Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Everything You Want To Know About Our Homeschooling

homeschool questions

Hi there Internet family! I took an unintended summer vacation from blogging. I know that you're totally shocked that I disappeared for several months--because I never do that as a committed blogger, right?

Now summer is wrapping up and I intend to get back into the swing of things as we transition to fall and school. Fun!

Speaking of school, I'm finding that as the kids get older, new acquaintances always ask me where they go to school. You may recall that we don't "go" to school. Some people think this is really weird and I don't disagree.

Homeschooling is weird. It's perfect for us.

When I bring up that strangely provocative word, "homeschool," I inevitably get one of several responses. I'm almost sure that whoever you are, you will at some point or another do or say one of these things:


  • "Wow, good for you!" (that's a nice way to respond, by the way).
  • Face contorts into speechless expression of shocked confusion. 
  • "I could never do that." Followed by detailed explanation of why not.
  • "You're brave."
  • No reaction at all, maybe because it's either not that weird after all?


After the initial response, most people have a lot of questions. So I thought it might fun to do something like "FAQ" responses:

Why?
I explained a lot of the why in my first post about this (We're Alternative Education Rebels). The short answer is that it's a good option for our family. I still feel like the benefits outweigh the risks. These benefits include personalized instruction, time spent with my kids, more opportunity for character training, and educational freedom. One of my goals is to not only teach my children educational material, but to train them to love learning--so that they will be lifelong, self-guided learners.

Will you do it through high school?
I would like to, but since my oldest is in first grade we have a long time between now and graduation. As long as it continues to be the best option for our family, I plan to continue doing it.

How do you do it with different ages in the house?
It's not that hard. I am way more impressed with teachers who successfully instruct 30 six-year-olds all day, every day. Kids are very capable of being independent learners, so I can provide instruction to one while the other is working by himself. We also do a lot of activities together, like reading aloud and projects. Admittedly it is difficult at times with a toddler, but she adjusts to our daily routine fairly easily. And there's also this magical stretch of time called "nap."

What does a typical day look like?
We're still determining this. Last year was a grand experiment and this year I think I have a better vision for our family's style. We have a scheduled period of time for each subject we will cover in a given day, with age-appropriate assignments for each child. Subjects for the upcoming year include reading, handwriting, spelling, piano, math and various read-alouds about anything I want to cover. We are also joining a co-op this year and we will be covering geography, history, science, fine arts and Latin (yes really). That sounds like a lot, but realistically we only spend a little bit of time on each subject. I build a lot of breaks into our schedule.

Aren't you worried about social interaction?
No. My husband was homeschooled and is not an anti-social dweeb. We will have plenty of interaction in our neighborhood, through extracurricular activities, at church and through our new homeschool co-op community that will meet once a week.

What do you think about the Common Core?
This is the hot topic, right? As far it relates to our family I'm not terribly concerned about it. The purpose of the Common Core is to prepare children to enter the workforce as competent adults, and I'm try to accomplish that too. One of the big complaints about the Common Core is that it forces teachers to do test-driven instruction. When the time comes I will prepare my kids for college-entrance exams should they want to go to college, but test prep isn't going to guide our day-to-day learning. My goal is subject mastery at the pace appropriate for each child. I will keep my eye on Common Core standards as we progress and adjust if it seems like we are way off target, but I have a feeling it's not going to be a big issue.

How can you be qualified to teach without any teacher training?
I'm not qualified to teach in a classroom, but I am more than qualified to instruct my own kids. Here are a few factors that help:

  • There is a lot of guided curriculum available that makes teaching fool-proof. 
  • By the time kids reach higher levels they will be primarily self-directed, which prepares them for college. 
  • There are a lot of community resources available so that I'm not the only one providing instruction.
  • I can learn along with them. All I have to do is take a peek at the math or whatever subject a day in advance and refresh my memory, or learn it completely new. While they will likely surpass me someday, I'm still a step ahead of the little guys.
I know there are a lot more questions I could answer but these are the ones I am asked the most. I'm always happy to talk about it. What are some of your thoughts or questions on homeschooling?



