Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Horse Changes Everything

I have worked hard to convince myself that expensive lessons outside of our home are luxuries rather than necessities.  First, they make our days too frantic, and second, they cost too much money.  Though I would love to indulge every extra-curricular whim of my children's hearts, I cannot.

I tell myself it is good for us to not get everything we want . . .

I remind myself that we have luxuries about which some people only get to dream . . .

I am firmly convinced that we have our whole lives before us in which to live, and if we miss some opportunities as children, there are years of adulthood yet ahead . . .

But that was before J9 had her first horseback riding lesson.

Several years ago a member of our homeschool group organized several (deeply discounted) sessions of group trail riding for one age bracket and half hour sessions riding a horse on a lead around the corral for a younger age bracket.  E12 was old enough to go out on the trail, while S10 and M10 happily sat on the backs of gentle horses who patiently walked in circles for a living.  J9 was too small to do anything more than hold my hand and look at the "pretty ponies."

We looked forward to doing it again the next year when J9 would be old enough to participate, but it turned out to be a one-time deal.

I don't think we've ever ridden a horse since.

But J9 has been hungry for horses.  She reads about them; she talks about them; she studies them for her elective; she write stories about them; she draws them.  Her hunger has been focused and sustained for so long that I broke a rule (with her permission) and combined her Christmas and birthday gift into one by buying her a package deal of 4 horseback riding lessons.  They are frightfully expensive, and more than once I've been afraid that I've used our money unwisely by spending it this way, but the promise was made, the lessons scheduled, and there was no going back.

This Thursday was her first lesson.  Many small irritations frustrated me that day--Isaac wouldn't go down for a nap; we left late; my cell phone died; the kids came along to watch, but then had to sit in the car with me because liability insurance when horses are involved is complicated; S10 had a dreadful breakdown over the disappointment; E12 didn't do her schoolwork--then I really looked at J9's face.

Not one irritation mattered in the light of the anticipation shining from her eyes.
Nothing was too frustrating to overcome for that sweet smile that she kept trying to repress but wouldn't be repressed.

Her instructor couldn't be more perfect for my girl; she's a mature, gracious, soft-spoken woman.  I felt a connection between them immediately.  It was with perfect confidence that I entrusted J9 to her care while I tried to entertain the troops in the van. 

It was a long hour.

At the end I walked back to the stable to pick J9 up.  She and her instructor were putting gear away and talking about some general concepts to remember for next time.  J9 was glowing--alive and glowing!  She and her instructor had that "we're best friends from another life" feeling about them as they talked.

I asked, "How was it?  Was it wonderful?"

J9 couldn't put it into words.  She just nodded her head, mute with joy.

Her instructor said, "She did an amazing job.  She walked and trotted.  When she trotted she kept her seat, and I've never seen that before in a first time rider.  She just seemed to know how to keep her balance by being strong but loose."

I nudged J9 with my elbow and said, "Hey!  Wow!  Maybe you have a gift!"

"A gift.  Yes, a gift.  I would say that she has a gift, " replied the instructor thoughtfully.  She smiled at J9 and said, "You are a gift to me.  Your smile is the best thing I've ever seen.  I wish I could take your picture and look at it whenever I need something to make me feel better.  You rode very well.  Yes, you have a gift."

Then they talked about horse-y things that I couldn't understand for a few minutes while I marveled.

This instructor is a sincere person.  She's not loud or jokey or given to exaggeration.  Her comments look rather shallow typed out for reading, but to hear them was another matter entirely.  I believe her when she said that spending an hour teaching my girl was a gift to her.  The energy between those two was palpable.  The light on my girl's face was different from anything I've ever seen there.

Before this experience I would never ever have considered horseback riding to be essential.  Food is essential.  Shelter, love, faith, forgiveness--all are on my essential list.

But horses?

They're just really interesting and fun . . . if you like them.

Seeing my J9 and her instructor together is teaching me otherwise.  Horses mean something powerful to them both.  They share a love that passes my understanding.

Love, though, is on my essential list.

If that love is not fed it will die, and a part of J9 will die with it.  Of that I am absolutely certain.

Suddenly horses are very, very important to me.

I would even go so far as to call them . . . essential.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guitar Lessons

E12 had her first guitar lesson last night.  She got the guitar for Christmas a year ago.  We tried book and video tutorials--borrowed from the library--but they just didn't help.  The guitar was relegated to the top shelf of the closet after only a couple of months.

Last month I was inspired.  There's a youth in our ward who plays the guitar very well.  He's preparing to serve a mission, so he's on the hunt for work of any kind.  He's a ballet teacher, so he's used to teaching.  I asked him if he'd be willing to teach E12.

We struck a deal (in which I am woefully underpaying him, but hope to remedy that soon).

He showed up promptly and prepared.

I was impressed.

