Homeschool, Here We Come!

I’ve been prepping for our first year in homeschooling. It’s been pretty exciting and a little scary. I pray for guidance daily. Whenever I start to get anxious, I take a minute to ask Jesus for peace and wisdom. And it calms me. If you would’ve asked me (a previous English teacher of ten years) if I thought I’d homeschool my kids, I would’ve told you, “Nope!” But the last few years, things have changed, and here’s why we’re homeschooling (at least for kindergarten…who knows what will happen next year).

We started with a family mission statement as a way to keep us all on the same page. And I created a daily schedule and bought a few things from the Target $3 bin (like calendars, clock poster, a planner, etc.). Our goal is to keep it simple: reading and writing with lots of artwork and active play. There’s no rush. Since kindergarten is not compulsory in California, I won’t be keeping any records and plan on teaching about three hours a day, four days a weeks. Some days will be tough, some days will be fun. The goal is to work hard and have fun (sounds cliche, huh?).

Here’s our schedule (I’m guessing there will be lots of tweaking along the way, so I’ll be reassessing every 6 weeks):

  1. Beds, brush, dress, breakfast
  2. Reading lesson and bible verse
  3. Writing lesson and art
  4. Break: snack, playtime, i-Pad
  5. independent reading, family read aloud, or naptime 🙂
  6. Daily Activity
    1. Library once a week (history, literature, science, cooking, books on CD, everything we can find!)
    2. Other days: field trip, park/playdate/co-op, birthday/holiday fun, hike with Nala, farm/garden, ballet/play/circus, learn a life skill (tying shoe laces, cooking, etc.)
  7. Chores/Volunteer/Extracurricular
    1. Volunteer: Meals on wheels, neighborhood library, children’s lunchbox, habitat for humanity, adopt-a-trail litter pickup
    2. Extracurricular: AHG, gymnastics, ballet, swim, music, theater, sports, cheerleading (ONLY focusing on one at a time so we don’t over schedule ourselves)

Wish us luck! Maybe I’ll even convince Devin to agree to a class pet! 

Total Money Makeover

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Some time ago, I saw a post on Facebook about a Financial Peace University (FPU) class created by Dave Ramsey. I didn’t know much about Dave Ramsey except that one of my favorite girls in the world, Ang, thinks he’s awesome. So I decided I should learn more about him.  Ang’s husband, Brian, said they’d read The Total Money Makeover first, so I checked it out from the library and was impressed.

I have to say, though, Dave Ramsey is like hanging out with a harsh, unapologetic personal trainer: “So my Total Money Makeover begins with a challenge. The challenge is you. You are the problem with your money. The financial channel or some tape sets aren’t your answer; you are.” He goes on to say, “Some of you are so immature that you are unwilling to delay pleasure for a greater result.” Ramsey’s “greater result” is being debt-free and saving/spending/giving LOTS of money.

Despite his somewhat off-putting arrogance, Ramsey does seem to have a good point if he has the following facts right:

  • 90% of people in our culture buy things they can’t afford
  • 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
  • 75% of the Forbes 400 (rich people)…said the best way to build wealth is to become and stay debt-free

Devin and I went on our own money-saving journey about two years ago, and I found that pretty much everything we were doing to successfully save money was addressed in his book. Devin took his cues from Warren Buffett and Mr. Money Mustache. But Ramsey has the same concept: save aggressively and spend passively.

Step 1: Save 1,000 FAST

Step 2: Debt snowball

Step 3: Finish the emergency fund

Step 4: Retirement

Step 5: College Funding

Step 6: Pay off mortgage

Step 7: Keep saving

 

After two years, we’re on step 7 and it’s working. These days we’re not as obsessive about saving every penny, but after two years, we’ve realized that:

  1. Spending means more time at work, so we all (including my 3- and 5-year-old girls) start to understand the concept of want and sacrifice and making a value choice.
  2. Time and money have tangible worth rather than just seeming limitless. I don’t want to trade time with my family for multiple pairs of pair fancy shoes (gourmet food though…that takes a lot more willpower).
  3. We are LESS STRESSED.

Overall, the book was a useful read and had some solid strategies to become debt-free (which ultimately means LESS STRESS). I’d definitely recommend you check it out from the library for free! 😉

Check Out These Books on LOVE!

