Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

There’s no news this week on our adoption of “Valentine” (the 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe that we hosted last summer).  I’ve put together a themed post on seven things that are working for us right now as I homeschool Peter for grade 7 and Simon for kindergarten.  Homeschooling this year is going quite well; I wrote a post last May about why this would be the best year of homeschooling yet and it has been mostly accurate.  I now present to you some of what’s working for us–many items having to do with scheduling and staying organized and others just about things we do.

Together time.  This is a short period that Peter, Simon, and I do all together; I described it in my homeschool curriculum overview post for this year.  In short, we sing, we pray, and we read a Bible story, a poem, and a French comptine (like a nursery rhyme).  We’ve moved it from the morning to the afternoon, when Clara’s napping, because that works better for us now that Peter’s home all day and Clara doesn’t nap in the mornings anymore.

Read-aloud.  While technically I am just doing read-aloud with Simon, most of the time Peter joins us.  The draw of listening to captivating stories is just too strong for him to resist.  It means it takes Peter longer to finish his own work, but there’s something so cozy and wholesome about having both boys on the couch with me listening in rapt attention as I read aloud that I just can’t discourage Peter from joining us.  I read the same books to Peter seven years ago when he was in kindergarten, but he doesn’t remember many of them.

Morning break.  Starting in the second semester, we are now taking a morning break at 10 am for approximately 15 minutes.  This was a difficult decision for me.  Our homeschool day is supposed to start at 9 am with Peter’s saxophone practice, although it’s often closer to 9:30 by the time we hear the first notes.  Why stop for a break when we’ve only just started our homeschool day?  Looking at the big picture, though, we’ve already done a lot of work.  Just getting myself and three kids up, and fed, and breakfast cleaned up, and vitamins taken, and all of us dressed, and clothes picked up, and Clara’s diaper changed, and hair combed, and teeth brushed, and the cat fed, and the humidifier filled, and the pellet stove cleaned and lit, and the floor swept, and the dishwasher unloaded, and and and…yeah, we kind of do need a break already even though it feels like we’ve only just begun our day (or at least *I* need a break–the reality is that unless I’m constantly cheerleading and reminding the boys what they’re supposed to be doing, they don’t get much done).  When 10 am hits, we either sing or have Alexa play some fun music and we dance, then we have a snack.  It gives us a little mood boost with happy music and a bit of exercise, which is often helpful for me in resetting my attitude after the effort of getting everyone up and ready.

Memory folders.  I saw this idea online and decided to implement it when we started our second semester.  Folders contain index cards with items to be memorized such as  vocabulary words, French verb conjugations, math formulas, etc.  I also include Simon’s Little Stories for Little Folks booklets (for his reading program).  I’m planning to add poetry to memorize but haven’t gotten there yet.  Each day, we pull out three folders–daily, odd or even, and the day of the week– and review their contents.  New material starts in the daily folder, and as it becomes learned, it gets moved progressively back so it is reviewed less frequently until it is retired.  Some people also do numbered folders for the days of the month, but I didn’t feel a need to go that far.


Our folders.  The blue ones are Simon’s, the red ones are Peter’s, and the yellow ones are waiting for “Valentine” to come home.

Flexible, by-subject scheduling.  This was one of my biggest improvements this year over how I approached homeschooling in the past.  I used to make big spreadsheets with each assignment for each subject for each day for a week at a time.  Then, as soon as life happened and Peter fell behind, things would get into a mess.  This year, I made a list of subjects for each kid and posted the list on our fridge.  Simon’s list is divided into “couch work” and “table work” (mainly as a reminder for me when I’m pulling out work to do with him), while Peter’s list has some rotations on it (for example, “current events/logic” means that he alternates between doing current events one day and logic the next day).  For each individual subject, Peter has an undated schedule of assignments.  When he gets to that subject, he does the next assignment on the list.  After I check his work, I initial and date the box next to that assignment.  If he misses a subject one day for whatever reason, he just picks up with the next assignment the next day.  Some of our curriculum resources came with schedules that I’ve been able to use, while for other subjects I had to invest some time in typing out schedules at the beginning of the year.


A schedule made by the curriculum provider, which I slightly adapted.


A schedule that I typed up myself.  The X’s indicate that there’s a video to watch.

A fixed order for Peter’s subjects.  There are some things I’m not uptight about.  When I was a high school teacher, I wasn’t one of those teachers who insisted that assignments had to be written in blue or black pen.  I told my students I didn’t care what they wrote with, as long as I could read it.  It didn’t bother me when students wrote in fluorescent orange gel pen–at least they were doing their work, which was an accomplishment in and of itself at the inner-city school where I taught in Detroit.  Likewise, having a fixed order for tackling the various subjects didn’t seem important to me; as long as the work got done, it didn’t matter to me whether math was done before or after history.  Although I sometimes suggested working on certain things based on circumstances (practice saxophone before Clara takes her nap, do writing now because I’m free and we need to go over it together), I left it up to Peter to decide what to work on when.  Often, he would get stuck during the transition from one subject to another, not able to make a decision about what to work on next.  I decided to eliminate that wasted time and mental energy by giving him a fixed order for his subjects when we started our second semester.  I considered which subjects were more and less important, putting the more important ones earlier to make sure they got done.  I also thought about which subjects were more and less challenging for him and tried to balance the schedule so he wouldn’t have two difficult subjects in a row.  I scheduled saxophone practice first thing in the morning and designated a quiet reading period for both boys after lunch, so they wouldn’t be disruptive while I was trying to get Clara down for her nap.  Now that Peter has a predictable routine and just has to move on to the next subject on the list when he finishes an assignment, his days are flowing more smoothly.

