Actual First Day of Homeschooling

Our first day of school was pretty successful. The kids work up at their usual time and I decided on the spot school was going to start at 10am based on how long I thought I could get the kids “ready”.  I’d been prepping he kids the last two weeks by telling them we would start school this week. They, especially Thumper, were apparently more excited than I realized. I guess that’s what happens when you play for 9 months.

Thumper actually rushed to brush her teeth and get dressed in 30 minutes.  Amazing considering we typically take 1.5 hours to get out of the house in the morning.  She was so early I told her to grab her little chair and line up outside the school “door”.

Our homeroom is half of our old master bedroom.  I love this set up because now there is a dedicated room for the adults’ computers and the children’s school.   It’s separate from the play area upstairs so we can keep playmates out of the homeschool area.  Transition is also easier because there is a school the children can go to now that’s clearly delineated.  I pretended to be the teacher and kept saying “Oh no, the teacher is going to be late!”  I think it made the whole thing interesting and also familiar as both kids had gone to preschool before and are familiar with the routine.

The kids came into the classroom, I shook their hands, and gave them the rules and procedures of the classroom.  Something I learned just this summer that is important to establish before school starts.  I only have one right now though, only one item out at a time.  I showed the kids the Nienhuis catalogue and said we were going to make Grammer Symbols, first with playdough, as model, then air dry clay.

The kids played with play dough for about 1.5 hour.  I was really amazed that Thumper could concentrate on a task for so long without getting distracted.  We didn’t end up making the grammar symbols as I planned because I was busy researching as they worked and realized the symbols have to be proportional to each other. But the kids had fun making different geometric shapes anyway.

Astroboy started to get bored after an hour and I directed him to do snack upstairs. I can’t remember what they did the rest of the time. I think just playing with play dough and also Thumper wanted to write while Astroboy wanted to play with the Number Rods, which resulted in an impromptu lesson in counting. One thing neat to observe is how he is so into his sensitive period for counting and numbers.  Any chance he gets, that’s what he wants to do, count, through no prompting on my part.

I ran back upstairs at 12:30 to put together a ramen lunch while they worked.  It was really a blissful morning where the kids got along and had things to occupy them.  We then cleaned up and closed our door at 1pm.

The rest of the day we had quiet time, then went grocery shopping at Ranch 99.  All in all a pretty successful first day of school. I really enjoyed focusing my attention on the children for 3 hours. I like being mindful and not thinking of 5000 things while talking to them, saying filler words like “uh huh”, “yes”, when half the time I don’t know what it is they are saying.   It did take a lot out of me though since I’m introverted. I really needed that quiet time.

I learned today:
Though I had been beating myself up for not doing anything for 6 months other than cleaning and organizing the house, in hindsight I did actually do a lot. Since we were all staying home the first time, it was important to have HOME routines established. We had routines for cleaning up, prepping for school, quiet time, meals, chores, etc.

One big epiphany I learned from our elementary teacher last year was that the first 1-3 months of school is all about doing things to ensure normalization, meaning to help train the kids in concentration. It’s when rules and guidelines are established, when community is being built. We had a parent who was unhappy that the kids weren’t really “learning” yet. The teachers were doing a lot of “getting to know you activities” instead of math or reading/writing. But the teacher said there was a reason for this.  The kids started with lots of art because all children love doing art and it’s not stressful.  It’s a way to pull them into the classroom. She then moved on to math activities as that is one area that especially leads to concentration.  Montessori Math work invites repetition.  The kids were also learning how to get along, what the teachers’ expectations were, etc.   Without a good established learning environment, you can’t learn.  If the environment isn’t conducive to learning, whatever you’re teaching won’t stick anyway.

This is why we are doing art and prep now for the first two weeks.

I will try:

Our school time is going to be 10-1 for now. I was thinking an hour for lunch, an hour for quiet time, some time to do errands. but Astroboy ran wild when we were doing errands.  He kept misbehaving and not listening. We then need to go to swim practice, where he sat again waiting for 45 minutes.  I realized I had not built in some exercise time. So we are going to try half hour of walking after lunch tomorrow.

