Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our first year's curriculum and the school room

I thought it would be fun to share with you the curriculum that we have chosen for our first year of homeschool.  I never thought I would ever get as excited about curriculum as I have been.  Every time a book arrived in the mail it was like Christmas.

First up is Aaron.  Aaron is a very hands-on learner so we may have to find some more creative ways to teach him, but since I am new at this I am sticking to more traditional methods and we will throw in some hands-on stuff as we see fit.  I bought a book called "175 Science Experiments" to work on together.  Aaron has to have breaks frequently.  He works well for about 30 minutes and then he needs to walk outside for a bit to get some air, shoot some baskets, or look at some birds.  He comes back refreshed and ready to get back to work.  So here are our choices for him.

At the top are Dick and Jane readers.  He has breezed through one of them so we will look for something a little more challenging when he finishes these.  They were recommended by a woman whose workshop we attended at the homeschool expo.  They are well written and always encouraging to boys.

Next, is The 175 Science Experiments book that I mentioned earlier.

Under that are some used Spectrum spelling and reading books that Sam got free off of Paperback Swap.  I'm not sure if these will get used for actual school work, but maybe for supplements in his down time.

We are using a Spectrum Math book.  So far this is all we have for him for math.  I'm not so sure this will be enough and it does not have a teacher's guide.  Since I an not great at teaching math, that would be helpful.  We are just going to work through this for now and then reevaluate in January when we have more under our belts.

For handwriting, we are using "Hand Writing Without Tears."  We have not started this yet, but it comes highly recommended by many homeschoolers and teachers.

At the bottom of the stack is a 2nd grade Alpha Omega LifePac.  I am very excited about this because it is a complete Language Arts curriculum.  It teaches phonics, vocabulary, spelling, reading comprehension and grammar all at once.  It has a very helpful teacher's guide.  To top it off there is scripture ALL throughout it.  It teaches the basics of Language Arts while at the same time immersing the child in God's Word.   I love it!

Aaron will also be taking a science class at Grace Co-op in Blairsville.  The teacher has selected "Patterns of Nature" by Rod and Staff.  I know he will enjoy that.  He will also be taking a US History/Geography class, an art class, a music, and a PE class at co-op.

Now onto Ashlyn.  Ashlyn is a more traditional learner.  She likes hands on activities, but does very well in a classroom setting.  She is a strong reader and works well independently.

We chose Switched on Schoolhouse by Alpha Omega for her main curriculum.  It is a 5 subject computer software which includes bible, science, math, history, and language arts.   We had some trouble getting it installed and our computers synced, but now that we are up and running, we are learning the program together.

It is a really cool program because you can pretty much customize the whole thing.  She logs in each day and the computer has assigned her work for the day based on the school calendar that I created in the system.  It tells her what she is expected to do that day and when it is due.  I can also send her messages and she can send them to me.  Once she completes a lesson she moves on to the assignment.  It's great because she gets immediate feed back as she answers the questions.  All of her assignments are graded and then submitted for me to see.  There are sometimes questions that have to be submitted for me to grade.  For now I am sitting with her and we are walking through the lessons together.  Once we get better at this, she will be able to work on her own a bit more.  However, this is not meant to be a hands off tool for the parent.  It still takes instruction and supervision from me.  

Here is a sample Language Arts lesson.  As you scroll down the lesson continues.  There are learning games throughout as well as audio instruction and tutoring.  This program requires that your child have good reading skills.  Our biggest challenge will be her typing skills since it does require some.  I plan to go over some basic typing with her and maybe add a typing curriculum next year.  

For handwriting we have chosen "Handwriting Without Tears" for her as well. 

As extras we are using Wordly Wise for vocabulary and reading comprehension which she is finding very challenging, but that is good. We are also using a Spectrum Math workbook to strengthen her math skills.

At Co-op she will be taking a science class.  The teacher has chosen "Considering God's Creation."  It is a GREAT book.  It talks about many different aspects of science starting with creation and then moving through all the days of creation in order.  