4:30 deadline.  Another schedule tweak I made for the second semester was introducing a 4:30 cut-off time for schoolwork (mainly for Peter).  If there’s nothing unusual going on and he works diligently, he should finish all his work before then.  On days with regular schedule changes (swimming lessons or ice skating), there are certain subjects that he gets to skip to lighten his load (they’re marked with an asterisk on his subject list).  However, sometimes one or more assignments take an exceptionally long time to complete, our schedule is disrupted by something irregular, or he’s just plain not focused on his work.  Once 4:30 hits, he can stop working on his schoolwork.  Unless I deem that the circumstances were entirely out of his control, he doesn’t get electronic privileges (tv/computer/Wii time), but he isn’t forced to keep his nose to the grindstone when he’s tired from the day and generally not all that productive anyhow.  He can choose to continue working and he gets electronic privileges if he finishes (which he often does).  To me, this offers some balance.  Yes, it’s important to finish your work, but everyone has rough days now and then.  Sometimes you need to take a break before you can get back to being productive.  If he were abusing this and slacking off all the time, I would reconsider it.  However, most of the time he finishes all his work, and even the days that he doesn’t, he usually gets pretty close.

Well, I’ve totally failed at the “quick” part of 7 Quick Takes again.  You can head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum to see if any other bloggers managed to do a better job than I did.



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In this edition: More good news on our adoption of “Valentine” (not his real name), the 10-year-old boy that we hosted last summer!  I’m about to enter a new phase of my life, which will last for an almost impossibly long time.  Also, it’s cold outside.

  1.  Our dossier has been submitted to the government of Valentine’s country!  It arrived in his country on Saturday, but needed to be translated and legalized before it could be submitted.  We were waiting on pins and needles all week to hear that it was submitted in time because our medical documents expire on Saturday (all documents have to be less than six months old when they are submitted).  By Thursday evening, I was bracing myself for the bad news.  What a relief when we learned that our dossier was submitted on Thursday!
  2.  Now we wait some more.  Assuming that all of our documents are acceptable (and both our facilitators and I have been over them with a fine-toothed comb), we will receive an invitation to travel to Valentine’s country.  Based on the recent experiences of other families, we can expect to be notified in about a month and a half and then travel about three weeks after that.  When we travel, we will get the information from Valentine’s file, meet him again, and–assuming that he agrees to the adoption–officially accept the referral and file paperwork to request a court date.
  3.  I was missing Valentine this week.  Don was drinking a café au lait and I started singing “café au lait” to the tune of the “olé olé” part of the song “Hot Hot Hot.”  Simon didn’t know the song, so we had Alexa play it.  Then Simon got hooked on it, so we listened to and danced to “Hot Hot Hot” more times than I can count.  It reminded me of dancing the Macarena when Valentine was here.  I thought of how much fun he would have dancing with us to “Hot Hot Hot” and wished he were here.
  4.  Our Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Program account has had a nice jump!  $3455 has now been donated towards our adoption expenses.  If you’d like to contribute (it’s US tax-deductible), you can find our FSP page here.
  5.  In non-adoption-related news, our second semester of homeschooling is off to a great start.  I’m loving this not-having-to-leave-the-house-every-day deal (since I’m not driving Peter to school for band anymore), especially yesterday, when the wind chill was around -20 F  (-29 C) and there was blowing snow to assault our faces and reduce visibility.  On the whole, the new schedule I came up with offers a good balance between being getting work done and not getting stressed out.  We took advantage of our newfound scheduling flexibility to go to the library and go ice skating on Wednesday, and the boys will attend a Harry Potter-themed party sponsored by the homeschool partnership program this afternoon, after their swimming lessons.
  6.  At the moment, we’re all reasonably healthy.  This is a nice change from the previous two weeks.  Last week, first Peter and then Clara were sick, and Don was sick the week before (and we’re talking the kind of sick that requires unpleasant clean-up).  Clara was sick and miserable and clingy last Thursday and I got basically nothing done.  I had scheduled an NPR Day that day (a day off of homeschooling for No Particular Reason) so at least I didn’t have to feel bad about getting behind on schoolwork, but I was disappointed that I didn’t get to have the productive day getting other things done that I had been hoping to have.
  7.  Tomorrow, I enter a new phase of my life.  I will become the mother of a teenager, and I will continue to be the mother of at least one teenager until 2036.  Is that crazy or what?  I would have had a 5-day reprieve in 2025 between Peter turning 20 and Simon turning 13, but with Valentine added to the family, that won’t happen.

