Thursday, June 13, 2013

A New Adventure

Early on in our homeschooling journey God laid it on my heart to be a part of a community of other homeschooling families.

Three years ago I listened and prayed with a mother of a middle school aged daughter who was struggling because her daughter only had friends that were in public and private schools.  Her daughter didn't like homeschooling because she didn't have any close friends.

God used that time to press upon my heart the importance of surrounding my kids with other children that were on a similar path in life.  As soon as Kjerstin began Kindergarten we joined a local program for homeschooling families.  It was phenomenal!  We all loved it!  The friendships she gained are still some of the closest to her heart!  The relationships that I grew and developed have a lasting impact on my heart.  Community was ESSENTIAL to our homeschooling journey.

When we moved to Minnesota I immediately tried to find something like that here.  In our city there is no such thing.  There are TONS of homeschooling families and several small co-op type groups.  But not a larger community or program to be a part of that all of my kids could meet other kids of their own ages.

This past year was a very lonely year for us.  We were new to this city as a family and we did not have a program to be a part of- a first for our family.

During the year through many obscure and various avenues- God brought Classical Conversations to my heart and mind.  We did find a community in a small town about 30 minutes away and contemplated joining partway through the year.  Circumstances being what they were we decided not to.  Which led to a very lonely year!

As the Winter days were drawing on and it seemed no end was in sight for the season I love least...we again were connected with Classical Conversations in a divine way.  So I decided to go to the website and learn more and see if a community was going to be starting in our city.

Glowing on the screen before me was a community starting in our city!  I was overjoyed...I think I actually cried.  I quickly filled out the inquiry email saying we were interested and I would LOVE to tutor.

Shortly after, I received an email and phone call.  They still needed a director!  My husband and I began the task of praying, researching, praying, researching, praying, and many conversations...until finally we could not deny- God was calling us to this next step.

In March I officially signed my Director's Contract to be a director of a community in our city!

Since then I have been feverishly working at getting the word out, talking with people, meeting with people, learning all that I can, attending trainings, securing a facility, and preparing for next year.

For many many weeks our family was the only family.  I was beginning to fear that nobody else would join.  We had more than a dozen families interested but none of them had actually enrolled.

God taught me many neat things in those days and though they were hard and a lot of work- they were rewarding.  Trust and wait, Trust and wait...sow, sow sow.

Now our community is taking off!  The families have been coming in and signing up!  We are growing and we are finding others that we can share this journey with.

I am SO excited for this next year.  I am excited for our community, I am excited for the friendships my children will make, I am excited for the friendships that I will make, I am excited for the support and encouragement we will all have together, I am excited to see my children grow in their knowledge, I am excited to be able to see them work and thrive at something new.  I am beyond excited to have found a program that aligns with so much of what I think and believe about God, education, children, and teaching.

Stay tuned for this next chapter of our lives!


Friday, May 24, 2013

Our Curriculum- Our Thoughts

I LOVE curriculum!  I love researching it, learning about it, seeing it, and getting my hands on it.  I know it's a bit nerdy.  

This past year we did more, in terms of using curriculum than we have before.  Will we do it again?  Not sure! (more on that another time).  But for now I thought I would give you a glimpse into what we used and what we thought!

"God Time"- we used Children Desiring God's study called "Jesus, What a Savior! A Study for Children on Redemption" by Jill Nelson.  Since it was our first time using this curriculum we bought the entire teaching kit.  However, if using it for homeschooling you would be fine buying the Leader's Edition along with the printed resources and a workbook for each child (this is what we plan to do next).  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this curriculum!  The girls loved it too.  It was so theologically solid and sound-yet in a way that the girls could comprehend and own.  The lessons did take some prep and many times we had to modify the activities because they were meant for more of a classroom approach (aka more than 2 kids).  But towards the end we were able to basically dialogue through most of it, using the printed resources to guide us!  We first tried to do one lesson a week.  But the girls were wanting to learn more and move ahead.  So we decided to do a lesson in about 2-3 days.  We would start the first day of the lesson and do the class time activity (experiencing the principle), then we would read the part from scripture that the lesson was about (there are guides in the lesson plans for you to paraphrase but we loved digging strait into the Word and reading strait from it), finally we would go over the memory verse and the key themes for the lesson.  That was the first day of the lesson. The second day we would go back and review what we talked about the day before, review the memory verse, review the key themes, and then do the coloring/activity page in their workbook.  If we needed or wanted a third day we would review the key themes again, the memory work again, and then do one of the extra activities that they provided in the Teacher's kit.  What I loved MOST about this specific curriculum was that it taught the girls (and reminded me) some hard things.  It emphasized our sin and sinful hearts and our NEED for a Savior.  Without comprehending what a desperate state our sinful hearts are in you cannot fully grasp the greatness of our Savior and the magnitude of His sacrifice!  This curriculum did an EXCELLENT job teaching this!  You can take a closer look at the scope and sequence here!

