K2 with Mommy

This year marks the last of the preschool year for the Big Nona. Come January, she is starting her first year of elementary education. I get a mixture of excitement and slight sadness in welcoming the “Primary-1 with Mommy” — excited because we are embarking on a new level in the pursuit of knowledge, a little sad because it felt like only yesterday I was holding my first newborn and now she is a preschooler no more!

Being mindful of that, we made it a point to spend this year with plenty of outdoor play and nature exploration. I hope the Big Nona will remember her preschool years as nothing but full of play and wonder from observing God’s awesome creation.

What follows in this post is our K2 lesson plan based on the specific focus of the year mentioned above. I document the teaching/learning materials in this blog for future use with the younger siblings.

Lesson Overview

Similar to last year’s K1 with Mommy, our learning subjects consist of:

  • Memory training
  • Mathematics
  • Literacy

The aim was that at the end of the year, the child would master:

  • fluency in counting 1 to 100,
  • addition and subtraction of numbers up to 20,
  • analog clock reading,
  • the 26 alphabet letters in manuscript, and
  • reading and writing simple sentences using manuscript.

Following Singapore’s January to November school calendar, our school-time began at 8.30 and ended at 10 in the morning, four days a week (we have weekly community day with our Classical Conversations’ homeschooling community every one of the weekdays). We started with marking the calendar, followed by morning devotion and then the lesson.

picsart_12-30-105988874694809586958.png

The calendar included shape-pattern and weather graph.

The Subjects

1. Memory Training

I shared in last year’s post that we believe memory training is crucial to developing the mind of the child in order for it to be capable of higher thinking. We did this by memorizing one hymn and one Bible verse every week, and by reciting certain works of literature. This year we continued with the second paragraph of the 三字经 (Three Characters Classic) and two poems by 白居易.

2. Mathematics

For numeracy, we did not do anything new this year but continued to hone the child’s fluency in counting from 1 to 100. However, the frequency of this exercise was reduced to once a week. She seemed to have picked up a few tricks to make the otherwise boring exercise interesting by filling up the boxes in random order with the correct numbers. I believe the child has gained a better sense of numbers too through this kind of game.

Similarly for basic arithmetic, we continued with the addition and subtraction of numbers up to 20, and then slowly moving up to 30. We also continued doing addition/subtraction of three numbers to strengthen the concept of number bonds. The exercise was done every school-day for the first semester, then two days a week in the following semester. The goal, again, was for the child to over-practice the basic arithmetic so much that it became intuitive.

This year we also added Saxon Math 1 into our curriculum. It provided daily guide for homeschooling parents to teach grade-1 mathematics and daily assignments for the students. The Big Nona was required to complete two assignments every school-day.

On clock reading, we moved to identifying the clock and the minute that each number represents. We did so first in Mandarin (because Mandarin goes by the number itself i.e. 一个字, 两个字, 三个字, and so forth) and then in English. She was also taught how to identify “a quarter past…” on the clock.

3. Literacy

Picking up from where we left last year, we carried on with writing a-z in manuscript (cursive). Once the child was fluent in these letters, we practiced writing (Indonesian) words from words starting with “a” all the way to those starting with “z”. The writing exercise was done every school-day until the end of the school year. Towards the end of the year, having been done with the last z-letter word, we practiced writing simple sentences. The objective for all these exercises was to train the muscle memory of writing in manuscript.

As for reading, we routinely had story-time when all the children were being read to before naptime and at bedtime. We would pick books of different types and levels, from manga such as Doraemon to chapter books such as The Chronicles of Narnia, or from baby’s picture books to encyclopedias. The Big Nona also practiced her reading-aloud by reading to her younger siblings. And when they were napping, she would read on her own.

That’s it!

Now it looks like I can tick off all the objectives we jotted down at the beginning of the year. But looking back, I am made to see that the true learning that has taken place was so much more than just a list that I could tick off. This is true not only for the Big Nona, but especially for me and all of us in the family.

Earlier this May, we welcomed a new baby into our home. And the arrival of a new member has undoubtedly changed the dynamics of the family in significant ways. Sticking to the normal schedule was harder and school-time often got disrupted. With a newborn clamoring for most of Mommy and Daddy’s attention, the girls couldn’t help feeling left out and we began to have discipline issues, and often. Ticking off a list of lesson objectives seemed like the most impossible thing to do.

That was the moment when God convicted me and helped me regain my focus on what we believe was the purpose of education: to pursue wisdom and virtue, to the glory of God. Until then I had always rushed through our morning devotion in order to finish the lesson on time and keep up with the day’s demands, even as the children asked for longer Bible time. But God through His Word in Luke 10:38-42 showed me how I, like Martha, was anxiously preoccupied by the wrong things.

