Winding down first grade and ramping up my preschooler

I’m already focused on next year’s schooling. This is a result of all the homeschool publishers running sales, and awaiting the new Foundations Guide from Classical Conversations (CC). We are closing out our second full year of CC, and our fifth year of homeschooling, since I ambitiously and unnecessarily started my own homeschool cooperative with some close friends when my firstborn was just 18 months old in Atlanta. It was a glorified play date, but it showed me the beauty of coops – close mom friends, like-minded people, the power of “scale” and positive peer pressure.

I had been in my own coop till my oldest was 4, but in two cities – Atlanta, then Rochester. Then I did two coops run by other people – loved it, and learned a lot! That last year in Rochester, I also did CC at home with just the music CDs for Cycle 1. Seeing the fruit of the teaching methodology, and knowing the benefit of community, I joined my first CC community when we moved to CA the next year for Cycle 2. And here we are ending Cycle 3. For these two years I’ve also belonged to another homeschool coop.

As I consider next year, I realize I’m juggling the needs of a 6.5 year old, 3.5 year old, and a rising toddler. For the first time, we get to repeat a Cycle (Cycle 1), and really add another learner to our one room schoolhouse (my rising 4 year old). As we ease our way into learning that has a little more rigor for my oldest, introducing “the same old” for my second (with a different learning style), and meeting the normal baby needs for my youngest, I have really met the word called “multi-tasking” in ways I hadn’t known it before. On most days my water intake is poor and I haven’t fully taken care of my own needs. I leave room for the fact that I’m coming out of the fog of having a newborn (who is now almost 14 months old), and every three months she leapfrogs her abilities and schedules shift.

All that to say, I’m closing out this year by maintaining my commitments, but I know I’m only doing just ONE coop next year – CC. I’m following God’s calling to downsize my life of activities and upsize my life in quality. I’m removing breadth in exchange for depth and balance. I’ve added a Shabbat dinner and it’s following sabbath rest – it has taken a lot of energy to do this, but it’s been worth it.

Over the summer, I will get down to the business of letter recognition and phonics for my preschooler, and big time lessons in obedience. Spelling, language lessons, handwriting, and creative storytelling for my rising second grader will capture his attention. We will work on drilling math memory too, for the basic arithmetic functions, and work diligently through the rest of first grade Singapore math while we learn abacus alongside together. We will maintain our priorities for learning the Bible, godly character, and scripture memory. And we will add back swimming. If I’m on top of it, we will finish first language lessons book 1, and song school Latin book 1 as well.

I will start building in an exercise and movement regimen for all of us. Right now, my children and husband get it but I’m missing out dearly. I will cut down on the sugar intake, and start cleansing our palates in quite a strict manner.

We will take advantage of the beautiful outdoors and hike and camp, and explore with friends. We will go whale watching, and elephant seal observing, and sea otter snooping. We will watch sunsets and see monarchs migrating. We will traipse through brush-land, and wade through marshlands. We will watch waves crashing and sit beside rivers. We will see plays and symphonies, ballets and orchestras. We will go on dates and have family days. We will be God’s creation and enjoy His creation and marvel at the work of His hands. The heavens declare the glory of God, The skies proclaim the work of His hands. We will exalt Him with our own works and words and adoration.

Piano is the only thing that doesn’t halt or change rhythms from the traditional school year to summer.

When school starts again, I will start my oldest in Veritas Press’ Ancient History and Old Testament & Genesis to Joshua Bible online programs, and we will do CC, spelling and math with more rigor. We will play more games. My middle child will learn how to read and I will learn how to have more balance, joy, and diligence.

In the meantime, we will worship the Lord God Almighty, and we will pray. We will ask God to order our days and plan our steps, because He already has done it. We will walk in obedience.


Birth story

My new baby’s birth story is already written. 

Psalm 139:14-16 says 

Certainly you made my mind and heart; you wove me together in my mother’s womb. I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing. You knew me thoroughly; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was made in secret and sewed together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence.

Thus, the Lord has already written my baby’s birth plan.

