Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Changes and Challenges

For those that may not know already, my wonderful husband lost his job at General Motors a week ago Wednesday due to cuts and layoffs. We were totally blindsided by this turn of events...although we knew that cuts were coming, we thought that he would be the last one out the door because nobody else in the company knows how to use the software that he uses.

The first few days and mornings were terribly hard on him. Not that things are perfect now, but things are put into better perspective. Sometimes I have to remind him over and over that looking back on the past won't change anything, and sometimes I have to remind him that if we continue to place our lives into God's hands without fear, that we will be fine...the will of God will not lead us to where the Grace of God cannot protect us. He always brings himself back. We've had a few really, really rough days...but for the most part we have become closer and, I think, more focused.

Tom has a 6-month severance package, so we are safe as far as income and benefits for the next 6 months, but we have switched into major money-saving mode. We are making cuts and re-evaluating our priorities. Within an hour of getting this terrible news, I was on the phone with my agency, informing them that I would be available to work however many hours they would give me, and soon found myself thrown back into the world of full-time freelance interpreting. I've worked more hours in the last week than I have for the entire preceding year...for which I am very grateful. My skills are sharpened back up already, and I am grateful that I have them. I'm revving up to take the NIC screening in preparation for national certification...only 11 years after receiving my degree. (Way to put things off!)

To add a little bit more fun to our lives...Liesl was jumping on her bed on Sunday morning--forgetting, of course, the 9,274 times I have told her not to--and fell off, breaking her right collar bone. Two trips to two different doctors, 3 sets of x-rays, and a visit to the pediatric medical supply in Madison Heights later, and here we have Liesl and her new accessory. Our wonderful family physician muttered to me, "Isn't it great that you all have no stress in your lives right now?"

So there is. But I am so proud of Tom and how well he is handling this huge, sudden adjustment in our lives. He is rising to the challenge like a trooper. We keep reminding ourselves not to be negative, to place our lives into God's hands, and to work our butts off to rectify our situation in the interim. Homeschooling our children is still a huge priority. Many, many people have offered help in various ways--our psychian, my parents, our violin teacher, and many of my FAMC friends have already stepped up to the plate. It is in a time of difficulty when you see who your true friends are, and all we have to do is look around to see how very, very blessed we are.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How I Will Forever Remember This Morning

Work like it's up to you.

Pray like it's up to God.

I have every reason to believe in God, our Father, and Jesus, our Lord and Savior. I have every reason to believe that our family will be absolutely fine in this process, and we will emerge from this crisis even stronger. The trials we have faced in the past have proved this.

We trust in God. We place our lives in God's hands, gladly and with no fear and our whole hearts.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Unit Study: "The Story About Ping"

This week kicked off our first "true" homeschool adventure. While many people reminded me that I've already been homeschooling all of my children's lives, this is the first week we used a curriculum, lesson plan, and a flexible, kid-friendly schedule.

We chose a delightful, book-oriented curriculum called Five in a Row. It's funny...when I began researching homeschooling a year ago (has it really been that long?!?), I would never have considered this unit study method as a good way to learn. That's because I have been indoctrinated into thinking that learning happens ONE way: in a classroom, with a usually over-dry textbook that's organized into units and chapters, and occasional hands-on experiences that are...sort of relevant to what the textbook was talking about. In my opinion, this is not a natural way for very young children to learn, and it isn't prone to encourage a love of learning.

After speaking with several families who are using/have used Five in a Row (or FIAR)--and speaking to their very intelligent, thoughtful, and fun-loving children--my perception of unit studies completely changed. It just makes so much more sense to tie the subjects together to a common theme, because this is more of the way real life works. And the really cool part? These kids remember what the learned. They retained it, and they ENJOYED learning about it all. Well, that was the kicker for me.

So we began our first unit study this week, which was, happily, a book that I remember fondly from my childhood--the curriculum has quite a few books in it that I read and enjoyed as a child. The stories are all of good-quality children's literature, not fluff books like Sandra Boynton or picture books (not that those kinds of books aren't valuable--we have ALL of Sandra Boynton's books and love them. But the FIAR series uses books that have a lot more "meat" to them.)

Unit Study Title: "The Story About Ping"
Author: Marjorie Flack
Illustrator: Kurt Wiese
Copyright: 1933
Category: Classic

Monday: Social Studies
Geography, Culture
- Located China on the world map, placed our "Ping" story disk on China
- Discussed cultural differences between Chinese and Americans: Food, family living, traditional dress, etc.
- Visited the library and checked out children's fact books and picture books of China, the Yangtze River, and ducks

Tuesday: Language Arts, Music
Literature, Fiction, Literary Devices: Repetition
- Discussed how the author uses repetition to make parts of the story stick out
- Discussed quotation marks and why they are used in books and stories
- Violin lesson

Wednesday: Applied Math
Counting, classification, introduction to multiples
- Using homemade cards, counted all of the ducks in Pings family (including Ping himself!) that live on the "wise-eyed boat on the Yangtze river." (There are 68 ducks.)
- Classified all the family members into groups
- Set up Ping's 42 cousins on a graph to show multiples of 10 (with a remainder of 2)

