Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 420: Essay Writing and Personality

Despite the difference in their ages, we’ve taken to teaching the three older kids all together. They still do skills-based work (math exercises and so on) at their respective levels, and our expectations differ from kid to kid when we give them all the same assignment, but by and large they’re learning the same stuff. As N says (about everything,) why not?

I’m using a grade 7 book for our writing class. In the past few weeks we’ve covered allusions, metaphors, thesis statements, and transitional sentences. This week I introduced them to their newest assignment: a comparative essay.

I’m a big believer in what Montessori called “isolation of difficulty”: each material or lesson is designed to teach one thing. That’s it. The Suzuki Method does this as well, at least in the beginning books: each song introduces only one new skill. Likewise, I’ve taken to thinking carefully about what specific thing I want the kids to learn so that I know what I should be nitpicking about and what should be deferred to another lesson.

For this essay, I wanted them to focus on the skill of putting together an essay; writing an introduction and conclusion and stringing the paragraphs together so that there’s a smooth transition from one to the next. If that was to be the challenge, content had to be super simple to write. I decided to have them write an essay about Animal Farm and its similarities to the Russian revolution.

(Before you ask, I’ll tell you that yes, they have learned about the Russian revolution. I’ll also remind you that the point of this assignment was not to have them generate content.)

In the spirit of not having them focus on research or content generation, I found and printed a comparison chart between Animal Farm‘s main characters and the historical figures of the Russian revolution. I gave each kid a copy and told them to use those notes to write an essay (we’ve already covered how to write compare/contrast paragraphs.)

Naturally, there was a problem (of course there was): Two of the three kids didn’t want to write about this topic.

R asked if she could write a comparison of something else. She then eloquently laid out to me all the ways in which Gravity Falls (an animated TV show) was just like Land of Stories (a popular kids’ book series.) At this point I threw up my hands and said, “Sure, fine. I was trying to make this assignment easier by giving you the content, but you go ahead and do your idea instead. It sounds way more interesting.”

K wasn’t keen on the assigned topic, either. “Does it even have to be a comparison? Can’t it just be an essay based on a story? And doesn’t a TV show count as a story?” (She might have a point there—Shakespeare is literature even though what he wrote was intended to be watched, not read.)

This is where knowing the real purpose of the assignment comes in very handy. I could have tried to force K to write about Animal Farm, or I could have required her to write a comparative essay; but neither the content of Animal Farm nor writing a comparison was the purpose of the assignment. The whole point of the essay was to write an essay with an introduction, a clear thesis statement, and good transitions between paragraphs. The content was really beside the point—so I let K pick her own topic. Problem solved.

N was the only one who chose to write the essay as assigned. He has a tendency to do only what’s required and not an iota more, in schoolwork as well as at home. In his calculating way, he determined that using the notes I’d given him would allow him to get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

All three kids have worked diligently on their essays this week, and they have until next Friday to finish them. I’m still floored by the lack of resistance from K, the-kid-who-swore-she-couldn’t-write. I’m still astonished at R’s clarity and descriptive word choices, although I should be used to her writing ability by now. And N’s philosophy makes me chuckle and then shake my head in chagrin as I remember that I, too, used to calculate the absolute minimum grade I’d need on the exam to pass the course. It’s obvious he’s Mr. December’s mini-me in so many ways, but if I stop to consider it, he’s pretty obviously mine too.

bikes planes and automobiles · blogging · family fun · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 416: A Review Of Mother’s Day (Guest Post)

Today R decided to write a guest blog post: a behind-the-scenes look at how my Mother’s Day treat got picked up. I did correct the name of the bakery and I did a bit of capitalization clean-up, but all the words (and most of the punctuation, including the semicolon) are R’s. Enjoy.