First Day of School

Today is our first day of homeschooling.  It has turned out to be like our other Mondays. In the morning we went grocery shopping, bought some air dry clay from Joann’s, and went to the new Apple store since my computer is dying. In the afternoon, we had a play date, then our first swim team practice for Thumper.

The practice went well if not a little weird.  No one was there to really greet us or give us an orientation.  We just jumped right into swimming.  Though Thumper has done really well in swimming classes, somehow it doesn’t seem to translate when she has to go back and use those yellow floaters.  She’s having some difficulties swimming that way.

Sunday night, though I had not finished unpacking, I dumped all the “to sort” piles on the floor into a box, lined up two tables in the center of the room, and put the rest of the plastic bins alone our French door.  The kids at least had a semblance of space to work.

My plan is to transition into home schooling. I’m going to have the children help me make materials the first two weeks, then both kids will go on vacation and spend a week with different grandmas, before coming back to start in earnest.  I’ve already mentally started a list of “to-do’s” for that week.

Before I decided on homeschooling, I did a quick google and a blogger suggested to not do any schooling for about 6 months as a transition.  It wasn’t my plan exactly but that’s what we ended up doing. Ours was more like 9 months since we first spent 3 months in Taiwan. This has turned out to be a really great transition.

The last six months, I adjusted to being a SAHM for the first time.  First came an reorg of the house since we moved in five years ago.  We actually bought furnitures for all the accumulated books and toys (3 tall bookshelves!  imagine how many books I had in boxes), dresser, TV stand.  Having storage was the first step in preparing the house for homeschooling.

We also gradually created a routine for ourselves.  Through trial and error, I slowly realized how I wanted to structure our days and our curriculum.  There is a weekly dinner menu which will be another post.  This is important as Practical Life is actually part of the curriculum.  We’re had a whole summer of swimming, enough for Thumper to qualify for the swim team. This will be one of her extracurriculars.  That is one of my epiphanies: Don’t create a big master plan.  Start with one or two things and slowly add.  It works better to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

I’m still adding and tweaking to the final “master plan” daily, but right now, our schedule is as follows:

Monday – park day, errands and chore day
Tuesday-Thursday – homeschool AM
Friday– nature/field trip day

Our current extracurricular is swimming.  Otherwise it’s free play for now.  We will have school during public school holidays since every day kind of feels the same after awhile when you’re at home all day.  I’m going to try to have one week off school every three months, Sept, December (2 weeks), March. It’s roughly equivalent to a regular school year.

The Montessori school I visited in Taiwan had a bi-monthly field trip and I really loved that idea. Just as we’re easing into homeschool, we’re also easing into Montessori. Though typically field trips are planned by children, I’m going to plan them in the beginning so they match the curriculum.

Back to the two week prep-week part. A professor suggested that Montessori teachers can get students to help out with making materials since this can be a learning experience as well. I’m a strong advocate of active learning (learning by doing) so I’m quite excited about this. Out first project is going to be making the Montessori grammar symbols out of air dry clay.

I had to set a hard school start deadline for a few reasons. I was afraid that I will be in cleaning and prep mode forever if I had no deadline to motivate me. Once I had that deadline, I came up with the idea for prep week. I also started feeling anxious since school is starting for everyone else. We have not been in “school” for 9 months already, I didn’t want the kids to fall behind. I know I secretly feel like I have something to prove; that my kids will not only catch up but surpass her old classmates despite almost a year not in school. It’s silly and probably makes no sense. Add to that, my mom telling me every time we talk on the phone that it’s not natural for the kids to not go to school.  AND on top of it all, Mandarin immersion schools haven’t really figured out their curriculum, neither have Mandarin Montessori immersion schools.  That’s an additional thing to prove, that somehow my decision to homeschool in Mandarin is NOT detrimental to the children.

What should I do with my life?

CDsIt took me three days.  But I have finally wrangled my CDs and DVDs into some organization order.  Each disk and cover was painstakingly taken out of its case, sorted, then equally painstakingly put into a sleeve. The collection now takes up a fifth of the original space.

