Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book 2 Recital

Tonight, Curly played her violin Book 2 recital. We tried to keep it friendly and fun, with just a few friends in attendance, and lots of good snacks afterward!


Her programme included almost all of the pieces in Book 2, which ended up taking over 40 minutes, a lot of music for a 7-year-old, and a lot of time spent concentrating. I was really proud of her.


The performance began with Mister and Abi playing "Open String Blues." Abi was so proud of herself, I think she thought she was playing in Carnegie Hall, while Mister approached it with his usual nonchalance.



When she began, Curly was all smiles.


She really enjoyed her accompanist, Emily, who did great following her.


By the end of the set, she said she was really warm, and had trouble playing because she felt uncomfortably hot. Even so, she did well on the later pieces, and did not say anything. I didn't know until later that she was so miserable. Had I known, I would have brought her a fan.


She and Daddy ended with a Celtic fiddle tune. Hubby debuted his mandolin, an instrument he has been learning this year. I was proud of him, too. He usually practices with the kids, and his hard work showed at this recital.

This is the special opening number, by Abi and Little Mister: Open String Blues. Hearing this sure brings back memories of little 3-year-old Curly playing it not very long ago. :)


Here's the Chorus from "Judas Maccabeus" and Bach's Musette, which was her best piece tonight.


This is the Boccherini Minuet, one of my personal favorites.


Here's the encore: a fiddle tune called Merrily Kissed The Quaker.



Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Double-checking

This morning, I spent the my time watching the Littles and going through a list of curriculum standards for what my older children should know at the grade level they just finished (by age). In spite of not having much "formal schooling", they had addressed every area of study, and were at or above grade level in every area.

In fact, it struck me that a lot of what they needed to learn was easier to address by time to live in the community, our church, the outdoors, etc. than the artificial institution that is school. Many of the things Curly was supposed to know in first grade were richer and more meaningful by experiencing the "real thing" rather than reading books about it. Learning common animals, flowers and birds, for example are much more interesting when seen from our family walks, trips and outings than they would be by just looking at pictures in books.

Throughout the course of our year together, we managed to thoroughly cover everything they needed, from math concepts to reading to science to social studies, and we added things not on the list like music and Bible. Even without hours of planning, and merely using the teachable moments that came up each day, we learned in a fun, relaxed, meaningful, relevant, exciting manner, and amazingly, nothing was skipped or left out. In fact, in the areas of technology, music, reading, imaginative storytelling, and mathematical calculation, I'd say both Curly and Mister are far ahead of their grades (not bragging or doing the dreaded "my child is a genius" routine. Yuck. Curly is not a genius or even necessarily gifted. She is bright and eager, and has a good environment, is all. Mister has a brighter mind and better memory, but lacks in the area of motor development and social skills. You could say he's a typical nerd, even at age 5).

It's nice to wrap up the year with a sparkling report, even though (thankfully) in our state, the only person I need to report to is myself. If I ever DID need to report to an outside agency, I'd have no problem submitting a good one! :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Coffee Shop

Yesterday, the younger three and I spent the morning at Bucer's so that Curly could rehearse with her accompanist.

Mister and I played what he thought was Scrabble but what I actually used to have him practice reading and spelling. Sneaky Mommy. ;)



Contortionist

Abi is so flexible! She definitely doesn't have my genes in this area (not that there was any doubt).

Monday, June 25, 2012

Braids and Beads



After letting Abi's hair rest for a week, here's what I spent all weekend doing! (Abi's going through the 4yo phase of smiling a REALLY weird grimace for the camera, made even more fun by the fact that she isn't quite sure where the camera is.)


Here's the "before" pic. Her hair is a little over 2" long, but not quite 3".


All weekend, we braided and braided and braided. Hubby helped, bless his heart, since crafty things are not his forte. I put the braids into her hair (the hard part) and he helped with simply braiding length into the yarn and putting on beads.  Curly made noises about learning how to braid, so she could help, but she got distracted before I could teach her. In the future maybe we'll have Team Braid sessions. ;)


She spent most of the weekend looking like this, with clips holding her hair into parts, and half-finished braids tied in loopy knots all over her head.


