Home-schooling in Turkey

Friends,

I’m so exited to introduce a friend of mine, Jamie, who lives and home-schools in Turkey. Are you ever curious what it is like to live in another country, day in day out, the perks and the challenges? Read to find out…

Sofija: Tell us about your family.

Jamie: 
My husband James and I are both originally from California. We got married 10 years ago and since then have been busy figuring out life on the other side of the world and having kids. We have four beautiful girls, Elise (7), Marie (5), Clara (3), and Pearl (4 mo). All of them were born here in Turkey.
2. What are you doing in Turkey? What do you like about living there, what makes it challenging?
James teaches English at a high school here in Turkey. It is an absolutely gorgeous country. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend it. I don’t even know where to start answering the question about what I like about living here. There really are so many things! I love the fact that I can drive an hour and be at Gordion, where King Midas lived and is buried. I love that I can drive two hours and visit an ancient Hittite capitol. I love that I can see ancient Ephesus, Pergamum, and innumerable other interesting old sites. Actually, there is an archeological dig going on right behind the Chinese restaurant that is down the street from my house! Living in Turkey has made me fall in love with history. I used to live in a city called Kayseri. My friend there was homeschooling her boys (my oldest was only a baby then) and as she was looking at their history book it mentioned a Hittite city where archeologists had found a lot of things that let them know about that ancient civilization. She looked at her boys and said, “You know, I think this is about 20 minutes away from our house.” How amazing is that?! Aside from the amazing history, Turkey has delicious food, hospitable people, and cheap, fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only that, but every building in Turkey has a man who comes to your door to deliver fresh baked bread every morning, and take out your garbage every evening. I love that when we go on vacation we can drive to the Mediterranean and stay in an inexpensive hotel right on the beach. In fact just a few weeks ago there was a holiday so we took a few days of vacation. I was sitting on the nearly deserted beach, watching an amazing sunset over the Mediterranean while my kids played in the warm water, and eating a pomegranate that was grown right there. Can life really get much better?! I could go on, but I think you get the picture, and probably want to move here yourself! 
Of course living in a foreign country comes along with a host of challenges as well. We have been here over eight years now, so it is feeling more and more like home, and so those challenges are getting less challenging as we get used to them. We spend hours and hours at the police station getting visas, there is always a huge stack of paperwork to do and no matter how much you prepare and do ahead of time something goes wrong. Banking, getting phone/internet/electricity/etc is a lot of work, especially as a foreigner. You can’t plan nearly as much into your day as you could in the US because it just takes longer. Another thing I just can’t get used to is the lack of planning. People don’t even seem to know the day school will start or get out until a week or two before it happens. You can put a lot of work into something and then no one will show up (even though people said they would come), or maybe far more people than you planned for will come. You just can’t tell. It’s not uncommon for someone to go visit a friend on a whim and then stay for two months! Turks are so nice, but also feel very free to give way too much advice and criticism (at least from an American perspective.) Every time I go outside I am told 1) I have too many kids. 2) They are not dressed nearly warm enough. 3) They are all going to get sick. 4) Any other random piece of very personal advice (for example, “Get your tubes tied,” or my personal favorite, “Your butt is big, you should lose some weight.” Another challenge is just the fact that it isn’t my culture. I think I will always feel a little distance from friends because our backgrounds are so very different.


3. Why did you decide to home-shool?
The schooling decision just kind of fell in our laps. Elise (our oldest) was doing part time Turkish school (at the private school where James teaches) and part time home school. Because she was so little I wasn’t too worried about making sure she learned absolutely everything – reading in English and basic math were my only goals for her first grade year (last year). I mostly wanted her to become more fluent in Turkish and to feel more a part of things. Being Americans and speaking English rather than Turkish in our home can often make my kids feel a kind of separation between themselves and the Turkish kids in our neighborhood. I don’t like that, and one of the ways I tried to prevent it was by sending Elise to Turkish school. This school year we were planning on sending her full time. It is a very good private school and teachers kids can go for free. Unfortunately they only have so many of those free slots and they were already full. The administration was also not open to the part time idea this school year, and the school just isn’t affordable for us, and so in the beginning of September our schooling plan fell through. We did not like the idea of sending her to the public school for various reasons and so I suddenly found myself homeschooling. Thankfully, I have always been open to homeschooling, so it wasn’t a big scary thing to me. In fact, aside from the whole idea of increasing fluency and using schooling as being more a part of the community, homeschooling would have been my first choice. Anyway, I started by looking up California’s second grade standards then looked up some other homeschool friendly stuff online, downloaded some books on my kindle, and away we went. It has been very enjoyable thus far. Elise and I are both learning a lot!

