A Surprising Choice

I have a lot of friends who don’t know this about our family yet. That’s because I’ve surrounded myself with people who have very strong opinions on this topic, and I didn’t want to have people telling me their very strong opinions unless it directly affected them or they are family members. We sought out wise counsel and have made the best decision for our family… for now.

When we moved to Wisconsin, we had no intention of changing the way our family does things. We still eat organic, we still put Jesus first, and we still spend as much quality family time together as we can. However, one major thing has changed– we decided to put the big kiddos in public school.

Homeschooling is our first choice for schooling our children. I even researched and joined several Wisconsin homeschooling groups on Facebook before we moved. We were set on continuing along with our plan, and I have been gathering books and resources for the past year in order to prepare for Hula Girl and Monkey Man to learn some really neat stuff this year.

But the move has been hard on the kids. Like, really, really hard. I believe I mentioned that the kids and I lived with my parents for about a month and a half while Jonathan stayed at our former house, packing and cleaning and getting it ready to sell, before we moved to Wisconsin. Now we are staying in a temporary (wonderful, but temporary) house, and we have been house hunting and dragging the kids all around the area to find a house. We have one that will be ours in October, but in the meantime, we’re not exactly settled.

At first, it was a fun adventure for the kids– staying at Grammy and Grampy’s house! Camping! Staying in a new house! Sharing a room for the first time ever! Eventually, it turned into a real drag. The kids got sick of each other and were bickering nonstop all day. I had to make millions of phone calls and try to learn all about the new area (where to grocery shop? What kinds of insane winter gear do we need to stock up on? How do I get to the nearest Starbucks– it’s PSL season, after all–?). And Sugar Plum is still a baby who needs tons of naps.

We were all getting sick of each other, really. So. I took the opportunity to put the kids in a wonderful public school. I went and toured it before I made the official decision. If I were still teaching, it’s a school I’d be proud to be part of. The teachers are so engaged, the principal is extremely supportive, and the parents are very involved. The school is a 4K-4th grade elementary school, and it offers a wide variety of research-based programs and interventions that are actually really cool. (I kind of geeked out a bit on the tour and I even got jealous of the teachers who get to work there!)

The first week of school was just the two days prior to Labor Day weekend. Both kids were so excited. We got all their supplies and attended the open house the week prior to school opening. We met teachers and saw the classrooms, and the kids were happy and ready for the change. The first two days were wonderful; both kids raved about their teachers and their days.

The following week was not so smooth. Monkey Man made it clear he did NOT want to go to school. He just barely turned four in August. I was having a hard time with him being in school, anyway, due to multiple drop-off and pick-up times and Sugar Plum’s napping schedule. We made the choice to pull him back out of school and just keep him home with me. That has been a wonderful choice for him, and I plan to write a lot more about that soon enough.

Hula Girl, however, is thriving. I feel like we must have won the teacher jackpot! Her teacher is very structured and organized, and she is extremely communicative with parents. She researches and implements new approaches as fitting, and she is super engaging for the children, to boot. Hula Girl is a child who appreciates wit, routine, and structure. She loves knowing exactly what to do, how to do it, and why. Her teacher meets provides all these things while challenging her to better herself.

Hula Girl is above average academically; this was a huge concern for me. My personal experience of skipping a grade because I tested high is one I wouldn’t trade for the world (I had a few wonderful friends and there was a lot of very healthy academic competition in my graduating class), but I wouldn’t want to put the social struggles I encountered at the younger ages onto Hula  Girl. She is already a bit socially awkward as she is still working her way out of her extreme timidity around strangers. I couldn’t imagine sticking her in a public school classroom with second graders!

I have been very pleased to see the proactive ways her teacher and the school are working to support her and engage her academically. My ultimate goal is not to have her earn Valedictorian of First Grade status; rather, I want her to be somewhere she feels is safe, enjoyable and engaging while we sort out our living situation. I want her to make friends and practice treating others like Christ. I want her to walk away with self-confidence AND humility.

Public school is the current means to these ends, and I am so thankful for all the prayers and advice we were given when debating this idea for our kiddos. We plan to re-evaluate our decision at Christmastime, and see if we feel settled enough by then to bring Hula Girl back home so we can start fresh with our Charlotte Mason homeschooling experience. This is truly where we feel God is leading us as a family; we just want to make sure to go at the right time and in the right way. We’ve seen God’s hand in a very vivid way over the past six months, and we are eager to see how and where he will direct us next.

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Carry On!

