Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Why I am in LOVE with!

So here is why I adore

Since before Zoe came home I wrestled with how to educate her. We were starting from NOTHING! She had no English and not even one day of schooling. She literally had been taught nothing except manual labor. Don't get me wrong. She had some handy skills! If you needed clothes washed by hand or a baby taken care of she was your girl! ;0) However, if you asked her whether she preferred to drink apple juice or orange juice she was a deer in headlights. Heaven forbid that RUSS ask her a question. That could result in a sobbing melt down. After all- what if she gave you the WRONG answer????? What if she FAILED???? It was something she could not face when she first came home. She had never learned to think for herself at all. She was very comfortable taking orders. She had zippo ability to think logically and make good choices.

I did not feel that she would thrive in a public school atmosphere. She was so fragile and sweet. Being in a busy and big class would have been too much. She had never been around that many people. Any meaness or ridicule could have plowed her into the ground. She might have shut down entirely. She had never gotten to be a child. She just needed to feel safe. So we kept her home. 

Then we did University Model School which we love. We may do it again. This year we knew it wasn't right. I discuss this further in the Q&A section. 

More and more I am realizing how difficult it is that we are often encouraged to cookie cutter our kids. It's not a problem at all if we have kiddos that fall right in that expected range. It can be discouraging if they don't. If they are this many years old they must know this and that during the 10th month of the year or they will fail. If your child excels in reading they must sit and wait for the class or skip an entire grade. Now I was a teacher and so many of them are amazing. They work extremely hard to accomodate so many needs. Trust me- I know. I taught an English Second Language class where many of the kids spoke not a word of English coming in but were expected to pass the TAKS test. Don't get me started on that... Then I had some who I advanced to honors classes the next year because they were capable of so much. How did I cater to all 60 some odd kids that I taught each day??? I worked my tush off and tried my best. 

I guess my point is that I saw Zoe feeling like she was DUMB because she was sitting next to kids who could do more than her and she wasn't there yet. Never mind that she is bilingual and never had a bit of school till 1 1/2 years ago. Never mind that. She is a kid and she felt that she should fit into the cookie cutter and she didn't.

Then on the other extreme I have Kaitlyn (newly 5 years old) who can read Junie B Jones and Amelia Bedelia books and do kinder and some 1st grade math. Unlike Zoe she has had me teaching and working with her since day one and she LOVES to learn. No fear issues with school here. WOWZER! She doesn't fit the cookie cutter on the other extreme!!! If I put her in traditional school she will either be BORED or need to skip a grade. I am SOOOO not skipping a grade. Socially she is still 5 and not even ready for full time kinder. So there is my difficulty. 

I don't have cookie cutter kids. I have really struggled with this until God whacked me upside the head. I heard God asking me,"Why can't you just let your kids be who I made them? Why do you feel like you need to make them into something?" OUCH! It was true! Inside I have been PANICKED about Zoe from day 1. Poor baby... I said all the right things to her.... ya know.... "Just do your best, that's all we care about." It wasn't true though. Deep down Zoe's best wasn't enough for me. I was afraid of what everyone might think when my daughter didn't fit into the cookie cutter. "Oh no! They will think I am not a good teacher. They will think Zoe is not smart. They will think she should be caught up by now." I feel awful about that. I was caring more about what people would think than about her heart. 

As soon as God convicted me I knew we had to change something. I felt so much pressure though. She was struggling in University Model School. It was too much but my only alternative was full time homeschool. That scared me to DEATH! How was I supposed to teach my 9 year old who needed to catch up, my 5 year old who needed to be challenged and bond with my new toddler who is an adorable walking disaster??? I started researching like MAD to find something that would work for our family. 

One night at about 11pm I was going crazy researching on the Internet. When I found I literally thought NO WAY THIS IS FOR REAL! Ironically I had told Russ that if I was going to create a curriculum it would be all web based and interactive...I had noticed how my kids thrived on doing things like and wanted something similar. Except I wanted it in all subjects, more organized and with grading capabilities. Then here it seemed I had found it. It was too good to be true! I kept digging further and further not believing what I was seeing. I read 100s of reviews and sifted through the entire website. When I finally realized that this is what I was looking for it was 3am and I sat on the couch and cried. I felt like this gigantic weight was lifted off my shoulders. I signed up for the free trial right away and told the girls we were going to try this. They could hardly wait to give it a whirl. 

