Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How We Chose Our Agency


Originally posted April 2011:

If you’ve been following our family, you know that we were trying to figure out how to adopt from India for several years.  It was so difficult to get the right information, or even figure out who to ask about certain things. I can’t count how many hours I spent making phone calls, sending emails, reading website and after website of legalese.  
When we realized that India was not going to happen, I was so mentally exhausted from running all the circles. I told Paul, “I just want to pick an agency and fall into their hands and let them tell me what to do!”  So that’s what we decided to do. 
We have quite a few friends that live overseas and have completed adoptions while abroad.  So we decided we’d write them and ask them where they adopted from, how they did it, what agency they used, etc.  Whatever the consensus was, if there was one, is what we would do. 
There was a resounding consensus.  The vast majority of the replies came back: “International Adoption Guides!”  They all highly recommended them.  They said they are great with working with expats abroad.  They have a paperwork service that collects all your documents for you!  Ah, I was sold when I heard that!  I did some thorough research online, and we both felt like we were ready to apply.  
As for our home study, that was a little more complicated.  IAG recommended two different agencies, one in Germany and one in China.  The guy in Germany has very different parenting philosophies from us, which prevented us from working together.  The lady in China was really busy and booked out quite a ways, so we would have had to wait quite awhile for her to come here.  Through some friends in India that are beginning an adoption process, we learned of another agency called Adopt Abroad, Inc.  They are in Pennsylvania, but have a social worker contracted in Bahrain.  We contacted her, and it just worked out for her to come and do our home study as well as this other family’s on the same trip, and we can split her travel costs!  Yippee!  In addition, her husband is a pastor, and she has lived abroad for 11 years.  We were so excited to know she is a believing sister and would be understanding about our life abroad, our motives for adopting, and our religious beliefs and commitment to Scripture.  
We see God’s hand of blessing in all these small details, smoothing the path for us as we walk down this road!  I am enjoying every little twist and turn, cherishing it all, knowing what a great blessing is waiting for us at the end.  

Update:  (6/18/2013)
Now having been home for a year with our daughter, I feel I can confidently speak regarding our experience with International Adoption Guides.  We found many things to be a bit off in the way our case was handled.  We lost a lot of confidence in their truthfulness.  Several time I was told things by the director, Jim Harding, that just didn't square up for either me or Paul.  When pressed for more details, we were always told "to just trust us."  It became increasingly harder to do.  All we were told about our daughter initially by IAG was that she was abandoned, the date she was found (possible date), and a town name, with an original orphanage name, and the name of the man who found her.  Doing a quick google search with this information, I was able to find out the man who found her actually worked at the orphanage she came from.  Hmmm... I confronted IAG about this.  Jim said not to worry about it.  I felt like he acted like he had known that (of course he would have, they work closely with that orphanage).  He just didn't think to tell us that.  *I* think that's kind of a nice detail, maybe even a little important??  At that point, I was pretty sure they were not to be implicitly trusted.  I wanted to know more.  We hired a private investigator to see if he could find out anymore.  The story stopped at that orphanage employee.  However, he did find out from that man that he found two babies next to each other that night, not just our daughter.  Both girls were about the same age.  IAG was referred both girls, and in turn referred them separately to families waiting in their program.  Neither family was told these girls were found together.  It is possible these girls are related, maybe even twins.  No testing was done.  No information was given to the families. (This could, of course, be because they *knew* the girls weren't related, because they actually know where they came from... that could be even worse, because in that case, their origins are being covered up).  When confronted with this information, Jim Harding told me that he didn't think it was relevant, or something along those lines.

We cannot in good conscience ever recommend anyone to work with IAG.  There were many other red flags, as well as, to us,  questionable ethics going on there. Please believe me when I say, I would not trust IAG to tell the whole truth, or anything close to the truth.  I have heard from too many other moms with stories much worse than ours.  Listen to the other families.  Just because some get through the process with International Adoption Guides with a good experience, does not mean our bad experiences are not true.  Of course, many adoptions are legitimate and above board. And of course, every agency will have families with bad experiences.  It has just become apparent to me that IAG seems to have PATTERNS and HABITS of questionable choices and practices, in my opinion.  With any agency you are working with, think very critically about answers you are being given to your questions.  Don't just drink the Kool-Aid, please.  THINK!  Question!  Don't be in a hurry to believe something that's convenient for you.

