About The Kids

It’s been a while since I talked about our kids here. The older they get, the less they want to be featured on the ol’ blog. But, they’re okay with me giving a big of an update, for old time’s sake.

Our kids are really doing great. I am so thankful for God’s hand on each one of them. I’ve shared many of my mama worries with you over the years. It has not been an easy journey, raising them in a different culture, but I’m thankful to see them all thriving in this country that has now become their own.

You already know a lot about Vlad, so I won’t write about him here. Although he would hate to be left out…he definitely doesn’t mind the spotlight! 😆 We’ll just say that he’s still loving the woodshop and taking care of his chickens. He brings us joy and is a blessing to us every day.

Addy is 16 and a junior in high school. She is homeschooling, since her Ukrainian school ended at 9th grade and many of her peers are in “college” or trade school already. She really isn’t sure what she wants to do after 12th grade, so we are encouraging her to spend a year as an intern or volunteer somewhere in the world after high school. She loves sewing and fashion and playing the bass. Addy is an old soul and my dear, dear friend. I adore my daughter.

Ezra is 14 and a giant. I swear he comes downstairs each morning noticeably taller. It’s insane. Ezra is also homeschooling and doing 9th grade work. He doesn’t love school at all, but prefers spending hours with his friends exploring creepy abandoned buildings and riding their bikes all over the universe. He is Evie’s favorite person. Their bond is pretty sweet. How is my son almost a man???

Havalah is 11 and the most Ukrainian of all of us, by a mile. 🙂 Hava is a super social and loves going to school more than anything. She is in 5th grade in Ukrainian school and is doing great. She’s basically fluent in Ukrainian and is thriving here. Her personality is as big as her body is small, just like always. Hava has a soft heart for our boys and is very tender with them. It blesses my heart.

Seth is 10 and the sportsman of the family. Approximately 99% of his free time is spent outside riding his bike or building his “skate park” or playing soccer or getting into trouble. Hehe. Let’s just say, he’s a bit of a wild child and village life suits him just fine. Till now, Seth has been in Ukrainian school, but just this year we brought him home for school. Ukrainian school just wasn’t a good fit for him. He needs extra help that they can’t provide, so I’m doing my best to help him at home. Twice a week he goes to school for PE so he can see his friends, and three mornings a week he goes to soccer. Seth is creative and messy and his emotions are big. But if he loves you he will love you forever and I’ve never seen a more devoted friend. He has a super soft heart for our Anton. It’s really special and sweet.

Evie Joy is 2 years old and a spitfire and a half! She has an opinion on pretty much everything and isn’t afraid to let you know. Evie is a talker and can speak and understand both English and Ukrainian. It’s such an adventure raising a bilingual baby! It’s fun to watch new words pop out and fascinating to see how she knows which language to speak to which people and how she goes back and forth with such ease. She brings immeasurable amounts of joy to our whole team and is everyone’s baby. God knew we all needed her.

It’s crazy to think that in a couple of years Addy might be gone and then begins the phase of life when my chicks won’t be all together in my nest. 😭 I have no idea if any of them will end up staying in Ukraine, or if they will all move away. That whole scenario is going to require a whole other level of trust in God. Yikes! I would love it if at least one of them decided to stay near, or if some of them ended up in Europe somewhere. The US is just so so far! But, I know deep down that ultimately I want them to each end up exactly where God wants them to be. They’ll know they can always find Mom and Dad back at the Homestead when they want to visit.

Do you have any questions about the kids or about raising kids in Ukraine? I would love to do a Q & A post if that’s interesting for you. You can leave questions below or in a comment.

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Homestead Happenings- April 2019

I think “Homestead Happenings” is super cheesy, but I can’t think of anything better to write, so I guess we’re stuck with it.

What’s happening on the Homestead?  SO MUCH!