Finally, we finished this morning, and she loves it! "Mommy, my hair is pretty!"


Note to those who have asked about how to braid hair this way: I followed this YouTube video. And this time I added beads before I tied the knot in the end. Uhm... that's about it. :)


Friday, June 22, 2012

VBS

A few weeks ago, I signed Curly and Mister up for VBS. Because the age limit was 4 years, I went ahead and signed Abi up too. Then this week came along, and I went, "What was I THINKING?!?!" Because we're still bonding, because she barely speaks English, and a little bit because she's blind, I realized that I would have to go to class with her. That meant Bean would have to come to class with us too.

Oh my sweet Jesus in Heaven above.

What was I thinking?

But I did it, because I'd told her she could go. She was all excited, like the older kids, and I'd already said yes. I talked to the teachers ahead of time, and got permission for myself and Taz to attend class with Abi. They were wonderful and welcoming, which was a relief, after the nastiness from a few years ago at the Palouse Suzuki violin group when Mister was a baby.

The days started with me pleading, scolding, bribing, manipulating, begging and nagging Abi to eat her breakfast. (Still dealing with food issues, and Abi is NOT a morning person.) Hubby, thankfully, stuck around for half an hour to help with clothes and shoes for everyone. Even so, Curly only went with brushed hair a couple of the days. Oh well.

Then we loaded everyone up in the big, blue stroller and walked the 1/2 mile to the Nazarene church. (Nope, I still don't drive, and I love it.)

When we got there, it was a matter of trying to keep Bean corralled, guide Abi through the 4yo stories, snack (hello food issues again), games (try finding a yellow ball when you're blind) and craft.

Some interesting and unforeseen problems arose, and I'll copy my Facebook posts from this week to give you a glimpse of what we ran into.
First day of VBS. Bean and I stayed in the 4yo class to help Abi, but she did great! Thanks to the little guy that we met at the park who wanted to be Abi's partner when all the "perfect" little Christian kids didn't want to. Little Park Dude, you were more like Jesus even though I'd be willing to guess the only time you ever go to church is for a week in the summer. You rock, little guy. :)

Day 2: Wow, VBS could not have gone worse. The theme was Daniel and the lions. So lots of talking about lions, pretending to be lions to chase each other, etc. Well, lions have made Abi really weird and sad and homesick before, and today was no exception. Not to mention lots of talk about the poor kids in Africa, etc. Abi was a wreck, Bean was a holy terror, and I am exhausted. Ugh.

