The end of another year

I have a little ritual – to write an end of our year review for homeschool. I started these posts for my mom, but they have morphed into a memento of sorts for me too. I love looking back and seeing how far the kids have come over the year….and even taking a peek at years past.

With a son who will be entering his 3rd year of high school, now more than ever, I feel the need to really slow down and recognize how far we have come. We started this homeschool journey when Soccer Dude was entering 1st grade. With a few years off while we lived in Kentucky, we have been at this for 8 years. Actually, I should write a post about how far I have come as a home educator. I knew nothing back then! Maybe I will add that for next year. For now, I am celebrating the end of another year.

Here is a peek at what the kids have learned this year, where they are headed, and some encouragement to myself that we have accomplished a lot during this crazy year. Wohoo for another year in the books!

Moe: Age 3 (our pre-school comic relief) This guy is everyone’s favorite. Each of the big kids take a turn playing with Moe as I homeschool. That really is one of the only ways I can keep sane while homeschooling 5 children with a pre-schooler under my feet. What started out as a chore (babysitting) turned into the privilege everyone fought over. Moe is just fun to be with. Play dough, reading picture books, forts, light saber fights…the kids all love finding ways to keep their three year old brother entertained during school time. You can bet that he also entertains us as he pretends to be a cat or a kangaroo.

Favorite subject: trucks and tractors

What he wants to be when he grows up: Grandpa

Favorite food: hot dogs

Biggest accomplishment: Moe has been in our family for just a bit over a year. Hard to believe when you hear him talk. He rocks English. He narrates EVERYTHING. “Look. There is a truck coming. That is a big truck. I like trucks. Mom, do you like trucks? Trucks can go over speed bumps.” On and on it goes, in perfect english. He is amazing.

Little Man: (Our 2nd grade graduate.) This guy is as smart as he is hilarious. He has taught me more about dinosaurs and the Jurassic period then I ever have cared to learn. He also can pronounce more dinosaurs names than I can.

Favorite subject: Math and geography (because he can do it fast.)

What he wants to be when he grows up: Archeologists

Favorite food: Chinese noodles

Biggest accomplishment: Little Man attended an art class that I taught for local kids. This year I have seen his Chinese language skills improve, his ability to make local friends has improved and our outgoing dude is blossoming. During one class I caught him challenging the boys to see if they could stomp on his foot hard enough to make him cry. I couldn’t help but laugh at all of the boys who were in awe over how strong Little Man is – none of them can stomp hard enough on his fake leg to make him flinch! I wonder when he might show them that he wears a prosthetic! That is our Little Man for ya.

Little Monkey: (completed 5th grade) It might be time for a new nickname for this sweet young lady. She is growing and maturing so quickly. It is fun to see the person she is becoming. We spent a chunk of time this year helping her determine her talents, gifts, and what she enjoys doing. She feels most comfortable following her big sister’s footsteps – but it has been fun to see her come into her own a bit this year.

Favorite subject: Geography and literature. It is even better if those two things are combined.

What she wants to be when she grows up: unsure

Favorite food: rice

Biggest accomplishment: urged on by one of her best friends, Little Monkey has determined to practice piano enough hours to make herself an expert. Based on the idea that 10,000 hours of practice can make you an expert in a field – she has upped her piano practice time in hopes that she can be an expert before she is mom’s age!

Roo: (will be starting High School in the fall!) This girl loves the arts. Painting, drawing, playing piano, knitting, crafting….you name it. Our home would not be the same without this creative spirit who is always pressing us to do school in a new way, bringing a creative twist to our lessons and thinking of some new fun way to entertain her brothers.

Favorite subject: She would say art and that she hates math – but really she is very good at math and language. This girl can diagram a sentence better than her momma.

As a family we based our homeschooling on My Father’s World’s curriculum “Exploring Countries and cultures.” Roo has loved our family read a-louds that are based on expats who have lived and worked around the world. We were all inspired by the series “Christian Hero’s: Then and Now.” We plan to read many more of them. This year, I have watched this tendered hearted girl fall in love with and have a heavy heart for a particular country and people group. Makes me wonder where she will end up one day.

Favorite food: ice cream

Biggest accomplishment: I will let this photo of one of her art projects speak for itself. I love seeing her art skills develop. This is was an assignment she did after studying famous artists including Van Gough.

B: (Surprise addition to our homeschool crew.) This guy is so very smart. I can’t even begin to put it into words. Our original goal was to slowly introduce him to our educational ways – let him hang with Little Man with 2nd grade work as he learns english. No pressure for him or for me. HA! I saw in the first week that wouldn’t work. We did placement after placement test for math. When he aced the 5th grade placement test even though he has had little formal education, I knew it was going to be hard to keep a head of this kid. He is learning words in math like parallelogram, is racing through Rosetta Stone English and is being diligent in his Explode the Code series.

