Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Getting There

WARNING: This post is largely homeschooling related. Close window if uninterested!

I have had many private emails asking me about our homeschooling plans, mostly from families adopting or who have adopted older children. This post is about where we sit thus far in our planning and I hope someone can take something away from it that is useful. Internet searches lead to very little info about homeschooling older adopted children, and yet I know many families are doing it to help their kids catch up before placing them in public school or they decide to continue homeschooling them.

Have I told you I am totally terrified of this? How much stress this is causing me that is gently and gradually coming under control? How can I possibly do this and succeed? I am not sure but I am going to give it the old college try, to keep with our educational theme today :-)

My thoughts all along have been to keep it experiential in nature, and to gradually build to the more academic. The girls are going through so much change right now, assimilating is a tough enough job, but we don't want to exclude academics entirely. However, the reality is that institutionalized kids have many gaps in their knowledge base so we are going to use this time to fill them. They have never been to a real library other than the few shelves on one wall in their orphanage. That is a learning experience. Riding a bike is a new experience, petting animals is new, cooking in the kitchen is new, having free time is new, going to church is new, shopping is new, working with money is new, learning English is new, playing new sports is new, going camping is new, going to McDonald's is new, using a knife is new, going to the park is new...are you getting my drift here? There is a ton of learning going on even if it doesn't quite look like school. In two weeks home I doubt I could even count all the new things learned!!

But we also need to add in structure and keep moving forward with academics in the ways we can and start building a vocabulary and phonics base. So here is what our current game plan is, subject to change without notice...hahahaha!:

1) Work on teaching life skills that were not learned. How to use a knife, trying new foods and talking about them, going on little field trips as often as we can to see new things similar to preschool or kindergarten...animal shelter, hospital, public pool and parks, hiking, mountains, etc.

2) Build on phonics knowledge which exists in some systematic way. I am working with several experienced folks who have offered their time and knowledge to help me figure out what this looks like in older language learners. They are almost too young for some things and not old enough for adult materials. Approaching this without insulting their intelligence and maturity as 10 and 11 year olds is a little harder than one might imagine.

3) Vocabulary building constantly. This is not limited to just using flash cards during 30 minutes of our day, in fact it looks little like that at all. It is a natural process where I have to tuck in the back of my mind words we are building on, look for ways to repeat them and use them in different contexts throughout the next several days, quiz them in a fun way at unexpected times (they love this!), and reinforce new words by adding words that make sense to go with them.

4) Math facts drilling - they can do math reasonably well and at grade level, but are not quick enough to do simple calculations so we need to create some automaticity with that by drilling in fun ways with card games, etc.

5) Non-Language oriented activities - It is exhausting to be surrounded by and learn a new language, your brain just shuts off after awhile. We are going to create opportunities for learning that are outside the language box.

What we are using:

1) Time4Learning.com - I've blogged about this in the past, great educational online program for pre-k through 8th which allows for grade level adjustment on each of the core subjects. Reinforces phonics or other subjects in a fun way, and is highly academic in spite of the fun, game like approach.

2) Creating a vocabulary book of their own of words we have learned. We say the new words, talk about them, sound them out, write them on a lap sized white board first and correct them, we talk about the sounds a the beginning, we name the letter, we talk about the sound, we draw a picture if we want to. We are building a way for them to look back and see just how many new English words they have learned in a short period of time by simply looking back at the book.

3) We are creating fun, cool worksheets from EnchantedLearning.com and EdHelper.com including matching, word searches, etc.

4) I am going to attempt to come up with an activity each day that relates to and reinforces each letter we are focusing on while creating an opportunity to experience something new...of which there are obviously many things.

5) Reading books...which at first is not reading really but talking about the pictures, naming things, etc.

6) We might begin a true math curriculum in two or three months, stepping back one grade lower than they tested at to make sure we don't miss any gaps (there are some we know of already..decimals are sketchy for Angela and fractions totally unknown despite testing at 5th grade level), and to allow for language learning. We will skip over stuff that is too easy, focus on things that are more challenging or totally new.

7) Teach money and measurements as they are only familiar with Tenge for currency and metric for measuring. Nothing fancy here other than coins from the coin jar and a measuring tape.

8) Sports - All the kids are signed up for soccer which starts in a couple of weeks, and Angela is signed up for softball after that while Olesya and the boys want to learn tennis. We will be going swimming once a week and playing racket ball at our local Recreation Center with another homeschooling buddy.

9) We have tutors working with the girls on phonics twice a week.