Preedy Kid Travels

In this first unit of Tapestry of Grace, one of the activities is to work on a map of the US.  They suggest marking stars on all the cities you've visited, and drawing the routes you've driven or flown for vacations.  Our travels are a bit more world-wide, so I decided to do this with the kids, incorporating our travels around the world.  It just seemed like the more logical thing to do for us.  I had no idea, however, just how ridiculous the map would turn out to be. I know we've been to all these places, but you just don't realize how crazy it is until you see it all drawn out on a map!  All this in the last five and a half years.  Wow!  I feel so blessed to have gotten to travel the world with my kids!  What a great gift for them!

Countries Visited:
United Arab Emirates
(The dotted line to West Africa is a trip Paul and I took by ourselves while the two kids were in France with the grandmothers.  We visited Burkina Faso).

If we can just get to somewhere in South America, they'll have 6 of the 7 continents covered! : ) 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

2013-2014 Curriculum Picks: A More Classical Approach

If you read the last post about my review of the year, you saw that I had a little crisis of faith with my Tapestry of Grace. I have been a loyal Tapestry user, and recommender for a couple of years now. I'm so thankful that Father helped me to see I can do it, because I'm so happy to be sticking with it!

All this digging into the nuts and bolts of Tapestry and being more convinced about it's rightness for us led me down the path of becoming more curious about exactly what classical education is. It's something I hear a lot, and is applied to a good deal of programs out there right now. I realized though, that I didn't actually understand fully what it meant.  Does it mean you study history chronologically in a cycle?  Does it mean you study Latin?  Does it mean you read the great works of literature? Is it all those things? 

I decided if I am aiming for a "classical" education for my kids, I better understand it.  I started watching the Tapestry teaching training videos.  Totally worth the money. I started researching, finding articles, reading about different approaches, different tracts in classical education.  Classical schools, classical degree programs at universities, classical writing, languages, literature, logic, rhetoric. I think I have a pretty good grasp on what it is and is not now.  I am very convinced this is what I want for my kids.  (I've always been a little old school, and felt I really should have been born into a Jane Austen novel, rather than the 1970's).  

So, I figured I better make a road map of where we're headed, and how we're going to get there.  If we want to achieve a classical education, we need more than just Tapestry. Classical education is history, it is great works of literature, it usually is Latin.  But it's also learning how to think, critique, analyze, and how to communicate all of that, both verbally and in writing.  

I'm not really crazy about the writing supplement Tapestry offers. It's a little too un-structured for me.  So after hours and hours of research and agonizing and praying, I *think* we are going to start with Classical Writing next year.  We'll do the 2nd grade Primer with both Luke and Kiryn next year, and the following year, start with Aesop A.  I really struggled with this decision.  Classical Writing is a full language arts program.  It includes grammar, some spelling, vocabulary, literary analysis, reading comprehension, and more.  I love this about it.  My hesitation, though, is that it is an intense curriculum, very rigorous, and is not scripted.  Aside from Tapestry, it will be my first un-scripted program.  Which means I will have to actually learn all about writing through their program, and then teach it to my kids. Intimidating?  Yes.  In the end, the benefits of the fully integrated approach to writing, reading, and grammar won out over the other options that were strictly focused on writing exclusively.  There aren't very many options of full curriculums in the most classical sense for writing.  If you want to do a program based on the progymnasmata (Greek for beginning exercises), you basically can choose between Classical Composition and Classical Writing.  Classical Writing won out for us. 

