2010-11 Year in Review: Kindergarten

Isaias (6) was my Kindergartener this year. I really hadn't planned on schooling him because- quite frankly, I didn't think he was ready.

Which is funny because I thought the same thing about Isaac at this age, too.

What happened is that while I didn't say anything to Isaias about schooling last summer, several extended family members did. Things like, "Oh, you get to be in Kindergarten next year, right? What a big boy!" and he got all excited. While I wasn't too keen on the idea of schooling him just yet, I knew that not schooling him would be a low blow to him after all those comments. I just couldn't envision myself bursting his happy bubble. Not because I can't say no to my kids (believe me, I can) but because I knew that for Isaias, a no about this would be devastating to him.

So Mark and I decided to go ahead and begin and call it Kindergarten, but to start really simple. The first week of school I had planned for him to practice forming his ABC's with his finger using a small tray of rice. I had visions of making it through the alphabet in a few weeks but he could seriously not even make a diagonal stroke for the A on the first day. (Told you he wasn't ready.) It was a little mind-boggling, honestly. I mean, I didn't think he was ready, but... um, I really did not realize how UN-ready he was.

So I scaled it waaaay back. We called it school and I made sure to write his name up on the dry- erase board each day with Ella's and Isaac's names and t0-do's, but his list would look like this:
-Super Star Speech* with mommy on the couch.
-choose a (picture) book for mommy to read to you
-color at the table

*Isaias had trouble with some of his sounds and for a season, was pretty difficult to understand. I purchased this book two years ago and I worked through the exercises with him last year and at the beginning of this year and it really helped him. His speech is much better and I found this book really helpful for me to be able to narrow down which sounds he was struggling with and to pay attention to that in his speech and catch him on those things and work on practicing the correct sounds with him.)

I did a bit of searching for something for him to do that would feel more like official school to him and discovered this little pre-cursor to what Isaac was doing:
and scooped up this series and that gave him some book work to do at the table when E & I were doing theirs. It's very basic but was really perfect for where he was at.

We also worked on an All About Me book, did several ABC Hunts (uppercase and lowercase letters) for letter recognition, and he traced around metal insets. He played the dice math game, worked on various ABC puzzles/games that we have around the house, and did all of our Bible/memory work and history with us each day.

At some point during the year we went back to my original rice-tray idea and he easily formed the letters. At the end of our year he now is familiar with all the letters and their sounds and often writes and sounds out the words as he writes. He's come a long way and we're really proud of him.

* * *

I think all I have left for these Year in Review posts are the ones on Nature Study, which I began but decided Mark should do instead since he's actually in charge of it. Maybe I'll interview him and post it that way. Oh! AND I remember now: I promised a book list, so I'll do that, too. :)

When the laundry piles are enormous

At our house we don't have a problem washing and drying the laundry. It's the folding and putting away that's a challenge. So, about 90% of the time we've got a couple of full hampers sitting around, waiting for inspiration to hit.

Usually we fold/put away a few times a week, but we're a little out of that routine now that school is done, so it's been piling up.

Occasionally I'll give a penny per item they fold. I don't do this all the time, but a few times a month I'll just announce, at laundry-folding time, "Everyone gets a penny for each item you fold!"

This morning- with several full hampers, I sweetened the deal:

1 cent for each item folded
2 cents for each pair of socks matched
5 cents for each folded stack of laundry put away in it's proper place

A half-hour and a couple dollars later and the laundry is all folded and put away, the piggy banks are a little heavier, and everyone is happy. :)

The stats:
Audra played dollhouse nearby.
Adelia (3) folded 1 piece of laundry (she's just starting to learn to fold). She didn't get any money because she doesn't care about money yet and she doesn't yet have a piggy bank. :) But we all exclaimed about how neatly she folded that one pair of pants.
Ella (9) folded 42 items, matched 19 pairs of socks, and put away 7 folded piles of laundry. Total earnings: $1.15
Isaac (7) folded 20 items, matched 16 pairs of socks, and put away 6 folded piles of laundry. Total earnings: 82 cents
Isaias (6) folded 7 items (um... he got a slow start: he's usually right up there with Isaac), matched 10 pairs of socks, and put away 3 folded piles of laundry. Total earnings: 46 cents
I folded right along with them (it's incentive to them to work hard because anything I fold takes away from what they can earn). When I matched socks I added to their piles, though. And I put away everything I folded. Total earnings: we all worked cheerfully at a task together and completed it, and I got to reward the kids and the laundry is done!