This, along with the myriad of other home organization I’ve been undertaking the last month makes me inordinately happy.  I have to stop myself from going on and on about it with my friends.  It’s kind of like that first baby tooth or first step, or first chocolate face.  So boring to other people but it puts some really good marbles into the “happy happy joy joy” jar.

I just finished reading Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life this week.  It’s a bunch of stories of people who asked themselves this question.  It’s really a book about people being discontented, and taking that plunge to make some changes.  Sometimes they fall into it, sometimes it’s a conscious choice, and still sometimes it takes try after try to get it right.  I’ve been trying to figure out what the message is; or what can you do to figure out what to do with your life.  I think ultimately it’s about living a life that fills your soul; living a life that conforms to your ideals and beliefs.

It may sound frivolous, but taking the time to organize my CD media does fill my soul.  There is a need in me to have an organized life and I’m finally getting that done now that I’m an SAHM.  I used to run around like a wanna-be superwoman.  But juggling a full time job, night school, volunteering at preschool 10-20 hours a week, didn’t leave room for cooked meals or clean house.  I thought the night school and volunteering made me happy.  To a certain extent they did.  Schooling challenged my brain after years of doing the same thing at work.  And volunteering provided some practice into the new job field I want to go to.

The home and children suffered though.  Being a SAHM the last half year has slowed down the pace.  So many people have told me that I’m more relaxed now.  I guess I was running around like a headless chicken, putting out one little fire after another, rather than doing some big management of said forest.

Sometimes I am still not sure if I made the right choice, if what I’m doing day to day is what I want to do with my life.  But there are many more moments now of happiness in a job well done: cooking dinner every day, organizing all those CDs, rearranging the kitchen drawers, labeling all the spices.  They’re so mundane and doesn’t sound on level with managing email servers or people.  Hence I keep feeling the need to figure out and explain why I’m so happy getting these done.  After reading Bronson’s book, I think I know why.  In my head, I do have an image of what my home life should be like, of what a wife and a mother ought to be doing.  And though I’m a feminist, its the traditional home wifey things like cooking, gardening, sewing, etc, that I think ought to be done if you keep home.  (Yes I know, being feminist doesn’t exclude this but typically the term does not conjure a Martha Stewart image.)

On top of all that, it goes back to my belief of the need to live a balanced life.  I feel that I’m living a balanced life when my house, in addition to my career, is in order.  To be able to not just make money, but to also enjoy the things that money cannot buy.   It is this sense of living that balanced life, the life where I’m enjoying what I do rather than hurried, I think that’s what fills me with contentment; living the way I envisioned and want to live.

If my kids were to ask me the “What should I do with my life” question, I think this is what I would tell them.  To be introspective and understand what it is one needs, to know the things that fills you with little joys daily.  The joys that money cannot buy.

A First Post

Every blog has to have that first post which says nothing.

It took me an hour to buy the domain just in case I want to use it a year down the line.  And now I have no idea what it was that propelled me to want to start yet another blog.


GYA13: What’s Popular in Taiwan Now #2

Though I only read online papers at home, I tend to get a newspaper every day when I’m in Taiwan.  However, during my last trip, I realized this is how you can get really depressed about where you live.  Because the news is often bad or depressing.  There is constant talk about the economy and the struggles of the people who don’t earn much (22k avg salary/month!), or little scandals get blown up and discussed endlessly by local media.  

Many of my friends who live in the US but go back to visit often talk about how great it is to live in Taipei.   But when you read the endless depressing news for 3 months, you start feeling anxious about life.  By the end, I felt like the city was a great place to visit but not a great place to earn a living.  In a way, it’s no different than reading/listening/watching media in the US.  

Given we’ve now past the time we typically go home and are now settled into more of a routine where we don’t sight see every day, I wanted to talk more about our experience so far and the little encounters we’ve had.

1. People like to give the kids candies. We’ve gotten candies from taxi cab drivers, teachers, restaurant workers, strangers we meet. Some of them smell funky.  We almost always toss them after the fact.  One thing people say is that the Taiwanese people are very friendly, and that is true.

2. Unlike last time, fewer people are asking if the kids are mixed. I see a lot more hapa kids in general too. Probably because we’re living close to 3 universities with lots of foreigners learning English here. In fact we get more people asking if Thumper is an older brother and how old they are. She has taken to covering her hair up with her hat.