Favorite subject: Math

Favorite food: gan ban (A Chinese noodle dish)

Biggest accomplishment: acclimating to our family. He has rocked this life change. I can’t say enough about how strong, flexible, kind, and tender-hearted this kiddo is. So thankful that he has joined our homeschooling crew this year.

Soccer Dude: (10th grade graduate – he is half way through High School!) We made a lot of changes in homeschooling this guy. Last year he was enrolled in an online High School. It was a good solid program and he did well, but it was hard on all of us to have him at the computer all day long. So this year, he took two classes online and we went back to traditional homeschooling the other courses. I was nervous at the beginning of the year, but it has been so much better for all of us. I am thankful to be more involved in his schoolwork again, he has taken more initiative in his learning, and we are having some big and good conversations. Who says parenting and homeschooling the teen years are hard? I am learning with them and enjoying this journey….even with the bumps along the way.

Favorite subject: Science (that is a new things this year!)

Favorite food: grilled bratwurst (can you tell he spent more time in the states this year?!)

Biggest accomplishment: Grieving well. This might sound like a weird thing to put here, but seriously this guy has been an example to me. He is leaning into Jesus as he has walked through the grief of saying goodbye to a foster brother he adored and loosing both of his grandmothers. When we transitioned to the States for the spring semester he did it with strength that rarely is seen in a teenager. He has handled it all well and is finishing his 10th grade year with all A’s. I am proud of him – not just for his high grades, but for setting aside his life and friends to help his Papa. It gives me a glimpse into the great man he is becoming.

I have never been so ready for our summer break. It has seemed like a long year and I have often felt that I could not meet all of the educational needs of these 6 souls – not to mention keeping our home going! I appreciate looking back over the year and seeing how God has met all of our needs – the needs of the kids and mine!

I am taking a deep breath and enjoying the beach before it is time to start another round of the Williams academy.

Broken Hearted

bingoglassesIt comes every year.  I try to prepare my heart – but frankly the pain and injustice, I just can’t get used to it.

Due to our summer travel plans, this week marks my last art class of the semester.  Children who live at an orphanage….well summer vacation has a whole different meaning for them.  They live where they go to school and since it is often better to keep the kiddos busy and on a schedule, they don’t take long breaks from classes.  I explained to my kiddos that I needed to travel with my family so there would be no art classes for July and August….but I would be back to start art classes again in September.  The kids often will ask me over and over again….”Are you really coming back?”  One little guy who was in a near panic over missing art, just couldn’t drop it.  Finally I asked him, “Friend, will you be here in September?”  After thinking a moment he said, “Yes, I am always here.”  My reply, “Then I will find you when I come back.”

But, that isn’t always the case.

When a teen turns 17 years old – they must leave the orphanage and are sent to a social welfare institute.  It is not a nice place.  This week I said goodbye to a student I have had since the beginning of my days at the Children’s Home. He cried as we hugged. He wasn’t upset about the idea of missing art class for two months.  He was crying because he knew this was the end.  He will not be living at the orphanage when I come back.

I cried too.

I cried because I will miss him.  I cried because he has no hope for the future.  I cried because if he had been adopted his life would have been so different.

These boys who were never chosen….Lord have mercy.

Kids need families.

Let’s make a difference. Foster. Adopt. Give. Tell their stories. Cry for the orphan. Pray.

 

Virtual Gallery

IMG_0988-1When you pour your heart and creativity into a group of precious children it is so hard to see a semester come to an end.  I dearly love each of my students and I seriously hate to say goodbye to them, even for a summer break.

This is my last week of art class for the semester, so we are ending on a high note of puffy glitter paint.  I forget how much they love this stuff.  The autistic kids love squeezing the tubes of paint, the sensory challenged crew love smearing the paint around the foam canvas, my special down syndrome friends express utter joy at the gift of a paint set to themselves, the CP kiddos are proud to manage the project all on their own…you get the point.  Fun for all!

 

My sweet students were happy to end the semester with puffy paints, but for me…well,I am seeking a bit more closure.  I am proud of my students and their art work.  We have done some super fun projects, the kids have pumped out some amazing art, and I am thrilled that they have learned a few new skills along the way.  I want to share the joy of all of that with you.  Wish I had a gallery where I could proudly usher you around and tell you about each masterpiece and the amazing child behind it.  Since I lack that – how about you pretend and indulge me by peeking through this virtual gallery.


 

 

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Project: Oil pastel on black paper

Artist: a CP superstar who has mastered holding crayons and paint brushes this year!

Love doing this project with our kiddos who thrive in the abstract!  It might look like scribbles, but this really is a masterpiece of a child who struggles to use his arms due to CP.  There is victory in this finished product!  He was so proud of his color choices and doing this all by himself.


