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Today was Simon’s last day of homeschool preschool.  Our preschool year has been a great success.  He has enjoyed read-aloud time and Montessori activities, made various art projects, learned basic French vocabulary, and started building a foundation of literacy and numeracy skills.  For me, it feels good to finish a year of homeschooling on time for the first time (because of the disruptions of moving, Peter’s grade 3 year got extended into the summer, and he returned to public school in March of his grade 4 year).

We had a family end-of-the-year celebration.  I put up streamers–they’re festive and cheap.  Every week, we did an art project making an animal whose name starts with the letter of the week.  Not all of the animals are still in existence, but those who are were all invited to the party.  Another weekly project was cutting out uppercase and lowercase letters from paper plates and decorating them.  I saved all the letters and we laid them all out in alphabetical order to review them.  We ate alphabet noodles.  We also had mini marshmallows in paper cups.  Each cup had a different number of marshmallows in it.  Before eating the marshmallows, you had to use pretzel sticks to make tally marks (which we’ve been using in our math lessons) to show how many marshmallows were in the cup.  Then you got to eat the marshmallows and the pretzel sticks.  It was nice to celebrate by highlighting some of the things Simon has learned.

Preschool animals

Simon’s animal friends

End of alphabet

The end of our paper plate alphabet–X-ray X, yellow yarn Y, and zig-zag Z

I am looking ahead to next school year, which we are calling junior kindergarten (that’s what it’s called in Ontario–kids there have two years of kindergarten, starting at age 4), with mixed feelings.  I am a little sad that Simon doesn’t have the opportunity to go to a French-language school like Peter did at that age; I am doing activities with him to help him learn French but I don’t expect him to develop the fluency that Peter has because he won’t have as much exposure to the language.  On the other hand, school was not a completely positive experience for Peter at that age, so I am glad to spare Simon some of those stresses.  I am excited about being able to continue homeschooling him; it’s so rewarding to see him learn.  The plans I have for next year are similar to those I had for this year, so enjoyable, quality educational experiences should be in store.  Finally, I am also nervous about how homeschooling is going to go with a baby in the house.  I remember how exhausting the early months with a baby are, and how much work babies are, so I expect homeschooling to be more challenging.  However, like preschool, junior kindergarten is not super-demanding, so I trust that we’ll be able to make it through.  This year was a success in large part because of the flexible way I scheduled it, and I suspect that my flexible scheduling will be even more important next year.  For now, though, it’s time to get into summer vacation mode and get ready for this baby (due in two months).

 

Of course, as soon as I got around to posting some reflections, I realized that I missed others.

My brain works just as fast as ever, though my body has slowed down considerably. This can be frustrating, because I notice and think about the things I should be doing, but I just don’t have the energy to do them all.

Another of the annoyances of pregnancy is dealing with maternity clothes. Maternity clothes can be very expensive, you only wear them for a relatively short time, and the way they fit keeps changing. I suppose if I had a huge budget for them, I might have a selection of clothes that I was happier with, but that’s not me, especially as I expect this to be my last baby. When I was pregnant with Simon and working as a teacher, I spent some money to develop a reasonably professional-looking maternity wardrobe. I still have most of those clothes–the majority bought second-hand and a few things I bought new. One of Don’s colleagues had a baby in the fall and then passed on her maternity clothes to me, which was a nice surprise. Not everything fits me well or is exactly my style (which is true of all my maternity clothes), but at least it gives me more options. To me, wearing maternity clothes is sort of an exercise in humility, not getting too attached to things like clothes and appearances. As long as I have clothes that sort of fit and cover my body, I shouldn’t really complain. Plus I get to reflect on the temporary-ness of my situation; I don’t have to wear these clothes forever. How wonderful it will be when I can wear my own, normal clothes again!

Having gained so much weight in a relatively short period of time, I can feel the strain in my legs and feet. It gives me an appreciation for some of the physical stresses caused by obesity.

A final reflection is on the weirdness of having another living being inside of me. As you might imagine if you haven’t experienced it, it is strange (and sometimes uncomfortable) to feel the baby moving inside. Even stranger, though, is watching my belly distend and move around as the baby moves. Sometimes a hard lump sticks out and I wonder what body part it is.

