Monday, September 02, 2013

Favorite School Resources Fall 2013

We started school a few weeks ago for the fall. Hans turned 5 in June, so he is Kindergarten age. LOVE this age! I'll explain what we're doing with him in a minute.

Gretchen is 2 (3 in one month!), which means she has absolutely no "assigned" school work. But she does love to feel "included," so she has some activities of her own that she gets to do if she is interested. I bought the Letter of the Week "curriculum" last fall, intending to use it for Hans, but realizing it was too "busy work" oriented for my sanity and for Hans' learning style. (Last year for Hans, we ended up using the same writer's K4 curriculum, with heavy modification and supplementation, with good results.) I am just not a busy work person. But Gretchen is. Ha! So we're getting some use out of Letter of the Week after all. I'm not going overboard with it, just printing up a few options each week, and when Gretchen asks me for "letterw at-tiv-tees," I show her what I have for her, and she gets to pick what she wants to do. She can not get enough of drawing, coloring, cutting, etc. She also has a stack of puzzles, unifix cubes, coloring books, and she gets included in whatever of Hans' school she wants to do (and is feasible). And we're doing one letter sound per week.

Martin is 2 months old, so he's kind of our controlling/limiting factor on schooling :-). Hehe. We have a proposed "schedule" for school hanging in our dining room each day, with what we hope to cover and in what order, but let's be honest, sometimes "recess" gets moved up a subject or two, based on when Martin is in need of a new diaper, nursing, etc. He's actually a really chill baby most of the time, unless Mommy eats food that he doesn't like :-P, and he's big enough for the Ergo now, which makes things even more possible :-). And it's nice that Hans is only 5, so I'm not concerned about getting a strict set of goals done for the year, especially since he can already read.

So back to Hans. We start each day with him filling in the day's date on his calendar. It's a simple way for him to get the flow of the days of the week, the months, etc. We did it last spring and all of a sudden he totally started "getting" the flow of the week, time spans, etc. He loved it so much that he asked to keep doing it. Right after filling in his calendar number, we work for a few minutes on a poem we're memorizing. Right now we're working on "My Shadow" from A Child's Garden of Verses. Total between the calendar and the poem, we're talking about 5 minutes. Just a quick way to start the day, and a little every day is all poetry memory needs. I haven't decided yet if we'll pick another poem to memorize after "My Shadow" is done, or if we'll take a break, or do something entirely different. Maybe some art appreciation? We'll see.

Two days a week, we try to read a few poems from A Child's Garden of Verses after we do poetry memory. Just 5 minutes worth, and Hans loves it. Sometimes I read them, sometimes he reads, depending on his preference. We have a beautifully-illustrated edition with drawings by Eric Kincaid (mercifully unrelated to Thomas Kinkade).

Next we do penmanship. This, quite honestly, is NOT a favorite, which is why we get it out of the way early :-D. Hans has never liked handwriting, though he has vastly improved in the past year. We are using Rod and Staff this year. I love how simple and straight forward the lessons are. They do give room for a LOT of repetition, which is great, unless you're Hans and shut down :-D. So after a rough first several days, I've started giving him a more reasonable "yes, he is still just 5 and he's also a boy, and he's Hans" number of repetitions for each assignment, rather than the full number provided. He's still getting good practice, but it's not like pulling teeth anymore. It doesn't mean he's leaping for joy when we pull out penmanship, but it's going MUCH better.

Next we do math. We're kind of doing a hodge podge for math. Our "official" text is Singapore Math 1. We're partway through this book, but actually haven't been doing it much this fall (we started it last spring). Before we press on more in Singapore, I wanted to work more on addition/subtraction facts with Hans. I found this site and cannot recommend it highly enough. Love, love, love it. So many options for activities, worksheets, and games for working on the different "families" of numbers. I love how the site helps draw the connection between the addition facts and corresponding subtraction facts, rather than focusing on memorizing them in isolation. (It ties in perfectly with Singapore, which also uses number bonds to link the concepts.) Hans loves the number family stuff and has his favorite options for practicing each set. The slider cards and ghost cards are the most requested. We've finished sets 5, 6, 7, and 8, and are currently on number family 9. My plan is to get through the number family 10 set and then resume doing the Singapore text as our primary, while slowly working on sets 11-18 for the number families. The Singapore text was utilizing many of the number family facts (especially pairs adding to 10) in the text for things like adding numbers to 20, and I felt like Hans would benefit more from the lessons after memorization so he was more familiar with the pairings, not just the initial cursory glance at them that the text did. (Singapore is not known for reinforcing facts, but instead doing a great job with word problems and getting mathematical reasoning across.)

