Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I need a spa day

I think I will be able to write more when I have had a spa day.

I have had a lot of real-life time in the past week, with friends and children and church, and there's simply nothing left of my intellect when I sit down at the computer.

I owe a picture-- a very titillating picture-- and I have not forgotten about it. I think I will need help with it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Yay the Readathon is over.

Lessons learned:

Never underestimate the drive of children to consume books to the exclusion of all else.

Never underestimate the powerful attraction of chocolate as an additional incentive.

The kids are really good at inflection and storytelling.

Boyness really likes the movie Zoom.

They're so cool!

OK so I already thought they were cool, but hey.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Readathon Casualty

I am happy to report that another family has joined us in our Readathon!

I have to say

On the day before my P-daddy leaves on an all-week business trip,
I do NOT want the bathroom ceiling to be leaking.

Thank you.

ETA: It was some serious condensation on and around the pipes and we are oh so fricking happy about that.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Danger, Children! Danger!

I watched the video embedded below and was struck by how often I nodded in agreement. It got me thinking about the experiences that have informed my opinions surrounding child safety. Where are the lines for us, when we as parents try to balance providing a safe life for our kids with going too far and stymieing their growth?

I spent my time in the body of a first time-only child parent, and I paid my crazy-protective dues, like most other parents. While that waned a bit with the onset of my second child and my growing trust for the first, it waxed again with the diagnosis of my daughter's anaphylactic allergies and the vigilant lifestyle we had to adopt to literally keep her breathing. I didn't want to cloister my children or have them not experience the world, so I think I put some extra thought into how they would be taught to approach life. Fear of the unknown wasn't going to be fostered; we were going to be prepared for as much as possible.

To that end, I let my wee girlie play with knives at the tender age of three.

Ok, so she wasn't playing with them--I wrote that for shock effect. She was actually helping me chop things for cookdates, but it did look odd, maybe even startling, to other people. My reasoning was simple: as a professional chef, I had many sharp objects in and around the house. My knife kit was readily accessible. In fact, I obviously did not want her 'playing" with my equipment, so I taught her how to use it, how to respect it. It's a tenet of the Montessori philosophy as well, to treat children as being in possession of the physical and mental faculties they do possess. Children that young can absolutely be safe and productive in their pursuits so long as they are taught what to do and how to do it, and more importantly, when they know they are trusted to do it. In fact, it is part of the natural urges of the child to take that kind of initiative, especially during sensitive periods of her life, and try to master her environment. Montessori wrote "If the child is prevented from enjoying these experiences at the very time when nature has planned…the special sensitivity will vanish… (AM95.)"

I had been happily plugging along in my Montessori-soaked homeschool milieux, watching the kids really respond and thrive with that method, when we moved to Washington state. As the parent of three children by then, I felt relaxed and tolerant of the things children do. I allowed them a lot of freedom, and expected the calm and focus we'd had in SC in return. Not so much. The cross-country move really rattled our two year old, and with the birth of our younger son quick on the heels of our relocation, our little family was in an uproar. It took some months to return our house to "peaceful" and the children to "normalized," but we got there. Enter the C-family.

Relaxed and tolerant I was, but these folks--whose three children were each born within months of ours-- were well on the other side of it. My son in particular was not a graceful toddler, and physically he had a disproportionately large head (there was nothing medically wrong, he just had a big head for his little body, which has since grown into nice proportion), so he was forever getting hurt just walking around. He'd run into walls, trip over his feet, and let's not discuss the stairs. I was fully capable of letting my kids take supervised liberties with their own environment, but the C-family seemed to actively encourage danger, as far as I was concerned. Their children climbed cliffs like monkeys, raced bikes and scooters around the parks (at 2 and 4, I was scandalized!), and perched atop boulders higher than my head, all clearly out of reach of any adult. Their particular style of child rearing was based largely on the way the Niki had been raised within the Continuum Concept.

Much like our modern attachment parenting, Liedloff espouses full contact at all times while the babe is in arms, and then as soon as the toddler begins demanding freedom, to give it. With regards to young children and big pits in the jungle, she writes : "We act as though human nature were something to be afraid of; to constrain, modify or fight; to subdue and overcome. Somehow we have gotten away from believing that we evolved in a way that works. We believe that our nature has to be modified, opposed and controlled from the very beginning. Our nature, like that of every other animal, works fine the way it is. But we do not trust human nature. We distrust it in infants, in children, and in ourselves."

Something in me clicked in the first few months of knowing these people. I knew my limits for N-man were sound because he really was having a hard time, but I relaxed trying to protect him all the time. It was his big head and he needed to learn how to manage it. As I eased off, he got better, less clumsy.