Here I am, at the beginning of the third trimester.  Unfortunately, I feel like it’s going to be a long three months until I meet this baby.  I’m already physically uncomfortable much of the time, and it’s not going to get better any time soon.  Do a Google image search for “primitive fertility goddess” and that’s what my body looks like–huge breasts and bulging belly.  Getting up from a sitting position or putting on socks is a challenge.  Sleeping requires a precise arrangement of seven pillows of various shapes and sizes in order to be reasonably comfortable.  I’m looking forward to starting the month of May tomorrow.  I know it’s only one day from today, but July doesn’t seem quite as far away from May as it does from April.

Pregnancy makes me appreciate the power of biology.  My body is going through all these changes and doing all the things it needs to do to grow a new human being, and it’s doing it all on its own.  The baby is growing from a ball of cells into a full-fledged human being.  Its body knows what to do.  All I’m really doing to help is taking prenatal vitamins and vitamin D and iron supplements, as recommended by my midwife.  I couldn’t consciously, intentionally grow a baby, but biology knows what to do and is taking care of it.

 

I wrote a fairly extensive post on homeschooling for preschool back in 2009.  An even more extensive comment that was made on my post a couple months ago brought it back to my attention.  It was interesting to re-read my post six years later and see how my approach to homeschooling for preschool has evolved.

My overall approach to literacy education is very similar.  I still swear by Diane McGuinness’ book Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It.  I am still using The Phonics Handbook by Sue Lloyd.  This time around, I am photocopying the page for each letter and having Simon color it, since he doesn’t mind coloring (Peter really disliked it).  We’re doing slightly different practice activities, such as tracing Montessori sandpaper letters and playing Go Fish and memory/matching games with index cards that I wrote the letters on.  One thing I am doing differently this time is teaching uppercase and lowercase letters together; with Peter, I focused on lowercase letters, but then when he started reading he had to go through a period of learning which uppercase letters corresponded with which lowercase letters.  I’m taking it slow on introducing letters/sounds, going at a pace of one a week, in the order that they are presented in the Jolly Phonics program.  This gives us time to do the Jolly Phonics story/action/coloring page and two art projects per letter, and it’s not an overwhelming pace for Simon, who was 3 1/2 when we started.  Because we took several weeks off here and there, we’re about halfway done with the alphabet (I know there are more sounds than letters, but I’m focusing on the most common sound associated with each letter for now, and we’ll get to digraphs and alternate pronunciations later).  We practice segmenting and blending orally a couple times a week; Simon can identify the first sound in a word pretty reliably, but has trouble with the last (or any other) sound, and he doesn’t have the hang of blending yet.  It will come.

I have added the book Alphabet Art by Judy Press.  Even though I don’t do the rhymes and fingerplays in the book because they focus on letter names instead of sounds, this book has still been a great resource.  Every letter has an art project to make the capital and lowercase letter out of cut and decorated paper plates; for example, M has macaroni glued on and S is “silver” (wrapped in aluminum foil).  Each letter also has an art project to make an animal that starts with that letter.  I have been impressed that all of the projects have been relatively simple and use inexpensive materials that I mostly already have around the house, like yarn, paper bags, aluminum foil, paper muffin cups, and pipe cleaners.  Simon is getting good fine motor skills practice cutting the letters out of paper plates and doing the gluing, etc.  It’s good exposure to the letter shapes, and he enjoys playing with the various animals that we’ve made.  For me, it’s been motivating to have appropriately-scaled art projects all planned out; I always felt like I should be doing more creative stuff but didn’t have the energy to plan it.

I chuckled when I read that I had written, “I’ve had a hard time finding decent simple phonics readers at a reasonable price.”  I really struggled to find appropriate very-beginning phonics books; most “phonics” books use too many irregular/more advanced words, and most have very little text and rather dull stories.  I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found Little Stories for Little Folks.  For less than $1 per story booklet, the forty-five stories in this program progress from extremely simple (only two short vowel sounds are used in the first story) to what is easily second-grade-level text.  They are broken up into four levels; when Peter went through them, we had a family celebration with ice cream every time he finished a level.  They don’t dovetail perfectly with Jolly Phonics; that’s why I’m skipping digraphs like “ch” and just teaching Simon the most common sound for each letter.  Little Stories for Little Folks develops basic reading fluency before introducing digraphs and other more complicated phonics. I found them a great value, and they helped Peter become a very strong reader (at the beginning of this school year, in 5th grade, he tested at a high school reading level).  Note that Little Stories for Little Folks is an unapologetically Catholic program.  If you’re not Christian, then you might not be comfortable with the content.  If you’re a non-Catholic Christian, you might be okay with using it, knowing that you would have to explain a few Catholic vocabulary words and/or concepts (such as the rosary and the fact that priests are called “Father”).  As an aside, the person who commented on my previous post made me aware of these free phonics readers based on the Jolly Phonics program.  They look like a wonderful resource.  I don’t plan to use them for Simon, however, because I want him to learn to read from paper, not from a screen (I know they can be printed, but that would be an extra expense).  I already have Little Stories for Little Folks and I like it, so I will use it again.