I’ve been reading as much as I can these days, especially books I can check out from the library and get on my Kindle. There isn’t a huge selection to check out from the library, but that just helps move me out of my comfort zone and pick books I wouldn’t normally choose. One of those books was Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of People by Condoleezza Rice. I hadn’t heard anything about it (and don’t read too many memoirs), but it was such a great book! Condoleezza Rice has an amazing story and her parents were some of the most devoted parents I’ve even heard of. Their dedication to their daughter’s education and life experiences was moving. There was so much love in that family, but there were also high expectations. That’s what John Medina says is the best combo for kiddos in Brain Rules for Baby (my favorite parenting book!). The other awesome thing about Rice’s book was that it helped me brush up on world history. What a great way to review history through someone’s awesome story (it reminded me a bit of the movie Forrest Gump 🙂 ).

The other book I checked out from the online library was The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. I didn’t know much about this one either; I just remember a friend posting something positive about it on Facebook. This was another great book.  Just after reading the first few chapters, I realized how blessed I am with my husband and that there are ways I could be a better wife. Chapman explains that we each speak a certain “love language” and it’s important that others know that language so they can speak it to us. The five love languages are listed as: 1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) receiving gifts, 4) acts of service, and 5) physical touch. The cool thing was that the book wasn’t just applicable to marital relationships. It could be read in context of all relationships; for example, I thought about my older daughter Mira and how her love language is words of affirmation. Of course, we try to speak all these love languages with each other, but Chapman says we respond stronger to one language than all the others. Definitely recommend this book, even if you just want some ideas on how to express love to family and friends.

I really appreciated that both books focused on love: sacrificial love, love without strings, fierce love, love as a choice. Both books gave me some ideas on how I can better love my little family and others. Hope you get a chance to check them out too!

Book Recommendation: Unglued

I recently read and really enjoyed Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst.  What a good read for mamas (or whoever else) who can get frustrated and explode on others and then feel bad about it. Plus, the cover picture is a mama screaming into her purse. I’m guessing most moms can definitely relate to that feeling!

So what’s the book about? TerKeurst looks into how we deal with emotions and hurt, categorizing our reactions into four types:

  1. Exploder who blames others
  2. Exploder who shames herself
  3. Stuffer who builds barriers
  4. Stuffer who collects retaliation rocks

I identified with all of those types because I react differently with different people and in different situations. Usually it depends on my comfort level with the person; for example, with my daughters (and a lot of my students over the years) I have been the exploder who blames them…yikes! But with those I don’t feel so comfortable with, I do my share of stuffing down the hurt and just building a wall, which eventually leads to severed relationships…so sad!

TerKeurst is funny and real, using of examples of when she’s exploded on others. And she offers some real strategies to replace the exploding and stuffing. Her main suggestions: redirect your focus on Jesus and shift to an attitude of gratitude. Her motto is, “If this is the worst thing that happens to me today, it’s still a pretty good day.” And her big thing is imperfect progress; you just gotta keep putting in work, and although it may be two steps forward and one step back, keep your focus on the forward part and ask for grace and forgiveness on the backward part. But I’m really not doing her book justice in this brief summary. If you’re like me and need a little help with the hot-head in you, check out her book.

When an Exhausted Mama Needs Help!

Things are starting to get a lot less intense around here since the girls are now two and four. They’re playing on their own and working on resolving conflicts and identifying their big emotions. It’s like a breath of fresh air getting past the baby stage. I feel like a wimp that two babies kicked my butt so much, especially when I have so many family and friends with more kids! But we all handle sleep deprivation differently, and those who know me well, know I need sleep to function well. However, it wasn’t too long ago that I was in zombie-mode and felt constantly tired from lack of sleep. I was an exhausted mama who needed help! During that time, one thing that really helped me was a book called Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic. I know it seems like there’s not enough time to read a book while dealing with babies, toddlers, older children, housework, regular work, etc., BUT it’s a short book and so worth the time. I read it again last night (about two hours of reading). This is probably the fifth time I’ve read it (and I even blogged about it a few months ago).

