Monday, January 28, 2013

The Joy of Music and the Adopted Child

     Years ago, we listened to an interesting Cd by Andrew Pudewa called, “The Profound Effects of Music on Life.”  It talked about the ability of certain complex music to promote growth and function in the brain. At the time, two of my kiddos were struggling with algebra word problems, so I figured we’d give it a whirl.  At 14, we signed them up for piano lessons – despite the reluctance of the teacher.  1 year later, word problems were a breeze, and 3 years later, both boys played classical pieces beautifully, scoring outstanding in advanced levels and even becoming the judges pick in one.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so…

     Because all but one of my adopted children experienced institutional starts, they have all come home with various “holes” in their processing  or critical thinking abilities.  While one may be able to memorize or work out math problems on paper, she may have difficulty doing simple mental math in a sequence.  When I ask if they “see” the problem in their brain, they tell me that there are “no pictures in there” or that the numbers quickly “disappear” and I have to repeat the problem.  The abstract ability to picture things in the brain or follow a sequential process are lacking.   It reminded me of Ben Carson’s early in life inability to use his imagination in the movie, “Gifted Hands.”  Among other things, his mother used classical music to promote a better learning environment.

     Like Ben Carson’s mom, I have no scientific studies to quote, (you can find them however) but a general  life experience of children who seem to do better academically, be more focused and calm, and have the added benefit of enjoying the music as it stimulates their imagination. My girls drive me nuts asking me to clap out rhythms from the “I Can Read Music” primer and find it great evening fun.  They like to describe the pictures in their heads when listening to various pieces like Hadyn’s Surprise Symphony.   The book, “Themes to Remember,” gives a spark to their imagination as the author devises silly ditties designed to help kids remember composers and their work.

     While it’s a financial challenge to provide music lessons to 6 children, I believe it’s worth every penny – even if they may eventually lose their interest.  I’m convinced that wiring in the brain continues to be built long after the medical, musical, and language learning community says it’s “too late,” and that God CAN restore “the years the locusts have eaten” if we work along with him and use the many tools He’s provided.  If elderly stroke victims can re-learn tasks and build skills, then certainly young people past 10 are capable as well.  While every child will not become a super genius or some struggle for basic skills, all can use a bit of extra wiring and experience the joy of listening to beautiful music.  In our family, we call it “building highways in the brain,” and my kids eagerly and joyfully work at it through music and other activities.  Favorites include:

  • Simple Analogies
  • Mental Math
  • Rhythm clapping (I didn’t believe you could learn rhythm – but you can!)
  • Hand skills (knitting, crochet, embroidery, catching a ball)
  • Handwriting practice (similar to playing a piano)
  • Jumping on a trampoline (the experts say jumping helps reading?)
  • Read aloud listening
     The worst that can happen is a lot of fun!  We set aside time specifically for the above and mix it up as needed.  Usually, they’re begging me to do one or the other, so it’s not hard to keep at it.  In the age of video games, my kids can learn sight readying through “My Notes” iTouch apps and others like it.  For those on a tight budget of time and money, youtube has videos for just about anything to get you started.

     Violin Stars (  is an online “virtual strings club,” taught by a former homeschooled student, who makes lessons fun and easy to follow.  She sells a complete DVD course if you prefer not to have your child on the internet, and it includes all associated music. 

     Most of our fun and games are free on the internet  - englishforeveryone  (  has fun analogies on a basic level – these are really helpful for my new kiddos.

     I hope this is helpful for someone – I love to see the joy of my new girls as they experience some of the fun classical songs that I remember from my childhood (and they associate with Disney, haha!)  The encouragement they feel as they master basic skills like handwriting and clapping a rhythm is priceless!  

Blessings, Kim

So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,[a]
My great army which I sent among you.
26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And My people shall never be put to shame.
27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel:
I am the Lord your God
And there is no other.
My people shall never be put to shame.

Joel 2:25-32

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Homeschooling Odds and Ends

I remember when I first started homeschooling that January was a difficult time.  It was HARD to push on and the time I most often thought of throwing in the towel.  The homeschooling support group usually had some inspirational speaker come to town and give a presentation this time of year, and it motivated me enough to continue on, and reminded me why I began this lifestyle in the first place:  to lay the foundation of Jesus Christ in my children's education.