"Math"- we used Saxon Math again.  This year Marissa did Saxon 1 and Kjerstin did Saxon 2.  When the year started it took us almost an hour and a half to get our math work done.  We started with the meeting time and did our calendar work and they filled out their "meeting strips".  As they learned more information and had more to do on their meeting strips each day it took more and more time.  After the meeting time we would learn the lesson together and then we would do the facts sheet and then the lesson sheet.  Each lesson sheet has 2 sides to it.  We only did 1 and the girls are both doing great with their math, actually I think if I had made them do both sides they would have had a little resentment towards it.  I love the focus on the foundations of understanding numbers, values, and math facts!  I also love how they tie in the clocks, money, geometry, and other non-numerical aspects of mathematics into the lessons.  By the end of the year we only did the calendar time, would review some counting, and we would orally go over some of the things that were on the meeting strip.  Then we would learn the lesson, do the timed math facts, and then work on the worksheet.  We got our time down to about 50 minutes!  If all went well ;)  At this point we have not completely finished the books (gasp) and we are still toying with the idea of completely finishing them or not.  The beginning of each level is a review of the previous level, so they will not be "hurt" if we don't finish the books.  But there is something fulfilling and rewarding about completely finishing a curriculum. So we will see!

"Reading"- we used "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading" by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington.  The girls both started this book about 2 years ago.  We have done it a little differently in that we go through a lesson and we don't really move on until they have a pretty good grasp of it.  Several times with both girls we have completed a section and then gone back to the beginning or middle and done that part of the section over before moving on. Kjerstin is now at the point where she is nearly completed with the book and it really is not "teaching" her anything because she is a very fluent reader- but it is good to expose her to the rules and teachings of the way words are read.  Each day we would sit down together and go through their lesson they were at in the book and then afterwards they would pick a book to read.  Sometimes we would do Bob books that correlated with where they were at in the lessons and sometimes they picked leveled reader books from the library to read.  Kjerstin took off in her reading and got bored with many of the leveled reader books and so she will pick picture books to read on her own time and we have begun a new reading adventure.  
After her reading lesson is over we go to this book: "First Favorites Comprehension Guide Volume 2" by Laurie Detweiler from Veritas Press.  I decided to order this comprehension guide and try it out to see what we thought.  We check each book out from the library but you can order the bundle of books that are for this comprehension guide.  We check out the book and then she will do a few activity pages each day for the book she read until she is ready to move on to the next book.  It was becoming very clear to me that she comprehends what she is reading quite well and doesn't necessarily need this guide to help her comprehend the story.  But I do believe it is good practice for her as she will need to know how to do these sorts of activities for longer and more intense pieces of literature.  There is a next book for second grade and I think we may finish this book and do the next favorites book before moving on to chapter books.

Over the summer we may still work on the reading lessons.  It would be nice to keep up the practice with Marissa (plus she loves it) and Kjerstin would finish the book before the fall which would allow her more time to read harder books that she would enjoy.  Once again...we shall see!