VISITORS. A couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday and ushered in the season of visitors! From now till mid-August we’ll have pretty much constant visitors around here. I feel a tad bit overwhelmed by it, but mostly really excited about it. Jed’s parents AND my parents are both visiting this spring/summer and we are so ready to see them. My parents haven’t been here for 5 years and so much everything has changed since then! We live in a different place. We are in a different church community. We knew basically none of our friends at that time. And we have 5 new family members since their last visit! Yeah, life is a bit different now than it was 5 years ago.  I’m very ready for them to see our life in action and to know all the people here that we love.

BUILDING. The construction team has been hired and the land-use has been approved by our village. Next week ground will be broken for the next home on our property! This is a huge next step. The home will be a duplex, that will be two forever homes for more of our friends from the institution. We don’t know yet which of our friends will live there and we don’t know who will live there with them, but that’s okay. God knows all the details and when we need to know He will make it clear to us. We are praying for God to put it in the hearts of the ones who will join us in this work and give their lives away, and that they will be ready the the time comes. Please join us in prayer about that!

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Evie exploring the building site 🙂

ADDITION. I mentioned before that a couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday. They came to help us build an addition on to our house! I say “us” like I’m doing the building…haha. We all know that I’m not lifting a hammer. They’re helping “us”, as in Jed, and I’m just trying to keep everyone fed.

Our house has 4 rooms upstairs: our room +baby, the girls’ room, the boys’ room, and an “office”/guest room. The downstairs currently has 2 bedrooms. One room was Boris’ bedroom and the other room was for Anton and Ruslan.

After Anton and Ruslan arrived it was quickly apparent that they would not be able to share a bedroom. They were both so full of fear at night and the presence of another person just made things worse. It took us many months to get Anton to sleep at night and his many night-wakings kept Ruslan awake. They would play off each other and amp each other up and it was a recipe for disaster. They were both not sleeping and they were both grumpy about it. Jed and I were pretty grumpy about it ourselves (to put it lightly). Ugh. That was a painful time.

For safety and healthy boundaries’ sake, Ruslan and Anton do not go upstairs at all. But we needed to separate them, so we put Ruslan in Boris’ room and moved Boris up to the office. The problem though, is that Boris is not safe on stairs. He can’t go up or down stairs without significant help, so he can’t access his bedroom during the day. We have a video monitor in his room so we can see when he wakes in the morning and go help him down the stairs. Each morning he waits for us, since he knows he can’t do the stairs alone, but we’re always afraid that one day he will just decide to exit his room alone. He is right at the top of the stairs and he would fall so fast. His bedroom situation is totally unsafe, but so far there has been no other option.

But, that’s about to change! This week our friends are here helping build an addition to solve that problem! The addition will expand our living room and create a bedroom for Boris downstairs. It’s noisier and crazier than usual around here (if that’s possible…hehe), but it’s all for a good cause and I can’t wait for the end result. We will all rest better knowing our B-Mo is safe at night and that he can get up in the morning whenever he wants.

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Thank you, Friends!

SCHOOL.  In the midst of it all, we’re trying to wrap up the school year around here. Hava and Seth should finish up local school sometime toward the end of May, and Addy and Ezra should finish up their curriculum in June. I’ve been researching which curriculum we’ll do next year and it’s been really fun. It was very last minute when we decided to homeschool Addy and Ezra and of course, homeschooling Seth part-time was a total surprise, so I didn’t get the benefit of doing much research. I’m excited about what I’ve planned for next year and have already done all the ordering so our many visitors can pack-mule all our books here for us. 🙂

So there’s a little peek into what’s happening around the old Homestead. I promise to share photos of the finished addition and of the progress on the new home. Stay tuned!

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What’s Up With School

It’s been a while since I’ve written about school in this space. Over on Instagram @thetravelingacademy I have the fun opportunity to be on a team of expat mamas living all over the world. Together, we are hoping to create a great resource about all things educating kids overseas. There is a great mix of experience there! Some homeschool, some send their kiddos to international school, some do local school and some (like us) use different methods for different kids. We also discuss parenting “Third Culture Kids” and parenting kids with special needs outside your home culture. So far, it’s a lot of fun.

