Back to School

2:48 PM


School is officially back in session on Goshen.
While most schools started back this week or last week, we actually started a bit earlier - August 3, 2015.  We scheduled a September beach vacation, and I wanted to be a week ahead and not feel rushed later on. It also gives us more flexibility around the holidays.

This year, we have a Pre-K'er, a 3rd grader and a 4th grader.
And Wyeth, our Mischief-Maker.

Dorien is doing a Pre-K curriculum!
He's been dying to do some real school, and he now has his chance! This is his first year of an official curriculum. I wavered between starting him out on the Sonlight Kindergarten Core A, but decided he wasn't quite ready for that. Instead, I am using the Pre-K curriculum for him, which includes lots of great reading books, a fun science program involving the Berenstain Bears, a pre-handwriting program and some really neat development books which help me assess his learning strengths/weakness (a 4 volume series called Developing the Early Learner). I'm also using the Explode the Code series to introduce him to writing/the alphabet. August used them during his kindergarten year and loved them. So far, Dorien does too. The first book is called "Get Ready for the Code" and has a picture of a cat and a goldfish on it. Dorien calls it his "Cat and the Code" book. 

My goal for him is to learn to read this year.  He will also be learning lots of songs and memorizing Scripture.  I'm going to also use Saxon math's kindergarten program with him, as it seems perfect for Pre-K. We used it for kindergarten with Brooklyn and August, and I found myself wishing I'd done a more challenging math that year. I think this will be perfect as an introduction to math for Dorien.

Brooklyn started the 4th grade! All the cliches about time are true. I have no idea how it goes by so quickly.  We are still using Sonlight's curriculum for the kids, so Brooklyn and August will both be doing Core E - American History (year 2 of 2). Last year, we did Introduction to American History, which included all the America's, from as far back as we have information on Incas, Mayans, Aztecs, etc. to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. This year, we start at 1850 and move forward.  

Brooklyn will be continuing with the Singapore Math curriculum for grade 4, as well as continuing to work on her cursive writing skills in Handwriting Without Tears. She has a new vocabulary workbook this year called Wordly Wise. The science program has us studying electricity, magnetism and astronomy.  I also have separate Critical Thinking and Language Smarts workbooks which we have used for the past 3 years. The kids love them. She and August are also working through the Rosetta Stone Spanish program. In addition, Brooklyn will be taking piano lessons for the 3rd year.

August, who recently turned 7, is pretty significantly ahead of his age group and is doing mostly 3rd grade work this year.  The Sonlight Core E says it's for 10, 11 and 12 year olds or advanced 9 year olds. Well, be that as it may...we started out with Core A for kindergarten and have just progressed systematically year by year. Ahead or's just where we are. And since August has been doing school with Brooklyn, it naturally puts him ahead in some areas.  He has a 3rd grade Handwriting Without Tears book teaching him cursive. He has 3rd grade level books for Critical Thinking, Language Smarts and Wordly Wise, but does the same 4th grade level math as Brooklyn in Singapore math.   

 He also is taking tennis this year and will be starting a juniors league in a few weeks. 
The fact that August is in 3rd grade at home gets kind of confusing. This past week in church, it was Promotion Sunday, when all the kids move up to the next grade in their classes.  After Kyle and I served in the nursery first service, between services we wandered around upstairs in the older kids' area to make sure we knew where Brooklyn and August's new classrooms were.  We found Brooklyn and she was settling in with all her friends and a teacher from last year that moved up with her. We could not find August anywhere, though.  We have always kept him "age-wise" in his church classes, so his church class grade has always been a level below what he is actually doing in school.  Apparently, when asked what grade he was in, he said 3rd, so they were baffled at why he was assigned to a 2nd grade room and moved him to a 3rd grade room.  After searching the whole 2nd grade wing and not finding him, we finally spotted him in a 3rd grade class. We had the hallway coordinator move him back with his 2nd grade buddies and with his teachers who had also moved up with the group from last year. He seemed happier! 

As a side note, I wondered if he or Brooklyn felt strange being home-schooled, among their church buddies. Apparently not, because they both said that lots of other kids in their classes are home schooled too. It's nice that home schooling is just as "normal" as going to any other type of school.