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Our “paper pregnancy” has resulted in a “paper baby”!  Our international adoption dossier was completed on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at about 2:50 pm and weighed 1 pound 11 ounces.  We proud parents quickly said good-bye and sent it off on a journey overseas.

  1.  Our USCIS approval finally arrived on Monday.  Although the approval was dated January 8th, we didn’t have it in hand until the 22nd.  Grrr.
  2.  This was the day after we learned that due to some changes in “Valentine’s” country, we needed more documents.  The last thing you want to hear when you’re about to send your dossier off (and especially with a deadline looming before some of your documents expire) is that you need more documents.  Fortunately, they weren’t too difficult to prepare.  We were able to get the five additional documents notarized and apostilled at the same time as the copy of the USCIS approval, so it didn’t delay us getting our dossier out.
  3.  We went on a trip to Marquette (the Upper Peninsula’s “big city”) on Tuesday to get our documents apostilled.  It was a two-hour drive each way on partially snow-covered roads, but it’s the only place in the UP where you can walk in and get documents apostilled.  If we mailed them to Lansing to be apostilled, it would take a couple weeks to get them back, and we didn’t have that kind of time.  After we got the apostilles, we went to the post office and express-mailed our dossier to a family in Illinois that is flying to Valentine’s country today; they will carry it over for us and deliver it to our adoption facilitation team.  While we were in town, we picked up some parts Don needed for our tractor, then went to an Italian restaurant where the food was only fair and they played the same cheesy song over and over and over again (I timed it–it was about 2 minutes and 40 seconds long.  I’m not sure how long we were there, but if we were there for an hour, we heard it 22 times.)

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    Outside the post office in Marquette, where we mailed our dossier.  36 documents in all.

  4.  Peter had his band concert on Wednesday.  I was proud to hear him play his saxophone in the seventh grade band.  It’s amazing how much improvement the students have made since last year.  After the concert, we celebrated Peter’s musical accomplishments with ice cream.  Now he is done with band for this school year.
  5.  We start our second semester of homeschooling next Monday.  I’m still trying to figure out a new schedule, now that I don’t have to drive Peter to school for band every day and now that he’ll be home in the afternoons.  We have a few changes on the academic side.  Peter is taking his online Great Books course (which he started last week) and will be studying informal logic.  Simon is starting spelling lessons (All About Spelling) now that he has finished the first level of Little Stories for Little Folks (his reading program).  He has also finished Little Folks Letter Practice and is starting his first actual handwriting book (Catholic Heritage Handwriting level K).
  6.  This little girl is now a year and a half old.  How time flies!IMG_8954 small
  7.  Our Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Program account hasn’t changed in weeks.  It’s stalled at $2970–I’m looking forward to seeing it pass $3000.  If you’d like to make a US-tax-deductible contribution towards our adoption expenses, you can do it here.

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If you’re a regular reader, I’m sorry (disappointed, frustrated…) to report that we haven’t received our USCIS approval yet (details below).

If you’re not a regular reader, a little background: We are in the process of adopting “Valentine” (not his real name), a 10-year-old boy from Eastern Europe that we hosted last summer.  We are anxiously awaiting our approval from USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services), which is the last thing we need to complete our dossier.  We need to get our dossier to Valentine’s country and submitted to his government by February 3rd or else some of our documents will expire.

  1.  We are still waiting for our USCIS approval to arrive.  Don called them last Friday afternoon and found out that although our officer had approved our application last Monday, it was still sitting on her supervisor’s desk, waiting for the final approval.  The holiday on Monday this week delayed it even more.  Don called yesterday and learned that it went out on Wednesday.  We should have it soon, but I don’t know yet when we’ll be able to get it to Valentine’s country.  Tune in next week to find out what happens.
  2.  Winter is hard.  It just takes more effort to get through a day in winter than in warmer weather.  I have to put more clothing on myself and my kids in order to go outside.  It takes time every morning to clean out and light the pellet stove in our living room.  Driving can be more stressful, depending on the road conditions and visibility.  Clearing the snow from the porch and the driveway is a chore.  Filling our multiple humidifiers with water is an extra daily task (though worth it to avoid the nosebleeds that Peter used to get from dry winter air).  Even something as simple as closing the garage door becomes a challenge in the winter–it usually takes several tries to get it to close all the way and stay closed.  I’ve said it before (though things are not so bad now that we’ve made some energy-efficiency improvements on our house) and I’ll say it again–our first winter here, Don accused me of not embracing winter.  It’s true.  I don’t embrace winter, I endure it.  There are many things I like about living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but the winters are hard.

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    This is how we clear our driveway.  I am so glad that we haven’t had any vehicles stuck in our driveway so far this winter.  Before we got the tractor, not only our cars would get stuck, but also the pick-up truck we used for plowing.