Day 3 VBS report: No lions today. Whew. Abi got to act out Silas in the Paul/Silas/jail story. Apparently prisons are less frightening than lions, because she had a ball. Bean threw a lovely fit about painting during craft time, so he got a nice ride in the Ergo backpack on my back for the rest of VBS time. Cooled him right off. One of the teenage helpers took over leading Abi around, and she did better without Mommy hovering, and got into the games and activities. Overall, I'd say today was a success.
Older girls helping Abi are really the best. She doesn't assume they are taking her home like an adult, but she can be off with the kids like everyone else and not have to be with Mom when nobody else is by their moms. So it works socially for her, but doesn't disrupt our bonding and attachment like adult women tend to do. 
A side comment: I am not sure why this VBS has picked out the most horrific and gruesome Old Testament Bible stories to present to the kids. So far they have acted out being in a firey furnace, a lions' den and now a first-century prison. Having grown up in church, I probably would not have thought twice about it, except now seeing it through Abi's point of view, those things are really scary and disturbing! I hope the message that God delivers and provides even in those awful situations comes through as clearly! All week, I've been kind of wishing for a nice Jesus-and-the-loaves-and-fishes story instead. ;)  
There are lots of little things I notice. Like the pastor saying "This offering money goes to sponsor a little child who's not like you. A little child who has no food who lives in Kenya." My thought: That's exactly like Abi, actually. Teaching kids that little needy African kids are "not like them" tends to make American kids more xenophobic than they already are, I think. Not to mention that little needy African kid probably has a more loving home and family life than 3/4 of the materialistic American kids sitting in those pews. We don't have everything right here by a long shot, but we sure like to think we do. It's weird how my perspective has changed after two trips to Africa and seeing the world through my little girl's eyes.  
But those little things aside, the VBS has been quite a lot of fun, and they're doing a terrific job. They are super organized and have plenty of help. The timing is good for the activities, and the teachers and helpers really have sweet hearts and love kids. I don't mean to come across as overly critical at all! I just am surprised at the weird things that stand out to me now that as a church kid I have heard all my life and never noticed. 
I don't know if it is because Abi has a disability, or dark skin, but I have been a little shocked at the number of kids who refuse to sit by her, or stand by her in line, or be her partner in games. I'm glad she can't see them run away. It makes me sad that these well-groomed little church kids are so sheltered that they are scared of a perfectly sweet, fun little girl who happens to look a little different from them. Still, watching some of them warm up over the course of the week is cool. It's a shame that my daughter's role is to constantly be teaching people how to expand their comfort zones, but it's still neat to watch happen. It makes me realize how strong my little girl really is, to overcome all of the trauma that she's had in her past, and now to keep having to talk people into seeing past her white cane and dark skin and be her friend. She is amazing. :)


VBS Day 4. All of the little kids were squirrelly today, so possibly Abi's inattention was just more of the same. She kind of just sat like a lump. This week has been interesting, to say the least. I think she didn't understand a lot of what was going on because she doesn't have enough English yet. About the middle of the morning, I finally gave up and took her and Bean off by themselves to play on the stairs to the balcony. As soon as she was with just us, she opened up like a flower, and started running around and chattering. Hmmmm... But she says she likes VBS, so we'll go ahead and finish out the week tomorrow. The church is inviting all the kids to come on Sunday too, so they'll probably think we're pagans for not showing up, but I'm on the worship team Sunday at our church, so we're not going to go, and ::oh well:: to what they think. ;)

VBS Day 5 - Last day. Whew, I did it! The kids go around the house singing the songs. Everyone had a ball, and I got to see other adults. I think it was worth it. I echo the youth pastor's sentiment that what he has planned for next week is a lot of napping!

So, was it worth it? Yeah, I think it was. Abi learned that even going to a group of little kids (that feels a lot like the orphanage did) doesn't take her away from Mom. It'll make next year easier, as well as other things like Sunday School or Preschool. And among the Bean-chasing, I had some fun moments. I really still like kids, and 4yos say some of the funniest things! The teachers were so nice about having Bean in their classes, even though he could not sit still or be quiet. Their welcome really blessed me. :)





Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Come to the river with us

It only took me three days to get this uploaded. :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fluffilees

Upon returning home from the cabin, I decided that it was time to take Abi's yarn braids out. Several along the side had already slid out, and although we'd washed them, they absorbed the sweat and oils from her head, making them smell.


Each piece of hair that had been braided stood out from her head. She felt each one, calling them "fluffiliees" and wanted me to keep it that way. Since I needed to give it a good wash, and then some coconut oil, I couldn't do it, but I took a few pictures.


Once her hair was all clean and oiled, it felt so soft and smelled so good, I think everyone loved it, although she was sad to lose her long braids. I promised we'd braid it again soon.



Weekend At the Cabin

For the first time in about two years, we stayed at the cabin for the weekend. 


We walked down the road to the river.


At the beach near the bridge, we threw lots of rocks into the water.


Daddy perfected his rock-skipping technique, and taught Curly.


Abi wanted to try her hand at photography. So, I gave her the camera, showed her where the button was, and let her go to town.


She didn't really "get" the idea of pointing it AT people, so we helped her out by getting into the shot ourselves.


Bean and Abi tossed rocks into the water, loving the big splashes they made!


