Growing Brains

This month has been so busy!  Homeschooling, taking care of Clara, and trying to keep up with the housework keep me occupied all day during the week, plus we had numerous one-time events, like a social worker visit and another blood draw to check how Amina is doing on her new medication.  On top of that, Don has been out of town three of the four weekends since school started, so I haven’t had much of a break on the weekends.  In all this busyness, Amina is learning so much every day.

She’s been home for less than three months and her English is improving rapidly.  While her grammar isn’t standard yet, she makes good use of the vocabulary she’s learned to communicate.  Here’s a sample of things she has said recently to give you a sense of her productive language skills:  “Simon, this game.  Don’t sad” (when Simon lost a game they were playing on the Wii and was getting upset.)  “Simon, are you wash your hands?  I not listen water, so you don’t wash your hands.”  “This go inna fridge, Mom?”  “Sarah like it basketball.”  “Do you want to bubbles?”

Academically, she’s making progress.  With one-on-one lessons, she can’t copy answers from her friends to get by (which she recently confessed she used to do at her school in Ukraine).  Simon just passed the third level of Little Stories for Little Folks (our reading program) and per family tradition, got to choose a flavor of ice cream to celebrate.  Now Amina has her sights set on finishing level one so she can pick an ice cream flavor.  She also wants to do spelling lessons like Simon does, and I told her that she will start spelling lessons after she finishes level one in reading.

Amina’s math skills are improving.  I started her at first grade level on Khan Academy but she struggled with some addition and subtraction concepts (she didn’t fully grasp the relationship of parts and whole, and was totally lost trying to figure out a missing number in an equation like 4 + __ = 6 or __ – 3 = 7).  I decided to back up to kindergarten math while working on those concepts on the side.  Most of the kindergarten math was easy for her but there were some things she needed to learn, like English names for geometric shapes and phrases describing relative positions (above, below, in front of, behind, next to).  She did every activity, quiz, and unit test until she got 100% on everything; it was worth two weeks as she gained a solid kindergarten math foundation and a sense of accomplishment in finishing a level while improving her understanding of addition and subtraction.  She has now passed the activity that had caused her so much difficulty and is about halfway through first grade math.  It’s hard to see an 11-year-old struggling with concepts that my 6-year-old already understands, but I’m glad that Amina was adopted and is now getting a proper math education.  Otherwise, she likely would have grown to adulthood without an understanding of even elementary math.

At the beginning of the school year, Amina was very skeptical about science.  Now, however, I think it’s her favorite subject; she asks every day if we’re going to do science.  She’s doing first grade science with Simon, which is appropriate for her understanding of English and her understanding of the world.  When we set up a seed germination observation project and I asked her what she thought would happen to the bean seeds, she said, “I don’t know…fire?  dinosaur?”

These anecdotes might make her sound cognitively delayed and I don’t think she is.  I think it’s a combination of different educational methods used in Ukrainian schools (probably memorizing math facts by rote, not learning math conceptually) and lack of stimulation in her life at the orphanage (not a lot of one-on-one attention or having caregivers take the time to show her things and explain the world to her) that has resulted in her being so far behind.  She told me, “In [Ukraine], no science.  Just bored.”

In addition to academics, Amina is learning through extracurricular activities.  She is taking a cooking class, swimming lessons, and ice skating lessons through our local school district’s homeschool partnership program.  We are so lucky to have that program here!  Amina enjoys all three activities.  Every day, she checks the calendar and counts down how many days until her next class.

Even our ordinary family life is more stimulating than life in an orphanage: our conversations, the chores and activities we do at home, and the trips we take around town.  At the orphanage, Amina watched a lot of television to fill her time; our family doesn’t watch much tv.  She was lucky in that she lived in a small orphanage and walked to and from a regular school.  Many orphans in Ukraine are housed in boarding schools where they live and attend school in the same place and rarely leave the campus (the first girl we visited, before we met Amina, was in such an orphanage).  I believe that living in a small orphanage with dedicated, long-term staff members who cared about her and interacting with her wider community on a daily basis is why Amina’s social/emotional development is pretty much on target for her age, unlike most kids from institutional settings.