Thoughts on a sunny Tuesday

~ Mark and I are celebrating 14 years of marriage today. How I *love* my husband! Mark blessed me with a bouquet of flowers at lunch today-- yellow and purple, the same colors we had for our wedding flowers-- and then a sweet card he handed to me when he got home from work this evening. Tonight we feasted on crab (with oodles of butter, garlic, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice), greek salad, and bread (with the kids, at home.) Yesterday my mom watched the kids so that just the two of us could spend the day together, which was such a gift.

~ Last night we took down Audra's crib and Adelia's toddler bed and moved up to a full and a twin in the room. Audra (2) and Ella (9) are sharing, Adelia is in the twin. The girls LOVE it. Seriously- they could not be happier with the arrangement. We're still transitioning the room so right now it's just mattresses on the floor. They've been a little rambunctious in there at bedtime (it's like a slumber party to them), but they're settling in...

~ I am cheerily planning our schooling for next year. (Have I mentioned how much I *love* planning?)

~ We received Ella's standardized test results in the mail and somehow I now feel "official" that Ella is getting properly educated. (This is silly, I know. I knew she was getting a solid education already. But still.) She tested very well.

~ Our garden is growing. I always feel so proud of those little shoots first coming up out of the ground. Our strawberries are ripening. My peonies are happily blooming.

~ I went away last weekend on a little retreat with these wonderful ladies and was so blessed. I have such respect for each one of them, and it was such a treat to get away and talk about parenting, homeschooling and our faith. And eat. And laugh. And rest.

(l to r: Cutzi, Sarah, Jodi, Amy, me, Rebecca with her newest little Reuben)

~ I said to Mark today: "Remember when I used to bake bread? And make homemade yogurt? And make our own laundry soap? Sheesh. It's been awhile... " I have definitely not done those things for a long while. I feel like we're entering a new season, though, in our family life... with the little girls being not as little anymore. Within the past couple of weeks I've gone out twice with all five kids to run errands or go grocery shopping. That is something that did not seem AT ALL feasible to me for at least the last couple of years. I joked to Mark that some of our neighbors were probably shocked to see us going out-and-about in the daytime hours. (It's just easier to stay at *home* with little ones, so that's what we do.) It makes me realize just how taxing the years are with little ones in the mix. All that to say that if you're in that taxing season, it *does* get easier. :) [Oh. And for any of you with inquiring minds that might be thinking: "Wait. They took down their crib and she feels like they're "entering a new season of family life"-- Does that mean they're not going to have/adopt any more kids?" Nope. That's not what that means. :) That's just where we find ourselves right *now*. We'd love more children!]

How are *you* today?

On how much I need Jesus

The more children I have-- or the older I get, one of the two-- the less qualified I feel I am to offer any insight of any kind here on the blog. This is why: I am so very aware of my sin. I am sure of just one thing, really- and that is that I need Jesus. More of Him, less of me.

I've noticed lately that my daughters frequently sigh. (Well, Ella sighs and Adelia outright groans in frustration.) When I hear it, I am aware that they're simply modeling what they have heard from me. When I hear one of the older kids speak sharply to a younger sibling, I hear my own tone in theirs, and know that they heard it here first. Hourly I am reminded of how sinful I am and how grateful I am for a Savior who paid for that sin.

I need God to shepherd me in this role as a wife and mother. I was reminded recently of my position as a helper~ created by God to be a helper to my husband. Yet so often I want Mark to help me. He gets home and I want to be helped by him. Thankfully I have a loving husband who truly and genuinely *wants* to help me, so it does work out, but the problem is me; my attitude. I am self-absorbed and seeking my comfort and not his.

In the past few days a number of small distasters happened: Audra found my container of (loose) powder and dumped it inside my purse and make-up bag. To clean it up I had to wash each item, which ruined almost everything. Adelia squeezed an entire container of sunscreen out into the (full) basket of hair accessories (elastics, barrettes, headbands, etc). Audra unrolled a roll of toilet paper. Audra discovered Ella's big container of beads and dumped it onto the couch and all.over.the.living.room floor. Days later and I'm still stepping on beads. But it's all just stuff. I can buy new make-up, I washed down the hair elastics, we can still use that toilet paper and the beads were cleaned up.

