Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scrapping the Plans

When I started homeschooling, one of the funnest parts for me was the planning.  I love to set up schedules, chose curriculum, set up my classroom, and visit my all-time favorite store, Office Depot.  Yes, it was all about the color-coordinated labels and file folders!

I realize now that I was preparing for my homeschool to be no different than school-at-home.  We had the traditional school room, and the traditional subjects broken up into different time periods throughout the day.  I split up the kids based on grade-level and made them sit down, be quiet and "do school."

Now, during my second year of homeschooling, I am realizing that doing that was setting myself up for frustration.  I would get irritated when my kids wouldn't follow my schedule, or sit in their chairs, or learn in the way I had imagined.

I was also losing a marvelous opportunity to teach my kids in a radical way.  I mean, if I am going to go to the trouble to homeschool, why do exactly what the local schools are doing?  I am able (especially in New Jersey, which has liberal homeschooling laws) to teach my kids in any way I want, why not mix things up a bit?  Especially since things weren't working the way I had imagined anyway.

The dining room is sometimes a good place for "table work."`
The first change I have made is to scrap the school room.  I loved setting it up, but no one wanted to sit down there (it was in our basement).  And, it really went against my central reason for homeschooling, which is to incorporate learning into our every day life.  I don't like the idea that education is something that happened "over there" at school, while "real life" happens at home with our friends and family.  We are really learning all the time, so I want to get rid of the artificial divide.  But, when we are schooling in our separate space -- our school room -- that too suggests a separation of learning and 'real life.'

So we no longer do school there.  We learn at the kitchen table, on the couch, and -- when we need to -- at a table set up in our formal living room (a room we perviously only ever used once a year, on Christmas!).  We also spend a lot of time outside of our home, be it in our yard or at museums, parks, and the library. Now, we are truly learning everywhere.

At Battlefield Park learning about the Revolutionary War

Another big change I have made is to become more intentionally interest-led. In other words, I let the kids' interest direct what we will be learning that day.  We are not exactly unschoolers because I do use a curriculum (Sonlight) and I follow it, although not to-the-letter.  We also have tutors for both math and Chinese for the three oldest kids, and Olivia takes a co-op writing class.  John, is a much more structured teacher than I am, also, and really likes to sit and work with the kids with workbooks and such.  But, I have purposed to using the time I have with the kids to follow their interests and their passions.  Because, I have found, real learning does not truly take place when I am forcing them to do something that I deem important.  I read somewhere that forcing someone to learn something is like throwing marshmallows at someone's head and calling that feeding.  Only when the student wants to learn, and sees a purpose for that knowledge, that real learning can occur.

Peter's fascination with magnets

So, I do read aloud history books and novels.  I do ask the boys to do handwriting practice and reading and math.  Olivia does that at a more intense level, too.  But, if they are resistant, I back off.  And if they are interested and engaged, we go beyond what I had planned for that day.

Ellie is really into painting right now

We spend a lot more time drawing U-boats, reading Captain Underpants, and writing up pretend legal documents for an All-Girls Art Gallery (AGAG?) than we do filling in workbooks.

But we do that, too.  And, when we do, the kids seems to have more tolerance for it than they did beforehand. My frustration level has gone down, and I am actually loving homeschooling again.  
So far so good.

"In this intellectual period the child's questions are innumerable. He wants to know everything. His thirst for knowledge is so insatiable that generally people are at their wits end about it. Therefore they mostly choose the easiest way, and simply force the child to be silent and to learn only what grownups feel is useful to him. But in doing so, we also spoil his spontaneous interest. Learning then becomes a tedious and tiresome business."
 --Maria Montessori

Also check out this recent post from Simple Homeschool.  Totally up my alley. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Elijah Update

Our agency sent us an update on Elijah, which included 4 photos.  What a joy to see his face again.  I can't imagine what it will be like to see him again after almost 3 years.  

Elijah is living with a foster family since his former home, An Orphan's Wish, closed at the end of August.  The report tells us that Elijah gets along very well with the family.  He is very attached to the younger foster sister and the older brother.  We are told of him going for walks outside with the adults, going to the park with the kids, being read to, and of him attending a family wedding.

I did start to feel a bit worried when I saw the pictures and read the report, because Elijah looks so settled where he is.  He looks so happy.  He sounds like he fits right in.  I don't want him to be torn away from the only family he has ever known.  I don't want him, in the future, to wish he was back with them and not with us.