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Project: coffee filter butterflies

Artist: a creative thinking teen

Washable markers, coffee filters and a spritz bottle helped us to create butterflies after reading the “Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.  I am thankful that I found a bookstore that offers some of the classic children’s books I am familiar with in Chinese!  We have been reading the books together and using them to inspire our art.  During this project the kids felt like they were making magic as they watched the colors of the markers blend together as we sprayed the creations.  The teachers loved the cute finished projects which they used to hang from the ceilings to decorate the classrooms.


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Sometimes a blank page and a tray of paint can seem overwhelming, but with a stencil and a fun painting tool my special students feel free to dig in.  I love watching them choose colors and ask for more and more and more paper!

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Project: Stencil sponge painting

Artist: autistic sweetie who loves texture


The kids have been loving the Crayola watercolor trays that were donated for our classes.  Usually, I print off some “coloring sheets” for the kids to paint.  Then once they are “warmed up” I give them white paper and see what happens.  This student came up with the idea for this painting on his own.  He called it “Birds Flying on a Summer Day”  It is such a happy painting.  It makes my heart soar!

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Project: Watercolor

Artist: A 13 year old creative thinker


You can tell watercolor is one of my favorites too.  Here is another watercolor project – Crayon resist paintings.  This project was so super fun!  We drew on white paper with white crayons then painted over the drawings with watercolor paint.  The paint makes the crayons creations pop!  This was like magic for some of the kids!  I can still hear the oohs and ahhs!  I also was excited to see how clever some of my kiddos are as they tilted their papers to better see where the crayon marks were!

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Project: Crayon resist painting

Artist: A special DS sweetie who LOVES color!


If painting is a favorite why not take it outside?  We enjoyed a warm sunny day outside with our paint brushes and some cups of water.  The teachers enjoyed the simple no mess nature of this project.  The kids were thrilled with the endless canvas of the pavement.  I LOVE, LOVE these Melissa and Doug paintbrushes with super sized handles – all kinds of fingers can get a grip on them!

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Project: Outdoor water painting

Artist: A joy filled superstar with CP


We do scratch art about once a semester, but we could do it even more.  The kids love tracing hands, coming up with their own designs, or just spending a whole class period removing the black and making a clean colorful paper!  Each creation ends up so unique.

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Project: Scratch Art

Artist: 10 year old buddy with a muscular disorder.  He might walk slow, but his art work sure soars!


These are just a few of my favorites!  Thanks for taking a peek at our gallery.  I hope you see the heart of some special children in each of these creations.  Pretty amazing to be doing art with these little people.  I am truly blessed.

 

Another Year

A lego set being put together, a blanket tent in the living room, audio books and an afternoon baseball game all mean the same thing….homeschool is done for another year and my kids are enjoying their free time today.  We haven’t just survived 7th, 5th, 2nd and pre-school…could I say that we have thrived this year without sounding prideful?  I am proud of what I have learned as a homeschool parent and am thrilled to see how the kids are advancing.

It has become a yearly tradition to post the milestones of each child at the end of our school year.  Here goes for 2015!

 

IMG_9081Little Man our 4 year old pre-school graduate

biggest accomplishment: knows all the letter sounds, knows all the books of the Bible and stopped sucking his thumb!

favorite food: noodles

What he wants to be when he grows up: a race car driver

I am kinda against homeschooling pre-school….but, he wanted workbooks to use when the other kids were doing school work.  I gave in and bought him workbooks.  It is crazy how much he has learned just by “sitting in” and listening to the big kids.  I really think we could not school him at all.  The last one is the easiest….I guess! 🙂

 

 

IMG_9096Little Monkey or 2nd grade graduate

biggest accomplishment: reading everything she can get her hands on!  We also are proud of her for pushing through her shyness to take an art and dance class.

favorite book: Pippy Longstocking

favorite food: a Chinese dish made from sliced potatoes and rice of course.

What she wants to be when she grows up: a baker or a teacher

Proud of this girl who is learning to be more independent.  Her favorite thing is still to be close to mom.  She is our rule following, stable, steady one.  She is stepping outside of the box and creating things with legos without a manual and she loves to go on adventures through reading in books.

 

IMG_9059Roo our 5th grade graduate

biggest accomplishment: she fell in love with science through astronomy this year.  She also continues to improve her artistic abilities adding music via piano to the mix.

favorite book: The Bronze Bow

favorite food: dumplings (the Chinese kind not the southern kind)

what she wants to be when she grows up: a beautician or an artist

It is crazy how artistic this girl is.  She is always thinking outside of the box and pushing to do it like no one else.  She and little monkey truly are best friends and they compliment each other so well.  She loves listening to audio books as she is painting.  We finally found a spelling curriculum that has helped her (and her mom) – Spell U See.   Love it.

