Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Two Lessons from an Eleven Year Old

Having faith like a child. It has been more than that from my oldest. He has become the teacher. It has caused me to think deeply about many of my positions and statements. It has been humbling.
This year, the eldest has taken a vested interested, rather, determined to be friends with everyone in his class, from the quasi-bully to the meek to the semi-irritating. This is a trait he exhibited a bit last year. I have been highly supportive of this effort. That is, until he determined himself to be closely associated with the child that might be deemed "troubled." He began to tell me the story of how he realized this boy didn't have many friends and was seldom alone in class, the lunchroom, etc. I began questioning him if that were such the wise choice. I thought, "Oh no, the other boys will no longer want to be his friend. He will be assumed to be along the lines of this boy. He will lose his position in class." I began to question him to help him see the light. it was my job to help him navigate the tricky social waters of middle school. He need to make sure to rotate through all the boys, not lingering with this one too long. Then, my wise son said, "Mom, why do you not want me to sit with him? Isn't that the first place Jesus would sit? You know, Mom, this boy is actually really nice. I feel blessed to have been able to sit with him the past couple of days. He doesn't care about being popular, or being cool. He is real, Mom." I sat there with my head very low. He was right. He was doing what mattered. My position was completely and totally wrong. Lesson #1

The eldest is going through his first 12 week band rotation. All the kids were able to try out various instruments and then list their first and second choices down on paper. A few days later instruments were distributed much to the delight and dismay of their new owners (or rather renters as the school owns the instruments). My son proudly popped into the back seat of the car with...a trumpet. Thrilled at the prospect of the instrument that he had in his possession, he quickly undid the case, put the trumpet together and blared a half-way decent note in the car. Ouch to my ears, but he was clearly over the moon. Later that evening, his father learned of the trumpet. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Jay has always had a desire to blow a trumpet and learn to play. He had the eldest to bring the trumpet to him. Jay picked it up, took one big breath and...nothing. Over and over again Jay tried to create any sort of sound roughly related to the horn to come from the trumpet Nothing. Ethan patiently advised him, encouraged him, and cheered him on. Ethan held onto the sides of his mouth where air was escaping. Still, nothing. I found the entire situation rather amusing. I don't recall ever having seen Jay not be able to achieve something he wanted. My laughter was fairly continuous. Ethan, however, settled me down and continue to "work" with Jay. Seeing Ethan so patiently and encouragingly deal with Jay stopped me in my tracks. This is how God intends us to train our children. In the end, Ethan didn't ridicule his father for being such a failure at the instrument, but offered up that maybe Jay's lips were just too big and that one day he just knew he would do it. Lesson #2

Sunday, August 28, 2011

End of School Year Review

School ended.  It ended nearly 2 months ago and I let it slip by with nary a mention.  Ideas for this blog come and go as I go about my days, but they don't find their way onto this screen.  My picture taking is down, my scrapbooking nonexistent, documentation of the little things is dwindling.

As I type this, I am sitting in the car heading home from our week at Ocracoke Island.  What a wonderful thing technology is that I have Internet access on a laptop in a moving car.  It certainly helps pass the time.

Ethan is now a middle schooler. Sixth grade looms ahead in the fall.  I remember those sticky middle school years and it makes me long for the next three tumultuous years to pass quickly.  He ended the year with an all A average. He had 2 Bs throughout the year, but they were both one point away from an A, so it wasn't too difficult to turn those into all As for the year. He had some pretty fantastic remarks from his teachers as well, so I feel good about where he is headed.  Stanford scores, once again, qualify him for the Duke Tip program in several areas. He begged to do Math Camp at school this summer...who am I to turn that down?  He still has some maturing to do in regards to goofiness and blabbering, but sometimes I think I am too hard on some naturally occurring irritations of an 11 year old boy.  He is still swimming and enjoying it, but I believe that the craziness of this activity has subsided.  This will be a nice addition to his high school transcript, but he is more likely to benefit from his academic gifts in the future, than he ever will in sports.

Sadie finished our first year of homeschool.  We struggled a bit in the end with completing work and our enthusiasm for learning. However, she learned what she needed and then some.  She showed strong gains overall in her Stanford Testing scores with the exception of Math.  It wasn't as high as last year, but still higher than her class average.  Reading was fantastic and Listening showed a tremendous gain.  Her scores qualify for the Duke Tip program in several areas, too.  I tribute that to the necessity of focusing on me, her teacher, at all times.  The environment of homeschool does not allow for daydreaming.  Although most school work comes easily for her, she just doesn't care about it.  I don't know if it is boredom, or lack of motivation, but rarely do I see Sadie "tackle" school work with keen focus on accuracy and completing her task to the best of her ability.  She would much prefer to be outside, collecting animals to care for and to learn about.  She dawdled about with swimming this year.  Some days she cared, some days she could have cared less.  Considering she probably put forth about 40% effort total for the year, she did all right.  One area in which I never had to prod her was with her piano and participation in the arts (drama and dance).  She practiced without any reminders and seemed always to enjoy being on stage.  I always wonder what Sadie could actually achieve in academics, sports, whatever, if she actually put forth what I see is her total potential.  I don't think this is something I can teach her, but is something she has to figure out herself.  However, I also believe that happiness and joy are always going to be more important to her than success.  Should I really complain about that?  Shouldn't we all be that way?

