26 January 2015

"I don't have water!!!" German schooling is working :-)

I was so tickled by what happened last night, that I had to write a quick blog post about it:
At night time, we usually have a lengthy routine for our three little ones. They get changed, brush their teeth, clean their room, say their prayers and then I read bible stories to them as they lay in their beds. After that, I turn out the lights and sing a bunch of German lullabies. Oh, on top of that, each child usually fills up their sippy cup (non-spill cup) with water and sets that cup within reach.
Well, last night, I apparently forgot about making sure that their water was filled. So, after songs and goodnight kisses, I closed their door and came downstairs. We were relaxing in the family room, when I heard some shuffling in the kids' bedroom above me. A little later, I heard some footsteps on the stairs and there stood Simon. He was a little bashful, because he knew he wasn't supposed to be out of bed. He handed us a note and scampered back upstairs.
We were all surprised and amused at his funny behavior. I took a look at the note. It was so cute. He wrote: Ich hade kein Wasa. Simon!  Translation: I don't have water. Simon. Then he drew a picture of a very sad boy holding an empty sippy cup. The first thing I noticed was that he had actually written the word for "I" correctly: ich.  We had been working on the "ch" sound last week in our German school. We also work a lot at sounding out words in syllables. Being very phonetic, German is an easy language to learn to spell, except that sometimes it's hard to hear certain endings...like the -er. As I expected, he misspelled the word for "Wasser", but I was impressed that he wrote it phonetically--like it sounds. We're still working on those -er endings. And like most kids, he confuses the "b" with the "d", but that will come with time.
I was just so delighted to receive this precious little note. I was pleased that he had the confidence to write a German message on paper. I love that he applied the skills that we've been working on in our German homeschooling. And most of all I love that he's learning and growing and experimenting with the language.
I promptly went upstairs and filled his little sippy cup. I love having little kids!!

22 January 2015

Part-Time Homeschooling: The Best of Both Worlds

For the past month, I have been homeschooling my three youngest children part-time. So what does that mean? Well, ever since last summer, I have been playing with the idea of pulling my children out of school in order to homeschool them. It's been a struggle for me to figure out what the best option is for my my kids and our non-native bilingual family. I wrote about my quandary in the following posts: Homeschooling Thoughts? Me?  and  More Homeschooling Thoughts: Splitting It Up.
I initially planned on sending them to public school the first half of this school year and then pulling them out after Christmas break and homeschooling them the rest of the year. However, as the school year progressed, I realized that all three of the kids were really thriving in their respective classrooms. They absolutely LOVED going to school and looked forward to it each day. Their teachers were phenomenal and their classrooms had positive, happy, calm, learning-centered atmospheres. I also realized, after receiving their ESL test results (My American Kids in ESL), that they really needed all the extra English instruction that they could get, both in their ESL class, their regular classroom and on the playground. I suddenly found myself having second thoughts about pulling them out of school.
But, on the other hand, I still  wanted them to progress in their German literacy. I wanted them to learn to read and write in German and to really solidify their fluency in the German language. I wanted extra time at home to just read and read and read (both German and English) (The Read-Aloud Handbook). I also wanted to start learning French with them (Introducing French). And most of all, I wanted extra time with my little ones because I know from experience just how fast kids grow up!
So, what to do? Well, in November, I approached our amazing elementary school principal with my predicament. She knew of my initial choice to pull the kids out after Christmas. I explained my dilemma and asked about the possibility of doing school part-time instead of completely withdrawing. It turns out that my Kindergartners already only go to school 3 days a week. So it was only a matter of figuring out if we could have my first-grader stay home the same days that my Kindergartners are at home. We found the first grade teacher to be completely supportive and understanding of our situation. I was thrilled with our wonderful compromise. It seemed to combine the best of both worlds and promised to meet all the educational objectives that we have for our unique bilingual kids. Starting in January, we decided that we would homeschool on Tuesdays and Fridays and have the kids go to public school on the other three days. I was blown away by the cooperation and support that I felt from our wonderful elementary school. We have a great school district!