In spite of the chaos of getting the rest of the family off to a college basketball game to which they were invited at the last minute, he was poised and pleasant.

I was impressed again.

He's customizing the lessons to fit her interests.

I am impressed even more.

The only problem I can find is that E12 is a 12-year-old girl and her teacher is an 18-year-old boy, and I think her little heart pitter-pats too fast to think clearly.  When I peeked in at the lessons, she had her eyes downcast and barely answered his thoughtful questions.

I'm hoping that familiarity will breed comfort (rather than contempt) and eventually she'll be able to look him in the eye and carry on a normal conversation.

But perhaps having a crush on her teacher won't be a bad thing; she might practice really hard in order impress him!

We'll see.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Assessment 2012--H3

This little girl loves life!

The frame of our preschool is the alphabet--one letter at a time we explore fun crafts.  Preschool is an excuse to make sure I give H3 some special attention each day.  She knows the alphabet, and she can count accurately at least to 10, but probably higher.  She can write her own name and can copy anything we hand her.  She loves to paint, cut, color, and do whatever she sees her big sisters do.  She is incredibly verbal and hilariously funny!  She can make me laugh when she wants to without fail!!!

She is rather naughty during family prayer and scripture time each night (What to do?  What to do?), but during A5's devotional time she is an active participant.  She's memorizing scriptures, poems, and songs, and she loves the scripture stories I read.

She helps me cook and clean--last night she washed dishes for at least half an hour.  She listens to great stories every afternoon and at bedtime.  She goes on nature outings with us.  She loves cuddles and kisses and lots of closeness.

I love the life in this little girl!

Assessment 2012--A5

She is one of the brightest parts of my life.  Five-year-olds are just so special to me!  This little girl loves to do preschool with her little sister.  She loves her reading lessons; she is doing great!  We used Sonlight K reading/language arts for most of the year and she just thrived on it.  In addition we read lots of early readers on our own and she reads at least 1 verse a day from the Book of Mormon.  I think she is reading far beyond her years.  This year we are moving on to Sonlight Language Arts 1, and we will keep the additional reading and Book of Mormon reading.  It's working!

As for the rest of school, I'm not worried about it.  We read fun library books on science, history, math, geography--every subject imaginable.  At night I read aloud to her from chapter books like All-of-A-Kind Family, A Grain of Rice, A Bear Called Paddington, Mr. Popper's Penguins, etc.  She plays math games on the computer and learns songs and games from  Over the Christmas break she discovered Dance Mat Typing, and I am allowing all kinds of extra computer time for her as she avidly learns to type.

Yesterday she discovered that she can thread a needle and make things all by herself! 

And last but not least we have devotional every morning in which we memorize a scripture, memorize a poem, sing a primary song, and read a scripture story

It is a privilege to be a part of this little girl's learning and growing!

Assessment 2012--J9

She was only 8 throughout the year, but her birthday really did come and go right as the year changed.

Why does 9 feel so  much older than 8?

She is my academic girl.  She loves reading and writing, and when I handed her the workbook that is taking the place of real school for the next couple of months she cheered.  When she's reading, writing, or doing arithmetic, she can hear nothing else.  It takes multiple aggressive attempts to get her attention when she is lost in the world of learning.

I see myself in her--the good things.

I failed to write about copywork/dictation in the older girls' assessments.  This area is dropped for the time being, but it is one in which we have been faithful for the past year or two.  She is careful, so her handwriting and spelling are beautiful.  She works slowly, so I get to practice patience.  I believe it is a valuable tool for teaching spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style.  I can see the benefits in J9's writing--but she could use some formal lessons in using periods at the ends of her sentences!

Language Arts:
She's finished her NaNoWriMo novel, and it is nearly entered into the computer.  She's been revising as she types, so it has been a dreadfully slow process.  However, it is clear that she grasps the concept of revision and is not afraid of it.  She has a wry voice, not much given to description, that has made me laugh aloud several times when I have had the privilege of reading her work.

She's also finally given up reading that dreadful fairy series she was in love with and has moved on to Warriors.  It is a small step up, but at least it is a step up.  I'm supplementing her free time reading with some quality youth novels, and I'm quite confident that over time she'll start choosing better and better literature for herself.

As are her sisters, she's quite enjoying Life of Fred and understanding what she learns as she works her way through the books.

Her elective of choice has been Beautiful Feet Books History of the Horse.  I literally have to order her to put her work away because I need the kitchen table for lunch or preschool.  She is industrious and joyful in her work.  (And her Christmas/birthday present is a series of 4 horseback riding lessons starting in 1 week!)

History/Science/Scripture Study:
She joins the rest of the older girls for these activities and definitely understands what we read about.  She writes excellent summaries in her journals and asks pertinent questions.  She is careful and exact in her science writings and drawings.  I enjoy her insights and enthusiasm.