Now for Latin.  I had a big internal debate with myself about when to start Latin.  We also want the kids to study Hindi formally for a few years, and that is a priority right now.  We finally decided that the point of learning Latin is to be able to read the writings of the greats of Ancient Rome.  So there's no need to be able to do that until at least high school.  The writings would not be understandable before that.  So we'll start formal Hindi next year, and put off Latin till most likely 8th grade. I *think* we'll use Latin in the Christian Trivium.  (Of course, all this is subject to change).  

I'd also like them to learn Greek well at some point, so they can read the New Testament in it's original language.  We'll see. I'm thinking between Hindi and Latin, maybe 6-7-8th grades?  

So, all that to say: here is what we will be doing in the Preedy Academy next year: 

-Veritas Bible: Judges to Kings
-Math-U-See: Beta and Gamma
-Classical Writing: Primer
-All About Spelling 3 & 4 hopefully
-Elemental Science: Chemistry
-Memoria Press 2nd grade Literature pack
-Tapestry of Grace Year 3: Lower Grammar
-New American Cursive 2: Quotes from Founding Fathers versions
-McGuffey Reader 2
-Artistic Pursuits 2 (we'll try again) : ) 

If you have come across another progymnasmata based writing program, please let me know! I would love to know if there's more than the two I mentioned out there! I couldn't find any other ones online...

2012-2013 Curriculum Reviews

Whew!  This has been a marathon of a school year.  We began with second grade and first grade the last week of June in 2012.  We still have about three weeks to go. I'm glad I started early last year! I anticipated loosing some momentum while in the US this fall, and we lost more than I expected. : )  However, we have kept on (even if my blogging hasn't!), and are just about to finish up this year.  It's time for the year-end review.

Grammar: Shurley Grammar and Composition
Spelling/Phonics: All About Spelling
Math: Math-U-See
History/Geography/Literature: Tapestry of Grace
Science: Elemental Science: Earth and Astronomy
Bible: Veritas Bible-Genesis to Joshua
Art: Artistic Pursuits

Last year, I posted that these were the programs we were going to be using.  Here's what ended up actually happening. 

Grammar: We did make it through Shurley Grammar for homeschool Level 1.  I liked this program. I thought it moved at a good pace, and the kids learned a lot and were challenged. It was a bit formulaic, but it was not overly repetitive as to be boring.  It was very open and go for me, and required basically no prep time.  At the end of this year, the kids have a good handle on basic parts of speech (N, V, Adj, Adv, Article Adv, Prep, Object of Prep.).  Their vocabulary has increased.  They can also write beginning two-point expository paragraphs, journal entries, friendly letters, and thank you notes. Overall, I'm really pleased with how this year went with Shurley.  Looking ahead, the scope and sequence is impressive in the coming years, and it takes grammar and composition through the7th grade/level.  For reasons I will outline in my next post, though, we will not continue with Shurley.

Spelling: We have LOVED All About Spelling.  We jumped into Level 2, and I wouldn't recommend doing that. Even if your kids are great readers, start with Level one and work through it quickly.  We only did spelling two days a week: one day of new teaching and flash cards, and a second day of reviewing flash cards, spelling with tiles, and phrase/sentence dictation.  Level 2 was also fairly easy for our kids, so this worked fine.  They could already spell pretty much all the words in the book correctly, but now they know *why* these words are spelled the way they are. We will definitely continue on with All About Spelling. I saw on their website they now have a Level 7 which gets into Latin root words, French and Spanish loan words, and more.  I love that this program does not have a workbook.  It's very hands on and fun for the kids.  In the lower levels (1 & 2), they also have lovely little readers that we all enjoyed.  Highly recommend this as a follow up to or alongside a phonics program.  It's so good, that I plan to use their phonics/reading program (All About Reading) with my next two. 

Math-U-See:  I love Math-U-See.  Confidently continuing with this next year.  Kids are learning it well, it doesn't take a lot of time out of our day, requires no prep for me.  Perfect!

