Saturday, July 23, 2016

Yahtzee and the ZPD... and a happy H. update

When you do enough reading in early childhood education, child development, and play theory, there are certain names that you start to see over and over again. Lev Vygotsky is one of those names. He is the educational theorist who developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD. Essentially what this means is that all of us, and children in particular, have things we can do on our own, things we can do with help, and things we cannot do. The Zone of Proximal Development are the things a person can do with outside help, or mediation. In terms of child development and education, this means that the teacher (or parent or facilitator) is noticing what the child can do with help, and then providing that help until the child can do it on his own. As you can imagine, the ZPD for anyone is constantly moving and changing as the child develop new skills and abilities.

I'm in the middle of a fantastic book about children and executive function (I'll blog about it when I'm done), and there has been a lot of discussion about development and ZPD, so it was fresh in my mind the other day when I agreed to sit down and play Yahtzee with K., Y., H., and L. Boy, talk about a game that is smack dab in the middle of each of those children's ZPD's. Skip counting and by extension multiplying, graph completion, holding multiple numbers in ones head as you write them down, translating English words into numerals, heck, just remembering how to write numerals, are all things this particular crew is working on at the moment and I don't think I could have designed a game that hit so many skills all at the same time. Plus, they are all really enjoying playing it, so it doesn't seem like a school activity to them. It's a win all the way around.

As I thought about it more, though, I have become more and more astounded that H. can play it. And she does, with very little help. If you are new to our family and with H.'s journey in particular, you might find it interesting to go back and read a few posts to catch-up, in order to fully appreciate what I'm going to share.

H. has been home 6 months
Another update on H.
Learning there is comfort
Loving and fixing
One year ago
My science experiment report

I can't quite believe I was writing about the same child then, who is currently sitting behind me doing one of those dot-to-dot puzzles which have hundreds of dots in them. And doing it accurately, I might add. This same child who could not identify numbers or had any idea what a number stood for four years ago, and just two years ago couldn't remember how to write and identify numbers past '6'.

I can't believe that this is the same child who was just telling me all the different ways she can jump on the trampoline, the child who runs without trouble or effort, the child who has complete and total control over her body.

I can't believe that this is the same child who would disassociate at the drop of a hat, the second anything seemed stressful, and by anything I mean everything. She spent a good chunk of her first year here, not really here at all. Now, she is present, does not hesitate to share her current emotional state, tries things that may be hard, is aware of the people around her and what they are doing, and joins in without being prodded. I remember telling J. a few years ago that I will be thrilled if the day ever comes if when at the dinner table H. was aware of the conversation and joined in of her own volition. Well, somewhere along that line that happened and I didn't even notice.

We are particularly struck with how far H. has come since bringing R. home. The contrast is stunning. And it happened so slowly that we weren't even totally aware of the magnitude of change. Even the smallest members of the family have commented on it. It's truly as if H. has jumped ahead by years in every area of development in the past year. She has reached a level of achievement that in my worst moments four years ago, I couldn't even imagine her reaching.

H. also 'gets' R. as no one else does. She is so incredibly helpful and patient with her and has truly become my right hand where R. is concerned. H. watches what things I am working with R. on, and I will come across her later on encouraging her to do the same things.

And the best yet? I am absolutely over-the-moon in love with this daughter of mine, just as with the others. There were also days... years... where I wondered if I would have to fake it for a lifetime. But truly the best gift in all of this is the deep feeling I have for her.

I wanted to encourage R. in making big pictures. I asked H. to sit with us and draw a big picture of her own. Here is what she drew.

These are trees in fall, and on the ground are leaves and a little dog. Completely original and made up from her own mind.

I wish I had more of her early artwork to compare it to. Essentially the early stuff all looked like an early toddler's drawing. This picture makes me so happy.

Realizing that I am missing the 'before', I am going to share some of R.'s work, which she worked on at the same time. As you might have guessed from the rather vague radio silence, life with R. is currently challenging. If I am honest, I would assess much of her current abilities at an 18-month old level. Big change often causes regression in a child, and I'm afraid that for poor R., regression came with a vengeance. We are hopeful (usually) that by meeting her where she is emotionally and cognitively, that we can encourage growth and development.

