homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Which We Put the Pieces Together

Rats, this would have made an excellent title for a post wherein I celebrate C's great love for, and great skill at, assembling jigsaw puzzles. Alas. Let's just let that sit as read and go on to something a little meatier.

One of the neatest things about watching an emerging and developing intelligence is seeing your child apply knowledge in new ways, and follow a train of thought to their own conclusions. Call it extrapolating, call it synthesis. It's when they take a known (or new!) concept and apply it in different situations, of their own choosing. It helps them to cement learned skills, but also encourages them to, well, to experiment. To gain new skills by asking, "If I can do THIS with these tools, what if I use them in this way?"

Granted, it's a very hit-or-miss proposition, but I delight in seeing them be brave and confident enough to come up with their own ideas. Yesterday we attended our first homeschool co-op. I had mixed feelings about it, as we have been following a more organically flowing, "life" based path. That is, we learn what we're interested in or ready for, but we don't use a curriculum, tests, etc.. For my kids to suddenly have to adjust to "raise your hands quietly and wait to be called on" was a bit of a culture shock. C ran from the room in anger and frustration once on that count, but was soon enticed back (by his own curiosity...I know him too well to have tried to compel his return before he was ready). They were both initially shy, but also both eventually found something in the experience that set their eyes twinkling, so I'm going to count the day as an overall success.

The subject of the day was music. A new friend invited me to join her homeschool group for an outing to see a "Tiny Tots" concert put on by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra last week. FTR, it was very good: a brief (for those young attention spans) selection of well-known tunes grouped around a theme. The show we saw was called "Fast and Slow: The Tortoise and the Hare", and included a selection of pieces with differing tempos. We kept with this theme in the co-op, and the mother who led it (a former music instructor) did a number of activities with the children to illustrate rhythm.

The final exercise was teaching quarter and eighth notes, "Ta" and "TiTi". She used flash cards and had the children build their own rhythms and clap & sing them out. Before we left, the kids got to make their own musical note flash cards.

At home later that night, the kids wanted to play with their new cards. Yay! They're excited about something new! But wait...they wanted to make new cards, first. Okay, nothing wrong with that.

It soon became apparent that some of those eighth-notes were getting a few too many partners. It's okay, I have a background in music and if they wanted to do sixteenths, I was down with that. But five? Gah, I'm getting flashbacks to the horridly confusing and suddenly-switching time signatures in the first movement of  Reed's "The Hounds of Spring". But that's another story, and *my* issue. Five is do-able. Confusing, but do-able.

Okay, now this? Is just getting insane. I had a little battle with myself then. Do I use this as a teaching opportunity and encourage a little restraint and refining? Or do I sit back and for just this first moment, enjoy the fact that they are excited about not just "reading" musical rhythms, but creating them?

Of course, then they wanted me to clap out their new rhythms with them. Um...

"Don't worry, Mom!" I was encouraged. "It's easy! Just clap six times, and then clap three more times!"

Oh. Is that all? LOL

Another recent example of watching the kids take a skill and run with it is my beloved refrigerator and the alphabet magnets. I've used them as a "strewing" point...I'll spell out simple words and the kids will try to sound them out. I use it as a message center, letting the teens know that we're "AT LIBRARY" or reminding them to "LET DOG OUT". The most fun is the guerrilla messages that Stepson The Younger  (14) leaves from time to time.

My favorite surprise message from him was "I AM LORD [his first name]MORT" but since I've gone all coy on listing the kids' names, I didn't feel it was fair to post the photo. He's a funny kid.

Anyway. C is a reader. Oh yeah, did I forget to tell you that? C CAN READ! He is excited about identifying words, he will eagerly work through beginning readers, and he has also taken to using the fridge magnets to sound out and construct them on his own. Not only does this delight me in an "OMG-my-baby-is-reading" sense, but also it shows that he is comfortable with phonics (T struggles with them, alas) and is learning how spelling *works*. Which is why this:

...does not represent "money", as you might think. Nope...he announced to me that it spells "MOAN", and went on to explain that "the silent E tells the vowel to say its name".

Yes, yes it does. And look who's been paying attention to The Electric Company! ;)

By the same token, this:

is "Pluto". And for sheer phonetic creativity, I love this:

Spiderweb. Yeah, he had to help me on that one, but ya kind of *does* work.