Whew! Has today been tough for everyone, or is it just me (and a friend who texted me halfway through the morning)? Things were getting along swimmingly and then at six thirty, Hula Girl decided to come out of her room to use the restroom. I kind of forgot she was in there, and at seven, Jonathan found her… with Vaseline smeared ALL OVER HER FACE. Then when he told her to go back to bed and wait for her sun to come up (on her Gro-Clock), she spent the remaining time with her light on, out of bed, cutting paper into a million tiny pieces all over the carpet, her bed, the furniture, and so on.

Breakfast was rife with complaining. “My pancakes are too hot! Now they’re too cold! I want more honey on mine! Go get me a vitamin! You forgot to give me another pancake and I’m still hungry! When will it be done cooking? I want MORE orange juice! I don’t like strawberries! I wanted mango! My chair is too far to the left!”

Schoolwork was completed with much chagrin. I took a stand on proper letter formation during copywork. She was writing a “u” with a line straight down from the middle for a y (see pic below). This is NOT correct. Here’s how that conversation went:

  • Me: Oops! Honey, you formed that “y” incorrectly. Why don’t you look at mine and try again?
  • HG: Oops! Silly me, okay! I’ll try to make mine match yours.
  • Me: Oops! You did it again! It seems like your hand muscles have been practicing the incorrect way to write it. Please stop writing and trace my “y” on the next page so you can learn to do it properly.
  • HG: But I ALREADY KNOW HOW TO DO IT!
  • Me: Oh, does yours look like mine? No? Okay, let’s try it this way. Trace mine a couple times and then try it on your own.
  • HG: NO! My hand muscles are sore!
  • Me: Yes, I understand. When we try to learn to do something better, it takes a few times before our muscles get used to doing it properly. Did you know Daddy went to the gym the other night, and his muscles are sore today?
  • HG: He did? He has sore muscles?
  • Me: Yep, and he LIKES having sore muscles. It shows that he’s been working hard. Let’s see if you can work hard and earn your sore hand muscles.
  • Then we made a few funny faces at each other, just to ease the tension. Next, she traced my “y” and wrote her own a few times.
  • HG: MOMMY! I DID IT!!! I WROTE Y WITH A TAIL THE RIGHT WAY! I LEARNED HOW TO DO IT AND MY MUSCLES ARE SORE BECAUSE I WORKED HARD!!!!!
We made game-show

We made game-show “Ding ding ding!” and “Buzz” noises when we looked at the top two and circled or crossed them out. The bottom row of y’s are her own. This was hard-fought, my friends.

I normally wouldn’t make a mountain out of this kind of molehill. But proper letter formation is a must when learning to write in cursive, which will be in a couple years. It also slows a kid down when she has to pick up her pencil just to form another part of the same letter! She’ll thank me someday, but until then…

After that small triumph, the rest of the day was miserable.

Hula Girl told me to SHUT UP today. I have one guess as to where she heard that: “The Dream” in Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together. She has not ever heard anyone say it out loud except for in that book, which we happen to have as an audio book. Apparently she decided she had had enough of me talking to her while I did laundry, so she went storming into her room, slammed the door, and yelled at me. Oh, my.

I calmly went in, sat on her bed with her, and explained to her that our family doesn’t use words like that. I told her that they were unbecoming of a young lady, and that she would have a consequence for saying them to me. She spent quite a bit of time in her room, cleaning and so forth, and then she came out for lunch in a happy mood.

It lasted all of four seconds.

She made her PB&J, with permission, and then I gave the kids some peas on the side. I turned to cut up some apples for them, and I heard a pea hit the floor and Hula Girl yelled, “Pea fight!” I took the peas away, and she ran after me, grabbed the bowl, and spilled them all over the floor. Her next move was to scream and cry and tell me that I had hurt her. How? “You held the bowl when I wanted to grab it and you hurt my fingers.” Oooooookay. Then she tried to hit me, which I blocked while saying, “I won’t let you hit me.” Then she hugged my waist and bawled while I rubbed her back and said, “You’re having a lot of big feelings today and you’re misbehaving left and right! Something must be bugging you!” And all she did was cry.

After lunch, which was very short, I put Hula Girl right to bed. I read her some poetry about self-discipline, table manners, and finally one about perseverance.

God gave me the poem about perseverance as an answer to a desperate prayer I’d prayed earlier in the day, during which I begged God to show me how to show her my love. After reading the poem to her, I was able to tell her that I would ALWAYS persevere in my love for her. I told her that no matter what she did, no matter how poorly she behaved, no matter what words she spoke to me, I would always love her. I told her that I love her more than she will ever know until she becomes a mommy herself someday. I told her that I was thankful that God let me be HER mommy, because SHE is exactly the daughter I need. She cuddled up onto my lap and told me she was glad to be my daughter. I was happy to reply that I was beyond thrilled to be her mommy.