Amina seems aware of how much she is learning; the other night, she acted out for me how her brain is growing, growing, growing.  It’s rewarding to see how much she has learned already and I am looking forward to continued growth.



Ellie’s family found her!

I am excited to announce that “Ellie,” the little girl I wrote about in my last post, is being adopted!  I’m also happy to be able to share a more recent photo with you (one that I saw back in March when we were thinking of adopting her, but which hadn’t been online before, so I felt I should keep it private).

Ellie more recent

Thank you to all of you who prayed for Ellie to be chosen for adoption!  If you would like to support her new family, you can check out their Reece’s Rainbow family sponsorship page.

During the years that I waited to be able to adopt, one of the things I enjoyed doing in my free time was looking at photolistings of available children.  Looking at photolistings is one way of reminding myself how many children need families.  Seeing all the faces of waiting children helps personalize what could easily become an overwhelming set of statistics.

If you’re interested in seeing some beautiful faces (and maybe praying for the children, or considering whether you might be called to adopt one or more of them), here are a few sites to check out.

Most, if not all, states and provinces have photolistings of children in foster care who are waiting for families.  Some require you to register to see information about children, while others don’t.  Some allow you to search based on various criteria, such as age, sex, number of siblings, race, and level of disability.  My home state of Michigan has the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange; a quick internet search should direct you to the website for your state or province.  There is also a national photolisting site in the US with information on kids from many different states: AdoptUSKids.

For international adoption, one good site to check out is Rainbow Kids.  Another, if you are open to children with special needs, is Reece’s Rainbow.

Keep in mind that the majority of children who are placed for adoption, both from foster care and internationally, are never listed on photolistings.  Children from foster care are often adopted by their foster families, by relatives, or by families who have approval to adopt from foster care who were waiting for children with certain characteristics (age, etc).  For international adoption, there are many families waiting to adopt young children who are healthy or have minor special needs, so those children get matched quickly and never appear on photolistings.  To put it bluntly, the kids on photolistings are the kids that no one wants–yet.  They are being advertised in the hopes that someone will see them and something will click–something about the look in their eye, or their smile, or a detail of their story will catch someone’s attention and move them to consider the radical step of making a stranger part of their family.

If you want to adopt a healthy child under the age of 2, or 3, or 5, it can be done–but get in line, be prepared to wait, and be prepared for heartbreak if you foster young kids in the hopes of adopting and then it doesn’t happen.  If you can open your heart to an older child, or a sibling group, or a child with special needs, there’s a good chance that a child is already waiting for you–a child who might never have a family or might wait for years for another family to choose them if you don’t answer the call.

I’d like to share one special child in the hopes that her “forever family” might see her.  “Ellie” was one of the children we considered after we learned that “Valentine” had already been adopted.  When our facilitators inquired about her for us, they found out that her status had been changed and she wouldn’t be available for international adoption until the fall (our appointment was in March), so sadly, we had to cross her off our list.

Ellie is 5 years old (the picture is a little dated).  She is listed on Reece’s Rainbow and has a grant that is currently worth over $1100 to help with her adoption expenses.  If anyone is interested, please contact me–I have more information that I can share privately.


This year, I will be homeschooling three kids: Peter (grade 8), Amina (grade 5), and Simon (grade 1).  By age, Amina should probably be in grade 6, but I decided to call her grade 5 when I registered with the local school district’s homeschool partnership program to give her an extra year to catch up.  She was adopted from Ukraine and will have been home for just under two months when we start the school year; she’s not at a grade 5 level academically but is neurotypical and learning quickly.  In addition to those three kids, 2-year-old Clara is also with us, requiring time and attention.

Three years ago, I was home with just one kid during the day–Simon, who I was homeschooling for preschool while Peter went to public school for grade 5.  Two years ago, I had two kids with me–Simon and baby Clara, while Peter went to school for grade 6.  Last year, I had three kids home during the day–I started homeschooling Peter again.  This year, I will have four kids with me.  This pace is not sustainable, but I don’t intend for it to continue.

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Together Time:

Together Time worked well for us last year.  We learned songs and prayers.  We read Bible stories, poetry, and French comptines.  We started Song School Latin.