The whole program is made of interactive computer lessons. There are coordinating worksheets that can be printed for many lessons. The majority of these lessons are SO GOOD! I have taught and they do a great job. The curriculum is made to fit the requirements for all the states. So you know they are on grade level or ahead with what they are learning. It has lesson plans made out for you on line. It has a grade book that I can access at any time on my computer to see what my kids are doing and what they have worked on. It will calculate averages and grades for me. There is a support line and parent support forum for questions and concerns. The curriculum covers language arts, math, science, social studies and language art extensions! They also ask you these questions when you start to place your child at an appropriate grade level. If you feel it is too easy or hard you can change it. Kids can work at their own pace and when they want to work. Get this- this is the part I could not believe! For the first kiddo it is only $20 a month and for the other kids it's $15 a month!!!! That is a STEAL! 

So anyway the kids love it and every day they are EXCITED to do school. Zoe is learning so much. Kaitlyn is actually being challenged at home! :0) Kaitlyn is working at a slower pace so she takes about an hour a day to do her lessons at the most. Zoe takes about 2-3 hours to do her lessons. That is an advanced pace that will allow her to get caught up at a rate she feels comfortable. This has left a lot of time to read more, do bible study lessons together, write in journals, do swim lessons, go on lots of field trips and spend more fun time with the family. 

Plus I love the freedom to make the school year what we want it to be. The girls don't like taking the whole summer off. This is true especially since July through September is Russ' busy season and it's so hot you can ONLY swim around here. The spring and fall are gorgeous and much of the girls reading and journaling is done on a blanket in the back yard. Since Zoe's school is so self guided I will even find her doing lessons on the weekends! It's nice that we can take breaks when it is right for our family and Zoe can use the extra times we don't need the break to catch up. :0)

THAT was a really long answer.... Sorry! I guess it all came gushing out. It's been a big deal in our lives. Since we have switched to this program things are going so much smoother. There are no more school battles.... I am so thankful we have found what works for us. I don't know if this is what we will always do. I wouldn't be surprised but things change and we will take it year by year. For now I am thrilled with where we are and so proud of ALL of my girls- right where they are.

Some of you had some questions for me so I guess I will just start answering them. :0)

Q- Have you started home schooling your kids yet? Do they like it? I'm on the verge of taking my 9 year old out of public school and home schooling him. He is struggling in school due to some health problems last year. I'm just worried I'm not smart enough to help him, lol!

A- I have been at least partially homeschooling from the time Zoe came home. Kaitlyn is also doing "pre-K" at home. She is five and Zoe is nine. They love it! We get so much time as a family and our schedule is built around what we want it to be and not what the traditional school year happens to be. I think almost all of us have fears about whether we can handle teaching at home. Geez- I was a teacher and I cried for two weeks when I was trying to decide whether I should homeschool. I was sooooo scared. Zoe had never been to a DAY of school in her life. She did not know English or colors or numbers or letters or ANYTHING! It was very intimidating. I am so glad now that I did it. I only wish I had found this particular curriculum earlier. For us it has been a blessing.

Q- How do you think it would work as a starter program for the two new kids when they get here from Ethiopia. I need helping getting them to a basic level of reading in English along with numbers, etc. I'll have to check into it some more when I'm not supposed to be working :-)

A- I think it would be an AWESOME starter program personally. As I said- I truly wish I had known about this when Zoe came home. At least I have discovered it now. The lessons are all fun and interactive. The kids can work at their own pace and repeat lessons and quizzes as many times as they need to until they master that section. All sections are read to them by the computer program if needed unril 4th grade. This is HUGE for Zoe who still has vocabulary limitations.

Q-I can't wait to hear more about it from you Angel. I signed up and tried it for a couple days and wasn't loving it so much! Any tips, or maybe you can explain what you loved about it. Maybe I was missing something, which could very well be likely. :) I only tried it with my 6 year old.