Elemental Science: This was our first year with Elemental Science.  We have really enjoyed it!  We studied earth science and astronomy this year.  This program does not use a textbook, but instead uses things like Usborne First Encyclopedia of Space, Kingfisher books, and biographies of astronauts.  It has a student book with a poem for each unit, note-booking pages, and coloring pictures to put in the note-booking pages. It also has one experiment a week which was usually something we managed to do.  The student book also includes a report type page for the experiment to help students draw conclusions from what they experienced.  This program has also been a lot of fun, and fairly easy to use.  I always dreaded science, but the astronomy part of this in particular has been fascinating!  We'll continue with Elemental Science at least through their four year grammar stage cycle (Life Science, Earth Science, Chemistry, Physics) with Chemistry next year and then Physics.  Beyond that, I may be switching to Apologia for a bit more rigorous science study.  

Veritas Bible: I have been so pleased with this program.  It begins with a flash card with the main event/story/person for the week. The first day, I read the back of the card to the kids, listen to the memory song, and drill the facts (story title, scripture reference, date).  Second and third day we do worksheets and projects in the student workbook, and review the card.  Usually the second day involves reading the story from Scripture.  The fourth day we look at any extra resources that might be called for.  And the last day, they take either an oral or written test, reviewing all the stories up to that point.  It has worked amazingly well, and really concreted their understanding and knowledge of the first five books of the Bible.  We will definitely keep going in this curriculum. 

Artistic Pursuits:  We just flat out didn't do this this year.  We traveled so much.  I think we got in about 10-12 of the lessons, and that's it.  I just gave up after awhile. : )  But we'll pick it up again next year hopefully!

-We added McGuffey's Readers (1 & 2) (Mott Media version) mid-year. I love these books!  I highly recommend them! Get the Ruth Beechick teacher's manual that goes with them.  Wonderful readers full of high thoughts and character, morality, and Biblical principle.  

-New American Cursive: Luke was begging to learn to write cursive, so I purchased these from Memoria Press. I love Memoria Press curriculum!  We bought their Famous Men series, an Astronomy unit study, as well as the 2nd grade Literature guides.  All are excellent, including the cursive.  You should see both the kids' cursive writing!  They whizzed through the workbook and loved it! Their writing is impressive. : )  

-Everyday Graces: A Child's Book of Manners (by Karen Santorum):  We added this mid-year too, as we were dealing with some cultural lack of manners. : )  We read a little section several times a week. I love this book.  It's enjoyable to read, and Karen's points she draws from each poem or story are great.  My kids have remembered the stories from that book and will bring them up at appropriate times to be applying the truth learned.  Wonderful! : ) 

Tapestry of Grace:  I have to admit. I had a little crisis of faith in my Tapestry this year.  After Unit 2, I was ready to quit.  It was a tough unit, just based on the subject matter (reformation, Martin Luther, Protestantism vs. Catholicism vs. Church of England, etc.).  That is really heady stuff, even for me, let alone a first and second grader. : )  I felt like I was loosing the thread, the main idea each week, and it was getting really difficult to see the forest for the trees. We were in the states at the time, and I began looking around, and thought maybe I needed to simplify. Maybe Tapestry was just too much for us, at least right now.  So I caved and bought a different history program for next year.  I chose Veritas Press Self-Paced online history for several reasons.  Their flashcard and memory song system worked SO well for us with Bible.  And with the online aspect, I wouldn't have to prepare anything for history.  They could just watch a video on the internet and fill out their worksheets.  It also called for about 15% of the books that Tapestry does for a year, so I thought I would be saving money.  

Then we came back to India.  And we got back into our home and our routine, and got back to school.  Things started clicking again with Tapestry.  I began to feel more confident, and started regretting the choice to abandon it. (I'd always felt guilty, but was convinced it was the right choice).  Being back in our own home made me realize, I don't want to give up on Tapestry. I want to keep going.  One thing I came to realize about Veritas History is that it is a western civilization history. It does not cover anything outside the U.S. and Europe.  I definitely want the world history aspect in there that Tapestry offers.  Being back in our routine here also reminded me of how much I love sitting down together with the kids, reading the books, and talking about the events and time periods, digging for fun videos to watch on the internet, doing the activities, and just spending time together. I would be missing that all next year if I delegated history to a video.  I read a lot on the Tapestry forums which gave me confidence that I could do it, and decided to re-change my mind and go back to Tapestry.  I know that I know that I want our kids doing Tapestry in high school.  The Pageant of Philosophy, government, discussion questions, socratic discussions, all that. I want that, no question.  So we'll stick with Tapestry after all. 

