Monday, September 29, 2014


I found these couple of notes around the house this week.  I will type them as they were written by their original authors.

From Joshua

Joshua M.E.C. 7 Huntleigh Way 13000
77478 [insert Claude's and my email passwords here] 13106 IS-SI-AH-77
Black Bird Sugar Land Texas
[insert Claude's cell phone number here] Fair Banks Alaska,
International Military Air Base
BJM 4621 Alaska

From Abby

In her own handwriting:
And then she asked me to copy the following from a library book.  She crossed out certain words.
During World War II (1939-1945), the Nazi Party ruled GermanyAdolf Hitler was the Nazi leader.  He wanted control of Germany and much of the world.
The weather can change quickly in Germany.

How Joshua knows our email passwords we have yet to find out.  But if he can figure out our passwords by seeing us type them (we don't say them out loud and the only place where they are written down is in a location to which he has no access), I'm guessing he's not far from typing in our iPad pass code or computer password, logging into our email, and reading all of our junk mail.

As for Abby...well, don't all 4-year-olds read about Nazi Germany?


Friday, September 26, 2014

Our Story, Part 11 (Because Life Goes On Even After a Blog Series Ends)


Everything may be bigger in Texas, but the population of Sugar Land will be seven persons smaller come the end of October.  Exactly two years after our arrival in the Lone Star State, we will be heading out for a new adventure.

Several months ago Claude was looking for a change in his work situation.  We prayed a lot and started applying for positions that seemed like a good fit.  One position was at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  It sounded like a great position and an ideal place to raise our growing Crew.  But, we never heard back from them, Claude got a transfer at his current place of employment, and that was that.

Then near the end of June I got a phone call in the middle of the day.  Since my phone is essentially an alarm clock, I was a bit surprised.  The call was from Claude.  The director of the flow cytometry facility at UVA wanted to know if he was still interested in the position.  They had a hiring freeze back in February/March and were unable to move forward with the search.

After praying and talking together we decided to move forward with the application and interview process.  Many things about the Charlottesville area were appealing to us, especially as we thought about our family life.  And God wasn't giving us an answer in advance, so instead of parking ourselves and waiting for a sign, we opted to see how God would direct our path as we entrusted our next steps to Him.

The interview was scheduled for the middle of July, but as the Lord would have it, we spent that weekend in the hospital while Claude had his appendix removed.  We weren't sure if the director would still be interested in waiting until he could go again for an interview, but we knew that if a medical emergency was the way God wanted to shut the door then we were at peace about that.

The door remained open.

Come the middle of August, Claude and I found ourselves (alone!) on a plane headed to Charlottesville, VA.  :)  We enjoyed a couple of days hiking in Shenandoah National Park and as I flew back home on Monday morning, Claude was at the University of Virginia interviewing for the position that we thought, way back in March, was closed.

He had very positive responses from the director, but we heard that the process could take a while to get to the point of a real job offer.  So, we hunkered down for a long wait.  And boy, did it ever feel long!

Normally a month rolls by in the blink of an eye.  This past month has felt like an eternity!  But, like most waits, this one came to an end.  This week Claude signed and returned the official offer.  Praise the Lord!

We are excited about what is to come and yet we are sad about leaving Texas.  The kids, especially, had mixed responses when we announced it to them.  They have known that this was in the mix from the beginning, so it wasn't a shock to them, but it's still hard for some of them to accept - especially when change is not usually welcome.

However, they are on board enough to have happily participated in our creative endeavor for the day.  :)

With five small children, you can never count on a great photo.  This, apparently, was as good as I was going to get.  Real life, folks.  Real life.

And here is the rogue "Virginia or bust" sign, complete with monsters, fire-breathing dragons, and camouflage letters.  :)

 And so begins a new stage in our journey!  Well, after we find a place to live, pack up all of our belongings, load up the moving truck, drive a couple thousand miles...  We'd better get to work!

2014-2015 School Year, Part 3

This is the final post of our monster 2014-2015 School Year series.  Part 1 introduced our school-aged kids and jumped into what we're doing for Language Arts this year.  Part 2 focused on our major shift in how we do math in our homeschool.