There are so many places to learn Chinese for overseas children here.  But so far, NTUE sounds interesting.  Mandarin Kids newspaper also has summer and winter camps.  I like NTUE as it’s an University of Education.  If we do camps in the summer, I’m going to try them.

3. Some cultural differences I have needed to adjust to: paying at the counter, no toilet paper at public restrooms, and drinks coming at the end of the meal instead of during the meal. The paper napkin situation is funky too. It often is in a dispenser on the wall. On the other hand, not having to tip is very nice.

At quick service restaurants, there are usually slips of papers similar to dim sum restaurants, where you mark what you want, then give it to the owner.  I’m still getting used to that as I don’t usually notice them.

4.  Food Safety and environmental violations
I read about food safety violations, environmental violations, and lots of real estate ads. There has been a lot of violations in food safety recently. I’d thought that things had improved from when I was a child. I remember mom always telling me not to eat out. But people substitute cow milk in goat powdered milk, add things to cooking oil they’re not supposed to, recall bad flour and then repackage them to resell, add things to cooking oil they’re not supposed to.

I see lots and lots of packages that tout how their food is safe.  There are CSAs here as well.  Reading about food safety really freaks you out as it makes me wonder about the food I eat.

How it’s different from living in the US.

Given how much I like to eat, the biggest difference for me is the availability of food late at night.  The kids have gained some weight and I’m sure I have too.  I realized just how much sugar we’ve been consuming compared to the US.  Here, we would have dinner, have fruit after, then have some after dinner dessert from a store such as red bean soup or tofu pudding in sweet ginger soup.  In the day the kids drink their yukult or have some sugary snack.

It’s so easy to buy ready made food here.  But I think that this is why, despite Taipei being aggressive about recycling, it actually produces a lot of plastic food waste.  Everytime we go to 7-11, we’re mostly buying plastic wrapped products.  Take outs are often in a plastic bag, or paper boxes carried in a plastic bag.  We get plastic spoons for each red bean soup we buy.   Thank goodness the Taipei government passed those mandates years ago.

I’m slowly cutting our sugar consumption back and eating in general.  TOO MUCH GOOD food and I tend to eat like it’s the last time I’m going to have it.  On top of that, I do much prefer Chinese food desserts and snacks.  My big vice.

Overall I don’t find prices that much cheaper than the US, especially the more western stuff. If you want pasta it’s $5+. Sometimes closer to $10. Taxis sure are $4 for quick trips one way. But they add up quickly if you take it all the time.  MRT start at $0.75 one way, cheap but it also adds up in a city when/if you take the MRT often.

But I find Taipei a great place to live, probably because I’m not making a living here. Since I don’t live here, I see the fruits of planning without waiting and it always seems like such great progress. I love the fact that there are bike stations next to the MRT. This just got put in this year. The MRT itself is fantastic.

We have not done too many touristy things yet.  And I havn’t done the shopping and bookstore browsing that I used to do when I visited.  I’m glad I’m taking a long visit because I’ve discovered that I’m a slow traveler.

GYA13: What’s popular in Taiwan now #1

I guess life got boring after I got over my initial shock at living in another country and we settled down into our swim and zhuyin class.  This post was a whole week later than the previous one and I didn’t talk about what we were doing at all.  I think it was around this time that we got mighty sick for 3-4 days, with a high fever and lethargy, one after another.  

The kids almost always catch a foreign bug when they visit.  I bring ever more remedies and medications each time I visit. 

We’ve been here almost 3 weeks. Since we haven’t been doing much I thought I’d write down some of our daily encounters, impressions, and also what’s hot in Taiwan now. There are always waves of what’s popular, like how egg tarts were so hot 10 years ago you see them selling everywhere.

What’s HOT

1.  Soft Serve.

Taiwan’s latest food craze is apparently soft serves.  Please don’t ask me why.  It’s not Pink Berry yogurt kind, those those are apparently here too.  But more like the ones you see at McDonalds.  You can buy them at 7-11 or really, just anywhere.  I’m not sure what’s so great, though we’ve tried a few of them so far.