This year, with Amina’s limited knowledge of English, we’re going to keep it simple, as we have for summer lessons.  For now, we’re just doing a song, a prayer, and two pages in a book of poetry.  After we finish the poetry book in a few weeks, we’ll switch to a book of nursery rhymes.  Previously, we always did Together Time when Clara was napping, but since it’s so short now, I’m going to try doing it in the morning when she’s awake.  Then it will truly be Together Time!

Peter, grade 8:

History/geography/reading–Sonlight Core G (World History, Year 1 of 2).  We love Sonlight’s choices for historical fiction that bring history studies to life.  However, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to rewrite the schedule to replace the history spine with Catholic resources.  Instead of Story of the World, we’ll be using The Story of Civilization volume 1, then Light to the Nations, Part One.  I have six weeks of schedules ready to start the year, so as long as I can keep working fast enough that Peter doesn’t catch up to me, we’ll be okay.  Additionally, I’m planning to have him make a timeline using these timeline figures.

Art history/appreciation–Ever Ancient, Ever New Level 1.  This richly illustrated book is the first of two volumes that roughly correspond with our two-year world history sequence.  Peter isn’t big on making art, so we’re skipping the “art practice” assignments.

Literature/literary analysis–Peter took Rolling Acres School‘s primer-level online Great Books course for the second semester last year and got a lot out of it.  This year, he’s taking the Great Books 1 course, which focuses on the writings of the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans.  Additionally, he will be finishing the Essentials in Literature: Level 7 program that he started last year; he made it through the short story and non-fiction units, but still has the novel and poetry units left.  I’m happy with Essentials in Literature, but I don’t feel the need for him to do a full program every year when he gets plenty of exposure to literature and literary concepts through his Sonlight readings and Great Books course.

Writing–Last year, I was excited to try materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).  Overall, I would give our experience a B.  I was very impressed by IEW’s Teaching Writing: Structure and Style DVD teacher training course, but the theme-based writing course we used didn’t live up to my expectations.  We used an older edition of Following Narnia (now volume 1) that I bought used; perhaps the newer edition is better.  The workload varied considerably from lesson to lesson, but the manual just said that each lesson should take about a week, without giving any guidance on breaking up the assignments into daily tasks.  Additionally, there was much more emphasis on the non-inventive-type writing units, which seemed odd for a resource based on fantasy novels; Peter preferred the inventive writing assignments and complained about how few there were.  We only made it about two-thirds of the way through.  Still, he did learn a lot about the writing process and produced some quality writing.  This year, I’m giving IEW another try.  We’re going to do the Canadian History-Based Writing Lessons.  Just flipping through the student book and teacher manual, it appears to be better organized, with each lesson broken down into assignments for Day 1, Day 2, etc, so I am hopeful that it will go more smoothly this year.  It may seem odd to do Canadian history-based writing when Peter will be studying ancient history, but the Canadian history-based writing lessons are targeted towards grades 6-8, so I wanted to use them before he got too old for them, and I figured it would be good review (we studied American and Canadian history in grades 3 and 4).

Grammar–Last year, we tried IEW’s Fix-It Grammar: The Nose Tree.  I would give it a B-.  On the plus side, the assignments were short, Peter didn’t complain about doing them, and he was able to identify a good variety of grammatical elements (such as clausals and coordinating conjunctions) by the end of the year.  On the downside, he still had difficulty identifying the subject of a sentence and identifying words like “is” or “can” as verbs.  By virtue of the fact that the lessons are so short, the amount of practice for any specific concept is limited.  I decided to try something new this year–Basic Language Principles with Latin Background.  I figure it’s killing two birds with one stone–a back-to-basics coverage of English grammar combined with an introduction to Latin.  Plus, it’s only 50 lessons, so it’s not an overwhelming commitment.

Math–Life of Fred.  Life of Fred’s unorthodox approach to math instruction continues to be a good fit for Peter.  He didn’t make it quite as far as I hoped last year due to the disruption of the adoption, but he did make great progress.  He finished Fractions and is a few lessons into Decimals and Percents.  Once he finishes that up, he’ll continue with the Life of Fred Pre-Algebra books.