Yesterday at 8:25 Abba woke me up saying “Were going to pick up scones for mothers day.” We biked to Baker and Scone and stood in a line for what felt like forever. We were only really standing there for fifteen to twenty minutes before we realized we were in the wrong line; apparently, for pick up, you just walked up to the door and they’ll bring you your order. We were standing in the line to order from the store/restaurant. While a worker went to get our order E decided to get off her bike, and tripped over over what I think was the wooden porch and hit her head right over one of the ears (can’t remember if it was the right side or the left.) Once we got our order and made sure it was secured on Abba’s and K’s bikes we headed off. N and Abba went a bit ahead, so me and K stayed with E to make sure she was okay. When we were only a block away from the store I checked on E to make sure she was okay. E said she had a headache, so once we crossed the street and joined Abba and N on the other side E told Abba about her headache and Abba called Ema to pick E up. Despite there being room for one more bike and a person, Abba made me, K and N bike home. When we got home and washed our hands, I went to swing in the attic, only to be called down five minutes later to eat our scones. We had to do school on Sunday because it worked better with Abba’s schedule. Sunday was an all-math day. And I’m almost done grade five in math! Around three we got out of school and I got online with my friends.


There you have it. They all went out to pick up treats and then I got called to drive over and rescue one of them; so not only did I get scones and jam, I also got the gift of feeling needed. Not to mention, of course, the gift of not having to think of what to blog about for two days in a row. Now, that’s really something.

Kids

Day 415: Inside the mind of a ten-year-old kid

I told the kids they had to write tonight’s post for me because I was taking Mother’s Day off. Predictably, they left it til the last minute and the girls shirked their duty. That means tonight you get a glimpse into the mind of a ten-year-old boy. Lucky you.

Without further ado, here’s N.


Since it’s mothers day, someone other than Ema has to do the blog post. So… ya. Since I can’t think of anything interesting, I’m just going to tell you stuff about B.S.S. (Bee Swarm Simulator [in roblox]) So i’m almost done killing ol’ stumpy (that’s what spirit bear calls the snail boss in the stump field): it’s at roughly 2 mil health and I do eggsactly 500 total damage (not including impale from vicious bee which does 1000 damage per spike with 10 spikes.)

I’m also almost done spirit bear’s 10th quest. Why is it so great? Because spirit petal. Spirit petals can be used for the petal wand (which I’m going to get,) petal belt (I’m going to get that one last,) and windy bee which is really good. Now I should ramble (I think I used that properly?) on about BSS but I’m going to leave you with this: (side note ol’ stumpy is at 1.8 mil health now)(now its at 1.7 mil health but im gonna say it as 1.5 because why not)

p.s Ema said no pictures and what I wanted to show you was some of my bee ideas for BSS.


“So? Was my post good, Eema?” `

“No.”

“Come on… be honest!”

“I was being honest.”

“What could I have done better?”

“Hmmm… capitalization, punctuation, spelling… for starters.”

“Okay, but really?”

“Really, it’s bedtime.”

Camping it up · Kids · parenting · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 413: Quaint.

It’s that time of year again: time to fill out all the camp forms for the kids. Most of them are time consuming, but no big deal. Where I always get stumped, somehow, is at the immunizations.

For those of you who don’t live in Ontario: we have this antiquated system of keeping track of our immunizations. It’s this little yellow trifold card that we (or the doctors) fill in by hand with the date and which vaccines were given. That’s all I have to refer to when the camp asks me for the dates of every vaccination the kids have ever had. I’m sure the doctor’s office has this information in the kids’ files (which are, thankfully, now all computerized,) but that information doesn’t get shared with anyone. Not with me, and not with public health.

That’s why, when each of my kids was enrolled in grade one, I got a letter from Toronto Public Health threatening the kid’s suspension from school if we didn’t provide records of vaccination. The first time it happened I was baffled; The second time I was annoyed; and the third time I was fed up. Apparently after the doctor vaccinates the child and enters the information into their computer, the parents have to go home and enter the same information into the Toronto Public Health website… every single time the kid gets a vaccine. You’d think there’d be some way to opt-in to your doctor sharing the vaccination records with public health—but you’d be wrong.

Honestly, I have flirted with the idea of just telling the school and public health that I’m not vaccinating my kids on conscientious grounds. Of course I’d still have them fully vaccinated—I’d just be saving myself the duplication of labour.

