Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Multiplying Mozarts

"When Wolfgang got married he had six children. That's two times our children," exclaimed a surprised Bean while reading a biography of Mozart.

As predicted math has turned out to the the only subject that we have a purchased curriculum for and we use regularly (about daily). We actually have yet to reach the multiplication part, but we start it tomorrow. Bean has been very looking forward to it. We've been working through the Singapore math curriculum in order and in entirety because I'm afraid to skip or jump ahead, and he has thankfully been patient with that. 

He has zipped through most of the previous topics else with ease. I just have to explain something once and he gets it. It makes me wonder if he knew it before I "taught" it. He almost never makes mistakes (it's like weeks in between mistakes), so we move on . Only recently with subtraction with borrowing (e.g., 36 - 8 = ?), have we done multiple days of practice. He was figuring it out problems in his own unique way and not using the strategy taught in the book. So while he was getting the answer right, I wanted him to get used to the strategy because I've found that with Singapore math, strategies are generally built upon in later books. Still, I'm glad he has a level of comprehension of math that he can quickly and correctly do mental calculations. Admittedly he's better than me; more that once I thought he was wrong and it turned out to be me!

This just reminds me of a quote I saw on Pinterest a couple months ago:

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you.
If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.

Bean sure is determined to multiply and there is no stopping him from making sense of his world with multiplication. It will be fun to see how he takes to it tomorrow. 

Tey has really been enjoying math too. This year we got him his own Singapore math books, so I think he's feeling extra studious. Today he kept wanting to do more and more. Eventually I had to tell him that we had to stop because I need to get some other stuff done around the house and he can't quite work independently yet.

Meanwhile, Mei was at the table coloring in a coloring book and pasting Tey's leftover cut-outs into it. It was so precious. She always loves copying what her brothers are doing. A part of me feels like I should have more organized activities for her, but so far she enjoys coloring, drawing, and play doh type things while we do table work with the boys.

Monday, August 20, 2012

First Day

My Facebook feed has been filled with cute pics of my friends' kids having their first days, mostly first grade, because that's the age Bean is.

I love their eagerly smiling faces and their backpacks that are generally too large for their bodies. Their outfits are picked out specially for the occasion, as well as their lunch. I can just smell the anticipation of a new box of crayons and hear the crack of a composition book being opened for the first time. I miss that. Honestly, I mourn not having that exciting day that kicks off a new school year.

Yet, I am also rejoicing that the first day or any day of a brick and mortar school is not currently a part of our lives.

Bo and I were woken up at 9am. Bean came bounding into our room with excitement that he taught Mei three new words, which she then recited after him. I can't even remember what they were because my mind was still cloudy with sleep. Sleep. At 9am. Awesome. Note: Tey spent the night at my in-laws, which is why he is noticeably absent from this post.

We were at the library soon after 10 because I had a homeschool meeting. Bean read independently just outside the door, but I could see him through the glass walls of the meeting room. Another mom and son arrived later than we did and the boy took a seat in a chair next to Bean. Though he was a couple years older than Bean, they hit it off immediately and were talking, smiling, giggling and otherwise planting seeds of friendship. Later I came to hear from Bean that they were discussing the book he had brought to read, a retelling of Mozart's The Magic Flute, which the other boy had also read. Let's recap: two boys of different ages began a friendship on their own by discussing an opera. I'm pretty sure that generally doesn't happen at school. Bean's excited to play with this boy again at next month's "Not Back to School Party" where he's also going to learn his name. We're still working remembering to ask people their names.