Science–I was very impressed with the earth science program by Novare Science and Math that we used last year.  In particular, I liked the weekly review guides and cumulative quizzes that asked questions about anything previously studied in the course, so that students couldn’t just forget what they’d learned after they’d finished a chapter and moved on to the next.  Peter was not thrilled by the almost-weekly quizzes, but they were definitely good for his learning.  Unfortunately, Novare does not yet have a biology program, and we decided to study biology this year.  After considerable research, I again decided to take the glutton-for-punishment approach by combining resources from Elemental Science’s Biology for the Rhetoric Stage and Kolbe Academy’s high school biology course and writing my own schedule.  It’s going to be an awesome biology course, as academically rigorous as Kolbe’s for about half the cost, but it does require more work on my part.  I have five weeks of the schedule written out so far, so like history, I just need to keep working on it quickly enough that I stay ahead of Peter.

Religion–Image of God: Grade 8A and 8B, the New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2, and parts of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  Image of God worked well for us last year, so we’re finishing up the series.  I was inspired by MODG’s 8th grade curriculum to add the other readings.

French–Peter went to a French-language school when we lived in Canada, so he’s not a typical American foreign-language student.  My goals are for him to maintain his knowledge of French (I have him doing a lot more with receptive language than productive, but I trust that the productive language would come back quickly if/when he needs it) and to start learning some formal grammar.  He will rotate through reading books/magazines in French, watching tv shows in French, and studying French grammar with French for Children Primer A.  When he finishes that (he made it about halfway through last year, but didn’t start until the second semester), he’ll move on to Primer B.

Current Events–Every other day, Peter is responsible for finding a news story that interests him, reading it, and telling me about it.  (He could also watch the news on tv, but he prefers to find stories online.)  He alternates between finding news stories in English and in French.  He enjoys finding stories about technology and science and often spends quite a bit of time reading related stories instead of moving on with his other work (which can be challenging–on the one hand, I’m glad he’s engaged in learning about his world, but on the other hand, I want him to get his other assignments done).

Logic–The Discovery of Deduction.  Last year, The Art of Argument was a big hit; Peter had a great time learning about logical fallacies.  I’m hoping that this introduction to formal logic, also from Classical Academic Press, will be equally successful.  However, like last year, I’m using funding from the local school district’s homeschool partnership program.  This hasn’t even been ordered yet, so I don’t know when Peter will be starting it.

Typing–I tried to have Peter learn to type when he was homeschooled in grades 3 and 4, but he didn’t make much progress.  It’s such a useful skill and he’s older now, so we’re trying again.  We’ll start with Typing.com and see how that goes.

Memory Work–Peter will continue memorizing poetry, which we started in the second semester of last year.  He has taken a liking to poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; he memorized “The Arrow and the Song” and was working on “The Village Blacksmith” when the school year ended.

Saxophone–Peter will be taking weekly saxophone lessons through the homeschool partnership program this year.  Although it doesn’t provide the same socialization opportunities, this makes life much easier for me than having to drive him to the middle school every day for him to participate in the 8th grade band.

Amina, grade 5:

My goals for the year are for Amina to develop her English-language skills, learn to read fluently in English, improve her math skills, and prepare for her baptism and First Communion.  Everything else is gravy.

ESL–In addition to some flashcards and PowerPoint presentations I made when I was a French teacher that I’ve adapted for teaching English rather than French, Amina has been learning through Duolingo‘s English for Ukrainian speakers course.  I plan to also use some of the resources from Voice of America’s Let’s Learn English program.

Reading–Little Stories for Little Folks.  I wrote about these wonderful little books previously, when I described Simon’s preschool curriculum.  I will also read aloud to Amina daily to help her bridge the gap between listening to people tell stories (which she enjoys) and reading books (which she doesn’t).  For now, I’m reading easy readers to her, because that’s her comprehension level, but I will move on to better literature as her English improves.  I hope that eventually she will be able to understand and enjoy the Sonlight read-aloud books that I read to Simon.