  3.  To make life somewhat easier, I’ve decided to take Peter out of band for the rest of this school year.  Ever since Clara went from two naps a day to one, the scheduling of dropping Peter off at school just hasn’t been working (of the four school days so far this week, there were two days that the only nap she got was 15-20 minutes in the car when we drove him to school, just long enough that she wouldn’t go back to sleep when we got home).  Her basic need for sleep is more important than Peter participating in band.  I made the decision over the Christmas break, but I’ve been putting up with it for the last few weeks so he could finish the first semester.  His band concert is next Wednesday and that will be his last day.  He will continue practicing at home and I am hopeful that he’ll be able to participate in band again next school year.
  4.  We’re giving online education a try.  Peter just started an “Intro to Great Books and Socratic Method” class aimed at 6th and 7th graders.  Each week includes a reading, a video lecture to watch, a comprehension assignment to be uploaded after completion, an online quiz, a study skills activity, and a 50-minute live class discussion  (and there’s a dress code for the video conference–he has to wear a shirt with a collar and sleeves).  After the first class meeting, he declared it was “fun.”  Thinking deeply about and discussing what he reads will be a valuable experience, and it’s helpful for him to be accountable for work to someone other than just mom.  It does mean adding something in to our schedule that requires him to be somewhere on time and prepared, but it’s only one day a week and I don’t have to drive him anywhere for it.

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    I was so impressed by the mountain of snow that dwarfed the school buses in the parking lot at Peter’s school that I took a picture.

  5.  You know your toddler is living life to the fullest when she poops blue glitter.   Clara is into everything these days.  I’ve taken to safety-pinning the zipper of her sleep sack closed because I was finding her after her naps with the zipper completely open and her socks pulled off (I’m not sure if she was doing it before or after she slept).  Her new favorite pastime is climbing on the table (over and over and over…).  I know this phase will pass, but having to supervise her constantly when she’s awake is exhausting.
  6.  I have been enjoying chocolate smoothies for breakfast.  Back in December, I did a “week of smoothies,” trying a new smoothie recipe for breakfast every morning for a week.  My favorite was a chocolate one, which I have since tweaked a bit.  I’ve been making it a couple mornings a week since.  It feels so indulgent to drink something chocolate for breakfast, yet it is super healthy.  If only I’d had this recipe when I was pregnant with Clara and craving chocolate milkshakes!  For easy reference, I wrote a separate post with the recipe here.  The boys have been clamoring for me to make other smoothies, but a cold smoothie isn’t the best winter breakfast.  I’ve promised them that I will experiment more when the weather warms up.
  7.  Finally, as usual, I will end with a reminder that we are very grateful for financial assistance with our adoption.  US tax-deductible donations can be made to our Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Program account, and I encourage anyone who donates to send me a picture for our Hearts for Valentine poster.

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  1.  I’m not a huge fan of the term “paper pregnancy” (used by some adoptive parents to refer to preparing their dossier), but I can see the analogies right now.  Since we are expecting our USCIS approval–the last document we need for our dossier–to arrive any day now, our paper pregnancy is approaching its due date.  Just like with my actual pregnancies near the due date, every morning I wake up and wonder if this will be the day.  Just like having a bag ready to take to the hospital, I’m packed and ready to drive two hours to get a copy of the approval apostilled.  My emotions are all over the place–nervous anticipation as I wait for the mail to come every day, disappointment when the approval isn’t there, excitement that our dossier will soon be on its way, and frustration with the delay.  We were hoping to send our dossier to Valentine’s country with a family that is traveling this weekend, but it’s too late for us to get it to them in time.  We’ve lost a week now, because the next family is traveling next weekend.  If only I hadn’t missed that one stupid checkbox and the USCIS officer hadn’t missed the sentence that was correctly written in our homestudy, our dossier would be submitted to the government in Valentine’s country by now.
  2.  Early last Saturday, I went on a journey of love.  At 7 am on the first Saturday of each month, I get together with some friends at a local bakery/coffee shop.  I remembered that Don prefers for me to let the engine warm up a bit rather than driving away immediately after starting the car in cold weather, so I sat for a moment before leaving.  As I did so, I remembered the advice a friend’s father offered many years ago–before beginning to drive, place your hand on the steering wheel and say, “Now begins a journey of love.”  Feeling a little silly, I did it.  Then I backed out of the garage and hit the passenger-side rear-view mirror, breaking the plastic around it.  That was not an auspicious start to my journey.  I tried to pull myself together and headed off to meet my friends.  We chatted and laughed and caught up on each other’s lives.  Afterwards, one of my friends sent an e-mail to all of us expressing her gratitude for our get-together.  She had had some family drama over the holidays and hanging out with us was good for her soul.  I realized then that I truly had gone on a journey of love.

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    Clara modeling some clothes she got for Christmas while standing on her favorite present, a plastic slide.

