Thursday, May 28, 2015

No More Karate

It appears that karate will be a thing of the past for Eli. Sadly, we only lasted about two and a half months : (.  I wondered when we started if we would want to stick with it...and I am definitely correct using the word 'we' instead of 'he'.  I always thought that if my child started an activity, that I would make him stay in it for a lot longer....and I was wrong. 

Karate - at least at the place he was taking karate - is NOT for us right now.  Quite frankly, I'm glad he gave it shot, because for the first six weeks or so, he really enjoyed it and looked forward to karate class.  I think he did learn some great things from his instructors, he got to see what the classes were like, and we had a great time at his tournament. I'm actually kinda sad to leave the program just three weeks before he would have 'graduated' to his 'halfway' belt (half white/half yellow).

There were many downsides, though. For one, after he received his next belt, there were few - if any - new techniques for him to learn until he had advanced five or six more times.  Another is that sparring was required for yellow belts and higher...something I don't really want my four year old doing...even if it is only light contact.  I didn't realize this when we originally signed up with the studio. Then there were financial considerations, including the matter of the belt testing fees for every advancement...which I was okay with until the instructor basically told me he passed everyone on the same time schedule as long as their parents paid the fees. Paying for the next belt instead of earning it didn't sit well with me at all...and neither did testing every child every three months and advancing them regardless of how much each child actually improved.

I was willing to stick it out for a little while longer, though...until I realized that karate was not what Eli really wanted to do anymore.  When we first started, he wanted to do karate because his best buddy was in the class, and because Eli thought he was going to learn to be a "real" ninja turtle. As time has gone on, he's realized that this isn't at all what he expected, and he's disappointed. In addition, even though the instructors are great, the kids actually don't do a lot of physical activity in class - they do a lot of standing, watching, and listening - definitely not what Eli needs at this stage of his life.

I'm actually not entirely sure when Eli's interest in the class began to crumble. One day, he was upset about an incident at school and told me he really didn't want to go to karate....and a couple hours later started cheering when he realized that he'd missed the class.  I thought this was weird, but chalked it up to a bad day.  Through the next 2 or 3 classes, it became apparent that Eli now believed that karate was his playtime with his buddy, Luke.  He did everything he could to get Luke's attention; breaking in front of Luke when they lined up, trying to chase Luke, hollering comments at Luke, calling Luke's name repeatedly, etc.  The crazy part of it all is that while he was doing his best to interact with his buddy, Eli was still able to follow every instruction that the instructors gave...he never missed a beat.  Because he was doing what the instructor said, Eli didn't understand why trying to communicate with his buddy wasn't okay during class...and he didn't understand why Luke was trying so hard to ignore him.  After his last class, I found myself telling my 4 year old child that karate class was 'not his playtime,' and I immediately felt terrible for saying it. I actually apologized to Eli later for fussing at him; after all, he was not actually doing anything wrong.

We had some family discussions that night; the result of which was the decision to withdraw from the karate class. I felt like it was too much pressure for Eli to have to learn how to 'not play' in a class at his age...particularly a class that he's no longer interested in. Eli surprised me by not being sad at all about leaving karate.

Another decision that came out of our family discussion was to let Eli try some swimming lessons instead.  He's always loved the water and has been begging to swim since his school's pool closed at the end of summer last year. There are some things we're doing differently this time, though. First, Eli wants to swim because he already loves to do it...and he's not worried about becoming a fictional character or horsing around with his friends. We also decided to go ahead and try private lessons, knowing that he would have an easier, more enjoyable time in a one-on-one setting.  We also only signed up for 6 lessons...a very short time to stick to, but long enough to find out whether he wants to continue or not.  In the same discussion, Eli reminded us that he's also wanted violin lessons. We are currently considering a series of 9 individual lessons over the summer - again, just to see if he's interested enough to continue. I'm sure we'll have some new decisions to make this fall, when swimming is done for the year, but in the meantime, I'm glad that the karate chapter is behind us.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Adoption Talk Link-Up: Answering "Those" Questions

It's funny...I always expected, pre-adoption, that we would get more questions than we do, especially since we were going to be an interracial family.  But honestly, most people simply remark that the kids are cute/smart/funny/doing-something-they-definitely-shouldn't-be-doing-because-I-looked-away-for-almost-half-a-second.

We do occasionally get asked weird questions, though, and I handle it differently every time. Most questions are usually simple and easy to answer, and any question I don't want to answer I stick with my standby of "That's personal." However, there are definitely two questions that I really wish people would quit asking. The first is: "Will you tell him he's adopted?"  Ummm...first, that's not your concern...second he already knows...and third, if he didn't know, he's sitting right in front of you and he's not deaf. Thanks for making him feel weird about how he joined our family, though.  The other is the classic "Is he yours?  I mean, really yours?". Yes. Yes, he's mine. Didn't you just hear him call me "mom"? 

