Learning to Laugh

late winter 2012 homeschool 016In Maine, near the end of July, our leaves begin to change, while our mailboxes are ambushed with endless Back-to-School sale flyers.  As a public school teacher for many years, I would scream at the wind and to anyone else who would listen, “I am still on summer vacation; leave me alone!”  But, like most mothers, I would get sucked in to those early back-to-school sales–you know, underwear and socks are the cheapest at this time, the latest clothing fashions are calling out our kids’ names, and the art supplies are next to nothing.  Nevertheless, just as seasons come and go, our paths of life do occasionally change directions.

For me, my life did an unforeseen, but yet, pleasant U-turn.  In less than three years, I went from a family of four to a family of six, resigned from my full-time teaching position, and started to home school.  Talk about a major transition!  Now, most of my homeschooling mornings start off with two sets of little girl feet–running around the house while their giggles ricochet off the walls of our now seemingly shrunken ranch house.

We have four children: our boys are ages nine and twelve, and our daughters (adopted from China in 2008 and 2011) are ages four and seven. I would have to say that homeschooling is the most ambitious job I have ever experienced–especially since my degree is in secondary not elementary education!  Of course, my children are at different levels in their educational experiences: one has an overabundance of energy along with dyslexic tendencies, two have attachment issues which require a lot of attention, and my mild mannered preteen, who has high academic standards, is frequently waiting for his mom to guide him in his studies. 

So, how does one person, who is certainly a work-in-progress herself, serve and educate these four diverse children?  Obviously, there is not a canned approach in teaching that will work for each child; after all, every day is a new, unpredictable adventure when working with children. Clearly, differentiated instruction is needed so that each child gets his needs met.  Organization, simplicity, and flexibility are the three goals attempted in our daily homeschooling routine.

Organization

There is no doubt that running a household, including cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, is a full-time job in itself.  But, how does one teach children effectively while at the same time maintain continuity in the daily tasks needed to oversee family life?  Well, for me, I plan my children’s academics two weeks in advance; this includes looking at the family calendar to adjust our school day accordingly.  For example, when I knew that I was going to be away for a homeschooling conference, I made sure that my children had their work done ahead of time so that dad could spend time with them: playing games, reading, and, of course, “family” grocery shopping!  Routine is so important and does promote security for all, especially for my daughters who were adopted.  Each child has a checklist of chores, although my four year old and I complete chores together.  What a great way to continue that mother-daughter bonding!  On the back of their doors, there is a checklist (with pictures for the younger ones) entitled “Morning Duties”; this reminds them to do the following before coming out for breakfast: get dressed, make beds, pick up toys, and brush hair.  Once breakfast is done and teeth have been brushed, each child has a small list of chores to complete which is certainly based on both age and developmental appropriateness.  Keep in mind that I take full advantage of potential bonding times with my daughters during this process: brushing and fixing their hair, being in the room while they get dressed, and sneaking in many kisses and hugs. Having the older siblings guide the younger ones in this morning routine is such a blessing; I love seeing our daughters continue to develop solid attachments with their big brothers.   Eventually, once our chores are done, and the school books and sharpened pencils are placed on the kitchen table, we all reconvene to the living room to complete family devotions.

Simplicity

Although we have morning chores, our home, by all means, is not immaculate.  Our goal is to have fun while working as a team: only the absolute necessities required for a smooth household are done.  This means the dishwasher is emptied and loaded, laundry may be started, counters and the table wiped down, and trash emptied. As far as the simplicity in academics is concerned, there are several manageable ways to teach a variety of subjects to the multilevel masses.  For one thing, social studies, science, art, and Bible are combined as much as possible.  While math, spelling, penmanship/keyboarding, and language arts are individual studies, they are all done at the same designated time.  While the independent subjects are being completed, I do much of my preschool training with the newest edition to our family who has become quite the conversationalist in English and is quickly learning her letters and sounds.  Many times, someone needs mom’s help and so, the other children take turns doing activities with their little sister such as puzzles, blocks, Legos, dress up, or playing outside.  Forming an attachment and a trust with siblings is equally as important to the emotional health and stability of an adoptive child.