Besides these two main math resources, I've found a lot of great activities online that we've enjoyed doing. Just a few:

Number bonds worksheet generator

Time activities. And more time (This website actually has lots of worksheet options, not just for time, and also for many grade levels. Some are lame, but most are great extra practice.).

Currency activities. More currency. And loved this library book on currency.

Also we've used a number of activities from this list.

Those are the "main" things we do each day. After math we take a lengthy break, usually an hour, sometimes less, and often more if we go for a walk and come back for showers/baths before continuing. When we get back we spend about 10 minutes for recitation - reviewing memorized facts like skip counting, addition/subtraction facts, Spanish vocabulary, life science terms. Eventually I'll throw in geography terms, but we're not at that stage in geography yet. After recitation what we do depends on the day. Sometimes we're done for the morning.

Two days a week we do geography after recitation. We're going through a Beginning Geography workbook, and Hans loves it, Simple and incremental. And honestly, the most important aspect of geography is the two maps we have hanging in our dining room - a states map and a world map. And also our world globe. Constant topic of conversation for the kids and they are both starting to learn the states and some of the countries without realizing it :-D. As we progress in the workbook, we'll spend more and more time with our maps and our world globe, instead of just worksheets, but meanwhile, Hans is always excited when I get out the geography worksheets! 

On Fridays after recitation we do a flannel Bible story. I have a set of Betty Luken flannel figures that my mom passed on to me from childhood. Love it! The kids always look forward to flannel Bible time. I'm trying to work incrementally through the Bible, hitting the main stories.

Afternoons sort of vary. Every day we do a bit of Spanish which is "technically" scheduled for afternoon post-naps, because I want to give Hans the option of having more free play time in the morning, in addition to the "recess" we take after math. But 90% of the time, we've been doing Spanish in the mornings because the kids ask to do it then. Spanish is very low-key and is video-based, which is the reason the kids ask for it ;-). Poor, video-deprived kids that they are. . . We're going through one 15-minute Salsa episode each week (free public show online! - 100% Spanish), watching it twice during the week for reinforcement. On the non-Salsa days we're doing videos that my sister recorded for the kids, to supplement the Salsa videos. She takes the basic new vocabulary from the episode and interacts with it more, all in 100% Spanish. The kids love it, and yes, my sister is amazing. And so is her husband, who is helping her with the videoing and uploading and such. And she made them flashcards and worksheets to go with each week! They. love. it. And it's been hilarious to see them use random Spanish words throughout each day.

The other afternoon school we have is life science, but once again, it sometimes happens in the morning, but only if Hans wants to do it in the morning rather than wait for the afternoon. I try to do life science 2-3 times a week. We're keeping it low key. I call it "feeding Hans books on animals." My plan (always up for revision) is to do about 16 weeks of animal study, 2 weeks on each of 8 animals or animal groups. Just hitting some of his favorites or other highlights that I think would be fun. This isn't supposed to be all-inclusive, just hitting highlights and piquing interest. I'm roughly following suggestions by Susan Wise Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind. Basically, I get out a lot of juvenile science library books on whatever animal we're studying for a 2-week period and see which ones Hans wants to read. He's loving getting "new" library books to read each week and is fascinated by animals. I also bought Kingfisher First Encyclopedia of Animals as a reference and he often pulls it out when he has a random question about an animal - where it lives, what it eats, etc. After about 16 weeks of zoology, I plan to do 10 weeks of human anatomy, using My Body to make life-size posters for Hans and Gretchen. Also I bought the First Human Body Encylopedia, planning to cover one body system a week. Then we'll probably finish out the school year with a study of plants. If we are in a house (as opposed to an apartment) by then, this study will probably take the form of a garden ;-). Otherwise. . . we'll see. Our apartment now doesn't even have a sunny spot for a potted plant, but we might do some basic plant identification. We'll see.

A few miscellaneous resources that aren't as formally scheduled:

Every few weeks I pull out Schoolhouse Rock and the kids love listening to it, especially the history songs.

For family devotions, besides reading through the Bible chapter-by-chapter, we are working through the Catechism for Young Children with both Hans and Gretchen. We are doing the questions and the accompanying verses provided by CMI.

And that's school for us so far this year. Hopefully some of the resources I've found can be helpful to others :-). Would love to hear what others are using. I love finding new resources :-).