We got to spend another hour at the library because we had some time to kill before Tae Kwon Do. It was a perfect opportunity for Bean to thumb through a copy National Geographic Kids. In our planning about what to learn this year, Bean specifically said he wanted to learn about geography. So we've gone back and forth with the idea of getting him a subscription to that magazine (he wants it, but we could save the money just going to the library, and he hasn't decided about that yet). Since watching the Olympics and finding the countries in our atlas, he has also been really interested in looking at maps and atlases, learning about the legend, compass rose, scale, symbols, and state flags, and imagining what it would be like driving across various states. We're biting the bullet and going to buy this map of The Essential Geography of the United States. If you want in, I'm looking for one more person to buy with us to get the 6-pack discount. We still need a globe too. We've also been reading Paddle-to-the-Sea, and taking notes on the geography, animals, vocabulary, and imagery in the book. We take turns writing, because he's still not a big fan of that. It's hard to tell how long his interest in this topic will last, but his current geographical knowledge already exceeds school standards before what would have been his first day of school. We're gonna be ok. I still have to remind myself a lot.

After an hour of Tae Kwon Do and a picnic, we spent most of the rest of the day outside with Bean riding his bike and me weeding. After two or so weeks of borrowing a balance bike from a friend, we tried his bike with no training wheels and it was like he's been riding a two-wheel bike forever! He's gotten over much fear, and also personal struggle. So many things come very easily to him that it's difficult for him to stick to something that takes practice and that he can recognize right away that things are not going well (e.g., writing, bike riding). This is a great accomplishment for him because it took time investment and there were many bumps and scrapes along the way trying to convince him to give up. With no school schedule or homework, we can enjoy much more time outdoors, exploring nature and engaging in physical activity, which are good for the body and the soul.

There are even more reasons that I've grown to really love homeschooling, but this is just what came up based on what happened today. Yes, some days are hard but overall, I wouldn't trade this ever. At the same time, I'm so happy for all my friends whose kids started this week and I hope they have a blast this year.

Today my thoughts and prayers were very much with all the teachers who are back-to-school, especially the moms who are away from their own children to teacher others' children. It humbles me to think about the multiple and huge sacrifices teachers make to educate masses of children when I compare it to the small personal sacrifices I sometimes feel like I make to teach my three kids at home. It's easier for me to focus on all the hardships and struggles of homeschooling and being a stay-at-home-mom, but today, I choose joy.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


There are at least two circumstances in which I find my children to be undeniable adorable. One is after a long tiring day of mommy working really hard and they are all peacefully sleeping. Can I get an AMEN? 

The second is when they are eating, especially when they are feeding each other. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

While I Was Ignoring My Kids

Today one of the homeschooling moms I follow on Facebook posted about a pet peeve of hers: "Moms who spend all their time online chatting with friends ABOUT homeschooling/unschooling while not actually interacting with their kiddos! Makes me crazy!"

I have been plenty guilty of finding pet peeves in others when I should not be one to judge. When I was a working mom, I sometimes wondered how SAHMs found time to tweet, update their Facebook statuses or blog. Aren't they supposed to spend every second with their kids? I know I wanted to use my nights and weekends to spend as much quality time as possible with my kids. It wasn't until I majorly shifted lifestyles that I realized just how much I can't use my standards to make assumptions about other people's lives. Wasn't I supposed to be working anyway, and not worrying about other people? 

I pray that in other aspects of my life God peels away my ignorance and replaces it with compassion. I still have a long way to go. 

This homeschooling mom shaking her finger at other homeschooling moms was pretty shocking to me. Up until now, I have found the homeschooling community to be some of the most open-minded and tolerant people of each other, even the extremists. EVERYONE has been encouraging of one another and me, even when there were differences in opinion, philosophies, strategies, religions, etc. I'm indescribably grateful for all the support, including the online ones, I've received for almost a year. I also appreciate challenges for improvement, when delivered with care and understanding, not condemnation.

I'll be the first to admit that my homeschooling schedule/routine/whatever is nothing to brag about. We're still figuring things out, but we get done what I feel like we need to get done everyday. On days like today, which are most days, the academic stuff gets done well before lunch. So, the kids got to spend from 11ish until 4ish outside riding bikes, exploring nature and playing on the play structure. I spent more time than usual on the internet on the front porch and on the back patio just being available to them if they needed me. Thank you wireless internet. Yes, I was messing around on Facebook a bit, but I also researched how to care for luna moth caterpillars (we got a dozen today from a new homeschooling friend), how to eat black walnuts (we have a ton in our yard and I was wondering how edible they are), and I tried to identify a fragrant bush growing in the garden adjacent to our patio (still unsuccessful). 