I hadn't intended on being so long-winded, but without trying to be concise I tend to run on and on.  So, today we will conclude with the secondary subjects - Bible (not at all secondary in our lives, but academically speaking that's where it fits), science, history, music, and read-aloud (my favorite!).


Bible Reading
Sample from Hannah's Bible Reading Notebook.
Claude does a great job making sure we are all hearing God's Word each and every day.  He reads before meals and each night the kids have Bible Time with Daddy.  However, we don't consider these to be part of our "school" day.

The older two kids, however, have an added subject in their school assignments - their own Bible reading.  The original thought was that Claude and I would read along with them in our own quiet time.  Claude is much more disciplined about this than I am, and the kids...well, let's just say they are whole books ahead of us in the reading plan.

Anyway...they read three chapters a day and will finish up the New Testament in the next several weeks.  Then they will jump into the Old Testament.  After completing their reading assignment for the day they write down a verse or summarize the passage they just read.
Science and History

Samples of Joshua's narration pages.
Currently Joshua and Hannah spend 30-60 minutes each school day reading books on various history, geography, and science-related subjects.  We find books from the library that sound interesting – usually they will each choose a topic (or two or three) that they are interested in and we look up the call number at home, find the books on the shelf, and go from there.

After they are finished reading, they are required to write what we call a narration page.  I can’t remember where I heard of this, but it’s certainly not unique to our homeschool.  Basically, the kids write 1-3 sentences about what they learned and if they have time or feel up to it, they draw a picture.

These are pretty simple, and for the moment I don’t get too worked up about the narration pages.  Often times I find that they have copied sentences directly from the books (with a few punctuation or spelling improvisations).  For now I don’t mind.  They are learning what clear written communication is like.  If it helps for them to copy a sentence, that’s fine.  The standard will be higher as they get older, so I’m not too worried about it right now.

At the moment, Joshua is expected to read 30 minutes each for science and history/geography.  Hannah is expected to read 30 minutes on one subject.  She is almost to the point of adding the second subject each day and soon the reading time will be increased for Joshua.

Samples of Hannah's narration pages.
My goal for them is to be able to spend a total of one hour reading in science and an additional hour reading in history in the next few years.  At some point we will most likely have them in a more formalized history and science curriculum, but for this stage they are learning a ton and having fun to boot. 


We are trying to memorize the countries and capitals of the world.  We stalled somewhere in Europe a few months ago, but we may have a few days in the upcoming months to cram in a little more of those gazillion European countries.  After last school year we had completed all of North, Central, and South America including the Caribbean Islands.  It’s a bit hit or miss, but we are still moving forward…slowly. 

Joshua and Hannah are still going strong in their Koine Greek curriculum, Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek!  It is super simple, super slow, and has proven to be very thorough.  They like to use the Greek words they have learned in every day speech.  “I γινωσκω (know) that you can βλεπο (see) me!”

They are currently in Level 2 and will continue on until the end of the program, which I believe is about 8 levels in total. 


I’ll admit, as tragic as this is for two people with music degrees, Claude and I are struggling to keep up with music lessons in our homeschool.  Recently I have been thinking that having music teachers who are not the parents is probably an ideal situation, but seeing as how the budget does not at all accommodate for such an expense, and also how we are both pretty convinced that if we can teach them we should, we are still trying to find a way for music lessons to progress even as we have zero time to do it.

Claude is decidedly better at making the time than I am.  He will take 10 or 15 minutes before Joshua and Hannah’s evening Bible time to teach them a measure of a piece or quiz them on their note reading skills.  The best I can do is that I tuned their violin a couple weeks ago, just in time for Jeremiah to drop it and break the neck.  Nice.

One thing that I am noticing, though, is the aptitude that the kids have for music.  I’m pretty sure that Joshua has an ear as good as his dad – he will sometimes tell me what pitches he is hearing, whether that’s someone singing or something humming.  He picks out melodies on the keyboard with ease.  And he gravitates toward the music area when he is looking for something to stimulate his busy brain.  I think the kid needs something more than what we’re able to give him at the moment.