4. Is this accepted in Turkey? What are some of the reactions you get?
No, not at all. It is a completely foreign concept and completely unheard of. For the most part I’ve given up explaining how we’re educating our kids. No matter what I say, no one seems to understand. People don’t understand how I can get my kids to listen to me, do school work, etc. They also have a “leave it to the professionals” type of mindset here, for example, you don’t paint your own house, you hire a painter, you don’t teach your own kids, you let a trained teacher do it. Honestly I’m so sick of trying to explain that I now just say that Elise’s education is tied to the internet. It is true, as that is how I look up standards, download books onto my Kindle reader, and she uses Khan Academy online for a lot of her math work. It generally satisfies people far more than the idea of me teaching her. Of course if they ask further questions I’m happy to explain the nitty gritty of it, but I find the more I explain the more appalled they become. I’m pretty sure it is so far outside the box that they just can’t imagine it being in any way a good thing.
5. What are your challenges of schooling in a different country? Do you have a support sytstem?
The main challenge is with curriculum. Some of my friends are using Sonlight or other curriculums and have had huge problems getting it shipped here… they not only have to pay for the books, but also fork out an arm and a leg for shipping costs. Unfortunately all too often it gets stuck in customs. I know people who have paid $100 – $600 just to get the curriculum out of customs. It is really difficult and frustrating for many. I decided to bypass as much of that mess as possible by ordering nothing but a math curriculum (Excel), and using books I could download onto my kindle, the children’s books we have brought over or my parents have sent over the years, and the small library on the US Air Force base that a friend can sign me into. It isn’t ideal, but it works. 
I have a great support system. My mom recently retired from many years of teaching, I use skype and talk with her several times a week. She is a huge encouragement and great at helping me with any questions I have. She also is happy to send me almost anything I think I need, which is great. I also know a couple of moms who homeschool here in Ankara. We all use very different systems, but it’s nice just to have those connections. Finally, there is a great online community for homeschoolers. I got a lot of my ideas for what books to read and what to teach by looking online. A friend recommended charlottemasonhelp.com and it has been a huge help to me.


6. Describe a typical day in your house.

Our typical day probably doesn’t look too different from your typical day, with exception of hearing the call to prayer five times a day, and speaking Turkish when we’re outside our home. We all wake up and get breakfast and James goes off to work. I try to get started on schooling anywhere between 8 and 9 am. I’m new at this so I’m still working out the kinks – what order to do the lessons in, how to balance schooling and taking care of the baby, etc. We keep at it on and off until we have lunch around noon and shortly after that we all walk about a block to a preschool where my three year old and five year old attend half of the day. We want them to be very strong in Turkish and not feel so much like outsiders and so our solution has been to do some Turkish schooling. We really like the preschool we chose. The teachers are very friendly and our kids are happy and making friends. The baby, Elise, and I go back home. I spend another hour to hour and a half with her finishing up whatever we didn’t get to in the morning (like I said, we’re still working out the kinks so some days it’s math, some days it’s me reading her history book aloud, some days it is reading some of the library books we checked out.) At three I put baby Pearl in the stroller and Elise and I take a 15 minute walk to a “kids club” where she will hang out until six. It is basically an after school day care type of place for kids to go, do their homework, and play until their parents get done with work and can come pick them up. We send Elise to ensure her to be in a Turkish environment regularly. We do have a playground nearby and in the past we just took her there all the time. Unfortunately she really does not feel comfortable making new friends and playing with kids, she loves playing alone making fairy houses in the bushes. I love this about her, but it has made it hard for her to get beyond the basics in Turkish, which has made it difficult for her to really embrace living here. The few Turkish friends who she feels really comfortable with aren’t available to hang out and play on a regular basis, so this year after our schooling plans fell through, we decided to put her in this after school program. Right now she’s doing what she can to boycott the idea by refusing to speak a word of Turkish to anyone while she’s there. I really don’t like that, but at the same time I kind of feel like this is just one of those things we have to be firm on and push through until she gets it. We’re still looking for other alternatives but thus far, this is the best thing we can find. It is a safe environment and she is getting used to it and I think she even sometimes enjoys herself (although she would never admit it!)
After three, I sometimes take a walk with the baby, sometimes I go visit a friend or neighbor, sometimes I go to the market and do the grocery shopping, sometimes I plan lessons for an English Club I help teach on the weekends or for other programs I’m involved in. Living in a big city has it’s advantages and one of them is that I rarely have to use the car. I can do all of the above on foot, which I love. James picks up all the kids on his way home, between 5:30 and 6:00, then its dinner and bedtime. Sometimes we stay home in the evenings, sometimes we go visit someone, sometimes Elise and Marie go up the elevator (we live in a 10 floor building) to visit their friend Selin who lives on the 7th floor. James usually goes back out after the kids are in bed, for various meetings, or to work on some classes he is taking online.


