Love, Joleen

Friday, August 19, 2016

Preschool Theme: Creation and God Made Me

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I thought I would use the start of a new school year to challenge myself to document the "bits + pieces" of our life more. I can't guarantee that each week I'll be able to keep up with posting what we're up to, but I'll certainly try my best. This will mostly be a photo recap of our week for documentation, but I'll also share my simple curriculum and links to any sources we use, below. In my Homeschool planner, I've written out the week's plan but only playdates and field trips/nature days are written on exact days. Everything else, we fit in as the mood strikes. It's really just a general guideline for me. If you missed it, here is our space, philosophy, and curriculum for the year.

We're spending Weeks 1 and 2 on the same themes: Creation and God Made Me

Memory Verse: "You made the world and everything in it." 
Psalm 89:11
Text: Genesis 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. The Beginner's Bible pages 7-13; God's Love For You pages 14-16
Bible Song: He's Got the Whole World in His Hands by Muffin Songs
Letter: Ww
Skill: Pencil grip
Science + Math: Land, Air, Water; Sorting/Classification
My new favorite photo of Benjamin!
He drew an airplane. The blue shapes are passengers. The pink and yellow shape is the pilot. I don't know why there are passengers outside the plane! I was just glad when he told me that wasn't me! Haha.
Source Links:
Find more ideas on my Homeschool Preschool Pinterest board
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Homeschool Preschool: Our Space, Philosophy, and Curriculum

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
We started Preschool this week and I'm not sure whose more excited about it - Benjamin or me! We started "home schooling" when Benjamin was 21 months old. Most of our Tot School consisted of me choosing themes for each week with added projects, activities, and books, to his regular play. You can see our philosophy, focus, and schedule, here, and last year's Tot School themes, here. Our philosophy as we move up to Preschool, remains the same:

Our Homeschool Philosophy:
"Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it."
Proverbs 22:6

We have decided to homeschool for the foreseeable future. Many people have asked how long we intend to homeschool and I really can't say. Benjamin will be 4 years old in November and in Georgia, we don't have to submit a Declaration of Intent until age 6. We'll be using this year to expose Benjamin to many subjects and opportunities, and allowing him to explore his interests. I have a background in Early Childhood Education and was a nanny for 8 years before having my son. I feel very confident in teaching him at this stage in his life. I will say that my idea of homeschool and the styles that speak to me [for myself and in regards to my son] have already begun to change as I research and try new things with him. But more on that in a bit.

Our Homeschool Space:
While getting ready for the new school year, I originally had plans to take over our [not so functional] dining room. I still may do that. For now, I've set up a small section next to our couch, in the living room. We live in a fairly big 3-bedroom apartment 30 miles outside of Atlanta. We've been here since Benjamin was 14 months old and we love it. However, we don't see this place as permanent, and actually have plans to move when our lease is up in the spring. For this reason, I'm not super anxious to spend time and money on a specific schooling area, when this will do just fine. Most of Benjamin's toys are in his bedroom/playroom. He has a shelf with games and puzzles we can pull from in there. Here, I keep my Homeschool planner, our school books, Benjamin's art journal, and supplies. I've got several file folders of worksheets and projects that I will eventually need a better system for. Across from the couch is the fireplace. In front of that is his small table and chair and plastic drawers filled with playdough and accessories.
When it's way too hot or cold outside, we basically hibernate. The rest of the year, we can be found on our little balcony patio. Benjamin and I really love this space! It's not very big but there's plenty of room for playing, activities, his water table, our plants, etc. Right now it's home to a homemade chalkboard. When the weather cools, we'll move the chalkboard back into place in front of the fireplace. (It's cut to size.) This outdoors space gets great sun in the morning and offers perfect afternoon shade. We also have a great view [from the 3rd floor]. Although, I look forward to the days when we have a big backyard and functional garden, I still love this small space. We're fortunate to have awesome parks and trails within walking/driving distance as well.
Our Homeschool Preschool Curriculum:
I like aspects of several "Homeschool styles" and therefore find myself creating our own curriculum. The teacher in me loves a good curriculum but I'm also really drawn to Unschooling, which allows the child to play and explore their own interests. My homeschooling style, if I were to have one, definitely includes a little of both, and is known as "relaxed or eclectic". I want learning to be fun and engaging for Benjamin. I view the next two years as school preparatory years. When sitting down to write our curriculum for the year, I started with a weekly theme, while keeping our goals for Benjamin in mind. That being said, our days are still very relaxed. He's passionate about writing right now and it's been the first thing on his mind all week. The first thing he asks to do when he wakes up is a worksheet. I'm not so naive as to think every day will be so easy but I love how fun this is for him now. I never push him to do an activity and he has a lot of say in how we spend our time. What I mainly do is provide him with good options. There is no shortage in opportunities for him to play and learn through play. 

