A Heritage Learner

I do not know if words can describe the complex relationship I have with the Chinese language, but here’s my attempt: as a heritage speaker I’ve struggled all my life with this language.

People expect a Chinese-looking person to speak Chinese. When you don’t speak or don’t speak well, you find you disappoint everyone from strangers you just met to your closest family members.

As a teenager I loved all Western cultures. I studied French. I wanted to work for the United Nations, learn 5 languages, and live in Paris.  I loved English literature, culture and language. I later studied English in college and earned my teaching credential to teach secondary level English and got an ESL endorsement. Chinese was never a priority for me, even though I clearly appeared to be ethnic Chinese and was taught to speak it at home. In contrast, Chinese was and always will be my father’s passion; his father (my grandfather) was a talented calligrapher and artist and had deep love for the culture also. I wanted to be multilingual but I didn’t have a love of the Chinese culture or the language the same way I loved French and English.

I struggled many years with the annual New Year phone calls to Taiwan. Each of us four kids had a turn to wish both sets of grandparents a happy new year. We couldn’t communicate with them very well so we kept to the few phrases we knew (sort of like vain repetitions in prayer). It did affect me though; as I grew older, I cried after it was my turn; it was an embarrassment to me and painful to not have the ability to connect to loved ones. I was pretty devastated to not be able to communicate with my relatives but I was never motivated enough to improve my language skills either.

Then I struggled and struggled with the language.

Yours truly on UC Berkeley campus

I served as missionary for my church in Oakland, California for a year and a half. My assignment was to teach in English which I did just fine, but I also had to use my Chinese every single day. In some crazy twist of fate, I became an ambassador for the gospel in Chinese since out of the blue I was assigned to the visitors’ center at the Oakland Temple and there I met so many from Oakland residents to tourists (even Buddhist monks) from all over the world including many who spoke Mandarin Chinese. And while my Chinese improved, it still was nowhere near native. At least in His service, God made me enough.

As newlyweds, we attended church with a local Chinese ward (congregation) in SoCal where suddenly I began to meet a lot of friends of my parents who had all immigrated to the US from Taiwan. It was like meeting a family I never knew I had. Luckily they gave me a calling to teach Primary (English-speaking) but we still gave talks in Chinese. Public speaking in English gives me and my husband a natural high and a fun challenge; public speaking in Chinese on the other hand is anxiety-laden but we did it. Somehow.

As a young family we currently attend church in Chinese instead of with the local English speakers here in North Texas and it’s a sacrifice because we all volunteer in church teaching and leadership positions and the group is small, about 30 Chinese speaking members in a city (population of under 300,000) that is at least 5 to 10 percent Chinese depending on whether or not you trust the census. There are a lot of opportunities for growth and community outreach in this region. Yet for now, we manage with a small number of members and wear many different hats,with a variety of roles and responsibilities. My Chinese struggles tremendously especially after becoming a mother (memory loss, anyone?) but somehow we’ve managed this for 4 years and serve in leadership positions.

As I try to navigate my history with the Chinese language, I am now fully aware of how much anxiety, stress and pressure was holding me back. As a youth I was pretty unwilling to learn and essentially tuned out my parents and any other teacher-figure of Chinese. A lot of the problem for me was there were very unrealistic expectations set on us kids to master Chinese in an environment with very few Chinese speakers and yet using with very traditional methods of Chinese teaching which we were not accustomed to growing up in the US. My family and community where I grew up placed a lot of emphasis on perfection or a false sense of perfection and this was crippling to me.

I’ve reconsidered how to better teach my kids Chinese. Yes, there is still a lot of rote memorization and practice for that perfect tone required in Mandarin, but I am much more realistic about what to expect from my heritage learner-kids because I was one.

Our speaking abilities will never be the same as that of the natives, but we can patiently nurture the language. In that light, there are a few things I have intentionally decided to do:

  1. Live in a community where there is a natural need for speaking Chinese. I use Chinese every time I go to church, every time I talk to my neighbors and every time I go to the Asian market. My kids will see a real need for speaking Chinese just by walking out the front door.
  2. Homeschool my kids so that the two languages are nurtured together and can be practiced in real-world settings, rather than choose public school where even in the best “immersion” programs, the kids aren’t exposed to enough real-world use of the language because they are stuck in the classroom. Most public schools here only use English because passing test scores and “academic rigor” for attending college is important to the immigrants in this area, but we can adopt a truly bilingual environment for learning while still focusing on high academic standards.
  3. Expect best efforts, but not perfection (from both myself  and my kids). Never give up on the process. It takes longer to develop the same type of mastery as native speakers so we need to know we are doing this bilingual education for the long run, it’s an long term investment. Consistency is key. They don’t necessarily need to all take AP Chinese as high school freshman. They can still learn or relearn Chinese in college. It is never ever too late.

I now have three children who speak Mandarin to the surprise of our relatives and church friends. How this this happen? It is nothing short of a miracle. I trust in Him who makes my offering whole, because this is starting to turn into one of those “whole-soul” offerings, a “heart, might, mind, and strength” endeavor.