A- Well, I am certain that everyone is going to have different needs in a curriculum. For us this just FITS! It allows Zoe to work indepently without the fear of failing. This is huge for her. It has taken huge pressure off of her to just be able to do the lessons on her own and not feel like I am waiting on her. It is a gigantic load off of me to see both of my girls learning the same concepts I was working to teach them before with little to no work on my part. WOOHOOO for that. Plus I love that they have the lesson plans all written out and I can just check their grades from my computer at any time. It allows me to see if their are certain areas where she might need extra help from me. It also allows her to cruise through concepts that are easier for her. Now I can know they are learning the basics and spend my energy diving into extra stuff like taking them to plays and festivals. We also do a lot of reading aloud and journaling. Overall I feel like a ton of bricks has been lfted off my shoulders. Plus the price feels like a complete STEAL to me. $20 a month for Zoe and $15 a month for Kaitlyn covers an amazing interactive curriculum. It's hard to beat the price for what you are getting. 

Q-Are you homeschooling now? I think I missed that somewhere! Have fun!

A- Well I have always homeschooled at some level. For Zoe's first nine months home we homeschooled completely. She didn't even understand English so we wanted to give her time to learn and bond. Then she started at a University Model school. She would go two days a week to class and then was home three days to do the busy work. She enjoyed it a lot last year. She was able to keep up with A TON of work at her grade level. It was very stressful and time consuming but we did it. Over time though- I began to realize that we were focusing so much on some things that weren't really vital that we could not get caught up on things that were vital. I have never wanted to just skip through things with Zoe. I felt like it could leave her lost for a long time. So I literally started her with kindergarten material and we have been working our tushes off to get her caught up. She has been home almost two years (actively doing school for a little over a year and a half) and is about mid way through 2nd grade in her understanding. This year keeping up at her University Model school became so overwhelming that I saw her beginning to act out and dread school. She would cry whenever she thought she might have a quiz. Suddenly she was terrified to be there. That is not a good way to learn. So we started to see how she did and suddenly she was excited and happy about school. That was the answer we needed. We withdrew her from the school and went all homeschool again. She is doing great now. Zoe is harder on herself than anyone else ever could be. The last thing she needed was to be in an evironment that was stressing her out.

Well that's all for now. Happy schooling to all of you. I know these choices are huge for every one of us and we are all just trying to figure out what "fits" for our kids. I hope this might help someone else who is struggling like I was.  :0) Angel


Michelle Riggs said...

This sounds wonderful.

Sami's education has lots of holes in it. She knows a some of the K stuff, part of the first grade material, and a little of the second grade requirements.

Do you think that it would work for her?

The Engelhardt 4 said...

I checked it out a little bit, and brought Perryn over to see what she thought about it...she asks me DAILY to get on and play the games...I think we will start the free trial soon. I also noticed that we may need to do our prek 2 or 3 weeks and take a week off. Perryn was so excited about school when we started in Sept, but then she got grumpy, took last week off for potty training Teagan and she's excited about it again this week. Thanks for the heads up..oh we LOVE starfall too!!
Hugs and love. Elizabeth

ManyBlessings said...

This post was incredibly helpful! Thanks!!

Meridith said...

Wow! I am so encouraged. It is 90% likely that I will be homeschooling Mimi Cate. I am kicking my legs, rolling on the floor, screaming at God, two year old tamptrum terrified about this. I am relieved to know that you did not step into it easily, either. I will definitely look into this. Mimi Cate is not where she needs to be to enter kindergarten next year. I am not even confident that she will be ready for public school if we hold her back for kindergarten until 2010. So, I need to start diving in and face my fears.

The issue that concerns me is that she and I need to have a break from one another, a respite. We both do better when we have time apart. So, homeschooling seems to remove that break that we so desperately need.

Darlene said...

OK Angel, God just used you in a mighty way across the miles and into my livingroom. I have been stressed for, well, a long time about Caleb. Without getting into it too much, I can just tell that Caleb is not cookie cutter. And the truth and reality of that has been burning at my soul, causing me to ache for the challenges of his future, and truth be told, the death of some of mommy's hopes for her boy (but not of God's!).