10) They will be taking an art class, Angela is really gifted in art and loves it. This gives them something to do that they see as academic and can succeed at with all their same age peers while not really involving too much language.

11) Horses!! We found an amazing homeschooling educator/family who are creating a class once a week for our 3 children to learn about horses. Again, language light, great learning experience, and taps into something they seem to be interested in.

12) This same educator is going to teach them a short 30 minute science class which will mainly be an experiment for them to participate in or watch...explosions guaranteed :-)

This looks like a lot, and maybe it is in some ways but a lot of it doesn't "look like" learning in the traditional sense. There will be very little workbook pages, just enough to introduce a letter and see it repeated a few times. Most of it is purposely experiential with sneaking in learning through the back door of fun.

My bigger concern is having enough focused time for Matthew to work on his more academically rigorous studies, but thankfully he is flexible enough to take things in the car and work on them anywhere. He will be taking the science, horse and art classes with the girls too, so will be exposed to some new and cool opportunities in addition to workbooks for grammar and Saxon math, which by the way we are THRILLED with in terms of results and presentation. We hope to finish his building and materials physics study in the next week or two so he can focus solely on the science class the teacher will teach.

So now I have to firm up our game plan on paper...or at least on virtual paper through Google Documents which is what the school uses to track our hours and weekly progress. I need to figure out what order to teach language, phonics, reading in, and I need to stay focused on it all for 3 kids working at 3 different levels. Somehow it will work, I know that. We are so lucky to have friends stepping in to help, both with Matthew and the girls. It relieves a little of the pressure, it offers them a diversity of wonderful people to interact with whose skill level is far superior to mine, and it helps them develop new relationships with other supportive adults in their lives which is SO important, particularly at this age.

Now if I could only manage to get my ministry homework done, I'd be in great shape! I also am getting a bit desperate to figure out a solution to where to put all the homeschooling stuff and yet keep my home feeling like a home and not a classroom. I know, probably impossible. But there has to be a creative solution. We are talking about lots of options...some more expensive than others but would be more solid and permanent. It will not be a formal classroom though, we like the informality of learning all over the house!!

So there you have it, our current game plan. The girls seem much happier with the structure and were at loose ends horribly the first week we got home, so we felt it was important to hit the ground running as quickly as possible and create a routine they could count on. Coming from the over-scheduled, tightly structured environment of the orphanage, this gives them a sense of security so despite how hard it has been on me to jump in so soon after returning, in many ways it is the best for them.

I want to thank all of you for helping with your great suggestions and support. I culled a lot from your comments as I was doing the big picture thinking! We may find ourselves totally shifting gears after awhile, but at least we now have a starting point and I feel a little less like I am flailing around in the dark. Still need a well laid out plan for a systematic approach to building language/reading/writing skills but I am getting help in that area and I might feel much more confident soon.

Slowly but surely, we are getting there. It might look very different than what some would see as the ideal for the girls, but for us it looks like a pretty workable plan to start with, and modifications can be made along the way as needed.


Anonymous said...

Here are some sites I used when teaching first grade. Readingatoz is a pay site but has a wealth of printable books from the lowest level through I think grade 5. Carls corner is just amazing with all sorts of phonics and stuff :)
I hope you can use some of it.
Kim in Korea


Joyce said...

hi Cindy
you can delete my comment if you want.. just wondered if Joshie and Kenny feel a bit left out going to school while all this is going on at home. I dont mean to be rude but wondered on thier take on it. Or is it that already they were used to it with Matthew in homeschooling. Again I wont be offended if you delete this comment.
Love Joyce

Trisha & Jim said...

I teach kindergarten, which is too young for your kids. However, I think www.kidscount1234.com is an excellent resource. You can always change things to make them appropriate for your children. That website has some great math games that could help the girls with basic fact. Plus most activities use dice or cards, stuff you already have. Also, have you ever subscribed to mailbox magazine? They print different magazines for each grade and they are a great resource. When you subscribe you are also able to use their website which has tons and tons of ideas, worksheets, and crafts. A great thing about mailbox magazine is that it is not random. It is well planned out not only to follow seasons but also standards. Worth the $30 a year.

Anonymous said...

My prompt word this morning, in able to leave this message is "diggen". How appropriate--you are really diggen in. Can I hold your hand at least through the Theological Education Institute studies? Do you have an artist to encourage the art studies?


Anonymous said...

Cindy - You're doing great with the homeschooling. Keep going and have confidence in what you're doing. The minds of children are like sponges - they're absorbing things all the time without even realizing it. Believe that they're getting what they need, both academically and - most importantly - emotionally. You're doing great.
-SusanC on the other side of the county
(where the sun is out and the snow is finally melting!)

