Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Category: homeschooling

Homeschooling Advice

For Sonlight’s March Blog Party, the question is, “Share the best homeschooling advice you have been given. What would you advise new homeschoolers?” 

I haven’t been given a lot of homeschooling advice, and most of what I’ve read, I’ve discarded. However,I guess one thing I’ve learned and taken to heart is how little information tests give you about what your student has learned. If you’re interacting with your student deeply every day, you don’t need tests or grades, because you already know where their strengths and weaknesses are. I’m sure that, as they get older, I’m going to need to come up with methods for documenting to others how well my children, are doing. But, at this point, my kids don’t even know what grades are, nor do they really need to. They know where they are doing well and where they are struggling. They don’t need a letter grade to reinforce that to them.

My piece of advice to new homeschoolers, though, would be on a completely different topic. (And I’m sure many would disagree with this advice.) Find a curriculum or approach that works with your kids, and stick with it! I’ve seen too many homeschooling families who are constantly on the hunt for something better. You’re never going to find the perfect curriculum. Find one that works for you, and persevere. Go to homeschooling conventions if you must, but limit the time you spend in the vendor section. It will quickly lead you to a place of discontent. And the constant changes leave your kids with a great deal of uncertainty about what’s coming next. They spend more time getting used to the new approach than they do actually learning. If this was restricted to curriculum choice, this might not be so damaging, but I’ve seen this “constantly searching for the perfect” approach bleed over into other areas of life. So I find homeschooling families who won’t commit to a local church because they’re always looking for a better one. It’s dangerous. That’s my two cents’ worth.

Lunar New Year Birthday

Today was the first day of the three-day Tsagaan Sar, White Month, holiday here in Mongolia. It marks the beginning of the new year, which is apparently the year of the iron rabbit or some such thing. I can never actually remember what year we’re in, but it doesn’t seem to hinder me significantly. Today was also my wife’s 33 birthday, but it tended to get overshadowed by the fact that everything else in town is closed, so we couldn’t really leave the house. We ate out a few nights ago to celebrate and then gave her some presents at breakfast today, but most of the rest of the day was not too far from a normal day for us.

I went ahead and taught Elijah his homeschool. I figure I can’t give him both the American holidays and the Mongolian holidays off of school, so we’re sticking with the American ones. We’ll have to go do some visiting tomorrow, but Fridays are usually pretty light anyway, so we’ll probably be done with school by 10 or 10:30 anyway. In history, I think we’re approaching the end of our Greece study. Today, we looked at Greek agriculture and diet. We’ll wrap up our reading of Greek News tomorrow. In language arts, after much effort, I managed to extract this set of three couplets from Elijah:

Joel played with his cars on the floor
Then he ate an apple up to the core.
Then he goes to watch TV.
He watched a show; he saw a key.
He goes to Mom and tells her, “Come here.”
Then she asks him, “What is it, dear?”

I don’t think I have a budding Alexander Pope on my hands, but I could be wrong. I’ve read a few “professional” poems that aren’t significantly better than that. In science, Elijah was disappointed to hear that we were doing no experiments today (our usual Thursday routine). Instead, we just went over some water facts and then spent some time explaining an experiment from last year that he still had some questions about. I spent most of my time trying to describe air’s “desire” to move from high-pressure areas to low-pressure ones.

I got a little work done this afternoon, but also took time to play a game of Settlers of Catan with Tiffany and Elijah. I had a surprise victory, which happened so rapidly, it actually took me a bit aback. I also baked some lemon bars for Tiffany’s “birthday cake,” since I hadn’t had the foresight to get anything else ready. Elijah wanted me to help him get through a few levels of Plants vs. Zombies, and we watched “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.”

This morning, I also chatted with one of our partners in the US, trying to strategize some things for our future. I’m so glad for our support team at Spring Lake Wesleyan Church. Their team is trying to network with some of our other partner churches to build a synergy that will help us all work together better. I hope that we can really make this happen. I’m also continuing to brainstorm possibilities for countering the paternalistic dependency mindset that the church here has. If anyone has some resources to help me think more deeply about this or some action steps to suggest, I’d love to chat with you about them.

I also did a bit of online chat with one of our local church members who is currently in his hometown for the holidays. He’s facing some difficult family issues, and is having to take some big responsibilities at a young age. I can’t give a lot of specifics but please help me pray about this situation.

Ancient Greek Megachurch

I’ve been reading through Genesis in my devotions as well as in family devotions. This morning’s passage was Genesis 44, the story of Joseph arranging for his cup to be hidden in Benjamin’s grain sack. I’m never quite sure what to do with these narrative passages of Scripture that don’t seem to have a lot of overtly theological content. It’s my idea that Moses wrote them down to be a rallying point for building a national consciousness, so I try not to make personal application in ways that would be totally foreign to that purpose. I was reading a few commentators on this passage, and I was rather amused at Adam Clarke’s mental gymnastics to try to prove that Joseph was not involved in the practice of sorcery, despite the fact that he had a divination cup. What struck me as funny was the irrelevance of the discussion in the context of the story. What does it matter if Joseph was telling the future? The whole story was in the context of a massive deception that he was perpetrating against his brothers. Most of the commentators try to somehow justify the deception by saying that Joseph needed to know if his brothers had really changed. Why? Does our desire to know something about another’s character justify deceiving them? The entire idea strikes me as odd.