In teaching my kids, I do not hide the fact that Chinese is hard and that we persevere til it gets easier. They at least know very well, sometimes their mom makes mistakes or easily forgets vocabulary words, correct tones or mixes China-Chinese and Taiwan-Chinese pronunciations, and that it’s okay. We try to make it fun with books, videos and music, and yes, it has become fun. The language I dreaded to speak on Chinese New Year and the language I have worked so hard at, is sort of fun. Most importantly, we devote our learning, all of our learning not just of Chinese, to the service of others and to God. I am pretty sure He has been telling me all along, “You are enough” even when it comes to Chinese. Because ultimately, we can serve others with our smallest and most imperfect talents and with His help still reap great success in faith, love, and personal growth.

If I could go back in time, I would tell the teenager version of me not to cry anymore. The struggle that came with being an American-born Chinese has become a deep love of the blending of these two cultures. It is probably a deep love because of the struggle. And now, it is a life-long goal to preserve my children’s heritage language.

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Tinkergarten

Nature is the best classroom and I recommend Tinkergarten as a good entry into nature schooling for toddler and preschool ages. Once comfortable outside and older in age, nature school may be a good option for your crew as it is less expensive.

The age range is 18 months to 8, however, I personally think ages 18 months to 5 is the right age group with kids who are 3, 4, and 5, really retaining a lot, whereas the 18 month to 3 year olds are really framing good habits about play, getting messy, and being used to outside play. They will not, however, sit still for books and some longer lessons and shouldn’t be expected to but Tinkergarten leaders are fine with this. Even one of my 28 month old twins had a hard time. It was super frustrating but patience-building for me. There may be groups with older kids but since most classes are during the day on weekdays, you will see the preschool-age more.

Leaders offer free trial classes at the start of the semester so look out for those.

Tinkergarten classes develop creativity, problem solving and constructing/deconstructing but using nature and natural elements. I truly wish that I had done this type of play with my kids from the beginning. But I figure it’s better late than never.

My children are really good at playing with cars and Duplo but I wish they knew how to enjoy the outdoors more. I think Tinkergarten has helped them love the outdoors more.

Is it true you can do these activities on your own? Yes, if you have a committed group of moms and kids then yes, a lot of the activities can be replicated. The money for classes however I do not think is just about paying for nature activities. Having a leader who plans, executes and follows up with the lessons gives the experience cohesion. It helps to have a leader you really love. It also helps to have a group of moms who support your desire for open ended, nature based learning.

I have mentioned nature school since I searched for other options after experience Tinkergarten and I joined the local Facebook group. It may just be true of our leader of nature school, but have noticed they cancel their classes quite a bit. Sometimes it’s due to inclement weather but once she canceled because she lost her phone. That doesn’t happen as much in Tinkergarten, we still held class on a pretty cold day (just bundled up more) and classes that are canceled for whatever reason by the leader or due to weather are made up later in the semester.

We were the only homeschoolers in our group so it actually provided me with a sense of normalcy that I needed before we took on homeschooling full-time. I am still so new to homeschooling and don’t have a co-op. I need the extra support this early in my kids’ education. It is nice to have someone else lead. It is also nice to participate so I actually learn alongside the kids how to teach them in age appropriate ways. Tinkergarten is for the parents as well as their children.

The Tinkergarten blog is a good resource. Check out for example this interview with Nancy Rosenow on the importance of nature and outdoor learning.  

Here’s a link if you want discount coupon for the next semester:

https://www.tinkergarten.com/rc/kyleeng9657

Homeschooling Book List for Newbies

Somehow from last year to this year, I’ve gone through a huge transformation of how I’ve homeschoolers. I am one step closer to trusting myself. 

Homeschool is best done simply, calmly and beautifully. 

Simply

Minimalism also embraces these principles which is why decluttering, lists of essential and simplifying are common themes.
Homeschool is best when it embraces the comforts and freedom of home, all the good feelings of home.

Hence, reading aloud and poetry tea time, concepts by Sarah Mackenzie (Read Aloud Revival) and Julie Bogart (Brave Writer) fosters joy and enthusiasm without complicated programs or traditional school programs or schedules. 

Recommendation: The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie

Calmly 

Rhythms are a big part of childhood. Yes, even homeschoolers still have crazy times getting kids out of the door to classes, sports and playdates, but overall, the rhythm of homeschool is slower and steadier. There are ebbs and flows just like any public schooled kid but I feel they are not as drastic since there is a form of consistency and linear progression by having the same teacher.

Recommendation: Simplicity Parenting by Payne

Beautifully

Homeschooling requires you as the parent to have a vision and a plan. This is not the “plan-my-kids-entire-education-and-career-goals” planning. It is setting a tone and a family culture to direct your path. It requires you to know yourself and to focus on doing what you do well—not trying to be the public school teacher you had, the blogger next door or the other homeschooling mom.