J9 is the student we all wish we could have--careful, industrious, pleasant, bright, inquisitive.  She's just fun to be around and a joy to learn alongside.  I am confident that with or without my supervision, this little girl will learn everything she needs to be a competent, joyful adult.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Assessment 2012--S10

My sweet S10 is incredibly social and optimistic.  She loves to talk and talk and talk--all people are potential friends.  She is quite bright and her hearing is acute . . . as long as she's interested in what is going on. :)

Language Arts:
This girl reads!  She is my best kid at following the "after baths you should be reading a book or writing in a journal" rule.  We can hardly keep her stocked because she flies through books at a rapid pace.  Her favorites are fantasies (Fablehaven, Warriors, etc.), but she's willing to give other books a try. 

She finished her NaNoWriMo novel first draft and is currently working on entering it into the computer for editing.  She has a good ear for irony and humor, and her story is peppered with one-liners that make me laugh. 

She's entering a local spelling bee this spring--she's a good speller!

She's loving working through the elementary series of Life of Fred.  She'd like to go faster, but I've been holding her back a little to give her time to absorb the concepts; sometimes she can spit out the facts without showing me she understands what's going on in the background.

The Great Composers:
Her elective of choice was The Great Composers by Beautiful Feet.   She loves the days when she is listening to music; she falls apart on the days when she is supposed to define vocabulary words or draw maps.  She's starting to complain more and work less.  I'd like to see her finish it, but I didn't purchase all of the components in advance, so now I have to spend some money because checking them out from the library really isn't working.  I'm impressed with the curriculum, and I'm convinced S10 is learning some good stuff--at the very least she's being exposed to truly great music, and that it good enough for me!

We were working our way through  The Story of the World volume 3, but we let that fall by the way.  It works for us (when I follow through), so my goal is to open that one up again and keep filling our timeline notebook with pictures and notes.

Science and Old Testament:
As these are family subjects, what I wrote about E12 applies here.  But S10 is very engaged on our nature outings even though she hates the actual drawing part.  I love to see her dash here and there exclaiming loudly over every new discovery.  She'll probably never see any of the shyer fauna. 

S10 is lots of fun to be around.  In her free time she studies first aid, sharks, and surfing via the story of Bethany Hamilton.  She currently wants to become a pro-surfer.  That's one dream I'm not really equipped to help her with, but I'm trying to feed her love of first-aid and music, and I'm trying to keep her supplied with great reading material.

I think she's going to like working on home improvement projects for the next couple of months.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Assessment 2012--M10

My darling little M10 has the heart of a servant.  She loves to give and serve and help.  I don't think there can be any better description of a person than that.  Her special mission this past year or so was (and still is) making baby blankets for expectant moms.  On any given Sunday you can see evidence of her handiwork and love wrapped around babies of various ages.

Language Arts:
My darling girl has stopped reading for pleasure.  Why?  She hasn't given me a good answer for it--just that "reading is boring."  We've tried dozens of books, and she never finishes any of them.  Her most focused interest was on babysitting and infant/child first aid and CPR.  She read and took notes and basically completed a self-designed babysitting training course.  She did such a good job on her first babysitting job (pulling out a questionnaire and filling it out before the parents left then caring for the baby just beautifully) that they called me to tell me how wonderful she was.

So, she can read.  She can focus on that which interests her.  She just hasn't found any literature that holds her attention.

I guess we'll stick to non-fiction, hands-on, do-it-yourself sorts of reading.

She's still plugging away at her NaNoWriMo novel.  Fiction isn't her thing.  She journals with the best of them, but this novel is quite a stretch.  She's like me that way. :)  I can respect that.  And if she never finishes her novel, but keeps a daily journal, I'm more than happy!

She's loving working through the elementary series of Life of Fred.  She'd like to go faster, but I've been holding her back a little to protect E12's feelings.  Now that E12 is going to switch to Saxon, I think I'll let M10 fly.

Her elective of choice was ASL, but that's awfully hard to do via independent study.  I'd have her sign to herself in the mirror, but there's nowhere near enough feedback for that to work.  We've returned the books to the friend from whom we borrowed them and we're casting about for another subject for her to study.  She likes projects, so I'm thinking that a Hands of a Child lapbook is the right course of action for her.

We were working our way through  The Story of the World volume 3, but we let that fall by the way.  It works for us (when I follow through), so my goal is to open that one up again and keep filling our timeline notebook with pictures and notes.

Science and Old Testament:
As these are family subjects, what I wrote about E12 applies here.  But M10 is very engaged on our nature outings and absolutely loves producing drawings and participating in our experiments.  She's a hands-on kind of girl!