"Language"- we used "First Language Lessons" Level 1 by Jessie Wise.  We had this book in the fall and started going through it and I thought it was not very thorough.  I was used to Shirley Grammar books.  We would sit and do a lesson and it would only take about 3-5 minutes.  There was not any writing in the beginning.  I thought surely I was doing something wrong.  So we set it aside and I tried to do some research.  Then I kind of forgot about it.  Finally in November, I met another mom that used it and said that we were doing it correctly and that as we got into the book more- the writing would begin.  December came and I decided we needed to get back into it.  I LOVE it!  I love it because it is a short and sweet time of working on grammar skills and that is all the time you need.  Kjerstin completely understands and memorizes what she needs to for these lessons...and did I mention it takes almost NO time?  We are not quite finished with the book because of our delay at the beginning.  But we are going to finish it up because she needs to start level 2 in the fall.  As the book has progressed it has produced copy work and narrative exercises for her to do but it is interesting enough to keep her attention.  Marissa will start level 1 next year, but the poor girl has much of it memorized already from listening to Kjerstin!

"Handwriting"-we used Handwriting Without Tears.  Both girls were these teeny tiny two year olds when they asked me to start teaching them how to write.  I winged it at first and then a friend told me that she used Handwriting Without Tears with her kids.  I looked into it and decided to try it.  AWESOME!  Because the student workbooks are so great at teaching the kids the proper strokes and ways to make the letters you don't really need to buy the teaching guide!  I also liked how it wasn't overkill and the girls didn't have to write each letter like 20 bazillion times.  They wrote it enough to feel comfortable writing it.  Plus there were fun pictures.  For us it moves at just the right pace.  Marissa completed the orange book this past year and Kjerstin whizzed through the yellow and the blue books.  Now she is begging me to move on to the red book which is cursive.  I just ordered it today...summer fun!  ;)

Up to this point I have covered what I will call our "core".  The next pieces to our homeschooling puzzle are pieces that I am giving us more freedom in.  Also you may notice I do not have spelling in our "core".  Well we were about 3 months into the year and I realized I had completely forgotten about it!  So I scrambled to see what I wanted to do.  I knew of a few curricula that I loved and would love to use but didn't know if they would be a good fit for Kjerstin, for our homeschooling, and for the way that she was learning how to read.  I wanted a spelling program that would jive with her reading program.  Finding that was hard!  So as a last resort out of desperation I found some free lists on the internet!  We would go over the list together and the rule that was being covered and she was BORED out of her mind!  It was like a joke.  We did the tests and the sentence dictation and then finally it was over kill.  I mainly was wanting her to be comfortable with spelling tests since I knew that next year she would most likely be taking them and they might be challenging for her.  By the end when she would have the entire spelling test list memorized and tell me what word was going to come next so she could spell it...I thought- this is a waste of our time!  So we stopped.  Amazingly she is a great speller!  But spelling will be added to our "core" next year.

You may also notice that we do not have a writing curriculum as well.  We have decided to work on our handwriting skills and to establish a good foundation in handwriting before we jump into lengthy writings.  The girls both have times where they want to write lists of things or stories or write letters.  So we use that time for writing.  Also in the Language Lessons book and in Kjerstin's comprehension guides there is writing that is done.  I do not want kids that hate is such a powerful tool and a great form of self expression.  I want them to value it, treasure it, and use it to their benefit.  So we are waiting a year more or so to really get into a more intense writing curriculum.

Now, on to the rest...
This my friends, is my guide.  My bible for homeschooling if you will.  Or at least it has been.  This book helped me to understand what to introduce when.  Due to my Type A personality I like things to be in order. So naturally I fell in love with the idea of teaching History in order and teaching Science in a way that correlated with History.  Fabulous!  The more I learned about Classical Education the more I realized that was what I believed inside and was looking for.  Only now I didn't have to reinvent the had already been done!  Fabulous again!

"History"- we used Story of The World (or SOTW in the homeschool world).  We started with volume 1, which is Ancient History and got the Activity guide to go with it.  In the beginning of the year we did one chapter a week.  We would read the chapter all in one day or in two days if it was long and then we would spend the next day doing the narration exercises, map work, and coloring page that went along with the chapter.  The girls loved it and we had a lot of fun.  I loved learning it all too (since I didn't really remember it from when I was young).  The book is written in a story format and flows quite nicely.  The further we got into the book the more we wanted to read it like a story and not treat it like a text.  Come January that is exactly what we did.  We sat together and read from it each day, either a chapter or part of a chapter.  The girls could then follow the story and seemed to comprehend what was happening much better than when we "studied" it more in depth.  We would try later in the day to pull out the activity book and color the page or do the map.  But for the most part we followed the story.  The girls LOVE our world map and so we would frequently be at it looking up other things and we would also look to see where we were reading about in SOTW.  Oh, there were board games or paper crafts to make- the girls LOVED those and magically seem to remember more of the details of those historical events!