I know what kind of mom I am. I am not particularly crafty or artistic or athletic, yet I am aware of the benefits of music, art, sports. Those activities are not the number one priority but I am aware that I need to involve others (teachers, coaches, tutors) for those subjects.

Recommendation: Teaching from Rest by Mackenzie 

Minimalist Mom: Changes 

Here a few changes that I have noticed in our family’s habits and routines since more fully implementing minimalism, Simplicity Parenting and after our “tidying festival”:

Family Time

We hold family scripture study pretty regularly now that we have a better nighttime rhythm, whereas before this year we were simply dismal at this goal, we read maybe once a week together. Usually the twins are in bed before this study time as they are very noisy during this time and I admit it’s only a five to ten minute scripture study since D is 5 years old, but I think our habit is finally solidified. I hope my twins can soon join us if we take measures to study earlier before everyone gets cranky.

My kids complain less about cleaning up and clean up is a lot faster than it used to be. D and Q are actually very good at putting away toys. d needs to do better but she has improved. Sometimes if I have them clean earlier in the evening, like after snacktime before watching Qiaohu or before Dad gets home, it’s more successful. Then the nighttime cleanup isn’t as bad. The homeschool room stay surprisingly clean. I joke about how I need an Instagram account to be held accountable for my school set up, but it’s only partially true—the room maintains itself because we have limited space, some organization and not too much out at once. It is nice to remember once a month to do some deep cleaning so I still post monthly but generally the room looks like it does in my posts.

Digital declutter

I made radical changes in my email inbox, to do a mass unsubscribe-fest. This has been huge for me. I have mostly decluttered my house but I find my digital inbox is still a mess.  I used to have a junk email to collect all advertising and newsletter-type emails but I have discontinued the practice! I keep only Madewell emails (which I may discontinue later when I’m done rehauling my wardrobe), playgroup emails and news from TGTB curriculum. I have stopped emails from Carter’s, Bath and Body Works, and even all the wooden toy shops we use online. It’s not that I don’t love these brands, I do, I absolutely do, but I cannot continue going through emails day after day. The strategy is to plan in advance, for example, when you’re in the market for something for the wardrobe, to subscribe to your brands for codes or sale news, but then once you’re done, to hit unsubscribe. Believe me, it’s the best decluttering move you’ll do.

woman typing writing programming
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

Social media 

I find I am addicted to Facebook and Instagram despite unfollowing or snoozing. I find with my newfound quiet time at night that I am bored. This is obviously a tough one for me and will take some time. I would like to replace social media time with leisure reading, planning for outings or just exercising (I hardly have time to do these things so it would just make sense to replace brain numbing with productivity.)

But having *less* to look at on Facebook has helped a lot and my time on social media is better spent following homeschool groups, church groups or pages and our private family page.

facebook application icon
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Shopping

We go to the mall and other stores less. This may not seem like a big change to you, but it is for me.

We used to go to Wal-Mart, Target or the mall as a fun activity just to window shop and play in the mall play area. When my kids were 0 and 3 this was a way to get out of the house but close enough to food, water and bathrooms in case we needed them. We do this a lot less, it wasn’t even a conscious decision, it just sort of happened. I am not putting down retail or shopping—I love shopping—but I now choose to do less shopping with my kids. I usually shop online and usually (not always but most of the time) in-store pick up or return things without my kids.

I try harder to give them time outside, even if it’s in the backyard or in our neighborhood: this is a much more healthy and sustainable recreation.

Just think about it, the more you buy, the more opportunity there is to return things and go again and again, each time seeing the seasonal displays and the clothes and the new decor in the Magnolia Home and Hearth section. (You know what I’m talking about!)

I still love an occasional shopping trip but I do not buy implusively as much, like things from the Target Dollar Spot. Don’t worry, I’m still human—I still go look once in a while but I am not as eager to buy things since I know I will need to declutter most of those things a year from now and I’d rather not buy most of those things in the first place. I’ve learned my lesson. I hope.

We will see if we can keep this up when the weather gets less desirable here in the summer.

We used to go to the mall a lot. Now I find my kids need less toys and enjoy more outdoor play.

Groceries

We shop the circular ad for Kroger, 99 Ranch, Wal-Mart and Costco coupon books so we buy what is on sale and what we will actually use.  Years ago I was an avid couponer, but with my current load at home I do not actively coupon anymore. Time is precious and just checking the weekly sales is good enough for me. We try to buy what we plan to use that week. We do have food storage but I’ve limited these to what we use all the time such as canned corn, canned diced tomatoes and canned peaches or pears. We have a lot of Trader Joe’s marinara sauce.

We shop by a list. The only exception is Trader Joe’s where I am slowly trying out a few of the different frozen entrees at a time (they taste amazing and are convenient for those crazy days where I need a fast lunch).

