Thursday, September 12, 2013

Our School Space

I decided to shift our school space this year.  Last year, we just used the dining room table and set up some work boxes in the monstrosity of a cabinet that we inherited (and were obligated to keep) when we moved in here.  There are a variety of viewpoints on what homeschool means to people and how they arrange their space and time and all.  For us, it felt like a shift was needed from feeling like we were living in our school space to doing school in our home.  To make that work well, however, we needed to get a bit of furniture, and I wanted to set things up in a way that helps us structure our time well.  Thankfully, I was able to bring back some supplies from our recent visit to the States that aren't available here (corkboard roll, contact paper, stick-on hooks, and many other fun things for actual activities).

A seemingly obvious fix to the room situation would have been for the boys to condense to one bedroom and use the other for a school room, but our youngest has never been an easy sleep and gets really amped up with people around, so it would seem that is not the best solution for us (at least yet).  So, we are kind of setting up parts of our routine in each of their rooms.
There are still things I would like to get set up, cleaned up, or organized, but here is a glimpse of our school space that we have set up so far.

We do our starting routines in Ezekiel's room.  That is the part that we (in theory) all do together, and he really loves the calendar and charts, so I decided to keep that portion in his room.
Here is our bulletin board so far.  It has space to pin up the letter, number, color, and shape we are focusing on for the week/unit, a big highlight sheet in the middle for the key concept for our unit, and a sheet to help with the phonics alphabet song that goes with our curriculum.  My amazing friend Lizzy made the printables for the song and for our key concepts for each week, and I am especially excited that she included the Nepali word for each unit!

I don't have the bulletin board fixed to the wall because the back side is actually our white board, and I just attached cork roll onto the back here.  That stuff is super thin, so we'll see how it works out, as it has already been a challenge to keep the pins in!
On the wall that meets that, we have our calendar and other charts for our daily learning notebooks.  I decided not to use a pocket chart and numbers to insert, as my boys really like having things written/drawn on the days of the calendar to know what is coming up, and Ezekiel LOVES to draw things on it himself, as you might be able to see from the scribbles all over it.  I decided, though, to make one blank calendar and fasten it to the wall with contact paper instead of making a new one every month like I did last year.  We use overhead markers to write on it.  The downside is that the markers don't show up with quite as much definition, so we'll see if we like it this way.  We've also posted a 100 chart, and some things for the weather and seasons.  The weather, seasons, and "yesterday, today, tomorrow" charts can be found at Confessions of a Homeschooler.  I love people who make amazing printable and share them!  It is not my strength, and I'm certainly grateful!
In the hallway between the two rooms, I hung a line with clothespins to display some of the boys' work.  This (displaying work) is actually one area I would like to figure out some more solutions that work with our space and materials.  As I referenced, bulletin board space is limited, and good cork board is hard to come by here.  The walls are all cement, so it is difficult to even put nails in the wall.  So, here I used a couple of sticky-back hooks that I brought back from the States and tied thin rope around the hook on each end.  This is not as much space as I'd like to have for that, though.  Below it is what I plan to use for the My Father's World "badges."  I had seen the suggestion on the boards for MFW Kindergarten to make a big mural and add to it each unit.  I think this will be a fun way to have that highlight in a way that will work better than the "badges" concept for us.  So, since we are just now on the first unit, you can see just our background.  When it is "badge" time this week, we'll add a sun for this unit's theme, and each unit, we'll add the theme item to this "creation" mural.  Again, I covered this with contact paper, hoping to help it stick longer and last us through the year.

I decided to put our table time activities in Isaiah's room.  We just got the new furniture to make this happen, and I am so excited about it and so blessed to be able to get these new things for our space!  There is a furniture-maker in an adjacent area who we have made other items for us, and he is so good.  I took in a picture of the table and chairs from an image that was on a really nice children's furniture website, and he made it for us!  He also made the shelves for our workboxes with the custom dimensions I requested.  It still feels odd sometimes that having things custom-made here is actually one of the less expensive furniture options!