Anyway, homeschooling today went fairly smoothly. In history, we talked about the ancient Greeks’ approach to medicine–both those who sought healing from the god Asclepius and those who sought healing from the man Hippocrates–as well as the construction of the Parthenon and the worship of the goddess Athena. Interestingly, our book noted the cost of these projects. I’m trying to compute what they would be in today’s wages. If a skilled craftsman in America makes $15 per hour, then the cost of building the Parthenon would be about $360 million. Even more startling, the cost of the statue of Athena would be about $420 million. I don’t think we have many megachurches today with that kind of budget. In science, we talked about hair and nails–the keratin twins. Pretty intriguing stuff. We watched an entertaining movie about hair and took a quiz (Elijah did quite well), acted as hair detectives to determine who stole the hair products from a popular boy band, and read the nitty-gritty details about nails and nail care. Elijah is now somewhat of an expert on the topic.

I had a little birthday shopping to work on this afternoon, so I traveled across town to look for a particular item. After traipsing in and out of many a shopping center, I finally found the right kind of store. Then it dawned on me that I didn’t know the words to express what I was looking for. So I spent a long time looking around the relatively small store and finally realized I was going to have to ask for what I wanted. I went around Robin Hood’s barn and, in the clumsiest way possible, explained what I wanted to buy. The saleswoman pointed to the item right in front of me. I wanted to kick myself.

We had some American friends over for a couple hours this afternoon as well. They have some young sons, so it was good for our boys to get a chance to play with them, and we had a fun time visiting as well. We have mutual friends in America but don’t know each other well, so these times of fellowship are always welcome.

It’s -8 here, but at least we’re not facing the blizzard conditions of our friends in midwestern America. Bundle up, y’all!

Today did not get off to a stellar start. After going to bed around midnight, I was awakened at 5:00 with a splitting headache. I got up and took some Tylenol but could not get back to sleep. I felt like there was more to be done but nothing had any effect. Finally, I just collapsed on the couch and started watching John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in El Dorado. I haven’t finished it, but so far it’s been a pretty decent flick. I guess I expect as much from Howard Hawks.

So, anyway, exercise went by the wayside today. Fortunately, by 8:00, I was feeling better and able to teach Elijah’s homeschool relatively successfully. We’re still plodding our way through ancient Greek culture in history, today focusing on education and theater. He’s doing well in his reading, working this week on words ending in -lt, -nt and -ft. We also practiced playing “20 Questions,” which he is starting to get the hang of but needs more work. In science, we talked about the skin. I probably learned a thing or two. He had fun with exploring the skin on his arm at this website. It’s still pretty fact-heavy, but it’s interactive enough that it held his attention most of the time.

We all bundled out and braved the cold to celebrate Tiffany’s birthday at Thai Express tonight. Her birthday isn’t until Feb. 3, but since that falls during Tsagaan Sar, we figured we had better celebrate early.

alien abduction

It seems like I had something really inspired to blog about this morning, but I didn’t write it down, so, of course, I’ve forgotten.

In lieu of that inspiring bit of whatever it was, I’ll treat you to a story Elijah wrote in language arts today:

Once upon a time, there was a nice family living together. One night, Joey was walking home when he suddenly saw an alien ship invading from outer space. He never saw an alien ship before. He was excited to see an alien ship. Then Joey saw the alien ship kidnap two people, one from his house and one of the neighbors. Then, the alien ship landed and then the aliens came out. And then, he was interested and not scared. Then, also his father had never seen an alien ship ever. Then the son told his father. And then he looked outside the window. And then he was also interested when he saw the alien ship there. Then the aliens took off and flew around the city; and then, at the airport, landed on a runway. Then they had a plan to trap the aliens. He planned to make a ground trap, kind of like a gun; except it shot kind of like an arrow and little grapple-hook thingies and then it pulled the alien ship down. Then, after the aliens were down on the earth, then he went outside and got the trap ready. And then the alien ship appeared again. Then he put many grapple hooks in the gun and shot all of them up at the alien ship. And they were also connected together. And then, they got it to come down. And then, the aliens came out. And then they shot grapple hooks at the aliens to tie them up, and then they lived happily ever after. The end.

This is a surprisingly non-violent piece of writing by my first grader. Which reminds me of what I think I was going to blog about. It wasn’t that inspired. It was about the other story that he wrote today.

Well, actually he didn’t write it. It was an activity where we took turns telling a story. I would give a few sentences of the story, leave off at some dramatic point, where he would pick it up and give it a few twists of his own, and so on. I started the story innocently enough; it was about a girl named Jenny and her missionary father traveling by canoe down a river in South America to visit another missionary family. I did introduce the mild trauma of a hole in the boat that required some bailing. Then Elijah had his turn. For a while, the story was progressing nicely. Somewhere, however, it took a dark turn. By the end of the story, there were 13 Indians hacked to death by Jenny’s dad’s machete. Jenny’s father himself lay in a pool of blood on the trail with an Indian spear in his chest. I swear that we do monitor what our sons watch on TV; I think this stuff is innate in them. I don’t remember any Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episodes with that exact plot line.