Ashlyn will also be taking a cross cultural/social studies class, an art class, and a girls life skills class at co-op.

We are excited about our choices.  We know that we will have to keep an open mind and realize that some of it may not be a good fit for us.  As we get more experience, I'm sure we will branch out and try many different types of curriculum.

For read alouds and family story time we are using several different books by Lamp Lighter Publishing.  We absolutely LOVE these books.  They are a collection of very old stories that are well written and FULL of Christian character qualities.  They all point to Christ.  We just can't say enough about them!

And just for fun for the little ones I bought some new preschool toys.  Here are some lacing beads and activities, shape and color sorters, and a wooden dress the bear set.  

I also ordered some really cute alphabet cards from My Father's World.  They have all sorts of activity ideas to help the little ones learn their letters.

Here is a tour of where it all happens.  We turned the formal dining room into the school room.

All the school supplies are in the chest and the hutch.  

We have decided to use the green, yellow, red card system for behavior.  I felt like it was easy enough for even the little ones to understand and I only wanted one system to keep up with.   We didn't do it this week, but next week, we will begin our day with prayer and the pledge.

We use the chalk board for our character qualities each week.  We plan on getting a large white board to go on the empty wall there.  For now Avery has a play yard in the corner, but when we get the white board, I will have to move it to have room to write.  

We keep all the curriculum on the top shelf.  The board is our prayer request board.

So that is the run down if you were interested.  We started school this week.  I had not planned on doing that, but thought we should start practicing with some trial runs.  Boy, am I glad we did!  It was a rough week for all 3 of us.  There were tears from all of us.  Getting used to the routine will be hard.  After all, we are learning a new way of life.  I'm trying not to focus so much on content this year, especially in the first semester.  We mostly need to learn together how to do this.   Right now we are doing a lot of review of concepts from last year, which I am thankful for.  It would be tough to be learning brand new material while adjusting to homeschool.  I know that once we get the hang of it, they will by far surpass what they would have gotten in public school.  That is mainly because we will be able to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time.  I still have to keep praying because the fear and doubt continues to creep in.  Thankfully we are all committed to making this work.  Next week is a new week!  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why we have decided to homeschool

After four years of sending our two older children to public school, I have finally surrendered to the call of homeschooling.  I remember discussing the idea with Sam as Ashlyn approached kindergarten age.  Just like all moms sending their first baby to school, I just figured it was first time jitters.  Little did I know that the Lord had started a work in my husband's heart.  We actually had a wonderful experience with public school.  Our kids attended a small elementary school in North Cherokee County.  For the first two years, we had the BEST principle a parent could ever ask for.  He was a Christian and without getting himself in trouble, he used his faith to encourage the kids.  Every single teacher we had was wonderful.  I always knew that they loved my babies and were very concerned with their success. Other than a few bullies and an issue with Aaron being placed in an EIP class that he really did not need, we had no issues at all.   As you can see, our decision to not send them back to public school and to school them at home had nothing to do with bad experiences with the school system.   I am actually glad that we did send them.  It helps me to feel like I am making a very well informed decision about homeschool.  If I had never put them in public school I feel I would not really have a clear picture of why I am doing this.

For a long time I would entertain the idea and then quickly say, "no way!"  I used to actually get very annoyed with Sam for even bringing it up.  I would wonder, "Is he crazy?"  I hated school growing up.  It was always hard for me.  I was a "good" student, but I had to work hard.  It did not just come easily to me.  I hated my homework and I hated my kid's homework even more.  Even in college, I could not wait for graduation.  So, why in the world would I want to homeschool my kids?  However, Sam was persistent.  He has this kind of annoying quiet persistence and patience.

 I am kind of ashamed to admit it, but the thing that concerned me about it the most was that I just could not even seem to get excited about public school.  I did not go up to the school as much as I should and was not as involved as I felt I should have been.  I used the younger kids as an excuse, but really it was something inside of me.  Yes, I was having babies, we were in a difficult situation in our church, and we were both battling depression, but something was just not connecting.   I felt incredibly guilty.  For the most part the kids were doing well and when we did run into some academic problems with Aaron, I was there doing whatever I could to help, but it was just not enough in my opinion.  If I could not get excited with my kids in public school, how could I get excited about homeschooling them myself.