  3.  We stuck with the traditional date (January 6th) and celebrated Epiphany on Saturday.  I made a galette des rois and Simon found the fève (a little ceramic treasure chest that came in a Red Rose tea box), so he was the king for the day.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared enough to have a crown for him (I need to buy a costume crown to keep on hand for these occasions–I always think I can get a paper crown at Burger King but either I forget or they don’t have any, and besides, our family celebrations shouldn’t really be promoting a fast-food restaurant), so King Simon had to wear an imaginary crown.  We took down our Christmas decorations and did a very slightly modified version of this house blessing.  I did the actual chalking while everyone else watched from the window of our dining room because it was something like 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 degrees Celsius).
  4.  I have a saint for the year.  Jennifer Fulwiler has a saint’s name generator that will randomly choose a saint for you; she encourages people to use it to choose a saint for the year each year.  I’ve done it a couple times in the past and wasn’t inspired, so I wasn’t planning to do it this year.  However, there was a humorous thread on Facebook where people were posting their saint’s name and their word of the year together as a full name (like John Frolic, Martha Revolution, and Wenceslaus Wink).  I decided to try it for fun. The saint name generator gave me not one, but two saints in a row who were listed as the patron saints for people with Valentine’s medical condition (I stopped after trying it twice–it seemed like it wasn’t playing around and so neither should I).  I did a little research to see which was the more popular saint for Valentine’s condition.  Then I said a novena to him for a smooth and successful adoption process, starting on New Year’s Day.  I also asked for his intervention when dealing with the Request for Evidence we received from USCIS.  I’m confident that, unlike previous years, I won’t forget who my saint of the year is.
  5.  Don and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary on Wednesday.  Twenty years!  How did that happen???  We enjoyed going out for Chinese food, just the two of us, while Peter was at a church event and a friend took care of Simon and Clara.  It was the first time I left Clara with someone other than family and apparently it went well; my friend’s 10-year-old daughter enjoyed entertaining her and even gave her a doll to keep.

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    Clara getting in on the homeschooling action.

  6.  I got a thumb’s up and a “Yeah!” from Peter when I told him that I ordered him the next Life of Fred math book.  Don told me that this kid, who used to throw tantrums over his public school math homework, was telling his friends about his cool math books at his last Boy Scout meeting.  I agonized over the decision of which math program to use with him when we started homeschooling again; clearly, I made the right choice.  I told Peter that I was going to buy the Life of Fred kindergarten-level books for Simon to do over the summer and he immediately asked if he could read them (that’s how entertaining the Life of Fred books are!).
  7.   I’ve given up on the idea of a Valentine’s Day fundraiser.  It seemed like a great idea to do one, capitalizing on the “Valentine” nickname and only for a limited time, but I don’t have the energy to deal with it.  After Christmas and New Year’s and traveling and trying to get back into homeschooling after the holidays and then our anniversary and with two boys’ birthdays coming up in early February, I just don’t have it in me right now.  I already have more things to do than I have time to do them in; I don’t need more on my plate.  We’re expecting to take out a loan for the adoption costs beyond what we already had and what is donated to us; at this point, I’d rather just take out a slightly bigger loan than tackle another project.  We’ll get this adoption paid for one way or another.  If you’d like to help, you can make a US tax-deductible donation to our Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Program account here.

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I’m back again this week with five quick takes about our adoption of “Valentine” (the 10-year-old boy from Eastern Europe we hosted for the summer) and two more takes to bring it up to the requisite seven.  Again, these aren’t official 7 Quick Takes because Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum isn’t hosting 7QT for Advent, but I’m making the effort anyhow.

We are now on vacation from homeschooling.  Simon was done on Wednesday; Peter needed one more day to wrap up his assignments, so he finished yesterday.  My plan is to start back up the Monday after Epiphany, on January 8th.  We’ll be celebrating Christmas at home but then traveling to visit family, so that will give us some time to relax after we return home before starting up lessons again.  We can all use the break.  Since we’ll be away from home, I’m not promising a post next Friday.

