Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Guest Post, A Great Cause, and An Aspen Giveaway!

Today I am doing something a little different on my blog... I have invited Mary Beth Picker to share with you about the exciting work she and her husband Casey are a part of in Ethiopia.  I met Mary Beth online (she is one of my many "virtual" adoption buddies) during our adoption journey to bring home Mikayla, and her first adoption journey to bring home her son... Casey and Mary Beth traveled a couple of months before us and had the chance to visit with Mikayla in the care center. :)  Since then, they have started and finished the process a second time to bring home their daughter!  Anyway, I will let her fill you in on the rest of the story, so please continue reading to find out about how you can be involved in helping to expand a school for children in Ethiopia, while having the chance to win an awesome getaway in Aspen...

Thank you so much Bethany for allowing me to post on your blog about a subject that is so important to me. Over three years ago, my husband and I began our journey to adopt our son from Ethiopia. And since that time, God has been filling our hearts with an overwhelming love and passion for the people of Ethiopia. We returned a year after our first adoption to bring our daughter home. After arriving home with her, we knew we had to do more. We have been so blessed to team up with other adoptive families around the U.S. and with Lifesong for Orphans. Lifesong is doing some amazing work through a small nursery school that they support in Adami Tulu, Ethioipa. You can read more about Adami Tulu here. Last year, we, with five other families, raised over $40,000 to build a new building, restroom facility, and gate at the Adami Tulu school. In August, we got to return to Ethiopia to see the new building. We had an amazing trip, and have absolutely fallen in love with Adami Tulu. You can read more about our trip here and here. The school is changing the lives of so many vulnerable children in the area by offering them a wonderful education and two nutritious meals a day. We've returned home with the knowledge that we have so much more to do in Adami Tulu. So we've agreed to continue our work with Lifesong by raising funds for another school building on the Adami Tulu campus. This will enable the school to expand to include 1st and 2nd grade. More details will be coming soon, but we're anxious to get a jump start on fundraising. We know that this project will cost at least $50,000. But, for these sweet faces, we'll do anything!  
 We are very excited to announce our first fundraiser for our next phase of the Adami Tulu project: another Aspen Giveaway!
 Our Aunt and Uncle have, once again, generously donated toward our fundraising efforts. Only this time they've offered us not one but FIVE stays at the Hyatt Grand Aspen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What Curriculum Do You Use?

This is one of the most common questions asked of me when people find out I am homeschooling.  So, if you are interested in knowing what we're doing, then read on!

Before choosing a curriculum, I spent time thinking about what my main goals were for the school year.  Here are the three I came up with:

  1. I want my kids to grow deeper in their knowledge of the Bible.
  2. I want my kids to value what it means to be part of a family, and continue to solidify family attachments and relationships (this goal has a special emphasis for Mikayla, but applies to all of us).
  3. I want my kids to LOVE learning!
Is this simple enough for you?  Notice I do not even have a single goal about reading, writing, math, etc.?  Don't worry, we are doing all of that stuff... it's just not my focus.  By prioritizing the three goals above, I truly believe my kiddos will be equipped to learn and handle whatever comes their way in terms of academics.  And most importantly, my prayer is for them become people of character and integrity who love Jesus with all of their hearts. 

So, in my quest to choose curriculum I did a lot of research, consulted trusted friends, browsed through samples of things, and ultimately decided not to actually purchase a "full" curriculum.  One in particular that I really liked (I was able to attend a session on it at the homeschool conference last summer) is called My Father's World.  If I continue to homeschool in the years ahead, this might be an option that I choose.  

But, for this year I decided to just piece a few things together...

We start off our morning each day with Circle Time.  I gain ideas for this time from this lovely site, and even downloaded her ebook which has been a great resource. I use this time for a variety of things, depending on the day.  Here are some of the options I choose from:
  • Calendar and Weather Journals
  • Counting (Hundreds Chart activities)
  • Songs or Poems
  • Memory Verse
  • Devotional
  • Map skills
  • Read-Alouds
  • Handwriting practice or Copy Work
  • Cutting skills
  • Praying together for our day (most important part!)
I really enjoy Circle Time, because it brings the three of us together first thing in the morning and really "sets the tone" for our day.  We spend anywhere from 10-30 minutes doing Circle Time, just depending on what I have planned (and how the kids respond to what I have planned... even more important!).

For Reading, I am using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons .

This was recommended to me by a couple friends, including one of whom gave me the book since she was done with it... getting things for free pretty much seals the deal for me. :)  So far, this book has been serving us very well.  My kids were at two very different "levels" in terms of reading ability when we started the year, so I do the lessons one on one with each of them, instead of together.  One kiddo flies through two lessons a day, and the other is able to make it through one without feeling overwhelmed.  Both of them feel very successful and by the time we finish I have no doubt they will both be reading like champs!

During our reading time, the child who is not sitting with me doing a reading lesson from the above book, is sitting at the computer using a wonderful online software program called "Raz-Kids."  The program provides differentiated reading instruction using animated books that teach sight words, fluency, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and comprehension.  The kids are able to first listen to a book, then read the book (with help prompts), and then take a short quiz on the book.  They earn points through the site's incentive program and can then cash in their points to buy things for their virtual rockets :)  My kids love this program, and I love that it keeps one of them busy doing something meaningful while I work with the other one.

For Math, I am using Math in Focus which is part of the Singapore Math Curriculum series.  