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Being a part of the team has me thinking about our kids’ education nonstop. I’m constantly thinking about what we’re doing and reconsidering if it’s working or not. It’s been a breath of fresh air and inspiration for my mama brain. 🙂

Since I’m thinking about education a lot these days, I figured I’m waaaaay past due in sharing with you what we’re doing these days for education. So here ya go!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you might remember that it took us quite some time to find our groove in Ukrainian school. We’re actually still finding it…actually, we’ll probably always be searching for it, but at least each year we’re getting closer. Hehe. We moved here in November 2013 and put Addy and Ezra into Ukrainian public school in February, after realizing it was probably the only way they were really going to learn language and be a part of the culture. It was actually a great experience for all of us. It was super hard, for the kids and the parents, but all in all, we considered it a success and decided to stick with it.

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They were so little!

The next fall we decided to try a Ukrainian private school, simply because we were searching for smaller class sizes. Addy and Ezra were a little lost in the shuffle in the big public school classes and we thought a private school could offer them more support. We ended up only staying at that school for a semester because the director of the school didn’t really understand our situation. She insisted that the kids should keep repeating first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian! Ummmm yeah…we weren’t really into that idea. So, at Christmas break, we brought them home for school.

Finally, in the Fall of 2016, we found the RIGHT school for our family. Our current school is also a Ukrainian private school, but the administration is very open to our family. They believe in our kids and they truly want them to succeed and to be integrated into school life. At our current school, our kids aren’t “The Americans”, they are just students- like everyone else.

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Addy, Ezra and Hava all attended that school full-time for 2 years, and Seth attended first grade there last year. Overall, it has been a pretty great experience. There were (and are) major difficulties and roadblocks, but that is to be expected anytime you are fully immersed in a cultural situation different than anything you’ve ever known. Our kids are the only foreign kids in the school (actually, I don’t know of any other English-speaking kids in our city…) so the learning curve has been steep for the staff and for our family.

We are learning, like all parents, that constant revaluation and adjustment is necessary for spiritual, educational and social success. Because of that, we’ve made some pretty big changes in schooling this year. Addy and Ezra are homeschooling full-time, Hava is still in Ukrainian school full-time, Seth is part-time at Ukrainian school and part-time at home, and Vladik is doing private lessons at his teacher’s home 4 days a week. It’s a little crazy, but it seems to be working!

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We realized that as the kids reach the upper grades (Addy is in 9th and Ezra is in 7th) it was a better use of their time and energy to study at home. The struggle then, has been finding meaningful ways for them to engage with others outside the home. For Addy, it’s attending a weekly youth group at another church in town, and taking twice-a-week sewing lessons from a church friend. For Ezra, it’s attending a twice-a-week class where he’s learning to make videos. I wish there were more opportunities for them to be with their peers, but it’s pretty hard to find something to engage in here that’s not sports. So, we’re trusting God that He will show us what they need. I easily take on a lot of mom guilt concerning their social lives, so I just can’t let myself go there. Their lives are rich and full in other ways and it’s okay if theirs look different than my life did at their age. Comparison is not helpful or healthy (preaching to myself right now).

Hava adores school and is as happy as a clam there, so that’s a no-brainer. 🙂

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Vladik’s situation isn’t ideal, but we’re going to finish out this school year as is, and probably make significant changes next year. His teacher is great, as always, but he’s loving being here at the Homestead more and more, and when construction starts on the next homes he’ll want to be in the thick of it. So, next year I foresee him spending more time working on his building skills and less time doing “seat work”.

Seth. Oh, my sweet Seth. Seth and Ukrainian school don’t mesh super well. 🙂 He attended first-grade last year and it went okay, but not great. This year he started second grade at the school, but it was quickly clear that it wasn’t going to work out. We brought him home for homeschooling in October and just recently decided to ease him back into a bit of local school. He really is a social guy and missed his friends, plus he really needed more language exposure. He’s now attending school for 4 hours, three days a week, and then is home for the rest of it. I hope this plan works for our guy.

That’s our current school situation. Every child is different and every year is different and we have to just keep being flexible, holding loosely to what we “think” our kids need for happiness.  Our first job is to point them to Jesus, and as long as we’re doing that I think they’ll turn out okay.