Flexibility

Flexibility is certainly the one area that I am constantly working at.  Because I was a public school teacher for so many years, it is hard to set aside that educational agenda not to mention I have type-A tendencies!  For one thing, I still “over plan” my days; I am constantly both reminding and reassuring myself that it is okay to move that science experiment over, or we can finish that history project later in the week.   My priority has to be for my girls to frequently see my willingness to drop my agenda to meet theirs. During lunch time, I like to check my email, but it never fails, one of my daughters wants to be in my lap.  Sometimes, when we are right in the middle of doing a math problem or reading a story, my youngest wants me to hold her or will begin to act like a clown.  Though this can be frustrating at times, I have to remind myself that homeschooling is all about flexibility; this is why we chose this lifestyle in the first place.

angels and costumes 2011 014Although organization, simplicity, and flexibility are crucial in running a tight homeschooling ship, a sense of humor must overshadow these goals.  I believe all lessons in life can be achieved more effectively when people are joyful and love to laugh.  We have been blessed with two children who love to entertain us both with creative dress-up and silly skits; they are always enticing my two more serious children to relax as well as reminding mom to do the same.  Fortunately, for all of us, these acts of humor occur just when home school is getting too serious.  Doing life together and creating a family atmosphere full of playfulness certainly makes learning exciting and worthwhile.

This article was first published in Adoption Today, August 2012. 

This online magazine may be purchased for a small fee.

 

Doing the Bottle-Again!

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAI cannot believe I am writing another post about “doing the bottle”-same philosophy, different child.

It will be three years in May.  Our daughter left the only home she knew: an orphanage.  When she arrived to her forever home, she acted like she’d owned the place!  Church was the same-blowing kisses, smiling, and definitely not shy!   Really, our youngest daughter just blended right in with everyone!

However, as I look back now, I see the red flags!

She started kindergarten this past fall; she seemed so happy. . .

But then, the scary dreams started to come.  Last month, she received a doll; the trauma continued to unfold even more.  Suddenly, I had a clingy, weepy five year old who was constantly saying, “I love you, Mommy.  I just want to be with you.”   This week, she told her teacher about her latest dream: babies belong in cages.  And yes, I cried on the phone when the teacher called! But why would the trauma occur over two years later?  At church, she was hugging everyone; I nearly died when she kissed someone right on the lips!  And just tonight, while grocery shopping with her daddy, she went over and hugged someone that her father knew!

These two articles have been so helpful to me: Post-Orphanage Behavior In Internationally Adopted Children & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Post-Institutionalized Children.

Time for a new plan-back to baby mode!

  • Switching her to half-day kindergarten,
  • Holding her during all meals and feeding her
  • Rocking her every night and yes, “Doing the Bottle” with warm milk
  • Reading more books with her sandwiched between mom and dad
  • Removing her from children’s church-for now, anyway
  • And . . . praying, that the Lord will remove these deep wounds, replacing them with His healing power

Psalms 147: 3: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds [curing their pains and their sorrows].

 

soiliettes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Game Your Way through Science

I am a home schooling mom who loves to study history through reading, writing, and the arts. Taking a year off to travel the world with my family sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

But . . .

I do not like science.  And, I especially, detest reading a bunch of boring facts from a textbook!  Seriously, when you were a student, did you really retain that textbook information? To be truthful, math isn’t my favorite subject either, but I have managed to stay sane by using Math-U-See and Teaching Textbooks.  Love them!

Here is my solution in teaching a science unit to a multiaged, multileveled class or family.

Create a board game!

Step #1: Choose a book.  We used Apologia’s  Exploring Creation with Astronomy.

Creative Science projects

Step #2: Gather a variety of different leveled text: picture books with some wording, several Usborne books, a solar system mobile kit ($6 at TJ Maxx), and the above text.

Side Note: On a budget? Ask a librarian to help you gather the different leveled text for a unit.

Step #3: We created the visual first.  This prevents the youngest from saying,“When are we going to make the planets, Mom?”

Step #4:  We focused on one planet a week until the unit was covered. It took us four months to complete this science topic.  My children were given some colorful sticky notes and were given these directions: “Today, we are going to focus on the planet Mars.  Find three to five facts to share with your family.  Mark the pages with sticky notes, and do not forget to use both the table of contents and index to help you.”

rough draft

Step #5: Next, have the children share their facts with each other; then, as a group, reword the information into game questions.  This is a great way to teach them how to both analyze and synthesize the information.  I promise they will never forget it this information!

Step #6:  Finally, during the course of studying God’s planets, we began to design and create the game.  Below are some photos.

We taped the poster board tightly onto the newly sprayed black game board.

And . . . sprayed painted the maze  ORANGE!

I found these stickers at the Dollar Store.  Great for creating our game pieces.

Here is our old Candy Land box with a new, “spacey” look to it!

Step #7:  : By the time we were done,  over one hundred questions had been created.  Our oldest son typed them out, rewording where necessary.  This is just another way to incorporate writing!  Finally, we created a template for the game cards and printed them onto colorful card stock.

academic fair planets 014

Step #8:  Finally, it was time to write the directions.  Using the online Candy Land game directions as a model, we wrote our own.  Many compromises were made on how the rules were going to be orchestrated; however, the healthy collaboration between the two boys far exceeded the disagreements.

academic fair planets 007 Five months later:  We have now played the game several times.  Unlike their anti-science-teaching-mother, the boys could still answer the majority of the astronomy questions-phew!  Gaming your way through science is not a bad idea!  I think next week we will blow rocks into space by creating  some volcanoes! Stay tuned!