But as my wise friend reminded me, it is SO good that he is experiencing family life.  As far as I know, he has never lived outside of a group living setting.  He is getting some much-needed practice in some things that are second nature to most of us:  obeying parental figures, observing and being comfortable around familial affection, practicing good manners, to name just a few.

And no matter what, Elijah will have to deal with grief.  Whether it is because of missing his foster family, or just because he misses his friends, culture, language, food -- the list goes on and on.  Elijah is going to have so much adjusting to do, and I pray that we have what it takes to ease that pain for him and to be his 'soft place to fall.'

I read an excellent blog post about older child adoption that I am sure I will refer to again and again.  Check it out, if you have the time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Hard Stuff

Life has been super-busy for our family lately, and that has made things more challenging than the last academic year.  Instead of homeschooling 3, I am homeschooling 4 (Ellie has joined in with us.  And, although she is only doing some pre-school stuff, she is quite determined about it!).  

And, of course, now I have a baby under my feet -- or, more likely, on my hip.  Christopher, being a normal 17-month old, interrupts us constantly with his needs for food or to be changed or just to get some attention.  He also screams during read-alouds.

And dumps out toys on the school table as we are doing work!

Good thing he's cute.

I am finding the lack of sleep to be the biggest challenge.  Christopher wakes up once per night.  I am not sure exactly why.  It could be hunger, because he is not that interested in food during the day (unless it is ice cream or cookies) and he also gags and vomits a lot.  I wonder if I am not giving him enough food -- or keeping enough down --  to keep him satisfied through the night.  But, it might also be an attachment thing.  Perhaps Christopher is liking having a mother who will give him a snuggle in the middle of the night.  And, I will not deny him that no matter how tired I am.

Along with getting up at night, the almost-daily power naps I used to take last year no longer work.  Ellie doesn't nap consistently anymore, and Christopher naps way too early for it to ever work for me and our schedule.  So -- long story short -- much less sleep for mama. And much less patience.

I am also getting used to all of our current activities.  As much as I wanted to homeschool in order to make our family life less frantic, we still seem to get quite busy.  The kids have a tutor come twice per week for math, and another one twice per week for Chinese.

Ellie has speech therapy twice per week, and Christopher has Occupational therapy once per week:

Christopher with his OT, Miss Julie.  He loves her!

We also go to homeschool choir, fencing, cub scouts, and swimming lessons.  While these are all good things -- and usually allow the younger kids to play outside in a nearby park while the others are at lessons (I am always looking to kill two birds with one stone) -- I am finding myself harried and rushed, and using the phrase "hurry up!" to the kids many times each day.

In order for us to be ready to take all of these wonderful lessons, we need to get on with our schooling right away in the morning and to keep quite a brisk pace.

That does not always work.  Kids cannot be inspired on demand.  Being rushed does not induce learning.  Quite the contrary, stress hinders education.  This is not the homeschooling I imagined:  one of interest-led learning, play dough, learning to bake, and reading together.

And, as for me, tired + rushing = a grumpy mom.  I'm not being the best mother I can be, to say the least.

All of this is a long-winded preamble to me saying that I am finding myself worrying lately how I am going to do it all when Elijah arrives.  When I feel like I am already at my max in terms of what I can get done on a certain amount of sleep, how on earth can I do more?  

Some times I find myself feeling sorry for myself.  I do not take time for myself these days.  There is no working out long hours at the gym, there are no coffees with friends or even walks alone with the dog.  

Most of the time, I am okay with this.  I think the often-mentioned 'me time' is overrated.  I mean, it is certainly nice, but I don't "need" it.  I have found so much satisfaction and fulfillment in the "dying to self" to which Christ calls all of us who follow him.  I love this blog entry on this topic. I am so much happier now -- making 3 meals per day, doing loads of laundry, and teaching my kids -- than when my kids went to school and I used to spend more than two hours per day at the gym -- for real. I am truly not judging anyone who takes their kids to school and goes to the gym.  I have just found that I am not a good multi-tasker, and I am much more centered when I am focusing all of me (or most of me) in one area.  Actually, it's more than that, because I was certainly focused when I was in graduate school.  But I was not fulfilled because I felt like there was little greater good in what I was doing (writing academic articles about very specific and narrow topics for other academics to read and argue over?  Not for me.)