Simpler meals

We have meals planned with our schedule in mind. Gone are the days I used Cook’s Illustrated recipes with 15 ingredients and 4 page explanations. We stick to pretty similar recipes: teriyaki chicken, rice and veggies; chili and cornbread; chicken enchiladas; pasta, salad and chicken; sandwiches; potstickers to name a few. We try to eat things the kids can and like to eat. I also use a lot of Costco frozen or premade food. Our favorites from Costco are rotisserie chicken, frozen lasagna, raviolis, wontons, local tamales, salad mixes and soups. These products are really well made and there is very little food wasted when you use this option. It of course is not the healthiest so we try to mix it up every week, some homemade, some Costco. We try to use a variety of fruit and veggies daily even for snacks.

Overall, life is less demanding and hectic even though I’ve enrolled D in two activities and the three of them and I are doing a 8 week session of Tinkergarten just for fun, just because we can (i.e. because we homeschool). I like that my kids can have experiences rather than just things or be dragged from errand to errand.

Minimalist Mom: Be Present

There’s plenty of study and research about kids and the benefits of limiting screen use, but what about for us parents?


After implementing the decluttering rounds 1 and 2 in the home, I’ve tried to limit the time I spend on social media in attempt to be more present for my kids.

1. Deleting the Facebook app would be too extreme for me. I still like to see what family members post and I love following homeschool groups who use the same curriculum or are in the local area. So instead I decided to unfollow or snooze most of my Facebook friends and acquaintances. I joined Facebook at the start of my senior year of college which was over 10 years ago, so I’ve had a decade to friend or find a lot of people. The problem is, following their every post, comment and like is exhausting when they no longer have an active role in my life and it is exhausting when being a full time mom of 3. I find unfollowing and snoozing helps me to limit my time on Facebook so it’s no longer the time drain it used to be.

2. I logged off my personal Instagram and only update my homeschool account @genefamilyschoolhouse.

There are several reasons for this. One, I want to help be a part of the narrative that changes the way people view homeschool. I want to inspire others to home educate with quality time, quality materials and activities. Homeschooling is totally something you can do and your kids will reap the benefits. I’ve made my Insta world a source of inspiration and support, the same way a Facebook closed group would be. There are plenty of friends, church members and family who don’t homeschool, so we still get plenty “outside” views in the real world. But having a group of moms who are likeminded has helped me to feel not as alone in a journey that is very lonely at times.

I do update the homeschool account quite a bit but I limit who I follow to about 30. There are plenty of good ideas on social media but there is also the danger of “keeping up with the Joneses Insta-style” where I want every toy, every activity, and every book ever posted. It can quickly become ridiculous. I have bought a lot of things just based on the posts of others so I have also tried to be intentional about my spending as of late. Our kids really need our personal time and wholesome activities–they do not need every new gadget or toy.

I logged off my personal account because it became a second Facebook with me sifting through a lot of posts just for a few that I really cared about. I occasionally post family updates but other than that, I don’t use the account that much.

3. I try to keep my homeschool prep time or work limited, that’s why I love The Good and The Beautiful curriculum, Sagebooks Basic 500 and also chalkacademy.com for Chinese learning. The curriculum we use is open and go. All of Chalk Academy’s materials are black and white and can be laminated for future use. For any curriculum, activity or lesson site, I recommend printing out only that which you have a plan to use. Don’t try to overplan, it’s way too overwhelming. Plan by season, plan by week. Don’t buy things just because, or “in case” you need them.

Buy or print what you need and then use it right away.

I hope this gives you some ideas of your own that you can implement. My hope is that our kids can play on their own and learn to learn on their own as well, but when our kids truly need us, may we ever be present.

Minimalist Mom: Home Life

I know many people think of black, white, empty and void of joy when they think of minimalism but I am discussing a kind of a strand of minimalism in relation to motherhood and parenthood.

I have been recently following many Instagram moms who homeschool, use Montessori style toys or minimalism in their lifestyle, and I’ve been blown away by their inspiration. Funnily, it isn’t the type of fake inspiration that is actually guilt, pain and anguish I used to get following Pinterest (the “I need to have this and that and buy things for status mentality”) It’s truly inspiring and makes me feel calmer and more peaceful in my mom life.

I read Marie Kondo but she doesn’t really address having kids and the mom life which does come with a lot of baby, toddler, kids gear. I took issue with that from day 1. I supposed that minimalism was not the answer for most women, especially mothers with young kids, but I guess I am giving it more thought because my small steps in cleaning out my house did help me so much.

It’s not as extreme as blogger Allie Casazza’s (where her kids only have one bin of toys) but it’s the same concept, to have less and find joy in being less materialistic. Since decluttering, my life has improved a lot. This time, it is even more intentional and focused. Laser focused.

A few improvements we’ve made:

1. I realized that after reading Allie Casazza’s blog and the book Simplicity Parenting by Payne that minimalism positively affects kids. I didn’t realize this was true except that after decluttering Round 1 last year, my kids played very well by themselves, and my twins even have improved a lot in this area though they just turned 2. We have been working on acquiring open-ended toys. Last year, the old toys thrown out were replaced by other similar toys. Now old toys are being replaced by more creative toys like Grimm’s, unit blocks and just plain wood bowls and scoops for sensory bins etc. Now, SG takes big issue with this because it seems like my consumerism has no end, but I actually do feel like there is a sort of closure to our old life. Yes, I will still indulge here and there but I’m not as concerned about my kids having to have a certain amount of presents for Christmas, birthdays,  or other holidays.