Math is the area that I’m doing completely differently with Simon than I did with Peter.  I started Peter in Saxon Math K, then we did some Singapore Earlybird math, and then I came across an incredible program called RightStart Math.  This program is hands-on, very visual, and focuses on building mathematical concepts; I wish I had learned math this way.  Because Peter had already done two years of kindergarten math before I found RightStart, I started him in RightStart level B.  With Simon, I’m skipping the other programs and starting him in RightStart level A.  Level A is technically a kindergarten program, and we started when Simon was 3 1/2, but I am taking it very slowly for now and he is keeping up (Peter did Saxon Math K full-speed starting at age 3 1/2, but I also think Saxon Math K was less intellectually challenging).  We have been doing one lesson a week, repeating so that we’re doing the same lesson two weeks in a row.

Read-aloud is still a big part of homeschool preschool.  We’ve mostly been reading picture books from the library, but we have recently started on some of the books from Sonlight’s pre-kindergarten list.  Simon was enchanted by the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories and is now enjoying the Uncle Wiggly stories.  I love how older children’s books have sweet, innocent stories and rich vocabulary; they are so different from modern books written for children.

When I was homeschooling Peter for preschool, I was actually afterschooling him.  I was working full-time and Peter attended a center-based preschool part-time while my husband was in school.  This time around, Simon is home with me full-time.  I am making an effort to do things with him (like crafts) that I didn’t do with Peter because I figured that the preschool Peter went to would pick up the slack.  Every month I print out a blank calendar and put it on the fridge.  Every day, Simon and I color the day’s square following a pattern (this month, it’s orange-orange-blue-blue).  We have our Montessori room and we do Montessori activities a couple times a week.  I feel like we should do Montessori more often and I would if Simon were more independent, but he always wants me in the room with him, usually wants to talk to me about what he’s doing, and often wants me to do it with him.  It’s a great learning experience for him, but it means I get nothing else done for an hour or more, and I can’t always afford that.  I try to incorporate some French into every day, whether it’s responding to him in French, playing a game, discussing a book, or just watching tv.  In addition to our weekly grocery shopping trip on Mondays, we have been going ice skating on Wednesdays, sometimes to story/craft time at the library on Thursdays, and to gymnastics lessons on Fridays.  Of course, other things pop up here and there too, like taking Peter to the dentist.  I try to have at least one day a week where we don’t leave home; those are the days that I get (sort of) caught up on housework.

I’ve deliberately taken a flexible approach to scheduling this year and it has been going well.  I suspect that next year will be more challenging, with the addition of a baby to the household, but if I remain flexible and focus on what’s most important, I think we can make it work.

Lego special dinner

Last year, my only resolution was to try to have a special themed dinner once month.  We had a winter-themed dinner in January, a Valentine’s dinner in February, a St. Patrick’s/green-themed dinner in March, a totally tubular dinner in April, and a Victoria Day dinner in May.

June was busy with the end of the school year and travelling; near the end of the month, I hadn’t settled on a theme, and then we got crazy busy preparing to host about 50 people for a Canada Day party on July 1st.  So even though it wasn’t technically in June, I decided that our Canada Day party was our June special dinner.  We had Canadian flag decorations on our fence, in the yard, and on the house.  I made tourtières (meat pies), tartes à sucre (sugar pies), and Nanaimo bars.  We had traveled to Canada in June and brought back with us butter tarts and potato chips–ketchup, all-dressed, and poutine flavours.  Of course, we had Canadian beer for those of age (we also had pop and juice).  We grilled burgers and brats and our guests came with potluck food, so we had quite a feast.