On a brighter note, I ran across a few more familiar lines in Alexander Pope today, especially in “Eloisa to Abelard.” First, there was “Thy eyes diffused a reconciling ray/And gleams of glory brightened all the day,” which inspired a line in Charles Wesley’s “And Can It Be.” Then, about 50 lines later, “How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!/The world forgetting, by the world forgot:/Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!” And then, in Epistle I of “Essay on Man,” “Hope springs eternal in the human breast:/Man never is, but always to be blest:/The soul, uneasy and confined from home,/Rests and expatiates in a life to come.” As Tiffany commented, “This man is a poet’s poet.” I don’t really consider Alexander Pope a household name, but I’m beginning to think the number of his maxims that have entered modern conversation rivals that of Shakespeare.

guest post by Elijah

Mommy and Daddy’s Horse Race
Mommy and Daddy have said they would do a horse race, and it was Mommy versus Daddy so they were racing against each other. And then the person that says “Ready! Set! Go!” is saying “Ready! Set! Go!” And then the gun banged, and Mommy and Daddy’s horses started to run towards Michael and Daniel’s house. Mommy and Daddy got to Michael and Daniel’s house first, and then they were on a turn and were running back towards my house then. And then Daddy’s horse fell down and got back up again. The same thing with Mommy’s horse; it fell down and got back up again. And then their horses started running again back in the direction of my house. And then, there was a tie. Mommy and Daddy both crossed the finish line first. So they both get the gold trophy! And then, the race starts all over again.
The End

Elijah reads a book!

Today was a landmark day for Elijah. He read a book by himself for the first time. Elijah reading "Pam"Granted, the book had a very limited vocabulary, carefully selected from a very limited group of letters, but it’s still a milestone. I hope that someday he has the passion for reading that I had as a child. (I wonder whatever happened to that.)

In history today, we studied foods from the Age of Exploration. We decided that the sailors’ diet of rotten crackers and beer was probably something best left to history. It was a good reminder to us to keep up our intake of fruit and vegetables, though. Fruit, especially, is expensive here, but Tiffany does a wonderful job of making sure we have a well-balanced diet.

In science, we finally left earth science and moved on to biology. I’m not sure I would have known the six characteristics that distinguish living organisms from non-living items, but I do now! Elijah did a little work identifying those characteristics, and then sorting some pictures into living and non-living categories. We also checked out some of the diversity of living things at EcoKids.

In math, we worked on “number between” in the 30 to 40 range, as well as reviewing counting to 70, counting pennies and dimes, simple addition, and writing the 40s.

We also started a new read-aloud book tonight The Light at Tern Rock. It’s recommended for ages 8-12, so I think some of it’s going over Elijah’s head, but it’s short, so we’ll read it this week and then move on.

In my language studies, I finished a book with Ariunbolor today. We’ve been reading the miracles of Jesus. Now, I think we may try a book that has a number of cultural and historical readings in it. Ariunbolor had never seen the book before, but I showed it to her and she seemed willing to give it a try. I feel like I usually have to direct the classes that she teaches, because she doesn’t come loaded with teaching ideas.

In my class with Yendii today, we worked through part of a page in a dictionary. That usually goes pretty slowly, as each word sends us off on some tangential conversation. I’ll think of some example from the Bible and share it with her, or she’ll give some anecdote somehow related to the word. (Yendii asked today how I could remember where so many things were in the Bible. Having a search engine helps, but I told her that I had read the Bible through for the first time when I was 7 years old, and then a number of times after that. She was flabbergasted.) For homework, I used each word that we studied in a sentence, and then started reading the next theme in our book. It had a very long sentence near the beginning, and I got so bogged down on it that I never got the rest of the theme read. It seems that it has something to do with the seasons, and a couple of girls in the countryside. All very beautifully written, just mostly unintelligible.

Homeschool update

Today, in history class, we began studying the Chinese, specifically the Ming dynasty. We looked on the internet for some good pictures of the Forbidden City. There used to be a site that gave 360-degree views from various points in the city, but it didn’t seem to be working today, so we just Googled images of the city. We went to Explore Cool Places to find out the secret code embroidered into the emperors’ robes. And we also did a little reading about the porcelain that we now call china at Ceramics-C is for China. We finished this evening by heading out to Sansar Asian Food for a Chinese dinner and tea.

Tiffany and Elijah eating lemon chicken

Tiffany and Elijah eating lemon chicken

Homeschool Report

Well, our first week of homeschooling is behind us. Tiffany has been mostly doing things to warm Elijah up for starting handwriting, but she’s also taught him all about the letter F. In history, we discussed dinosaurs, the first people and a story of the gospel spreading in Africa. In science, we learned about the earth’s rotation and revolution, seasons, the air around us and in the atmosphere and tadpoles and frogs. In math, we’ve been mostly reviewing things, like counting to 10, colors and shapes, left and right, top and bottom, same and different. So far, so good.