The first time I read it, Audrey was five months and Mira had just turned two years old. I was feeling pretty beat down and exhausted and frustrated! My husband had bought me a Kindle for Mother’s Day, and at the time I didn’t realize what a great gift it was. I ended up loving that Kindle so much and it became my tool to become a better mom because I read books on parenting while I was nursing Audrey or lying on the floor next to Mira’s bed when she couldn’t fall asleep. The beauty of the Kindle was that it was quiet (I wasn’t flipping pages), it had a dimmable light so I could read in the dark, it was easy to maneuver while holding a baby or toddler or both, it has a long battery life, AND I wasn’t reading from my phone (where I might be tempted to stop reading the book and get lost in the world of Facebook).

Shortly after Devin bought me the Kindle, I started frantically searching for a book that would help with my grumpiness. That’s when I found Jankovic’s book. And I read it and laughed out loud and cried and felt relief that parenting is hard but there’s also a way to do it without being a grump-o-saurus all the time!

So if you’re an exhausted mama with littles and you’re feeling like you are going nuts, try this:

  1. Get yourself a Kindle (for cheaper options: check Craigslist or ask someone to get one for you or just download it to your phone or check one out from the library!)
  2. Read Jankovic’s book

Hope this book can help another tired mama because no one wants to be a grump-o-saurus all day long!

Homeschooling??

So I’ve been teaching reading to my four-year-old daughter, Mira, and it’s been going pretty well! The lessons are short, predictable, and can be done marching around the house with a toddler or sitting in the sunshine outside or splashing in the bathtub. And it’s already helped her sound out a few words, so I think she’s learning. Plus, she still enjoys it (as long as I time it right!). Teaching reading has kinda been my way of dabbling into homeschooling because we’re thinking that’s the direction we’re headed.

Why Homeschool?

  1. It frees up where we can live because we won’t have to worry about finding and living near the best school.
  2. It will give us a lot more family time. The kids and I will get to see my husband a lot more since his schedule is pretty different than the typical school day. (I felt like I rarely saw my husband when I was teaching and he was working.)
  3. It allows us to tailor our girls’ educations to their learning speed and styles. (While teaching, it always broke my heart to see my struggling kids I couldn’t help and advanced students I couldn’t push because I didn’t have enough time and there was only one of me and too many of them!).

Homeschooling wasn’t initially the route we were planning for our girls. Truthfully, I’ve never really wanted to homeschool because I didn’t think I was smart enough (kinda crazy since I was a teacher for ten years!) and I was worried about socialize issues.

But last year, when we moved from California to Alaska, I became less scared because it seems like a lot more people homeschool here (which makes sense since the government gives money to homeschoolers). I wanted to find out more, so in true Sarah fashion, I started asking lots and lots of questions. I became this homeschool investigator. A family member, Dee, was one of the first people I talked to and she was in the process of homeschooling three of her kiddos. She said it provided her kids opportunities to graduate early because they could move through material quicker, but she also talked about how much work it was for her.

I also talked to Christine, a wonderful friend from church (and a super mama who homeschools four of her kids while also taking care of her one-year-old daughter!). She recommended a book called The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Bauer and Wise. It’s a great resource for someone like me who needs a detailed example of rigorous, quality homeschooling.

And since then, I’ve read a few more books, talked to more people, and checked out lots of helpful blogs (my favs right now are: Lit Mama and April) who say the same things: kids benefit and parents benefit (but also have to work pretty hard and usually give up an extra income). I guess my choices are: go to school and teach other people’s kiddos OR stay at home and teach my girls. I’m so thankful that I get the opportunity to try the latter. 🙂

Teaching Reading to Kiddos

I just started to teach my four-year-old daughter to read. I wasn’t planning on starting now (actually, I wasn’t even planning on teaching her to read; I just expected her to learn when she started going to kindergarten), but she’s in love with books and is a voracious learner and has taught herself to write letters by spending lots of time practicing tracing the alphabet (thanks to a neat gift my parents just got her for her birthday).  For the last few years, we’ve practiced singing the alphabet and then in the last few months we’ve talked about letter sounds (“b” makes the sound “buh” in b, b, bat) and lately we’ve been checking out books on CD so she can “read” by herself. I thought she might be ready to read, so I decided that we’d try but I wouldn’t push her; I would just see how it worked and if she seemed to be learning and it didn’t cause unnecessary stress, we’d continue learning to read.

It’s been three weeks and has been pretty painless for both of us. I’m already noticing that she’s learning a bit (like she’s remembering the short-vowel sound of “a” and uses it to sound out some words). She’s not reading, of course, and won’t be able to read for another year, but we’ve started the process and she seems to be absorbing it.