It doesn’t matter how hard this gets. I don’t care how many times she hurls insults at me. I am her mommy, and I’m going to show her grace and love. I’m going to fight to show her Jesus in me. I’m going to win, because that is my mission as her mother. She must know she is loved and treasured and that Jesus is her loving, gracious savior.

Here’s the poem I read to her, but more to myself, which steeled me and gave me strength:

Carry On!

by Robert W. Service

It’s easy to fight when everything’s right,
And you’re mad with thrill and the glory;
It’s easy to cheer when victory’s near,
And wallow in fields that are gory.
It’s a different song when everything’s wrong,
When you’re feeling infernally mortal;
When it’s ten against one, and hope there is none,
Buck up, little soldier, and chortle:

      Carry on! Carry on!
   There isn’t much punch in your blow.
You are glaring and staring and hitting out blind;
You are muddy and bloody, but never you mind.
      Carry on! Carry on!
   You haven’t the ghost of a show.
It’s looking like death, but while you’ve a breath,
       Carry on, my son! Carry on! 

And so in the strife of the battle of life
It’s easy to fight when you’re winning;
It’s easy to slave, and starve and be brave,
When the dawn of success is beginning.
But the man who can meet despair and defeat
With a cheer, there’s the man of God’s choosing;
The man who can fight to Heaven’s own height
Is the man who can fight when he’s losing.
   
      Carry on! Carry on!
   Thing never were looming so black.
But show that you haven’t a cowardly streak,
And though you’re unlucky you never are weak.
      Carry on! Carry on!
   Brace up for another attack.
It’s looking like hell, but – you never tell.
      Carry on, old man! Carry on!

There are some who drift out in the desert of doubt
And some who in brutishness wallow;
There are others, I know, who in piety go
Because of a Heaven to follow.
But to labor with zest, and to give of your best,
For the sweetness and joy of the giving;
To help folks along with a hand and a song;
Why, there’s the real sunshine of living.

      Carry on! Carry on!
   Fight the good fight and true;
Believe in your mission, greet life with a cheer;
There’s big work to do, and that’s why you are here.
      Carry on! Carry on!
   Let the world be the better for you;
And at last when you die, let this be your cry!
      Carry on, my soul! Carry on!

Preschool and Homeschool Plans

We’ve been able to just jump right in to school this year. Hula Girl is such an eager student; memorization and absorption of new material comes so naturally to her. I’m always a bit wary of doing too much too soon with her; after all, she is only four years old and I know that at this point in her life, free play should be her #1 daily activity. However, she just adores preschool time and asks for it even on weekends. Little Man even gets to participate, and he so enjoys it! Soon he will have his own curriculum to work through. I’m so excited to teach both of them every day.

Here’s a general rundown of what our preschool time looks like each day:

  • 15 minutes- Reading and dancing or doing finger plays or clapping along to children’s songs and nursery rhymes from What your Preschooler Needs to Know (Little Man joins us for this part, because it’s fun and he’s going to start the activity book in August!)
  • 5 minutes- Copywork- Hula Girl copies down short passages from our morning’s devotion or the week’s nonfiction reading in her copywork notebook
  • 15 minutes- Math- We are using the Math-U-See Primer Level to introduce math concepts. We do about 5 minutes of direct instruction on the day’s topic, and then she takes 10 or so minutes to complete the accompanying worksheet.
  • 5 minutes- Core Knowledge Activity Book 2– This book is full of short, fun activities to reinforce literacy, writing, math, and other subject areas appropriate for preschoolers. Hula Girl already completed the first book last year.
  • 10 minutes- Reading- Hula Girl is currently teaching herself to read the Dick and Jane books. We sit down for a few minutes at the end of preschool and she attempts to read one chapter. I help her sound out words she’s unfamiliar with and then she reads through the story two or three more times, until she feels confident that she can read it well. She takes several breaks to practice reading that story throughout the day, and when Jonathan comes home, she reads the new chapter to him- always flawlessly.
  • *10 minutes- Nature Study- Hula Girl observes her science projects or something out in nature (like a bird sitting on top of our truck) and sketches her observations in her sketchbook. I help her with labeling and write the date, her title, and what observations she wishes to include. Little Man sketches in his notebook as well; however, his sketches tend to resemble Morse code. 😉
  • *10 minutes- History, Science, Music, or Art- We read a short excerpt, listen to a song, or view a piece of art and discuss. Oftentimes we will then take the next thirty minutes or so to create something inspired by the historical event, scientific information, composition, or artwork. These things might include hats like Abraham Lincoln wore, diagrams of our vascular system, choreography to complement the music, or simple art projects which resemble the inspiration.