I debated a long time over whether or not to purchase a math program, and if so, which one to purchase.  I knew in Kindergarten my focus would be more on literacy, so I considered just creating my own math activities for the kids, based on state/national standards... but in the end, I knew I would have a lot on my plate and would probably enjoy following something a bit more sequential and already planned out.  I am glad I made the choice I did, even though it's a little more of a financial investment.  In the Kindergarten series, there are four student books... Eli and Mikayla just finished the first book last week and jumped right into the second!  Something tells me I'm going to need to order the 1st grade materials by early-spring... and no, it's not because my kids are amazingly gifted (though doesn't every parent think that about their kids?), rather it's one of the many "perks" of homeschool - the ability to go much faster due to having  1 or 2 kids to teach the lesson too, as opposed to 20-25!  

And finally, my favorite component of our "hodgepodge" curriculum... Five in a Row!

I had so many people recommend this program to me, not to mention the fact that someone gave me the first volume free (remember what an influencer "free" can be for me?), so I couldn't wait to check it out!  The program provides "theme units" based on children's literature (picture books) and brings in Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, Fine Art, and Applied Math to go along with each book. I LOVE theme units, so this program is right up my alley.  It is extremely flexible, so you can really use it to meet your needs and the needs of your child.  I also purchased the Bible supplement to go along with it, and we have been utilizing that for our devotions and memory verses each week.  I have  found incredible resources for this program on the homeschool share website, as well as  the Five in a Row forums, and blogs of other homeschooling parents.  We just finished our first "row" last week - Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel - and had a blast!  Look for pictures and a report of our activities in an up-and-coming blog post :)  We are currently rowing, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, which lends itself nicely to what has become an incredible unit on apples... and yes, I will be attempting to make an apple pie (from scratch) with the kids when we finish this book... so wish me luck!

I guess that about wraps it up!  We have officially be "in school" now for 4.5 weeks, and so far so good!  I am thoroughly enjoying my role as both mom and teacher, and the kids seem to be having a great time and learning a lot.  If you came across this post because you are considering homeschooling, or looking at any of these curriculum options, please let me know if I can answer any questions for you. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Happy 5th Birthday Mikayla!

Mikayla had a blast celebrating her 5th birthday last week!  She woke up on her birthday morning and could not wipe the smile off of her face - she was SO excited.  You can catch a little glimpse of this here, as she dances with her new "Build A Bear" birthday bear (which she fittingly named the Sugar Plum Fairy):

We have a tradition of doing some type of "family outing" in conjunction with each kid's birthday, so thanks to a groupon deal purchased last spring we headed up  north to spend the day at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde.  This was technically a few days before Mikayla's actual birthday, but we counted it since daddy was off of work and able to spend the day with us :)

Petting Snakes

Feeding a giraffe

 The zebras lined up for a picture

 Feeding a camel

 We called this bird "Ms. Finch" 
(if you've ever seen the movie "Follow that Bird" maybe you'll get the resemblance)

It was SO cool to see the lions and tigers up close

The tiger show was a highlight!

The birthday girl!!

 Such a fun day - we even saw some rain! :)

On her "official" birthday, Mikayla started off the morning opening a few presents...

And later that evening we enjoyed having family members from the Thompson and Hutchison sides of the family over for dinner, cake, and ice cream.

Cousin Love

A princess cake... homemade this year!  Simple but yummy :)

We love you sweet birthday girl!

All About Mikayla, Age 5:
  • Favorite Toys - Dolls, stuffed animals, crayons and coloring books, magnadoodle, princess and Barbie dolls, anything "crafty" 
  • Favorite Foods - Willing to try ANYTHING, she is the least picky eater I have ever met!  Mikayla loves PB&J sandwiches, macaroni, chips and salsa, but probably pizza is her all-time favorite
  • Favorite Activities - Going to a grandparent's house, dancing ballet, watching movies (especially about Disney princesses), riding bikes, swimming (she learned to swim on her own this summer!), playing make-believe games with Eli, singing songs, playing learning games on the computer
  • Easy going.  Mikayla takes everything in stride and can easily roll with the punches.  Her bottom line is having fun - and she can find a good time most anywhere!  She is definitely the perfect balance for her more "uptight" brother :)
  • Shy.  As with most "shy" kids, Mikayla is not at all shy around familiar faces and places... but in new surroundings she definitely becomes the fly on the wall (doesn't speak until spoken to, etc.).  On the other hand, once she is comfortable... watch out!  This girly girl can sure give you a run for your money in wild behavior :)
  • Girly-girl.  Mikayla continues to love all things girly... anything pink, purple, with frills, shiny, etc.  I think this is summed up in what she told me the other day, "Mom, when I grow up I am going to be a princess, a ballerina, and a mommy!"  You go girl!
  • Loves her brother.  Mikayla really looks up to Eli (though technically she is taller... so he is actually the one looking up... but I digress...) and enjoys playing with him for hours on end.  Now that they share a room there are a few more "squabbles" that pop up during the day, but typically you might find them surrounded by stuffed animals on the floor of their room in the midst of a make-believe Christmas or birthday celebration.  
  • Loves God.  She enjoys talking about the Bible stories she learns in Sunday School, and puts forth a lot of effort into memorizing Bible verses.  She enjoys praying, and will often pray lengthy prayers that list off anything and everything one could thing to pray for :)  

Happy Birthday Mikayla!!

May all your wishes come true...