I am a little worried that I’ll be perceived as being wasteful because we have a lot of toys, mostly gifts, being sold or donated, so after a big toy purge, I will in the future just store away things so that they are a least out of sight. Then maybe people including my husband and kids will realize they haven’t missed out by having “that one toy” (with batteries that I hate so much). Then we’ll have to do a Round 3 purge when toys aren’t asked for anymore.

2. I am working on self care in a more positive, long lasting way and minimalism is part of that. Having twins was incredibly straining on me, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The past two years were beautiful but exceptionally difficult requiring me to give my all. On top of this I felt strongly the need to homeschool my oldest when he turned 4 and the twins were 1 and it was all too much. I built an excessive wardrobe of LuLaRoe leggings and clothes that basically acted as pajamas, loungewear and frumpy outing wear. It was the worst thing I could have possibly done for myself but at the time I really needed it. I shopped conveniently at home, I got retail therapy, and because I felt like I would never get my body back I just accepted my shape and size by just wearing stretchy clothes. Maybe it was all justified a little.

Perhaps I needed those two years to be chill years and it hasn’t been all that bad for D. He still got his playdates, outings with dad and a lot of free time to develop creativity. He is also exceptionally good with younger kids. But I know he needed more. So this year, I enrolled him in swim and choir and I realized I needed to go back out into the real world with him. After implementing this change, I then realized we were actually doing more of a real homeschool schedule and that I don’t have time to handwash my clothing, pick out matching leggings or do massive loads of laundry every day. I have cleared out most but not all of my clothing, to motivate me to look nice, to look healthier, to simplify the workload at home. This is true self care. It is making good habits and sustainable life changes.

I’m not trying to bash fashion leggings as it helps many women feel beautiful, but I bought so much LulaRoe clothing, it was too much for my needs. And YouTubers and a few real life friends have told me that they stopped wearing it because they felt lazy in it and therefore weren’t as motivated to get into better shape or at least be more active. There is a little truth to it. So just keep that in mind. (I will say I still wearing leggings sometimes just not every day.)

I hope you can see that this is minimalism with a purpose and have the realization that all things cost not just money but also time (from Allie’s blog) for maintenance and care. I think this is definitely worth exploring if you are a stressed-out mom.

Note: I have had major breakthroughs just by hearing about minimalism the second time around but I haven’t paid for the class (I’m not sure I need to at this point in my journey, I liked her blog just for the reminders but it might be helpful to pay for the course if you are just starting out.) I recommend checking out Simplicity Parenting, I just checked it out from my local library so it was like taking parenting and minimalism class for free.

Also, after writing this, I came across a great post by Simply Learning Kids mom. It is a must read!

Inspired by Montessori and Waldorf

When I first started researching homeschool, I came across Waldorf and Montessori philosophies of education. At that early time in my homeschool career, I dismissed their ideas as too hippie or too abstract/imaginative for my son who is very much a concrete and logical learner.

I’ve always been drawn to the style of Peaceful Preschool and Simply Learning Kids (they use literature units) but it was so much prep work when the twins were small that I couldn’t do it all. I have followed SLK mom for a long time, and even bought some wood tracing boards and Grimm toys per her recommendation. We used them for a while but then it was time for more learning and less play so I closed the extremely short chapter of Montessori-inspired and Waldorf-inspired style. Or so I thought.

Interestingly, we had settled on Charlotte Mason inspired language arts work because of our curriculum TGTB. It has been awesome to use. It uses short lessons, copy work, appreciation for nature and above all else, love for God and family. So I was pretty settled in my ways. Short lessons were perfect for D because he really thrived on short small successes which helped lengthen his attention span. He is very focused when he puts some effort in.

Now that my twins are older, I feel like we are back to the Montessori and Waldorf. I don’t know why but this is a little revelation re-revealed to me, that early childhood education should be open-ended and imaginative.

It’s a little ridiculous, but I’ve been once again decluttering my house to be even more minimalist and more focused on open play.

You may be siding with my husband who thinks getting rid of perfectly good toys and books is a waste of time and money.

But if you side with me, my/our aspiration is to have “living” books of the highest quality per Charlotte Mason’s philosophy paired with open ended, durable toys that promote imagination and free style play inspired by Montessori and Waldorf.

These babies are only so small and sweet for a short period of time and you really do want to nurture their natural abilities. Legos and superheroes, while good, can come later. (I still love Legos, but I want them to have other creative options too.)