I wrote up this baby’s birth plan a few days ago. But I know We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps (Proverbs‬ ‭16:9‬ ‭NLT‬‬). And the Lord’s plan is the best plan, so I lean in Him. He is the Rock of my Salvation, even in delivering my babies! 

As I come to the end of this pregnancy, I’ve been consuming lots of birth stories as my reminder of what’s to come. I started anticipating this time with some fear, but I’ve acknowledged it out loud to my husband, and to the Lord, as a sort of (cathartic) confession of sorts, and now I’m feeling ready. The fear is mostly just a remembrance of the reality of pain in childbirth. I now can acknowledge that if I have pain, it’s because God blessed my uterus to know exactly how to birth a baby – what a total blessing! Habakkuk (3:19) says The sovereign Lord is my source of strength. He gives me the agility of a deer; He enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain. Childbirth is rugged terrain… I have the ability to move however I want, but it’s mainly the kind of situation that you accept and embrace as God takes you on a ride. You can move and breathe, and you must, but you must also fix your thoughts.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

It gives me great comfort to know that whenever I remember (Jesus) on my bed, and think about (Him) during the nighttime hours… (He) is my Deliverer; under (His) wings I rejoice. My soul pursues (Him), (His) right hand upholds me. PSALM 63:6-8

My message to my baby Hope is Look, the Lord’s hand is not too weak to deliver you; his ear is not too deaf to hear you. Isaiah 59:1. I believe that babies can communicate with God and their mothers even before birth. Thus, her spirit draws strength.

I want her to be able to say I have leaned on You since birth; You pulled me from my mother’s womb. I praise You continually. Psalm 71:6

And I want this to be true for us as parents: May your father and your mother have joy; may she who bore you rejoice. Proverbs 23:25

I believe we will be full of joy in this labor! The Lord said He would help me. What a delight I have in that assurance! I need no other help than His! We are ready, Lord!

Sun observations for Cycle 2 Week 8

Since we are studying parts of the sun for week 8 of classical conversations in cycle 2, we found a sun program, and a star program to go enjoy at Fremont Peak.

Amateur astonomers volunteer to set up their scopes, or the observatory’s scopes, and happily share their knowledge with you.
Firstly, look at the spectacular view we are enjoying! For you CCers, this is definitely a scrubland. The clouds are not our friends when observing the heavens, but they sure are pretty!

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.” 

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭3:14-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Who can understand the spreading of the clouds and the thunder that rolls forth from heaven?”

‭‭Job‬ ‭36:29‬ ‭NLT‬

We also found some creepy crawlers that were entertaining. I will load these up to an app so bug-officianados can tell us what we saw.

This little obervation station was modest, but holds a much more powerful refractor than we have at home. Of course, the roof opens and then you can see out. Otherwise, the astronomers set their own scopes out on gravel pads outside.

I love these weekend adventures because it gets Dad involved and able to participate in what we are learning. 

We were able to meet Sal (in the white shirt) who told us how sun spots form, and that they usually occur in tandem with solar flares. From that, and some searching online, learned that there’s what is called a sun spot cycle, because there’s a rhythm that God gave their existence too. How amazing is our Lord!

“If he commands it, the sun won’t rise and the stars won’t shine. He alone has spread out the heavens and marches on the waves of the sea. He made all the stars—the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the southern sky. He does great things too marvelous to understand. He performs countless miracles.”

‭‭Job‬ ‭9:7-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Even my 2 year old understood he was looking at the sun. How cute!

There is a special filter on these telescopes that allow us to safely see the sun. Otherwise, you’d burn your eye and go blind. We got some safety lessons too, and I appreciate when my children hear safety tips from other adults. You know – because children “tune you out” sometimes – because they hear you all day, especially when you homeschool!

This red image is a picture of what we saw in the lens of the scope with a filter that allowed us to look for solar flares. We didn’t see any solar flares, but we did see some texture on the sun’s corona (outer layer) that was interesting, however, barely observable.

This yellow image was what you see when you’re looking at a lens with a filter that allows you to look for sun spots. No sun spots were visible today.

