Posts Tagged ‘homeschool’

Reading List 2011

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

I have trouble keeping track of things.  If our reading list for 2011 is in the “cloud” I can’t lose it, right?  It won’t be another list on a piece of paper that sneaks under the bed, only to be found next year.  Since we’ve started homeschooling our reading list has grown quite large–which I love!  Most of the books are part of our curriculum.  (If you’re a Sonlight family you’ll recognize lots of these titles. :) )  We read lots of short books, too many to list, so I’m only including chapter books which are now read by all but two in our family now.

Books Read as a Family:

  • Walk the World’s Rim
  • Red Sails to Capri
  • Witch of Blackbird Pond
  • Ginger Pye
  • Gladys Aylward
  • Johnny Tremain
  • Little Pear
  • Strawberry Girl
  • Magic Treehouse–lots of them.

T, 6-7 years old:

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid (at least 4 of them)
  • The Long Way Westward
  • Prairie School
  • Riding the Pony Express
  • The Secret Valley
  • 3rd Grade Detectives #1- Clue of the Left-Handed Envelope
  • The Chalk Box Kid
  • The Paint Brush Kid
  • 3rd Grade Detectives, 2 or 3 of them
  • The Littles
  • Brave Kids – Cora Frear
  • The House on Walenska Street
  • Viking Adventure

K, 8-9 years old:

  • Harry Potter, books 1-6
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid (at least 4 of them)
  • The Lewis & Clark Expedition
  • The Cabin Faced West
  • By the Great Horn Spoon
  • Om-kas-toe
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret
  • Plus many of the books on T’s list…not sure which ones

M, 10-11 years old:

  • Harry Potter, books 1-7
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid (at least 4 of them)
  • Sign of the Beaver
  • The Lewis & Clark Expedition
  • The Cabin Faced West
  • By the Great Horn Spoon
  • Om-kas-toe
  • Robin Hood

Me (older than I was last year):

  • The Connected Child-Karyn Purvis (in progress)
  • ?

Todd (same age as Me):

  • Stand for Something – Gordon B. Hinckley
  • New Terry Brooks book

- Jill


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

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

Homeschooling – Never Say Never

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags:

[Okay, just as I was about to post this, "never say never" brought a vague recollection from the recesses of my brain.  And I realized it's the title of the Justin Bieber movie.  FYI...this is not an allusion to, nor does it have anything to do with Justin Bieber.  In case anyone was wondering. :) ]

“Never say never.” (That’s just me giving myself some good advice, that I will most likely forget—again.) And now I will remind myself why I should “never say never” by listing only a few of the times I’ve said it, only to have it come back and bite me in the buttocks.

  1. While mixing and matching first and last names with a group of friends (before I was married) I paired my first name—Jill—with a certain boy’s last name and came up with the name “Jill Giles.” And practically in hysterics I said, “Jill GILES! HA HA HA! Jill GILES! That sounds so retarded! I could never marry a Giles! Ha ha ha!” (If you couldn’t guess, that certain boy was Todd.)
  2. While watching someone’s child throw a horrible tantrum, I remember having the distinct thought, “My child will NEVER behave like that!”
  3. After moving to Arizona, “I think we’ll be here forever! I never want to leave!”
  4. After living in Albuquerque for 6 years and planning my children’s education for the next 8 years, I knew I never wanted to move from there, at least not until the kids were through middle school.
  5. “I would never want an odd number of children because there’s a middle child. So we’ll have four or six.”
  6. When Spencer was 3 years old, “Yep, we’re done! No more kids.” (I guess I didn’t actually say the word never with this one! :) )
  7. And finally, “I would never homeschool!”

“I would go insane!” “I’m not organized enough.” “Homeschooled kids are weird!” And I’ve given a hundred other reasons I would “never” homeschool.  But here I am, married to a Giles, with an odd number of kids, all of whom have thrown tantrums, moved from Arizona and Albuquerque to China of all places, and…I’m homeschooling.

When we made the decision to homeschool the kids I knew it was what I was supposed to do, but Todd and I were apprehensive nonetheless. Todd worried about my sanity. I worried about my sanity, a little, but I worried more about the kids.  What if I failed them in their education?  My first goal for myself was survival. (I set the bar a little low, I know.) And if the kids learned something and didn’t despise me at the end of the day, that would be progress. And if the kids learned a lot and actually liked it, that would be a tremendous success!

We just finished our second month of homeschool, and it has been a success!!! The kids are loving it. That doesn’t mean they love every single thing they have to do, or that every day is perfect, but as far as an overall school experience goes, they have told me they like it much better than regular school. And something I never imagined possible, I love it too!  I may even love it more than the kids do.

Top 10 Reasons I love homeschool (in no particular order):

  1. We can always start the day off right with prayer and scripture study, even if we’re running late.
  2. The kids are learning more.
  3. They’re learning at their own pace (some need it faster, some need it slower).
  4. I can teach them what I feel is most important and timely.
  5. I feel like their education is more well rounded than it was in any of their previous schools.
  6. We make the schedule and can take trips, vacations, and holidays without interfering with school.
  7. I spend more time with my children, and enjoy that time more.
  8. I know exactly what the kids are learning, what their assignments are, and what the requirements are for the assignments. No more guesswork.
  9. The stress levels in our home have actually decreased.
  10. I get to learn new things every day.