I would LOVE to rid myself of all plastic toys but I really cannot do that as I would get so much heat from SimpleGuy. So I am merely storing them away, telling my husband our kids have “outgrown” the toys with batteries and fluff books with dumb uninspired drawings. We do still have Qiaohu toys that use a lot of batteries and a LeapFrog ice cream cart, a recent Christmas present to the twins but I only bring them out once in a while. They are no longer readily accessible. The ice cream cart is so cute but I kick myself in the pants thinking, “What was I thinking when I bought this?”

After cleaning out the dining room to become a more functioning homeschool room (see school room reveal post) , I started to realize that cleaning up after all the little pieces and random toys was exhausting. Three kids make a ton of mess. If we put a single activity or toy on each section of the lower shelves, the kids knew exactly where things were supposed to do. One of the benefits of this style is that it promotes order which I really need.

Secondly, I have found that my oldest (D) is now more imaginative and creative that he was as a 3 or 4 year old and I want to encourage him to continue to be creative. Another benefit of Waldorf inspired toys is imagination.

I have also seen my twins and preschooler play in a variety of ways. Yes, D has the imagination and ideas but the twins have natural curiosity and willingness to explore that I wish I had nurtured more in D when he was younger. I feel I have missed a window of opportunity but I am trying my best to make it up to him by introducing it into our homeschool play area. The open ended nature of the toys creates a lot of possibilities and playtime and playthings both have longevity.

I think the reason why homeschoolers are so drawn to Montessori and Waldorf is because this type of creative thinking is no longer promoted in the public schools. You have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to pay tuition to send your kid to a Montessori school in order to have this style of learning environment. With a few basic toys and games, you can easily replicate the style in your own home.

My recommendations:

Grimm toys

I will probably still gift friends and family brands like Melissa and Doug, Hape, Haba and Janod but I feel your money’s worth goes into Grimm toys. There are two online stores in the US that have a good selection of Grimm toys. One is The Wooden Wagon and the other is Bella Luna Toys. (Land of Nod and others have some but not a lot.) Both sent me coupon codes for a first purchase over x$ and they ship free for orders over $99/$100 respectively. These options are both much better than Amazon; Amazon’s selection of Grimm is sparse.

Plain Wood Building Blocks

I just got a block set for my son’s 5th birthday. I admit, I bought way too many blocks but it will be fun when the three kids can construct together. I did extensive online research. I know there are local and artisan brands that charge $200+ for hardwood blocks and that was out of my budget.

The Melissa and Doug set is a good option but I really wanted the larger pieces too. I wanted to use Plan Toys (50 piece) because our library has a set or two but their newer version available doesn’t have the large pieces or the variety as the old version at the library.

A reviewer on Amazon also mentioned that ECR4Kids makes school and kid furniture so their wood is GREENGUARD certified so there are no chemical pollutants whereas all other brands (Guidecraft, HABA, Constructive Playthings) said nothing about how they treated their wood. I chose their 170 piece set which is available on Amazon for $99. They also carry a 64 piece set for $70 that is probably more realistic for those of you who don’t want three boxes of blocks lying around your house (like mine) and has a storage bin which is fantastic. Now I’m wishing that I had bought that set.

Sensory bins

Technically you can use any craft supplies around the house including pom poms and buttons but I really wanted nice quality of stuff but not a huge quantity. In my experience you have to buy craft supplies in bulk making it a bit of a problem when it comes to storage. I have bought a few of my supplies via Amazon but I have also done a lot of Etsy shopping. My favorite Etsy store for sensorial is Montessori ReStore but it’s not a full hearted recommendation because the shop owner didn’t respond to my messages while I was shopping around and had questions. I had to place an order, trusting my gut. She did respond after the order was paid for. It took a month to ship my order so any seasonal themed materials were no longer in season. But there is no question, her materials are really nice. She has wood acorns, wood figures, wool balls, wood buttons—to collect these things would have cost the same plus the time to browse the web to find similar items.

I bought a couple of wood trays and plan to rotate them in the toy rotation. Her material comes in wood trays which are nice to store them Montessori style. I find that locating containers for me is the hardest part of organizing these toys or work.
Other Etsy shops have Montessori or Reggio toys and activities too so shop around. I am not a purist enough to say everything has to be wood but I can tell you that Q (twin a) loves the feeling of wood and glass in the sensory bin pictures above. He really loves texture and holding (gripping tightly) onto things and I think that is pretty common in toddlers.

Wood Monkeypod Bowls

I recommend wood bowls to store or sort these small items and I found a lot of good wood bowls made of monkeypod from the Philippines or Hawaii avaialble on eBay or Etsy. They also come in beautiful shapes like flowers, seeds and fruit so they are functional and aesthetic.

Alison’s Montessori

Lastly of the more purist Montessori style, I recommend getting puzzles of traditional Montessori “work or materials.” I wanted jigsaw puzzles or lockboxes for my twins to play with and yes, there are Melissa and Doug options which are definitely nice options, however, the Montessori sensorial blocks are focused on developing one concept in a child’s mind without the distractions of cartoon animals, fancy colors, or random pieces. Also there is always a control of error so your child can correct their work themselves fostering independence that I can even see in my twin 2-year olds. My favorite options are the cylinder blocks, the knobless cylinders, sound cylinders and binomial cube. We bought the value line and they are adequate in quality for homeschool use. (Please, however, note my value line ones are already chipped with light use.)