Anonymous said...

While I heartily agree with all the praise and encouragement everyone is giving you, and I add my admiration and praise, I looked at my Redneck calendar this morning. It said: You might be a Redneck if you've ever argued over the fine line between home schooling and chronic truancy.

Greetings to you who walk the fine line,

P.S. And you walk it so conscientiously, organized, and creatively.

Anonymous said...

You are so right that learning is so much more than traditional academics. I think for now, as your girls are learning to settle into the love and form of family, your approach is excellent. I love that you have homeschool friends and others who are stepping in to offer classes or less "formal" teaching times with your kids. One thing I think you are teaching your kids that is invaluable, is that learning is a life long and varied experience. That will set them up to be learners throughout their lives.

I also think just doing these fun and educational activities with the girls is certainly encouraging bonding. Learning alongside them, being excited about the things you are doing together, is surely doing great things for your relationships. They can see that Mom is on their side, excited about and interested in their learning.

I can understand why you are overwhelmed! But you're making great progress.I can understand why none of this looks like anything you've ever done before, though some of it has similarities to things you've done with Matthew's schooling or your others boys' language learning. So you do have some great experience to fall back on. Academics in a new language is really hard. It's almost what made me not want to add another older child. I'd seen how hard it was for our first ELL (ESL) daughter at 10 1/2. But I knew, as you know, that family is what they are going to need all of their lives, so the academics just have to come as they can. We're in this for the long haul. If it ends up looking a little different than their peers, as far as how long they take to graduate or to be ready for college, that's just the way it is. It's not always easy for me to relax about how far behind they might be, but I just have to keep reminding myself. It's going to be what it's going to be. We can do all we can to help (ours are in public school), get extra helps at school, during the summer (we're going to hit math in a more structured way this summer than we have other summers), whatever. We just keep evaluating and "tweeking" as we go along. This is still new to us, having seldom needed to help our four older girls (3bio, one joining us at 12days old). But it's what we wanted to do...give another child the blessings of a family. The tough stuff comes with it, so we keep on keeping on. You will too, and with great help and creativity of your own.

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

And someone else asked awhile back how to pronounce Olesya? I've been saying it Oh-lay-suh, but I'm probably wrong.
Nancy again

Ohiomom2121 said...

Dear Cindy,
It's so awesome to "feel" you getting your sea legs again. I have to say, "I told you so," about the Saxon math. People either seem to love it or hate it, but I'm glad you like it. I think with more tactile learners it might fall short, but with an academe like Matthew, it is easy to see why it's a perfect fit. It really helped my boys.
As for the girls, your academic plans sound well thought out and a lot of fun. You are such a great mom and teacher, putting such careful thought into your program just as we benefit from your amazing insight in posts. I am also glad sports are coming in pretty fast, given Angela's background. I do think she would be highly resentful if that were taken away, even though I can definitely see the merits in bonding through some isolation for awhile. I would frankly support your decision either way, but my personal gut tells me that Angela will bond better if she is happy in her environment and her self-image is all bound up with being an athlete.
My last comment is about home school organization. Since there is a teacher component and a student component, I had shelves in their closet where they could stash their materials. That way things could be put in sideways (their preference) like in a locker, but be behind closed doors for company or when the day is done. Each closet has the standard organizer w/rods on each side and the shelves in the middle (I think I added shelves so each space was about 12" high). It's just too messy for a bookcase. Then, when we got our new home, I had a bookcase w/doors built in, as tall as it goes, for my stuff. Each kid had their graded materials in a set of paper folders and the grades were in the middle 3 hole binder in the middle of each paper folder, one folder per subject or area (like language arts). I had my teacher books and even the novels for literature & math facts cheat sheets for preparing for annual exams all on those (adjustable) shelves. For their weekly assignments, I used an expensive bound binder for each kid, which had a planner, their pens, paper, un-graded assignments and separators with tabs for each subject (to match my folders). As they completed assignments they put them behind the right tab, then I pulled it out to grade when I got around to it at the end of the week. They each had a lap pad of some sort for working on a couch or bed, and the kitchen table got lots of use, too. With multiple kids, keeping the stuff in one place for each was important, hence the binders. They each had a bookcase dresser in their rooms also for their own books (non-school books) and stuff. The only thing I could never organize was art, so let me know if you come up with something good for that! However, that's the same problem as public school so basically you just wait till they're grown to get your life back! Sherry