Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: , , , , , ,

This should have been written back in May, but better late than never.  We bought a new piano!  I am so happy!!!  Most of you will probably think I’m just weird, but maybe some will understand.  I feel like I go through piano withdrawals when I don’t get to play for a while!  I knew when we moved here that we would be without one until our piano in Albuquerque sold.  (Let me know if you’re interested in it; it’s still not sold!)

Anyway, after about 4 months of not playing a single note I couldn’t take it any longer.  I think Todd also realized I was slowly going insane.  So, piano sold or not, we busted out the bank card and bought a brand new Yamaha upright!  It is very similar to my other piano (the one that is still waiting patiently for a new owner in our house in Albuquerque…).

I’ve been so happy to be able to play again!  And what makes me even happier, I’m teaching again.  I had decided that once we got a new piano I would make piano lessons for the kids a priority.  So, beginning in May I started giving the 4 oldest kids piano lessons.  Yea!  I have been telling myself I would do it for a long time.  I did give the oldest 2 lessons for a couple months and they played at my last recital.  But after that life got crazy–adoption, overseas move, etc. and I let them, and myself, quit.

Well, this time it’s different.  We don’t have a million after-school activities to get in the way.  No other piano students to schedule around.  I don’t even have to stop to make dinner.  (Love that.  Thank you, Wang Ayi!)  I’ve scheduled the time and we do it.  Every Wednesday.  Faithfully.  We took a month off when we were in the States for the summer, but we haven’t missed a single lesson otherwise.

KIDS’ PROGRESS–oldest to youngest.

Michael is doing well.  I think he has the potential to be quite good if he decides he likes it.  He does love to play once the song is learned.  It’s hard for him to start on a new song and put the work in up front to learn it.  He just wants to be able to play it–immediately!  Fortunately he learns quickly and does pretty good at practicing if I remind him.  He’s doing much better practicing the last couple of weeks thanks to Trevin.  (I’ll explain later.)  He started in the middle of the primer book and is now half way through the grade 1 book.  Not too shabby for 2 months of piano lessons!

Kaylee Ann is also doing well.  I think she also has a lot of potential if she can focus more when she’s practicing.  She is usually more interested in making up her own pretty ditties, but will get back to the task at hand if I remind her. :)  She’s at the same place as Michael–half way through grade 1–and picks up new material very quickly as long as she doesn’t forget to practice.

Jasmine is also doing piano!  She actually begged to, and I thought it would be a good idea too.  She cannot move her left hand fingers independently, so we are focusing on playing with her right hand.  Even though she will probably not be a concert pianist (though you never know!) learning to read music, increasing hand/eye coordination, and reaping all the other brain benefits of music still make piano lessons very worthwhile.  We work with her left hand to play as much as it is able, but we use her hand more than her fingers, if that makes sense.  She works hard, but it is difficult for her, even with the right hand.  I’ve discovered that rhythm is very hard for her to hear and feel, but she always practices when it’s time.  She is in the primer series for younger beginners.  She finished book A, most of B, and will begin book C in the next few weeks!

Trevin.  What can I say about Trevin.  Trevin is giving his 3 older siblings a complex!  First with spelling and math, and now piano.  (The kids didn’t notice these things while they were in school, but now that they’re all at home they get to see the work that everyone else is doing.)  He started at the beginning of the primer book (half a book behind Michael and Kaylee Ann) and is now in the same place as them in the 1st grade book.  That boy LOVES to practice, he does it all the time, and does it exactly how I’ve showed him to do it.

When the kids first started piano I told each of them who my best students had been in the past.  I said, “My very best students were the ones who did exactly what I asked them to do every single week during practice.”  I write down their song assignments in their notebook (about 5 songs per week) and they are required to play each one at least 5 times a day exactly as I’ve written in the notebook.  With each song I write something like “count out loud” or “say the note names” or “use good legato technique.”  Anyway, Trevin does exactly what is written every day (and MORE) and has made tremendous progress because of it.   Michael and Kaylee Ann are realizing this.  Trevin is flying through these books, and the thought of their barely 7 year old brother surpassing them is spurring them into action. :)  They didn’t realize he was catching up until they heard him playing songs they’d just played the week before.  “Wait a minute, TREVIN is playing that song?!”  Ahh!  Panic!  Now EVERYONE wants to practice more!  Thanks, Trevin. :)

- Jill

Potty Talk

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: , , ,

As I walked to the store this morning, like I do about every other day, I happened upon two nai nais (grandmas) helping little babies squat to pee on the sidewalk.  The women were chatting while the kids did their business.  They looked up and greeted me with smiles; I smiled back, then continued on my way.  And I realized later that when we first arrived in China, this would have been a blog post by itself!  So, I thought I should share this fun little bit of China while I’m thinking of it.  (If you’ve already been to China this probably won’t be anything new, sorry.)