Time will tell what opportunities God opens up for our kids in the area of music.  I am increasingly convinced that this just isn't the season of family life for us to focus on it.  Perhaps a couple years down the road we will have figured out a host of other pressing issues and will be able to better hone our musical abilities.  And maybe not.

For now we are encouraging all of them to play the piano as much as possible and I’m looking (in all my free time) for some resources for learning both piano and music theory independently.  I even had an idea to make a video of each new violin lesson with the kids.  Then, they can practice right along with the video every day.  Just as good as having mom sitting there in person, right?  Well, that was the idea.  And then the violin had a great fall from which neither dad nor mom could put it back together.  :(  Maybe in the future this could be a solution for us - affordable, consistent, and able to work at each students' pace.  We shall see... 

Read Aloud
Once upon a time I spent countless hours, toddlers in lap, colorful picture book in hand, reading to our oldest two children.  It was beautiful.  It was picturesque.  And It almost stopped happening when I became swamped with three kids three and under.  After a while the reading was infrequent.  I was sad.

Then I met a friend who let me borrow a couple of books filled with lists of suggestions for read-aloud books (picture books and chapter books) and books for children of all ages.  Initially I was just looking for suggestions beyond Little House on the Prairie for Joshua and Hannah to read.  It's hard to find appropriate material for a 6- and a 7-year old who both read well above grade level.

Anyway...reading these books about reading books rekindled my excitement for read-aloud time.  Now we have two read-aloud times every day.  The first is with my cuddle crew - Abby, Jeremiah, and Rachel (if she isn't in a nap).  We are having fun reading every picture book about vehicles we can find, twisting up our tongues with some Fox in Socks, and discovering new favorites from the library shelves.

In the afternoons (most days) the older three kids - Joshua, Hannah, and Abby - spread out around the living room and we read a chapter or two from our current book.  Our list for the year consists of Stone Fox, Homer Price, The Year of Miss Agnes, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Sarah Plain and Tall, The Matchlock Gun, and currently we are nearing the end of Caddie Woodlawn.  The kids love read-aloud time - it seems to be a highlight of their day.  I'm enjoying reading with them again, as well.

We have made a lot of changes to our homeschool curriculum for 2014-2015.  While our school structure remains basically the same and our overall goals have not budged, we have found that the most important factor in choosing what to do for each subject is our ability to work consistently.  How easy is it for the kids to get their schoolwork done?  How much can they do on their own?  How much is dependent on mom or dad to accomplish?  If it's too parent heavy, it's not going to fly in our household.  But, if our students can take it and run, then all the better.  They tend to move faster without us holding them back, anyway.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014-2015 School Year, Part 2

This is the second of three posts in a series about what we're doing for school this year, 2014-2015.  Last time I introduced our school-aged kids and talked about what we're doing for language arts.  Today I'm dedicating the entire post to our math revamp.

This may be the area in which we have made the biggest change.  Last year we were working through the first grade books from Singapore Primary Math and really liked a lot about the program.  I love how they look at a concept from several different vantage points so as to have a full understanding.  I like that there is a strong emphasis on word problems and putting math skills into every day life situations.  I even found, although many reviews I read did not, that the kids had plenty of practice on each concept and the math facts since we used the Math Sprints, Extra Practice, Intensive Practice, and Challenging Word Problems books.  In fact, I like the program so much that I may use it in a couple of years to get Abigail started on math. 

Here the problem had nothing to do with the curriculum and everything to do with our family situation.  We (literally) have a handful of kids all born within 6 years of each other.  I like to be efficient and frugal with our time.  Since the older two work at the same grade level in math I thought we could do lessons together.  This turned out to be a huge mess.  Frustration levels were high as they picked on one another and goofed off.  I felt like I spent the time doing crowd control instead of teaching a lesson. 

This combined with the fact that while Singapore curriculum is great, the format of the teacher's manual wasn't very natural for me to use the first time around.  We left math lessons angry, frustrated, and sometimes in tears.  Not good. 