Math–Khan Academy.  Amina is currently working on 1st grade level math.  I chose to go with Khan Academy rather than a textbook because Khan Academy breaks math down into many different skills and she can spend as little or as much time as she needs to master each skill.  This will let her move at her own pace and will be more efficient than if I tried to go through textbooks with her, as well as being less work for me.  I will supplement with games and activities from RightStart Math; she already finds the abacus indispensable for addition problems.

Religion–The New St. Joseph First Communion Catechism.  We’re working our way through this slowly, using Google Translate to help.  Her memory work for the year will be memorizing some of the questions and answers.

Handwriting–StartWrite.  With a new alphabet to learn, Amina also has to learn handwriting.  I’m making practice worksheets for her using this software program.  We’re starting with printing and will move on to cursive later.

Spelling–All About Spelling.  I will add spelling lessons once she finishes level 1 of Little Stories for Little Folks.

Writing–I don’t plan to do any formal writing lessons with her for a while.  I will focus on giving her the basic tools of handwriting and spelling and learning English, so that she has a foundation for writing.  I may introduce journal-writing later in the year.

Cooking–The homeschool partnership program just happened to have a cooking class for Amina’s age at the same time as Peter will be doing his saxophone lessons, so I signed her up.

I plan to have Amina join in some of Simon’s lessons, more so as her English improves.  I expect her to join in some of his history and science lessons and perhaps art, though she doesn’t seem to care much for art.

Simon, grade 1:

History/geography/read-aloud–Sonlight Core B (Introduction to World History, Year 1 of 2).  I didn’t plan it on purpose, but Peter and Simon will both be starting two-year world history sequences, at their own levels.  I’m planning to start a timeline book with Simon, using the events from the Tour 2 history cards from Catholic Schoolhouse and other events from our Sonlight reading.

Reading–We’ll finish Little Stories for Little Folks (he’s currently in the middle of level 3, and there are four levels).  Then he’ll do Bigger Stories for Little Folks, then the Sonlight 2 Readers.

Writing–We will continue writing a journal, with me scribing for Simon to start the year and him taking over writing as the year goes on.  I also intend to use IEW’s Primary Arts of Language: Writing, but I haven’t prepped that yet.

Handwriting–Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level 1.  I considered making worksheets for Simon using the StartWrite software, but figured that for about 50 cents a week over the school year, it was worth just buying a handwriting book and saving myself the work.

Spelling–All About Spelling.  Simon has finished about seven lessons in Level 1.  He’ll continue at his own pace.

Math–Life of Fred: Butterflies and RightStart Math: Level B.  I intended to do Life of Fred: Apples and Butterflies (the two kindergarten books) over the summer as a fun way to practice math.  While Simon was thrilled with them, the busy-ness of August got in the way of our progress.  We’ll finish Butterflies and then return to RightStart, a wonderful, conceptual, visual/hands-on elementary math program.  Simon enjoyed the Mathematical Reasoning workbook he did last year (sometimes choosing to do two or three days’ worth of work at a time) and I felt it complemented RightStart well.  I would have bought him the next level book if I didn’t have another kid to homeschool this year who will also need a lot of my attention; I figured that it was one thing I could drop that would save me some time and not have a significant adverse effect on Simon’s education.

Science–Behold and See 1: On the Farm with Josh and Hanna.  This was another concession to the reality of homeschooling two kids who can’t do much independent work this year.  Last year, I tried Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU).  When I researched it before choosing to use it, I found that most reviews said one of two things, either “I love BFSU!” or “I loved BFSU, but it was too much prep work!”  Unfortunately, I’m in the latter camp, at least for now.  Maybe I’ll be able to use it with Clara in a few years; I decided that a more open-and-go curriculum resource would be a better fit this year.  I’ve been happy with most of the other Catholic Heritage Curricula materials I’ve used, so I decided to try their grade 1 science program.

Religion–Image of God: Grade 1.  I will do the lessons orally with Simon using the teacher’s manual, discussing the topics, reading the stories, and asking him questions.  We’re going to skip the workbook this year because it doesn’t add much to the actual learning and it will save some time.  (Notice a theme here…)

French–I have several workbooks and sticker books (made for native French speakers) that we will work on regularly.  I should also do read-aloud in French with Simon (we have many children’s non-fiction books and story books in French), but I don’t know how often I will actually do so.  It is important to me that Simon learns French, but it is a lower priority this year.