In July, we had a Lego-themed dinner.  I don’t have pictures of everything, but we started with rectangular crackers with little circles of cheese on them (to resemble Lego bricks).  I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut them into rectangles, and did the same thing with little circles of sandwich.  I wrapped juice boxes with construction paper and glued cardboard circles with construction paper circles on top of them onto the sides of the juice boxes.  I made sugar cookies which were supposed be be rectangular, and Simon and I decorated them with M&M’s to try to make them look like Legos (I’m sure you can tell in the picture which ones I decorated and which ones Simon decorated).  We had popcorn in yellow paper cups that I drew Lego-style faces on.  For a decoration, I put some yellow paint in a small glass jar with a lid, shook it up to cover the inside of the glass, and drew Lego faces on it.  (Many thanks to the internet and people who shared their kids’ Lego-themed birthday parties for giving me inspiration.)  Here are some pictures:

After July, I never put together another special dinner.  They were fun, but too much work for me to do every month.  I’ve been meaning to post about our Lego special dinner since it happened, and I didn’t even get around to doing that until almost six months later.  I’m not making any year-long resolutions for this year, but I did resolve to at least get this post up to sort of finish up last year’s resolution.

Facing 2016

It’s a new year.  I’m not crazy enough to try to make any New Year’s resolutions for this year.  I’m expecting a baby in July, and I know better than to try to be ambitious while being pregnant for half the year and taking care of a baby for the other half.  I struggle enough trying to keep up with things now, and I don’t expect it to get any easier this year.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can be a good homemaker or I can be a good mom, but I can’t be both at the same time, at least not in this stage of life (as a stay-at-home mom with an almost-4-year-old).  Being a mom takes precedence, so I settle for trying to be a “good enough” homemaker.  Everyone in the household eats regularly, has access to healthy food (whether or not they actually eat it), has clean dishes to eat off of (though there may be an unsightly collection of dirty pots and pans on the counter), has clean clothes that mostly fit (even though they might be in a laundry basket, waiting to be folded and put away), and goes in for doctor/dentist/optometrist appointments as necessary.  The kitchen floor may be littered with crumbs, the living room floor may be covered with toys and books, and both boys’ bedroom floors may be covered with Legos, but I just can’t do it all.  My kids have appropriate academic and recreational opportunities (doing this for Simon takes a lot of my time during the week when I might otherwise be cleaning) and get a fair amount of parental attention and guidance (which they don’t always appreciate, but someday they’ll thank us).  On the whole, although I always have many things that I could/should be doing, I keep up with the most important things.  That’s as much as I can expect from myself for now.  And so, in 2016, that’s all I’m going to try to do.

For years before my trip, I felt called to go to Haiti.  Before I left and during my stay, I prayed that I would see or feel or experience whatever it was that I was being called to Haiti for.  I can’t say with certainty what it was, but there were three things that struck me while I was there:

The first was how lovable the kids were.  If it weren’t for the expense and the long, unpredictable timeline for international adoptions from Haiti (some families have been waiting for three years AFTER being matched with a child, knowing who their child is and that their child is growing up in an orphanage), I would be all for adding one or more Haitian kids to our family.

The second was a feeling of confidence that I will return to Haiti, that my relationship with Haiti is not over yet.  I don’t know when or under what circumstances I’ll be back, but I am sure that I will return.

Finally, I was touched by how much the older children (older than toddler age), in particular, were affected by living in an orphanage.  I saw how much the children craved individual attention and how they sought attention from strangers.  I could see how much they would benefit from the love, attention, and security of a family.  I also felt the pain of the many losses in their lives.

On my way home, I had a hard time with the juxtaposition of the extreme poverty I saw in Haiti and the wasteful excesses in America.  A billboard in Fort Lauderdale advertised a Maserti lease for $699/month.  Do you know how many Haitian families you could feed for that sum?  Do you know how many Haitians don’t make that much money in a year?  While I was sitting in an airport, I saw a commercial for an airbrush make-up tool.  I reflected that make-up and expensive cars were all about appearances.  Why do we put so much emphasis on appearance, rather than substance?