What is not so easy to clean up is my response. I'd like to think that my response to my fifth child- when I saw those beads raining down on the couch and floor- is vastly different than my response would have been to Ella, my first-born, had that same scenario occurred. Surely with more experience as a mother I am less exasperated when those things happen, and was able to respond in kindness, graciousness, and love. Not so much. Most days that's not the case. I'm still me, five children later: a flawed and fumbling sinner who desperately needs to be transformed by God.

So I pray that He would shape me, transform me, and teach me how to train them. I pray that He would soften my cold and hard heart; that He would eliminate my pride and give me humility. I pray that He would show me how to lay down my life- my time, my comforts, my schedule, my way- for theirs. I pray that He would put life-giving words of encouragement on my tongue, that I would be full of gentleness and graciousness and love. I pray that He would root out my critical, fault-finding spirit. I pray that He would fill me with the fruit of His Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Oh, how I pray for those qualities! Because I am none of those things except for Him in me.)

I sit beside my Ella-girl and tell her that I have heard her sighing in an I-am-so-put-out-that-you-asked-me-to-do-that kind of way and that I know she has heard it from me because mommy does that too and can we pray together?- for more of God's Spirit in us so that we might bring glory to Him through our attitudes? So we do. And we come up with a little plan to catch each other in our sighing. Initially I do holler about the beads but then I go to my little girl, kneel down and hug her and tell her that I love her and ask her to please not spill out the beads in the future. I am sharp in my tone with the kids. They often hear that, but then they often hear me confess my sin and we pray together for mommy to be patient and kind and they know that I need Him.

I desire with my whole heart to love God more and to be more fully surrendered to Him each day. And I desire that for my kids more than anything else. Together, we are learning and growing and failing and reconciling and forgiving and persevering because we love God and desire to love one another- and to do both well.

I am so thankful for His grace.

Thank you for reading here as I journal "out loud" about all of this. I hope and pray that anything I say here on this blog serves as an encouragement to you as you seek to love your own family. We are each uniquely created by God. I love to think of the ways God has equipped *you* to serve your family. It probably looks a whole lot different than the ways He has equipped me, and I love that. Makes life so much more interesting, doesn't it?

Blessings to you and yours today!

On anger and expectations in mothering

I can almost be assured that if I become angry with a child, it is because my expectations match my goals for him. It is essential that we have high, godly goals for our children. We want to lead them to the best of their ability spiritually and educationally. However, in this process of moving toward the goals, we must keep our expectations lower than those goals. When I expect my child to have reached a high goal, then I am likely to become angry with him if he hasn't. On the other hand, if I expect my child to have not yet reached the goal, then my spirit is at peace with the training and teaching process as we strive to reach those goals.

It is so much a matter of perspective. The Lord has given us a definite role in our children's lives. If they are spiritually and educationally mature as children, then why are we to train them up? Why are we told to discipline them? It is because children will spend their childhoods working toward the "high goals" the Lord has set for them. They will make progress toward those goals, but it may not be as quick or discernable as we would like it to be. Aren't we glad the Lord doesn't get angry with us every time we fall short of His goals for us?

~Teri Maxwell, Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit

I'm mulling over those words of wisdom today. I want so much to be an encourager of my children as they strive for those goals.

May God bless you today as you do the same!

2010-11 Year in Review: First Grade

Isaac was my first-grader this year, and he had a great year.

I kept his "Table Time" (the work he does independently at the table) to three days each week, M-W-F. During this time he worked through his Explode the Code Book 2 and Rod & Staff math. I assigned word-building (more on that in a minute) or reading to him on these days, too~ meaning that he would read aloud to me from a book of his choice. Oh, and we all do history together on M-W-F, too.

So technically he does school every day (Bible, memory work, picture study, classical music, etc), but all of his grade-specific work is done on these three days and that has worked well for us.

Isaac thoroughly enjoys Explode the Code. We began Book 1 in Kindergarten and this year he completed Book 1 and book 2 of the series and is beginning Book 3. The style and format of the book is well-suited to my boy: he thinks the pictures and questions are amusing, and he has learned a lot, too!