Now, a note on "invented spelling". I delight when C takes a stab at unfamiliar words because it shows that he is gaining skills in matching phonemes with symbols and learning the rules of construction. However, I realize that there is a growing trend amongst many educators to not correct spelling at increasingly higher grade levels, and this troubles me (and not just because I was an English major!). I was floored a few weeks ago when Stepson The Elder (17, 11th grade) brought home a graded paper he'd written on a historical figure from the Mediterranean region. The teacher either completely missed, or chose to ignore, the text where he identified this person's location as "Ancient Grease". Really, when I see stuff like that, my heart hurts. There is a time for "creative exploration" and then there is a time for "coherent communication". We *will* do spelling words eventually, and I *will* insist on good penmanship and proper spelling and grammar. Anything less is sloppy, and therefore ineffective, communication.

But today? Today is for finger-painting...for exploring something new and learning to enjoy it. We can refine technique later.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This is the Game That Never Ends

Have you ever played Monopoly?

Okay, have you willingly played Monopoly since you reached adulthood?


Monopoly is a mind-numbingly LONG board game. You can start the process all full of enthusiasm. This is going to be great! You will strategically buy property and manage your money in such a way that you garner instant and immense financial reward. Yay!

But it's never quick. It takes quite a while, unless you are playing with a lot of people, even to see all of the properties on the board sold. Then the building begins. And good Lord, unless someone has had some really crummy rolls or is just fantastically bad at managing their funds, the wait for the first person to declare bankruptcy is like waiting for the next season of your favorite show. Which you didn't realize got cancelled. So you keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

Okay, so. Um. My kids discovered Monopoly. And they LOVE it.

I'm trying to be all geeked out about it and look at this from a "natural education", unschooly perspective. I mean, the fact that both of them are sketchy on math skills and can pretty much only read one-syllable words does not seem to detract from their enjoyment of this game in the least. (Yet, the kids who can't seem to decipher a traditionally-written equation are making change with confidence and surprisingly few errors. Score!) And despite the fact that my youngest typically has the attention-span of a fruit fly when engaged in any activity other than building (seriously, he can work the Tinkertoys for hours, but try getting this kid to stay in his chair long enough to eat a will test the patience of the saints!)...well, that's encouraging, too. I mean, I have a FOUR YEAR OLD who not only happily plays Monopoly, but often asks to...and usually keeps up with the game. He buried me two days ago.

It's also an interesting forum for observation of social skills. T, with his ever-generous heart tried to *give* me Boardwalk to match my Park Place yesterday evening, because "I have enough money already." He may lack the killer instinct that true domination in this game requires, but he was right...somehow he was a good $2000 or so ahead of any other player. Obviously, he's getting something out of this exercise, and without losing his sense of empathy. Woot?

I jest. Mostly. It's actually pretty cool to see them so into this. But it's been about a solid week of them wanting to do little else and although I am a good sport, my brain is starting to default to test-pattern when they ask, "Can we continue/start a game?"

Help me.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

In Which I Beat Myself Up for Setting a Bad Example

Parenting is, among other things, a periodic and unapologetic teacher of smack-you-in-the-face humility. When your children embody your better self, whether by exhibiting your strengths or by echoing your good/moral/admirable qualities, that's validating for both You the Parent and You the Person. But when you hear something negative/ugly/unfortunate come out of their mouths in your words, or when they show a tendency to react poorly under stress and you have one of those sudden "mirror" moments of OMG he learned that from me, well that's downright humbling.

It's important to remember that we're all human, we all have the ability to change and improve, and that no parent escapes this crazy ride without at least one fleeting thought of "I have screwed them up just by being a fault-ridden, not-completely-evolved person with weaknesses and a tendency to occasionally have a Bad Day."

So. Aherm. I'm not really stressing over this anymore, but it figured into my week and I decided to blog it if for no other purpose than to admit to myself that this is a process, not a perfected skill. And that it's okay to be imperfect. And for them to be, too.

Setting: post-Christmas
Players: 7yo boy, 37yo mother
Motivation: Pokemon. Specifically a new deck of Trainer cards
Trigger: "Mom, let's battle Pokemon!"