Blessings Beyond Borders

Most, who adopt internationally, realize that the chances of being reunited with birth parents is extremely unlikely.  For us, we adopted our first daughter Juliese from China in July 2008.  Though she spent a great deal of time in an orphanage, she also spent an entire year with her foster family who deeply loved her.  How do I know this?  Well, in May 2012, the Lord called us back to China to adopt our second daughter Joelle.  While spending time in Guangzhou, our oldest daughter’s foster family agreed to meet us; it was such a blessing to visit their home and learn more about our daughter’s past.  Just recently, my daughter received a blessing in the mail from her foster family: two cross-stitched pillows with very pink ruffles.

Four years ago, we met another family who lived only thirty minutes away from us.    Thankfully, we were able to all travel together during the Beijing Olympics to adopt our daughters: Emily and Juliese.  Since then, our families have become very close, and these girls have developed a sister-like relationship.  This relationship is so crucial to their emotional development.  And years from now, these two girls will be able to lean on each other if and when they do struggle with an aspect concerning their personal identities. Getting together monthly and spending special days together (i.e. Gotcha Day, Chinese New Year, holidays) have become vital in preserving this friendship.  Somehow, along the way, our entire family became part of their family–a true, yet, unexpected blessing!

Because of this close relationship, I have often worried about our youngest daughter Joelle who we adopted from China in 2011.  She was not in a foster home and spent her first three years in an orphanage.  How were we going to provide clues from her past?  After all, like her older sister, she, too, needed some stability and a friend who had shared a similar adoption journey.  However, the Lord continues to amaze us with His blessings for our daughters.  While in China the second time, I received an email from a lady named Lydie.  She, too, had adopted from the Jining SWI orphanage.  Later, I found out that Lydie had set up an exclusive Facebook page, filled with newspaper articles and never-seen-before pictures, for families that had adopted from this orphanage.  At the end of May, I joined this Facebook page.   Amazingly, I have been able to connect with many families whose children were in the same orphanage with Joelle–some were even there with Joelle!  Next year, several families in this group will be traveling to our home state of Maine and see these children reunited.  Not too long after connecting with this group, a family found us on our website; this site shared both our fundraising endeavors and our love for adoption.  On Sunday, June 19, 2011, I received the following email:

My name is Jennifer, and I, too, have adopted a little girl from the Shandong province
(the Jining Orphanage).  I saw that you had adopted back on Mother’s Day-what a
great day you must have had! 

Anyway, as I was looking at your pictures, I noticed that your daughter looked like my daughter’s close friend in the orphanage.  I quickly looked at my pictures that I had, and there is no doubt that your daughter is Samantha’s close friend Qi Qi!

So, when we were in China last summer adopting our daughter Samantha (Chinese name of Zhen), the caretakers told our guide Lillian that Qi Qi, your Joelle, and my Zhen were very
close friends.  They had been in the hospital together and were friends in the orphanage-they even slept side-by-side.  I have a pic of their bed.

We were so sad to leave and really wished we could have brought Qi Qi home with us!  You have no idea how happy that we found QiQi, and she is in a forever family!  The orphanage had told us that she was not up for adoption yet. 

Well, I would really love to hear from you and hope that one day we can get the
girls together.  I would wonder if they would remember each other?

Our Final Blessing

On August 1, 2012, Joelle (Qi Qi) and Samanatha (Zhen) met for the very first time.  Though they could not articulate the words, “Hey, I remember you!”, there was an indescribable, affection between the two girls.  All of us were completely mesmerized by the girls’ level of comfort with each other.  Our families spent three days together; the girls enjoyed exploring the ocean by a lighthouse, giggling at a playground, and watching the big moose at a local animal park.  The last night, we met up with our oldest daughter’s friend Emily and her family.  All four of the Chinese beauties laughed and giggled all night long.  Relaxing in lawn chairs watching the girls swim and play, like they had known each other for years, was a picture that I will have forever etched in my mind and heart forever.

Though many of us may not find our child’s crib mate, we should still fervently search and strive to locate any pieces of his or her past, continuing to develop relationships with other adoptive families.  Even though we may never be able to answer their questions about their biological family, we can still bless them with others who have similar stories.  For us, we will continue to foster these relationships and look forward in experiencing more blessings in the years to come.  Truly, our girls and the families we’ve connected with have been blessed way beyond the borders of this world.

Note: This article was first published in the January 2013 Adoption TODAY. To read more educational articles about adoption, please consider purchasing this online magazine.