All of our curriculum doesn't really work perfectly with the workbox set-up, but I often try to at least place an item that will be part of the activity in each workbox, as Isaiah really thrives when he can see laid out for him what is to be done that day.  I am not very good at making printables, so I just cut up some construction paper, wrote numbers on them, and put some stickers of things they like right now to make workbox labels.  I don't really have any expectation for Ezekiel to work through his boxes in order; he still can just choose which ones he does when and how many he does, but he likes to have things that seem like older brother's things. :)
Ezekiel's workboxes
Isaiah's workboxes

We also have a small patio with a plastic table and chair set, and that is located right next to Isaiah's room, so we will plan to shift out there for messier art projects and sensory play and such.  If it's a bigger project, we'll probably head down to our small yard.

That is what we have going so far for our school space for the year.  Getting rolling with adjusting to new routines and setting expectations for kindergarten have met with some challenges, but that is for another post!  :)  I'm thankful to at least have our space set up in a way that feels like it will work well for us.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


We are using My Father's World curriculum for kindergarten this year, and I'm actually feeling quite good about that choice overall, but the truth is that the introductory unit is quite weak.  It is supposed to be 10 days focusing on reviewing the letters of the alphabet and focusing on the Creation story from Genesis.  Isaiah has known his letter names for quite some time, and Ezekiel actually even knows the majority of at least the capital letters as well.  So, I knew I'd probably just try to do a few of my own activities to review the letters.  The portion of the unit that was focused on the Creation story was also lacking, which seemed a little disappointing since it is sort of the foundation for the units of the curriculum for the  year, but again, perhaps it was mainly intended and assumed to be review.

So, I started to look for some supplemental activities that we could do for our Creation mini-unit.  I have to admit that I was rather shocked to find quite a lack of activities.  There are so many ideas and materials and lessons out there for all kinds of Bible stories and themes, but for Creation, there are really quite few.  A personal frustration was that ALL of the ones that I did find were activities that were focused on learning the specific days of creation.

Now, I should give a little disclaimer that this is likely to get a bit controversial and may leave me with lots of people disagreeing with me for various reasons.  I'm ok with that.  I feel surprisingly strongly about this.
First off, I believe that there is one God who created the entire universe, and homeschooling does provide me an opportunity to teach my boys that.  And, I do believe that is possible to do in conjunction with good science and that the two are not mutually exclusive!

It wasn't an option for me to consider glossing over this, as I believe it sets a really significant foundation for whatever we delve into throughout this year, in which the focus is on different aspects of the world that we believe our Father in heaven has created with great power and love.  Now, I could have totally phoned it in on this one, read the verses to him, and just had him make the little number coloring thing that was included for each day.  My problem, however, isn't just that it was "light" in content or that I just wanted him to do more.  My main problem is on the consuming focus of this and all the other activities I found being on memorizing the specific things created on each specific day.

This is where I'm going to lose a lot of you who were with me up to this point.  Honestly, I could really care less if my son can tell me what is listed on day one, day two, day three, etc.!  I know he might not be the rock star of Sunday School class, but seriously, this just isn't the point of the Creation story, in my mind!  As we were doing one of our activities, Isaiah asked me if "that was how long it took" God to make those things, and I said, "I don't really know."  That's right.  It makes absolutely no difference to me whether it was seven literal days or seven years or seven hours or seven millenia!  Could God have created the entire world in seven literal days as we know that time reference?  Absolutely!  Is it any less spectacular if that is a mode of communicating the account and not intended as a scientific measure of time?  Absolutely not!
What's the big deal, though?  I am not trying to be overly dramatic about the activities that focus the learning of the story that way, but I just think it puts our time and focus and energy on an aspect of the Creation story that is not the point and risks missing the attention on what, I believe, is truly important in the story.