We have also had our share of hurtful/difficult questions, though these have primarily come from acquaintances who thought they knew everything about our situation, and didn't. The questions "Why aren't you doing IVF?" and "Don't you want a real baby?" that I used to get from people we knew at our former church used to send me into a tailspin of anger.  As far as the former 'friend' who suggested that her kid was better than mine because her kid was born to her...that was more than 3 years ago, and I still haven't figured out what to say. 

In the course of the last couple of years, we also have had some now-funny awkward situations. Like the time I got chased through the grocery store by a woman peppering me with insistent (personal) questions. Even though I politely responded that we don't share personal information with strangers, she got louder and louder...and by aisle 15, I was desperate to get out of the store.  The worst part was that she was an employee!  Another time, in the same store a lady assumed that Eli was Chinese and began pestering me about his ethnicity.  I eventually found out that she was opening a language school and she actually said that 'he should learn Mandarin anyway because he looks Chinese.'  Wow. Just wow.  After a moment of stunned silence, in which my jaw actually dropped open, I just stared at her and walked away. I changed grocery stores for a while after that, and much to Eli's delight the new store gives him a free cookie every time we visit : ).

We have also had situations that were definitely not funny...ever. There was one particular instance, while in a popular pizza restaurant, that we had to deal with a man who deliberately sat near us, with his 3 companions, and proceeded to make loud, rude (racist & anti-adoption) comments while we were eating. Thankfully, Eli didn't understand a word, and when I quietly confronted them and told the man and his friends to stop, they did.  The manager also heard, and jokingly asked me if I wanted him to 'spill some tea on that guy' before he told me that our meal was now on the house.  As awful as the situation could have been, it was awesome to have a great manager to defuse the situation and support us with a kind gesture.

I'm quite sure the questions and situations will never end, but it really is easier in our very diverse city, and it doesn't hurt that there is a large community of foster families in our area and in our current church. In the meantime, I hope to handle people's curiosity as gracefully as possible, without sacrificing my child's dignity or right to privacy.

No Bohns About It

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up....Selecting New Curriculum Materials

This is the wonderful time of year when most families are wrapping up their school years...but we tend to go year-round. Since our homeschooling is student-led, we don't have a good reason to stop, unless Eli decides he needs a break.  Eli actually loves to do schoolwork (?!) and he really enjoys the Montessori-style activities that we offer. However, as the year is coming to an end, it's time to take stock of where we are and make some curriculum decisions. Some of our choices are still working well for us and just need a little tweak, but we are definitely ordering some new materials, too.

For reading, we are going to continue as we are. We don't really use a specific curriculum (though Grandpa occasionally uses Horizons FastTrack C/D with Eli), and I think I'm going to stick with the trade book route we're on. Our public library offers a summer reading program and prize, and I think that will be the bulk of Eli's reading instruction this summer.  The library also rewards kids for keeping a journal of the books the kids have read, so he will get some writing in, too!  I'm actually going to encourage him to keep his journal as a MS Word document, like we did last summer.

However, I'm also looking beyond summer. Since he's now completely finished with the first grade ELA workbook we were using (Disney School Skills), it is definitely time to find something new. We have a first grade SchoolZone book, but he outgrew it before we really got a chance to use many of the activities...most of the material it covers is now too easy for Eli. Since he's now confidently reading at an early second grade level, is able to write his own sentences, and can write words neatly, we decided that a spelling program might be the most beneficial way to continue to build his reading/writing fluency. After researching and looking at reviews for a variety of programs, we decided that Bob Jones University Press's Spelling 2 looks like a fantastic fit for Eli's learning style and ability.  We also love that Bible verses are included as copy work.

Thankfully, we are pretty set for math. We've been using (and love-love-loving) the Life of Fred series. We are still reading through the 'Butterflies' book, and it's working extraordinarily well for us. I will order the next book, 'Cats', soon, as we are quickly moving through this one. I'm still using a couple of supplemental materials (Star Wars Workbooks and Montessori activities/apps) for the concepts that Eli needs to practice (or to give him something to do in the car), but there aren't any major changes that need to happen with our math curriculum.