Liedloff goes on to say "One is never do anything for a child that it can possibly do for itself, even if it takes a while longer. Because every time you do something, not only do you give the child the message that it's inefficient or incompetent, but you're actually preventing it from learning; from having faith in its own ability to accomplish and figure things out. Let them figure it out. If it gets up onto a sofa or a chair and it can't figure out how to get down, leave it there until it can. It will try one leg and try another, it will figure it out. Or you might eventually give it the next step, helping with one step but not the whole thing. Give the child the message from the very beginning that you expect it to figure things out for itself."

I already had it in my belief system to cultivate extreme independence in my children with their household tasks and their education, but I had not given them autonomy over their physical selves. They were so precious to me that I couldn't imagine not trying to keep them safe. What changed for me was subtle. I began to perceive their physical bodies as something they could protect better than I could. I had given them the skills they needed around the house and about their education, but I needed to let them figure out how to use their own bodies to ascertain their own limits. I had to learn to trust the child, again.

Look--I will be frank, I am still not down with my 7 year old walking the top of our play structure as if it were a balance beam, 8 feet off the ground. I have to turn my back when they are climbing the cedar trees, so high I could never hope to reach them. But when they do get stuck, I don't pull them out of their jam, I coach them out; I will make them feel secure enough not to panic, I will help them know where place their feet, and if the situation demands it, I will talk with them about whether they should be doing whatever it was they were doing. But likewise, when they accomplish physical feats I would never have expected / allowed / wanted, I will let them be proud; I won't chastise them or tell them they're out of line. It's hard for someone like me. It really is. But I believe that I am keeping them safer by letting them learn their own limits.

There remain plenty of things in their early childhood about which I am adamant in protecting them: the burdens of the adult world; hatred; contempt; cruelty; common bullies. I was shocked and mortified when my 6 year old daughter came home from a music class asking me about the two towers that had fallen in a big city. I continue to advocate for my daughter in group settings, to keep peanuts and treenuts well away from her. I joined forces with another mother recently regarding our children's karate class, when the Sensei had the children perform an amazingly inappropriate "game" that involved much larger children actually walking across the room atop the other students' prone bellies, without supervision or restraint. That was a good lesson, even for me, in what I am discussing. Most of the children knew this wasn't a good idea, but they were told to do it anyway. What should they have done-- obey their instincts or obey their instructors? We both contacted the Sensei and he permanently pulled the exercise.

I have a function as a mother, as a parent, as a protector. I just feel it is incumbent upon me to ensure I am not protecting them from themselves--too much.

Some cool links:

The Dangerous Book for Boys

The Daring Book for Girls

The Boys Book: How to be the best at everything

The Girls Book: How to be the best at everything

Saturday, January 19, 2008

January Readathon

The big ones needed a boost in reading, I felt, and maybe a goal towards which they could work. As long as the goals are not imposed on them arbitrarily, my kids really like working towards something. They like to "win." So when I saw a certain movie for sale on netflix, one I'd wanted for the kids for Christmas but could not find, I was tempted to buy it. Five dollars! Voluntary simplicity doesn't really allow for that kind of thing two weeks after gluttonfest, so I really couldn't. Until......those two ideas came together.

So, our January Readathon came into being. I wasn't really sure whether the kids would "get it," or even if they would care, but get it they did. I told them that if we read fifty books within a certain time frame, they would get a chocolate cake screening party of this movie as their reward. (FA homeschool homies, if you want in, I will send you my super-groovy checklist and make room on the couch!)

I Am Nerd though, and before we began our evening reading tonight, I laid out some ground rules. It doesn't matter this time who reads the book, as long as they are really reading it. It doesn't matter if all the children are present when we read the books, given our set up here, a collaborative count is just fine. Because it is collaborative, we will count chapter books and nearly-picture books the same for this go-round. There will be no midnight waking of the parents to present a freshly consumed pile of books. We have a clipboard on which we write the title and author of the books we've read, and who was present when we read it. But most important to me, before we began, I asked Girlie what she thought we would "win" if we finished 50 books in a week.

Smart girlie. She knew I wasn't asking about cake. (Although that is what the N-man bellowed happily from the side of the bed!)

"We'll know more words," she said, "and we'll get lots of practice reading!" She sounded downright excited. Then she launched into this explanation of how she's been spending her reading time. She sounds out some books, then reads them to the point of memorization. She told me that she uses those books to help her in her writing, when she doesn't know how to spell a word or in other books where she's trying to figure out a new word. (I guess I should reintroduce the dictionary to her :p .)