So for comparison's sake a few years from now, here is her first drawing from the afternoon.

She told me it was a dog. I decided that we needed to back up a step or two (something I find myself doing in just about every area with her these days.) We worked on drawing circles instead.

Here is her first attempt on her own.

So we did some drawing together. After a while, she drew these on her own.

After a while, though, we were back to the non-circles again. If I learned anything from H., it is that the same things need to be repeated over and over until they are firmly lodged in the brain. So that's what we will do. In short spurts... for both our sanity.

Whenever I feel discouraged about R., it does help to spend some time with H. and remember how far she has come. It gives me hope.

And my last little bit of really good news? Well, first go back and read that science experiment post I linked to up above if you haven't already. When I was going through old posts to share here, I saw that one and on a whim decided to see if the gap in H.'s understanding of conservation was still there. We got out the glasses, we poured, we talked, we measured, and then I held my breath and asked the question, "Does this have more?" She pauses, looks at me for a moment with a look that says, "I'm wondering if my mother has lost her mind," and says, "No, it's the same amount of water."

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, July 22, 2016

But how will I practice my mad kick boxing skills now?

Laundry is a perpetual issue for every family, and the more children you have, the more laundry you have. It's just something that can't be avoided. If I am on top of my game, as as long as I do laundry every day, I can keep it down to just one load a day, only having to do more than that if, a) a child has hoarded their laundry and an entire wardrobe comes down the laundry chute at one time, or b) we (or some portion of us) have been on vacation, or c) there have been particularly messy activities enjoyed. 

Or my life for the last year, your washing machine is breaking and you cannot afford to either get a new one or fix it. (From long experience, the computer brain of new washers is almost, if not more expensive than a new washer.) Our washer, a very generous gift from a friend when out last old washer wore out, has been teetering on the brink of exhaustion for a while and it's particular quirk was that there was a short in the electrical system (we think) and a good swift kick in the upper right hand quadrant would shake everything back in place and the cycle would finish. We limped along together like this for months, the washer stopping mid-cycle, me coming down to move the laundry to discover it had stalled, delivering necessary "encouragement", it continuing and finishing. Then it would decide to cooperate and I would have a week or of normal functioning. 

The past couple of months the teetering increased, so that it was truly only possible to do one load a day because of our little dance. Then finally, on Tuesday, it fell off the edge of functioning and I came close to falling off the edge of sanity. No matter what I did, it would not start or stop or unlock. When I seriously thought about finding a lead pipe to beat the washer into submission I realized we had reached the end, the washer and I, and I stopped from adding a room and victim to the Clue game. 

Instead, I walked upstairs, picked up the phone, and dialed our local appliance store. Pretty much I told the saleswoman, "I need a top-loader (I'm done with front loaders), as big as possible, nothing fancy, it doesn't even have to look nice, and I don't want to pay a lot for it." She found a 4.0 cubic foot washer and I replied I was doing laundry for 12 people. She found a 4.8 cubic foot washer, told me the price, and asked when it could be delivered. I gave her my credit card number.

Today was the day. My new washer is here. It is big and fancy and I'm very excited. Now I can finally catch-up on the laundry. I do not have to have anxiety every time I go down to the basement wondering if the machine has cooperated. Plus, along with my very, very good deal on the washer, I also bought the four-year warranty. That's four years of not worrying about the machine breaking. 

Warranties for large families are a very worthwhile investment, I've discovered. We just use our machines more, thus they reach the end of their lifespans sooner. For instance, on Monday, both of our dishwashers which are still under store warranty are getting fixed and that will be $1000 that I will NOT be paying. Four years seems to be the top end of the life expectancy for a washing machine. I keep saying I would be more than happy to become a durability testing sight for appliances, but so far no one has taken me up on it.