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The Big School Question

It’s that time of year again!  School is on the brain.  School uniforms can be seen in every shop, little tents can be seen on the sidewalks selling school supplies at a discount. Here we goooooooo!

School is about to start and the Johnson family has (yet again) the big question looming over our heads: “What will we do about school???” I gotta tell you, I’m am SO OVER asking that question.  I’m over it! I have to admit to being a bit jealous of everyone who stays in one place and without much thought or debate knows exactly where their children will go to school each year.  I’ll admit to being a bit jealous of everyone who knows what to expect and what supplies to buy how to communicate with the teachers and what is expected of them and their children.  But, pity party over.  I realize that we will never be those people.  Time to suck it up and move on.  🙂

Uniform shopping!

There are several variables that make schooling a big challenge here.  First of all, we seem to be the only foreigners with kids around here.  If there are others they must be hiding because no one knows about them and no one has ever seen them.  Because our kids are, seemingly, the only foreigners and are not fluent in Ukrainian the schools have no idea what to do with them. ESL-type programs are nonexistent here because everyone is from here! I know that kids learn quickly, and will eventually catch up, but it’s not like Addy can just enter 6th grade here and on day 1 write an essay in Ukrainian.  There’s just no way!  Addy and Ez will absolutely need help and assignment modification, but if schools have never done that or considered that before, then their answer is usually just to put the kids in first grade over and over so that they don’t fail.  Hava will be fine because she’ll do first grade, and Seth will be fine in preschool/kinder, but we are pretty adamant this time around that the schools find some way for Addy and Ez to be with their peers.

There are four schooling options available to us:

1.  Local Public School.  PROS: Free, great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, opportunity to go to school with neighbors. CONS: Big class sizes, no ability to modify assignments for our kids, our kids would go to the village school which does not have a good reputation, a public school would not accept Vladik.

We sent Addy and Ezra to our neighborhood public school for a semester in 2014.  It was a fine experience.  They both did first grade and all went fine.  It wasn’t amazing, but it was okay.  I would be very hesitant to send them to public school in the upper grades. They are just not equipped to work with us.

2.  Local Christian School. PROS: Great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, opportunity to get to know other Christian families, smaller class sizes.  CONS: No desire to modify assignments for our kids, unsure if they would accept Vladik, they have a waiting list right now, so most likely we wouldn’t get in anyway.

We sent Addy and Ezra to this school for a semester in 2014 and it was just okay.  They wanted them to continue to repeat first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian…so yeah, probably that’s not the best option for us.  NO WAY are we making them repeat first grade again.  NOPE.

3.  Home School. PROS: We know how to do it.  🙂 No language barrier or cultural barriers, they will not fall behind in study content and English reading and writing, more time together as a family, and more time to be involved in ministry as a family.  CONS: Social isolation (NO ONE homeschools here), far less exposure to Ukrainian language.

My heart longs for this option.  I love homeschooling my kids and I believe in homeschooling 100%.  It is cozy and wonderful and would be BY FAR the easiest option for us.  But, we know that we know that is not the option God has for us. If we call Ukraine our home, then we must give our children opportunities to be a part of Ukraine.  They will be absolutely isolated if we homeschool, and in a very closed culture, we must provide them with opportunities to be with other children and develop language skills. We are already the oddity everywhere we go.  We can’t just keep our kids at home.  We just know we can’t.

3.  Local Ukrainian Private School.  PROS: Great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, smaller class sizes, a desire to integrate our kids and modify assignments for them, open to Vladik.  CONS: We don’t really know anyone there so it’s starting all over.

This is the obvious choice for us at this point.  🙂

We met with the director of the private school this last week and the meeting was super positive.  She was full of energy, and right away it was obvious that the director and the teachers were excited to have our kids.  It was like they were excited to accept the challenge, which is a huge blessing to us.  We don’t want to feel like our kids are a burden to the school.  They are open to putting Addy and Ezra with their peers which is a HUGE blessing to us!  Maybe the most miraculous moment in the meeting was their reaction to Vladik.  There was not one moment when they debated if they would accept Vladik into the school.  They looked at him and were like “Okay, now let’s  decide where we should place Vladik.”  Not “if”, but “where”.  Miraculous.  We were almost positive that by bringing Vladik back to Ukraine we were basically deciding he would never get more education at a school, because Special Ed does not exist here. What a big surprise and blessing that they are willing to take him, and WANT to take him.  YAY!!!