Art–ARTistic Pursuits K-3: Book 2.  Art is a fairly low-priority subject for me.  Last year, with everything going on with the adoption, art pretty much didn’t happen for the second semester; I didn’t have it in me to come up with plans for art projects and then execute them.  Since I have all the lessons planned out for me and a kit that theoretically contains all the supplies we’ll need, I’m hoping that this year, weekly art lessons will actually happen and be fun and educational.

Memory Work–Simon is an archetypical grammar-stage student, memorizing things easily and enjoying it.  He will continue memorizing poetry; last year, he learned several short poems from The Harp and Laurel Wreath and had great fun reciting them to anyone who would listen.  Additionally, I’m going to try using some of the Catholic Schoolhouse Tour 2 resources.  I’m not going to expect him to memorize everything, but I figure I will expose him to the CDs and timeline cards and see what he learns.

Those are my plans for this year.  It seems like an an awful lot when it’s all typed out, but I do think (hope) it’s realistic.  If you’re interested in what we’ve done in the past, you can check out the links below.

Previous homeschool curriculum overviews:

2017-2018 (grade 7 and kindergarten)

2016-2017 (junior kindergarten)  [I still haven’t written up a synopsis of what I did with Simon for JK.  Maybe one of these days I’ll get there.]

2015-2016 (preschool, round two)

2014-2015 (grade 4)

2013-2014 (grade 3)

2008-2009 (preschool)


7 Quick Takes #69

Here’s a good old-fashioned 7 Quick Takes with an assortment of tidbits on life around here.

  1.  I was recognized by a blog reader!  Our local Catholic women’s group met for pizza and drinks after 5:30 pm Mass to celebrate the Assumption on the 15th.  A woman from Minnesota who I’d never met before came up and asked me if I wrote 7 Quick Takes, then told me that she read my blog!  It was a weird feeling–first there’s the improbability of someone I don’t know who reads my blog showing up in my neighborhood (I don’t have that many readers and I live in a rather out-of-the-way place here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), then being in the same place at the same time as I was, then recognizing me and saying something.  So hello to my reader!  You made my day!
  2.  We went to an amazing Harry Potter-themed party last Saturday.  I had been kind of annoyed about the effort it took for me to make decorations for the drink table (The Leaky Cauldron), figure out a healthy Harry Potter-themed snack, and come up with costumes for three kids (I didn’t bother with costumes for Clara or myself).  However, it was totally worth it to participate in this incredible party.  I don’t even want to know how much time my friend Monica spent preparing to host it; it was the most elaborate party I’ve ever been to.  I couldn’t believe all the details everywhere.  Just a few examples: there was a plastic car stuck in the “Whomping Willow” and in the bathroom, Moaning Myrtle was coming out of the toilet and the sinister warning about the Chamber of Secrets being opened was scrawled on the mirror in red “blood.”  The kids withdrew galleons from Gringott’s to go shopping on Diagon Alley, getting wands at Ollivander’s, sweets at Honeydukes, and Floo Powder at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, among other shops.  They made potions, rode on broomsticks, were sorted into houses, played Quidditch, and hunted for horcruxes.  Here are a few pictures, but check out Monica’s blog to see many more that give a better sense of the scope of the party.

    Severus Snape, Minerva McGonagall, and Harry Potter himself, wearing a green dress robe

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    The sign I made for the Leaky Cauldron

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    A grubby, tired, happy Clara after the party, holding her wand and showing off one of the Golden Snitches that we brought as a snack

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    This is my favorite of the pictures that Monica took–Simon as Harry Potter on a broomstick