This sparkle, this independence! I knew she was reading on her own a lot more than I actively saw. The child wrote and illustrated a book for me for Christmas, (plot arc and all!), even made a hardcover out of cardboard. I have noticed her writing skills really shining (remember this??), but I don't press her for what / how much. I really don't quantify my children's gains as much as I check them off on my own tally sheets as I notice them. This evening I saw both of them clamoring not only for the time we spend reading together, but to actually get at the literature. My girl was a late reader, in my eyes, and this love for reading is what I have been desperately craving to see.

N-man is ahead, were I to compare the two. At his age, she was not where is with phonics. I think he'll take to reading like I did, and be truly literate before his 6th birthday. He also had a few surprises tonight. I told him during a private moment that he is ready to read, and that if he wants help sounding things out I will work with him as much as he wants. I think he thinks he'll have to wait to read when she did.

I stopped after 45 minutes, during which I had taken turns reading the stories, gotten completely booted off narration duty altogether for some of them ("I want to do this one!"). I told them we could do lots more tomorrow, and reiterated to G that anything she read on her own would count, but to WAIT until morning to show me the titles. She bolted to her room and came back with four more early readers and belted them out just to squeeze in some more. (As I wrote this, she sent two more down the hall with her Dad to report.)

I really initiated this as a means for me to give them something more, to give a little something extra to the winter homeschool thing. But it certainly turned out to be quite the opposite. I am pretty heart-happy right now, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Dehydrating Potatoes

check out the pencil!

Unfortunately, we buy honking big Idaho Russets, and it took a full 36 hours to shrivel as advertised. When we repeated the experiment with a small red potato, it only took an hour.

This book has some really great ideas, catalysts for actual experiments, but I think their fact checking was completely absent. Their "raw or boiled?" egg experiment, for instance, was completely backwards. Thank goodness this Mom knew better beforehand!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The reasons we do...

Everyone thinks her child is beautiful. Everyone.
I realize this, and here I am about to wallow in it.
My baby just turned three. He is very likely my last child, despite the last few months' surcease of my "I am so done!" ranting. With his physical demands on my body easing, with his behaviour turning from maniacal toddler to a child of my recognizable tribe, my heart has tempered its resolution to never bear another child. This is not to say I ever will. But at least now I wouldn't cry. A lot.

~I digress.~

I was looking for pictures of the very, very fine sweater and came across many of D-baby as a baby. Before the maniacal toddler-- the child we called "Perfect." This particular set always makes me smile because I remember it so clearly. As the third child in a pretty close family, D-baby never belonged wholly to me like the other two did. I never was able to spend a lot of non-nursing, non-diapering time with him, just he and I. I had other children to attend, and he had siblings who doted on him. The older children, as small as they were, really did participate in caring for this little guy. Who knows what his worldview is, having that intense belonging? I can't even begin to imagine.

Anyway, on this one day when he was about 15 months old, he and I got to take a walk together. That's it. It wasn't all that long, and we only went around the neighborhood, but on this day he and I were able to go together, alone, and I brought my camera. He's such an infant in these pictures, clearly still "toddling," and the vibrant colors of the Spring here just accentuate how tiny and young he really is. I love them.

I love him.

And then, I had to release him back to the family.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Montessori and Dyslexia: The Einstein Effect

A post of mine here really resonated with a dear friend of mine, exciting her. Her reaction to the specifics of the Montessori method were so affirming for me. It seems so clear to me, how wonderful it can be to just take another view on education, but when other people get excited about my excitement, well who doesn't cherish that? My own struggles with ADD and the comorbid dyslexia were really very mild, because in my specific case, the school environment was actually good for me due to a variety of factors in my home and school life. Chief among those school factors was a very early diagnosis of "giftedness," and a removal at least once a week from the traditional classroom. From my earliest years in public school, I was sorted out and given a different way to do things-- because I was gifted.

Because I was gifted.

This is important to note: even as a child of eleven years of age, I realized that the way they were approaching my education was so cool, so interesting, that every student would benefit from it. They gave it to us, as a prize for being "smart" when we came to them. How much more does the child who needs that different approach benefit from the extra time and consideration? To this day I can rattle off the names of people I saw fail out of school, one way or another, who really had it in them to do so much better. No one gave them the option to learn things in a way appropriate to them. They were just counseled to do better, to try harder, to "really listen." Maybe Montessori isn't for everyone; I can accept that. But in my experience, it sure works for most. It's not so much that Montessori caters to individuals who learn differently, it's that the method allows for so many different individual approaches to learning. It's that subtle, child-centric distinction coupled with tactile materials that makes it so effective.