At some point, I got into a picture, again, as proof that I was there, and not just behind the camera.


We got out the hammocks.


Curly discovered she could push her hammock with a stick.


We went hiking in the Cedar Grove.


After the hike, we built a fire for the purpose of roasting marshmallows. Abi didn't think much of the marshmallows, and instead just wanted to play with the toy piano, its tinny voice an odd sound in the quiet woods.


A quick snuggle with the Bean was about all the time he'd sit still to give.


Bean LOVED the S'mores!


Abi tried one, but it was too much sugar for her taste. She ended up eating crackers separately, and then an unroasted marshmallow.


Daddy read another chapter of Narnia to the kids. I think they were in Dawn Treader. Curly insisted on sleeping on the floor, although there were plenty of beds. She'd brought a sleeping bag, and by golly, she was going to use it.


It was so nice to get away as a family, relax and let the kids play in the woods. I guess it seems like more proof that life is returning to normal. :)



Monday, June 11, 2012

Poking Around

Perhaps my love for old buildings was born during those days of solitary exploring our old church building almost 30 years ago. Writing about it this morning drew my memory back to another day, a day like many, many other days in my early childhood.

Mom volunteered in the church office; on this particular day, she and the secretary, Esther, were producing the weekly bulletin. I remember sitting on the floor in the corner for quite some time, surrounded by the smell of the purple ink in the mimeograph machine, and the heartbeat of the folding machine that gobbled a sheet of printed paper and with an aggressive THUNK, spit it neatly folded in half out the other end.

After a while, I got tired of sitting on the floor, so I'd quietly turn the flower-patterned metal knob, smooth under my fingers from years of use, and emerge, mouse-like, on the empty stage, looking out onto the deserted sanctuary.

Rows of wooden seats, their bottoms folded primly, except for the few that stood jarringly out of place still unfolded, marched in their orderly semicircle across the room. Above the seats, the huge , flat stained-glass chandelier nested several round circles of rubber bands where the big boys naughtily shot them from the balcony.

Slowly, I'd walk off the stage into the thick quietness of the sanctuary, the sea of bright blue carpet muffling my footsteps. To this day, the word "blue" still brings back that carpet, stretching away up the hills of silent aisles, patterned here and there with the light from arching stained glass windows where the kind face of Jesus, a lamb in his arms, gazed unceasingly down on the room.

The echoing sound of space closed down upon me as I neared the overhanging balcony and entered the back hallway. Sometimes, I'd pause beside the rack of tracts, looking for something to fill the hours until we headed home again. I'd flick through them, reading the comic-like stories of men who lived a worldly life, waited too late to repent, and were doomed forever to a flame-encrusted hell where a cartoon devil chortled over their entrapment. After a few such stories, I'd put the booklets back on their rack and wander on.

I usually avoided the Sunday school room to the right where my class was held on Sundays, because the old-building smell mixed with play dough made me gag. Instead, I'd tiptoe past the Men's bathroom to the conference room, because the wallpaper, a wall-sized photographic mural of a woodland scene, drew me toward it as if by wishing hard enough I could make the scene real and walk into that beautiful place. I would stand in front of it, at the exact point where my blurry vision made it clear enough to see, but far enough back that I could take in most of the image, and just stare and stare at it, conjuring in my imagination the mossy scent of the trees, the layered sound of the brook, and the rustle of the leaves overhead. Instead of the never-changing seasons of the imprisoned photo, I made it live and breathe, the leaves turning color and falling, and then the quiet snow covering it with piercing gray-white brilliance. Spring would come with renewed birdsong, and I wondered if the picture felt sad to be always frozen in late summer or early autumn, never to again feel the warmth of the first spring sun.

After visiting the conference-room photo, I'd walk out through the fellow-ship room where the ragged wood floor had once given me a sliver in the bottom of my foot after I'd made the childlike mistake of sliding along it. I'd slowly climb the side stairs, wading through fingers of glass-colored sunlight to the balcony, where I peered into the adult Sunday school rooms, all of which held a sharp, stale smell made up of bad coffee, dust, the dregs of women's perfume and hundreds of other unidentifiable ghosts of smells from 50 years of lessons on Ezekiel and Romans.