Lily finished her 1st grade year with very high marks, a perfect report card.  Considering she is one of the youngest in her class and that we were advised to consider holding her back in school, I am pleased.  I think the biggest shocker to me, however, were her Stanford scores.  Not only did she vastly improve her scores over last year, her reading lexile score was 900 (about a 6th grade level).  What a little sneaker!  She can act so incapable of everyday tasks sometimes that I think there might be an issue.  Now, I realize that she just likes to act like a baby.  She still has this amazing sense of imagination and ability at creative play.  She loves to do summer work and learn. In fact, she brought her summer workbook with her to a swim meet to pass the time. She is not necessarily the most coordinated child, so swimming is a good sport for her. It forces her to work on that aspect of her body.  Also, she can go at her own pace and I would venture to guess that we may still only have three legal strokes at the end of this year.  She, too, loved piano and any sort of musical activity she was involved in.  She received the "Friendliest" award this year for her class.  Her enthusiasm for new things never wavers and she is the first to bring along her friends who might not feel as confident.  Lily has no clue she might not be "good" at something, an attitude I hope remains for a very long time. 

It was a solidly successful year for the Dumoulins.  We are incredibly blessed to have been given these three precious gifts.
If you could understand the motives of my heart.
If you could understand the depth of my concern and love for you.
If you could understand that seeing your world start to crumble is nearly as painful for me as it is you. 
If you could understand that I am willing to damage and possibly sacrifice my relationship with you for you.
If you could understand that I was coming from a place of truth and true compassion and worry. 
If you could understand that I have been there. 
If you could understand that I know what you are running from. 
If you could understand that I know that most of your justifications help mask the hurts you have had.
If you could understand that the others in your life deserved more from you.
If you could understand that the commitment you made to others is more important than yourself.
If you could understand that.
You would understand why.

Love = service + sacrifice

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Days of School

We have rounded the corner into another school year.  Ethan took off yesterday as a middle schooler.  Jay took him to school for the first day without me.  It didn't help that Ethan announced that I was sometimes embarrassing with my photo taking. (gee, thanks, Ethan)  I am still wrapping my mind around his entry into middle school.  I remember those years full of social challenges and meandering foci.  My prayers is for him to be a tad more guided and focused as he navigates the hormone-infested waters that is the middle school pool.  This is the first year that he will change classes throughout the day, garnering a new set of classmates in each class.  In some ways this is a good thing in that issues going on throughout the day are not festered by being in the same environment.  However, he isn't around some of his friends for much of that day.  All in all, he seems very determined to have a banner year.

We began homeschool yesterday, although Sadie was sick.  I wasn't pushing too much with her, but went head-first with Lily. Lily was pretty enthusiastic, particularly with math.  She kept wanting to do more and more, asking when she would get to her times tables.  We still have to tackle subtraction with renaming before we get to that.  She is a girl who is constantly drilling in on patterns and sequences.  I love to see how her mind works as she discovers and creates these strings of order throughout her day whether in a store, nature, or her room.

Sadie had been running a fever for several days, but finally seemed to be coming out of it yesterday.  My kids are so rarely sick that on the rare times that they are, I am needlessly worded.  However, as the day wore on, she drifted into the bonus room and settled in to start some work...without being asked.  What a turn around from last year! I think having Lily at home is definitely going to be a huge encouragement.

Here is our plan for the first half of the year with the girls:

Sadie 4th Grade
Language - Abeka, Language A
Easy Grammer 5 for reinforcement and extra practice
Reading Comprehension - Jacob's Ladder- It is a very challenging program for gifted kids, so we are starting with 2nd-3rd grade level to get the swing of things. 
Writing - Daily 6 Trait Writing. 
Math - Singapore 4A, however I realized yesterday that we need to do about 2 weeks of 3A/3B review before moving to new material. 
Spelling - Spelling Workout, Level E
Geography - Around the World in 180 Days.  We will do an overview of World Geography for the first half of the year.  This is a great series because it offers several levels within the same book, meaning you can revisit it a couple years, drilling down deeper each time.
Science - Astronomy by Apologia. 
History - A Story of the World, Part 1.  We did this out of order last year, beginning with Part 4 which was a 4th - 8th grade level.  I am discovering that Part 1 will be a piece of cake for Sadie after doing Part 4. It is history through the last Roman Emperor.
Bible/Worldview - Who Am I?  by Apologia.  They have created a journal to go along with this series.  Can not wait to delve into it.