Hope this is helpful for you!

P.S I need help too. Please can anyone send me advice on how you’ve gotten your husbands or partners to back the idea of transitioning to Montessori? How do they handle the news of getting rid of plastic toys that still could be used? And have you told your family and friends to not buy your kids plastic or battery operated gifts? Or do you graciously accept all gifts and then regift them or return them? I’d love to hear your insights.

The Good and The Beautiful Curriculum Review

I wanted to review this fantastic curriculum we have been using since July 2017 called The Good and The Beautiful.

Last post on homeschooling was about Simply Learning Kids and Peaceful Preschool. Their approach is a very gentle Charlotte Mason/Waldorf/Montessori approach to homeschool. It is not super rigorous but does emphasize good quality children’s literature and fun art projects that go with the letter or books. Its schedule uses Letter of the Week (some even extend to a letter per 2 weeks) and for a certain age, I think that is a little too slow to introduce letters and sounds once kids are motivated to read. I know we are aiming for mastery, but many letters of the alphabet do not need 3 to 8 days of coverage. I think PP is the perfect pace for 2-3 year olds but for my 4 year old he was asking for more and I didn’t have any more than what I prepped for that day. For that reason, I am glad to have implemented The Good and The Beautiful and Challenger Phonics Fun using songs to learn letter sounds and rules (see below).

I found The Good and The Beautiful (TGTB) curriculum through online searching for homeschool curriculum that used Charlotte Mason style. I was impressed by the affordability of the curriculum and looked at all the samples on their site as well as watched Youtube review videos by Salty Tribe Co, which are extremely informative and show how passionate its users can be. TGTB also has an emphasis on good literature, but its Pre-K is not solely art projects, handiwork or even around the children’s literature. It teaches basic skills like letter sounds, counting, colors, and introduces money and art appreciation.
I started TGTB when D was almost 4.5. I knew at that stage he needed more academic work. His Chinese is pretty good but he was a little behind in English proficiency. After several months of using this, I know this is a good fit for my son. He loved the literature of Peaceful Preschool, but I didn’t use the curriculum in full because I don’t have the time to prep for and do all the fun activities. TGTB is just the right amount of schoolwork. It seems too simplistic at first glance but it actually perfectly addresses the student’s needs and gives exercises to help them practice but in short lessons that don’t exhaust the child. For example, I had no idea that kids this age confuse lowercase b and d but the course book addresses this using fun practice activities. Kids do not realize they are learning but they are.

A friend (who does an informal homeschool co-op with me) thought her daughter knew all the letter sounds and identified letters but when we tested her blending skills it was so apparent she’s still working on letter sounds especially the vowel sounds. We’ve been working on each letter using TGTB when we’re at our place and it’s just the right amount of work for these 4 year olds.

I think the right amount of work is a lesson from TGTB and an art literary activity from PP or SLK

I have purchased the science units and history in support of this curriculum even though it is intended for grades K-6. I haven’t used these yet but I can tell you that they are so beautifully printed and thoughtfully made. There is a very minimal prep work involved, which for a busy mom like me, has been a breath of fresh air. My preschooler is of the logical and concrete style, so he doesn’t really miss the art. I think I will still try to incorporate it every once in a while for a well-rounded education. I find he really loves doing homeschool every day and asks for more. That’s pretty incredible.

I think it no coincidence that I gravitated towards simple but engaging curriculum like Peaceful Preschool and The Good and The Beautiful and that my blog (2013-present) has been called Simply Beautiful Beautifully Simple. I like things to be simple; I like things to be beautiful and uplifting and want to create this type of world in my home as a contrast to what is out there in the world.

I think I might return back to PP when my twins are ready to learn in a homeschool setting for tot school.

I will add that Peaceful Preschool and The Good and The Beautiful all have amazing Facebook communities; it really adds to my faith knowing there are others with similar values and are trying to intentionally raise their kids with a love of God and His word, respect for country and self, and many other things I feel is lacking in the public schools. I feel there is a great support system now that we have the Internet to connect us.

Challenger Phonics Fun

A short side note about Challenger School Phonics Fun – This is super old school (circa 1991) but I still like it. I attended Challenger School for preschool and still recognize some of the songs. It is much more intelligent than most (if not all) of the trash on Youtube pretending to be ABC and phonics songs. D loves the characters and the music. What I love is that the songs teach phonics rules and their alphabet song (“What does the A say?”) will teach vowels’ long and short sound as well as all the other letters’ sounds. The alphabet song (to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle) most kids in America learn, “A,B,C,D,E…” is not enough because it only teaches letter names (not needed for learning to read).