I did some quick research tonight while I was thinking about this in general, and came across the following (clickable) snippets.

From Myomancy:

The modern classroom with its tightly controlled and scheduled syllabus is not a good environment for dyslexic children. Any children who falls behind the learning curve is in deep trouble as they have no opportunity to catch up. The classroom is like a production line than forces children to move on to the next class whether they are ready or not. However the Montessori classroom isn’t like that.

Devised in the early 1900’s by Dr Montessori, it is an approach to education that is child centric, focusing on individually-paced learning and development. The Montessori Method should suit a dyslexic child better. Allowing child and teacher to spend time on their basic literacy regardless of the rest of the class’s ability level. As the Montessori method also does away with traditional grading of students there should be less issues about confidence and self-worth. In fact, Montessori and dyslexia should be perfect together.

Another way that Montessori and dyslexia go together is the teaching materials used. Montessori has always used a multi-sensory approach to teaching involving wooden letters to handle and sandpaper letters that children trace out with their figures for a strong tactile feedback. Lots of the Montessori teaching uses physical objects for teaching basic number skills. Making learning movement based, rather than purely paper-and-pencil, increases the opportunities for hand / eye coordination and cross lateral movement.

From Montessori Life:

Dyslexia is caused by anatomical differences in the brain. If an appropriate preschool program is offered to this child and reading, writing, and spelling are introduced through a Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) approach, the learning difference does not become a learning disability. This neurological difference cannot be cured but it can be treated, so that the child can have functional written language skills.

This article goes on in the specifics but I loved this line: the learning difference does not become a learning disability. That's Montessori for you: Difference does not equal disability.

Furthering that idea, there is a school in Florida whose mission is to educate dyslexic children using the Montessori method. This is my favorite snippet to share here, because it also discusses Albert Einstein. I love me some Einstein. He was brilliant, but was also ADHD and dyslexic. From the website for Einstein Montessori School:
"Zach Osbrach founded this school to better educate children with reading and spelling delays. Our dyslexic students have achieved the highest reading gains among their peers in the state of Florida. Our extensive testing has shown a 285% increase in reading gains." Their FAQ on dyslexia and its life prognosis is fairly extensive. Yet it is their page on Einstein, and why they started the school they did, with which I will end this post:

Einstein showed language impairments at a very young age. His speech was severely delayed. He only began to talk at the age of three, and had trouble with language throughout elementary school.

During a parent meeting, the Headmaster told Einstein's parents that he did not have the ability to be a successful professional. He recommended that Einstein attend a trade school. In fact, his teachers thought he was borderline retarded.

Young Albert did not listen to them. Instead, he moved to a different type of school. This school de-emphasized rote memorization. Unlike his old school, they stressed creative thinking and hands-on learning. Young Albert's academic performance improved dramatically.

Einstein suffered from dyslexia. He is a clear example of a person who would be labeled as learning disabled in today's educational system. With the right approach to education, these labels cannot prevent great accomplishments, as proven by Einstein and others.

Children with learning disabilities have one or more processing or learning weaknesses. At Einstein Montessori School, we would rather not use the term "learning disabled," because many of our great thinkers had dyslexia--geniuses and statesman like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Leonardo de Vinci, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney and so many others. Most of us do not think of these men as having been "disabled."

This is Community

There is this sweater, you see. It is a soft sea-green, cable-knit hoodie with a subtle periwinkle-blue trim on the cuffs and waist. It is a quality brand name, it zips up the front and it has lasted through both G and N. We've had it so long, I couldn't even remember where or how we got it, but I do know N has gotten more use out of it than G. While I knew I hadn't bought it from a store, because generally that's not how we do things, I thought I got it from a consignment somewhere. Maybe a clearance sale. Never mind that, it's a fine, fine sweater.

The thing is, now that it is D-boy sized, he doesn't want it. It's not his color, he says. This is the boy who now insists his name be said correctly (no nicknames), that his clothes be spotless (water spots are no exception, off they come) and that his boots be by the door without fail when he comes in. So when he says he won't wear this sweater, he oh so very much means it.

But I love the sweater. It's a fine, fine sweater. It's in great shape and needs to be worn. So I put it in the closet and saved it for Nikirj's Bitty Princess. I fretted a bit, because it's not pink or lavendar. It has no sequins or ruffles, no lace or glitter. I worry that instead of being loved, it will be scorned for the second time. Finally, I decide the sweater must be given. It can't be boxed or donated. It must be presented.