 

IMG_9119Soccer Dude our 7th grade graduate

biggest accomplishment: He has always hated writing, but this year decided for every writing assignment he would write a poem….because they are shorter! HA!  Turns out he really can write some amazing poetry.

favorite pass time: training and playing with his lovebirds

Soccer Dude is our history buff and he loves reading anything he can get his hands on.  It seems so crazy that we are starting to plan for High School.  But then again, I knew this was coming….it is taking me longer and longer to prep his lessons.  There are a lot of cob-webs I have needed to dust out to remember what I learned in 7th grade!  We are planning on him doing North Star next year.  We are hoping this online school might be a good fit for him and will be what he does for High School.

 

I close with sharing one of his poems with you.

I Made a Big Decision – by Soccer Dude

I made a big decision a little while ago.
I don’t remember what it was, which probably goes to show
That many times a simple choice can prove to be inconsequential
Even though it might seem essential.

I must have been distracted when I left home because
Left or right – I’m sure I went (I wonder which it was!)
Anyway, I never veered; I walked in that direction
Utterly absorbed, it seems, in quiet introspection.

For no reason I can think of, I’ve wandered astray
And that is how I got here today.

 

 

Exam week

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If one of my professors in university had been a hot red-head – I would have been day dream’n and getting nothing done.  Oh, wait…I was day dreaming but it was because the red-head was sitting behind me and distracting me!  Now that guy is the professor.

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He has given his final lectures for the semester and is now administering exams.  We both can hardly believe that his first year of teaching English is done.  Although teaching here has been drastically different from what and where he has taught in the past, He has loved it and is ready to tackle another year.

He has been able to share more content than we ever could have imagined and the time investing in students has been rich.  Not only that, his students have asked if he will be their teacher again next year.  Now that makes ya feel good!  More good news, he has been assigned more literature classes come fall and the department has asked him to give lectures on cross-cultural communication to the other staff.  All in all a great note to end on.

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It has been a great semester, but we are looking forward to a change of pace.  As soon as Hubby gets the last exam graded we will be boarding a train for Beijing.  From there we are headed to the States.  Main objective for our trip is to get our youngest son a new leg…a prosthetic with the toes broken off…not so useful.  We also are looking forward to some American food and time with friends and family.

The summer will go fast for sure….which is a good thing because we are excited to get back here and start another year  of doing what we love doing best!

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Pizza Party Good-bye

There are moments when you know you have come a long way (and that there is so much further to go…Amen?!)    I had one of those moments as I talked to one of the teachers at the orphanage.  They had planned a pizza party for our last Friday class together as a way to say good-bye for the summer.  My heart was so warmed!

I have been hoping for deep life-giving relationships with the workers at the children’s home.  I volunteered at the orphanage for a year in the past and never really was able to build relationships with fellow workers.  I still am in awe over the open doors and how favored my time at the children’s home has been since our return almost a year ago.

 

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They bought all the ingredients for the pizza and set it up in the orphanage “apartment.”  One of the classrooms is set up like a home, full kitchen, living room and bedroom, to teach the kids what a home is like.  Both of my classes crammed into the tiny apartment and with remarkable attention watched as I mixed the dough and made pizza for them.  I looked up from kneading the dough to their sweet faces starring at me – it felt like we were a family.  I love them all so much, at times I feel like I could just burst.

 

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We were using the common oven you can find in these parts; they are the size of a toaster oven.  There was a lot of waiting as we baked the dough, put on the toppings, baked again.  The pizzas were very small so we went through this process four times.  The kids waited patiently and entertained themselves by looking at photos of themselves as I took them.

One Chinese teacher carried the first pizza over her head and exclaimed to the kids – “Your American pizza party!”  It made me laugh as I took in our small square treat.  They had decided to top the pizzas with Chinese hotdog (it is like spam in my opinion) mutton, carrot, onion and tomato.  I did put my foot down and told them I would bring the pizza sauce.  “No, ketchup is not what we use in the States as Pizza sauce!”  HaHa.   So “American pizza” is a term I would use loosely when describing what we ate…but the kids sure did enjoy it.  The beauty of these kids, they are honest.  So I know they weren’t pretending to like it!

 

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The second pizza was cut into tiny squares and carried up and down the hallway of the orphanage to be shared by the kids who are not in my classes.  It was so fun to hear the excited exclamations over eating pizza…and in between meal time at that!  We also had a steady stream of nannies coming to take a peek at the recipe which led to us planning a shopping trip over the weekend so I could introduce them to the import store where you can buy mozzarella cheese.  Relationship building at its best and I think I might just have started to become a part-time cheese supplier.  Who knew?

What a great way to end the semester.  I hate to see it come to an end; it feels like we just got things rolling.   I have high hopes that the 6 weeks we have off won’t set us back, but I will be able to pick up the relationships right where we left off come the fall.

Hmmm….maybe we will have to start the fall semester with me planning a cookie party for them at my apartment?  Already planning and dreaming for next semester!