  1.  To stay sane as a parent, I think it helps to appreciate the irony in addition to noticing the beauty.  Case in point: Simon decided to dress up more than usual for church on Sunday.  He looked so handsome that I helped Don pull out a proper photo backdrop so he could take pictures of Simon while I was getting Clara dressed.  Don ended up taking this great shot:IMG_8953 smallThen, when we got to church, I realized that Simon forgot to bring his church shoes, so he had to wear bright blue snow boots with his three-piece suit for the whole Mass.
  2.  We made holiday crafts.  A friend of mine recently posted photos on Facebook of the elaborate gingerbread castle that she and her four children made.  She baked the gingerbread herself; her kids painstakingly assembled the castle and decorated it with candy.  That’s wonderful for them, but I am not in the season of my life for making homemade gingerbread castles.  We made paper snowflakes and I called it a win.
  3.  And now to adoption updates.  First, the bad news.  Valentine’s country just passed a new law, effective December 15th, that international adoptive parents must now wait 30 days, instead of the previous 10 days, after court before taking custody of their adoptive child(ren).  That adds almost three weeks to the adoption process and means that children who have families ready and waiting to take them home must now spend three more weeks of their lives in an orphanage.
  4.  We received the last package of apostilled documents.  With 31 apostilled documents, our dossier is now ready to go except for the USCIS approval, which we expect to receive mid-January.  Here’s what it looks like (the two that don’t match are our FBI clearances, which were apostilled federally; the rest were apostilled by the State of Michigan):Dossier small
  5.  We applied for a passport for Clara.  We haven’t yet made arrangements for our kids when we travel.  We don’t plan to bring Simon to Valentine’s country at all.  We intend to bring Peter for one of the trips, because he’s old enough to appreciate seeing where Valentine comes from.  We disagree on what to do with Clara.  Don wants to leave her, while I’m inclined to bring her with us.  Yes, she’s not the most fun person to travel with, and it would be stressful to bring her.  However, she’s so young that she wouldn’t understand if we disappear (particularly me, since she’s with me practically all the time).  It would stress her out, especially if she’s in a strange environment instead of at home, and that would cause a ton of stress for whoever is caring for her.  I don’t want to traumatize her and I don’t want to make the already-challenging job of caring for our kids in our absence even more difficult for whoever is doing it.  At this point, our compromise was to get her a passport so we have the option to bring her, but no final decision has been made.
  6.  We don’t have Christmas presents for Valentine.  He won’t be home for Christmas.  He won’t be home for his birthday in the spring.  At this point, our rough guess is that he might be home in June.  Nevertheless, as I prepare for Christmas, I think of presents I wish I could give him.  If I could, I would give him a watch, so he could continue to practice telling time (something we were working on over the summer).  I would give him a pair of ice skates and a hockey stick because he really wanted to try playing hockey, though I doubt he’s ever been on skates before.  An electric toothbrush may not be an exciting present, but both Peter and Simon have one, so I wouldn’t want Valentine to be left out.  Every time I see something for sale with a Batman logo, I think of him, since he loved superheroes.  I’m not a huge superhero fan, but I would get him a water bottle or some pajamas or something with a superhero logo.  Of course, the most important gifts I wish I could give him are not ones that can be put in a box and wrapped up–the gift of unconditional love, the gift of family, the gift of belonging.  He doesn’t even know that we are working to adopt him.  He may dream of being adopted, but he doesn’t know that he can look forward to it and anticipate it really happening.
  7.  Our Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Program account is now at $2931.  As always, we are incredibly grateful that people care enough about Valentine to help with the expenses involved in getting him out of his orphanage and into our family, where we feel he belongs.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and in case I don’t happen to post next week, Happy New Year too!

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I’ve been wanting to write this for weeks, but I’ve been so busy doing adoption stuff.  Now I am finally caught up to the point where I don’t feel guilty about spending the time on this.  Better late than never!

This year, I am homeschooling two kids: Peter (grade 7) and Simon (kindergarten).  I have homeschooled each of them for two years previously, but not at the same time (Peter was homeschooled for grades 3 and 4, then attended public school for grades 5 and 6, during which time I homeschooled Simon for preschool and junior kindergarten).  One-year-old Clara, who requires time and attention, is also home with us.  We are a Canadian-American family and we live in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula.  We are in the process of adopting “Valentine” (not his real name), a 10-year-old boy from Eastern Europe who we hosted for the summer.  Barring major unforeseen complications, we expect to travel to Valentine’s country for the adoption in the spring; we’ll see how that messes with our school year when the time comes.

Funny family pic

In previous homeschool curriculum overviews, I’ve included our most recent family picture.  This goofy picture from March is not only the most recent, but is the only picture I have of all five of us.  If anyone wants to donate the services of a professional photographer to take a family portrait, I’m game.  (It would be a great present after Valentine comes home…just saying.)

Most of Peter’s curriculum resources are from publishers that we haven’t used before.  The jump from the grade 4 resources we used previously to the grade 7 resources he needs now is pretty big, and I was disappointed with some of the materials we used before (Memoria Press materials in particular, which we used for three subjects when he was in grade 4).  Thus, I’m trying new things that I think are a better fit for him now.  Simon is using a blend of “tried and true” materials–ones I used with Peter and liked–and new resources.  In addition to what’s listed below, Peter is participating in the 7th grade band at the local middle school and both boys are taking weekly swimming lessons through the local school district’s homeschool partnership program.

Together time:

Together time is a positive new development for us in homeschooling.  What many people call “morning time,” I decided to call “together time,” since it’s the only time the boys are doing homeschool stuff together (there’s not a lot you can combine academically with a kindergartner and a grade 7 student).  I implemented together time during the summer as part of my effort to establish routines to keep all the kids on track.  Because of Valentine’s limited English language skills, I intentionally kept it very short and simple.  After Clara went down for her morning nap, we started with a song (“This is the Day that the Lord has Made”) and continued with a prayer (the Glory Be).  I read a short story from the Family-Time Bible in Pictures and finished by reading a couple pages from a nursery rhyme book.  Now that Valentine is gone and we’re into the actual school year, together time looks pretty similar.  We’ve changed the song a couple times, switched the prayer to the Our Father, kept the Bible stories, graduated from the nursery rhyme book to a book of poetry, and added a French comptine (nursery rhyme) to the end of the routine.  Generally, we are able to make a smooth transition from together time into read-aloud and then into other lessons, though I’m not sure what will happen when Clara stops taking a morning nap.  Adding this short structured period has helped get our homeschooling day off on the right foot.