So here’s how I’m doing it:

  • Buy The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise for $20ish (or get an awesome older brother like mine who will buy it as a gift for you and your daughter…Thanks, Uncle T!) and buy additional supplies: index card and a pen.
  • Each day, go through one lesson (about 10 pretty painless minutes).
  • Review the lesson a few times throughout the day (consists of singing a short rhyme or poem…like two minutes…super easy and short and it’s fun).

That’s it! There’s no prep work. It took me ten minutes of reading the lessons and practicing by myself to get the hang of how it works. And it’s basic and straight-forward and cheap. I was a teacher for ten years before taking a break to be at home with my girls, and this is a great choice for teaching reading.

Anyone else have suggestions or ideas for encouraging a love for reading? I’d love to hear them!

Finding The Bible

One thing I’ve been really thankful for lately is a Christmas gift from my awesome younger brother. He bought me the ESV Study Bible for my kindle. Growing up, I remember my Dad talking about, reading, highlighting and making notes in his King James Bible and that inspired me to read my King James Bible, but I was usually confused. When I was around 12 years old (right around the time I lost two very special people in my life: my grandma and my Uncle Paul), I remember deciding to read through the entire Bible on my own. This was pretty big for me since I had barely read any of The Bible. I started with Genesis and had a really hard time understanding everything that was going on and how it was interrelated. Sadly, I gave up after three weeks. I was confused about the wording and the meaning behind it. I realize now that the language, cultural context, and so much more made it difficult for a pre-teen to read Genesis on her own. And the King James version was translated in the 1600’s, which is much different English than today; I would’ve been better off with a children’s version. (I bought this book for my daughter and it’s so sweet and beautifully written, focusing on God’s love. If you have kids, check it out).

As I’ve grown up, I’ve read very little of The Bible on my own. At times, I felt drawn to read, but most experiences ended up the same as when I was 12 years old. I was still confused and needed some guidance. And as I grew up, I found that I had big questions, like, “How do I know that God is loving when I read the fire and brimstone passages?” Part of the problem was that it’s difficult to read The Bible on your own without the support of a community (like church, youth group, spiritual mentor, etc.) to help work through big questions.

Since moving to Anchorage, I’ve found that community. There’s a neat, easy-going, food-loving church two doors down from our home in Anchorage, where the pastor is great about answering my big questions and is not afraid to acknowledge his own big questions and how he resolves them. And the church sermons have been based on The Story, which is (majority of) The Bible written to read as one complete story (explaining things from our human perspective, aka the lower story, and God’s perspective, aka the upper story). It’s a great way to understand The Bible and God’s plan because it uses biblical text and then inserts explanations at certain points; this was what I was looking for as a 12-year-old (and it’s only $3.99 for the Kindle version!). There’s even a children’s version of The Story that’s pretty good too.

The ESV Study Bible has been amazing though. Here’s why I love this version (and may finally read through the entire bible):

  • It has introductions and overviews to the bible, explaining theology and giving some guidance through those big questions.
  • Each chapter has an introduction, explaining the author, date, theme, cultural context, and other helpful information.
  • There are study notes to answer questions that pop up as I’m reading. There are lots of notes on most verses, explaining the possible meanings of translated words and discussing various interpretations and why one explanation is more plausible. It also tackles cultural issues like the roles of women and how verses connect to one another.
  • It has charts, maps, diagrams, and illustrations.
  • At the end, it offers additional information about biblical doctrine and the bible in relation to other religions.

And of course, it seems the best tool for understanding the bible is to pray. I’ve been doing a lot of that and it’s been so powerful. Anyone else have other recommendations (versions of The Bible, children’s texts, or anything)? I’d love to hear your experiences or recommendations.

Love

I love my family. Fiercely. We’ll often get something we call “love surges” for each other and will tackle each other with hugs and kisses. Our older daughter Mira really shows her love surges with her intense eyebrows turned down almost like she’s upset but she’s just really expressing her fierceness! It’s pretty funny. I feel so blessed and thankful everyday. Of course, I’m not in a constant state of thankfulness; sometimes I feel frustrated or put out because I have to do mom things like clean up spilled milk or tell my youngest daughter NOT to unroll the toilet paper roll for what feels like the hundredth time. But I do try to stay as close to that state of thankfulness as possible.