During the times when I was not directly interacting with my children, the boys grew tremendously in their independence and interdependence, coming up with games and rules and role plays. They really strengthened their sibling bond, acting mostly like two peas in a pod. This was a welcome change from earlier this week when they were at driving each other nuts. Mei also learned a lot while I was not directly interacting with her and much credit is due to her big brothers. At dinner, Bean and Tey took turns listing off to their Daddy all the things their little sister learned today. It included what tic-tac-toe was, how to say "balance," how to climb up the stepped ramp of the play structure, how to climb up the slide and how to go down the slide all by herself. 

They are so proud of her!

Though I felt like I was on the computer for a long time today, I am confident that giving them their space was not detrimental for them but beneficial. We're so ready for these luna moths! Plus, we collected a huge pile black walnuts, though I'm not sure if we'll actually eat them. :) Most importantly, my children they  grew together and because of each other. I am so proud of them too.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Meeting the Paralympians of CU

We LOVE the community in which we live. The people here rock and there are so many fun things to do. The flatness in the Midwest has its benefits too; it's great for accessibility. We love watching wheelchair racers speed through town, especially in the Illinois Marathon. We haven't missed a race yet. We still need to figure out what to do for next year now that we've moved.

Anyway, today was our chance to meet the Paralympians of our community face-to-face before they head to the Paralympics in London next week. I knew it was an opportunity that our kids would not want to miss. Boy, was I right. 

I had forgotten about it until soon before it started, but when I mentioned it to them, they were ecstatic and extremely cooperative. We had to quickly pile into the tub as we had just spent a long day outside because we also had a going away pizza party for some friends to attend right after. We made it in time! I'm brilliant! (occasionally)...

As soon as we got there, we ran into one of Bean's friends from preschool who is the son of Adam Bleakney, the wheelchair racing coach. After catching up with our old friends the boys got to try a racing chair!

So Bean has been wanting to be a wheelchair athlete for as long as I can remember, and it's hard to explain to him why he can't be, at least for now. I don't want him to hurt himself on purpose! He was so in his element here, really, he loved this chair. 

Tey did surprisingly well on it too given his size, but my camera died, thus the short video above too. I know, momfail.  The media were there so maybe there will be a video of Tey they captured that I can post later. Afterwards, we got autographs from the athletes and the boys did fab introducing themselves and asking amazing questions.

We even touched real medals (a gold, a silver, and a bronze) won in Beijing four years ago by Jessica Galli. They are HEAVY! We are privileged to have these athletes representing our country and our community in London. Last time, Champaign-Urbana Paralympians brought home half of the US medals. I wonder how many more they'll earn now that they are sending twice as many people. Our family will certainly be watching online (details here) and cheering them on in our own home as NBC will not be televising the events. I look forward to a welcome back party, because I know this team is going to make us all proud!

Update: Here is the news coverage of the event. No video of Tey.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mei's First Nature Exploration

You know those vacation days where you spend all day outside on a hike, at the beach, at the zoo, not paying attention to the time or the temperature? We had one of those days today and it was blissful. We headed out to explore the backyard right after we were done with breakfast and morning chores. At first we were going to collect nature treasures in a little wheelbarrow that the previous owners left for our kids, but that proved to be futile with a little Miss Mei dumping things out regularly. So, instead, we took pictures and the boys ran the most interest treasures to the patio to leave for later investigations.

I took other pictures including some of the boys, but this post focuses on our Mei and her day. She copied everything that her older brothers did today, so you can guess what they were up to. She's a little naturalist in the making.

