09 May 2018

The Full-Time Home School Plunge (English AND German) and our Video Yearbook!

So, I did it!! I've been playing with the idea of full-time homeschooling for years. I've been part-time homeschooling my younger kids (pulling my kids out of public school about one day a week) since Kindergarten. (Posts about Part-Time Home Schooling). But this past September, I decided to pull  Jonathan out of school and homeschool him full time for various reasons. And, after seeing how much fun we were having, the twins begged me to pull them out, too. So, in January, I took the plunge and decided to homeschool all three kids full-time!

Another reason, why I decided to homeschool full-time this year, is because we are planning a trip to Europe. I am an adamant believer in trip-prep!! The more we learn about the places we plan on going and the things we plan on seeing, the more the kids will appreciate, enjoy and remember their experiences. So, a big part of my homeschool plan has been to teach the kids about European history, expose them to European art and music, and also to work on their foreign language skills (German and French). On top of that, I knew I had some reluctant readers, and I wanted them to learn to love reading (and math and science and writing and poetry etc.).

All I can say is that I had NO idea how much we would love homeschooling!! We really, really love it! Now that I'm responsible for their entire education, I find that I teach in English the majority of the time. Most of their subjects and most of my material is in English. And let's face it, we live in the U.S. and they need to be literate in English. However, we still use mostly German when we're not homeschooling and we also have German reading time and German class (where we focus on grammar, writing, and spelling).

We're now coming to the end of our first semester of homeschooling. I've been taking little video clips of the kids for the past few months in order to document our maiden voyage on this journey. These clips, of course, don't show the stressful and non-cooperative times, only the good times! I don't want anyone to think that the kids never fight, complain, or whine!! They do!! They can whine and complain with the best of them! However, I must admit that most days are pretty amazing! In fact, I've been enjoying homeschooling so much, that I literally feel a little giddy each night at the thought that I get to wake up the next morning and spend this precious time with my little people.

I think homeschooling can be very mysterious to those who have never tried it. It certainly was to me. I often looked at my homeschooling friends and wondered what their days looked like. Could they really learn as much at home as my kids were learning at school with professional teachers? Well, now that I've tried it, I'm convinced that they can learn just as much (or more) than at school. At home, the teacher/student ratio is just so much better. And, yes, I fully realize that there are many things that my kids can learn at school that they may not learn at home...some really good things and some not-so-good things...and each family has to weigh what is best for their kids in any given year. But, regardless, I think that many people don't consider homeschooling because it just seems so foreign and difficult. Maybe homeschooling is so misunderstood and mysterious because there are usually no outsiders witnessing a family's home school day. In fact, even those who homeschool really have no idea what another family's home school looks like. Each family will have their own style and their own methods.  That's one of the reasons I'm posting this video. I thought it might be helpful to those considering homeschooling or to those who are curious what homeschooling can look like. Our style might not be your style or anyone else's, but it is what has worked for us this year.

After watching my video compilation, I've decided that we do "floor and sofa-school". The kids love to work on the floor or on the sofas. They are rarely at a table!! I also found that we very, very rarely used our designated home-school room. The kids preferred the kitchen table and family room. During the cold winter months, everyone in the house prefers the cozy family room with the roaring fire. It's what worked for us. Also, we happen to have a unique situation

which lends itself well to homeschooling. I have three kids who are basically at the same level. The twins and J are only one year apart, so we study our language arts, history, science, German, and French together. Math is done on the computer and can be done at their own individual speed.

If I were to pick 5 things that have been key to making this a great homeschool year, they would be as follows:

1. The Good and the Beautiful Curriculum by Jenny Phillips

I can't say enough about the Good and the Beautiful!This is hands-down the best curriculum ever! I absolutely love it and it's probably one of the main reasons I look forward to each day of home school. It's uplifting, rigorous, well thought out, and so easy to follow. It requires absolutely no prep work. You literally open the book and go. The lessons are absolutely full of good and beautiful material...I guess that's how they came up with the fitting name. :) I love the emphasis on art appreciation and essay writing. I love the grammar lessons. I love the poetry, geography, science, etc. I love how it circles around and reviews concepts, while also constantly introducing new ones. I feel like my children are getting such a well-rounded education, and, as a bonus, I'm learning right along with them!! I LOVE it, and, more importantly, my kids love it, too!!