He enjoys Math. I tried to remember to let him "build" his Math problems occasionally. I set aside a baggie of LEGOS reserved for math time and I would circle a row of problems on a page and tell him to build them~ he didn't need to worry about writing in the answers as long as he successfully built them.

Isaac really took off in reading this year, and it's fun to see him now choose to read during his free time rather than play LEGOS. He is now reading chapter books with ease and I love having two little readers in the house-- although I'm at a loss as to what good age-appropriate boy books there are out there, so I'm gearing up for a summer of finding some!

Some days I had him work on "word-building". I wrote words on the board or asked him to go get a picture book and choose a sentence from the book to "build" with our set of alphabet letters. Towards the end of the year he was creating his own sentences.

I'm certain that if I asked Isaac what his favorite part of school was this year, he would say Bible. (Which gives me an idea. I'm going to head out and interview him in a couple of minutes for you.) He just loves our Bible time, and is so captivated by the stories in the Bible and how mighty God is.

Okay, here's my spontaneous mini-interview (short and sweet, as you'll see by his responses!) with Isaac to finish out this post:

Isaac, what was your favorite part of school this year?
Can I say "The Bible"?

Okay. The Bible.

How come?
Because I just really like the stories in it.

What did you like about Explode the Code?
I like those questions in it.

Did you like doing Math?
Not so much. But I like the thing about the frogs and the rabbits. [Counting by 5's and 10's].

What was your favorite part of Nature Study?
I just liked it all.

Memory work?
Memorizing capitals.

Picture study/classical music?
I like them.

Are there any things you wish we did more of?
There's something I wish we did less of. Catechism. We did a lot of that.

How about history? What was your favorite story we learned about in history?
The one about the mountain coming up. [He's referring to the time when, through the faith of Simaan El Kaharaz, and by the power of God Mokattam Mountain was lifted into the sky: Mystery of History, Volume II, Lesson 50: St. Simon and the Coptic Orthodox Church.]

Oh, how I love my boy.

Open House: Monday, June 6

This morning after breakfast I set up an "outdoor paint studio" for the kids, and they loved it.

[If you look closely there on the right-hand side, you can see our garden is ready for planting!]

(I have not forgotten that I'm midway through my Year in Review posts, but we finished school and testing last week and the sunshine has finally (thank you, Jesus!) shown up here in the Pacific NW, so we're taking full advantage of it while it's here.)

Larry the Tooth Fairy

Isaac lost his first tooth yesterday! He's extremely happy about it. (Isaias, who is a year and a half *younger* than him, has already lost four or five teeth (I lose track) and Isaac has been earnestly hoping his tooth would fall out.)

I asked him last night if he was concerned at all about the tooth fairy flying into his room. Isaac is my boy who can be a little fearful so I wanted to be sure he wasn't alarmed at the idea. He said he wasn't, and then I assured him that she was just a little thing with wings and that she wasn't anything to be scared of anyway. Isaac's response to that was: "She?! I don't want a girl tooth fairy."

Mark didn't miss a beat. "Oh, okay. So you're hoping for Larry the Tooth Fairy, then. He's a good one. Kind of big, though. Don't know if he'll make it through the door." Mark kept wondering aloud about which tooth fairy would show up.

Would it be Harry the Tooth Fairy? Harry's pretty hairy, though, and hopefully all that hair doesn't tickle your face when he comes over to slip money under your pillow.

Maybe it will be Jerry.

There's always Gary, too.

Then Ella and I caught on and started in on how sweet Sherry the Tooth Fairy is. And Carrie and Mary, too... and was he sure he didn't want one of them?

Isaac was giggling. He's a little iffy about whether there's a tooth fairy at all, but we sure seemed to know a lot of them- and by name!

Mark and I were talking later about how we should start leaving notes and signing them by the various tooth fairies that come to our house. (When they remember to come. Sometimes those tooth fairies are so forgetful! Sometimes our kids even have to write reminder notes for the tooth fairy and tape it on their doors! ;))

This morning at breakfast I asked Isaac if the tooth fairy had come, and- which one did he think came? He thought probably it was Gary the Tooth Fairy.

Then he said, "But daddy says there's one named 'Jack Squat', too, and sometimes he's the one that comes."

A couple hours later and I'm still chuckling that Mark told him there was a tooth fairy named Jack Squat.