I am tired and I am overwhelmed.  I try to focus on the long term -- and, when I think about my life as a whole and how I want to have lived, I am at peace.  I know that God is in control and is doing beautiful things.  But, I am also human and I worry about the short term minutia:  how are we going to travel to bring Elijah home? How will Elijah fit into our family: what sort of 'issues' he will have, how I will homeschool him, how the other kids' roles will change and their reactions to that, where will he sleep?  Speaking of sleep, how on earth I will get enough sleep in order to be the mother they deserve.  I worry about my marriage and how I will find time to connect with my husband.  Of course, I worry about finances and how we will provide for six children.

What is hardest for me is that I feel like I cannot voice these concerns.  I imagine that if I say that I am worried, the response -- either stated or just thought -- will be:  "yeah, well, you should have thought of this before you decided to adopt again!"  or "why not just send your kids to school?" or "that is why I would not adopt an older child."  

I am not in a place where I can hear those types of responses yet.  Perhaps, after we have  few years of homeschooling or adopting an older child under our belts, I will feel comfortable discussing others' doubts.  But not now.  

I know what we are doing is right, I feel it in my gut.  To make any other choices right now -- not adopting Elijah, for example --  is unthinkable. I do not regret any of our decisions.  Just because something is hard does not mean it is bad.  In fact, often, the most important things -- the things we end up being most proud of -- are the hardest things in our lives.

But, I am human and therefore I want to avoid the hard stuff.  I want to complain about it, or at least talk about finding a way out of it.  And I do feel kind of isolated and lonely because I feel I cannot talk about it.  For me, to express my worries and to talk them over, often relieves my stress.  I work things out as I talk.  But, now, writing here has taken its place.

The kinds of 'solutions' I want to talk about are not making major changes in our decisions, but more in the line of cutting back on extra stuff -- fewer activities, less stuff, more interest-led learning instead of being as highly structured and teacher-led.  I realize that these ideas bring me even further away from what is considered 'normal' and 'good'  -- at least in my sphere or neighbors and friends -- so, again, I am reluctant to talk about it.

I mention my worries and thoughts now not only because writing helps me to process, but also because I get some comments here and there about John and I being so "great" and so "patient" etc.  But we are just regular people, who worry and who have doubts, who want to avoid the hard stuff.  Adoption, homeschooling, or just having a larger-than-average-sized family are not things that only 'great' or 'patient' people can do, but also regular, worried, lonely people like me.  Just like any mom, I am busy and tired and have doubts.  

But I am holding onto one of my favorite aspects of Christian belief which is that Christ is made strong in our weakness; that we do not need to be perfect to be used by Him.  I do not need to see more than just one step in front of me; sometimes I am even taking that next step blindly.  

With newfound faith.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ellie turns 4

 Ellie turned 4 today.  My spunky, funny, strong, affectionate little girl.

My beautiful one, who falls asleep whenever and wherever she sees fit.

As she tore open her birthday gifts this morning, and then hugged everyone with a big "THANK YOU!,"I silently thanked her birth family for choosing to bring her into this world.  If they could only see her now, I am sure they would feel so proud.

How did I get so lucky to be her mother?  Seriously?  

On Saturday we held her birthday party at a local farm.  Ellie is obsessed with horses, and the only present she wanted this year was a horse.  Well, that wasn't going to happen so we compromised with toy horses and pony rides for her birthday party.

She took seven turns.  She was in heaven.

And I was in heaven because I finally got to meet my newest niece, Annie.  She is so tiny and sweet.

My nieces, Ruby and Lucy, who own pieces of my heart.  Being an auntie is so fun -- all the love and none of the discipline.

We also went on a wagon ride through the farm.

This pose is totally Ellie:

John's cousin and our niece Nikki.

Christopher seemed to really like the ride.

Ellie was insistent that we have cupcakes and not cake.  Her wish was my command. 

Happy Birthday girl!

All ready to blow out the candles

And they are out in one huff and puff!

Oh, did I mention the farm party was also a "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" party?
It was.  Both.

Chris says "Arrrr"

 Then we fed the animals.  Both Ellie and Christopher could not get enough of this goat.

 He got a lot of corn that day.

 Chris was also really into the chickens.  

It was a wonderful day.  And, although many have heard me say that I loathe throwing kids' birthday parties (and I've done my share), this one was extra worth it because Ellie really seemed to love it.

Happy Birthday, my "best friend ever"!