7. What are your plans for the future in regard to schooling the kids?
I have no idea! I love the idea of continuing to homeschool them, but I also love the idea of being involved in the community more by having my children in the schools. Next year we will be in California for the school year and I really don’t know if I will homeschool or not. It’s just something we will continue to pray about and make decisions as the time comes.

Thank you, Jamie. I enjoyed learning about your life in Ankara. Especially your typical day. I’m forever curious how other mom’s organize their day. I had to laugh about the comments you are subjected to on the street. Would you believe that I get a lot of the same comments from my family when I go to Germany?

Friends what do you think about those field trips to Ancient Hittites ruins? That is pretty hard to top. Turkey has just moved up on my “places to go” list. Jamie didn’t mention that she is an artist. In the last picture you can see her doing Ebru with her daughter. This an Ottoman painting technique dating back to the 16oo’s.

I hope to do this again soon.

-Sofija

Photos were taken by Matthew Will- all rights reserved.

Home-schooling in Turkey

Ancient History: Fun Links

Welcome,

Thank you for stopping by.

Here are my favorite  links and activities useful for studying Ancient History.

  • Take a virtual tour through an ancient cave in France here: www.lascaux.culture.fr. (If the link does not work just copy and paste) This is really cool. You can slowly walk through each room and they explain what it is that you are looking at. The whole thing is kind of eerie but soothing. I could spend hours walking through those caves.
  • Meet Oetzi the iceman, found in Europe. Find out what he looked like, what he did for a living, even what he ate. www.iceman.it/en/node/226
  • Test your mummy making IQ. I made one mistake, see if you can beat me. Make sure you have eaten before you attempt to mummify, as you will have to extract the pharaoh’s brain:www.discovery.com/games/just-for-fun/mummymaker
  • Use the hieroglyphic typewriter to write secret messages. www.eyelid.co.uk
  • Be a tourist in Ancient Rome: this video takes you on a virtual tour around Rome with an expert explaining who built the buildings and what they were used for.

Have fun with these. As I find more interesting links I will share them with you.

-Sofija

Ancient History: Fun Links

Teaching German

Friends,

Today I’m going to share with you how I have taught my kids to read German. Understanding and or speaking wasn’t good enough for me. I really want them to be able to read German and ideally write as well. The challenge for me was to find the right material. They are not native speakers, so they are missing some vocabulary and grammatical nuances that are assumed in German school textbooks. However they are beyond the level that  might be available here to kids that have no prior knowledge. So you have to improvise. Personally I always wait until my kids are solid in their English reading before I would teach them how to read in German. However bilingual schools show that it is possible to do both at the same time. Thankfully German is much easier phonetically than English so it doesn’t take that long to teach. Above I have a German reader that is used in German schools. They are easy to understand even for non native speakers. Once we work through that I have them read simple books like the Max und der Keks series to give them the opportunity to read on their own.

For the next level I use the second grade reader above left. I also use different grammar and writing helps.

Above are German readers. They are called Leseloewen or Lesemaus.

After the second grade level I have them read books like early readers. Once they are at a 4th grade level they might be able to read Pippi Longstocking, or similar books.

I bought most of these books in Germany, they have great sales around August. Another great resource is Alphabet Garden, an online store; they have quite a bit of text books and refer you to billingual websites. Amazon.de is also a great option.

My oldest just started high-school. He is pretty fluent and a decent reader. However his grammar and writing skills are lacking. Therefore I enrolled him in German. I want him to start from scratch with Grammar and relearn some of those things he has missed.