In social studies, though, even though we are going to continue with 50 States Friday, P and I both think we're ready for a change and that Eli is ready for a little more geography and history than we've been giving him. Especially since we've skimped on social studies so often with our blended approach - we definitely need something a little more structured.  We ended up deciding to use two different resources, one of which is Bob Jones University Press's Heritage Studies 2.  The preview of the book seems to give a nice, simple overview of geography (with beautiful illustrations) and a simple introduction to US History. After reading the sample, I do have some reservations about this selection, but we'll give it a try. The other resource we are going to check out is "History Pockets."  I noticed these little books on someone's blog during the weekly apologies that I don't remember whose it was!  We decided to start with History Pockets:Native Americans, since it aligns well with two other "History Pockets" topics we think Eli would enjoy later (US History and Ancient Civilizations).

Science is another area we feel like we need a change. Eli LOVES science and soaks up information like a sponge.  He has completed almost all of the experiments that came with his SNAP kit, and has been really wanting to do more. He received a general science experiment kit for his birthday that we've used a couple of times, and that we definitely need to use more often. He LOVES Montessori science apps, and they that teach so much: dinosaurs, planets, parts/types of animals/insects, parts/types of flowers, etc. At this point, though, he's showing clear readiness for something a little more structured than we've given him so far. Recently, I stumbled across some science resources on Hoagie's Gifted Page that we found really intriguing. Dr. Rebecca Keller wrote a series of science books to give kids background information and vocabulary in biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and astronomy. After LOTS of discussion, we decided to start with Chemistry Pre-Level 1 and Biology Pre-Level 1.  We were originally going to start with Dr. Keller's books on physics and astronomy, but we think Eli's interest levels and background knowledge are slightly higher for biology/chemistry - not to mention that having basic chemistry knowledge would help him understand topics in physics - like chemical energy. I also have a small microscope that I've been wanting to get out and show Eli...and what a great excuse!

Art and music still tend to be rather laissez-faire around our house, but I'm actually okay with that - partly because we tend to do a lot of it anyway, and partly because I feel like Eli is very much in an exploration phase and I want him to enjoy what he's doing.  We have begun to use Art For Kids Hub as a starting point for many projects, and Eli is a big fan of painting and clay-sculpting. I've started teaching Eli piano a few times, and although this often gets placed on the back burner, Eli learns quickly and doesn't forget much between lessons. He also loves to sing in church choir and to play the hand bells (the church has color-coded ones for kids). The biggest change we might make has to do with the fact that Eli really, really, really wants to play violin...and we have one for him...but I have yet to even attempt to find an instructor in our area.  Is it not ironic that he picked the one instrument that nobody in the family plays?? The summer would be a great time for him to start, I think we're going to try, especially since church choir is on break until fall.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Karate Tournament

Someone had his first karate tournament : ). He did a "high flying jump kick" challenge, which was super cute. Then, he won a small medal for breaking 3 boards.  He was very proud of himself : ), and we are proud of him too!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up...The One With the Book Sale!

I love books...and I adore great sales!  I found out years ago that, twice a year, a local book publisher/distributor has a massive sale to liquidate their 'extras'.   All books are 50-80% off of the cover price...and some books are even cheaper. This time, they had a special deal where you could fill a box (with preselected titles) for a $25 per box, or you could fill a plastic shopping bag (again, only with certain books) for $5. The week, they had their sale and I took both boys shopping. We had a great time and came home with some awesome choices!

Some of these books are titles that Eli has wanted all year, and I made a list to look for at the sale. In fact, two of the titles he wanted were included in the $5 bag...and the original price on them was more than $20 per book!  We were able to find most of what we were looking for, and then some.  W even got excited when he found a Bubble Guppies book and a Thomas the Tank Engine book : ).  We even brought home two science kits (not pictured): one on dinosaurs and one on carnivorous plants. Each kit has different activities to go along with a book, and they look like lots of fun. I was excited to purchase them for 80% off of the original price.

This is great for us, because Eli is really zooming through a lot of reading lessons lately, and is going to need some reading material for the summer. It won't be long before he tackles the summer reading program at the library again.  He blasted through his Language Arts this week, and the last two chapters we're working on are primarily review. He's been able to complete the Language Arts assignments with little or no help, and I think he's really ready to move on. He worked on learning the sight words "about" and "because" this week, and we checked in to see how many sight words he knew already (almost all).

We are continuing to read "Frog and Toad Are Friends", and I think it's the perfect book for Eli's reading level: difficult enough that he's learning new words, but not difficult enough to be frustrating.