2. Baker Web Academy

Technically, we are not actually homeschoolers. Instead, we are enrolled in a public charter school for kids who are doing school at home. Baker Web Academy (BWA) provides us with curriculum and learning materials choices at no cost to us! It's fabulous! We have so much educational material at our disposal that there is always something fun to do. It really has put the "fun" into our homeschool days! Some of my BWA favorites are:
  • Modos Literature Curriculum--we love this one
  • Story of the World Curriculum (books, work books and audio CDs)-love, love, love!
  • Test Prep, writing, spelling, geography, and grammar books and work books
  • Science books and science kit supplies
  • And so many fun art sets, robotics kits, games, building sets, puzzles and so much more
In addition, they provide us with online memberships and materials for
And on top of all this, they also provide lots of fun field trips (like cross country skiing and snow shoeing), an assigned teacher who comes out and checks up on the kids, and at-home-testing (so that we can see where each child is succeeding or struggling). Most of all, I appreciate that they respect my role as my children's teacher. I feel like they are supporting me in my role, rather than trying to tell me how to do my job.

3. Liber Leadership Academy

We joined a wonderful home school group/school which meets every Wednesday morning. The kids have fun classes where they do music, art, science, drama, and all sorts of other activities. The best part, is that they get to socialize with some great kids. They even get to have a real recess with friends. The group follows the Thomas Jefferson Education philosophy. I've been impressed with the emphasis on classics, patriotism, and fostering a life-long love of learning. I've appreciated getting to know many of the moms. They are great ladies who have inspired me to be a better mom and teacher. The kids love their school and their friends.

4. Foreign Language Curricula

We are homeschooling in both German in English. Most of our subjects are in English, but we do spend a considerable amount of time reading German books and going through our German readers and workbooks. We've been using the Piri Curriculum published by Klett. It's a German grade-school curriculum designed for use in German public schools. The book has a digital version which we enjoy. We also have lots of workbooks and sound tracks. We really like Piri and now that the kids are at the 3rd grade level, they're starting to learn more about grammar and writing. It's amazing!
In addition, here are some of my favorite German resources.

On top of German, we're trying to learn some French. My favorite French helps are:

5. Music Opportunities

We are extremely fortunate to live close to a university that offers a string program for children. It is extremely affordable and high quality. Our three kids have chosen to play violin, viola and cello. Twice a week, they practice with an orchestra group. They have also befriended several of the other orchestra kids. It's always nice to have another social group.
  • Pacific University String Project
With so much going on, I haven't had the time to find a piano teacher, but we found the next-best thing: Hoffman Academy. The kids are doing their lessons online and loving it!!

I said I would only pick 5 things, but I'd like to add two more activities that have blessed the lives of my kids this year:

6. Sports

In order to help the kids keep up their associations and relationships with their friends from our local public school, we are encouraging them to participate in year-round sports. I'm an adamant believer in the value of competitive sports. The lessons learned as we push ourselves to excel in sports are invaluable. Plus, the physical activity is just plain good for us. Also, we don't want to lose touch with their good friends and the amazing families at our local elementary school. In addition, we also try to attend elementary school evening activities. It's important that the kids maintain their friendships. At some point, they may decide to go back to school and we want them to still have social connections.

7. Church

I have this last...but it should be first!! The kids' participation in Sunday worship and Wednesday night activities, including Cub Scouts and Activity Days, has been a huge positive influence in their lives. They get lots of social interaction, do fun activities, and are taught wonderful life lessons and good morals. It's here that the the lessons we are teaching at home are solidified and supported. The support our family gets from our church family is immeasurable. The kids learn so much from their teachers and leaders and are inspired and taught by so many good role models. Church is awesome!!

So, as we come to the end of our first semester of home schooling, I have to say that it's been an amazing experience.  One of the main reasons it's been so great, is because I've had so many helpful resources at my disposal. I didn't have to figure it out or do it alone!! There is SO much help out there. There is also a huge support community. I used to think homeschooling would be hard, but it's been surprisingly easy and so fulfilling. How wonderful that we live in a country where we do have the choice to have a say in our kids' education and that we can do what is best for our children and our families!! What a blessing!