ETA: I can't believe I forgot to also mention Lyrical Life Science! We have all three CD sets and love them! Most-requested CD's in this household, and light years better than just about any other school-facts-set-to-music we've heard. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Martin Wilhelm's birth story

Edited edition for male readers or others who want "just the facts, ma'am":

Martin Wilhelm was born on June 24th, 2013 at 7:29 a.m, weighing 7lb. 8oz. He's adorable and a voracious eater.


Longer version:

(If you just want the birth story and not pregnancy ramblings, start reading a few paragraphs further down.)

This pregnancy was SO different than previous ones. Beginning with not getting a strong positive pregnancy test until several days later in my cycle than normal for me, fluctuating hormones that had never "normalized" from my miscarriage 6 months previous, and a marked difference in morning sickness and exhaustion (much less debilitating than with Hans and Gretchen!).

An early ultrasound supported my intuition and observation that I had ovulated later than the "usual" 14 days post-LMP (explaining the delayed positive pregnancy test!) - approximately 6 days later, in fact - and I adjusted my due date mentally from June 7 to June 13th. (My care provider in CT wouldn't "officially" accept the due date change, despite the evidence, but said it would be "taken into account" - not sure what that means!) I then settled into the first trimester with all its wonders and worries, especially with my previous 2 miscarriages. Despite the hormonal fluctuations and the lighter morning sickness, we made it into the second trimester. In retrospect, I suspect at least part (if not all) of the lighter morning sickness and tiredness was due to eliminating wheat and sugar from my diet some months previous. I've found too many carbs to contribute to my own morning sickness, and eliminating wheat and sugar (both intolerances for me) probably kept my blood sugar more stable. Merely a theory, but I've read similar stories from others.

At the beginning of the second trimester we moved from CT to TX, and I began looking for a new care provider. The idea of a homebirth had always been in the back of my mind for a future birth, but I'd never pursued it previous to now for a few reasons. But when the birth center in TX that I'd planned to use announced its closing the month we moved there, and when we opted to join Samaritan Ministries rather than sign up for the group insurance offered by Adrian's new job, a homebirth sounded like a very viable option. Adrian was supportive of the idea if I found a qualified midwife who satisfactorily answered my long list of interview questions :-D. I ended up interviewing 3 midwives and chose one about 20 minutes from me who had a vast wealth of experience and knowledge. I told Adrian after interviewing all 3, "My birth could go smoothly, in which case any of the three would be fine," (they were all basically qualified, as well as nice people), "but if something went wrong, Alice is the one I'd want to be there!"

My midwife Alice ended up being a wonderful resource for this pregnancy. The debilitating hip and lower back pain I'd experienced in the third trimester of Hans' and Gretchen' pregnancy was almost non-existent this time! (If I did something dumb with my posture, over-exerted myself, or took a long car trip, I suffered some, but it was temporary, not pervasive like before.) I'd thought it had all stemmed from a tail bone injury I'd sustained when I was 12, and while I'm sure that injury contributed to my previous pain, Alice helped me pinpoint a calcium deficiency, and found me a highly-absorable supplement that absorbs like a food and doesn't carry the risks of calcification that many calcium supplements do. (I highly recommend Vita-Mist Cal-Mag!) I also was much more conscious to be more careful with my posture, opted to squat instead of bend to pick things up (good for birth prep anyway), etc. This pregnancy, when I groaned as I rolled over in bed, I told Adrian that unlike previous pregnancies, I'm not groaning because of pain; it's just difficult work to turn a beached whale :-D.

This was also the first pregnancy where I didn't have to use a chiropractor for alignment and relief. And Martin behaved and stayed head down, unlike transverse-Hans and breech-Gretchen, both whom flipped head down before delivery, but only after giving me some angst :-). I had had misalignment that seemed to contribute to my uterus hanging abnormally, and my chiropractor used the Webster Technique to balance it properly. Didn't need that this time!

Hans' birth was 4 days before his due date and Gretchen's was 4 days "late," so I'd anticipated not going really early for this birth, but also not having a super-late baby. Ha! My due date passed, then Hans' birthday 5 days later (he'd really hoped for a birthday-mate!), then the one-week mark. . . I was beginning to wonder when this baby would show up! And I was very grateful that my midwife here had accepted my ultrasound due date of June 13th as more accurate, instead of the original LMP-based June 7th date, and that she wasn't trigger-happy on induction unless there was good cause. I was also thankful that my energy levels remained manageable (once I started using Floravital + B12 at 36 weeks) and I wasn't in great discomfort - going so many days late with previous pregnancies would have been much harder!