*Nature study, history, science, music, and art do not happen daily. When we drop “reading” as a subject (when she’s fluently reading without much assistance), she will be using reading to access all her history, science, music, and art information on a daily basis.

So far, this system is really working well for us. Hula Girl’s favorites are math and nature study, and she really enjoys reading (I’m not sure how she couldn’t like reading as we’ve spent approximately 25% of her life snuggled up together reading books). Next week, I plan to move Little Man’s roomtime to the mornings right after breakfast, so Hula Girl and I can work on preschool uninterrupted. It’s difficult and a bit silly to try to plan extra activities to keep him occupied during this time as he only wants to be doing exactly what his big sister is doing. She, being the perfectionist she is, can’t handle his stray pencil marks on the corners of her papers and it’s really hard to explain place value when every other word out of my mouth is “Stop!”

We have an opportunity coming up for next year to place Hula Girl in a homeschool program at a charter school in Colorado Springs. She would attend school once a week and they would focus more on the art/music/PE stuff while also emphasizing basic literacy skills. Honestly, I feel like her greatest benefit would be improving her social skills. She has been really outgoing lately and has wanted to talk to and play with every single child she meets. I am still trying to work through whether or not it’s justified to commit to driving an hour one way every single week just so she can “do school” when our intention all along has been to homeschool. I feel like we can probably find her some groups of friends around here with less of a commute.

Another issue is that she will be a new five at the start of the school year and although she is quite mature for her age intellectually, she is just developing some social skills other children developed a while ago. Her very shy nature kept her quite isolated from other children for several years. Her recent outgoing behavior has been wonderful but also illuminating in some areas. We discuss many interactions I observe and I am working to teach her to act graciously and sensitively to other children. She catches on quickly, which is a relief!

And so we will see how things go over the next few months. Regardless of whether we do the charter school program, we will definitely be starting the Core Knowledge Kindergarten Sequence with Hula Girl and the Core Knowledge Preschool Activity Book 1 with Little Man this summer. I love Core Knowledge as a teacher because it allows me to draw from many outside sources to create lessons uniquely meaningful to my children while giving me a general understanding of what material to cover in each year. I plan to marry the Core Knowledge curriculum and the Charlotte Mason method. With this in mind, I plan to read all the books from the Ambleside Online Curriculum each year just because we have plenty of time and my kids love to read!

Intermission

Hula Girl will not be attending ballet class for a while.

We baked cupcakes for her teacher and classmates yesterday and while we were decorating them, I had a chance to question her in a non-confrontational manner. She and I practiced what she’d say if she needed to leave the room to see me, and she told me she was ready to go in and sit with her friends and learn to dance from Miss S. She was really excited about it- she even wanted to watch some videos of young ballet dancers in class on Youtube.

She woke up this morning, and said, “Mommy! It’s dance day!” Then she broke out in this song that repeated itself over and over for about fifteen minutes: “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it! I’m about to go to dance and I know I’ll like it!” You guys. She was READY.

And then there was a mix-up and I had to bring Gelato. So we had to rush.

When we arrived, Hula Girl put on her own ballet slippers, put her own shoes away, and started toward the door. Then she stopped, looked back at me, and reached her hand out. I told her I would walk her in to her place, but she said, “I want to stop until after Christmas.”

Okay.

We waited until the owner of the studio arrived, paid for last week’s “lesson” and then left the cupcakes for the rest of the girls.

When we left, Hula Girl just sobbed in the car. I told her it was okay to feel sad and relieved. I told her I was sad, too, but that we’d go back when she was ready. She told me she wasn’t ready until after Christmas. I agreed.

I took the kids to the mall play area and then we went out for lunch. Hula Girl wanted to take her nap in her leotard. Guess she still likes a little bit of dance after all.

Hula Girl’s Taste in Music

So, we’re sitting at the breakfast table this morning, when Hula Girl starts playing “air piano.” The following conversation is copied verbatim:

Me: “Are you playing piano?”

HG: “Piano mee-mee, Mommy?” (mee-mee is music)

Me: “You want to listen to piano music? Okay! I’ll turn it on!”

HG: “No piano mee-mee, Mommy.”

Me: “You don’t want to listen to piano music? Are you sure?”

HG: “Yeah, Mommy. Eep-op.” (Eep-op is hip-hop.)

She is her Daddy’s child.

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