I'm happy to see her growing and learning.  She's entering the stage of wanting to listen in on the grown-ups' conversation rather than playing with the little kids--though she really loves those littles.  I can count on her help bathing, feeding, and caring for her little sisters and brother when I need her; she's responsible almost to a fault, and I work to see that she has free time to "just be."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Assessment 2012--E12

E12 still does not love school.  I have not given up hope that she ever will love school, but I'm awfully close.

She is so bright!
She is so talented!
She is so exciting! 

I was about to write that I pray for her to love learning and see her talents, but I realized as I wrote that I haven't been praying for her about these concerns . . . and I think I shall begin this year.

Language Arts:
She sure reads!  She loves fantasies, but she's also been working on some more challenging material from The Well-Trained Mind 7th grade reading list.  She understands what she reads and can converse intelligently when engaged.  She still tries to back off from literary conversation with, "I dunno.  That's just what I think."  But when pressed she can give concrete examples from the books to back up her opinion.

We participated in NaNoWriMo this year; though our illness in November prevented us from completing our goals.  I've promised the girls that if they finish their books by the end of January I'll have them printed and bound for them.  E12 seems to be working on her book--though Christmas etc. has rather gotten in the way of recent progress.  When she reads excerpts aloud I am delighted by her voice.  She's got style!

She's nearly done with Life of Fred: Elementary Series and seems to be learning the concepts taught.  She refuses to memorize the times tables, but I've given her a chart that she refers to, and when that becomes too cumbersome I imagine she'll take action.  I was about to purchase the Fractions and Decimals and Percents books for her when she asked me for a return to more traditional math books.  I reminded her of our epic failures at anything remotely resembling traditional math, but she says she's sure that she'd like a traditional approach so that she can hone her basic skills . . . it just occurs to me as I write that perhaps that multiplication chart is cumbersome and this is how she's taking action.  Serendipitously, a friend just gave us 4 Saxon math textbooks, and after looking over the 5/4 book I'm sure she could complete that independently.  If she likes it I'll have to find a 6/5 book because that one is missing from the series we were given!

We tried to follow The Well-Trained Mind history plan for 7th grade--what a bust!  It just about killed the love of history for us both.  We decided to drop it in favor of having her read and journal The Story of the World volume 3 on her own and supplement with interesting history books as we find them.

We're nearly done with Chemistry.  It's been fun.  We used Christian Kids Explore Chemstry (I picked up a cheap used copy).  It really is geared toward younger children, but I used it as a base for organizing our learning and supplemented with library books.  We're also still participating in Explorer's Club and going on nature outings.  E12 always seems to be disengaged as we explore or do experiments, but then she shows me fabulous nature sketches or can recite verbatim the results of our experiments.  I'm slowly learning not to push her to look involved but trust that she is (though my progress is slow!).

I'm thoroughly impressed and satisfied with Visual Latin for my E12.  It is a perfect fit.  The subject matter is getting harder right about now, so she's starting to be frustrated, but she can translate quite well, and my favorite part is that she's constantly recognizing Latin roots in our daily speech and happily shares her knowledge with the rest of us. 

Geography and Logic:
Both of these have fallen by the way.  We used Mapping the World by Heart--I have no intention of picking it back up for my eldest girl.  I foolishly thought that the drawing part would engage her brain, but she hates drawing and the work was excruciating for her.  We're just keeping a map of the world up on the wall and talking about countries, cities, and places as they come up in our reading/listening/learning.

I do plan to pick up Logic again . . . somehow.  It was interesting stuff, and I think E12 was getting more out of it than she would admit. 

Personal Progress:
I worked hard to break down the goals into smaller bites for my work-phobic girl.  I printed out the plans and put them in a darling binder.  And it worked . . . for about a month!  Suddenly she didn't need my plans, and she just works straight out of the Personal Progress book.  And it doesn't hurt that she was able to buy a tablet with her babysitting money, so now she completes her goals using her favorite new tool. :)

Old Testament:
We're nearly done.  We fell out of the daily habit because of holiday schedules, but we're going to pick back up with our reading, discussing, and journaling.  I was going to go on to the New Testament, but with the church schedule beginning church history, I'm awfully tempted to go that route instead  . . . still thinking about this one.

E12 is starting guitar lessons this month!

In conclusion:
We're making changes this year.  We need to prepare our house to sell, so formal school is going to take a back seat to home repairs and interior decorating.  E12 will need to keep up with Personal Progress, Math, Latin, and finishing her book.  As a family we'll have our Old Testament "classes," and she'll have guitar lessons.  Other than that she'll be required to complete a couple of pages of one of those all-in-one workbooks that you can buy at Sam's Club or Wal-Mart (a 6th grade one was in that box of books that my friend gave me).  Though she's 7th grade age, the material will be simple enough to not frustrate her and will probably fill in some of the gaps that have been left by our eclectic way of doing things.

Once the house is ready we'll pick up Chemistry, History, Logic, and interesting Language Arts lessons again.