In desperation I turned to my good friend, Google, for some ideas on how to solve this predicament.  What I "stumbled" across has helped our homeschool situation immensely.  I use the term "stumbled" very loosely here because as I prayed for wisdom in the situation God used even something as unholy as Google to give me an answer.  I don't think it was just stumbling. 

Anyway...I read a comment in some homeschool forum from over a decade ago.  A mom was in a very similar situation with kids quite capable of understanding and doing the math (that was not the problem) but being in the midst of a wrestling match with the kids by the middle of each lesson.  The comment that stuck out to me went something like this, "Just give your kid some flash cards, make him do them every day to memorize all his math facts.  Don't teach him.  He needs to figure it out on his own." 

I know, I know...there are people reading this who think that is crazy, stupid, dumb, etc.  What well-meaning parent would, in their right mind, turn a 6-year-old loose to learn math...on their own? 

This desperate parent would. 

Here's how I saw it.  First of all, the situation could not get any worse.  You have to believe me, since you weren't there in our school room morning after morning.  We had hit rock bottom in our math experience.  It was that bad.  And then some. 

Secondly, I had two kids who already had a solid understanding of the basic concepts of arithmetic. They each had a couple of different ways to look at problems and to solve them.  They didn't need me to explain these things to them any longer.  Their understanding and ability was not the problem. 

And last of all, our kids are super independent.  And that is an understatement.  I have a 10-month-old who reportedly pushed away the nursery worker who was trying to help her stand and walk.  She could do it on her own.  And if she couldn't...well, there's no such thing.  The oldest two are particularly independent.  Learning on their own might just work for them. 

So, we ditched the workbooks, the textbooks, the manipulatives, and I made a huge stack of flash cards covering addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts through the 12's.  And do you know what?  It actually works for us! 

The goal is for the kids to know - and I mean really know - the facts (including division) through the 12's before they move onto a boring, no cartoons included, textbook that they will work through on their own. 

You see, a big part of our philosophy of education is that our kids need to learn how to learn.  We don't want to spoon feed them information, answers, or ultimately success.  In the real world they will need to be their own teacher.  In fact, I can remember my violin teacher from high school saying this all of the time.  "You are your own teacher".  And I think it's true. 

They can be their own math teacher, too.  Of course we're not cutting them loose just yet.  They're only first and second graders!  With plenty of materials (appropriate textbooks, extra practice worksheets, manipulatives) and support (help understanding something that doesn't make sense after a few tries on their own, finding an online lesson or tutorial to explain a particularly challenging concept) I'm pretty certain they will have success.

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014-2015 School Year, Part 1

We are several weeks into the 2014-2015 school year.  At the end of our last school year I wanted to review what we had done and how much of it we were keeping for the new year.  That, obviously, didn't happen, so I thought I would give a bit of an long update now.

Since I am not one to leave out details, this has been split into three separate posts.  Today I'll fill you in on what we are doing for language arts.  The following posts will cover the big changes we've made in our approach to arithmetic.  The final post will cover everything else. 

As many of our posts about schoolwork go, it is mostly as a record for our family.  Within a few days years, we are likely to forget what we did in this crazy stage of life.  It's always kind of fun to look back and say, "Oh, yeah!  I remember doing that!"  If it's at all informative or helpful to others that is an added bonus. 

So, without further ado, I will jump right into what the 2014-2015 school year is looking like!


Joshua, 7 years old, Grade 2

Hannah, 6 years old, Grade 1

Abigail, 4 years old, Preschool / Kindergarten 

The kids' grade levels are partly determined by age and partly be capability.  They all have birthdays in the summer or early fall, so if they were going to school they might be a grade behind what they are now just based on their ages.  Like most children, they do not perform at the same grade level in all subject areas.

Joshua probably fits best into a grade level, while Hannah is doing some second grade work, some first grade work, and some work that simply cannot be graded at all.  Abigail is similar in that she is in between grade levels doing some preschool type stuff and a couple of things that are advanced for her age (she just turned 4 last week).


