We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of bringing our daughters home and I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve accomplished, how our family is different, and all that the girls have learned and experienced over the past 12 months.
Without a doubt, morning time and reading aloud saved our homeschool over the past year.
When our girls came home in March of 2015 they knew no English and we knew no Lingala or Swahili. We had several adoptive families of older children tell us that the girls would be fluent in English after about four months home. Not only did we have a hard time believing that, but four months seemed an awfully long ways away on Day 1. We survived day by day and often hour by hour. There were major fits and meltdowns during those first 10-14 days but then we turned a corner. The girls began to communicate with simple, new words, we spent a great deal of time playing outside, and we began to develop a new routine. I came up with a Morning Time schedule and reading aloud was a huge part of that. Surprisingly, the girls’ attention spans grew quickly. The girls were 7, 5, and 5 when they came home. Our other children were 12, 10, 7, and 6 months at that time. We go to a liturgical church and our children worship alongside us so it didn’t take the girls long before they were sitting quietly next to us for an hour and a half on Sunday mornings. We also have family worship at night where we sing, work on the catechism, and read scripture together. All of these things played a role in helping the girls, including Baby Annie, learn to sit and be attentive for lengthy periods of time.
I didn’t have any instructions on how to incorporate our new, non-English-speaking children into our homeschool. I had grandiose ideas of beginning a kindergarten-type teaching plan with them and having Eliana caught up to “her age/grade level” in no time. Boy was I delusional. It didn’t take long to realize none of my girls were even capable of holding a pencil let alone trace a letter or draw a circle. I was stumped…until a little voice in my head reminded me to stick with what I know. Reading and recitation. I made a few little lists of goals and began chipping away. Before I knew it we were settled comfortably into our new Morning Time routine. On a normal day our morning time went something like this:
Bible read aloud (We are working our way through a “Read the Bible in a Year” plan.)
Hymn Memorization (We wanted to teach the girls our service hymns so they could begin to participate more in our Sunday morning worship services even though they couldn’t read yet.)
Poetry or Shakespeare
Read Aloud-Chapter Book
Here’s a list of some of the books we’ve read aloud over the past year:
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
On the Banks of Plum Creek
On the Shores of Silver Lake
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Magician’s Nephew
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Where the Red Fern Grows
Paddle to the Sea
Winnie the Pooh
A Child’s Garden of Verses
Dr. Suess (a variety, of course)
…and far too many pictures books to list. A few of these were audio books we listened to on road trips but most were simply read aloud for about an hour a day during morning time.
What we witnessed in our daughters was an intensely growing love for good books and great stories. Their vocabulary increased daily, they begged for one more chapter, they wanted to do “more school,” and we began to grow together as a family. After Morning Time, the boys would go off and begin their other subjects independently while the girls and I would move to the kitchen for “Table Time.” This is where I taught them songs to help them learn more necessities like the days of the week, months of the year, and how to count to 20. It was amazing how quickly they could memorize new things, as if I should’ve been surprised by that. Several years in Classical Conversations allowed me to see just how much our children were capable of in the realm of memorization and recitation. Friends who went a month or so without seeing our family were always amazed at the progress each passing week and month produced. Sure enough, by the four month mark the girls were fluent in English for everyday conversation and communication. We still struggle with pronouns and prepositions but there’s almost nothing they don’t understand.
What surprised me more than anything and has left me feeling the most inadequate and ill-equipped are the large gaps in their education that I don’t realize are there until they make comments about how “we live on the moon” or ask questions like, “Mommy, are elephants real?” I have completely taken for granted the vast amount of information our children acquire simply by being in our home and in our family from birth. I’ve never been a “big box curriculum” kinda girl, but I’m seriously thinking about going in that direction in the fall for the girls simply to cover a lot of ground without having to do all of my own planning. Either that or I’ll finally take the bull by the horns and dive into Ambleside Online once and for all and simply continue on our read-lots-and-lots-of-books path. The past year has helped me to see just how rich an education one can obtain simply through great literature; whether it be a classic or a well-written picture book.
One of my all-time favorite podcasts is from Quiddity (the Circe Institute’s podcast) where Sarah Mackenzie interviews Andrew Kern on the topic of Teaching From Rest. I’ve listened to it at least a dozen times and it encourages and inspires me more and more each time. As we move gracefully through each day I remind myself that each one of my children are souls to be nurtured, not products to be measured. When I feel like I’m not moving fast enough with the girls’ education or I feel the urge to help them catch up quicker, I then ask myself, “Catch up to whom??” We homeschool for many reasons but the one that sticks out to me most in our current season of life is that we have the ability to meet our children where they are individually. Would you be surprised if I told you all seven of our children are very different from one another? Of course not, because they’re all individual people. I’ve enjoyed the slower pace of life that we’ve taken over the past year and I hope this post can serve as a help for other homeschool families in the process of adopting, especially if you’re bringing home school-age children and plan to continue homeschooling. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to watch each and every new discovery and revelation through their eyes.
Even something as simple as seeing their first change of seasons has been incredibly miraculous and mystifying. I never thought about the fact that my daughters had never witnessed nor experienced fall, winter, and spring before. Living on the equator they had one season: Summer. There was summer in the rainy season and summer in the dry season. It was so fun and organic to answer questions about why the trees were all “dying” as the leaves turned and fell to the ground leaving barren branches and cold days. I’m so excited to experience their first spring with them as these seemingly dead trees slowly come to life again in the next month or so. We’re going to plant a garden and get new chickens and have all kinds of accidental science lessons. Adoption and homeschooling can both be hard roads to travel at times but the rewards far exceed any and all of my hope-filled expectations. On the hardest days I remind myself that His mercies are new every morning and on the best days I get beautiful glimpses of what our home and family will look like in five, ten, and fifteen years as we continue on the path set before us. We are in pursuit of simplicity and love, all for His glory.
Last but not least, my blog will be getting a much-needed makeover very soon and I will no longer be “Made To Organize.” I think it’s about time those banner pictures were updated, don’t you?? New domain reveal coming soon!