I have already committed to obeying the Lord in the schooling area, ie sending Caleb wherever he needs to be, and reassessing that year by year. But, I am not trusting Him in this way: I see that Caleb may be different... and I don't want that, for him, or for our family! Oh, Lord have mercy on me! I am just being honest... this has been my heartwrenching struggle. I was just in tears and in prayer on the floor before God about it last night...

Your post has blessed me, because somehow, it was like a cup of cold water being dumped on my head. It is saying to me: Trust God that He created Caleb just right. Trust God that he will provide the right education options to cause him to thrive.

Thank you, Angel, for your honesty. What you said here will not be forgotten: "I don't have cookie cutter kids. I have really struggled with this until God whacked me upside the head. I heard God asking me,"Why can't you just let your kids be who I made them? Why do you feel like you need to make them into something?" OUCH! It was true! Inside I have been PANICKED about Zoe from day 1. Poor baby... I said all the right things to her.... ya know.... "Just do your best, that's all we care about." It wasn't true though. Deep down Zoe's best wasn't enough for me. I was afraid of what everyone might think when my daughter didn't fit into the cookie cutter. "Oh no! They will think I am not a good teacher. They will think Zoe is not smart. They will think she should be caught up by now." I feel awful about that. I was caring more about what people would think than about her heart."

God bless your authentic soul, friend.

Melinda said...

Thanks Angel for this great post. I might have to give it another try, this time with my middle daughter. She is struggling in spelling and reading and this sounds like it just might be the answer. I think I need to check around the site more and see what it is all about. I love homeschooling and the freedom we have to do what works for each child. I never thought I would homeschool, I mean never!! But I know this is what God has called me to do, for as long as He wants. I know this will also be great for when Adanech comes home. She is trying to learn English and Amharic right now, so I already expect some learing difficulties at first.

Tessa said...

Angel ... I am so happy for you! What an incredible blessing when you find something that just FITS for your family. Your happiness just shouts from this email - and I am so glad that everyone is doing well with the new school year!

Tara said...

God REALLY does work in mysterious ways. I tell you, you are an ANGEL, Angel!!! I have been meaning to ask you about homeschooling for some time now. When I first saw your 'short' post about time4learning, I found it very intriguing and had questions - but now your post answered many questions I had. The biggest question was what brought you to a decision to homeschool.

NOW, I have questions about your Bible Studies. I recently began an adult Bible Study (and am LOVING it beyond belief as well as learning lots) but I am very curious what you do with your children for their Bible Studies (especially for me considering I am learning myself)? How much time do you take per day/week, etc?

What I really want is to get you one on one to have a chat candidly about so many things....

You are an inspiration!

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for some time. We adopted a 7 year old(just turned 11) from Ukraine 3.5 years ago. I have homeschooled my 2 biological kids for 13 years including our new daughter Anya. Since she spoke only Russian and had no schooling prior to coming home she needed her own space and time for learning too. I started her out with the PreK basics and now she is at a 4th grade level. She was doing an online charter school for 2nd grade which used childu(AKA time4learning). She flourished, she is a very visual learner. She recites commercials all the time, just the other day at the store she picked up a Swiffer and said, "Once you 've tried Swiffer you'll never go back to your old mop again." Anyway when 3rd grade came around with the charter school the pace picked up way too much for her she was getting very frustrated and not able to comprehend things that well. I decided to just do bookwork with her at her pace. I looked into Chilu and doing it on our own, but it was $69.00 / month and decided it was too much. I was so excited when I read your post and checked out time4learning and realized it was the same program she flourished on 2 years ago for only $19.95. She is all signed up and very excited to get started. Thanks for enlightening us!! I am so glad she will be able to use this again! Susan

Flamingo Mama said...

Angel, I am way behind in just catching up!! I love this post....especially the cookie cutter part. I have really struggled with the school decision. I feel like so many christians just send their kids to public school without thinking aobut it....because that's just what you do! My oldest is in public...and to be honest, so far we have been happy. However, Sha Sha is definitely a different cookie cutter....the decision is even harder. It helps to know there are people out there that support homeschool....I'm amazed the christians that I met that think it is wrong!

I always hate having to defend myself when you choose to make an unusual decision...I have already done that with our adoption!

Ok...Gotta stop my post! Congrats on your decision and so glad it is going well!!