For lunch on Wednesday this week, we traveled to the C-family abode. The sweater came with us, and as we made our greetings, I said to Bitty Princess, "I have a present for you! A princess sweater!" Hype, hype, I must hype the fine, fine sweater. Any reaction I might have gauged from Bitty Princess was lost as her mother began to chuckle.

"Oh cool!" She said simply, "Becca's sweater came back. That's such a good sweater, isn't it?"

Blink Blink. Blink Blink.

"We got it from YOU????" I bellowed.

"What, you didn't remember that?"

My embarassment morphed into glee as I cavorted about, happy that the sweater made it's way back home, full circle. Quite by accident, of course, as I really forgot it ever came from there. (Still. I am ashamed. No recollection.) I love stuff like this.

And so, this is community. Child number five (maybe) in the fine, fine sweater. It's making its rounds as the years pass among us, and it's taken on a symbolism; it's now imbued with the warmth of friendship, of filial love for other people's children. We want them to be warm, we want them to be loved. We want them to be in possession of fine, fine sweaters.

Math Manipulatives

The more I work with math and my children, the more I "get" why manipulatives work as well as they do. G just added 4332 and 2464 without even having the slightest idea when she sat down that she could do that. She sort of resisted at first, because although I presented the place value stampers as a game, she saw bigantous numbers and knew I was up to mischief. I am sure me telling her she was going to tell me the sum of those numbers didn't help, but I was going for the shock value of her success. Well, mischief managed. She swiftly took over the stamping and told me the sum. Then she smiled.

I've read about children in Montessori environments doing advanced calculations swiftly and accurately, but I never really understood how that works-- they're just beads-- until I began to show my own kids how it works. It's a little unnerving to go into the unknown, but so satisfying when it works. And oh, how it works! I've not wanted to make / purchase the beads because I have felt that storing them in a home situation would be too unwieldy. Today, working with stamps of a similar design, I changed my mind. This was fabulous, and fast.

I didn't spend a lot of time with manipulatives when I was a child, and math became a source of extreme difficulty for me. If you miss one small kernel of understanding, you lose the option of understanding most of what comes after. It makes me happy to see my kids not only just soak it up, but hold "math" in a sort of cavalier regard.

Edited to add links for BBB:
Base Mathematic Lesson Plans (this is not what I used for this post, we were working with a Montessori three-part lesson)

You can purchase stamps here

but one of my favorite math / science equipment purveyors is here.

I did a quick google search and found this for you, to better explain how we began what we were doing. We have the actual bead materials shown in her initial photograph, but instead of the beads described for the lesson, we were using the stampers. The current lesson, which is related today, is based on this presentation.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lots of things to blog about

But blogging is just not happening until this wave of tummy-crankiness passes.

(and aside, I look forward to being a grup again, someone who would never utter, much less publish, the words "tummy crankiness")

OK-- one thing will make it in. We've gotten about half the school room re-installed. Actually, that's less than accurate, because I have a great many new materials the children haven't seen yet. Yesterday, P-daddy took the doppelgangers out while ~N~ and I stayed home with our weak constitutions. We used that time to great advantage, really enjoying being together. He and I worked together in the school room for at least an hour, with me introducing some cool Montessori math stuff, among other things. (I love it when 5 year olds truly understand the quantity of, say, 4322. It trips me out.)

I don't know what happened while they were gone, or whether D-person just misses me from being laid out all week, but he came home to be a very affectionate tyke. He let me carry him about and just squeezed me really hard before explaining to me that "You my teeeeech-ah. You my teeeech-ah, Mommy!"

So, I have lost eleven pounds this week and had our daughter explain to us out of the blue that the sun glows bright because hydrogen is converted into helium. My P-daddy has taken exquisite care of his infirm family without reverting to testiness. We spent the evening yesterday rolling about in the living room as a family, laughing. It's been a balanced, pleasant week.

Friday, January 04, 2008

We rang in the New Year with a stomach bug

Initially we thought it was D-boy (sniff sniff no longer D-baby) having drunk too much salinated pool water at the Y, but 48 hours later, ~N~ wiped out. After staying up until 3.30 am to help him, I had to go to sleep. An hour after P-daddy switched off with me, I started going. At least the flu itself is FAST-- literally 24 hours-- but I am weak and sore today. Now, we wait for ~G~ and P-daddy to fall. Hopefully they won't, but I sure wasn't expecting what I got, either. My brilliant daughter has followed my instructions and is hydrating herself to the nth just in case.

I will choose to celebrate this as a New year's purge. We're quite literally shedding the old, and opening ourselves to the new. And I got to lose all my holiday overindulgence along the way.