I'd walk along the track of carpet at the top of the balcony, reveling in the half-imagined thrilling fear of being up so high above the world. One misstep off the steps that lurked just beyond the edge of my untrustworthy eyesight would surely send me rolling down them and over the edge of the low brass rail. Laughing at my own silliness, but still afraid nonetheless, I hurried to the other side stairway, the one that lacked morning sun and lay cloaked in cool, blue shadow. I walked past the table with the "Daily Bread" devotionals and the forms that allowed elderly congregants to dedicate a hymnal "sacred to the memory" of their deceased aunts and grandmothers. I searched for a discarded bulletin from last week that might have enough white space where I might draw a picture on it.

Sometimes, the custodian would be there, and I'd follow him around chattering at him, grateful to find another human being in the quiet stillness of the waiting building. The custodian, named Tim, had a beard that made him look a bit like a leprechaun, and a laid-back personality that allowed him to tolerate the company of a lonely child with far too much to say.

Sometimes, when Tim was not there, I'd walk slowly up and down the aisles, running my fingers over the tops of the metal radiators, and counting the rows of chairs that I passed. I stayed quiet, and did not play the piano that sat on the stage, for to do so might bring out one of the adults and prolong my time waiting for them to finish with their work.

Going back in and pestering them to let me help usually resulted in a similar length of stay, so I simply waited, making friends with the quiet building, learning its secrets, until I almost pitied the people hurrying through it on Sunday, who had never taken the time to study its quiet beauties, who had never walked through its empty rooms during those days when it too waited between Sundays, waited to be needed and useful again.

I think I fell in love with real wood during those long, slow mornings, running my fingers along the miles of windowsill below the arching stained glass. I think I began to notice architecture during those hours of listening to the space under the domes ceiling that I could never quite see. Probably it was perfecting the art of tossing a paper airplane from the balcony that first awakened my interest in physics, and it was running my fingers along the tiny railroad tracks of spaces between the bricks that kindled a love of form and texture. The old church, with its dignified beauty, built in a less hurried era when people still had time to ornament their buildings, awakened in me a love for the antique, for the patient stories in old things and the secrets they seldom share to those who refuse to take the time to really listen.

Exercising

As I tie the laces on my tennis shoes and start my workout video, I'm suddenly overwhelmed with a memory, and the sense of history repeating itself.

Maybe seven or eight, I was the same age Curly is now. Together, Mom and I would walk down the six steps to the side door of the church basement where Mom's semi-weekly aerobics class met. Generally, she wore a pink T-shirt with the logo "Muscles and Mustardeseeds" emblazoned on it in purple screen-printed letters, along with a friendly cartoon caterpillar and butterfly. We'd enter the cool dimness of the basement, which smelled faintly like damp concrete and the stale memory of potlucks past. As Mom turned the switch, the fluorescent lights flickered reluctantly to life with a tired hum.

Other church women would trickle in, ready for a bible study and exercises to break up their weekly routine and give friendship along with sweat and scripture. I usually retreated to the nursery, to sit on the chilly blue-gray carpet and play by myself with blocks or cars. In the other room, I could hear my mother's voice calling, "Grapevine!" or "Lightbulbs!" and the pounding beat of Farrell and Farrell's "Manifesto" pouring from the silver 80's Boom Box.

Growing bored with the nursery, I'd wander curiously through the dungeon-like tunnels of the ancient church basement, their walls streaked by moisture and rust. Once, I discovered the room where the Women's Ministry ran a charity thrift shop. The racks of used polyester dresses that smelled of body odor and the 1970's made me feel a little nervous, as if I'd inadvertently discovered Bluebeard's secret room. Somehow, devoid of the usual Sunday morning bustle, the empty, quiet, dark church kitchen, and even the mop closet seemed eery and waiting, as if it did not quite approve of the small girl wandering around by herself, unattended by watchful adults.