Thursday: Art, Music, Co-op Preschool
Medium, drawing water
- Discussed the medium that the illustrator chose
- Talked about how illustrator showed different expressions on the animals' and peoples' faces by changing the lines ever so slightly
- Drew our own renditions of Ping and his family
- Returned to our beloved Music Together class for the first week of the fall semester. Bonus: This semester's Music Together CD theme is Fiddles! :-) We like fiddles in our family.
- Attended our first class at our homeschool co-op, geared especially towards preschoolers! The class is called "All of God's Creatures." Today we discussed how to classify mammals. Then we talked about how bears are mammals. Made a craft--bear paper bag puppets--had a teddy bear parade (the girls were excited because their teddy bears were "starting school" as well), and did a finger play with Eric Carle's "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See."

Friday: Science, Social Studies
Animal Kingdom
- Visited the Franklin Cider Mill* to observe ducks. Discussed the 3 kind of ways ducks can get around: Walking, swimming, and flying. (Most animals cannot do all three!) Fed the ducks and observed how they "stretch" by standing upright and flapping their wings. Discussed how to tell the difference between a male and female Mallard duck.
- Serendipity lesson! Got to watch the cider press in use. Stayed there to watch for a solid 20 minutes at Liesl's request.
- Visited a Chinese restaurant to talk to the hostess for a few minutes--learned to say "thank you" in Chinese ("xie xie ni".) Ate cashew chicken and rice for lunch (at home: Mommy wasn't quite brave enough for the restaurant.) Everybody used chopsticks. I ate my entire meal with chopsticks, and, watching me, Ava made a very studious and whole-hearted attempt at them. She was successful in her own way.

* Ok, I'd be lying by omission if I didn't fess up to buying cider and donuts. But to my surprise, the girls weren't overly focused on that and stayed with the ducks for a solid 30 minutes before we went and bought our cider and donuts. Really. I was surprised. (Because *I* wanted the #$*&@ donuts.)

All in all, the first week showed me that my plans and my preconceived notions about how my kids learn will need tweaking. But snuggling up to read the story together each day, and then moving on to a loosely-structured lesson that connected to the story--I can see why this method and curriculum are so popular.

First day of school picture! 9-14-09

Math: Sorting Ping's family into classes before counting them

Done! This lesson actually lasted a solid 45 minutes...at Liesl's request. Ava had her own set of counting cards, slightly larger, with her name on them instead of family classifications.

First day of homeschool co-op preschool class

Ava really dug being a "real" student--she's registered--and sitting at the tables to work with the "big kids."
(Hi, Daniel.)

Teddy bear puppet craft

Lining up for the Teddy Bear Parade (which was performed to a nice, rousing march)

Feeding the ducks! Even Ava, my non animal-lover, really dug this activity

Ava had her eye on one particular duck, and when he disappeared under the bridge, she was quite upset

Half-eaten donut on the left is mine.

Those ducks are really stupid brave

Chopped apples being prepared for the press

Cider press in motion. It was NEAT! It was loud and fun to watch, and it smelled darn nice, too.

Giving me the "you gotta be kidding, Mommy" look...

...but she gave it a really good try, regardless

Humoring Mommy (and then Mommy caved and gave her a fork and spoon.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Liesl's 9th Violin Recital

Liesl's "Twinkle" Graduation!
No more Twinkle for this Suzuki Mom!
(At least until Ava is ready to start lessons. Oh, dear.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Art is a Process. So is Cleaning.

Every preschool art project comes with the reminder that art is a process. The act of doing a project and experimenting with the materials and imagination is far more important than the final outcome for most tiny artists. Mine are no exception.

Cleanup is always a bit of a process, too.

An interesting craft idea that I read about.
Pour salt into a small bowl, stir with colored chalk until salt reaches desired tint of color.
(We mixed blue and red to get purple salt,
a trick Liesl remembered from Ellen Stole Walsh's wonderful book, "Mouse Paint.")

Apply glue to paper, dribble colored salt onto glue.

Artists at work, learning/creating

She really dug this activity

They also played together very nicely.
Score! Double bonus.

Loads and loads of sensory experiences. :-)
(There may have been a "tasting" sensory experience when my back was turned for an instant. Fortunately, sidewalk chalk is non-toxic.)

Dump the excess salt into your lap back into the bowl

Ava is like her Daddy...when she concentrates, her tongue just sticks right out of her mouth--and stays out.

DON'T turn your back on toddlers with watercolors.
Actually, this face painting is mild compared to what I've found in the past.

I admit to cleaning off her face before I snapped this shot.
She had a full-on watercolor "beard." She was delighted with herself.

Reading stories for Sissy. Liesl is actually reading entire books to Ava these days.

I'm not trying to duplicate a classroom at home--that would be silly--but a teacher friend gave me this ABC wall boarder, so I couldn't resist putting it up in my kitchen. The vowels are in red, so Liesl now knows all of her vowels.

I also have a preschool/kindergarten-type calendar set up in our front hallway. It has a weekly calendar, a monthly calendar, and a weather/season chart that we change every day. Liesl enjoys "Doing Calendar" every day before morning violin practice.