"Science"- we followed the model set up in The Well Trained Mind and were to study animals, the human body, and plants this first year.  If I remember correctly it was to be 10 weeks on animals, 10 weeks on the human body, and 6 weeks on plants or gardening.  The kids studied many animals the last 2 years because they were in love with all things animal.  Plus we had a zoo pass to a SUPER amazing zoo in our country (thanks Grandma and Grandpa!).  Studying animals was a little tricky.  We made lists of animals they wanted to learn more about and then tried to find as many books and science type videos about them.  Since we have moved away from that fabulous zoo it would sometimes be sad to remember visiting all the cool animals at our old zoo.  Studying the human body was also a bit tricky because they have already learned a lot about their bodies!  They get curious and so we teach them.  Plus we have family members or friends that are having babies and what not...they ask questions and we provide answers.  So they are pretty well versed.  We went through a few human body encyclopedias and they asked a few questions but really they weren't into it that much.  Since we have concluded our science time the questions have been flying!  They are so curious about food, food groups, how food is digested, what food is healthy and so on.  So we are "off roading" if you will and are learning about that.  For our gardening or plants unit- well last summer when we lived with Matt's parents the girls were "gardening girls" all day long all summer long.  But our family is going to plant our very first family garden this the lessons continue!

"Fine Arts"- umm we totally failed in this!  We did a lot of crafty things.  Lots of painting times, coloring times, drawing times.  A lot of freestyle action going on.  But not really a lot of studying per-say.

"Music"- the kids were exposed to a large variety of music between my classical pieces during work, quiet times, praise music during MANY moments, and then Matt exposed the kids to Sandstorm.   Those all count right?!?  

Clearly these last two are lacking...

For the most part I am pretty happy with how our year turned out.  It was definitely a big change to have such extreme structure in the beginning.  It was also very hard to have our support system gone from us.  But we have survived and have learned a lot!  As for next year...well we are still processing this year!  There are many things we all liked and were happy about and there were some things that we may want to do differently.

We'll just have to see!

But I can say- we have things in the works!

More to come!!!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fight for Family

Words are beginning to come to mind for the many moments and emotions we have been through for the last 3-4 years.  I am excited to finally be able to talk more about our hearts in regards to the needy, orphans, adoption, and Africa!

Adoption is a very hard, emotional, and stretching process.  For some the hardest parts are once they finally get to meet their child face to face.  For others the process to get to that first meeting is the most grueling.

Our family is blessed.  I don't know why.  It is not because of anything we did.  We did not earn this.  We do not deserve this.  We are grateful.

Our adoption process was hard and stretching and very emotional.  But I have learned of and been alongside others who have had extremely hard and trying times as well.

When we were getting ready to travel and knew that within weeks we would be meeting Cohen face to face for the first time, I had great fear that we would not get so lucky.  At that time in DRC they were beginning their presidential elections.  This was only their second elections in the country that had it's own independence.  There are still many militia in Congo.  They like to solve problems with violence.  Demonstrations were happening regularly the weeks before we were issued a visa.  If it were too unsafe we would not be able to get Cohen and then we would have to wait for the elections to finish and then if they did not finish well- we'd have to wait for it all to settle.  Given the history and the quick uproars in their history we were definitely feeling that if we didn't get him out NOW- then we were not sure what the future would hold.

These fears stayed fears.  In the nick of time we were issued his visa and able to travel and get him.  We were able to steer clear of the demonstrations and keep safe from harm.  Praise God that we were able to bring him home when we did.

Things went much better with the election than many had thought.  They still were not without hurt or hitch.  But adoptive families were still able to bring their children home.

For many families they are not as fortunate.  They fight battles, bureaucracy  legislation, laws, officials, evil, and many other enemies for MANY, MANY, MANY
years- to get their child home.