We drew a sun diagram in the gravel and named the parts of the sun we are learning. We threw rocks into our sun, trying to hit the various spots of interest too. Here you see the sun’s core, radiative zone, convective zone, sun spots (in the photosphere), and corona.

We made up some hand motions to help us learn the sun’s parts too:

  1. We start by making a small ball with our fists. 
  2. Then we blow “helium and hydrogen” in our hands to make our ball “900 times bigger than the Earth”. 
  3. And we then touch each part of the sun, and pretend it burns us, starting with the core (we poke the center of our imaginary sun and shout “Core! Ouch!”
  4. For the radiative zone we move our fingers in and out like we are patting glue or paint into a ball – our imaginary radiative zone is larger than our imaginary core so our hands are about a soccer ball apart from each other. 
  5. For the convective zone we “wave our hands around a ball”, and our hands are about two soccer balls apart from each other.
  6. For the sun spots we “poke the sun in spots further from the center than the convective zone (in the air) in the photosphere to make sun spots”
  7. For a solar flare, we pretend like a “fire cracker is shooting off the side of our imaginary sun in the photosphere”. 
  8. And we move our hands around the “giant circumference of the sun’s corona” in a huge circle mid-air. You get the picture.

Though you can find many more online, here are some cool pages to show you some more about the sun:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and got some ideas you could try with your kids this year!

In closing, I leave you with this:

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Nothing can hide from its heat.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭19:1-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Seriously Scientific: Science with Rising 4 Year Olds

seriously scientific

My husband is a scientist, and I have a deep appreciation for the topic, especially nature studies. Science is a priority in our home. Part of our vision statement for children between ages 18 months and 5 years old includes science: “Science: observations, experiments, nature studies, exposure to laws of nature and general science”.

Many curriculum for this age group would list getting to know the animals around us as important for this year of life, such as classifying or naming farm animals, zoo animals, jungle animals, and things in the ocean… you get the picture. You probably did this in their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year of life. But as kids are becoming 4 years old, as they are ready, also develop the skill of scientific thinking and smart observations. I mean, really, how interesting is it to moo like a cow for 3 years? Kids get bored. Feed their hungry and curious brains more. Let me take you beyond naming and classifying animals.

In school, you may have felt punished by the miscalculation of equations in your chemistry lab, which is really a math struggle not a science struggle, and missed the point – not praising you for ‘scientific thinking’ would be the failure of the teacher. While part of science is absolutely the correct calculation of figures for accurate observations and conclusions, what matters is your understanding of the logical flow of thought:

  • I notice something
  • I have a question about it that stems from my curiosity
  • I imagine what answers may apply, whether from deductive or inductive reasoning
  • I test my answers one by one to see what’s the most accurate
  • I look at the outcomes and draw conclusions about what I saw
  • I form an opinion, and tell someone about what I discovered
  • I start over again with a new observation and question

You can hone your math skills as you go along.  That is the simple version of the scientific method.

We aim for 1 experiment a week, and we practice observing nature almost as often as we are outside. There is a Science Experiment template I created for my kids – you can download them here:

There are a few tools we enjoy, though none of them are perfect or whole. I recommend you pick up a simple ‘experiments book’ if you have trouble thinking of experiments on your own. Here’s one we got for free: Gizmos & Gadgets: Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why) (Williamson Kids Can!). It’s actually way too advanced for a 4 year old. We just explain the concepts in a way he can understand them, and we help him with the experiments.

There’s also a class on Coursera, a website and app with free online learning, called Tinkering, where “activities provide a powerful way to inspire students’ interest, engagement, and understanding in science”. This class is where science meets engineering. Micah’s father is going to help him go through this class. It will take several months to half a year to complete, versus the allotted 6 weeks the course instructor recommended. This is fine. We remember more by doing a deep dive, versus just skimming the surface. This kind of mastery is a great habit to get into… the fact that when we learn, we learn for comprehension, memory and application, not only memory alone.