GYA13: Taipei Public Library and Good Food

What I remembered about the Main Taipei Library was how the librarian really wants you to be very quiet.  This was a big contrast to our local libraries here, where you can speak in a normal voice.  It did not make me want to go back often, the feeling that you really need to be conscious about being quiet.

Itinerary: Library, Vegetarian dinner

Today was a rest day where we pretty much spent it like how we spend out days back home.  The kids went to bed really late and woke up really late (9am).  I woke up early to catch up on my computer and make phone calls to the US.  Skype is great!

GYA13The kids got a hot chocolate and scrambled eggs breakfast.  And then had brunch yet again when my aunt got up and cooked up porridge brunch breakfast.  They had whole bowls too.

I have to say, my aunt makes great food that reminds me of my mom and the kids have loved everything they cook.  They’d eat/drink things that they wouldn’t touch when I cook it.

After breakfast, they horsed around while I caught up some more on my computer before I decided they were making a rukus and we all walked to the Taipei library.  We went to the kids floor (B1) and got many books on insects.

Thumper wanted to find out why it itches when mosquitos bite.  I finally figured out where all the picture books are.  Though the library is also a Dewey system, everything is by numbers, even fiction.  So picture books are in the 800 section.

GYA13: Vaccination shot and Zhuyin class

Ahhh, the vac shots, such a traumatic experience.  Thumper has never cried so long and so hard since her vac shot in Taiwan.  They’re totally no non-sense in the health clinic.  Because of it she was more adamant about not getting a shot.  When we next got our shot in the US, it was breezy and no tears, because of the nurse’s attitude.  At instances like this, I’m very much aware that my kids are very American in their upbringing. 

I’m oh so glad Thumper’s now past the phase of crying at every single new class/encounter.  It is one developmental period I wouldn’t like to repeat.

Itinerary:  Vaccination shot, some Taiwanese food, zhuyin class

Have I mentioned that Taipei has been raining non-stop for the last week?  The weather has also turned cold, in the 50’s.  We did not bring enough wintery clothes with us.  I will need to somehow find the time to go shopping for some jackets.  In the meantime, this rain is driving me nuts.

My friends had told me it’s rains alot and wondered why I wanted to go back in December.  I said as long as it’s warm it’s fine.  And it is.  But one thing I didn’t count on was that we drive everywhere in the US.  So in a way the rain doesn’t bother us.  But here, you’re constantly whipping out your umbrella and really feeling the weather and wetness.

GYA13: Getting a Medical Exam

So the moral of the story for getting residency?  Don’t wait till your kids are past 6.  So many more hoops they have to jump.

Itinerary: medical exam, grocery shopping, swimming lesson.

The days are slowly starting to blur together now that the kids have adjusted their sleep somewhat.  Now we’re going to sleep at 10pm every night, and getting up at 8-9am, which is a bit late.  It keeps all the adults up having to entertain them.  So I’m going to try and get them to sleep earlier.

GYA13 Taipei continues to rain rain rain nonstop, and I don’t feel like doing much.  Except that there isn’t much to do at home either so we have to go out or else everyone goes crazy and watches too much TV.

The first stop today was a medical exam at 和平醫院 (He Ping Hospital).  I was going to go on Wednesday but then thinking we had to have a stool sample, delayed it.  We need the medical exam in order to be a resident here.


GYA13: Shopping for rainboots

The 雜貨店 was my favorite store in Taipei and one I tell everyone to go to.  Everything you ever need, other than food, is there crammed into 4 stories.   It’s right down the street from the Technology Station MRT.  This is where I bought our rain boots, all of ours stationary supplies, our ID holders, our piggie banks, and ultimately my tea set.  

Itinerary: Rainboots, New Cellphone, “organic” milk

Today was a shopping day, something I’d been meaning to do for days and days.  With 2 kids, it takes a whole day to shop.

Our first stop today was at the local 雜貨店.  I don’t know the English words for it.  It’s kind of like a Daiso.  We went looking for some rain gear since it’s been raining so much and the kids don’t hold their umbrellas correctly.  After trying on numerous pairs of shoes, we settled on a pink pair of rainboots for Astroboy (he wanted that color).