Eventually, Mom sang out "Cool Down!" and the mats would come out. Marking time by the never-varying routine of the workout, I'd hurry to visit my favorite stained-glass window on the stairs leading up to the sanctuary. Summer sunlight pouring through the south-facing window filtered through the colors of glass: red, blue, wheat and the creamy strips on the sides that looked as though they had been stirred during cooking, but never quite finished. I'd press my nose to the colors and close my eyelids, letting the red wash into my very soul. Somehow this window seemed a friend, one that waited for me and welcomed my beauty-loving heart in a way that the little girls of my acquaintance never did. I felt when I let those colors dance over my hands and body that I could someday create beauty and poetry and music in the same way that might dare to approach the glory of a sunset, or the power of a spring storm.

Long before I was done playing with my sunlight, for which I felt an affection almost like that for a pet kitten, Mom would call my name, her purple exercise mat rolled now and under her arm. I would run to her and take the heavy double-cassette boom box from her, proud of myself for helping her, and anticipating the warning not to drop it which inevitably followed.

Filled with the delights of my solitary exploration and my secret love affair with the stained glass, I'd follow Mom out to the car, watching the pattern of shapes and sun in the leaves of the trees overhead.

Today, I finished my workout video, panting as I did "Jumprope" and "Ski Hops" and wondered if my daughter would hear David Crowder or Sonic Flood in her memory as her Mom jumped and huffed and sweated. I wondered if she'd see in her memory the reds and pinks and greens of the sunlit glass on the windows in our little cottage. I smiled to myself, and pushed stop on my iPod.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dedication

In our branch of Protestantism, babies are usually dedicated to the Lord rather than baptized, and the family commits to raising them in a Christian home and teaching them about Jesus.  For Abi, who actually probably was baptized Orthodox, we still participated in the dedication service today, even though she isn't technically a baby. Making a public statement that she is our child and we will do all in our power to raise her to know God is something we were delighted to do.

Yesterday, we went shopping together for just the right pretty white dress that she can have as a keepsake. I put flowers in her hair too, which was so novel and special to her, she almost didn't know what to do with herself. We also had the other kids stand with us, as a family. A family put together from across the continents by God, and we need His blessing to build it together into a strong, single unit.

The pastor preached a parenting message about grace to accompany the dedication. I was so blessed to hear the words again: that though we fail in our duties as parents, we are upheld by the grace of God, and that He will strengthen and help us to raise Godly children in spite of our weaknesses. 

We're blessed to have pastors who are adoptive parents also. He mentioned that adoption shows us a picture of God bringing us into His family, and I felt myself grow teary when he said it. It's so true that the way a child becomes mine through adoption really makes it real to me what God has done, taking me out of a doomed future from being born with a sin nature, and adopting me into His family. It doesn't mean I am expected to be perfect from here on out; rather it means I have a new identity, a new belonging, as a child of God through my belief in the work of Jesus on the cross. Like my daughter could do nothing on her own to change her destiny, so I did nothing to earn a place in God's kingdom, yet I'm accepted and loved there anyway. To me, that's mind-blowing and breathtakingly beautiful.





Friday, June 8, 2012

Frugal Schooling

When I added the extra point on yesterday's post that one benefit of homeschooling is saving money, it occurred to me that I haven't talked much about frugality in homeschooling, although it's a subject that's dear to my heart. It seems that in the world of education, it's often a point of pride among parents to try to compete with one another on how much their child's education costs. Whether they homeschool and spend thousands on just the right curriculum, or pay for a private school or even discuss public school budgets and levies, it seems that the more money spent, the better the education received, at least in a lot of people's thinking.

It kind of boggles my mind that the public schools report spending up to $9K PER CHILD per year, and yet still complain that they don't have enough money.  Private schools charge tuition of $4K all the way up to $15K, depending where you live, and homeschool curriculum costs can climb that high as well.  Really, people?