We do nature studies. You can download a free nature journal curriculum here. Of course, this too, is too advanced for a 4 year old. I simplify it by using the curriculum as a prompting tool for myself, to find questions to ask Micah while we are out together. Today, we went to Tinker Park, and I helped him notice things along the way. We allowed plenty of time to stop and ‘smell the roses’, if you will. We looked at the clouds and thought about what shapes reminded us of, such as an upside down dog, a sheep, and a bear. We found a swallow’s nest and watched the mother feed the babies. We found lily pads and flowers, frogs and bumble bees. There’s so much to take in, really. We talked about how God made seeds in different ways to be transported by air, in animal fur, or to be eaten and ‘deposited’ (haha) somewhere else. There are times we will look up more about what we find when we get home. For example, when we went to Corbett Glen Park, we found some critters, so I printed up some information which we read about during nap/ quiet time:

When you’re studying animals, it’s fun to classify them into their kingdoms, learn where they live, try to make a model with clay or other media, listen to them, act like them, learn how they communicate, watch them, see what they eat, care for them, feel them if you can, learn about their life cycle and how they care for their young, compare and contrast with animals you already know about, measure out how far they can jump and try to jump the same distance, or make a life-size paper animal and paste it on your wall to see how your own body size compares. One great way to learn about animals is to get a pet, but seriously consider if you have the time, space, money and love to really give them a good life. If you’re not sure, maybe you have a friend who will ‘lend’ you their pet for a day or a week. We always discuss the animal’s purpose in the grand scheme of life, and that God created each one.

I have this journal composition book I love, with space for pictures at the top, and writing at the bottom. Every couple months I go back and see what Micah’s ready to draw and say, and we add to the book. I always date the pages and make notes around his drawings, pointing to things he said he drew so when we look later, we know what he was drawing.

We discuss the laws of nature, like gravity and inertia, friction and tension, kinetic and potential energy, plus magnetism and hydrophobic or hydrophilic principles. Some of these words are too big, but by repeated exposure, he understands what they mean.

We love our local planetarium, and science museums. We go often and spend time in just a few areas, really learning more versus less, before moving on. Of course, I only do any one thing to his capacity for attention.

We also find things to put under a microscope. We found a dead fly in our house this week. Ewe. But we put it under the scope, and it was fascinating. Then we compared the fly’s compound eye to our regular eye, and looked at some videos of how flies see, versus how we see. We learned they perceive things at a much faster rate than we do. This is also why older adults think time flies faster as you age. Pardon the pun.

We have a telescope, so we look at the night sky when it’s clear outside. We make constellations out of food and toothpicks, and love the ‘Skymap’ app. We read about the planets, and look at pictures about galaxies, discussing why and how God worked to create all of this around us. We made a constellation model using a drill, an old coffee can, and a flashlight.

We discuss the water cycle when it rains, and how storms form. We watch things fall, and see what sinks and floats. We have an anatomy app, called VisAnatomy, so he’s learning the names of muscles, organs, and bones, as well as parts of the brain, and more. He has a chemistry rug, so he is becoming familiar with names of elements too. My philosophy on this, is to be familiar with the sounds of the words, and when and where they apply, so later, it doesn’t feel like a foreign language, which was part of my own challenge with learning chemistry.

We enjoy these sites:

“Science” can overwhelm you and feel stuffy. Don’t let it. What I’m trying to do by explaining how we do science in our home, is just to show you how simple it can be. Let your child’s eyes lead the way as much as you can. Be curious beside them, and help them research and learn about what they find. Use your library’s World Book Encyclopedias, and just explore a little each week with as much outdoors time as you can handle. Talk your child through scientific thinking. “What do you observe?” “Why do you think that happens?” “Let’s read a little about it.” “Has your opinion changed at all, do you still think…?” “How can we test that thought?” “What happens if we do this…?” “What did you notice?”

So there you have it. That’s how science happens in our house, as experientially as possible. This free-flowing approach is probably considered a mix between ‘unschooling’ and unit studies.




Night-time Wind-down Meditation

Many moms ask about how to get their kids to bed at night.  I’ve taught several seminars on transitioning a kid from a shared family bed to their own bed, but thought it would be helpful for you to hear about a night time wind down meditation I do with my son.