It’s not that the academics are not important, it’s just that they are not the most important. I had to learn again and again that, indeed, the beginning of wisdom is to know and to fear God. I also had to learn to put my trust in Him instead of in my own ability, to get my peace and rest from Him and then teach with that peace and restfulness.

We had since spent longer time for the morning devotion and shifted some parts of the schooling to the afternoon. We also reserved one school-day solely for reviewing our weekly growth in character, giving encouragement for any virtue we saw in each other and addressing the vices we needed to repent of. We called it Hari Ngobrol (Heart-to-heart Day), the girls were loving it so it is here to stay! And did we get plenty of time to play outdoor and explore the nature? You bet! 😉

In the end, alongside her soon-to-be first grader, this momma, too, has learned many things this year. Thanks be to God for His faithful and loving hands which have guided and upheld us year after year. May His mercy and grace continue to shadow us as we embark on yet another year of homeschooling.

K1 with Mommy

We have always believed that early childhood is the period of life when children should explore and experience their world in ways that make the most sense to them, that is through lots of play and hands-on experiences. The first six years of childhood are meant to be playful and carefree rather than filled with hours of sitting at desk doing academics. In fact, the playful years are crucial in preparing the children for the journey of academic learning which comes later. These short but essential moments, once gone are no longer retrievable. After all, it is called the preschool years for a reason.

As much as I wanted to spend my children’s preschool years playing in parks, watching birds and smelling flowers, we know that we are living in the part of the world where schooling normally starts at three. So it was understandable when the grandparents asked more questions and more often around the topic.

To accommodate their concerns, last year we started our formal academic learning with our eldest daughter at home, then turning five years old. We kept the “school-time” short so we had plenty of time for play and other non-academic activities daily.

In this post, I am compiling the lessons that we have done for the past year for future use with the younger siblings. The materials are derived largely from my memory of what were taught to me during my own Kindy years. If you are teaching your preschooler(s) and find the materials useful, please feel free to take anything that could be of any use for you.

First Things First

Before the school year began, Husband and I sat down and planned an overview of the year’s lessons. We reminded ourselves again what the definition of education is and what kind of education philosophy we believe in. For us, education is the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, to the glory of God. The approach we take is the classical model of education. Once we got that settled, we moved on to the practical e.g. lesson sets and their objectives.

Lesson Overview

For K1, we focused on four academic subjects:

  1. Memory training
  2. Numeracy
  3. Mathematics
  4. Literacy

Here is my scribble of the year’s lesson overview (written in Indonesian). The aim was that at the end of the year, the child would be able to:

  1. Recognize and write the 26 alphabet capital letters,
  2. Recognize and write (count) from 1 to 100,
  3. Read simple words (in Indonesian),
  4. Counting objects.

lesson-overview

Following Singapore’s January to November school calendar, our school-time began at 9 and ended at 10 in the morning, every Monday to Thursday (we have community day with our Classical Conversations’ homeschooling community every Friday).

The Subjects

1. Memory Training

The classical model of education puts a lot of emphasis on the training of memory. I used to question why my teachers would make us memorize things every day, regardless of our understanding them. It wasn’t just the school teachers, my Mandarin tuition teacher, Sunday School teachers, tuition teachers would all drill their students with rote memorization. In fact, memorization made up a huge part of my education from preschool all the way to high school. So, how important is memory training actually? The successful founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, among many others, has proposed that we do away with teaching children what machines can do better. In the age of the mighty Google, are we to do away with memorization? We believe no.

“That is because a developed memory is a wondrous and terrible storehouse of things seen and heard and done. It can do what no mere search engine on the internet can do. It can call up apparently unrelated things at once, molding them into a whole impression, or a new thought. The poet T. S. Eliot understood this creative, associative, dynamic function of a strong memory. The developed imagination remembers a strain from Bach, and smells spinach cooking in the kitchen, and these impressions are not separate but part of a unified whole, and are the essence of creative play. Without the library of the memory…the imagination simply does not have much to think about, or to play with.” – Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, p. 9.

So we started every lesson with prayer, memorized a hymn of the week and a Bible memory verse of the week.

We ended every lesson with recitation of a particular work of literature. For the year we worked with 木蘭詞 (The Ballad of Mulan) and the first paragraph of  三字經 (The Three Character Classic).

sanzijing

2. Numeracy

We started with number 1 (one), working our way progressively one number a day. We stopped periodically to review and reinforce the numerals previously learned (1-10, 1-20, 1-30, 1-50, 1-70, 1-100).

3. Mathematics

Once the child was fluent with numbers, we began doing math by counting objects in small quantities, and then moving on slowly to larger quantities following the progress of the child’s numeracy.

math_apr

In our initial lesson plan for the year, we only expected our daughter to master counting objects. But since she progressed rather quickly we moved on to the next math’s lesson. One of the things we love best about homeschooling is we can tailor-make the learning to suit a specific child’s progress. It is, however, important to note that it is necessary for the child to over-master a lesson before moving on to the subsequent lessons. So we took our time and refrained from rushing even when she seemed ready.