I will also add that he doesn’t watch any TV in English except for the Pixar Cars movies and a little YouTube so he really loved watching Challenger and then kind of grew out of the first and second volume. The third volume is better introduced when kids have mastered the content in one and two because irregular vowels get tricky.

The activity books are excellent for him and I love that this set includes all the flashcards you need, unlike All About Reading (which is beautiful and I’m sure, very nice) where you need to buy multiple levels. It works for us, and I’m not saying it will work for everyone, but it’s what we’ve been using for our limited-English proficient child who is making a lot of gains in the language. 

I personally think you can teach reading earlier. TGTB doesn’t teach reading at pre-K, it is mostly reviewing letter sounds and letter formation (basic handwriting). We are currently half way through level pre-K and it hasn’t touched on blending or phonics at all. So that is why I felt D needed something supplemental. However, if you are fine with gentle approach, I know TGTB will eventually work on phonics and flash cards, so don’t worry too much.

This year’s curriculum:

I plan to use pre-K and the K Primer in the year 2018. This curriculum does take a back seat to our Chinese work using Qiaohu so we go very slowly compared to our monolingual homeschooled peers. I plan to start using Sagebooks for Chinese character reading; still anxiously waiting their arrival!

Magic Holes Board Books Review

 

Just wanted to share that I found an awesome deal on the Magic Holes/Look and See books through Sharon’s Dynasty, an online bookstore that is closing at the end of the year. Please, please, please GO NOW and find a few titles for your Chinese-speaking littles. THIS CLOSING SALE ENDS 12/31

These used to be published in Chinese in Taiwan who bought the rights from La Coccinella (Italy). The English edition of the series is called Look and See and is available on Amazon; SimpleGuy said he grew up reading a few. (What?) My mother brought all of her Taiwan series (with a heavy ridiculous old-school spiral binding that was tearing the books up) to Texas once on one of her trips (bless her heart!).

This new edition is MUCH better than the old Taiwan version. They’re not perfect but there is actually a storyline. The old Taiwan version (which I gave to my sis-in-law and my older brother–sorry guys, it’s all we had before QiaoHu) was seriously written by idiots. I am sorry but I could have done better and I’m not native.

This edition uses simplified Chinese and there is also pinyin for those ABC moms like me. (Speaking of ABC moms, you NEED to check out this site chalkacademy.com –there are tons of awesome Chinese learning resources Montessori style for preschool and kindergarten aged kids. AND look at her book list, I am trying to acquire them all.)

I think the print is quality and kids LOVE the cut out holes. The storyline compared to a lot of other Chinese kids’ books is decent to adequate. The illustrations are FAR better than most YouTube style digitalized cartoons for the masses. (No, QiaoHu doesn’t count! He is from Japan and has a ton of educational and cultural content! lol)

Right now they are 60% off with the code CHRISTMAS during checkout. She uses Shopify for checkout and yes, I have received my books all in plastic wrap (just be careful, the pages get stuck together because they were in shrink wrap for some time).

You do pay for shipping Media Mail rate, but it is by weight. Example, 12.99 for an order 9-20 lbs; I think that is reasonable!

Recommendations:

  1. Little Star – Did I mention that a lot of weight is placed on illustrations? For books for this age range, it is so important that the art is beautiful, quality and comforting. That is really what reading at this age is about–enjoyment. So the Little Star book is pretty good here. The main character is a little fox who can’t fall sleep.
  2. A Year Has Twelve Months – This is also one with good illustrations. Luckily the months of the year are extremely easy in Chinese (January is month 1) so I actually need this in English for D to learn months of the year. Hopefully you celebrate holidays in your home because if you don’t then this book is not for you. Halloween and Christmas do appear.
  3. The Curious Cat – Another title with good illustrations. This one has big to little holes, most are animals’ homes, others are a little different: example, a hole in a leaf that a caterpillar has eaten etc.
  4. Who Weighs the Same – This has cute illustrations but also does a good job of comparing weights of different animals. It’s a good way to show kids the idea of “equivalent weight.” Example, a dinosaur apparently weighs the same as two whales.

Ones that are…interesting?

  1. Circus of Colors has some really weird colors like yellow and orange on the page for orange; magenta and purple for the page for purple, etc. and it has a woman cut in half on the dark blue page–yes, it’s a circus, but a little perplexing for youngsters.
  2. We happen to have the Wheels on the Go in Chinese and English now. I’m not a huge fan of it despite the fact that D is totally into cars, all day, every day. The vehicles are all really odd; they do not appear from large to small; there is no sense to them. It’s fine but just could have been better.
  3. I feel that What’s This and Hello Baby are extremely childish, just by judging the book’s preview pages. I could be completely wrong but I do feel I am a good judge of children’s literature. I’m shopping for 2 year old twins so I skipped these titles, but maybe you’d consider them for a infant or young baby.
  4.  The Little Green Caterpillar is so similar to Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar but just more nasty (no one wants to share their food with the caterpillar) so I just suggest skipping this one for the classic Carle book in Chinese which is also available on Sharon’s Dynasty.