Today as I put in the kids’ vaccination dates I noticed a few… irregularities. I had no record of K being immunized for chicken pox, even though I’m positive that we’ve never declined a vaccine that was offered. That’s the sort of error that comes of having the parent and/or doctor forget to update the quaint little yellow vaccination card. Now I’ll have to call the doctors’ office and have them spend even more time on this issue by generating lists of the kids’ vaccinations and emailing them to me (at least I hope they’ll email them to me, although most doctors won’t actually email confidential medical information. That’s why doctors here still have fax machines, another quaint reminder of a bygone and less efficient era.)

All of this to say that there has GOT to be a better system for sharing this information. A unique PIN for each child, perhaps, that the camp can input into a database to confirm that the child has had all required vaccinations? Something? Anything to advance our public health system past the days of carrier pigeons and fax machines?

Booster shot for Ontario's vaccination policies | The Star
Image description: an Ontario Immunization Record Card. Yep, we’re on the honour system, it seems.
crafty · Homeschool · Kids · waxing philosophical

Day 410: Life Imitates Art Class

Having given up on making a proper pot or urn, I tried to extend our study of Ancient Greece in a different artistic direction: mosaic.

First off, a warning: a certain big-box craft store sells large jars of mosaic tiles. At least, they look large on the website… but they’re not. It’s a good thing I’ve hoarded so many craft supplies over the years.

Just like every art class, we had the dubious pleasure of watching R descend into perfectionistic madness, cry, storm off, and then come back and get to work. K worked seriously and enthused about this new art medium. E and I worked together (it’s the one with the elephants, in case you couldn’t guess.) N worked quickly and precisely to place all of his tiles; then he groaned and quit when I pointed out he had to actually stick them to the board, not just rest them there. I suggested that he use a sheet of adhesive plastic to keep the tiles in their arrangement, making it easy to move the tiles so that he could apply mastic to the board.

It’s interesting to see how their personalities are evident in their art (and in how they make it.) I suppose that’s why art (like music) is such a good therapeutic medium. I keep hoping I can use R’s art class experiences to teach her about working with what you have instead of crying about what you don’t. The message hasn’t gotten through yet, but surely after she experiences the same thing another dozen times there will be sufficient evidence to convince her, don’t you think? As for N, he always does what he’s asked to do, as efficiently as possible, and nothing more. I pray that one day he’ll see how much better his work is when he does more than just the bare minimum.

Maybe the kids will appreciate the parallel between mosaics and life. Some of them are made of uniform materials (all tile; all conventional milestones) while others are a hodgepodge of materials and found objects. Each could easily have just been a pile of junk, broken tiles, or stones, but they’re beautiful because someone took the time to arrange everything just so. Life doesn’t have to be just a bunch of stuff that happens; if we take a bit of time to really look at what we have (rather than what we don’t,) we can craft our lives into something truly beautiful.

family fun · Homeschool · Kids · The COVID files

Day 405: I might be too chicken…

I’ve been googling some strange things lately. Like “chicken diapers.” Yup, that’s a thing.

It started with a bit of a “field trip” to play with some baby chickens that had just hatched. Needless to say, the chicks were adorable and the kids were enthralled. I was, too. When the kids asked whether we could hatch some chicks, too, I told them that if they did the research and presented a proposal to us, we’d seriously consider it.

We’ve talked about having backyard chickens before. It’s legal in our part of the city and there are farms that will rent you chickens for the summer and take them back when it gets too cold outside (if you don’t want to have to heat a coop and so on.) And we do like eggs for breakfast. Anyhow, this isn’t a sudden whim—just like with homeschooling, it’s been percolating for quite a few years and could become reality with the help of a small catalyst (like, say, some close encounters with cute chicks.)

My “sister from another mister” (you know who you are) put me in touch with a friend of hers who has backyard chickens and lives near me. She has invited us to come see the chickens and their coop (COVID restrictions permitting, of course.)

So nothing has been decided, but—like with homeschooling—small things are nudging us in the direction of having some feathered pets this summer. Would it be cruel to name them Curry, Schnitzel, and Drumstick?