Friday, May 22, 2015

10 Positive Behavior Words for Young Kids


Once upon a time, I saw a video somewhere on social media that went something like this:

Father of young toddler: "What does a cow say?"
Little girl: "Moo!"
Father: "What does a doggy say?"
Little girl: "Woof! Woof!"
Father: "What does a duck say?"
Little girl: "Quack! Quack!"
Father: "What does Mommy say?"
Little girl: "No, no, no, no, no!"

Poor mommies. It just comes with the territory: constantly setting limits and saying that two-letter word. It's no wonder that "no" just happens to be one of the first words that enters a young child's vocabulary.

If you're a parent, hopefully "no" is not the only word you're using. The problem with "no" is that it only takes you so far. Not only does the kid eventually wizen up and start fighting the "no" with the formidable "why?", but it ultimately leaves you with a void.

Unless your kid is content sitting with their arms crossed and smiling (a highly suspicious behavior in my opinion), they have to direct their energy elsewhere whenever they hit a limit. And unless you've taught them where to direct that energy, they ultimately end up committing another crime. You say "no" again, they get frustrated, you get frustrated, and on and on and on you go all day until your husband comes home and you hand them over so you can go collapse and order pizza because there's no way you're cooking dinner after a day like that. Not that I'd know what that's like (that's sarcasm, by the way).

We're three kids into this parenting game, and I think we've pulled together some pretty good strategies to avoid spiraling out of control like this too often. Instead of focusing on the don'ts, everybody is happier when we spend the majority of our time on the dos. The way we do this is to provide our kids with a positive behavior vocabulary from an early age. When they misbehave, they know how they need to be focusing their energy. And when they do behave, we can praise them for it!

These words also help our kids form good habits, which they'll hopefully take with them as they grow older.

1. Obey
Sound a little intense for a two-year-old? Think again. This is one of the first words we taught our kids in matters of discipline and it's often one of our first go-tos when dealing with behavior. We expect them to obey. This is different from the popular word "listen." Listening has to do with paying attention, while obedience has to do with responding appropriately to authority. Our kids are expected to obey parents, babysitters and teachers the first time they are asked (in case you're wondering, they can ask questions or request alternatives when appropriate, and there is grace involved. It's not an authoritarian thing).

2. Gentle
Kids are rough little creatures. They yank on you and walk all over you and other adults/children/animals. From the time my kids were interactive infants yanking on my hair, I would firmly pull their hand away, say "gentle," and guide the hand in demonstration of what gentle looks like.

3. Kind
I think we all use the word "nice" a lot, but "kind" as well as "loving" more specifically address how children should treat other people. Sharing and taking turns is to be praised as kindness.

4. Friendly
I really hope my kids have good manners when they grow up, and those habits start now. I'll admit friendliness can be a weakness of ours, so lately I've been talking more with my kids about making eye contact, smiling and greeting people. My two-year-old is shy and so we try to work with her to be "friendly," with a wave or a verbal "hi."

5. Respectful
This is such a great word, I wish I'd started it sooner! It applies to quite a lot of discipline situations, from talking back, to manners, to kids cleaning up after themselves. It's also an expansion of the obedience concept once they are a little older.

6. Thankful
Oooooh this is a tough one. It gets to the heart of a lot of attitude problems. While kids might not naturally feel or act thankful, getting them in the habit of saying "thank you" and not complaining is at least pointing their hearts in the right direction.

7. Joyful
Like "thankful," this word is tricky because it addresses a heart issue -- but then again, don't they all? This is a good word to use when kids are just having a bad attitude for no good reason (good for adults too!). It helps them focus on the positive instead of the negative so they can enjoy their surroundings, not to mention make themselves more enjoyable to be around for everyone else.

8. Patient
Okay, this was the word of the day once on Sesame Street so I know I'm validated here. My two-year-old asks me for crackers 5,247 times in 30 seconds and I repeat this word over and over again. It's starting to sink in. It also helps me.