Both Ends Burning is trying to do something amazing and make a change to this.  Our own government, although well intentioned, is part of the problem.

They have been showing their documentary across the country.  They have been traveling along with the showings getting petitions signed.  They will have a march Friday, May 17th to bring the petition to the President and legislation.

Please join us and be a part of this movement.  Please help our government know what to do to help these families with "Stuck" children and to prevent future children from being "Stuck".  Please help in creating laws and legislation that is more helpful for adoptive families.

The kids need this-the families need this- we all need this.

Please sign the petition online here
Please order and download a viewing of the documentary here

Come along side us and thousands of others...we will fight for families!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Win an Orlando Vacation!!!!

This awesome Momma over at Millions of Miles has done an amazing job helping and supporting kids in Congo through this yearly fundraiser.

It's a win, win people!

Jump on the bandwagon!  Click over to her blog to learn more and make your donation!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Update on Rachel...

Rachel has made it safely to Sierra Leone and has been enjoying her time there!

Her internet connection is very rare and so she will be posting about her trip once she returns home.

Next week she will be home and back at her blog!

Thanks for all your prayers, support, and encouragement!

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Song, A prayer, Africa... song Again, Prayer Again, Africa AGAIN!

"Break my heart for what breaks yours,
Everything I am for your Kingdom's cause"
Sometimes in life God uses music to speak to us and touch our hearts.  This song, "Hosanna" from Hillsong United by Brooke Frasier, is one of them.  God has used this song, more specifically these words, as pegs in my life.  My heart has been broken for what breaks His, when I hear these lyrics I recall the moments that I was aware of what breaks our Lord's heart.

It began in the very beginning of 2009.  We began singing this song in our worship times at church.  Something grabbed me from this song.  God laid it on my heart that I desired to be closer to Him and to have my heart broken- broken by the things that break His.  Through this brokenness I would find a close, intimate place to meet my Father.

TRS in Sierra Leone, Africa
These lyrics were the prayer of my heart for more than 6 months when God began to show me the plight of the orphan in 2009.  As my heart became soft and vulnerable, my wonderful sister- in- law was used by the Lord to deliver the first crack.  She taught us about a group of orphans in Sierra Leone, Africa that were in a very desperate situation.  She introduced us to a group that was devoted to doing something about that.  This group is called The Raining Season (TRS).  For our family it was through this group and this connection that God brought us to our son in DRC.

On Friday as I was praying for someone special, this song came on through Pandora.  It moved me to tears because I was praying over my sister in law who was preparing for a journey God is leading her on.  A journey she has desired and waited for, for many years.  It reminded me of the first days of praying those words and the events that transpired.

She is traveling to Sierra Leone for several days for two trips.  First she will be going to Freetown to see the orphanage TRS has established called The Covering.  She will get to meet face to face the boy their family has sponsored for several years and whom their family has grown very close to!  Then she will travel to another part of Sierra Leone to meet a community that has been blessed with life sustaining livestock through World Vision. Livestock that was able to be provided from an event titled: Livestock: A celebration of giving and music.  Livestock: A celebration of giving and music, is a large event sponsored by World Vision that Rachel helps in launching each year in Minnesota.

Yesterday at church (now a new church for our family) the Hosanna song was played by the worship team.  Our congregation came together and praised God- "Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest".  As we sang the words "Break my heart for what breaks yours" my mind drifted to my sister in law as at that moment she was on her way to Africa!  How great is our God that He allows us to see such cool, intricate, details and webs of His design!

Would you join me in praying, supporting and encouraging Rachel as she travels to Sierra Leone, Africa?  You can follow her journey on her blog, "The Essence of Pearls"  or here at the Livestock MN blog.

My Sister in law's blog!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ain't no place I'd rather be!

I know I will sound like a broken record here- but seriously there are so many things I wish I had time to blog about...but I haven't!

I have been busy savoring each moment and have been practicing the art of being "fully present" with our family!

Getting into the hearts and heads of my three kiddos is the greatest place to be this side of Heaven!

So what have we been up to?

Well, here are some snapshots!

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