DIY · family fun · Kids · The COVID files

Day 403: Is it haircut day already?

“Eema, will you cut my hair?” R asked. “I want it shorter.”

So I did what any parent does in these locked-down times: I sent her for my hair-cutting scissors, thinning shears, and a comb.

I chatted as I worked. It sounded a bit like this:

“Okay, you wanted it just past your shoulders? Here. That’s how long it’ll be.”

“Hmmm… I think the left side is shorter than the right. I’d better straighten it out.”

“Um, R? You’d better have a look in the mirror before I keep going.”

I held my breath as she ran inside (we cut hair on the front porch) to check my work. She emerged from the bathroom smiling. “It’s perfect!” she enthused as she posed for the obligatory post-cut pictures.

Then K approached me and said, “Actually, I was wondering if you could just cut the back of mine. It’s too long and it’s annoying me.”

“Just the back?” I confirmed. “Sure. Have a seat.”

I have to say, I’m pleased with the results. I’m also pleased with how we managed to fill an evening without screens.


Speaking of evenings without screens, I’m without my computer for the next day and a half. Mine kept dying on us while warning me that “battery requires service.” So I took it in to the geniuses at Apple. Is it just me, or does calling it the “genius bar” kind of dilute the meaning of “genius”? I’m sure there are bona-fide geniuses working for apple—I know a couple personally—but mostly as programmers rather than storefront employees.

Anyhow, they ran some tests and the only thing wrong with my laptop is the battery. Apparently they consider this a “quality” issue, so they’re replacing it for free… which takes up to 48 hours. Looks like I have some free time in my immediate future.

blogging · education · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Kids

Day 398: Writers Craft

If there’s one thing I learned in my OAC (grade 13) year, it’s that nobody wants to hear about your pain. When I wrote yet another angst-ridden piece about the pain in my hands and the feelings of uselessness and hopelessness it prompted, one guy in my Writer’s Craft class said, “Yeah, we get it. Her hands hurt. Can we please move on now?”

Ouch. I mean, I get it: we were all teenagers, which is a nicer way of saying that we were walking egos with relatively low impulse control. But it still stung a little.

Don’t worry: I got him back inadvertently. On my laptop—which I used for note-taking, since it hurt too much to write—I had installed a program called Cartman Speaks, which would play a sound clip from South Park every few minutes or randomly, depending on the setting. I didn’t realize it was open and set to “random,” and one day when that guy was spouting off about something else, we all suddenly heard Eric Cartman’s voice saying, “Oh, would you shut the f*** up? Nobody gives a rat’s a** what you think!”

Sweet, inadvertent revenge.

Anyhooo… the moral of this story is… um… I forget. But the point is… well, I forget that too.

Oh, right, nobody really wants to hear about one’s pain. Which is too bad for you, if you’re reading this, because my blogging habit was born out of pain.

Once again, I digress.

Yes, fibro flare is still here. I did some exercise (don’t want to be deconditioned and in pain) and spent a lot of time in bed. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The thing I really wanted to mention today was that K produced what is undoubtedly her best piece of writing, and I’m so thrilled for her. This kid used to scream about having to write anything; but when I gave her this assignment she went to the library and wrote it—painstakingly, by hand—without complaint. Today we had a writers’ meeting (it’s how I imagine writers sitting around in a conference room pitching their stories, except my writers drink hot chocolate instead of coffee) and she asked me to read her piece out loud to everyone. I did.

And when I put it down, all I could say was “…Wow.”

And then she explained to everyone how she didn’t want to keep mentioning the rain, but she wanted the wetness to be felt by the reader, which is why she described shoes as “waterlogged.” She made many other excellent word choices; if it hadn’t been for her messy handwriting, spelling errors, and hit-and-miss punctuation, I could have believed it to be the product of something like my OAC Writers’ Craft class.

Now when she says “I can’t write! I suck at it!” I can wave this piece in her face and say, “You can. Here’s the proof.”

education · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 393: A Sisyphean Task.*

*If you don’t know what this idiom means, you can find a definition here

I made my children cry this week.