We're now in our 3rd week of this amazing part-time homeschooling experiment and, so far, we are absolutely loving it. I initially thought that we would get all of our homeschooling done before noon, but, it turns out we have so much to do, that we end up working hard into the afternoon.
Here's a very rough schedule of our typical "deutsche Schule" (German School) day:

  • 6:30   Family Scripture Reading and Morning Jobs (dressed, teeth, room)
  • 7:00  Breakfast and  Kitchen Jobs (chores)
  • 8:00  Quiet Reading in Family Room, also read together from Fibel (Primer or Textbook)
  • 8:30  Snack Break
  • 9:00  Go to Schoolroom (attic)
      • Calendar Time
      • Writing worksheets (letters, sounds, spelling, cursive, etc)
      • Word games
      • Crafts
      • Math Sheets
  • 11:30 Lunch and Recess (Outside, of course!)  
  • 1:00  French Class in Family Room
  • 2:00  Read books, Color, Do more crafts, play educational computer games, or something fun.
  • 3:00  Play hard until dinner (love to watch them at play)
I took the following video of the kids up in our schoolroom (attic) last week as they were working on the worksheets which go along with the sound "ch". The kids are all at slightly different levels and some are more wiggly than others, but it's so fun to spend this special time with them. I'm super excited to have this opportunity to help them to supplement their public schooling with our non-native language schooling!

21 January 2015

My Turn to Study

I recently decided that I'd like to start saving up to take our younger children to Germany. We took our older kids to Germany in 2006. It was an amazing and life-changing experience for them. When you grow up speaking a foreign language, it is really special to finally get to visit the country where that language is spoken. When we took our older children, my oldest was 13 years old and the youngest (at the time) was 7. They had been speaking German since birth, but they didn't really know what Germany was like. It was a big deal for them to travel to Europe and see Germany for themselves. They got to see the farm where I lived for a few years as a child and they had the opportunity to finally use their German.
Ever since our younger batch of children arrived, I've known that we need to try and get over to Germany again. I would like the little ones to have the same opportunity that their older siblings had. But, of course, a family trip to Europe costs money. So, I decided to start earning some money by teaching or subbing part-time.  I'm only hoping to teach 1 or maybe 2 days a week tops. The nice thing about subbing is that I can get to choose when I want to work. Also, because of our part-time homeschooling, I need to be at home several days a week.
I haven't worked outside the home since I was in college. I have a secondary education degree in German, but have not have not kept my license current. So, my first step is to get a teaching license. And the first step to getting my teaching license is to take and pass several competency tests. Since my major was German and my minor was TESL, I need to pass a comprehensive exam in each of these areas.
I was quite nervous about my German test. I did study, but there was just so much information and so little time to study, that I figured: "I'll either know it or I won't." Well, as I took my test, it became clear that all my years of speaking German at home had been a HUGE help. Because we speak German at home to the kids, my German skills had never become dormant. The words, phrases, idioms were at the forefront of my head. Phrases popped into my head as I was writing the essay. Having tutored my older children in grammar, helped me to remember all the grammar rules.
Several weeks later, I received my test scores. I had passed with flying colors! Of course, I was thrilled to have passed the test, but mostly I was so excited that my success came from the fact that we had decided to raise our children bilingually. My children weren't a distraction from my studies at all! Rather, they were literally 20 years of test prep! All my focus these last 20 years has been on the kids. All of our bilingual efforts have been directed towards improving their language proficiency. And even though I really haven't given my own German language learning much thought, it was fun to see just how much I have learned in the process of non-native bilingual parenting.

07 January 2015

Bilingualism Blesses our Christmas!