One of the challenges I enjoy about homeschooling/unschooling is finding resources that give my children a quality education without breaking our budget, which is tight, as you can imagine. After all, we're pretty much a single-income family, and we put money toward adoption, medical care and disability equipment, among other things. We don't have a lot of wiggle-room, and school resources, while important, don't occupy a very big place in our budget. Here are some of the ways I find frugal resources:

1. Internet. For the price of WiFi and some sheets of printer paper, I can find everything from books to flash cards to coloring sheets to Google Earth. There are also a lot of educational sites and games. Sites like PBS and YouTube have tutorials and videos for learning. Blogs, Pinterest, Facebook groups and other sites give constant ideas. Some of my favorites:

Project Gutenberg/Librivox. Free ebooks and audio books.
Google Maps
Printable worksheets. I just google and use the first site or two to come up.
PBSKids
Starfall.com
YouTube. For example: Donald in Mathmagicland, or How to cornrow hair. :)

2. Public Libraries. Our library not only has literature and pleasure reading options, but a large selection of educational videos, audio books and even homeschool resource books.

3. Year-long passes. A family pass to the Science Center or the swimming pool costs more up front, but offers the best price on learning at these sites. The Science Center in particular only costs $70 here, but offers free admission to the OMSI in Portland where one trip can cost more than that. Some homeschool families ask for family passes as holiday gifts from grandparents, and this can really be a big help too.

4. Used Bookstores. We regularly visit local used bookstores and library sales to find treasures like books on orcas, how to make paper airplanes, or Idaho Wildflowers.

5. Bartering. Homeschool families in our area often swap music lessons, books and other resources for free. I have often given free music lessons to other homeschool families, and have received everything from childcare to clothes to recycled games in return.

6. Thrift Stores. Shopping regularly in local thrift stores has offered such finds as puzzles, educational games, sports equipment or costumes for a few dollars. Curly found this Orca puzzle at a thrift store last week for $1.50.

7. Netflix. A low-cost subscription gives access to shows like "How It's Made," science and nature documentaries, entertaining cartoons, and movies. Our local video rental store has many educational videos as well. I also bought a subscription to Reading Eggs, because Little Mister did so well learning to read with the program.

8. Talking! Never underestimate the learning power of a simple conversation. Taking time to talk to our kids, answer their questions, engage them in things we as adults are curious about, or simply listen to what they are planning can be an unimaginable learning tool and it's as free as the air we breathe.

9. Community resources. We live in a wonderful community where the county fair is free to enter and to attend, the renaissance fair is free, Artwalk is free, and where many other events and activities are offered to families if you get looking.  Our church, too, is a wonderful resource. It offers Bible learning, social interactions, yearly events, and support. Other churches in town offer Vacation Bible Schools in the summer and events and concerts throughout the year. Many of these are free, donation, or low-cost. Places like the ice-skating rink offer a homeschool day/discount also.

10. Reusable Tools. A chalkboard, magna-doodle or white board makes a great teaching tool. If you're worried about preserving a record of work done, take a digital picture of the board and save it to your hard drive. Kids can draw pictures, do math problems or write stories and never touch a piece of paper.

11. Craigslist, eBay, Classifieds, Bargain Basements, Freecycle, and email lists. I scored all of the old Abeka Book readers for a mere $20 in the bargain basement of a homeschool shop one time. We use them from time to time for reading practice and to enjoy the stories. Another time, I got an electric Perkins Brailler for a fraction of the cost of a new one from an email listserv. If you keep an eye on these sites and snap up a bargain when it comes along, you can save hundreds. I've also bought most of our musical instruments used from these sites. Once, I scored a giant tub of LEGOs from a classified ad, and the mom who sold it to us was thrilled that our kids would use an love a favorite toy of her son's.

12. Make it yourself. I'm a natural DIYer and educational materials are a perfect playground! I've brailled materials myself, drawn maps, made clay models, and helped to write and publish kids' books. Thrift stores often have craft supplies, and the kids learn to make things themselves too, from toys to books to games.