Balancing Between Two Cultures

After meeting many adoptive parents throughout the years, I have come to the realization that we all approach our children’s cultures differently. Some pass down personal American traditions to their children whereas others attempt to integrate a variety of cultural aspects into their family. We have tried to balance the two, both in décor and Asian traditions, although I have given up trying to make authentic Chinese food, especially my daughter’s favorite — dumplings.

Our main living area is adorned with Asian artifacts such as a rice hat, a whimsical tapestry, an exquisite fan, and portraits of our daughters in their native costumes. Our oldest often refers to this room as “Her China” room. Ironically, when we redecorated our living room, I discovered some Waverly fabric at a local discount store. This burgundy, toile fabric did not have the traditional Colonial Williamsburg flare to it but rather an Asian scene displayed with ladies playing flutes, children running around a nearby stream, and men working in a garden. Stamped on the inside of this fabric were the words: Canton Gardens; we later found out that our oldest daughter’s city of birth originally had that name. Apparently, there is still a garden in Guangzhou, China, that one can visit.

During the Christmas season, our daughters have two special dresses, both an American and a Chinese one. Interestingly, my oldest seems to prefer her Asian dress more. While in China, I made a point to purchase a variety of different sized dresses; I only wish that I had bought more. They have worn these dresses not just for Christmas, but for other special days, such as Forever Family Day and Chinese New Year .

I have always disliked the family tradition of tearing down our Christmas tree on New Year’s Day. What a waste to keep a tree up for only five weeks. However, this past year, we packed all of our traditional ornaments away, leaving only white, sparkling lights. Then, we redecorated our tree with hand-blown glass ornaments in shapes of birds, pine cones and winter animals.

The finishing touch was adding our collection of Asian decorations. It was on this day that we declared our new tradition: our Chinese New Year’s tree. As a family, the kids voted to also keep the tree up until the Chinese New Year was over. Needless to say, the girls were thrilled. Now, throughout the year, our family is in constant search for new ornaments to adorn the next year’s tree.

During the first week of February, the girls and I dress up in Chinese attire and attend the annual Chinese New Year celebration in Portland, Maine. What jubilation! There is so much to do — a dragon parade, a recital put on by Asian dancers, Chinese food to sample, and booths filled with Asian gifts. My daughters love going to the craft room to make authentic decorations of China — Chinese lanterns, feathered hacky-sacks and Chinese calligraphy.

To make this day complete, we head off for “real” Chinese food, and everyone is happy that mom is “not” in that kitchen. Watching my oldest devour her vegetable and meat filled dumplings makes my heart smile.

Though most of our traditions occur within the home, going to the Chinese New Year is an important one as well. Having our daughters see other adoptees with their American parents really reminds the girls that all cultures, regardless of skin color, can be families, too.

This article was first published in Adoption Today, December 2012

This online magazine may be purchased for a small fee.

Twenty Years and Counting

Twenty years ago today, June 20, 1992, I married my best friend.  So much has changed since I said, “I do”.  We were married at the young age of 21, while still in college, and pursued our education degrees, feeling called by the Lord to become teachers.  Surprisingly, the topic of how many children only came up once.  Jeff, being from a family of eight, said, “Not eight.”

I, being an only child, said, “Two–one boy and one girl.”

By our tenth anniversary, we had our oldest son; neither of us could foretell that by the time twenty years rolled by we would have four:  two boys homegrown and two girls . . . grown in the heart.

Our life has certainly been a journey of love, commitment, and adventure.  My husband has stuck by me when I was reunited with my birth father, has supported me unconditionally, and has cooked many meals over the years.  He has wept with me when my biological father died of cancer, loved me in spite of my shortcomings, and has never pressured me to fit the stereotype of a traditional wife.  He has embraced my aspirations to write, to teach, and to love other’s children.  And when, I felt the Lord leading me  to stay home full-time and home school, Jeff only encouraged, never condemned my imperfections–such as having a home cooked meal on the table!

Today, there will be no fancy trips away only a simple dinner out.  Our youngest daughter, who we adopted in 2011, is not ready for us to leave overnight.  So, this morning the girls and I did a “pretend” wedding; I loved reliving my own wedding story, sharing with my daughters about our special day.  For the first time, in twenty years, I took out my wedding dress; the girls looked so silly in my over sized dress, but nonetheless, still very beautiful.  How the girls loved picking wildflowers for their hair and getting their toenails painted bright pink!

Right now, as I write this, Jeff is down stairs working on finishing off our daylight basement-never complaining, always positive, embracing whatever life tosses his way. 

I can learn a lot from this man.

Jeff, I pray for eternal blessings of health, love, and happiness for you, for me.  May we continue to walk this life with perseverance and a continued deep faith in the Lord.  I look forward in seeing where the Lord takes us the next ten years.  I love you and would married you every day if I could . . . for the rest of my life.