  3.  Amina and I are getting along.  It’s hard because we have different personalities and interests.  She is outgoing, she likes pop music and fashion, and she doesn’t like to read or do arts and crafts.  None of those things were true of me when I was eleven, nor today.  On top of that, we have limited shared language and shared history.  It does help that her English language skills are improving, so we can communicate somewhat better, and we have more shared history as time goes on.
  4.  One challenge is Amina’s inability to entertain herself.  As with many kids from orphanages (and unfortunately, many tweens and teens in our modern society), she is very reliant on being with other people or using electronic devices (mp3 player, cellphone, iPad, Wii, tv) to entertain herself.  She is not happy with the limits we put on using electronics and she makes that clear.  Although she has several books in Ukrainian that Don bought for her before they came home, she’s not interested in reading them, nor writing in her diary, nor drawing or coloring, nor making anything with the various craft kits that were given to her.  If she’s not allowed to use electronics, Simon is occupied, and the neighbor kids aren’t around, I will get many complaints of boredom.
  5.  We wrapped up her initial medical-type stuff this week.  She got four shots (which she was NOT happy about), so her vaccinations are up-to-date for now (we go back in two months) and I dropped off the documentation for the local school district’s homeschool partnership program.  She also had her first-ever eye exam and passed with flying colors–no glasses for her!
  6.  We discovered an amusing misunderstanding.  Apparently, when Don tried to explain to Amina during their first cooking escapades together in Kyiv that it’s important to wash your hands after touching raw chicken so that you don’t get sick, she understood it as touching raw chicken and not washing your hands can make you pregnant.  I can imagine Don exaggeratedly gesturing to indicate belly pain, so it makes sense how she may have gotten that idea.  Obviously, we’re going to have to do some sex ed.
  7.  I’m feeling anxious about the beginning of the school year.  Since we are homeschooling, it doesn’t really matter that the public schools start up the day after Labor Day, because we can do school whenever.  I don’t have to start the day after Labor Day or even the week after Labor Day.  Once the school year starts, though, I feel the weight of being responsible for the education of my three school-age children, who have very different needs, as well as general care of all four kids and everything else I do around here.  I’ve already been struggling with feelings of not keeping up with things as well as I want to during the summer, so I’m worried about how I’m going to manage once we start school.  I’ve re-read Teaching from Rest and put careful consideration into developing our schedule to keep it realistic; I’ll just have to do my best and adjust as necessary once the year is underway.  I’m planning to start next Tuesday but run a reduced schedule for the first week, as we have special events going on three of the four school days.  The week after Labor Day, we should be able to start settling into a more regular routine.

There you have it!  You can find other bloggers’ 7 Quick Takes here:


A disrupted month

We are nearly through Amina’s initial medical and dentist visits and adoption-related paperwork.  (Her US passport and certificate of citizenship both arrived in the past week!)  I have previously commented that I’m glad that she came home in the summer, because having all this disruption to our schedules during the school year would make the transition even more difficult for me.  Now I’m just stressed from normal summer things, rather than adoption-related things.  I have a high need for structure, and I feel like summertime in our home is a constant cycle of going off the rails and trying to get back on track.

This month is crazy.  Last week we went to Milwaukee because Amina had appointments at the children’s hospital, but we turned it into a family trip and celebrated her 11th birthday while we were there.  We did some shopping at big-city stores that we don’t have around here, swam a lot in the hotel pool, spent a day at the zoo, and introduced the kids to both a buffet restaurant and Chuck E. Cheese’s.  Poor Clara’s sleep schedule was badly thrown off by the drive down, being kept up late because we were all in a one-bedroom hotel suite, and because one of Amina’s appointments was during Clara’s usual nap time (and Don and I both wanted to be there for it).  By the third day of our trip, Clara had a complete meltdown.  I would have just stayed in the hotel room with her that evening and let Don take the other kids out, but we were celebrating Amina’s birthday and I felt like I needed to be there for it, so Clara had to suffer additional stimulation and another late bedtime.  The day after we returned home, Clara was sick–running a fever and vomiting.  I feel terrible that we pushed her too far.  It’s so hard to balance everyone’s needs in general and even more difficult when we’re traveling.

This week, my in-laws are here visiting.  It has actually given me a bit of a break as they’ve gone out with the three older kids during Clara’s naps yesterday and today, leaving me home with more uninterrupted time than I’m used to having in a week.  However, their presence has also resulted in both children and adults staying up even later than usual (which, in my opinion, has already become too late this summer), which hasn’t resulted in the most universally pleasant and cooperative attitudes.