Our Focus This Year:
  • Bible - We are using a biblical-based curriculum this year -- the ABC Jesus Loves Me curriculum for 3-year-olds -- as a general week-to-week Bible story guide. We'll be reading through the [storybook] Bible in chronological order for the very first time! We're using The Beginner's Bible: Timeless Children's Stories and I've just purchased the I Will Follow Jesus Bible Storybook. I've also checked out the God's Love For You Bible Storybook from the library and if it ends up being a good fit, then we'll use this one too. In addition to the Bible stories, we'll have a simple memorization verse each week. 
  • Letter Recognition & Writing - We'll be working to help Benjamin recognize and sound out the upper and lowercase alphabet. This year we're going through the alphabet out of order. He'll have a new letter to focus on each week. We love the Sound Box Books, which we check out from our library. The "It's the Alphabet!" and "See it. Say it. Hear it." series' are great too! For writing, we're using the Spectrum Learning Letters workbook, Usborne Wipe Clean "Pen Control" and "Get Ready for School abc and 123" books (Benjamin really loves these!!), and an old fashioned primer. I use a highlighter to draw lines on it for Benjamin to trace. These and other printed materials are what he refers to as worksheets. On the first three rows, I draw different lines/strokes for him to practice. The 4th row is the uppercase letter he's working on and the 5th row is the lowercase letter. On the bottom row, I write out "Benjamin" twice so that he can practice spelling and writing his name.
  • Math - Benjamin can count to 20 and above that with little to no help. He can recognize numbers 1-10. Thanks to the apps on his Kindle Fire he's been introduced to the adding and subtracting concepts. We'll be working on writing numbers and adding this year.
  • Nature -  Benjamin thrives outside and frankly, so do I. He loves going on "forbentures" ("adventures" but I prefer the nickname!). This year we're adopting a "Nature Day", where at least once a week we spend intentional days outside. These might be organized - a class at one of our local nature centers - or our own self-guided outings to the river, mountains, trails, park, etc. 
  • The Arts - This will be Benjamin's third year with an art journal. Every year I pick up a cheap composition book and decorate the cover for him. This journal is available to him at all times. Any time he wants to do an art project, such as painting, drawing, cutting + gluing, stickers, etc. he does it in this book. Sometimes I give him a new technique, prompt, or medium to use, but mostly he does his own thing in it. We enjoy flipping through them and having them for a keepsake at the end of the year. (He loves to see what he did when he was "a little baby". Haha). He's also very much into music and dancing. We frequently have family dance parties in the living room. This year for Benjamin's birthday we'll be getting him a guitar (probably ukulele to start) and starting lessons. Really looking forward to that! Also each week, I'll plan for a skill to work on. Right now we're working on things like pencil grip and cutting with scissors.
Homeschool Mom Encouragement & Inspiration:
I'd love to hear from you! Are you homeschooling your preschooler? What are some of your favorite resources?
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Monday, August 15, 2016