I am not sure exactly when God started to work and change my heart.  Over time I just started to hear that voice that can only be the Lord's.  I would try to suppress it and just remind myself that I am not qualified to do that and that my kids would end up stupid if I tried.  I was even critical of other homeschoolers.  I feel kind of like Saul persecuting the Christians before his conversion!  There were times over the past year that I could not go anywhere without the topic of homeschooling coming up or meeting other homeschooling moms.  They were everywhere and God kept presenting them to me.  This is when it became a flashing sign for me.

During the year after the "irruption" at our church, we learned a lot about who we are, what we believe and the direction we desire to go in as a family.  Part of that was to be more intentional about sharing our faith with our kids.  As we read scripture and talked to other families, we learned that God's intention is for the parent's to be the major influencers in the life of a child.   We are told to "Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6  We began to realize that we have our children in our home for a short 18 years and by the time they are 5 years old, we are sending them away for 7 to 8 hours a day.  They are receiving the majority of their instruction from people that may have belief systems that are very different from our own. Then, when they return home, we spend a significant amount of time trying to undo some of the "bad lessons" learned from school.  When in the world do we have time to train our children biblically with that kind of routine?  Why not weave the two together?

However, our faith is not the only reason we decided to homeschool.  Let's face it, we all know that there are issues with the public school system as a whole.  Teachers know it, parents know it, and even students know it.  It is designed to move bulk people through a system and often times does not create an environment that promotes a love for learning.  Many of the books children read today are poorly written and full of negativity.  Have you ever read "A Dairy of a Wimpy Kid?"  I had no idea how terrible and negative it was until an excerpt was read to us at a homeschool convention.  Our daughter had one that she purchased at the school book fair.  I will admit it was my fault for not knowing the content of what she was reading.  I won't make that mistake again, but with that kind of literature out there for our children, no wonder kids today hate reading.  It doesn't motivate or inspire them.  Also, the class can only move as fast as the slowest student, leaving children that are excelling bored and frustrated.

We also believe that anytime you get one on one with a child, they will do better.  We believe that we can give our kids a broader educational experience as well.  With state mandated curriculum we feel that our children are limited by what the state wants them to learn as opposed to the opportunities we can provide being wide open.   With all of the state testing requirements, our children are taught throughout the year based on one test given in April.  In Georgia, it is called the GCRCT. All of the state curriculum is built around this test.  Students as well as teachers are assessed based on the test.  Therefore, the material the teachers can teach is very regulated.  Often times teachers are not able to be creative and use their gifts and talents in the way they would have envisioned.  I know this is frustrating to them as well.

With homeschooling, we will be able to learn the basics and add in things that we are passionate about and interested in.  We can study math, science, people, and places while also experimenting or going to those places.  We will not be bound to a classroom or text book.  Some of the things we learn about can actually come alive for the kids.

One of the arguments against homeschooling that is out there is that the children are not socialized.  This is a huge misconception that I believe is slowly starting to change.  There are many social opportunities for homeschooled children these days.  We have joined a co-op in Blairsville.  The children will be taking a variety of courses taught by other Christian adults from a biblical worldview in a classroom setting with other children in their grade level.   We will attend once a week and they will be required to complete assignments that are due back the next week.  This will continue to teach them how to interact with other authority figures and other children.  Being part of this group will also reinforce obligations and responsibility.  Much of the social interaction in public school is negative anyway.  When you consider all of the popularity games, mean girls, and bullies, how much wholesome social interaction are our children really getting?  Homeschool will allow us to be more proactive about choosing the families and children that are part of our family's social network. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says,"Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character."