Phonics / Reading
Abigail is on the slow road to reading using the Spell to Write and Read phonics system mentioned below.  This is not actually because of her abilities.  I think she is already reading several words, but we have some issues with following directions.  These challenges generally keep us from finishing our lessons without a tantrum.

We have an unspoken rule now that if she throws a fit or fights with me then I put the books away and we finish for the day.  We are gradually making progress (with the tantrums), but it is painful.  Probably in several months when she is no longer so hard-headed more ready for formal instruction, we will start from the beginning and I suspect it will be a fairly short and smooth road to reading from there.

Abby's spelling list.
Joshua (7) and Hannah (almost 6) learned to read through the Spell to Write and Read phonics program by Wanda Sanseri.  I've written about it before and I have told many people about this extensive program.  Now that they are solid readers, we use the program for spelling alone with The Wise Guide for Spelling.

Joshua currently learns 40 words per week and is slated to finish out the entire program (spelling at a college freshman level) by the end of next school year.  Hannah is now learning 20 words per week and is about half way through the book.  This, I think, is the only curriculum we have used from the beginning of our schooling journey.  And we have no plans to change it in the future.

Previously we were using a Christian handwriting curriculum called A Reason forHandwriting.  I thought it as going well, but both kids were not improving in their handwriting as I had hoped.  Also, one of them has a right-handed hook pencil grip, which I was set on "fixing".  So, in January we switched to Handwriting WithoutTears.

Initially this change seemed to solve our problems - the handwriting was getting better and the pencil grips were also improving.  And, overall, I do like this program better than what we were using.  However, our kids still revert to sloppy handwriting, the hook pencil grip seems to be here for the long-haul, and I generally feel like I am failing my kids in the area of good handwriting.

Oh, well.

They can write legibly.  They are making slow progress in their handwriting skills.  And the strange pencil grips seem quite functional and are not causing any major problems (meaning, they don't keep the kids from writing and drawing for hours and hours every day).  So, for now we're going to leave it.  Handwriting may not be the strongest subject in our homeschool, but I'm learning to accept that.

And if we have some problems that come up, we'll address them as needed.

Writing / Composition
When I started out this official homeschool journey, I started reading a book called The Well-Trained Mind.  You can read about how that shaped our first year of homeschooling in this post.  While we still agree with many of the key principles in the classical method of education, we started running into some practical challenges.

One area has been that of writing and composition.  We were using Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer.  I really like the basic premise of her system.  It's simple and seems like it might be effective.  The problem we had was that I simply could not keep up with finding passages of books to read, make discussion questions for, and provide copy work sentences from.  This could be solved by purchasing a workbook with every assignment included.  The problem with this was that I didn't like many of the literature choices for one reason or another.

So, for now we are not doing any specific writing curriculum.  The kids, do however, write plenty on their own and at this stage I think they are alright.  In a year or two we may need something formalized to work through, but like handwriting, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

Unlike the suggested writing curriculum from The Well-Trained Mind, we are having pretty good success with Jessie Wise's First Language Lessons.  Hannah is just about finished with Level 1 and Joshua is somewhere in the middle of Level 2.  I like that the lessons are short and simple - perfect for me to fit into our school days.  And the kids actually look forward to them.  Imagine that!

Unless something changes, we will stick with these through the end of the series at which point we will find something more advanced.  Any suggestions???

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bleach Spray

A Note to the Concerned Reader:  After perusing this post, you may wonder if I am in my right mind, if my mental faculties are together, or if I am fit to be looking after small children all day.  Of course, I am completely sane and in control of my mental capacities.  As for looking after children all day...well, a little bit of hilarity comes along with the territory, does it not?

We are having quite a time at the Chew household as of late.  Claude and I think it may just be a stage, but we are facing some pretty horrendous (to use one of Joshua's new favorite words) attitudes and behaviors.  It's exhausting.  The other day I had a thought to pay myself a dollar each time I gave a specific correction to the kids.  I would be able to buy myself and Claude some plane tickets to a nice quiet beach side resort in a matter of days at this rate.

And might I add that we should get paid double for corrections that are required between the hours of 12am and 6am?  Apparently tantrums never sleep.