P.E.  Swimming 2x a week, Soccer
Arts:  Drama, Dance, Piano, Cake Decorating
Extras:  Lego Physics

Sadie has pretty decent handwriting, so I am not going to push her to do this every day.  It will probably be something I use as filler when we have a light day.  I also picked up some fun brain teaser books to break up the monotony of schedule.

Her goals for the year include:
1. Having a great attitude
2. Increasing accuracy in all her work.
3. All written work to completed in complete, grammatically correct sentences

She would also like to plan, shop for and cook an entire dinner this year. She is very excited about this.

Lily 2nd Grade

Language - Abeka, Language 2

Writing - Writing with Ease 2, which also serves as reading comprehension practice
Math - Singapore 2A, which I suspect she will fly through based on yesterday's work.
Spelling - Spelling Workout, Level C
Geography - Around the World in 180 Days.
Science - Astronomy by Apologia, in conjunction with Sadie
History - A Story of the World, Part 1.
Bible/Worldview - Who Is God? by Apologia.
Handwriting - Transitions

P.E.  Swimming 2x week, Soccer
Arts:  Piano, Dance, Music class
Extras:  Lego Physics, Marvels of Nature

Lily's handwriting and fine motor skills are pretty atrocious.  I am trying not to get too freaky about them, but know we have got to get serious about them.  She cannot tie her shoes yet, so obviously this is where we start to work.

Her goals this year include:
1. To become more independent
2. To learn to control her emotions
3. Read, read, read

I also want Lily to fix and clean-up breakfast for Sadie and Ethan, learn to ride her bike without training wheels, and tie her shoes (as mentioned above).

Here we go!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Homeschooling 2.0

A year ago, I embarked on a journey to unfamiliar territory.  I became a homeschooler.  I knew that it was the path chosen for me and my middle one, but the map was out of focus and the destination unknown.  I could only see Day 1, but not any farther.  Now, I type this entry heading into year 2.  I will homeschool my middle one again, but this year, I will add the youngest one into the mix.  Homeschooling 2.0 for 2.  More uncharted territory, but definitely not as overwhelming or daunting.

I enjoy answering questions about homeschooling.  Why do we do it?  How do we do it?  It is fun to talk about something that you are enthusiastic about and something you truly feel called to do.  I have had the privilege of guiding a couple of families who are new to homeschooling this year.  I pass the credit along to my mentor and great friend, Angela, who supported me throughout my first year.  I know her experiences and knowledge were a huge part of the success of this first year.  I feel I need to pay it forward as more families decide to join the adventure.  I have answered more than my share of phone calls this year of families just toying with the idea.  Often, I share the same information and thoughtt I could finally put it on paper, or screen, or blog, or post, or whatever.

Here is my "Top 5 Advantages to Homeschooling" list:

1.  FREEDOM.  I can't say this enough.  There is so much freedom in homeschooling.  Freedom to work at your own pace, freedom to experience hands-on learning, freedom to explore more areas of interest, freedom with scheduling.  When we were in a traditional school setting, the kids would be in school from 8 - 2:30.  We would leave school for an after school activity - swimming or piano or guitar or whatever.  We would head home, eat dinner, get homework/projects/tests done, get showers, get ready for the next day and then go to bed. I found the time to interact with my kids on a meaningful, impactful level to be in short supply.  Scheduling in shopping trips, hair cuts, doctor's visits, etc., just ate away at what little time I had. The time for them to just "be" was almost non-existent. 

2.  THE EXTRAS:  For the fact that our school day is usually over by 11:30 or noon, we can participate in more areas of interests  This year, my daughters will take the following courses with our local homeschool group, High Point Home Educators:  Dance, Drama, Music Maestros, Lego Physics, Marvels of Nature and Cake Decorating.  They go every Monday from noon - 4.  By the way, there are over 175 kids signed up for the various courses they are offering this year.  They put on a fantastic end of the semester program to showcase what they have learned. I would stack up Sadie's dance routine to "Fabulous" against any local dance studio.  It was simply, well, fabulous. We are also exploring the option of joining our local 4H club, which will be exploring Astronomy this fall.  The girls will take piano from 1-2 on Thursday this year, which meant we didn't have to fight for an after school spot. Sadie will take Latin on Thursday mornings during the lunch hour with my mom, a certified Latin teacher for 20 + years.  The girls will also swim two afternoons a week and possibly continue to participate in our local rec soccer league.  All the while, we aren't panicked about school work, projects, juggling school paperwork and they get to bed on time, by 8 or 8:30.