In math, Eli is going through a period of intense learning again. He's been in a period of consolidation/practice for a while, and has just recently started to take off again. We're still working in Life of Fred: Butterflies, but I took a little time off this week to do some skills practice with him in his Stars Wars workbooks. We've been working on representing place value with base 10 blocks and on adding 10 to a two digit number. Then, Eli got excited about counting by twos - partly because it was introduced in LoF, partly because he found a 2's worksheet with a Star Destroyer (from Star Wars) on it.  After he mostly figured out the 2's to 30, he asked about 3's, so I showed him briefly how to do it.  He got really absorbed in his work, so I was able to sneak off and get a picture!

Working with a combination of Montessori beads (iPad) and base 10 blocks

We also took some time for me to teach him a card game that involves all of the pairs of numbers that add up to 10; I'm hoping to practice this with him this week!

W has been really trying to get in on all of the fun. He really wants to do 'work' while Eli's working, so I'm taking advantage of it.  This week, when Eli was working on Language Arts, I've been setting W up with art supplies: markers, scissors, etc. One night, in fact, he spent 20 minutes cutting up a piece of paper...and had a marvelous time!  I love seeing him really focus and concentrate.  He is definitely starting to learn a few letters of the alphabet. I think he is now beginning to recognize "A" and "B", though he does think that "B" and "E" are the same. He's curious about everything, and is still constantly asking "what that?  what that?".  He is definitely learning a few color names, even though he doesn't always associate them with the correct colors : ), and he's learned quite a few shape names: star, rectangle, circle, triangle.  He's also getting better at matching items that are alike. When Eli was working on math today, W went and got out his "Inchimals" and we talked about "big", "small", and "same size".  W also did some tracing activities on the iPad this week, working on his fine motor skills and visual perception.  He's getting a LOT better about dressing/undressing and following simple one and two-step directions.  He still really doesn't understand a lot of what we say to him, but he is attempting to say a lot more.  He's trying to repeat a lot of what he hears, and I was particularly impressed when he put together the sentence "He under table" when I asked where Eli was earlier today. 

All in all, we've been productive!  We have a few more things to finish up for Language Arts, but I'm looking forward to a summer of field trips and fun!

Weekly Wrap-Up

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Adoption Talk Link-Up: Foster Care and Adoption

When we decided so long ago to adopt, we had no idea where that road would lead us!  We explored every avenue of adoption that we could think of before making a decision. I'll never forget that one night, years ago, when we'd collected adoption information from as many countries as we could (including ours, both public & private), and went through it all.  After eliminating the possibilities that weren't open to us (mostly because we were fairly young), we had just a few left.  We went to a few orientation seminars, but nothing felt like the right fit.  It took nearly two years to finally make a decision for Korea - and then it was almost two more years before Eli was ours!

Tiny Eli shortly after he came home!

I remember in this time period thinking that we were only going to pursue children who were legally available for adoption...I was determined to say "NO" to foster care.  I didn't want my heart broken. I didn't want P's heart broken.  I really didn't want to care for and love a child (potentially for years) only to have said child taken back to go home to a family that didn't make good decisions.  I really thought that I couldn't handle it - ever.

It brings to mind the old saying about God laughing at our plans...

Because our hearts changed. When Eli came home from Korea, we fell head-over-heels in love with our sunny little boy.  And it wasn't long before we both felt the nudging in our hearts that we should pursue adoption again.

So we researched, though not as much as last time.  We thought we knew what we wanted to do (go back to Korea). But after much discussion, we decided that adopting Korea program wasn't what was right for us right now.  And we really, really wanted to adopt again....and we figured that it would be SO MUCH EASIER if we just did a private domestic adoption. So I began researching agencies. In the meantime, I began to hear about a local agency that specialized in foster care.  I heard about them at church.  In the community.  From friends. 

I fought the idea.  I really did.  What would it do to Eli to have a child in our home that left after 6 months? 9 months? a year?

At some point, P and I decided to go to an information least so that we could confirm that this was not the right path for our family.  We left the meeting that night, intrigued and excited.  We prayed that we were doing the right thing for our family...and sent in the application.  It really didn't take long before we were approved and had a little guy, "W", move into our home.

I can't believe we are now a foster family.   W has already left an indelible mark on us in the short month he's been here. We have learned so much about each other, our strengths, and our weaknesses. We love him, and it will be hard for all of us when he leaves to rejoin his original family.

But we're far enough into this to say that we did the right thing.  P and I know that Eli really wants "somebody to stay forever", but in the meantime, he's learning to be a more giving, caring person. I see him playing and helping W and I see so much of the truly wonderful person that he is.  And we pray that the impact we have on W will stay with him forever....even (because he's so young) if he doesn't consciously remember us.