I have had to ask God to change my heart, to give me peace, and to give me confidence.  There are still days when I wonder, "What am I thinking?  I just want to send them to school.  They are driving me nuts."  Often times I was the first in my circle of friends to start whining during school breaks saying, "I cannot wait for these kids to get back in school." In those moments I ask the Lord to show me the bigger picture and help me not be led by my feelings, but by what I know is right, what is true, and what we want the end result to be, which are well educated, self disciplined, grace-filled, spirit-filled, independent, healthy adult children who love the Lord above all!

I am thankful for a praying and persistent husband.  God gave him a dream for our family and he did not give up on it even when it seemed like it would never happen.    As our new adventure in education begins, I pray for myself and my children.  I pray that we will work together as a team, that we will follow the Lord together as we learn and grow, that we will be patient with one another, extend grace to one another, enjoy each other, have fun, learn more than we could ever imagine  and above all grow closer to each other and to our Creator, the one who created everything and designed us to be curious, to love learning, and who gave us so many beautiful and wonderful things to learn about!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Getting settled

We have been in Hiawassee for six weeks now and have gotten settled into the parsonage.  I thought I would take some time to share how the move went and how things are going so far.  We moved from Waleska on June 18th.  It was very bittersweet for me.  While we were ready to move on, pulling away from the Waleska parsonage was tough for me.  It had been our home for 5 years and was really the only home my children knew.  Ashlyn was only 4 and Aaron only 2 when we moved there.  There are lots of memories in that house.  We brought 3 babies home there, had our first two trips to kindergarten from there, experienced first school bus rides, celebrated birthdays, Christmases, Halloweens, hosted many playdates and cookouts, adopted two dogs, shared many bedtime stories, and much much more!

We spent the day instructing the movers and cleaning.  When the house was finally empty, I walked through each room with my memories.  When I got to the kids rooms, all I could think about was how many times I had tucked each one of my babies into their beds in their sweet little rooms.  I don't watch moving vans pull away.  To me it's just too hard.  It's like watching your whole world drive away on a truck.  As the truck was pulling away, several church members arrived to finish the cleaning and prepare for the Emmitts, the new parsonage family.  It was fitting, because these were all the people that we know loved us and had supported us  during our difficult time there.  We said our goodbyes and headed to Hiawassee.  I have to admit, I had not really cried all day until I was in my van alone.  I cried all the way to Jasper.  I felt like I just had to get it out of my system so that I would be emotionally present when we arrived at the Hiawassee parsonage.  I knew we would be greeted by some of our new church family.

We arrived tired and drained.  Also, we were not prepared for the movers to delay unloading until the next morning, so we did not have all the things we needed for the night.  Thankfully, we called ahead and our SPR chair brought sheets, blankets and towels.  We had an air mattress, but since we were using the master bedroom furniture, we had a bed!  When we got to the house, some of the ladies from church had dinner waiting on us.  We even had fresh veggies from one of the ladies' garden.

We had been to the house a lot in the month leading up to the move to work on getting wallpaper down and painting in the bathrooms.  The last time we saw the house it was pretty dirty.  When we arrived the house was so clean and had been well prepared for us.  That was such a relief.  There have been times when we have had to clean and move in at the same time.

The movers arrived the next morning and the unloading and unpacking began.  It makes me tired to even think back on it.  By the late afternoon it was all unloaded and we were fast at work unpacking as much as we could before the kids were returned to us.  Thankfully, I had the help of my awesome parents that have not missed a move yet.

The kids were spread out in several locations.  The girls stayed in Chattanooga.  Ashlyn stayed with my grandmother and Anna with my Aunt Dean.  They got to do fun stuff.  Ashlyn got to go shopping and get a pedicure.  Anna got to go on a tea party photo shoot with Aunt Dean.  After they had been apart for a couple of days, which is hard for them, Aunt dean took Anna to my grandmother's to play with Ashlyn on the slip 'n' slide.  It was good for Ashlyn, who was struggling with the move and our family being separated.  The boys were together in Athens with Sam's family.  They got to go to the pool, play with cousins, and play with smoke bombs.  What boy does not love that?