Back to School with OshKosh B'gosh | GIVEAWAY + COUPON CODE

This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency on behalf of OshKosh B’gosh; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Today was Benjamin's first day of Preschool! We are homeschooling again this year and I'll be sharing our philosophy and curriculum in another post. Even though Benjamin isn't headed to school in the traditional sense, he still needed "Back to School" / a new fall wardrobe. The kid is growing like a weed! He outgrew his summer sandals in just two summer months! Phew.
We do a lot of our shopping at OshKosh B'gosh. I like to get the biggest bang for my buck, and OshKosh is super affordable. Plus, like most kids his age, Benjamin definitely has his own sense of style. He is very active and comfort is his biggest priority. OshKosh tees appeal to him because they're soft to wear, rock fun graphics, and often glow in the dark! This season, his absolute FAVORITE wardrobe piece, are these awesome Bug Splatter LIGHT UP Rain Boots! These boots are super fun and you'd be hard pressed to find him not wearing them (even if the only other thing he's wearing is underwear). And since it basically rains year-around here in Atlanta, they're really the perfect buy. Muddy puddles here we come!
 Ready to go shopping? 
You can find your local store, here. Shopping online? Enjoy this coupon code for 25% off your purchase of $30:
Enter for a chance to win a $50 OshKosh B'gosh gift card! Good luck + Happy New School Year!

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Feeling Blessed After Our Second Miscarriage

Friends, it has been a really hard month. All the emotions that a person can feel, I have felt. I'm sure more than a few of you did a double take when you read this title, but this is my truth. I am sitting here feeling blessed after our second miscarriage. Please bare with me as I share the whole story.
On Saturday, June 18th I spent the late afternoon photographing an nontraditional Bar Mitzvah. It was loads of fun. Afterward, I visited the Motherland [Target] for last minute Father's Day cards and a pregnancy test. A quick visit to the loo and I left with a smile on my face and a secret in my bag -- it was positive! I was so excited that I barely even gave it a second glance before tossing it in my purse and two-stepping all the way to the car. We were pregnant! I immediately called my sister with the good news. I knew that I wouldn't be able to wait to tell my husband. Sunday was Father's Day and this was going to be the best gift EVER. If ya'll know me at all, I seriously cannot handle surprises. They literally burst from me. So, when I got home I sent him back out on a false errand or other while Benjamin and I signed our cards. I had picked up an extra from the baby and included the positive test inside. We basically assaulted him with our gifts when he got home! Hah. Everyone was very excited. 
The following two weeks I was anxious but mostly excited. I felt "more pregnant" than last time. I had symptoms that made me nearly positive that this baby was a girl. Heartburn, fatigue, pregnancy-related acne. I was so sure this was going to be our Rainbow baby [after miscarriage]. I really was. I had downloaded the apps again and started stalking the birth boards. I felt the normal anxiety that women feel during the first trimester but I honestly didn't feel like a miscarriage would happen again. When the 6 week mark came and passed, I quietly celebrated a milestone we hadn't made the last time. I made our first ultrasound appointment at a new OB's for July 5th at 7 weeks. The boys came with me and we were really excited at the probability of getting to hear the heartbeat together before I left a couple days later for California.

The appointment did not go well. 

The sonographer quietly said that the baby was measuring just 6 weeks which wouldn't have been a total alarm at that point but was to me. She said that while we could see the gestational sac and yoke sac, there was no heartbeat or fetal pole. (After this appointment I read a LOT about what you can or can't see and hear at such an early stage in pregnancy and while this is definitely something worth noting, it didn't signal the end at the time.) Following the ultrasound we met with the doctor who was not very positive. He said that it didn't look viable and initially wanted me to come back in 48 hours for followup blood work. I explained that I was leaving in two days for California, where I was attending a wedding and co-hosting my sister's baby shower. He explained what the following days could be like. I mostly kept it together. After he met with us, I saw the nurse for my blood draw. She ended my appointment with, "I'm sorry". I was not okay. 