And while we're fully hoping to adopt again...we feel that we are in the right place at this time.  I don't want to sound corny, but I do feel that we are doing exactly what God would want us to do. Foster care is not the scary scenario that I'd pictured at all.  We do have a hurting child.  He is traumatized by what happened to him. But with God's help, we can help him heal and become stronger.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up...The One With Strawberry Picking and Preschool "Graduation"

We finally had a week where I feel like we accomplished most of our goals!
We even had plenty of time to play outside this week!

This week, Eli graduated from preschool....again. It's the real reason we do a blended version of home school. While he does attend a preschool group during the day, I send his school work with him on a daily basis. It's his second year in 4-year-old pre-k...and next year will be his 3rd. He won't be eligible for Kindergarten for another year, since he just turned 4.  And even then, I am already in discussion with our school district about accommodations for specific acceleration. If they follow through on their promises, I will still be supplying all - or almost all - of his lessons/materials, even in Kindergarten. 

His graduation ceremony was simultaneously awesome and hilarious. The kids performed some songs they'd worked on and demonstrated some skills that they'd mastered. One of their songs was Pete the Cat's "Rockin in My School Shoes."  Eli rocked an air guitar so realistically - and enthusiastically - I nearly fell out of my chair laughing! 

In other school news this week, Eli and I have been finishing some tasks earlier than expected.  We FINALLY finished "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" !  Yay!  I think we're both glad...the book took a lot longer than expected because we missed a few days...and because Eli's interest in the story wasn't very high after a certain point.  However, I am noticing dramatic improvements in his "word attack" skills...he has several methods for figuring out what words are, and his accuracy and fluency are consistently increasing.  Our new book is "Frog and Toad Are Friends."  Eli is excited about his choice and flew through reading a few pages tonight.  He is showing an increased interest in "reading in his head" with certain high-interest books and graphic novels (mostly TMNT and Star Wars Rebels). He's also been devouring his Lego magazine that arrived in the mail this week.  On second thought, perhaps 'devouring' is a poor choice of words after the attendance card incident in karate. In this case, I am thankful to say that I am using the word 'devouring' to mean 'reading with extreme enthusiasm' rather than 'eating with extreme enthusiasm.'

We also completely finished Life of Fred: Apples this week!  I really didn't think we would get through the last few chapters nearly as quickly as we did, but the last two chapters were primarily review - so we zoomed through them in about 15 minutes one afternoon.  We started the next book in the series, Life of Fred: Butterflies this week, too, and have completed chapter 1. Eli is loving the series, and asks to work on it most days of the week.  We have also been working on adding tens, writing/solving addition problems from word problems (now that he can usually read the word problems!), and I've had him reviewing the hundred board, too. 

In geography this week, we were able to complete two states for "50 States Friday": Hawaii and Idaho. We discussed the similarities and differences between islands and peninsulas, and he was able to identify both Korea and Florida as peninsulas.  Science was once again concentrated on plants, parts of flowers and life cycles of plants. I am hoping to include some basic information on plant cells next week.  For all of my great intentions of having Eli work on his SNAP kit this week...we didn't really get to it : (.

W has also had a great week. His preschool teacher did a "career week" with the kids. I don't know how she managed it, but she had a nurse, firefighter, police officer, and a someone from a bakery visit their class during the week and do a career-specific activity with the kids. W had a project to do (assigned Monday, due Friday) where he had to make a picture or collage of a career he was interested in. Honestly, he didn't understand the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?". But he does adore trucks, so I let him pick between firefighter or construction worker, so that we could do a simple truck picture.  We helped him draw some very simple shapes on colored paper (rectangles for the truck and ladder, and circles for wheels), cut them out, and glue them together on a blue background.  He enjoyed the chance to use scissors/glue, and he learned the shape "rectangle."  We've been focusing on the color "red" this week, too, so this was good reinforcement.  We are still working on basic numbers (1-4), rote counting to ten, the alphabet (starting with lower case letters), and recognizing/naming common items.  We are also working on self-help skills, like dressing/undressing, washing hands, and putting away toys before bed.

In the midst of all of this, we managed to visit our favorite strawberry farm today and pick 3 gallons of strawberries!  The boys had a BLAST and a gallon of those strawberries have already found themselves made into delicious strawberry jam!  Another gallon is currently being 'sugared' so that I can freeze them, and the third gallon will be made into MORE jam tomorrow.  I'm so proud of Eli for remembering the steps of making jam from last summer, and that both boys helped "mash" the strawberries for it!  One more trip to the farm for strawberries will give us enough for the year!

Searching for strawberries...another great way to talk about the color red!
Finding big, beautiful strawberries!

Weekly Wrap-Up