9. Self-control
In our house we say, "no fits" whenever a tantrum starts. To counter the "no" in that statement, the kids learn to control their emotions and express them appropriately by being introduced to the "self-control" concept. Admittedly this is quite difficult for a two-year-old, but for a four-year-old who has been practicing deep breathing and counting backwards whenever he gets worked up, "self-control" is a big accomplishment that is highly praised.

10. Helpful
Who doesn't love a Mommy's helper? Last weekend my five-year-old poured his little sister a cup of juice so that I wouldn't have to roll my lazy bum out of bed. I was amazed and he was beaming. I've heard that they eventually morph into teenagers and that being "helpful" doesn't hold the same weight in their minds. But I'll take it while I can.


P.S. Do any of these sound familiar? Several of these just happen to be the "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22-23 ;)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Starting The International Adoption Journey

international adoption


"We're just waiting for the State of Illinois at the moment, to send the home study approval," I chuckled into the phone. I could almost sense Julie, our paperwork coordinator, nodding her head sympathetically. It was a short call earlier this week, just pulling together a few loose ends before we prepare to finalize most of our documents.

It's not so bad to be waiting sometimes. Recently Marc and I had spent multiple nights a week staring at a computer screen, envisioning every possible health/behavior/cultural scenario in an international adoption. This was an educational requirement to complete our home study. It was useful information, but the process was borderline torturous (didn't I graduate college already?). So doing nothing now is a nice change.

Right now we're waiting for approvals, for background checks, for people to get back to us so we can fill out more papers.

How did we get here? Here feels like nowhere, but it's somewhere.

It started in each of us separately. We agreed before we were even married that, if and when it could happen, we would look into adding a child to our family through adoption. It just made sense to both of us. Kids need families. We wanted kids. We could examine the adoption option when the time was right.

Three biological kids later, it was time to look at this option a little more seriously. After Grace was born, we began talking to agencies, saving money, scouring the Internet about, talking to friends who had done it, figuring out how this might work for us.

Our hearts led us internationally for several reasons. The whole thing terrified me, even though I wanted it. I prayed that if this was going to work, it had to come together in a pretty clear way. Otherwise there was no way it was gonna happen...*

This story has taken years to evolve, but in the past year several puzzle pieces have come together, including a lot of the funding, an agency and a country. And so last November we started the paperwork process, which should be wrapping up in the next several weeks.

And yet that's just the beginning. Before the beginning.

I've hesitated to share this publicly until now because this information generates a lot of questions that I haven't felt ready to answer to just anyone. But I generated a lot of curiosity a couple of weeks ago when I revived the dead blog. So here are the answers to your most burning questions:

The "what": we are pursuing an international adoption, as that's where we have felt the strongest pull based on our experiences and research. We wanted to choose a country that has significant need and is also "Hague accredited," meaning that it adheres to international standards in the adoption process. This criteria was important to us because we wanted to avoid any risk of child trafficking. It narrowed down our search significantly.

The "where": after much research and prayer, we chose Bulgaria (Eastern Europe). There are many children in orphanages in this country, although some are in foster care. While in college, Marc spent some time volunteering in orphanages in Romania and Russia, and he is familiar with this region of the world. I also focused on the region while obtaining my bachelor's degree in international studies.

The "who": we've requested a girl age three or under. We are open to minor/correctible special needs, many of which (like developmental delays) are almost unavoidable in children coming from institutions. I wrestled with guilt for not wanting to be open to more severe needs, older kids or siblings, but we're making a decision based on what we think we can handle with our three biological kids too.

The "when": after we submit our dossier (kind of like our adoption profile) to Bulgaria, we have much waiting to do. Like two years, three years or more. After receiving and accepting a referral, we'll take two trips to Bulgaria, the second of which will be to bring our daughter home.

The "why": I cannot even begin to explain how I've wrestled through this question, especially in the early stages. I remember a conversation we had with friends, in which I shared my hesitation about whether I was doing it for the "right" reasons. He simply replied that James 1:27 says to "look after orphans in their distress" and not to worry so much about the "why." Just do it in faith.