At this point it looks like Addy will be in 5th class, Ezra will be in 4th class, Hava will be in 1st class, Seth will be in kindergarten, and Vladik…we’re still up in the air about him.  He will need a one-on-one who will help him in the classroom, and then take him out part of the time for individual instruction.  The school needs to find and hire a teacher for him, and then they will need to figure out which classroom is the best fit for him.  If you could pray that they find the best person for him that would be great!  It needs to be someone who will treasure Vladik and love him for who he is, yet not be afraid to push him to meet his full potential.

They are basically having us fill out a form that says Addy and Ezra have special needs, as well as Vladik.  This will enable the school to legally modify their assignments and give them their grades based on modified work.  We explained to the staff that our desire for our kids is language acquisition and social integration.  We don’t really care about their grades.  Seriously, grades are the least of our worries!  It is a battle to get educators here to realize that for Addy and Ezra, this is not a problem of intellect, but completely a problem of language.  They are smart!  They do amazing at school!  They just don’t have the level of Ukrainian they need to be able to function like the other students. They don’t need to be in second grade at 10 and 12 years of age, they need to be with their peers where they are socially motivated to reach their potential.

I have no idea how it will all pan out, but at least for now, we have a plan and a school that is welcoming us with open arms. The learning curve will be outrageously steep, especially for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah.  We’ll also need to figure out how they can get content and practice in English language stuff without burning them out…yikes. I’m super nervous for them, well for all of us, but trusting God that He will give them everything they need.

I’ll keep you posted as we go!

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The Last Bell: Ukrainian School

SCHOOL’S OUT!!!!!

Praise the Lord.  I honestly don’t know who’s happier, the parents or the kids.  🙂  I am VERY VERY VERY happy.  I feel like our whole family just graduated from first class.  Addy and Ezra’s transition into Ukrainian public school has been very much a whole-family endeavor, and we are all happy and relieved that summer break has arrived.

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The last day of school in Ukraine is traditionally called “Last Bell”.  All school lessons in Ukraine, every day, begin and end with the bell.  So, the first day of school is called “First Bell”, and the last day every year is the “Last Bell”.  It’s a very important day in Ukraine!  There is ceremony and tradition and celebrating.  I like it very much.

Yesterday was Last Bell at Addy and Ezra’s school and it was such a cool experience!  I love how much we are learning about Ukrainian culture by having our kids in school.  It’s a whole new world.

Normally the program is outside, but it rained yesterday, so everyone gathered in the gym.  The first four classes (primary school) had their program together.  Everyone lined the edges of the gym, each class in a line with their teacher, and then parents behind them.  Our kids’ school is fairly small, so we could all fit.

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It started with a flag ceremony and the singing of the National Anthem, then the Director said a few words.  An older man spoke also, but I had no idea who he was or what he was saying.  Ha!  After he spoke a bunch of kids ran up and gave him flowers, so he must have been someone special.  🙂

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Notice the sea of big white bows? We call them “puffs”. It’s a cultural thing for special occasions. 🙂

Then the Director handed out special awards of achievement to a few children from each class.  After a few minutes of that, our kids’ teacher turned around to me to ask me if I had a camera.  I said yes, I did, and she motioned to me like I should be ready.  Then she said “Addy, Ezra- microphone”.  Oh!  Huh??  I promptly pulled my camera back out and waited for whatever was next.  The Assistant Director got up and started speaking. I heard her say the word for “Americans” and my ears perked up.  She called Addy and Ez up and gave them a special award for diligence and achievement for their work in learning Ukrainian language!  It was so special.  Then she leaned down and was talking to Addy.  I realized that she wanted Addy and Ezra to recite their poems in Ukrainian for the assembly!  Poor Addy didn’t understand what they wanted her to do, so her teacher went up and helped her understand.  They both said their poems for everyone and did awesome!  We were so proud of them!!!  Their teacher was positively beaming, she was so proud.  It was very sweet.  It feels like their whole school is cheering on their little Americans.  Haha!  We need all the cheering we can get!