One thing I was unsure of was how it would actually work, trying to do school for Brooklyn and August with a separate schedule for Dorien.  Fortunately, Dorien's stuff doesn't take long to cover. When it all goes well, he and I sit together on the couch and read his books and then work on his workbooks while Brooklyn and August do their independent work, like writing, math, handwriting or something.  Dorien's books are just so much fun, though, that usually Brooklyn or August fight to be the one to read it to him. They've even worked with him on the letters he's learning or how to work on his assignments. It's pretty cute. Dorien eats it up - it's not often he is the one they dote on! 

Dorien is also learning little songs, like "This Little Light of Mine" and "Father Abraham". So we have these hilarious sing-alongs that go way too long because everyone gets totally goofy. I'm amazed, too, at how much Wyeth is soaking up. Most of our songs have hand motions, and Wyeth does them right along with us. He takes the "NO!" in ...Light of Mine...very seriously - Hide it under a bushel? NO!!! It's one of the few times he correctly uses the word "no." 

Here Dorien has to identify which of the items in the basket have been removed while his eyes are closed. He picks the missing object, then colors it on a page. He has another activity where he covers his eyes up and I take a wooden spoon and clank it against some object - there are always two "clanks" and I mix up whether the "clanks" are on identical objects or different ones. He has to identify without seeing whether the sounds he heard were different or the same. This has proven to be a big hit with the older kids, too. He also has to listen to a set of instructions and then follow them in regards to coloring/marking two different items on a picture. Like, "Color the stripe on the ball red and make an X through the  box." He has to listen and then do whatever the instructions were. 

We even got out play-do the other day and the kids played and played while I read to them from our read aloud books. 

Wyeth did pretty good with the Play-do...and only tried to eat a little of it.

Here's an example of August reading Dorien's books with him while Brooklyn waits to read the next book. The best part about Sonlight's curriculum is how rapidly our library has expanded.  With tons of really really good books. Brooklyn is currently reading Freedom Train, all about Harriett Tubman. It has made for some very good discussions about slavery. These are not easy topics to dive into. They're painful, horrifying topics. Teaching your children just the lengths that humanity can go to as the result of sin is not pleasant. We had similar discussions last year when studying Native Americans...and now, as we are really getting into slavery, it's been shocking to them. 

Thankfully, the books we are reading are fantastic and open doors for discussion. Another reason I appreciate Sonlight is that slavery within the context of the Civil War is presented in a very balanced way.  Rather than just - the Civil War was fought over slavery and all Southerners were slave-owners, it discusses the events in the North and the South that all contributed to slavery (invention of the cotton gin, manufacturing in the North) and why it wasn't an issue that was clear-cut and easy to fix.  
We have also looked at Great Britain in the 1800's and the work that men like William Wilburforce did in Parliament to get rid of the slave trade and eventually, over a period of a LIFETIME, finally got the British empire to abolish slavery completely. Seeing what a fight that was, it makes more sense how it wasn't a painless or easy process for the United States. 

I continue to learn so much myself as I read these books with my children.  It's eye-opening, sobering and thought-provoking.  I praise God for the opportunity to learn at home. It is a privilege. 
I won't gloss over things and say that it's always easy or pretty or picturesque. It can be very challenging, very frustrating and it very quickly reveals all my flaws and weaknesses.  I always have a picture of how I want my day to go and it rarely, if ever, plays out that way. 

There are nutty days where I feel like I'm beating my head against a wall. Or when I find myself changing 10 poopy diapers after Wyeth eats a tub of grape tomatoes.  Or when Wyeth and Dorien dump every toy container we have while I'm working with Brooklyn and August on their math.  Or when it seems like we just finish breakfast and are really diving into school and Dorien says, "I'm still hungry!" Of all the words in the English language, those are my absolute least favorite. I lose my temper. I have to apologize for thinking they should quickly grasp something that is so easy to me only because I'm a grown up and have been doing it for age and ages. It's really humbling. No doubt about it.  And exhausting. But then there are sweet precious moments like the picture above that I don't stage...they just happen. And I'm grateful.

I won't lie and say I don't miss hours at the gym and the pool. I loved being able to get really long workouts in before lunch or nap time. I'm having to re-adjust my schedule and figure out where that time is going to come from - early morning? Although I think my triathlons for the year are through, I do plan to train for several long distance races, plus continue to cross-train. And that takes time. 
It's a balancing act and a time management riddle. It's life. And I'm truly grateful for every breath, every moment, every day. Filled with good, bad, crazy, stinky, laughter, tears, laundry, dust-bunnies, grocery lists and bills. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

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