After object counting is mastered well, we introduced the concept of “more than, less than, equals to.” And when this has been over-practiced, we moved to simple additions, working with number bonds within 5, and then moving slowly to 10, 15 and 20. We did the same with subtraction, but only after she mastered the corresponding addition well. This addition and subtraction exercises were done every school-day until the end of the school year (and even to K2 the following year). The goal is for the child to over-practice the basic arithmetic so much that it becomes intuitive.

Apart from arithmetic, basic clock-reading was also taught this year.

clock-may2018

4. Literacy

We chose to start our literacy lesson in Indonesian language. It is a phonetic language and therefore possesses simpler and more consistent phonetic rules. There are only 27 distinct sounds (phonemes) to its 26 alphabet letters (graphemes). Once these correspondings are memorized, they can be paired up to sound out words using very consistent and logical rules. We figured that it would be far more beneficial as the same rules can be applied to learning Mandarin’s hanyu pinyin, Japanese and Korean romaji, Latin and other phonetic languages. We also presumed that with ample exposure to spoken English (through conversations and being read-to daily) the child would be able to decode English with the phonetic rules learned in Indonesian language. Happily, this has been the case, our eldest daughter was able to read in all the languages mentioned above by end of the year.

We started with capital letter A, moving progressively to Z one letter a day. We stopped periodically and did dictation to review and reinforce the letters previously learned (A-J, A-T and A-Z).

Once the child was fluent with A-Z, we moved on to basic phonics, starting with two letter combinations:

BA-BE-BI-BO-BU to ZA-ZE-ZI-ZO-ZU and

AB-EB-IB-OB-UB to AZ-EZ-IZ-OZ-UZ,

then three letter combinations:

ANG-ENG-ING-ONG-UNG,

NGA-NGE-NGI-NGO-NGU,

NYA-NYE-NYI-NYO-NYU.

We read simple (and interesting) words with short syllables for reading exercise, working our way to more complicated words with longer syllables.

simplereading

The end goal for the year’s literacy was the ability to read words in capital letters. But since we achieved this earlier, we continued with introduction to lowercase letters in cursive. Why cursive? Because that was what I was taught, I never learned print letters from my teachers, they were picked up from textbooks (which I thought was just another style of writing because of the lack of ‘tails’). Now that I am teaching my own child, I did some research to find out why cursive, and let me just persuade you to do the same because there are just so many benefits to this way of writing which has been neglected by our modern education.

As was the case with capital letters, we stopped periodically and did dictation to review and reinforce the letters learned previously. This “a-z in cursive” exercise was done until the end of the school year and is still continued into the current year of K2.

literacy_oct-nov

That’s it, Kindy 1 with Mommy! Looking back, both Mommy and Big Nona have learned so much in one year, an hour for four days a week! Academics aside, we have also learned about each other’s character, temperament, about discipline and a lot more. It has especially been a tough training ground for me to practice patience, gentleness and kindness. Education, after all, is not just about transmitting knowledge and skills but also about how to bring those involved to higher wisdom and nobler virtue. We thank God for His sustaining grace throughout the past year and pray for His favor and blessings for the new year’s journey of learning.

Our First Year with Classical Conversations

We had always been entertaining the idea of homeschooling our children, but only last year did we seriously ponder over it.

On one side, there was our extrovert four-year-old who constantly craved for friends to play with, yet unfortunately more and more peers of hers could no longer be found at the playgrounds as they were getting busier with schools and homeworks. On the other side, we wanted her preschool years to be filled with plenty of play and free time instead of academic schooling – as is healthy for a four-year-old, but the preschools that shared our philosophy were just beyond expensive. And then, there were also the reasonable inquiries from the grandparents if their eldest granddaughter would be starting any formal education soon.

The carefree and playful preschool years.

Considering all the above, we concluded that if we were to continue with our education philosophy for our eldest daughter, we would need to find a community of people to do this homeschooling thing together. This we hoped would provide healthy peer interactions for her and also assure our own parents that we were not queerly doing this alone, that we had a community that supported us and a community we were accountable to.

That was how we decided to join a Classical Conversations (CC) community, a Christian homeschooling community that pursues a Christian classical model of education. If I could summarize it simply, classical education is a philosophy of education in which the goal is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue in its students, using the greatest ideas and thinkings of the wise men past as its main resources, learned by its students through three major stages called the Trivium:

1. Grammar stage (where students train their minds to hold huge amount of information by memorization);
2. Dialectic stage (where students learn to make connections between what they have memorized, to build understanding of what they have learned, and to critically question what they learn); and
3. Rhetoric stage (where students learn to synthesize ideas based on what they have learned and present their case in the most persuasive way possible). 