In my experience immersion is not enough. If you don’t have a strong grammatical foundation you will always be guessing as how to built your sentences. I was immersed in Croatian all my life. I was taught grammar in elementary once a week but it was assumed that I was a native speaker. I would have benefited relearning it in high-school as a foreign speaker to fill all those gaps I have.

This is just to show you what we have done. I’m sure there are better options out there. If you know of any do tell. I’d love to hear from you.

-Sofija

Teaching German

Bookcases

Happy Memorial Day!

Are you enjoying this long weekend? Any big plans for today? We got to visit with dear friends yesterday, but today is all business. My kids are doing school today. We trying to get ahead so we can take time off in October for a family trip.

Organization is on my mind. We spend Saturday going through piles of toys and clothes and organizing them into rubber maids. Rubber maids have got to be the cheapest way to make a closet look organized. Thanks to my husband, who has some crazy organization skills, we transformed two rooms that have been overflowing with toys, junk, and random plastic things, into serene spaces. It has taken a weight off my shoulders to say the least.

However we are not done. I have several boxes with school books I would like to put into a bookcase. Here are some favorites I wanted to share with you. Lately I have been drawn to the lawyer bookcase look and library style bookcases. I paired expensive ones with cheaper ones in each row.

Top row: I like the glass doors on these, no more dusting. The left one is from IKEA and costs $135, the right on is from Crate and Barell $349.

Middle row: The left one is from World Market and costs around $600. The one on the right is from Sundance costs $1,895.

Bottom row: I saw the one on the left at Costco for under $200. The one on the right is from Pottery Barn and costs $1,199.

It would be so great to have all my school books so easily accessible.

I have to wrap it up, my 8 year old has been waiting to get on the computer to play his game.

See you back here soon,

Sofija

Bookcases

First Day of School

Kid’s out fits from left to right:

On Natasha: one-piece from H&M. On Lucille: Benetton top and skirt. On Ella: Top and skirt from H&M. On Shane: Top from Old Navy, shorts from Benetton. On Esther: top from Gap. On Finn: top from Polo.

Hi,

How is your week going? Ours is a whirlwind. My head is spinning. We started school last Monday. My oldest started high-school and my second oldest middle school with K-12, an online school. Not only is this school new to us, it is new here in the state as well. That translated into some confusion, technical difficulties (because it is mostly online), and frustration. But that is just how it is with new things. I see it as good practice for college. I expect the next week to be much better. So far I’m pleased with k-12. They seem to have a classical bent, which is what we have been doing. We are trying it for this year and re-evaluating for next year. I’m teaching the rest of the gang myself. Shane is starting 3rd grade, Ella 1st, and Lucille is demanding a rigorous pr-school curriculum involving a lot of coloring. In fact I have to start out my day with her; she won’t let me work with anyone else. Natasha, the toddler, chimes in with her coloring book, as well.

I have been asked before what I do with my younger ones when I school the older ones. Here are some things I have tried int the past or think about trying to keep the younger ones happy.

  • Buy educational toys, coloring books, even pre-school books for school hours only. I keep those toys in the school closet. That makes it special and helps them to know they get to do school also.
  • If you can tolerate messes, let them play bubbles in the sink, Play-doh, water colors, hand painting, etc.
  • Set a schedule and schedule some time with the older ones playing with the younger ones. For example my 14 year old may have an hour a week to play with my 1 year old.
  • A schedule is a really good idea. You can schedule times when your little ones play on their own with designated toys such as Legos or Playmobil. For more on schedules read: “Managers of Their Homes” by Teri Maxwell. She has tons of different kinds of schedules, even for people who DO NOT schedule.
  • I try to start off my day “schooling” my 4 year old, meaning I let her scribble in a pre-school book and I teach her letter sounds. This lets me have one on one time with her first. This way she is satisfied and can move on to other things.
  • Often I do lessons with the older ones on the couch while my youngest sits on my lap.

How about you? Do you have little ones? What have you found helpful? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Have a great day!

-Sofija

First Day of School

German School Supplies

Friends,

it is almost August and school is on my mind big time. Everywhere you shop you are bombarded with school supplies. Personally I am going to wait until the day when you can buy tax free, but during my recent visit to Germany they had school supplies available at a deep discount. So I went to town and bought some items I can’t get here. Take a look:


German kids keep all their writing utensils neatly organized in these. Everything has its place: the ruler, the markers, pencil sharpener, etc. You can buy markers individually as you run out of them.