Like everything else, toileting practices are different in China.  First, there are squatty potties–rectangular urinal-type things in the floor.  Luckily most homes have regular western toilets, but public bathrooms are almost always squatties.  I admit, sometimes I am grateful that I don’t have to touch a single thing when I use these bathrooms.  I don’t have to worry about placing my bare bottom on (beyond) questionable surfaces.

Second big difference, you don’t flush the paper!  Toilet paper goes in the trashcan, no matter what’s on it.  Plumbing here is not designed for it.  I was quite disgusted at this thought when I found out about it, but I’m pretty used to it now.  I was worried the bathroom trashes would smell terrible, but they really don’t (unless you’re in a bathroom that’s just dirty and gross).  We had to train Jasmine not to put the paper in the trash when she came home.  So I found it very ironic to have to train everyone TO put it in the trash when we moved here.  Fun times.

Third difference is children.  For some reason, I don’t think the Chinese people view human waste the same way we do.  I think they find little kid pee to be somewhat innocuous.  If a child needs to go, they go.  Doesn’t matter where they are!  And it doesn’t matter who sees.  Find a nearby tree, storm drain, trash can, planter box, corner of the grocery aisle.  Babies and toddlers wear split pants in lieu of diapers.  So when they have the urge, they just squat down, the pants open up, and they go.  It does have its advantages.  First, kids are potty trained (or maybe it’s more like “house trained”?) at a very early age.  I remember potty training my kids and so many times they’d need to go at exactly the wrong time.  No potty in sight!  It would have been nice to have the public acceptance to squat my child down anywhere. :)

Honestly, I can not begin to count the number of times I’ve seen children doing this outside.  It is a daily occurrence.  The little playground outside our apartment always has “puddles.”  Word of advice to those who plan to visit: if it’s not raining, don’t step in that puddle!  And if there’s a puddle in a store, building, etc., it’s NOT water.

Okay, last point.  I might as well tell you now since you’ll see it if you visit anyway.  Peeing is not the only thing kids do in public.

[Pretend I inserted here: a picture (that someone's child managed to delete off my phone!) of a cute little girl pooping in the middle of the shiny new kids' museum.]  Yep, she did her business right in the middle of a large room.  Dad picked up the solid stuff, but left the puddle.  [And now pretend there is a contorted, grossed-out face emoticon that doesn't exist right here!]

Consider yourself educated. :)


- Jill

Back to School!

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: ,

Yea!  Back to school!  I always loved this time of year as a kid.  By the time August came each year summer had long been boring and I was ready to see friends again.  And the best part, we got to buy new school clothes.  That probably sounds totally silly, but choosing a new outfit from our new wardrobe for the first day of school was one of the most exciting parts.

Anyway, school is here!  I’ve decided that “back to school” feels a little different when you’re homeschooling, but it still has some excitement to it.  It feels new, like a fresh start.  The kids have all moved up a grade, they have their new books and materials, and we’ve tweaked the schedule to make room for some new things.  (Namely exercise and piano.)  They are now in kindergarten, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, and 5th grades.  (My baby is in kindergarten!  So hard to believe!)  Between the 5 kids, here are the subjects for this year:

  • Math
  • Reading/Language
  • History
  • Geography
  • Chinese (speaking, reading, writing)
  • Gospel study (Religion)
  • Science
  • Art
  • P.E.
  • Typing
  • Read Alouds (reading novels to the kids, usually done just before bedtime)


Yes, it’s going to be a good year.  I promised a while back that I would post our homeschool schedule.  So, if anyone is interested, here is our fall schedule. And if you can decipher my craziness, you’re good.  Real good.  It took me a while to figure it out myself! :)

This is the second homeschool schedule I’ve made; the first was for the spring.  It is a definite process.  First, I spend hours getting everything to line up, making sure to mix up independent work with dependent work.  If I put too many dependent things in the same slot, everyone gets short changed.    Next step, I implement it and find out very quickly what works and what doesn’t.  (For example, having all the kids do language at the same time was a disaster.  Had to switch that around.)  Then, after 2 or 3 weeks of testing and tweaking I feel comfortable enough to use precious paper and toner and print the hard copy.  We just completed our 3rd week and I’m feeling pretty good about it.  So good that I printed it on Friday.