I feel like I have gained a lot of clarity about what we're doing through this year.  I'm so thankful that this is a journey for all of us, and we keep learning as we go.  I'm sure I'll change my mind one hundred times more in the coming years! But I know my Father is with me and is guiding each step and decision we make.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Happy Birthday, Paul!

Paul turned 34 this year!  He's a very difficult person to buy gifts for.  He never wants anything, and pretty much has everything he *needs*, and then some.  I always rack my brain, try to listen for weeks ahead at things he mentions, scour the internet, and to add to the pressure, I've got two mothers begging me for suggestions as well. : )

This year, I decided to make it easy on all of us.  We would take a trip.  So I asked everyone to chip in a bit, and for Paul's birthday, we took a little getaway to a place right outside of our city called The Treehouse Resort!

The rooms were little wooden boxes built up in the trees.  They had tree branches running through them. 
The kids thought this was awesome. : )

They had all kinds of activities, like archery.  This was one of our favorite things to do.

In the evenings, they offered camel cart rides through the Rajasthani wilderness. 

They had bikes you could take on a ride.

Considering it was over 100 degrees, we only did this once. : )

They had a small, five hole golf course.  We only did this once too, but everyone really enjoyed it!

Brothers sitting to sweetly while on a jeep tour of the property. 

They also had domesticated turkeys, rabbits, and guinea fowl wandering around the property.  These turkeys followed us everywhere.  After breakfast each morning, we'd walk around the forest, find the swing, and chase the guinea fowl.  These turkeys were so creepy, and would always find us and try to get as close to us as they could.  I don't think I'd ever been around turkeys before.  Seriously creepsters. 

Of course, we spent most of our time at the awesome swimming pool!  Twice a day we went there when it was really sunny and hot, and would spend hours swimming.  Meryn became fearless and would want to kick off on her own in the floatie, and eventually, even in just arm floaties.  Levi conquered his fear of the water while we were there as well.  Before coming here, Levi would not even get in a swimming pool.  But while we were there, he got in, eventually got brave enough for us to carry him away from the steps into the water. On the last day, Levi surprised us all by deciding to get in a floatie for the first time, and independently kick around the pool! We were so proud of him! But, he still wouldn't let us put him under water. : ) One thing at a time...

Thanks to both our parents for this wonderful vacation!  It was full of memories we will enjoy for a long time.  : )

Monday, June 3, 2013

Dinner Conversation

Tonight, we had one of those "I never want to forget this!" dinner conversations.  It went as follows:

K: (said something inappropriate)

M: Kiryn, I don't think the word you just used is a very nice word.  Let's not say that again.

L: What did she say, Mom?

M: It doesn't matter.

L: But what did she say?

Dad: Luke, let it go, it's not a word we'll repeat.

L: Was it the S-word? Or maybe the D-word?

K: No, it was the B-word, I mean, the F-word.

(at this point, Paul looks at me with wide eyes and says:)

Dad: Where are they learning all these words?!?

Mom: So, Luke, you won't be in trouble. Please tell us the S-word.

L: (embarrassed) ... stupid.

M: Okay.  And now, please tell us the D-word.

L: Damn.

M: Okay.  Kiryn what is the B-word, please?

K: (giggling) Um... butt.

M: Alright. And now please tell us the F-word.

K: (more giggling): Fart

End of conversation, which ended with lots of snickering by Mom and Dad, and a comment on how ironically well the kids version parallels the version we had in our heads. : ) And let me just clarify, the only reason the D-word is in this list today is because it was actually in Luke's history reading today! A British officer was quoted as saying it to a milita man.  I couldn't believe it!  We had a long talk about that word this morning. These are the moments I want to cherish in my heart.  Their naivety and silliness.