I had a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions the week after my due date, the baby was very low, cervix thin, but no labor. I did several long walks in air-conditioned stores with either Adrian or my dad (my parents had driven from Georgia and waited. . . and waited. . . with us.)  Finally, 11 days after my due date (17, by LMP!), I woke up about 2:30 a.m. with some contractions that felt slightly more real than the Braxton Hicks I'd experienced. But they weren't strong or regular. so after using the bathroom I fell back asleep in bed for another hour, waking again at 3:30. A few more contractions, but still nothing definite. I slept and woke again at 4:30, after a strange dream in which I'd been in labor, the cord had prolapsed, but then I got hands-and-knees and the baby was out in one push, born in the caul. (An impossible scenario, for the record.)

This time when I woke up (at 4:30), I decided to stay up and see if these contractions got stronger or more regular. At 5am I woke Adrian and asked him to make me breakfast (scrambled eggs and green beans), so I'd have a good protein-rich meal behind me in case labor sped up. I sat down to start eating breakfast around 5:30, finishing around 6:00. By the end of the meal I was having to pause every few bites to breathe through contractions. They were coming at irregular intervals, but probably every 3 minutes was the average. Some lighter, some a bit more intense. Adrian had called Alice, who said she was going to grab coffee and head our way as she "didn't trust me" ;-).

After eating I headed to the bedroom and found to my surprise that the toilet was NOT the most comfortable place to labor for me this time around, unlike Hans' and Gretchen's labors :-). It was an okay position, but I really didn't want to be upright this time (didn't like the additional force of gravity while dealing with forces of contractions), instead preferring a side-lying position on the bed, which I HATED in active labor in times past. But I was actually able to relax with each contraction in this position this time. My parents started getting the kids ready to head out for breakfast and a mall walk. They left around 6:45 and Alice got to our place around 7:00.

Alice asked me some questions between contractions, checked Martin's heartrate during a contraction to make sure he was handling them well, and started getting out some birth supplies. I spent about 10 minutes making it through some contractions and a bathroom run, so she could finally check me. 7cm. Adrian started filling the pool, which didn't take long. I planned to move to the pool after my next contraction, but then I had three contractions right on top of each other without spacing between - no time to get out of bed between - then when I started to get out of bed after that string of three, I was caught by yet another contraction; my waters broke and I had that sudden urge to push, which I resisted. Um. Yeah, I did not waltz down the hall to the pool at that point ;-). Basically I had the option to be literally carried down the hall to the pool by Adrian and Alice, or birth in our bedroom, and while I have always appreciated the ease of positioning for pushing in the tub, I opted to stay put ;-). I could barely move, so I asked them to push me from my perched-on-edge-of-bed position backwards onto my back, then they rotated me onto the bed. It's not easy to move one's self when your baby's head is descending with every contraction :-D.

I did not have to exert one ounce of effort towards pushing Martin out. It was a strange experience. Basically I just tried NOT to exert any additional effort (but I didn't fight it), and my body pushed him with each contraction. A few contractions and his head was out, staring up at Alice and Adrian and looking around. Alice told me not to push for a second while she slipped a cord loop from around his neck (not that I was pushing anyway!), then his body slid out at 7:29 am. My land baby!

Adrian announced it was a boy (we hadn't known the gender during pregnancy) - Martin Wilhelm Keister - and Alice grabbed the nearest clean-looking towel (after checking with us to confirm) to wrap him in, as most of the birth supplies, including towels and blankets, were still down the hall :-). After delivering the placenta and nursing, and such, Alice took his measurements. 7lb. 8 oz., 20 3/4" long, 14 1/4" head. And a bundle of sweetness :-). He has been a good nurser and was drunk with happiness when my milk came in last night (about 36 hours after birth). Nothing like those contented newborn gurgles after eating :-).

I had tested positive for Group B Strep for this pregnancy, and had used Hibiclens washes thrice daily for over a month, which had reduced the growth but not eradicated it (this protocol eradicates it for the vast majority of my midwife's clients, but it didn't quite do that with me - probably due to a compromised gut/deeper issues). Because of my history of long-term digestive issues with antibiotics (still recuperating from the IV abx given me in Gretchen's labor in 2010 and Hans' in 2008) and also my relatively-short previous labors (general protocol is two rounds of antibiotics, 4 hours apart - didn't manage to make it to the second dose with either Hans or Gretchen), we did not opt for antibiotics. GBS is primarily a concern for preemies (my 11-day late baby was not that!), children of smokers (again, not a concern for us!) or in the case of prolonged rupture of membranes (18-24 hours). My waters broke at 10 cm and Martin was born 5-10 minutes later. Perfect scenario. If I'd planned a hospital birth, I might have barely made it to the hospital (or birthed on the way!), but there is no way one round of abx would have been delivered, let alone the "required" two doses. (With Gretchen, from time of ordering the first round to all of the round being delivered by IV through my bloodstream was about an hour.)