3.  COURSE CHOICES.  Anyone that has ever tinkered with the idea of homeschooling knows that the selection of textbooks and curriculum is overwhelming.  Actually, that is an understatement.  It is ridiculous.  If it weren't for books like Cathy Duffey's "Top 100 Picks for Homeschool Curriculum," navigating would be a nightmare.  Some books have the lesson scripted out word for word for the teacher, while some allow the instructor to have a free hand.  Some are project driven; some are workbook driven; some are all-inclusive, meaning you buy one set and they learn all their subjects around a chosen topic.  It is simply unlimited what you can do.  The North Carolina Home Educators' (over 45,000 students strong!) have a fantastic conference every year which includes a book fair. I spent 4 hours looking through books, materials, classroom guides, etc.AND, I had most of my subjects already picked out prior to going!  However, all these choices mean that you can customized your child's education to fit their learning style.  Here's a shocker, not everyone learned effectively by working through a textbook and workbook!  Last year, Sadie was all about birds.  I found a science textbook called, Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the 5th Day by Apologia. Naturally, this is was what she looked forward to every day. It is a comprehensive look at birds, bats, insects and even the flying creatures of the dinosaur times.  It is jammed packed with true scientific experiments and a journal in which to record your notes, too. 

Sadie is chronologically a 4th grader.  However, she does 5th grade grammar and spelling, 4th-5th grade math, did a history course designed for 5th - 8th graders last year, and reads books on the latter middle school level, yet we still can and do choose books for her grade level, not ability, at times.  Some days we return to some basics when I think she is struggling. Other times we sail through some lessons because they are too elementary.  We don't have to spend a month on one particular topic when she catches on in a week. Customizing and flexible learning equates to effective learning.

4.  TIME.  I touched briefly on this in my first point, freedom.  I have time with my children - time to enjoy them, teach them life lessons, address discipline issues in a deliberate and calm manner.  I am not frantically shouting at my kids as we race to the next destination. Ok, who am I kidding?  That still happens sometimes.  I, too, am a work in progress.  This yea, Sadie learned how to cook eggs, make all sorts of baked goods (much to the chagrin of my waistline), and how to use most kitchen appliances.  She has time to complete chores, pack her bags for her classes, manage her own school schedule each day, train her dog, and explore nature (her passion).  I have time to immediately correct her work ethic (or lack thereof), improve her accuracy and attention to detail, teach goal setting and understanding the satisfaction when achieved.  There can be no slackness or laissez-faire attitude in our homeschool because it is one-on-one. You can't get away with anything, a positive for the child who has the propensity to be a little sneaky.

Continuing along this thread, I'll tackled the most common statement I hear from other parents.  "I could never homeschool my kids because....  (insert one of the following) 1. I need time away from children 2. We would kill each other 3.  I don't have enough patience  4. My child would never learn from me.  Not everyone is called in this season to homeschool.  However, everyone is able.  Trust me.  I would put Sadie Dumoulin against any strong-willed (spirited, tenacious, intelligent, curious, amazing) child and feel 99% sure she would come out the winner.  Kids like Sadie need more time with their parents.  They need more personal instruction and they need more love.  Sure, we butt heads and it has not all been smelling like roses, but the changes in her behavior and the growth in her maturity have been tenfold. I discovered that shuffling Sadie off to let someone else take care of the discipline problems for a while didn't solve anything.  It is my responsibility to teach and train her, not my local educational system.  The more I am around Sadie, the more I appreciate and am in awe of her.  That would have gone unrecognized and undiscovered had we continued down the path we were previously.

5.  LOVE OF LEARNING This is one of two general goals I set for our homeschool.  To instill the virtue of a thirst for knowledge will always benefit my children.  In my adulthood, I have forgotten how much fun it is to learn!  The history course Sadie took was better than any I took prior to college.  Amazing stuff. I learned more about birds than I thought I could.  I am now a "birder." For example, did you know that hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards?  Pretty cool when you see them in action.  I also watched eaglets being born in Iowa on an internet camera.  Unbelievable.  I never want to be satisfied with my current state of knowledge again!  Hopefully, this year, my grammar and writing skills will be polished as I am reminded of the proper use of commas, semi-colons, dangling participles and the difference between "lay and lie" as I navigate through Sadie's 5th grade grammar course.

Lest anyone think that I am completely against traditional school, my eldest will return to our school of choice for his 6th grade year.  His education has been superb and he is very content there.  We decide everything on a year-to-year basis, even leaving open the option of putting one of ours back in mid-year.  We are flexible, just like our educational choices.

I didn't delve into our biblical teaching, but it is central to every school day in the Dumoulin house.  The hows, whys, and the impact of this type of targeted teaching really deserves it own post.

There you have it. My personal (meaning not everyone feels this way, nor do I think it should be adopted by everyone) thoughts on the benefits of homeschooling.