Add to an unusual set of disciplinary breeches the very usual demands of a house full of small children - for example, Jeremiah just sat on Rachel's head...for fun, Abby and Joshua are hitting each other with library books, and my toe is being sucked on by a teething baby.  Put it all together and you've got a ticket to the looney bin.

So, this morning, as I checked to see if Rachel was ready to come out of her high chair, and as I found a very substantial diaper leakage (the worst, smelliest kind of refuse, I might add) in her seat, and as she proceeded to discover the sight, feel, smell, and taste of said diaper leakage, my brain short-circuited and I entered a state of delirium from which the following ode was birthed:
Bleach spray you make my house clean
You make everything sanitary, bleach spray

Bleach spray, you are amazing
There ain’t no mess you can’t clean
Come on and disinfect, you are amazing

Bleach spray you make my house clean
You make everything sanitary, bleach spray

Bleach spray, you are amazing
You wipe out the biggest blowouts
So come on and disinfect, you are amazing

Bleach spray you make my house clean
You make everything sanitary, bleach spray
Come on , Come on bleach spray
Clean it, Clean it bleach spray

I know, I know...bleach is not very en vogue right now.  But when it comes to a battle with diarrhea, I am not messing around with vinegar.  I'm going for the big guns.  What else can handle the blue marker on the white bath mat, the throw up under the kitchen table, and the great diaper leak of 2014 in the high chair seat?

Bleach, my friends.  It makes everything sanitary.

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by Clorox or any other such company.  I was not compensated in any way shape or form for writing this post.  No one sent me a free bottle of bleach spray.  All opinions, however, are 100% my own.

Updated to Add: I took the bleached down high chair outside to rinse it and subject it to the bright sun for drying, and what scurried out of the coiled hose but a LIZARD!  Can somebody send me back to bed, please???

Sunday, September 7, 2014


It was dinner time.  It was dinner time on a Thursday - Bible study night.  The night that I was leading, no less.  And dinner was running late. dinner wasn't actually running and it wasn't late.  I was late preparing dinner and I was doing a little bit of running around the kitchen trying to get things ready.

The kids, however, were quiet, happy, and productively occupied.  This won many points, especially considering it was 5:45pm.  Anyone who has been around kids knows just how many points this peace and quiet was truly worth.

Then it happened.  My biggest fear in parenting - vomit.

Yes, the toddler threw up all over himself, the bench, and part of the kitchen floor.  And no, he was not happy about all.

As an aside, if you are ever wondering how to clear a room in a hurry, just let loose an active puker and you'll see just how quickly a group of kids can flee.

Once the scene of the crime had been adequately cleared of extra bodies, I assured the unhappy patient that he would be alright and I ran him to the bathtub.  Of course, I couldn't leave the kitchen for long because I knew I had a mess to corral and I needed to make some quick decisions regarding how to go about such a task.

What I hadn't accounted for between the big kids leaving the room and the sicky being confined to the bathroom was the baby.  She was not in the kitchen when things went from miraculously serene to monumentally disgusting.  I actually don't know where she was or what she was doing.  I had, in fact, forgotten about her.  Terrible, I know, but I don't presume to be the only mother who has done this.

I also do not presume that I am the only mother who witnessed what happened next, but I can't say that I have heard anyone tell such a distasteful story, either.

The forgotten one made her appearance as I rounded the corner to the kitchen.  Apparently the baby had missed the memo about the recent stomach-churning happenings in the kitchen.  I found her crawling out from under the table.  Being one to scan the kitchen floor for little tidbits between meals, she must have been very interested in the big puddle of goodies her brother had just lost.

As she crawled into the open her wet hands, knees, feet, and especially chin and mouth gave her away.  She had indeed visited the vomit and sampled whatever she could find to put in her mouth.  She even enjoyed her snack, as her grin so clearly communicated.

Gross.  Just gross.  And yet, all I could do was laugh.

Now, you may be asking "Is this too much information?  Should stories like this be filtered from my web browser?"  Well, my friends, I spared you from this much, at least.  Notice that I have not shared any photos of the event?

You're welcome.  :)