Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Our first blessing
I've been doing the "30 days of giving thanks" and some days I have to look a bit harder to figure out what I am thankful for, other days it is very easy. Every year, Belle makes a hand turkey and fills in the things she is thankful for: friends, family, shelter, food, the country we live in and the country we are from. She writes some big things on her small hand.

Our newest blessing with Mama C.
This year there are big things that I am very thankful for, but at the same time the holiday season is bittersweet. This is the second year in a row that we'll be celebrating the holidays far from our country, our family and friends, our church, and without snow.  We wanted to go home badly but by the time we could purchase tickets, the airfare had become so prohibitive that our choices were to extend our time here for another year (to pay off a small loan to go home) or forgo our visit so that we can move back at the end of the school year with enough money to allow us to resettle. When we looked at the options, it was a fairly simple family decision. So barring anyone visiting us, the first time anyone from home meets Zofia will be when she is nine months old...

Ashaunda, Zofia, & Rob
We have many blessings though, and we hold them close to our hearts. On Thursday night, we went to our dear friends', the Giles', to celebrate Thanksgiving. Ashaunda and her family have become our extended family here in the UAE and we are blessed to know that they will continue to be a part of our lives long after our adventure in the sand has ended.  Our friends, Michelle and Kelly, came with us to celebrate as well. One of the things we've learned in our expat life is that it is easy to celebrate events with people you've just met because we're all far from home and that connects you in a way that can't really be expressed.  This feeling carried into our Friday celebration at a neighbor's home. We were invited to two events on Friday, but because Zofia has been battling a cold, we elected to stay close to home.

I'm going to look back on this time and remember the blessings more than the trials, I think. We have met some incredible people, seen things we never imagined and have the best souvenir of our time abroad. So today, I'm giving thanks for my family's willingness to embark on this adventure and all the things we've learned.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The homeschooling debate

Last year, we sent Belle to private school. It was an easy decision for us because she does well in social learning situations, has always loved school, and that was our only option for schooling if we were not going to homeschool (Western expat children are not able to attend public schools in the UAE).  We spent the whole year questioning the decision as we watched the work she brought home, saw what she was studying, and dealt with the outcome of the classroom behavior of her peers.

This year, we decided that her only option if we wanted her to return to her previous level of academics and progress (as well as avoiding the horrific behavior she was subjected to), was to homeschool. I spent most of the summer researching different programs, determining what we felt was important, examining the work she would be doing in our home district and what curriculum would address her needs. We finally found one that we felt was challenging, appropriate, and fully addressed social studies, science, and language arts. We decided to work with the same math program as her home district. Her school year began a couple weeks before her local friends because we knew we'd lose a bit of time adjusting to the new baby when she arrived.  Her curriculum is everything we hoped it would be and I gladly pay the tuition, shipping costs for books and manipulatives, and the supplies that accompany her learning experiences. To build in more opportunities for socialization and social learning, she is a member of the overseas Girl Scouts and takes piano lessons.

Lately there has been a lot of debate in our expat community due to recent government committee discussions about mandatory schooling for all expat children, and where homeschooling falls in this context.  Some of the conversation is quite upsetting and disturbing as some members accuse homeschooling parents of doing it out of "cheapness" or "laziness"... This makes me think more about my own understanding of homeschooling prior to our overseas experience. I always wondered how children would be socialized and whether it was possible to provide an adequate education for a child without the support of a school system. I now am much more informed and recognize that there are benefits to homeschooling that I was quite blind to before... That does not mean that we'll be homeschooling the girls when we return to the states where the school programs are much stronger, but we now have an understanding of why some parents select this option.