

Exhibit C: Shag carpet and brass accents = no. Loads of natural light = yes.

More importantly it was in our price range, in our target area, and had a big yard suitable for gardens and other endeavors. It was the ONLY house that fit those guidelines, so we snatched it up. I was 6 months pregnant when we took possession.

 

 

 

Not putting life on hold

459925_10201110988834834_48560548_oA few years ago we made the decision that we would not put our lives on hold. At the time I was in grad school and working a lot of hours. Fitting in anything more than basic sustenance and, occasionally, sleep just didn’t seem doable. But we hated feeling like we were spinning our wheels waiting for life to begin.  So we continued to pursue interests even though we didn’t have the forever homestead and even when we had a million other things to do.

Lately, though it has felt like our lives are a treadmill set to “Olympic Sprinter” and we’re just trying to keep up.  The past year has been especially crazy. We spent last summer making trip after trip. We literally spent as much time in Illinois as Kentucky. In August we took possession of our new-to-us house. I don’t want to say it was a fixer-upper but there was a backlog of delayed maintenance a mile long and it had crossed the line from out-of-style-decor to that’s-the-color-the-carpet-used-to-be?!?!?!  Oh, and I was 6 months pregnant. Renovation was a top priority.

903501_10201029931008439_265644018_oMatt’s job got a bit better once he was in the state but we were thrilled when he was offered another job. Not so thrilled with the timing – half a month before we greeted our second daughter, Emi (a.k.a Miss Pumpkin (a.k.a. Tub-a-lub)).

Despite all this, we aren’t putting the urban homestead on hold. We have gardens going in. We also have 4 adolescent chickens in the basement. Last night we watched a fire dance in the fireplace, drank homemade beer, and discussed life, liberty, and chicken coop construction. It’s not a homestead in the country but we aren’t spinning our wheels either.

What we’re reading….

Angie:

I’m laid up with a strained back again. I’m spending the time binging on blogs. Most notably:

I’ve also been researching homeschooling legislation with many tabs open for that.

Lastly, to add some fluff to the mix I’m up to the Civil War in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

 

 

 

 

 

Julie:

Julie has been on a Thomas  the Train kick. We have checked out every Thomas book at the library at least once.

 

 

 

She also loved Perfect Soup.

 

 

 

On Top of Spaghetti inspired us make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner one night and Yoko inspired us to dust off our bamboo mat with great results.

 

 

Noodles Knitting was another favorite and lead to Julie asking to have her knitting needles and yarn. A few days of sticking oversized knitting needles into a scraggly ball of scrap yarn ensued.

 

 

 

Lastly, Arthur’s Fire Drill was read many, many times.

A Year Later

A year ago when I wrote my last post we:

Iphone backup 12 18 2012 2997

  • were a family of three
  • had just moved to our home state of Kentucky
  • were actively looking for land for our homestead
  • were both working from home
  • had a plan and were figuring out how to put it in action

 

 

 

 

Now we:

photo(4)

  • are a family of four
  • are back living in Illinois
  • own a house in the suburbs
  • are back to Matt working in an office but with a new job

What happened? What happened to the plan – a homestead in the country, both of us working from home with flexible hours, a hand-built home?

The flippant answer is “life”. The less-flippant answer is “it’s complicated”.

 

 

Several things made Kentucky not workable.

  • Matt’s work situation became frustratingly difficult. Frequent travel back to the flatlands helped but wasn’t a permanent fix. And we traveled a lot.
  • We explored other work options but they didn’t work out. Jobs could be had in the city for much less pay and longer hours. We wouldn’t be able to afford a homestead and, unless we wanted Matt commuting 2-3 hours a day, we couldn’t live in the country anyway.
  • We had some savings – enough to buy a small plot if we looked hard for a deal – but that would leave nothing to finance building. We could take a loan on land and use savings to build but couldn’t afford rent and a land loan at the same time.
  • Internet access is a must for both our jobs. In most of the places we were looking, satelite was the only option but is prohibitively expensive and not fast enough for Matt’s work.
  • The land we could find and afford wasn’t suited to our purposes anyway. Sheer cliffs don’t make good home sites.
  • My worst fear about living in the country – social isolation – came true.  Other than our best friends (who lived across the street) we weren’t close enough to visit any of our friends. We still know a lot of people in Kentucky but they are either in the city (where we don’t want to live) or scattered to the winds. Having small kids and spending time on things like gardening means we can’t jump in the car and drive an hour+ to visit friends all that often.
  • Any location we would choose would be far away from amenities. That made the social isolation worse and also meant we spent a lot of time in the car.
  • We also found out that our best friends are probably going to be leaving the area in a few years which means the little bit of community we had was going to go away.