The first tree you encounter just beyond our patio is this Boxedler Maple Acer negundo. I learned that after discovering that it was host to a bunch of red boxelder bugs. The boys enjoyed finding them all over and soon Mei was wanting to poke them and have them crawl on her. Yay for a dry summer, which these insects love. Hopefully they don't decide to winter with us.

The oldest and largest tree we have in our yard is a beautiful oak. I asked Bean to pose in front of it and she just followed along. Maybe I'll take their pictures each year in front of it or something. I do really hope this tree lives forever. It gives a great vibe to the backyard.

Next we found acorns from our oak tree. I think it's a bur oak, just like the small one we had at our former home. Mei was calling it a "ball." You can see her beginning to make a "b" sound. 

Then onto nature journalling. I was surprised that Bean just whipped his materials from our backpack and started drawing our oak tree without my prompting. Tey followed suit. Mei felt left out as she didn't have a nature journal nor a roll of these colored pencils made from branches (Bo and I made the former and bought the latter for the boys for Christmas). Note to self: colored pencils that look like sticks are going to be hard to find at clean-up time after journalling. The boys shared their materials with her and she was in her own world for a while.

I didn't realize that it was after one when we got back into the house. We did quietly observe a fawn explore our back yard for a long time. We also picked up a bunch sticks to toss on the burn pile (maybe S'mores tonight?). And had a nice chat with our neighbor. Anyway, it was later than usual for lunch, and Mei never quite made it all the way through her meal. 

I have never seen her fall asleep at the table before. I'll take that as a sign that she had a good time on her first nature exploration in our yard.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Puddle Play - Delving into Self-Directed Learning

"Are you homeschooling through the summer?" It's a question I've gotten a lot the last several weeks. 

We are. Why? For a number of reasons. 

As for me, being their teacher is not something I need or desire a break from, at least not for a weeks at a time. Just a few hours here and there to recharge is all I need. It's fun to watch them continue to learn through another season, which offer different experiences, especially if you are outdoorsy types like we are.

My children do better with regular and predictable habits. So I've kept up the expectation that we will continue with life as usual up until about a week before our move and continue now in our new home. I am confident that it works better for us than abandoning everything to then try to start up again from scratch.

We generally take things easy, so it's not like they are burnt out by homeschool. In fact, they are invigorated by it. Bean and Tey don't switch off learning mode nor take a break from asking a billion questions just because it gets hot outside. In fact, quite the opposite can be true, as evidenced by when it rained yesterday and let them play in the puddles (normally, I'm specifically pointing out puddles for them to avoid to not make a mess of my van, my house, my LIFE!).

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.
- e.e. cummings

It was so helpful that we could actually see the water evaporating off the driveway. Yay, for natural science lessons that I don't need to set up or clean up (just toss kids in the bath as usual)! The boys took to helping it evaporate by kicking it in the air. We have some visual and kinesthetic learners in our family.
Then we moved over to another part of the driveway where there was some shade. Tey noticed that the puddle was colder on this side, then inferred that it would take longer to evaporate. I couldn't believe he could make that conclusion on his own! I kept my cool and just asked him more about it.

And lastly, they learned about getting along with each other and playing together. Always a good lesson. Tey makes up some fun rules. "I do a big kick to you, and you do a big kick to me, and if it's too far, just keep on practicing." I love his encouraging words: "Just keep practicing." Like Dori, "Just keep swimming."

While I don't consider ourselves "unschoolers" in general, I do try to capitalize on naturally occurring opportunities to expose the kids to something new or interesting for them to explore. It never ceases to amaze me how much children can figure out by letting them freely delve into what's before them (sometimes literally), and not starting or stopping them based on some clock, calendar, or lesson plan set by myself or someone else.

I think summer is a perfect time for encouraging self-directed learning in your children homeschooling or not. I'm sure many parents at home with their children this summer are naturally doing this anyway, but you don't think of it as homeschooling because your role seems too simple and easy and the kids are having too much fun! :) Well, just keep it up, fellow homeschooler!