I should probably give a brief explanation for those who may be scratching their heads.  My column on the left tells me who I’m helping with what subject.  For example, “MK: Language” means I’m helping Michael and Kaylee Ann with language.  The asterisks just mean they’re computer-based activities.  The bolded subjects in the kids’ columns are ones that require my help.  I know it’s a little redundant, but I added my column as an afterthought because it was hard to look through all the kids’ columns to figure out what I was supposed to be doing when.  *”Rotation Station” (see below) and “electives” are different for each day of the week so they’re listed at the bottom by day.  Take Monday for example.  I teach art on Monday during Rotation Station.  Then, Michael would do science during elective time, Kaylee Ann would do computer, Jasmine would do her art project, etc.  (Electives is listed twice for each child because sometimes it can take up to an hour.)

*”Rotation Station” is the “fun” sounding name we came up with to describe the classes I teach on a weekly, rotating basis.  I originally called this block “Mom’s Choice” but Michael and I decided that was a terribly un-fun sounding name.)

One of the things I’m most excited about this year are the two new things we’ve squeezed into the schedule.  I’ve found that if it’s not on the schedule, it doesn’t usually happen.  For this reason we have piano practice and exercise in their very own time slots for each of the kids.  And so far, they’re both happening!  Yea!  And no, that’s no typo.  The kids will be exercising 3 times a day this year.  More about piano and exercise will have to wait for another post. :)

- Jill

Zhong Wen Progress Report

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: , , , , , , ,

(If anyone is wondering, “zhong wen” means “Chinese” in Chinese. :))  We have started our new homeschool year!  I wanted to give a little update on our progress with the language so far.  I think it will be fun to compare this entry with an entry at the end of the year to see the progress we’ve made.  Our kids are now in 5th, 4th, 2nd, 2nd and kindergarten.  Hard to believe!

One year ago our children spoke very little Chinese.  They each had a vocabulary of probably 20 words or less.  When we brought Jasmine home we all learned a bit of Chinese from her.  We also had the older two kids start studying a bit more since we knew we’d be moving to China.

Seven months ago we moved to Beijing.  At that point our 2 oldest children had vocabularies of 100-200 words and could speak a few basic sentences.  The 2 youngest boys knew fewer than 50 words.  None of the children (except Jasmine) could read more than 10-15 Chinese characters.  And they couldn’t write any of those characters.

As part of our homeschool we have a Chinese tutor come to our house 4 days a week, 3 hours a day.  The oldest 2 now have some basic functional fluency.  Yea!  Kaylee Ann’s Chinese has really taken off.  I think it’s because she and her Mandarin speaking sister spend so much time together.  Having Chinese friends here has also helped.  It’s fun to hear her speak with her friends when they come over!  She also organizes games at the park–in Chinese–with all the kids.  I’m so glad she’s gotten over some of her shyness when it comes to speaking Chinese.  Michael also knows quite a bit of Chinese, can read and write a little more than Kaylee Ann, but isn’t as comfortable speaking yet because he’s a little shy making friends with the Chinese boys in the neighborhood.  I think if he can make a few Chinese friends this year it will help a lot. :)

Trevin reminds me everyday that he doesn’t want to learn Chinese.  Luckily he is such an obedient boy that he studies anyway. :)  He has very basic conversational skills, can talk about his family, his age and birthday, likes and dislikes, etc.  He is also learning reading and writing and diligently write his characters every day.

Spencer, our new little kindergartner, has started formal Chinese.  He has been working on speaking and listening only until now.  As of August 1st (our first day of the new homeschool year) he began reading and writing!  He is a very diligent little student and loves to do his work.   Yea!  (So happy to have another one of those in the family!)

As I was about to finish this post, I realized something.  We visited the U.S. for the entire month of July.  And I realized that our two girls stopped speaking Chinese to each other at that point.  We will probably need to begin speaking Chinese with all the kids at home if we want them to really become fluent.  We’ll have to give that a shot.  Only problem is, that means I’m going to have to speak Chinese too!  Wish us luck!

- Jill