So that's our story, the beginning of it anyway. There won't be much to update until we actually bring a child home, which is obviously not for a (long) while. I truly appreciate all the support and encouragement we've already received. I'd only request that you pray for us as we continue stepping out on faith. Thanks, friends.




*As I read over this part, it dawned on me that these feelings were identical to what I experienced when I met Marc and the whole development of our relationship leading up to our marriage. So I already know what it feels like to take a leap of faith with something that seems a little crazy. That's encouraging!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Does It Mean To Be a Woman of Strength?

I don't know about you, but I am bombarded daily with images of women telling me what I should do, whom I should be, what I should look like.

True strength for women
Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It used to just be the magazines in the checkout line; now it's Pinterest, online advertising, articles in my Facebook newsfeed, and of course the videos. The videos about how to do anything, available at the tap of my finger!

As a blogger, of course,  I would shoot myself in the foot if I took a strong stance against social media. As a matter of fact, I've spent some time this past week updating my various accounts so that I can be more engaged with my readers (wink!).

Not all of the messages we receive through various media, whether printed or electronic, are inherently evil. Media is just a tool, and it can be used for good or bad, on both the publishing end and the consumer end.

Here's the thing about all of these messages: they only go viral when people want to see them. I know I certainly perpetuate the trends. For example, I generally feel pretty good about my body image; I've had three pregnancies and I'm not overweight, I eat pretty well and I exercise. Yet I don't look like those other strong, beautiful women. And so I click on the fitness tips, the healthy eating suggestions. I'd like to say it's because I'd generally like to be healthier, which is a good thing. But sometimes something else lurks behind my motivation. Is it jealousy? Discontent? Idolatry? Probably all of the above.

The body image thing is a whole issue in itself which is important but beyond the scope of one post. But it's not just those types of messages that are alluring. The messages that burn can be anything: how to be the best parent, wife, chef, fashion maven, blogger, and generally the most balanced, righteous female alive.

For a recovering perfectionist like myself, these messages can be pure poison if I'm not careful. While a lot of media is meant to be inspiring (and it actually is!), we can misinterpret it as condemning because we just don't measure up to the standards we see.

Lately I've noticed one theme in particular about women across every type of media: strength. A lot of popular TV shows and movies, comedies and dramas alike, now feature woman protagonists. Think Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope, Carrie Mathison, Jess Day, and of course Elsa and Anna to name a few. I think that these are positive developments for women in popular culture, and I hope the trend continues because I could use about ten more comedies written by Tina Fey.

Yet, sometimes along with the positives we hear the ever so slightly deceitful whispers: "To be strong enough you have to be as good or better than a man. Be powerful, be a b****. Be muscular, both physically and mentally, and you will be beautiful." I saw a book recently called Strong is the New Skinny.

I have to admit, the concept of being strong is exciting and pulls me in. But what do I have to do to be this "strong woman?" Do I have to workout like an Olympian, hold a powerful position in my career, all while perfecting my role as a wife and mother?

And let's not forget that the Internet has plenty to say about strong motherhood, which includes things like breastfeeding, reading lots of books to your kids from the time of conception, limiting electronics and cultivating an organic garden so you can live off the land and avoid all chemicals. If you're strong enough, you will be the pillar that upholds the ideal family (but you better not break or they'll all go crashing down with you!).

Again, these ideas are not bad in and of themselves. But the way they are presented and/or interpreted can be devastating.

Many women know they can't have it all or do it all (a healthy admission), but we're left with this disturbing question: when am I enough?

And this is where our lives, careers, bodies and families fall short. Because the truth is, when we continue to hold up the standards we love so dear from the media, or even from our own minds, we're never enough.

I wrestle with this dilemma daily. I write from a Christian perspective, so the "Christianese" answer is to be strong in the grace of God, which is absolutely true (study the book of Romans for a thorough explanation of the subject. Or anything by Philip Yancey). Grace is the answer and is more than enough. I could stop writing here.

But what I've been pondering for quite some time (recall that I took a break for several months) is what that grace looks like today, amidst all of these messages. What exactly does grace mean to the modern woman? Whether you're single, married, with kids or without? If I'm living my life and embracing my shortcomings because of my understanding of this grace, what does my self-image look like? How am I responding to that bombardment of messages?