I like to think of these three steps as the steps I take in making a meal: get the ingredients, cook, present. And I think, in essence, almost everything naturally goes through the trivium process, like how my preschooler and toddler memorize my vocabularies, internalize them, and spit them out back at me to their advantage, can you relate? 😒 Anyway, if you’d like to find out more about classical education, you can start here.

So, back to the community, we were really blessed to have found a CC community nearby (with a toddler in tow, I could only do minimum traveling). We met once a week with several families from 9 AM to 12 PM. Our community day always started with prayer, scripture memorization, and national pledge, after which a tutor (CC engages one mother of the families as tutor) would guide the class through:

1. A set of new grammars to memorize (consisting of History timeline, a particular History sentence, Science, Math, Geography, English, and Latin);
2. Fine arts;
3. Presentation;
4. Science experiment;
5. Review of the previous 6 weeks’ grammars.

With so many things going on and so many facts to memorize, it seems rather hefty, doesn’t it? Thankfully, it was not as intimidating as it seemed to be. Points 2 to 5 involved a lot of moving around, games and hands-on moments so they were engaging. Now, for the new grammars memory work, although we used many creative ways to aid the memorization process, I have to admit that the amount of informations needed soaking up were not few. However, we were really impressed with how the children did it quite effortlessly! It’s not mere hear-say, children truly have amazing minds and memorizing comes naturally to them. (Think how our toddlers just copy whatever they hear from their surroundings.) And I was not less surprised to find that old brains like ours – the parents’, could keep up too when re-trained!

Singing and dancing while memorizing the world’s history timeline.

Hands-on science experiment.

One of the Fine Arts sessions – Andrew Wyeth (copying the great master’s painting style).

Science project – Anatomy.

Presentation, a show and tell session for the younger ones.

A CC year spans across 24 weeks, usually with a break every 6 weeks, following the U.S. school year it starts in September and ends in April before the summer break. We have just finished one cycle last April and are loving the long break, but we also miss the weekly meet-ups, especially the fellowship over lunch and the playground time afterwards.

For now, we are keeping the academic side of the learning light for our eldest, and we intend to keep it that way throughout her preschool years (after all, it’s called pre-school for a reason). To us, most importantly her needs for meaningful and extended interactions with peers were met through the CC community. When asked what she liked most about CC, she replied “My friends, of course!” And we are glad for her.

“My Friends”

As for me, I am thankful for a community of very supportive and gracious Christian families. Homeschooling can be a lonely journey, it is tough and is often full of doubts. Having a group of committed people to journey together is truly a blessing.

Looking back, we thank God for a blessed and fruitful year. Looking forward, we can’t wait for September to come!

Learn more about Classical Conversations here.

Little Nonas’ Nature Finds: Rearing Autumn Leaf Caterpillars

Our little nonas are very much fascinated with butterflies; their beautiful wings, in amazing array of patterns and colors. But we have never been able to get close enough to admire the detail of arts they carry on their wings.

Yesterday morning, as we were chasing butterflies around, we thought why not try rearing caterpillar, that way we could have a chance to get up-close with the butterfly once it emerges. So we got ourselves some Autumn Leaf caterpillars as pets from the garden behind.

We have since been watching these creepy crawlies with amazement; their colors, their movement, the way and the speed with which they chomp down leaves, and how quickly these creatures excrete their frass too. We hope we’ll get the chance to see them metamorphe into the beautiful butterflies they are meant to be. (Just please don’t die on us.)

I am probably more excited than the nonas. It’s the first time I get this close with caterpillars, and while I still freak out a bit inside, I find it very exciting and I delight in observing them. I guess not only is it preschool with mommy but also preschool for mommy. Never mind I am in my late twenties, because learning never ends.

Singapore, 19 May 2017

 

Little Nonas’ Nature Finds: Mating Snails


While the Big Nona was chasing a Changeable Lizard this morning, she fatefully jumped over another creature. The lucky thing turned out to be a pair of garden snails (Cornu aspersum), and they are in the busy process of mating!

It’s the first time we saw copulation process of snails, and it’s so unlike that of vertebrates. We had initially thought that it was just two snails lying dead before noticing that they were actually connected by what we supposed were their reproduction organs (see the white tentacle-like organs near their heads).

Not long after, we met a pair of dragonflies, yes you guess right, in the process of mating too. No picture as they kept flying away whenever I approached them (“What a rude human being!” they probably thought ).

Love is in the garden. May could be the month of love for them.

As to the 4 year old I could only say “The snails and the dragonflies are both getting married.”

Singapore, 11 May 2017