I got to really thinking about love the other day when I encountered a part of the bible that I hadn’t read before but had heard many, many times (especially during wedding vows). It was 1 Corinthians 13 verses 4-8: 

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…

 

Wow. What beautiful words. I sat in bed reading and taking some time to really listen to their meanings, and I found my heart searching my own quality of love. I know I have a lot of love to give, but I also realized that the quality of my love could use more growth than I had realized. I love fiercely, but do I love without resentment or irritability?

Just lingering on each word gave me a completely new appreciation for love. And I realized that love is selfless. And I have a problem with being selfish. I’ve always wrestled with that part of myself. While I try to do things for others, deep down I always want my way and will push and push until I get it. My extended family and co-workers have seen that trait. And it really bothers me that I can’t just stop being selfish.

So I acknowledge that my love is irritable and resentful and rude sometimes. And I pray and ask God for his grace and love and help so that I can be more patient and kind. Like today, when I was grumpy and responded roughly to Mira and then she responded roughly back and it became this grump-fest and I didn’t like the way it felt and wanted to fix it but still get my way and save face. And I realized getting my way and saving face is not like the love I read about in 1 Corinthians. Plus, this kid is smarter than I know and she deserves an apology and a hug. So I said a ten-second prayer and stumbled my way through an apology and we hugged it out and things became peaceful. Thank you, God. And thank you 1 Corinthians for keeping me honest and open and in time, maybe, more selfless.

We Love Books!

I don’t think I’m very good at this blogging thing. I’m averaging once a month. So here’s the January installment (maybe I’ll sneak another one in before the end of the month):

Lately, we’ve been reading a lot more, which is so nice. We’re a little fanatical sometimes, reading several books concurrently and checking out twenty children’s books from the library. My husband, three year old, and I all love to read. And finally our younger daughter (who just turned two) is into reading too! Before she used to just run around and try to tackle us while we read, but now she brings books to us and wants to be read to. It’s wonderful.

In the last few months, I’ve read several books that have been really great for me: The Journey Mama by Rachel Devenish, Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic, The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, and I’m just finishing One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I’ve really enjoyed all of them. For mamas of young kiddos, the first two books are so helpful in building patience with our kids. And, more practically, Jankovic’s book can be read in one night (actually I read it initially about a year ago and I just re-read it in less than three hours). If I had to recommend one of those two books for a harried, exhausted, out-of-patience, about-to-go-crazy-from-sleep-deprivation mama, I think Jankovic’s book would save the day. In a nut-shell, she’s a mama of five children all under the age of five and she offers her perspective on alleviating the stress: deal with your own attitude before you deal with the kiddos. I’ve read a lot of books on parenting and this one was really powerful.

The Prodigal God has been a really great read too. These last few months have been pretty transforming in my relationship with God. And this book was a refreshing look at God’s grace and fierce love for us. It offered a new way to look at the story of the prodigal son and brought the focus back on the forgiveness and love God shows us.

My aunt recommended I read One Thousand Gifts. It’s intense. I’ve cried several times and it has really encouraged me to look at the blessings in my life. My first blog post was about thankfulness; it’s something I’ve been working on for almost two years. After reading this book, I find myself taking it to the next level and really looking at all the blessings God has given me.

I didn’t list it above, but another book I just started reading is The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.  A homeschooling mama of four recommended it to me because we’re looking into homeschooling our two girls. It was a strange concept at first because I taught English in secondary schools for nine years and there was always this underlying feeling that homeschooling wasn’t the best choice. In fact, it seemed like homeschoolers were a little weird. Sorry to any homeschoolers out there! As a teacher, I always felt so bad about the wasted time and the students who needed additional help as well as the students who were bored and needed more challenging instruction. I’ve seen first-hand how kids become bored and tune out because they’re frustrated. Now that I have my girls, I want to make sure they get the attention they need to learn. And the best way to get attention is to reduce class size. So I think homeschooling pretty much solves that issue. So far, this book has been a great start for me because it describes classical education as a systematic process where students learn information, organize that information, and then learn to express and analyze themselves using that information. It has a section on birth to five years and I already started using some of their suggestions, like encouraging the girls to learn letter sounds. I look forward to reading more!

Okay, I’m headed to bed to read 🙂