What a wonderful Christmas we had! Today, the kids are back in school and the Christmas decorations are being put away. I didn't blog at all over the holidays, because Christmas time is family time in our home. My husband always takes at least half of his vacation time at Christmas. He loves it because there are no projects, no trips, no business...just lots of time at home with family. And we had a marvelous time together!! Our college girl was home, we got to talk to our missionary kids on Skype and I spent minimal time at stores (thank you Amazon) and though I didn't blog over the holidays, I still thought a lot about how much our family has been blessed by our decision to to raise our children bilingually. I can't even begin to imagine Christmas without all of our German traditions. I have such fond memories of the few Christmases that I spent in Germany as a child. These memories include basking in the glow of a real pine tree lit with real candles, Beautiful Bavarian Zither music, a visit from St. Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht on December 6th, Advent wreathes, magical Christmas markets full of intricately carved wooden Nativity figurines and lots of Lebkuchen and other amazing German Christmas foods, and, of course, the beautiful German Christmas songs.
My first Christmas in Germany (I'm the girl on the far left):
Singing German Christmas carols on Christmas Eve with dear
friends in their "Stube" with a "Kachelofen" (tile oven) and a
tree lit with real candles. 
In fact, my fond memories of Christmas in Germany is one of the reasons why I wanted to raise my children German speaking in the first place. I wanted to share the beauty of a German Christmas with my children. And in order to truly share that experience with them, they needed to know German. Of course, it's possible to teach people about a cultural holiday without them knowing the language, but their experience and understanding of that holiday is going to be severely limited. To truly "feel" a German Christmas, you need to understand German language. Without the language, you don't understand the songs, the poems, or even the people and the culture. It's the language that brings a richness and a beauty to the celebration.

We have some German speaking friends sing in our
"Kinderchor" during our annual Adventsingen.
So, this year, as well as in all our past Christmases, we have incorporated many, many German Christmas traditions. We always start the season off by celebrating the 1st Advent. There's nothing like lighting that first of four candles on the Advent wreath to start building anticipation. And then comes St. Nikolaus Day on December 6th. My kids have wondered why St. Nikolaus doesn't visit their friends. I think it's because he only comes to those kids who speak German at home! We also always have an Adventsingen right before Christmas. We invite friends from Germany and friends who love Germany into our home and we spend the evening singing lots and lots of German Christmas carols. It's really the only time each year when our home is filled with German speakers (besides our own family). And this year, I was tickled pink, to see my little Clarissa make friends with another little girl. They ran around the house speaking German to each other. It was the cutest thing. She has never really spoken German with any other kids besides her siblings. Of course, all of the anticipation culminates with Christmas Eve! It's a special day for us as we focus on the birth of the Savior. The kids always act out the nativity and then we do our first round of presents (saving the American Santa gifts for Christmas morning--American style). We've blended many of our American traditions with our German traditions and the result has been a culturally rich and meaningful Christmas season.

Jonathan and Clarissa so excited that there are only 2 more
Sundays left until Christmas! Happy 2nd Advent!
Words can't even express how grateful I am for the opportunity to share German Christmas traditions with my own children. I love seeing their eyes sparkle when we light the Advent candles. I love that I can share my most precious childhood Christmas memories with my children even though we live in the United States. I love that they have a deep understanding of how Christmas is celebrated in another country. I love that they have learned to absolutely love and cherish and "own" these wonderful German traditions. It's been so fun hearing my older kids talk about how much they appreciate the fact that we have kept up with each of the traditions over the years. Raising our kids in our non-native German has indeed opened many doors and provided many opportunities for the kids, but I think it's at Christmastime when I realize just how much our family's bilingualism has touched our hearts and souls. Fröhliche, fröhliche Weihnachten, everyone!!

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Bilingual Baby Dream Team

Going on 20+ years of raising our bilingual babies...
I'm so grateful for a sweet husband who was willing to give this whole experiment a try and and that he was willing to speak German to our kids, even though his German exposure had been limited to a few semesters of college German. It's been one of the most fun and rewarding things we've done. The fact that our family speaks German has given us our own identity and helps the kids feel like they are a part of something special. And anything that helps your family feel special and connected is a good thing.