Hans and Gretchen LOVE their new brother ("my new baby," as Gretchen calls him) and are eager to hold him and verbally soothe him when he cries. He's a pretty calm baby so far, easy to soothe, and looks just like his older brother looked at birth. Hilariously similar, in fact! We are enjoying this fleeting time and soaking up the cuddles. We praise God for this blessing from Him.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Not a Dishwasher Fan

I'll admit I'm just not in the majority here. But I really don't like dishwashers. We moved to our current apartment 4 months ago, and for the first time in our marriage we have a dishwasher. I used the dishwasher for the first time a few days ago. We have guests for the week, and I decided that with 6 people in the house, it might be worth finally using that large machine in my kitchen that's taking up room. After a 2 1/2 day affair. . . nope. Can. not. stand. There's a reason I'd been avoiding it for 4 months.

Dishwashers always seem rather inconvenient to me, unless you're dealing with enough people to quickly fill up a dishwasher (i.e., more than 6, and definitely more than 4), and even then. . .

It is beyond annoying to have to wait 2 or 3 meals to run a dishwasher, meanwhile finding that you have run out of some types of dishes and need to hand wash them anyway, and then when you DO run the machine, you have to wait for the long wash cycle, the dry cycle, only to find that the dishes aren't actually DRY after all that heat generated (that steams up your kitchen). . . and if you run the load at night, you wake up to cold wet dishes in the machine, instead of dry dishes on your counter. I honestly spend more time drying dishes with a dishwasher than I do with hand-washed dishes. And with hand-washed dishes, they're available in a more timely fashion (whenever you want, especially if you keep on them, so they air dry between meals!), and generate a lot less heat.

And let's face it, every dishwasher I've ever used does a pretty pathetic job washing any dish with a remote amount of food caked on it, so I often spend as much time PRE-washing the dishes before placing them in the dishwasher as I would have if I'd just hand washed them. . . then some of them still don't get clean in the machine. This seems counter-productive and a waste of energy to me (energy in the electric and human-generated kind, both). The dishes that the dishwasher cleans well are the ones that are super-easy to hand wash already. . . the ones that I don't like doing and actually take effort? Well, those are the caked-on baking pans and pots that I'm going to have to hand wash anyway.

So there's my rant. Does anyone else feel as I do, or am I just the odd ball out?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In which my 4 year old earns Doritos. . .

Yep, I definitely compromise sometimes. And the occasional junk food reward for the kiddos for extra-notable achievements is one of them. This week is one of those times.

I started Hans on the Hooked on Phonics program in early October (easy to date, as we started the same day I had my first prenatal appointment for this pregnancy, but I digress with random memories. . . ) after he was showing readiness to sound out basic words like "cat" and "dog," and after he looked super-excited about the idea. Well of course enthusiasm goes through some ebbs and flows, but there was enough flow in enthusiasm the past 4 months that he finished the Kindergarten phonics set. . . and the 1st grade set. . . and the 2nd grade set. Yowzer! That means we're done with phonics as of today, and I have a reader! How did that happen???

A very proud little boy is going to be heading to the store up the street with Daddy in the next day or two, to pick out a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. He's been looking forward to those :-). He also got the same reward after finishing the K and 1st phonics sets. After he finished the Kindergarten box he proudly told me "Now I'm done with kindergarten"! Um, not really, Bub ;-). He also asked me a few months ago, "Mommy, when I finish phonics, will I be done with school?" Nope, plenty more to learn ;-). Ha!

I still stand by my "early reading is optional and young kids need activity and imaginative play more than formal instruction," but when your kid keeps asking for more phonics. . . it's a good idea to take the idea and run with it. One of the reasons I was interested in at least trying reading this year (besides that he seemed interested) was I was hoping it would make our Sunday worship services more meaningful to Hans, and easier to follow. The last month or so, as he's realized just how many of the bulletin words he can read (of course, he can't read all of them!), has supported that notion, and he is loving being able to read most of each hymn we sing. And he was pretty tickled to recognize the Lord's Prayer in the bulletin too, and read it in a whisper to himself with a grin. Too fun.