It was about their homeschool assignments, which I thought were both interesting and completely age-appropriate: E had to do one page of two-digit addition drills, while the older three had an assignment of my own device.

They were working on a language arts unit about metaphors, similes, analogies, and allusions; so I gave them a page of sentences that contained allusions to Ancient Greece (the subject of our current unit study) and instructed them to identify the allusion, briefly explain the background story, and rewrite the sentence with no allusion so as to maintain its meaning.

Here’s an example:

She definitely has the Midas touch.

First I would have expected the kids to figure out that Midas touch was the allusion. Next they needed to get online and google “midas touch” or “midas touch ancient greece” or even “what is midas touch an allusion to?” and write a sentence that said something like It’s alluding to King Midas: everything he touched turned to gold. And finally, I would have wanted to see them rewrite the sentence to say Everything she does is a success.

(We won’t go into the fact that Midas’s golden touch ended up being a curse, not a blessing. Any English-language allusions to it conveniently ignore the end of that story.)

I thought it was a neat assignment; so did Mr. December and my mom. The kids thought it was too hard. Oddly enough, the web searches were the most difficult part for them. They seemed to be completely lost when it came to finding the information.

I was baffled. Aren’t they the internet generation? When I was their age I was using card catalogues and encyclopedias to find information. When I got to university we had online indices but the search terms had to be maddeningly specific. Nowadays you can type in a question in colloquial English, misspell half the words, and Google will still give you relevant results. How hard is it, really?

I stuck to my guns as they railed against the injustice of the assignment. K groused, “Nobody says this! You never hear people walking down the street going, ‘Yeah, man, that was a sisyphean task!’

“I certainly hope you don’t think my goal for you is to be able to speak and write English like the average person on the street,” I sniffed haughtily.

She was not amused.

The next day the kids were still not happy with the assignment, but tears had given way to resignation. R asked me to help her sift through the search results; N went and worked on his own; K finally admitted, “I did it, but not really. I guess I’ll go do it again.” I was pleasantly surprised.

What have we learned here? I hope the kids have learned that they can type a question in plain English into the search bar and get reasonably close results; that sometimes you have to refine your search terms a few times; and that Google’s “People also ask” feature can be very helpful in finding the answer you’re looking for. As for me, I’ve learned that our kids can and do respond well to challenging work and high academic standards.

But man, some days educating these kids feels like a sisyphean task.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Kids · parenting

Day 392: A Teacher is Born…

E got a new bike yesterday. She was looking awfully cramped on the 14″ bike she had been riding, so I put out a call to my FaceBook friends for a used 20″ bike. This gorgeous pink one had been outgrown by a friend of K’s, and we snapped it up. I’m very excited because it’s got a basket and a chain guard and everything. E’s excited because her new helmet looks like a unicorn.

It’s always a bit awkward when a kid moves up to a bigger bike. They have to adjust their steering to account for the longer frame and suddenly they can’t put both feet flat on the ground unless they slide off the seat. For E, this move up has also introduced her to a brake lever—her last bike had a coaster brake that stops the bike if you pedal backwards.

E and I decided to head down the street to the cul-de-sac to give her some practice time before our next family ride. R volunteered to come with us. I na├»vely assumed that R just wanted to ride around (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and was surprised when we got to our destination: she spent the entire time teaching E how to brake, dismount, and turn safely on her new bike.

R seems to have a natural talent for teaching. She knew how to break down each skill into smaller components that she made E practice before trying the whole skill. Her words were gentle and encouraging: “That’s okay, let’s just try it again…” and “You’re doing it!” She hugged E after a fall and rode alongside her, giving pointers all the way.

At one point I beckoned for R to come over to where I was sitting. When she approached me, I hugged her fiercely and said, “I love watching you teach your sister.” She grinned and ran back over to E.

I don’t know whether this skill at teaching is inborn or whether R has picked some things up from the way Mr. December and I teach her. It’s probably a bit of both, although like most things I suspect it’s mostly part of R’s personality. In any case, this is quickly becoming my favourite part of parenting: seeing the kids use their natural talents for good.