13. Coupons and Sales. I'm not a big couponer, but once in a while I find a deal or sale on something I'd planned to buy anyway. Shopping in bulk sometimes helps with things like markers that we use a lot.

14. Natural items. Using things like sticks from the ground outdoors for crafts instead of sticks from the craft store inspires creativity and saves money. Making play dough from flour costs less than buying it. Of course, we don't do this for everything, but it's worth mentioning.

15. Elbow grease. Doing the legwork to put together resources and curriculum may take more time and energy, but to me, it's a fun challenge, and something I enjoy doing. I don't use everything that's out there simply because it's free, though. (The K12 online schools and virtual academies are one example.) But I do enjoy bargain hunting, and it's nice to know that our kids aren't missing out on educational opportunities just because we don't shell out thousands of dollars.  The things we do pay for, such as Curly's violin lessons or the trampoline I save up and bought (gosh, that is stereotypical!) are worth it because they get a lot of mileage. There are some things I have yet to figure out how to afford, like a trip to Sea World. It may never happen! But we have marvelous places to explore right here at home, if we get looking. :)


In the early days of our country, rural schoolhouse teachers used to have the Bible, a McGuffy reader or alphabet primer and a paper-sized slate and slate-pencil. With these simple tools, they taught their pupils through sixth grade, and children generally ended up with better grammar, stronger writing and a larger vocabulary than schoolkids today. During the course of doing my part-time job the past few weeks, I've been reading historical documents from a hundred years ago for work, and it's amazing to me the command of language that a standard working-class adult possessed, especially when compared to the hasty emails we see in the workplace now.  The idea of using a few good books and materials but using them well is an idea that I really support.

It's hard to say how much our family actually spends on homeschooling, especially because it's tough to identify what counts as "school," what counts as "extracurricular," and what counts as "life" or "entertainment" or "other!" I'd be willing to bet that it's less than $1,000 per year for ALL FOUR kids. Granted, some kids are still small, and costs will change as they move through grades in school. Still, making choices to be creative, make use of recycled materials and find cheaper alternatives means that we can do a lot with a just a little. Yet another reason I love homeschooling!

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why We Homeschool

A friend on Facebook wanted reasons for homeschooling in order to write a persuasive paper for a class. Here are my top ten.

1. Individualized pacing of academics
2. Family bonding and closeness
3. Efficiency of learning leaving time free to learn more, play more and have more freedom to choose activities themselves. (This includes not having all the time during the day spent waiting in line, waiting at desks, waiting for transportation, waiting for others to finish.... You get the picture. Add up all those minutes, and you end up with wasted months by the end of the school year.)
4. No Bullies
5. Morals, values, manners and respect are more easily taught.
6. Homeschool co-op! We love ours!
7. The dignity of being able to use the restroom when they need to.
8. More nutritious meals
9. The option to sleep in
10. More time spent in the "real world," including the outdoors getting fresh air and exercise.

Edited: I need to add a number 11. Another big reason that we started homeschooling in the first place is that it is much cheaper than tuition for a private school, and it's actually more cost-effective than a public school, by the time you pay fees and support the bake sale and get "teacher appreciation gifts" and participate in the science fundraiser and buy enough brand-name clothes that your kids fit in, and the long list of school supplies, and... Okay, I'll stop now!

Sure, we buy music lessons, Science Center passes and school supplies at home, but the amount we spend is minimal compared with a private school cost, especially since we don't buy pre-packaged curriculum, and the books I do buy I get used. Not to mention that I would get lessons and passes even if the kids were in school, although we'd have less time to enjoy them.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chilly Morning

We're snuggled down in our pajamas, with a nice fire in the fireplace all doing our favorite things. Mister has a new app on the iPod called Go, Car, Go that requires problem-solving. Bean and Abi have the toy kitchen cranking out lunch for the dolls. I'm enjoying social media, and listening to The Civil War soundtrack. Curly will be back from my Mom's house tonight, and I'm so glad. I miss her!