I still can’t get over the fact that I’m homeschooling and loving it! I am one happy homeschooling mom.

I have so much more I want to say, but this post is waxing long. Obviously I’m new to homeschooling, but I would love to share our experiences if it might help other families out there. I already have a few ideas for future homeschool posts: curriculum, daily schedule, long-term plans, etc. If you have any specific questions I’ll do my best to answer or include them in a post if several people are interested.  Until next time!


- Jill

Chinese School

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: , ,

School in China was one of our biggest obstacles. There are really just 5 options, and each one is about twice as expensive as the one below it. And here they are listed from most to least expensive:

  • International school. Cost: ludricrous
  • Bilingual school (Chinese or foreign). Cost: insane
  • Chinese private school. Cost: crazy
  • Chinese public school. Cost: expensive
  • Homeschool. Cost: about as much as 1 semester of college tuition (when I attended a state school many moons ago).

International schools cost $20-25,000 per year PER STUDENT. (Roughly 125-155,000 RMB.) In case you couldn’t guess, $100-125,000 per year for school just refused to fit anywhere into our budget. Chinese bilingual schools cost about half that—so $50,000 a year for 5 kids. It’s half the cost, but still outrageous and untouchable. Chinese private schools are roughly half the cost of bilingual schools, about $25,000 per year for all 5 kids. It’s starting to sound pretty good compared to the international schools, but it’s still not doable. Chinese public schools (can you guess?) are about half the cost of private, $2-3,000 per year per student, or $10-12,000 per year for 5 kids. Ok, FINALLY. Something that’s sounding reasonable (…only because we heard the ridiculously expensive tuition of the other schools first!). And the last option is homeschool. We would have to hire a tutor for Chinese (since I am most definitely not qualified to teach that subject). The rest of the curriculum and materials would only cost $1000-$1500 for a year for all 5 kids but…it might also cost me my sanity. :) Tough choice.

Since we had no idea if we would be accepted into any Chinese public school, I made a backup homeschool plan. I decided that if we did get into Chinese school, I could homeschool in the summer in order to keep the kids caught up with U.S. Curriculum. And if we didn’t, I would have the homeschool curriculum ready to go. So I bit the bullet and did it. After lots of research I made my choice, bought a full homeschool curriculum for the kids for the bargain price of $1200, and had it shipped off to China with the rest of household goods. Just in case.

With the help of a Chinese-speaking friend, we enrolled Kaylee, Jasmine, and Trevin in the local Chinese school right next to our home.  It took them the better part of a day to get them registered, but they were in!  Yea!  The only catch was that they would only allow them into 1st grade since students are required to pass a test—in Chinese—to enter into any other grade. Obviously, our kids wouldn’t be able to pass any sort of test in Chinese. So, they accepted our 8, 8, and 6 year old into the same first grade class. (They would not accept Michael, age 10, because they said he was too old for 1st grade.   And we agreed.) They let us try it out for 1 month before having to commit for an entire semester.

School began at 7:45 and ended at 3:15. It sounded like a long day to me, especially since Chinese school is very academic. (Recess…what’s that?) And even lunch wouldn’t offer much of a respite, having to speak Chinese, and eat Chinese cafeteria food. I knew it wouldn’t be anything like American schools.

Todd and I walked the 3 kids to school that first day, and into their new first grade class. I was nervous for the kids, but I did my best to put on a this-is-so-exciting face for them. We told their new teacher, Mrs. Sun (Sun Laoshi) their Chinese names, since she didn’t speak any English. When she introduced our shy, nervous children to the class—in Chinese—I had to fight back tears when my fears almost got the better of me. Because at that moment I realized our two English speaking children didn’t even recognize their own Chinese names. Wow. This was going to be rough, and instead of comforting my children, I had to turn and walk out the door, and out of the school. All day I prayed just one silent, fervent prayer: that my children would feel comfortable and not afraid.

That afternoon I made the brisk walk to the school to pick up the kids. I was so anxious to find out if/how they survived their first day of Chinese school. To my astonishment and relief, I brought home three smiling, bubbling children! They were so excited to tell me about school. They actually liked it! Hallelujah!!! My prayers were heard, and answered in a big way.  Even into the next two weeks, when the new was wearing off, they talked about school and how they especially loved the cafeteria lunches. Ha ha! Chinese cafeteria lunches…who would have guessed.

Homework was another story. No one talked about how they liked the homework. Quite the opposite, since it took them hours to complete. We got home from school at 3:45 each day, had a quick snack and started homework by 4:00. They (more like “we”) worked on their Chinese homework until around 6:00, ate dinner, showered, and went to bed. It was a very long day without much of a break.

In order to pass to the next grade, the kids would have to test out of the current grade (1st grade). When Jasmine brought her first test home about 3 ½ weeks into school, I saw the writing on the wall. If our fluent, native Mandarin speaker could not pass this small test, what chance did our other two children have with the “big” test? Jasmine had only completed a little more than half of the test, and much of what she had completed was incorrect. They only had a few short months left to learn a good amount of spoken and written Chinese before they would have to take the 1st grade test. I think Jasmine could have done it if we kept working, but I didn’t want her attending Chinese school without any of her siblings.   So after 4 weeks we brought all 3 kids home.

We have now completed our first month of homeschool…but that’s a whole ‘nuther story. :) Hopefully coming soon.

- Jill