Peter, grade 7:

History/geography/read-aloud/reading–Sonlight Core F (Eastern Hemisphere).  Sonlight is the main thing I decided to keep for Peter’s curriculum this year; we have previously done everything from their pre-kindergarten core through their one-year elementary American History (Core D+E).  When we decided to homeschool Peter again this year, I gave him the choice between studying the Eastern Hemisphere and starting a two-year World History sequence.  He chose the Eastern Hemisphere.  While I actually studied the Eastern Hemisphere in grade 7 also (I remember learning about China and Africa), I didn’t retain much.  With the captivating stories in the quality literature that Sonlight is known for, I think Peter will get more out of his studies than I did.

Writing–Institute for Excellence in Writing: Following Narnia Volume 1.  I’ve heard for years that IEW is top-notch for writing instruction, but when I checked out their website, I found their products confusing and I was put off by the high price of their program.  I was never happy with the writing that I did with Peter before, though, and he LOVES to read fantasy books, so I decided to bite the bullet and figure out their system so that I could use their middle-school-level writing lessons based on the Chronicles of Narnia.  I am very glad I did!  I am thoroughly impressed with their approach to writing and the quality of the training in the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style DVD seminar.  I feel more confident than I ever have about my ability to help Peter (and eventually my other kids) develop strong writing skills.

Literary analysis–Essentials in Literature: Level 7.  So far I’m happy with this.  Peter watches brief lectures on DVD, reads material online, and does assignments from a workbook–there’s almost no prep for me.  I have been reading the short stories so that I can discuss the assignments with him, but that hasn’t been a burden, as he spends over a week on each story.

Grammar–Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree.  This is from IEW; I decided to give it a try because I thought that having only one sentence per day for Peter to mark up and copy over wouldn’t seem too onerous to him.  So far, I think Easy Grammar (which we used when Peter was in grade 4) is more thorough, but at least he’s doing the Fix It! Grammar without complaint.

Math–Life of Fred: Goldfish through Decimals and Percents.  Unfortunately, Peter developed a negative attitude towards math and his ability to do math while he was in public school.  Now that he’s homeschooled again, I decided the first order of business in math was to rehabilitate his attitude.  I chose Life of Fred because it is so entertaining and different from any other math program I’ve ever seen.  I intentionally started Peter below his level so the work would be easy and he could build confidence.  At the rate he’s going, he’ll be starting pre-algebra next year, which is behind an “honors” pace in math but entirely acceptable.  He probably could have done pre-algebra this year, but it would have involved a lot more frustration and stress for both of us, so I think holding back on it for a year while he strengthens his foundation in math and improves his attitude is worth it.  So far this year, he is not only doing math without complaint but actually enjoying it (at least at times), so my strategy seems to be working.

Science–Novare Earth Science.  Peter wanted to study earth science this year.  I wanted science from a Christian viewpoint that shows that there is no conflict between faith and science/reason.  Novare seems to deliver what I was looking for.

Religion–Image of God: Grade 7 along with Case for a Creator for Kids, Case for Christ for Kids, and Case for Faith for Kids.  Peter did Image of God in grades 2 and 3.  Although I liked the overall approach, I remember disparaging the cartoon-y illustrations then; fortunately, by the grade 7 book, the cartoons have been replaced with photographs of people and pictures of stained glass artwork.  This gives the book a more mature look.  The “Case for Kids” books are a little below Peter’s level, but I figured they wouldn’t hurt.

French–I set up a rotating schedule for Peter to read books or magazines in French,  watch tv in French, and do his current events in French.  I plan to incorporate some formal grammar instruction this year, but I’m still waiting for materials from the local school district’s homeschool partnership program (I only submitted the purchase order in August…grr…), so that’s on hold for now.

Current events–Every other day, Peter needs to either find an article online or watch the first 10 minutes or so of a news program on tv, then discuss with me what he learned.  Half the time he does it in English and the other half in French.

Scout work–Once a week, Peter needs to do some work towards a Boy Scout-related goal of his choice, such as rank advancement or a merit badge.

Logic–The Art of Argument.  He hasn’t started this yet; it’s scheduled for the second semester.

Simon, kindergarten:

History/geography/read-aloud–Sonlight Core A (Introduction to the World: Cultures).  I did this program with Peter when he was in kindergarten and it’s a pleasure to do it again with Simon.  Kids at this age love being read to–they enjoy listening to stories and they soak up information about the world from appropriate non-fiction texts.  Sonlight selects high-quality books, which makes it easy for me to focus on reading, not planning.