We made the very hard decision to move back to the Silicon Prairie. Instead of throwing money away at renting, we decided to buy a house so we could at least pursue urban homesteading. We told ourselves it was temporary. That we would regroup and try again in a few years but it was hard not to feel like the dream had died and we had ended up with almost exactly what we didn’t want.  Between the grieving and just trying to keep up with the treadmill that is our lives, time slipped away. Now we’re starting to emerge on the other side and see some light.

Oh yeah, and we had a cute baby too.

photo(3)

Kids in Church

This blog post has me reflecting on the place of children in the Orthodox church and our choices as parents. In the Orthodox church children typically attend services with adults. There may be a cry room for the inevitable temper tantrums, diaper changes, and boisterous outbreaks, but there is no nursery. Parents are encouraged to take care of their child’s needs and return to the services.

As a parent, I know how hard this can be. We have inconsolable infants in church. We have had to carry out a screaming toddler on more than one occasion. We have had to chase down a toddler intent on checking out the alter – at top speed. We have had to hush her when she got too loud and calm her when she just could. NOT. sit still any longer.

Many parents bring an emergency stash of toys or crayons to keep their kids occupied. We have largely resisted this temptation (tempting, though it may be). Why? Well, there are many reasons. For starters, our experience is that a child can make distracting noise with pretty much anything. Crayons can be poured out onto the pew at a quiet moment. (Been there, done that. Repeatedly.) Plus, having toys sends the message that this is play time which makes it harder to convince her that she needs to be quiet.

However, one of our main reasons for limiting toys (and having kids in church more generally) is that if she is completely absorbed with toys or other distractions, that means she is not absorbing anything from the church service going on around her. Or rather, it means we are not making the effort to involve her in the service. We’ve developed a whole arsenal of toddler-management strategies for when she can no longer keep herself occupied and quiet.

  • We can point out and discuss what’s going on the services. (“Oh look. Father has the censer with the bells. Can you hear them?”)
  • We can discuss the icons. (“Who is sitting on that donkey?” “Mar-wee and a baby!” “What’s the baby’s name?” “Jesush!”)
  • On a particularly bad day, we can take a tour of the icons in the back of the church. We name each icon and given them a kiss.
  • We can “read” the service books (i.e. look at the pictures).
  • We can join in with an “AMEN” or by making a cross.

These moments may only account for 5 minutes of a whole service (more on a bad day) but a lot of learning happens then. All of which is enforced at home with prayers and books. Julie knows the name of some saints and can recognize them in icons (Jesus, Mary, Joseph, St. Julianna). She is beginning to learn some prayers – she can cross herself (not well but we’re getting there) and join in with an unprompted “Amen” or a “Fa-der, Son, Ho-wee Spiwit”. And since we sing at home (a LOT) she also knows some church music by heart. She can sing all of “Christ is risen from the dead” and “Thy resurrection oh Christ” as well as “Jesus loves me”, “Zacheaus”, “Away in a manger”, and others. We often find her singing or reciting prayers as she plays by herself at home.

Does she understand all the words? Or the greater theological implications of the hymnography? Or any of it, really? Not in the least! But it’s still very, very valuable because she is learning the vocabulary that will be the building blocks of that knowledge. Much more importantly, she is learning to participate (with joy) in the life of the church. She is learning who these people are and how they are a part of her life. Many saints did not have the “book-learning” we take for granted in the modern church but every single one of them had these building blocks – they loved God and His church.

It’s not easy, though. I rarely get to attend to the whole service. Even when Julie is occupying herself (usually “reading” a service book or such) I am distracted keeping an eye on her. She has bad days and even bad months. Toddlers test limits, find out if the rules still apply. (Moving to a new parish gave us a really rough couple of months.) We do let her bring her favoritest stuffed animal to church. Some days she reads to him from the service book or makes him cross himself and say prayers – other days she swings him around by the arm, hitting people. And we are just now seeing these benefits. In the long run it pays off, though – some now and a LOT later on.