A year after I left COTP, the cute little girl that I didn’t get to push in the stroller on Tuesday morning has gone back to her family.  Mr. Smiley has gone back to his family.  The twins that I mentioned went back to their family.  There were actually two sets of twins there; the set that I didn’t mention is still living there.  The girl who was the first child I met at COTP is still there.  She is waiting for all the bureaucracy to wrap up so she can go home with her adoptive family.  The same is true for my other favorite girl.  The little boy who had recently been admitted, the one who was so weak he couldn’t always hold up his head, is still there.  The baby girl who stayed with us in the volunteer house because she was sick is still there.  The girl with special needs who smiled instead of sucking on her bottle is still there.  The boy with spina bifida is still there and, at least as of September, has not yet been chosen by an adoptive family.  Of all the kids there, my heart hurts for him the most.  I can see how much potential he has to grow and develop, given the love and resources of a family, but even if he is chosen soon (which is unlikely), it may be two years or more before he goes home with a family.

I wish I could share pictures of the beautiful children with you, but COTP’s policies do not allow me to post pictures of the children online.  (I can share them privately.)  However, you can see pictures of all the children currently in their care on their website.

I also encourage you to read this blog post that COTP shared in August: A Story About a Boy

I’m sorry that I didn’t include photos in my posts.  I know that would have been more interesting, but it was enough work as it was to keep up with writing the posts (almost) every day.  Without further ado, here are a few pictures from my trip:

View out the airplane window as I was arriving in Haiti

View out the airplane window as I was arriving in Haiti.

A street scene in Cap Haïtien. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer)

A street scene in Cap Haïtien. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer)

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Haitian countryside near COTP. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer when we went on our Sunday evening walk)

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Entrance gate to COTP.

My Haitian lunch on Saturday.

My Haitian lunch on Saturday.

Tarantula on the outside of the window in the volunteer house. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer--she got a better picture than I did)

Tarantula on the outside of the window in the volunteer house. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer–she got a better picture than I did)

The mango tree in the central courtyard. I sometimes sat under the tree holding a child.

The mango tree in the central courtyard. I sometimes sat under the tree holding a child.

A taxi boat that we did not take because we drove on the crazy road over the mountain instead.

A taxi boat that we did not take because we drove on the crazy road over the mountain instead.  The boat’s name, “Merci Dieu”, means “Thank you, God.”

A view of the little beach resort we went to.

A view of the little beach resort we went to.

The picture shows the stone staircase we walked down to reach the resort from where we parked, a comforting

This picture shows the stone staircase we walked down to reach the resort from where we parked, a comforting “No Handguns” sign, and the sandy beach that was right there.

My view as I sat on the beach.

My view as I sat on the beach.

Another view from the beach.

Another view from the beach.

My bed, after I got a mosquito net.

My bed, after I got a mosquito net.

The canopied area where I often hung out with the kids (picture taken in early morning before the kids were out).

The canopied area where I often hung out with the kids (picture taken in early morning before the kids were out).

Swings next to the canopied area.

Swings next to the canopied area.

Canopied area where all the laundry is washed by hand (including cloth diapers).

Canopied area where all the laundry is washed by hand (including cloth diapers).  You can see laundry hung to dry on the clotheslines behind and on the fence.

The building that I stayed in. The volunteer house was the lower floor. (The volunteers have since been relocated and children now live in that space.) The trench wasn't there for most of my stay, but I didn't get a picture of the building before they started doing a major construction project.

The building that I stayed in. The volunteer house was the lower floor. (The volunteers have since been relocated and children now live in that space.) You can see the mango tree just outside.  The trench wasn’t there for most of my stay, but I didn’t get a picture of the building before they started doing a major construction project.

This cup in the volunteer house cracked me up.

This cup in the volunteer house cracked me up.

A goat. Because no photo collection from Haiti would be complete without a picture of a goat.

A goat. Because no photo collection from Haiti would be complete without a picture of a goat.

And finally, a picture taken out the back of the pick-up truck as I was leaving. You can see the huge puddles in the road from the rain. The sort of squared-off shape on top of the mountain a little to the right of center is the Citadelle Laferrière.

And finally, a picture taken out the back of the pick-up truck as I was leaving. You can see the huge puddles in the road from the rain. The sort of squared-off shape on top of the mountain a little to the right of the tall mountain is the Citadelle Laferrière.

We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names.  They are easier to ignore before you see their faces.  It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms.  But once you do, everything changes.  (David Platt)

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