Reading–Little Stories for Little Folks.  I love these little books!  They are a wonderful resource for teaching reading and a great value.  I wrote about them in the fourth paragraph of this post.  In addition to Simon, I’ve used them with Peter, with a foster child, and with Valentine during the summer (and will continue to use them with Valentine once he comes home).

Writing–We are doing a daily journal in a primary composition book (with lines for handwriting at the bottom of the pages and blank space for drawing pictures on the top).  We talk about the day of the week and the date when we write those.  Simon dictates the text, I print it neatly, and then he illustrates it.  He is proud of his journal and often asks me to read previous days’ pages to him.

Handwriting–Little Folks Letter Practice and Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level K.  Peter did levels 2 through 4 of Catholic Heritage Handwriting and I was happy with it, so I figured I’d start Simon with the same program.  I generally like the printing/cursive styles that they use, I appreciate the spiral binding at the top so that kids aren’t trying to write with their hand bumping into the binding, and I find the cost reasonable.

Spelling–All About Spelling.  We’ll start this after Simon finishes level 1 of Little Stories for Little Folks.  I did the first three levels or so of All About Spelling with Peter and found it a solid program, much superior to the traditional spelling-words-list-of-the-week approach.

Math–RightStart Math: Level A and Mathematical Reasoning: Level A.  We are doing a four-day rotation in math: RightStart Math lesson, 3 pages of Mathematical Reasoning, RightStart Math game, 3 pages of Mathematical Reasoning.  RightStart Math is another of my favorite curriculum resources that I used with Peter and am now using with Simon.  It is hands-on, very visual, and focuses on building mathematical concepts.  I started Simon in RightStart level A (which is intended to be a kindergarten-level program) when he was in preschool, doing one lesson a week and repeating each lesson (so weeks 1 and 2 we did lesson 1, weeks 3 and 4 we did lesson 2, et cetera).  Last year, in junior kindergarten, we continued in level A, doing one lesson a week without repeating.  We will finish level A this year, doing one lesson every four days.  RightStart has a wide variety of games to provide the practice necessary for students to master math skills.  Last year, we played a math game once a week; sometimes I chose the game based on what I felt Simon needed to practice, and sometimes I let him choose.  This year, I’m mostly picking the games.  As much as I love RightStart, I do feel that it benefits from some supplementation.  I had Peter do Singapore math workbooks along with RightStart, but I have since discovered the Mathematical Reasoning series, which I think is better-suited to my goal of promoting critical thinking, problem solving, and conceptual understanding.  I think that using both RightStart Math and Mathematical Reasoning provides a good balance between hands-on activities, games, and workbook exercises.

Science–Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: Volume 1 (Grades K-2).  Of all the new materials I’m using this year, this is probably the one I’m most excited about (though Life of Fred comes close).  The author, Bernie Nebel, seems to have a strong conceptual understanding of how to teach science so that kids will really learn science.  You can check out a video of him explaining the basics of his approach on the BFSU Community website.  The program is very flexible, allowing me to determine how much time and energy to spend on each topic depending on Simon’s interest, his understanding of the concepts, the resources I have available, et cetera.  So far, Simon is loving science.  We recently finished the lesson on states of matter, during which we made a little book; Simon dictated the words for me to write and then he illustrated it.  He must have asked me to read him that book at least two dozen times.  He can’t wait to make an entire library of science books.

Religion–Image of God: Kindergarten.  We did the Image of God preschool program last year and Simon learned quite a bit.  The kindergarten program repeats a lot of the same material (which serves to reinforce it), but also includes some saint stories, which are not in the preschool program (both contain Bible stories).

French–Currently, in addition to trying to use some French for day-to-day activities, I’m just reading Simon a story or part of a story in French every day, along with one or two pages from a non-fiction book in French.  I have plans to do more, but I’m still waiting for materials from the homeschool partnership program.

Visual/spatial/analytical skills–Hands-On Thinking Skills.  This book has tear-out pages with activities using pattern blocks, attribute blocks, and interlocking cubes.  As long as I color the shapes for him, Simon thinks it’s fun.

Art–We’re doing art once a week.  I’m not using any particular curriculum, just coming up with ideas as we go along.  I have a list of ideas that I used last year, but I’ve also found inspiration from the books we’ve been reading.  We made a clove apple after reading about one in Little House in the Big Woods and we made papier mâché after coming across a mention of it somewhere.

So that’s what we’re doing this year.  It seems like a tremendous amount, but most of the subjects don’t take that long to do, and we don’t do every subject every day.  Peter does a good chunk of his work independently, and it takes maybe an hour to an hour and a half daily to do Simon’s lessons.  If you’re interested in what we’ve done in the past, you can check out the links below.

Previous homeschool curriculum overviews:

2016-2017 (junior kindergarten)  [Apparently, I never wrote anything about what I did with Simon last year.  Maybe one of these days I’ll put something together.]

2015-2016 (preschool, round two)

2014-2015 (grade 4)

2013-2014 (grade 3)

2008-2009 (preschool)


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