Next week, Don is taking the three older kids on an RV trip to the lower peninsula to meet up with some friends from Ontario.  Clara and I were going to go, but after our trip to Milwaukee, Don and I decided that it wasn’t worth the stress to her and to me.  We’ll stay here and spend some quality time together, and I’ll work on prepping for the homeschool year during her naps and after she goes to bed in the evening.  Then, a day or two after everyone else comes home, we’re going to a huge Harry Potter-themed costume party, for which my kids don’t yet have costumes and for which I’m supposed to decorate a table as the Leaky Cauldron (for serving drinks) and, as I’m sure you can guess, I haven’t started that project yet either.

These are all good and worthwhile activities, don’t get me wrong, but they are disruptions from “normal.”  Right now, I’m longing for the school year to start so we can settle into more-or-less predictable routines.  I think that will be good for all of us.  At least, it should reduce my stress level, which I suspect will be good for everyone else in the family too.

I know that many of you would like to know more about Amina, so I decided to do a 7 Quick Takes post about her.

  1.  She enjoys pop music.  One of the first things she learned after she came home was how to say, “Alexa, play pop music.”  That is not a musical genre that previously got much airtime in our household, so I’m getting an education by immersion.
  2.  She likes animals.  Fortunately, Malou (our cat) is very tolerant, as she frequently picks him up and carries him around.Amina smiling
  3.  She initially experienced carsickness, but fortunately it seems to have subsided.  She rarely rode in cars when she lived in Ukraine.  She walked to and from school and church and mostly stayed at the orphanage otherwise.  For her first couple weeks home, we had to be sure to have plastic bags and napkins with us when she was riding in the car.  We’re all glad that seems to be over.
  4.  She likes to cook and bake, but is a picky eater.  She is annoyingly helpful in the kitchen, wanting to take over every little task, which makes cooking with her much slower than cooking alone.  Hopefully, as she develops her skills, she will become more actually helpful.  As for eating, she is suspicious of new foods, which of course many of the things we eat are to her.  She generally disdains vegetables and feels that most foods require the addition of salt or ketchup to be palatable.  She likes pasta, mashed potatoes, bread products, fruit, and sweets.
  5.  She loved the beach.  We’ve been twice now and she had a blast both times.  She is looking forward to taking swimming lessons in the fall.  (I haven’t told her that the pool is absurdly cold.)

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    This was, unfortunately, the best picture I got of her at the beach.

  6.  She has a lot to learn, but is progressing well.  Our “summer lessons” are focusing on English as a second language, with some foundational work in reading and math.  As a sample of her English language skills, here’s a story she told me yesterday: “Me, Bill house, me eat ice cream.  Like, very like!” (translation: “When I was at Bill’s house, I ate ice cream, and I liked it very much!”)  She is at roughly a kindergarten level in reading in English and a first-grade level in math.  After spending a few weeks on phonics, I started her on Little Stories for Little Folks.  She is now on the second “little pink book” (level 1).  When I did a math assessment last week, it was eye-opening.  Out of six subtraction problems that were a single-digit number subtracted from a two-digit number, she missed two.  I backed up and tested her basic addition.  She can add numbers with sums to 11, but struggles with anything higher (9 + 4 or 7 + 8, for example).  She was confused by problems that were written like 5 = 4 + (fill in the blank), but once I explained that both sides were the same, she was able to solve them.  She has a rudimentary idea of how to tell time on an analog clock, but can’t reliably read a clock and can’t draw the hands on a clock, even to the hour (for example, 5:00).  Based on RightStart Math’s placement test, she should be in first grade math.  So that’s where we’re starting.
  7.  She loves her “Papa.”  The two of them bonded during the weeks they spent together in Ukraine, waiting for the paperwork to be done so she could come home.  It’s been a challenge for me to establish a relationship with her, as she wants his attention or to be with him whenever he’s around.  There was one day that she came downstairs and gave Don a huge hug and a cheery “Good morning, Papa!”  I said “good morning” to her twice and was completely ignored.  Then I gave her a squeezy hug and said a rather pointed “good morning,” which she returned.  Our relationship has improved since Don has been spending more time at work and she has had to spend time with me, but it’s clear that she prefers him.

There you go, 7 Quick Takes about a girl who turns 11 next week.

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