Sometimes kids don’t know how to get calm, so it helps to do calming things at night that help guide them into a calm state.  We have our own routine that consists mostly of reading for at least a half hour, a prayer, and kisses and hugs.  Depending on my son’s mood on a given evening we may decide to burn energy with high-activity fun before we read, a warm bath, or lengthening or shortening reading, but the basics stay the same.  The key is to be consistent, so your child learns there are reliable cues for bedtime.

In addition to establishing a wonderful bed time routine, here is a meditation you can do with your child.  Recite the following calmly and softly with lights out, or with a nightlight or candle if your child is afraid of the dark.  Just make sure to not leave a candle burning at night without you there!

“We had a beautiful day today. (You might mention the fun things you did together today).
Now it’s night time and we feel calm and relaxed.
Breathe deep, in and out one.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out two.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out three.  (Breathe and out with them).
Ah, that feels nice.  (Pause).

Now your head feels heavy. (Touch the top of their head).
Your forehead is relaxed. (Touch their forehead).
Your eyebrows hang loose. (Touch each eye brow).
Your eyes are closed softly. (Touch each set of eye lashes lightly).

Breathe deep, in and out one.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out two.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out three.  (Breathe and out with them).

Your nose is just perfect. (Touch that cute nose lightly).
Your jaw is light and loose. (Touch both their cheeks by their jaw bone).
Your tongue just barely touches the back of your teeth, and your lips are calm. (Touch their lips lightly).
You release your neck (Touch their neck).
Your shoulders relax.  (Touch both shoulders).
Your arms hang lazily.  (Run your hands lightly down both arms).
Your hands are open to good dreams.  (Run your hands down their hands and fingers lightly).

Breathe deep, in and out one.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out two.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out three.  (Breathe and out with them).

Your heart feels full of love because I love you so much, and so does [name family members or friends].
Your belly is calm and feels nice, and you breathe deep.

Breathe deep, in and out one.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out two.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out three.  (Breathe and out with them).

Your legs feel loose and free.
Your feet are just perfect.

Breathe deep, in and out one.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out two.  (Breathe and out with them).
Breathe deep, in and out three.  (Breathe and out with them).

And now it’s time to relax.  Sweet dreams. (Give a little kiss and hug, but don’t make them get up nor out of bed).” – Robyn Cooper

It may take several times for your child to settle down as you are doing this little meditation with them.  If you don’t meditate with your child now, the concept will be new for him or her.  Give it time.  Meditation is a wonderful way for you both to relax at night and get in the mood for sleep.  Of course, I recommend you do leisure reading and prayer beforehand, and use this recitation as the final step.

Let me know what you think, and if, after trying this meditation a few times, it helps with your night time routine.

Love, Robyn Cooper

Taking It In

Perhaps one of the best fringe benefits of having kids is they make you slow down. This morning I went on a hike with my boy and we found over 20 caterpillars, one of which was the most amazing kind I have ever seen.

We noticed the birds and airplanes flying overhead. We heard the trains blowing their whistles and pretended to be the conductor, calling passengers on board. We saw chipmunks, dogs, people and other kids, 3 deer, a really cool spider (a spiny backed orb weaver), many squirrels eating their acorn breakfast, and my son even wanted to look for elephants. And we looked really hard for elephants but didn’t see any (wink)! We felt rough tree bark and lichen, and talked about the difference between mammals, insects and amphibians, and named some examples in each category.

We discussed what cannons were and how the cannons on this mountain are just for us to see and not touch. We talked about how the cannon’s wheels were there so the cannons could be moved around and how we don’t like war nor fighting.

I really appreciate how he stopped to smell flowers along the path leading up to the mountain top and how he loved to climb over the boulders at the top.

It’s so fun to sing songs up and down the mountain. We sang ‘twinkle little star’, and ‘the b-i-b-l-e’, ‘abc’s’, ‘happy birthday’, and a counting song that teaches us how to count all the way up to twenty.

On the way home he told me ‘mountain so fun! I hiking! Mommy hiking!’

How do your kids help you ‘take it all in?’