Homeschool · Kids

Day 434: Angry letters, part deux

We had a very successful writing lesson yesterday.

In their Winning With Writing books, the kids were on the lesson about writing a formal business letter; so I reviewed the format with them, explaining things like cc and bcc (“did you know that carbon copies originally involved real carbon?”) and why you put both addresses on the letter and the envelope.

Then I gave the kids their assignment:

“You’re going to write a complaint letter. It can be about something real or fictional—doesn’t matter. But it has to be formatted correctly and you need to include the facts, why it’s a problem, and what action you want the person to take to make it right.”

They scattered to various computers without a complaint. For the next hour everyone focused on their letters. When our time was up for the day’s lesson I took a look at what they’d done.

It was absolutely true to their personalities. That still amuses me no matter how much I see it.

R wrote a very good letter to Mr. December (principal of our homeschool) complaining that he spends more time on complex subjects with the older two kids than he does with her. She proposed that he make time for her twice a week to do the subjects that only she was interested in. She ended the letter with “Thank you for your time.” Sometimes I think that kid is older than her years.

N wrote a very short, very sloppy letter. Bit by bit, I prodded him to include more facts and less descriptive writing. His letter was also to Mr. December, proposing that the kids be allowed to have screen time early on days when our lessons don’t go all the way to 3:30. When he was done he printed and signed it and left it on Mr. December’s desk.

And K wrote a long letter (she’s still not done, as a matter of fact) to the authors of Winning With Writing, detailing the numerous errors and inconsistencies in their curriculum. She used her extensive vocabulary and wrote very convincingly, but it was an endless rant more than a business letter. She has promised to remove all but the most salient details. I hope she keeps a copy of her manifesto, too. It’s too entertaining to just delete.

Camping it up · family fun · Independence · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 430: Undirected

You know, you can hold your breath and turn blue, or nag them for hours, and my kids still won’t have cleared the table; they’ll just bicker forever about who swept up more Rice Krispies or who unloaded the dishwasher last time and nothing will get done.

So it’s reassuring to know that the kids can formulate a plan, take action, and work together to achieve their goal. I mean, of course they can, because that’s what’s involved in building a couch fort; but somehow I’m always surprised that they can get it together to do anything.

Right now they’re carrying a tent as if it’s a chuppah, each kid holding a tent pole where it attaches to the corner. They have no choice but to work together and listen to instructions, seeing as they have to all move in the same direction or risk damaging the tent.

R and K have been asking us to let them sleep outdoors.

“We’ll sleep on the low wooden deck near the tree swing,” they told me.

“You’ll have to move the big pile of sticks off it and rinse the platform first,” I told them.

They went out and followed my instructions to the letter. Soon they were back saying, “There are bugs out there and we need to put something over us to keep them out. Like a tarp. Or some kind of net.”

“Or maybe a tent?” I asked pointedly. “We do have one.”

While retrieving the tent, K and I noticed the air mattress in its bag. K instantly decided it was also necessary.

I’m very happy that my desk is next to a huge window that overlooks the whole backyard, because this was fun to watch. The kids put up the tent with some basic instruction from Mr. December. Then they inflated the queen-size air mattress. And then they tried to put the mattress inside the tent. Now that’s entertainment.

Image description: After many failed attempts (first three pics) at getting the mattress through the tent door, they carried the tent and mattress back to the house (fourth pic).

I’m too impatient for my own good. After watching them for only a few minutes, I cranked the window open and told them to inflate the mattress when it’s already inside the tent. I should have watched to see how long it would take them to figure it out. I guess it’s not their fault: their dad is an engineer, and their grandfather is an engineer, and I believe it’s an engineering maxim that says, “If brute force isn’t working, you’re not using enough,” so they come by it honestly.

I just love watching kids—especially mine, but others too—play and work without adult direction. It gives me faith that one day they’ll be fully functioning adults.

Camping it up · el cheapo · Kids

Day 423: Camp.

It’s not often that I open my email and start cheering, but it happened today. Our Premier announced that summer camps will be allowed to open this year! YESSSSS!

The three older kids are registered for a month of overnight camp and I am so thrilled and relieved that they get to go. I’m also just a tad jealous—I love camp.

Anyhow, I was sitting at my computer when I read the news, and when I started cheering and whooping, the kids came running to see what was so great. They were pleased, of course, but nowhere near as excited as I am. I wonder why?

So now begins the thankless task of finding, labelling, and packing everything three children need for a month at camp. I hope Value Village opens soon, because no way am I sending any clothing to camp that cost more than $10. As a former camp counsellor, I know how much stuff gets lost by the end of the month. I also know why it makes sense to have four sweatshirts at camp, although that might be influenced by the time it was rainy and twelve degrees for half of July and I had to write home to ask my parents to bring me more sweatshirts as well as a hat and mittens.

Gosh, I miss camp.

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.