Can we really be strong?

The short answer is: yes. We can be strong. But not in the ways you might think. True strength does not look like the way most media portrays it, and it does not look like the way that even a lot of spiritual thinkers portray it.

Unfortunately (for me, anyway), strength isn't something I can achieve by checking items off a list. 

I've discovered that biblically, God provides strength through several means, including:

  • character
  • suffering
  • rest 
  • grace
  • humility

Hmm, I don't see many of those themes on Pinterest very often...

What do you think? Am I on target here? What are some of the deceitful messages you hear through media?

Where do you find your strength?


You then, my [daughter], be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1




Friday, April 3, 2015

Relaunching a Dead Blog

Hello? Hello.

You might remember me. I last clicked the "Publish" button about...seven months ago. The year was 2014, and even my kids know that was ancient history.

So tonight I'd like to announce that I am not dead. In fact, I'm in my Starbucks office right now. I have a hot chocolate stain all over my shirt because that seemed to be an appropriate way to celebrate my relaunching.

Starting over with a blog
Going high-tech with photo editing now.
Admittedly, the blog was dead (or else the title of this post would make no sense...). There are a lot of reasons why I didn't write, and I'm not sure I need to go into all of them.

To catch you up on my life, I'll do a little recap:
  • We started homeschooling. Ummm, we play a lot of Legos and read books sometimes (calm down, don't send CPS, I use curricula).
  • Christmas happened.
  • Marc and I went to Europe for his sister's wedding. And we left the kids behind for ten days. Maybe I'll write more about that sometime.
  • I've been writing and editing a lot. Which means more money but little time for leisure writing.
  • Something else, sort of big...we've been applying for an international adoption. What did I just say???? I'll explain more sometime. But that has been extremely time consuming.
  • Just normal life raising three kids, Marc working for a small business, being very active in our church and community, so...busy.
While it may seem like I have forgotten about this whole blog thing, I haven't. At first I didn't miss it much. I think that I was kind of turned off from it for a while because it didn't have much purpose. I was just writing whatever came to mind whenever I felt like it. This was after I had been blogging a couple of years already...prior to that I was getting sucked into trying to attract more followers and whatnot, without a lot of direction other than "I hope people like me!"

If an endeavor doesn't have a meaningful purpose in my life, it doesn't last.

But lately I've been thinking about blogging again. I miss it. I miss sharing my thoughts and interacting with people and seeing what they think about what I think. And I keep coming up with post ideas. I journal some of them, which is therapeutic to an extent, but there's something more daring about putting it all out there.

So here's the deal, folks. I'm going to try this again. I think I have a clearer vision for what I want to accomplish here. My hope is that through my writing:
  • God will be honored
  • Others may be encouraged and inspired
  • I have an outlet to share my creativity
I can accomplish this through:
  • Humor
  • Advice
  • Sharing my observations about life.
I just spent a whopping $12 on a domain name, so I am committed now. That would have been like three lattes. We'll see what happens. I'd really like to post once a week if I can.

Talk to you soon! Love you all

Gina


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Soccer Mom Confessions

Minivan: check.

Lots of kids: check.

Extended family in attendance: check.

Soccer ball, shin guards, oversized uniform: check, check, check.

Folding chairs: check.

Snacks and water bottles: check.

Five-year-old with limited capacity to know which way the goal is: check.

Where's the ball? Who cares?

Heeeeeeeeey!


It's here. I'm a soccer mom. Little did I know that after my adolescent years of intensely competitive soccer, this was my destination. Forget being a collegiate athlete when you can be sitting on a sideline clenching your fists watching people 1/3 of your size, trying not to laugh when they have to stop the game because the players are too distracted watching a plane take off.

We parents try to play it cool. Like we don't care who wins or who contacts the ball last before it rolls into the net. But inside we cringe when the giant Goliath child on the other team scores another goal, and we cheer when our littler guys sneak around him.

True story. Goliath child. I think his name was Kyle.