My goal was to have the kitchen and the kids room unpacked and set up before they got home.  I just feel like it is important for them to come to a new home with some familiar things around them.  With my mom and dad's help, we got it done just as they were pulling in the driveway.  It was like a scene from HGTV.  You know, the ones where people go away for a weekend and come back to a redone house or room.  They were running, jumping and squealing.  They were so happy to see us, to see each other, and to check out their new rooms.  The boys were elated to see that we had FINALLY bunked their beds.  They had been begging for a long time.  We loved it because several church members were there when they arrived.  They got to see all the excitement.

On the day the kids arrived, the phone rang and it was our parsonage representative on the trustees committee.  She is the person that I am to go to when I need to talk about parsonage issues.  She called to ask if it was ok if she brought balloons to put on the mailbox to welcome the kids when they arrived.  I told her, "of course!" and she brought over 5 balloons, one for each child.  She also came in to make sure we had everything we needed.  She did not say a word about it, but after she left, I stepped outside to find that she had placed 3 hanging ferns on the front  porch.  Also, two of the trustees came over to help hang pictures and towel bars in the bathrooms.  All of this was quite a shock to us because we had never been received like this before.  Sometimes you have to learn how to receive.

We were able to move in a little earlier than official North Ga. Conference move day, but on that day, the door bell rang and I darted upstairs because I was still in my jammies at 3:00 in the afternoon.  I just did not take the time to shower or get dressed that day and pushed on with my unpacking.  I figured it was a church member stopping by to see if they could help or check on things.  A few minutes later, Sam came upstairs to inform me that it was our District Superientendent and his wife.  So, I got to meet them for the first time in my PJs with no make up!  Lovely!  They were making the rounds to all of the parsonages in the district that were receiving new families.  He just wanted to welcome us to the district and to make sure that the church had done what needed to be done to prepare for us.  He left us with a welcome card and a Walmart gift certificate.  "Wow" was all I could say!

Our first Sunday was pretty overwhelming.  The church was very crowed as people came to check out the new young pastor with 5 kids.  There was a fellowship lunch after worship.  They also did what is called a "pounding." That is when the church stocks your home with all the necessities.  We had never had this before and had no idea what to expect.  It was amazing!  It took 3 car loads to get it home.  There were diapers, wipes, cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, cereal, condiments, and the list goes on.  We were so grateful.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, Hiawassee is starting to feel a little more like home.  We are still getting used to the mountains and the small town life.  Sam went into two different local stores to introduce himself and was told, "oh yes, you are the talk of the town."  They seemed to know a lot about our family.  That has been a bit weird for us.  Hopefully, we will be old news soon!

The hardest thing for me has been watching Ashlyn struggle.  This has been tough on her.  She has been quite sad and lonely at times and misses her friends.  It's hard to watch your child hurt.  I feel so guilty sometimes even though I have no control over this one.  I'm ready to get started with our homeschool co-op and activities so that she can start making friends with other girls her age.  More on that later.  She makes friends easily, so I know that will not be an issue.  The rest of the kids are doing well.  Aaron wants to make a trip to visit his friend Casey soon.  We haven't really left town much since we arrived.  Surprisingly, I have not had the, "oh my goodness, I live in the middle of nowhere," freak out moment yet.  It doesn't really feel like the middle of nowhere to me.  There is enough to do around here for me.  Shopping and eating is not great, but in the grand scheme of life, does that matter?

I feel hopeful for our ministry here.  Worship has been wonderful!  I have been so deprived of worship for so long that it's like filling an empty basket right now.  I know there will be challenges, we have already identified some of them, and I don't know what God's desire for our family is long term, but I know that for now we are serving here.  It is amazing the things you rediscover about yourself when you come out from under the kind of oppression and negativity we have lived under over the past few years.  I'm starting to rediscover my passions, to enjoy my kids and my husband more, to remember what I like to do for fun, and to be able to have a clearer vision for my family.  Slowly, my motivation is returning.  We have much to do for the Kingdom in Hiawassee and I am excited to see what the Lord has in store!