09 January 2018

German with Big Brother

Just a few months ago, our fourth-oldest, Dallin, came home from serving a 2-year mission in Brazil. During that time, he didn't ever use his German. However, he became quite fluent in Portuguese! When he left for his mission, the three little ones were still speaking only German with each other and with all of us. In fact, 2 years ago, they spoke almost exclusively German at home. Since that time, they have slowly switched to speaking more and more English. They still speak German when reminded, but they have become more comfortable with English.
It was fun to see that Dallin hadn't forgotten all of his German and that he was still more comfortable communicating with his little siblings in German than in English. On several occasions, I caught Dallin and the boys playing Legos together, and of course, I was thrilled to hear them conversing in German. Even though they don't always speak German, I'm so glad that they still "can" and often "do" speak German.
I also found that there was another perk to having Dallin spend two years in another country, learning a third language: He came home even more interested in improving his German. And I actually think that learning Portuguese (along with all the Portuguese grammar), helped him to better understand German grammar. Granted, he has forgotten quite a bit of his vocabulary, but I watched it come back very quickly as he spent time talking and playing with his little siblings. It will be fun to see how all of this pans out! I'm just always happy when I see that German is still a special language that the kids use when they are bonding.

23 October 2017

Starting Out: First Sibling Interactions!

I thought I'd throw in another video from the good old days!! Watching this brought back lots of memories from the beginnings of our non-native bilingual parenting adventures. I remember that when the kids were first born, that it was hard to speak to them in German. It felt unnatural. However, as we persisted, it became more and more normal. This video is taken when Ben is two years old and just starting to talk. It's fun to see that he is talking to his little siblings in German even though they can't even speak yet. One of my favorite parts of our non-native bilingual adventure has been watching my children interact with each other in German. And one of the reasons, I love this video, is because it shows one of the first times the Ben is really talking to his siblings in German. Plus, I thought it was pretty cute that as he was trying to take off his shirt, he decided to leave it on his head and pretend to be a doggy. 
Karl and I tried hard to speak only German to the kids when they were little. We did not always succeed, but by starting when they were super small, we were able to establish German as "our" language. In time, we became very comfortable speaking German to the kids. Those who are native Germans will be able to tell that our German is not perfect. But, we decided to persist...even with our imperfect German. I decided early on that an imperfect second language would be better than no second language at all! :)

Then (above) and now (below)!

16 September 2017

Redefining the "Baby Language" and Allowing Kids to Grow Up

So, we have had an interesting language set-up in our house for the past decade: When the three youngest children joined our family, the older children and my husband and I decided to only speak German to them, so that they younger ones would learn German just like the older ones did. However, at that point in our family, the older kids were mostly speaking English to each other and to us. My husband and I have always spoken English to each other and by the time the older kids were teens, we spoke mostly English to them. But, even though we spoke English to each other, all of us were very diligent about always addressing the younger children in German. And the younger kids only spoke German to us and to each other.

This was the language situation in our home for at least 8 years. However, recently, the younger ones have been speaking more and more English. At first, it was only with each other, because they knew that if they addressed me in English that I would ask them to switch to German and that I would only answer in German. The older kids also tried to continue to speak in German to them, but it has been more and more difficult.

Recently, I had an insight as to one of the reasons why the little ones are no longer speaking as much German (the minority langue) to us. I think it has to do with getting older and wanting to be one of the "big" kids. Their whole life, they have observed their older siblings (who are their favorite people in the world) speaking English to each other.
They adore their big sisters and brothers. And all this time, they have noticed that the big kids speak English to each other, but German to them. This used to be fine, but now the little kids are getting old enough to want to be a part of the "big-kid-club". I think they see German as the baby language and they no longer want to be considered "the babies." They want to join in the English conversations that the older siblings each other as equals. They want to feel like they are old enough to be addressed in English!

So, that said, what can I do to help encourage them to keep up with their German? Well, I'm still trying to figure that out. This summer, we had some of our young adult kids home from college, so the little kids were constantly around them and they were always wanting to speak English to them. However, just a few weeks ago, we sent the last of our "big kids" off to college (see picture). So, now, it's just my husband and me and our three little kids. With the older kids gone, there isn't as much social pressure to speak English. I'm hoping that we can continue to have times when we speak more German.

I've been thinking about this new language development in our family. And I think it's only fair, now that the little kids are older, that we come up with a system that doesn't make them feel inferior or not included. So, perhaps, when the college kids come home, we can try to ALL either speak German or All speak English. As far as that goes, maybe I can try to speak German to my husband more often, too. Our former system served us well for the many years, but now we need to reevaluate our bilingual goals and come up with a system or language routine that will continue to foster growth, language, and family unity. I still don't know exactly what that looks like, but I do know that we want everyone to continue to learn and love our target language as well as feel connected to each other, because, really, that's what non-native bilingual parenting is all about!!
If you are raising your children in your non-native foreign language, PLEASE take the survey. Click on the top right tab. Thank you!!

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.