I was often plagued by doubts and fears, guilt and exhaustion, and I was constantly comparing myself (and my children) to others.  My first two kids loved homeschooling - except on the days when I injected those emotional worries into our daily routine by over scheduling, changing or second guessing curriculum, and complaining about what a sacrifice I was making compared to "most other moms."

I no longer experience this in January - and spent some time trying to figure out what has changed.  Time gives perspective, but most of all - adoption came into our lives.  And that gives a perspective all of its own as to what is important in life.  Here are the things I've learned.

The practical stuff:  My college guys are doing well in school -incredibly well with time management (they also work a good many hours a week at a grocery store), with deadlines and tracking assignments, and surprisingly with writing - the subject in which I felt the most lacking.  The things I taught best were the things that interested them the least, and their interest and aptitude in other subjects made up for the places where I was weak.  My lack of deadlines and in some cases testing did not interfere with their ability to meet deadlines and do well on tests.  Teaching study skills: flashcards, discussion, and note taking (BJU Press Writing and Grammar) paid dividends.

 The use of BJU Press video and online teachers worked great for math preparation, writing, and other, and basic labs in science prepared them well.   Their lack of interest in the "great books of fiction" did not cripple them, but the few I forced them to read left great impressions.  Movies like "A Tale of Two Cities," made up for the wordy style of authors like Dickens, and our BJU Press Literature classes helped them understand the world views of many skilled but morally skewed writers.  They recognize propaganda - both hostile and friendly. YWAM missionary biographies - were encouraging in their faith - and some of our favorite reads.

They were able to pursue their academic and musical interests without the daily teen angst and pop culture onslaught that many kids experience.  They had time in their day to daydream and imagine, create and reflect.  Not always stuff I liked, but free of the noise and distraction of treadmill lives.  They remember everything I discussed with them - even when it seemed like they weren't paying attention.  They really appreciated the Spiritual guidance and wisdom of their BJU Press video teachers and remember much of it today.

Mrs. Vick

History was best learned through discussion of text and correlating video images or historical fiction.  (They'll never forget the filmed and brutal verbal attack against a Chinese college professor by ignorant peasants (during the Cultural Revolution) or the haunting images of holocaust victims.) We didn't always watch the entire documentary - but just a few images brought the text to life.  Fiction movies worked well, too.

Service projects were best done when you were face to face with the recipients - whether locally or globally.

Adoption perspective:  I worked so hard, and waited and prayed so long for my adopted children, that I can't imagine taking homeschooling for granted anymore.  I missed so much of their lives already!  I don't judge curricula except by Christian content.  That is non-negotiable.  My girls are overjoyed to hear about a God who loves them, knows them by name, and calls them "beloved." He makes them a "new creature in Christ - the old is gone, the new is here," and this resonates well because of their sometimes traumatic histories.  Jesus Christ is the foundation of all knowledge.  This is the rock we build on.

I have used public school resources - particularly kindergarten and ESOL. I am thankful for the many Christians in our local system that have made this a friendly place for us. I have learned from the many gifted educators over the years and still reach out for advice and help when needed.  I miss the school librarians and art teachers the most.  I wish we still had Christian based education in small classrooms and schools, but the trend is away from that.  The homeschooling community has become it's own resource, however, with its many gifted teachers who build on the same foundation that we do - Christ.

In conclusion, the challenges haven't changed, but my perspective has, and I don't worry anymore.  When things get ugly, we know tomorrow is another day.  When an aquarium trip would make our lesson more fruitful, we go and know that the rest can wait.  I get lots of video and online help.  When I see the long list of activities and accomplishments of other homeschooling families, it inspires me - but I know I can't do it all.  I know that I must have gifts, too, and that they were handpicked by God for my children's good.  I value the arts more.  I know that God forgives my weaknesses and sins, and prunes and strengthens me for the next day.  I know that what my children become largely depends on their own desires and motivation and mostly upon their willingness to listen to God.  I know that I'm a decent parent and that God makes up for any lack on my part if my children are willing to receive.

Blessings, Kim

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.  Galations 1:10