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After the awards were done, an older class got up and did a cool dance to celebrate summer break, there was more flag ceremony and the National Anthem was played again.  I’m totally not kidding when I say I’m pretty sure my kids have heard the Ukrainian National Anthem more times than they’ve ever heard the Star Spangled Banner- and we haven’t even lived here 7 months! When Seth hears the beginning of the song he says “Слава Україні!” (Glory to Ukraine!) Ha!  After the anthem, the program was finished!  The kids got to go to the cafeteria for a snack and then all the parents took a ginormous amount of pictures.  Their teacher also gave each child a diploma for finishing first class.

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Addy and her friend, Masha

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First Class 1-б

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Flowers for teacher

Then we were free!!!!  We practically floated home we were all so happy.  We celebrated by taking the kids to the movie theater.  It was our first time in a movie theater here and we had fun.  We saw Rio 2, in Ukrainian of course.  🙂

Now we have three months to decide what to do about school next year for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah.  For Addy and Ezra, we have a couple options, one being continuing on in their current school.  Kids here stay with the same children all the way till graduation, and they keep their same teacher for the first four years, so that would be a nice, familiar place to return to in the fall.  We’ll see.  We need to pray and figure out what God’s best school plan is for this next year.   I don’t even want to think about it right now.  The homeschooler in me is just SO HAPPY to have all my children at home.  Sigh…bliss.

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What to do with Hava next year is another mystery.  Children don’t start “official” school here until they are 6 or 7- usually closer to 7.  Before that, most children attend дитячий садок “sadik”.  It’s like daycare/preschool/kindergarten.  They do learn the kindergarten fundamentals there, and if your child doesn’t attend sadik they really won’t be ready for first class.  So, in order for first class to be easier on Havalah when she turns 6 or 7, it really does make sense to put her in a sadik, at least part-time.  Parents can choose how often they send their kids, so it’s not mandatory that she go…we just feel like it would benefit Havalah to get more time each week for language acquisition, since she is pretty much always just home with us, hearing English.  BUT- I really, really don’t want her all alone in a class where she doesn’t understand anyone.  She’s so tiny!  AND, I really want her to learn to read and write in English first.

School has definitely been easier on Addy because she already has such a great grasp on English reading and writing.  Ezra, on the other hand, doesn’t read or write in English super well, and now after 4 months of Ukrainian school and no English school, he is on about the same level with both languages when it comes to reading and writing.  (Of course, he has almost zero comprehension of Ukrainian reading)  I know this is normal and he will catch up, it’s just nice with Addy to know I don’t need to worry about building her English language skills- we can just work on Ukrainian.  Ez needs help with both.  Hence me wanting Hava to learn English skills WELL first.

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Oh my, all this bilingual stuff makes my brain hurt.  I wish there was a manual for all this.  🙂  Ah well, one day at a time.  The important thing is that they are learning and they are growing.  We have our whole lives to learn.  I don’t want to be in a rush on their behalf.  At this point, we are leaning toward putting Havalah in a sadik two mornings a week and doing home-school kindergarten the other three days.

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Addy, Ez, and their super teacher

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Havalah has a little kid “teacher crush” 🙂

So far we’ve been really happy with our experience in Ukrainian public school.  Our kids’ teacher is so kind to them and she truly cares about their success.  Addy and Ezra feel comfortable at school and the kids are nice to them.  Never in a million years would I have imagined I would be a mom and my kids would be in a national school in a foreign country.  I mean, as long as I dreamed of being a missionary you’d think I would have thought this one through, but nope.  I guess I probably always thought they’d be homeschooled, or go to an international, English-speaking school or something.  What an interesting road we travel.  For all its ups and downs and uncertainties I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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THREE CHEERS FOR SUMMER BREAK!  

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