The next day I was at home with Benjamin when they called to say that my HCG levels were over 15,000. This typically means that they should have seen the fetal pole and heard the heartbeat. It was not a viable pregnancy. The baby had stopped growing at 6 weeks. I could come in for a D&C or wait for a "spontaneous miscarriage" like I'd had in February. I thanked the nurse for calling and burst into tears. I honestly can't even remember that day except for two outbursts of anguish, which terrified my son. It's so heartbreaking to think about having to tell him that the baby was with God now. When I would cry out he would come running, "Mommy are you laughing? What's funny, Mommy?" Nothing. Nothing would ever be funny again, ever.
After much consideration, I decided that I would opt for the natural discourse and still make my solo trip to California. I knew that it would be my only opportunity to see two of my sisters before their babies come in August and September and it was important to me to attend my cousin's wedding. After speaking with my mom, who is a Hypnobirthing instructor and Doula, she reached out to a colleague of hers who does 3D/4D ultrasounds. We set an appoint for that Sunday while I would be in town, to have a follow up ultrasound. Having this appointment after the wedding and baby shower are honestly what helped me get through those events. I couldn't help but hold onto hope that maybe it would show growth in the days that followed. Maybe I had gotten my ovulation dates wrong. Maybe HCG isn't that important. Anyway, I went to the wedding (beautiful) and I helped my family throw my sister a fun fiesta-themed baby shower. But at the end of the shower, when I used the restroom, I had passed the yoke sac. This was confirmed the following day (July 10th) when I had my followup ultrasound - my mom and best friend by my side. I honestly don't even know how I got through those days. All I wanted to do was get back home to my boys. My flight was scheduled for Monday night (overnight) to get home early Tuesday morning. 

Monday was the start of my breakdown. For the first time all week, I was on my own while my best friend worked and I was in her apartment. I couldn't stop crying. I don't know how I even made it to the plane to be perfectly honest. The flight was awful. I thought I was going to have a panic attack during take off. My anxiety was through the roof. I was so happy to be home and hug my husband and son but that week was one of the darkest places I've been in my life. Two sweet friends visited me and brought us food the day I got back and then it was Game Over. I spent the rest of the week on the couch, in pajamas, crying. My sweet, sweet son. He just went with the flow, playing and snuggling me. When I wasn't crying, I was reading. I literally read Divergent and Insurgent in 2 days. I wanted to be in denial. I couldn't read enough. (I've read 5 books so far this month, ya'll.) I've been Depressed before and this was so bad I thought I would never come out of it. Grief, whew. It was debilitating. To top it off, I still hadn't started bleeding and I was feeling increasingly more sick. Friday another girlfriend invited my over for an impromptu girl's night at her house. Ben and I both thought it would be a good idea to go so I got dressed and made my way over. I'm so glad that I went. Talking and being with women -- it was so helpful. The margaritas didn't hurt! By Sunday I was starting to feel like myself again, emotionally. I couldn't seem to shake the sick feeling though. 

Then last Monday (June 18th) I had a maternity session out at a farm around 40 minutes away. On the drive back I called my mom and was telling her how I'd been feeling. I was worried I had given myself an ulcer or something like that. She suggested I call my OB. Long story short, I ended up going in for more blood work. I would've been 9 weeks at that point. They called first thing the next morning for me to come in for an ultrasound. My HCG had risen to over 30,000. The ultrasound confirmed that the gestational sac was holding on -- this is called a blighted ovum -- so my body really did think I was still pregnant. Sigh. At this point I really needed to move on and continue the healing process so I decided to go ahead with the D&C, which I had on Wednesday. 

I am so incredibly grateful for my grandparents, family, and friends who have helped us over the last two weeks. The meals, treats, flowers, shared tears, warm hugs -- I am overwhelmed with feelings for "my tribe" right now. I know how blessed I am.
I'll be sharing more about how I've been coping this month and about our plans moving forward. For now I want to talk about my 2016 "one little word" -- Blessing(s). I've been thinking about it a lot over the last week. How interesting it is that that's the word I chose this year, with the mantra "to be a blessing; to count my blessings". On my darkest days I asked myself how I could ever feeling hopeful again. Blessings? What blessings? I'm talking about my darkest days, ya'll. We all have them. When you're throwing yourself one heckuva pity party and you don't even want to look for the good. 

But I *am* blessed. I know that I am. This situation, though absolutely heartbreaking, has brought my family closer together. My husband and I are stronger than we've ever been before. We're "doing life" together, and life includes "the good, the bad, and the ugly". It includes happy times as well as heartache and loss. God has used this situation to show me how very loved I am. He's shown me how he's blessed us with friends like sisters and given us family to hold us up when we are weak. He's shown me how blessed I am to be married to a man after God's own heart. He's shown me how blessed I am with the miracle that is our son. And I know that He is using these losses to grow my heart for Him. It is my biggest prayer that sharing our story of hope and healing is a blessing to you as well. 
"For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." 
Jeremiah 29:11
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