Let me preface this by admitting that although I entered the lives of my stepchildren around the year 2000, when the fad was still super-hot and they (the stepkids) were into it, I managed to keep my adult-sized blinders on and successfully avoided absorbing anything beyond the most basic details. I can recognize the major characters, and have watched enough episodes of the show to generally understand what's going on. But the cards? Not so much. To the dismay of gamers and collectors everywhere, I am That Mom. The one who pitches the cards when I clean up the floors. I've thrown away (and given away) probably hundreds of dollars worth of these damn cards.

And now my seven year old likes Pokemon. Figures. One of his Christmas gifts was a "Trainer Pack", which promised to teach the basics of battling and gameplay. It included player guides, reference sheets, the works. Surely I could figure this out and I'd have my son well on his way to becoming a Pokemon master.

Or, not so much.

Maybe it's just me, but I found the "sample game" (with stacked decks and scripts to be followed by each competing player) to be incomprehensible. And I was a technical writer in my pre-Mommy life. Let me repeat that. I was a technical writer. It was my job, my special skill, to take relatively complicated concepts and distill them into concise, simple, bullet-point instructions that can be followed by novices.

And I couldn't figure this out.

T just wanted to play, already. Blame it on my starsign (Virgo) or my birth order (eldest) or just my control freak tendencies, but damn it, we were going to learn to do this the right way!! I stubborned my way through it. Forcefully. I was going to make this make sense if it killed both of us. And it felt like it just might.

He did not care. He pleaded with me. "We don't need to use their rules, Mom. We can just play!"

No! No. We. Can't. I will NOT let the Pokemon beat me!! I shuffled through the deck, cross-referenced the player guides, and looked in vain for Meaning. At this point it was no longer about playing a game with my son. It was about my own frustration at the fact that I didn't "get" it. Small children understand this. What is wrong with me??

I finally descended from stressed-and-huffy to downright belligerent. In my finest toddler fashion, I slammed down the cards, declared the game to be Stupid, and refused to engage any further in the exercise.

Ahem. Mother? Here's your mirror.

Egads, what kind of example am I setting for my little self-led learner, here? I had hoped to show how you can teach yourself, and instead I'd shown how to be impatient, rigid, and a big wet blanket. I'd also given him a great reference point for throwing a fit and for being a sore loser. Lovely.

I took a deep breath and a five-minute break. I came back to find T and C happily dealing out face-cards only in an improvised game of War. They graciously dealt me in.

We had fun. And the Pokemon powers-that-be did not come by to cast aspersions on our bastardization of their game. Imagine that.

Sometimes, in our weakest moments, the kids are the ones who teach us.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's All Fun and Games Until...

...the dog learns to climb the ladder to the attic.

Lord help me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Well, that was just Hell.

A few months ago, one of my favorite bloggers posted a heart-rending entry discussing her emotional reaction to a bad experience her son had at the dentist. Last month, my own beautiful 4-year-old boy, C, started a series of visits for repair work on just a mouthful of decay.

First off, let me just note for the record that I already feel like the world's worst mother because my very young child had so many cavities. There. I said it. I suck. I broke my kid. I'm still beating myself up over that, thank you.

Two of his teeth had such bad damage that he required "baby root canals". The dentist said that it was that, or pulling them...and since these are molars that he likely won't lose until he's at least 9 (later if family history repeats; we're late bloomers with the permanent teeth around these parts), she felt that pulling them would just lead to major shifting and a need for serious orthodontic work down the road. So we bit the bullet and did it.

The first visit/root canal went remarkably well. He was alarmed by the numbing injection, but was very compliant and patient and calm. He was mostly concerned with exploring the tools and he even hugged the dentist at the end of the visit. I reflected on Kelly's post and sighed a big fat *whew* of relief that we'd had such a dissimilar experience.

The second visit was the second root canal. He went into it okay, but freaked out mid-procedure. He started shrieking that he could feel the drill. The dentist gave him extra "sleepy juice" and he got through it, but tearfully. He was pretty loopy after the visit, and sulky the rest of the night. Well, it's hardly surprising. That's a lot of rough stuff for anyone, let alone a little guy.