We parents try to practice some sort of weird mind control method in which we sit on the edge of our chair and forcefully will our kids to move their bodies in such a way that they actually navigate a ball using a foot and not a hand and move said ball in the general direction of a net -- the right net. We yell, "Kick it! Kick it!" And then wonder, Why would I say that? Think about it.

I never wanted to be one of those moms who lived vicariously through her children and screamed her lungs out on the sidelines and lived for Saturday soccer. I don't think I'm there. Please stage an intervention if I ever am.

James' first game was last weekend. They didn't officially keep score, but man, Goliath child really slaughtered them single-handedly. Or singe-footedly. Really, he just mowed them over with the brute force of his whole eight-year-old-posing-as-a-five-year-old body (Poor Kyle. It's not his fault he's huge, but he wasn't very popular with the parents on our side.).

I was supposed to leave early to go to a meeting, as one of the directors for some nonprofit work done in partnership with our church. We had planned to send the kids home with their grandparents after Marc and I left. My pre-mom self comes back to life in such scenarios, and I feel like I'm doing something important and meaningful outside of wiping noses and studying the deep significance of vocabulary words like "cat" and "bat."

But James' team was getting slaughtered, as previously noted. Marc and I debated what to do. After a somewhat disheartening first game, he wanted to stay and be there for our son to make sure he knew how much we supported him and loved him. I had a mini identity crisis meltdown on the spot. I hated  to look unprofessional in the only opportunity I EVER have to look professional, but I hated equally if not more abandoning my oldest son when he might need me.

We decided to stay. We gave James a big hug after the game and told him we had to go but were proud of him. I don't think he cared that they got slaughtered because he was pretty proud of himself for every time he touched the ball. But he cried because he couldn't come with us. Fail.

Oh well. At least my friends/colleagues didn't tease me for being late. Oh wait, they did. Fortunately, I think they had all been there. Hooray for kids' sports!

*********

I originally wrote this post a few days ago but didn't have any good pictures, so I decided to wait until I got those gems at the top of the page (notice no ball in any photos? Hmmm...) Here's some more news from today: Game 2. I think they tied. Or something. At least it was closer than complete decimation and there was no giant this time.

The best part was when James cried at the end of the game. Again. Because he was really sad that it was over.

Friday, September 5, 2014

When You Have a Slow Poke Kid

I don't think I truly understood the meaning of patience until I became a parent.

Particularly, a parent of this one:

Guess how long it took to eat this breakfast...


He's not a bad child; on the contrary, he's sweet and affectionate and respectful and obedient...umm okay maybe not always. He just has the occasional epic meltdown that puts my sanity in jeopardy. You know, normal 3-year-old antics. We're working on it.

But here's the real thing. He is. So. Sloooooooow. Not in the intelligence realm. He knows his ABCs, numbers, shapes, colors and can work a jigsaw puzzle like nobody's business.

I'm talking about take an hour to eat your breakfast. Sit on the toilet for 30+ minutes. Get dressed in 10-minute phases for each garment. Consume a bowl of rice one precious morsel at a time.

It's enough to make even the most easy-going mom want to rip her hair out. Yes, it drives me absolutely crazy. Especially when we are trying to go anywhere beyond our walls.

My husband pointed out to me the other night that if I am constantly thinking of my frustration when I think of him, then I need to start thinking differently. I quickly responded that of course that isn't the only way I think! Just sometimes.

But how much frustration is acceptable when you're thinking about your children? That's a real head scratcher.

The flip side of my slow poke's pokiness is that he is fascinating to watch. He savors every bite. He inspects every detail. He completes every task down to the finest detail. He understands at a very young age what it is to be deliberate and diligent.

It's when I exit my normal whirlwind of task-oriented existence and sit and observe him that I realize that maybe he has something figured out. He can't tell time, so what's the rush to do anything? Why not savor every moment? Why not appreciate the finer aspects of life's details?

It's not easy to change the way I think. But these kids sure help me out. Now if only I could convince him that you can successfully consume and enjoy more than one grain of rice at a time...



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