Kids write their schedule on the white paper.

After second grade children write with these ink pens exclusively. Getting used to these takes some practice but is sure makes your handwriting look better.

The water colors from Pelikan are my favorite. The colors are so vibrant and they come with a white paste that lets you mix your own colors in the white spaces on top. Of course you can replace single colors. 🙂 And you wonder why Germans are so exact and organized….

How about you, are you exited about the new school year or is it coming way too fast? When do you do all your supply shopping?

-Sofija

German School Supplies

Interview with Emily Mulder, a Second Generation Homeschooler

Image

This interview is with my dear friend, neighbor, and co-collaborator on this blog, the very talented Emily Mulder, owner of Lonely Mountain Photography.

Q:Emily, describe for us your childhood home-school experience. What was your day to day like. What were the reasons your parents decided to home-school. Was this accepted in your community?

A: Ahh. My parents were really trying to figure it out based on what they’d experienced. We started when I was entering the 4th grade. My sisters were entering 6th, and 3rd. Initially they were planning to just try it with my oldest sister for a year first, but that year the school system decided we were in a different district and the first morning we waited for the bus, it didn’t come for us as it had the past three years. My parents prayed together and decided to take us all out and homeschool us. Apparently they had read about homeschooling, but we didn’t know anyone else doing it until later.

My parents were not supported by anyone at first. People thought we’d never “make it”. The one big reason people had against homeschooling was that we would not be “socialized” (as if throwing kids together in same-age class rooms actually socializes kids in a positive way).

Our day: at the beginning of each year my parents would research what we needed to be on grade level, we’d purchase or find books (we got many used books as well as purchasing some from different places depending on what they thought we needed.) We would all sit down and figure out how to plan the year in order to get through the books. This varied a bit and not every book was divided up this way. We had a pretty regular schedule to keep – every day lasting 1-2 hours (maybe 3 or at most 4 in high-school) in order to spend a regular time on each subject. Once done with our school, we helped (in later years) with our family business, did regular chores, and had time for play and hobbies. We had a lot of self study.

Q: What did you like about home-schooling, and what did you not like?

I liked that it didn’t take so much time! We didn’t have homework in the evenings as we’d done all of that during school hours. I also liked that it taught us to be able to self study. We learned to organize our studying and get it done, and check our work ourselves.

Q: How did home-schooling prepare you for college? What was the biggest challenge in college?

A: Again, the self learning was a big boon in college. My older sister and I attended college together, as she’d done some correspondent courses and worked teaching other kids after graduation and before heading out to college. I remember us both being roped into helping other kids that first semester – kids who struggled to figure out how to research and understand what the professor said or expected. We had no problems digging right in and learning.

The biggest challenge? I’m not sure if homeschooling itself caused any challenges. I’m shy naturally, so it always takes me a while to get to know other people, but I was that way when I was small and in public school.

I think a big challenge to home-schoolers is maybe a blind belief that their education is better, and therefore kids can run into trouble when their beliefs are challenged in a college setting.

Q: How are you doing things differently as you are home-schooling your own kids? What do you envision for your children’s education and future?

A: I think we can go a lot farther than copying public school standards. My husband and I actually believe that the public school setting was set up for a different time and not to truly inspire kids to learn. We are trying to pull away from the standards and approach things differently, with a focus on really inspiring our kids to study far beyond the standard approach.

I also want my kids to have intellectual humility – to be able to see when they don’t understand something, leading to study or asking questions to find out what the answers are. I don’t want any of them to think they “can’t” or are unable to study or understand something. If one of them is struggling, I back off and try to figure out how to approach things differently, rather than just pushing them onward with the same methods.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers, Emily. I loved reading how you got your work done in 1-2 hours and had all this extra time to help out in your parent’s business or just play. And what about college teachers making you a TA for the kid’s who hadn’t learned to study on their own; so much for home-schooled kids not being prepared for higher education. Speaking of education, Emily and her husband Sam have a must read blog on education. They have spend a lot of time on researching the best way to teach children and for them to be enthusiastic about learning. Go to educationreimagined.org for more info.

This interview was so much fun, I’m planning on doing more in the future.

Interview with Emily Mulder, a Second Generation Homeschooler