The third visit? That's when things should have gotten easier (just simple fillings), but he started shutting down. C was nervous about the shot. She gave him the option to go without and she barely got the drill near his mouth before he was out of the chair and screaming. He wouldn't let her near him, period. We had a LONG cajole with him before she finally noted his cough and suggested that since he "wasn't feeling well", we reschedule. I agreed.

We got through the holidays. I talked with him a lot about his experience so far, how proud I am at the bravery he's shown, and what he can expect at the next visit. I empathized my ass off, telling him that I've been through similar work and understood his fears and discomfort. I also explained why we would have to go back for another visit. I was very clear (in age-appropriate terms) that while there would still be the unpleasantness of the injection, the work would be far less invasive, painful, and involved. He seemed to take it all in. He girded his loins. I waited until he gave me the all-clear, and I made the final appointment.

Which was today.

And went, well, exactly like the previous appointment.

What started as a cheerful, "I'm okay, Mom! I'm brave!" quickly turned into I will kill you if I have to, to escape this. It was awful. How do you encourage a frightened four-year-old to submit to a procedure that he dreads? It was a long, long cajoling session, with both the dentist and myself going rapid-fire, trying to find The magic words. We praised him. We distracted him. We reasoned with him. He was not having any of it. Then we pulled out the most ineffective weapons in our collective arsenals. We bribed him. We begged him. We bargained with him.

Then it got ugly. First, she shamed him. The Momma Bear in me bristled (how DARE you shame my child!?!) but the stressed-out advocate in me let it slide as a last-ditch effort of a desperate person. Plus, I realized that it was having NO effect on him. He's too young and frankly too secure in his self at this point to give a damn WHO did this without struggle, let alone if they were younger than him. Or (gasp!) a girl.

And then I? I threatened him. Talk about feeling like complete and utter wretchedness. Mind you, it was not an "I will punish you" threat. It was an attempt at cold-hard-facts reasoning that sounded really, really bad once it was spoken out loud. Something along the lines of, "If we don't do this easy fix now, it will get worse. It will hurt you a lot more and fixing it later will be WAY more painful."

Yeah, way to go, Mom. Gee, why isn't he cooperating?

I finally asked about sedation, and the assistant went to the front desk to check on pricing. Ninety-five dollars. Ninety-five dollars for a 2-minute procedure. Would it be worth the peace of mind and the calm child? Quite possibly. Do I have a spare ninety-five dollars lying around? Not so much. I blanched. The dentist and I exchanged a look, and...

I held him down and she did the fastest drill-and-fill I have ever seen or imagined. While my son shrieked in anger and frustration and fear.

I want to crawl in a hole and cry.

My son, however, immediately dried his tears and cheerfully announced, "Oh! That wasn't so bad!" and smiled at her.

The temptation to throw out a "told you so" was lost both in my knowledge that it would be ridiculous and in my complete and utter emotional exhaustion.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Apron Monday: the Upstairs Maid

I don't know what it is about this apron that reminds me of a turn-of-the-century domestic. It's probably a little too frilly to qualify. Maybe it's just the fact that it's large and white, equal parts feminine and serviceable.
Also, I'm pretty sure that domestics are generally expected to wear shoes.
This apron was made for my mother by a good friend of hers. The only time I remember seeing her wear it was when she catered/served at another friend's wedding, sometime in the early 1980's. I'm not sure of the exact date of construction, or of the pattern publishing, but it's safe to guess sometime between, say, 1978 and 1983? Mom, if you're reading, maybe you could fill us in?

At any rate, this is, in my opinion, one of the loveliest aprons in my collection. It appeals to me for all of the key reasons: superior sewing technique, handmade, feminine, full-coverage, generous bib, and large pockets. Some of my favorite features are the inset lace

and the removable bib.

Yup. This apron is fully convertible; with both full and skirt-only options. I apologize for no skirt-only picture; I got, like, interrupted. I know, can you imagine? Kids...expecting attention. Sheesh.

Well, that about wraps it up for my current collection. I will continue to blog aprons as I acquire or create them, but the weekly updates are done. It's just as that we're past the holidays I will actually have time to sit down and blog other things, rather than just devoting every spare moment to crafting, shopping, etc.

Then again, my best friend is expecting a baby and I've started another wave of gift knitting. ;) But I promise to pay more attention to my blog. Thanks for following!!