So, if, by chance, you are still actually reading this with me, here is what I actually want my kids to know about the Creation story:
1.  God did it!  There is one God, and He created it all!  He spoke, and it came into being.
This may seem obvious, but the true significance of it can get lost when we focus on memorizing the details of the "schedule."  Moses is presumed to have written down the Creation account at a time when there was a group of people who had been recently freed from captivity, and God was trying to lay out a theology for them with the intent for them to be used to bless the world.  They had lived and continued to live among people who worshipped the sun and the moon and water and the animals and the creation rather than the Creator, and in order to bless the world, they needed to (and we need to!) understand who He was (and is).  I just don't think His point is on when and how as much as that HE DID IT!  "Those things the people around you are worshipping?  I made them.  They worship the sun?  I made that.  They worship the waters?  I made those, too!"  (That's obviously my paraphrase. :)  )

2.  God's creation was good.
There is sin in this world, but God Himself said that what He created was good.  It was perfect, and the big story of God throughout history is reconciling and redeeming all of creation to be as He created it to be.

3.  The pinnacle, the focal point, of all creation was creating human beings in His image!  
He is a loving and relational God who created humans to be in relationship with Him, and they are the delight of His creation.

Ok, so enough of my theological soapbox!  Where did that leave us?  Well, I wish I could say that I had figured out even more to do, but as we read each section of verses, every day, I talked with Isaiah and asked him in recent days about the three things I want him to know and remember from the story (in much briefer and kid-friendly language, of course).  If he remembers only Genesis 1:1 ("In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.") at this age, I would be thrilled.

I have also read Psalm 136:1-9 to them, as I think it captures the essence of the Creation story.  I had hoped to have them (or at least Isaiah) engage in sort of a responsive reading with me and have him repeat the phrase "His loves endures forever," but I think that may have been a bit of an unrealistic expectation.  We're going to try again over the next couple of days, but that may not work out quite as I hoped.  I had also actually hoped to "write" our own additions to it, such as "who formed the Himalayas," "who sends the monsoon rains," etc. from our current context, always drawing back to the focal point:  "His love endures forever"!  I actually had a professor in college who taught us the original Hebrew for that phrase, which I still remember, and for a second thought it would be really cool to have the boys repeat that Hebrew phrase for our reading.  Then, I remembered they are 5 and 2.  Maybe in a couple years. :)

I also want them to experience and engage their senses in our times of learning these foundational stories, so I had an idea to make a video--sort of a process art kind of thing.  I got out some materials and turned on the video while they pretended to form the Creation.  With significant help from my husband, I edited it and set it to some music to then be something for them to watch.  My hope was that they would engage the story with their senses as they put together their scene and then experience the narrative in yet a new way as they watched it put together as a whole and as now observers.  There are expected snags in such a project with little ones.  Fighting over the playdough to form the land sort of puts a damper on the focus on a perfect Creation!  :)  And, perhaps my biggest angst was that the plastic army tank the neighbor had given them recently ended up in a very focal position in the scene and video.  Sigh.  Given that it was the little one who was super motivated to include it, and since he had limited creative input with a very directive older brother involved, I didn't have the heart to tell him he couldn't include it.  Just know that, if you decide to actually watch it, I am, in no way trying to make some sort of theological or political statement!  It's just a toy that the little one really wanted to put in there!  Oh yeah, and Adam and Eve are played by superhero lego figures and a rubber ninja.  So, you know, obviously we are not trying to perfect theology with this project!  Just hoping my boys experience the significance of this foundational story.

They really got into making their Creation scene, and I showed the video to them for the first time today, and they have already watched it 8 times and begged to watch it even more.  I obviously haven't come up with the brilliant activities or ideas on how to teach this story to them yet, but my underlying hope that I am trying to express in this long-winded and opinionated post is to focus with my boys beyond the details and into the heart of God's bigger story, the beginning.

Creation Video

I'm not really sure what happened when I was trying to upload the video here, but it wasn't working, so there is no thumbnail or anything, but if you click on "Creation Video" above, it should take you to the youtube link.