My new washing machine. So shiny. So pretty. So functional.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Timelines - how to do it

I had a couple of people ask me more about the how-to's of doing timelines. Not being one to miss a prompt, here are some of my thoughts.

First, how I marked off the years. For the BC era, in the books I use, there are five dark slash marks per page, so each of these is every forty years, which makes the space between them divide up into fourths, with each line being ten years. If you click on this picture in D.'s book, you'll see what I mean.

For the AD years, each dark slash is every five years, with the space between divided into fifths and each slash representing one year. Like this:

You'll also notice that I didn't always bother to pencil in the slashes between the dark lines unless we needed them. If I did write them in, I did not label the years as this would be too many numbers on a page.

What you'll also notice is that you can document the event or person any way you like. The items that were written were most likely from what we learned together as a family. The small pictures were most likely from covering that material in our history co-op that we were involved in for years. These pictures were found and printed by the parent teaching that lesson, usually just by doing an image search on Google and doing some cutting and pasting. My children have pictures of people, of works of art, and of events scattered throughout their books. Since we use them for the length of their school career, there is also a visible difference in the writing over the course of years. I write for the youngest ones, then move to a combination of me writing and the child writing a bit, advancing to the child writing everything.

Now, I don't want to leave you with the impression that I am such a fantastic homeschooling mother that I came up with this all on my own. As if.... No, I first heard about it at a conference where Maggie Hogan was speaking. I fell in love with everything she did and talked about and probably only attended her sessions as a result. I still incorporate a lot of her ideas that I learned. She was making the rounds because she and Cindy Wiggers had a new book out, The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide. If I had to keep just a handful of homeschooling resources, this book would make the cut. I love it! It has so many ideas and resources that I refer to it often, even though I bought it years and years ago, way back at the beginning of my homeschool career. It has maps and cards and ideas and these timeline line figures, which you can copy and paste into your timeline books. If this type of activity appeals to you at all, I highly recommend the book.

sample of timeline figures

A couple of other notes, we do not put every single date/person/event we come across in our books. I think that would suck the joy right out of it. At the beginning I copied the blank timeline page from the book I just told you about and put them in three-ring binders. It was a lot of work and while being able to move pages around or add pages has some benefit, I was never quite satisfied with how it looked or its durability. About five years ago, I discovered the timeline books we are using now at Miller Pads and Paper. They make a fantastic printed and spiral bound book that is very reasonably priced. I linked to their order page if you are interested. (I don't receive a thing for this, I just love the product.)

So there you go, timelines in a nutshell.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Timeline notebooks

I have used timeline notebooks with my children for years. If you haven't heard of timeline notebooks before, essentially, it is a book (I've used everything from a binder to a specifically made spiral bound book) with the years of history marked and blank lines to write down events. I love them because it makes it so easy to see what else was going on in the world and also where in history the event happened. It makes it much easier to visualize one hundred years verses one thousand years.

While I am in love with adding the dates of the things we have learned about in the books (each child has their own), my children are not quite so in love. They dutifully write down what I ask them to, but I wouldn't say they were excited about it. And they certainly don't think to themselves, "Oh, this is interesting. I'll add it to my timeline."

They may never be in love with the concept of keeping a timeline notebook, but I realized I was. You know I read a bit, and often there is some bit of history I find interesting, and I do think to myself, "If I had a timeline notebook, I would put this in." I few months ago I realized there was no reason why I couldn't also have a timeline notebook. (Don't you love it when the obvious takes so long to enter one's brain?) So, when I was at the homeschool conference in June, among my homeschool purchases for the next year was a timeline notebook for myself.

On Sunday, I spent some time getting it ready.

Can I just say I love it when I can actually reproduce the idea I have in my head? It doesn't happen all that often, but it's nice when it does.

Inside, gives me room to write and illustrate the events and people that I come across in my reading. For instance, earlier this year I read the book, Pompeii by Robert Harris. (It was really good, by the way, even if you do know what happens at the end.)

I'm really looking forward to adding to this as I read. It can be a little frustrating to read something, find it highly interesting, and then have nothing to do with that interesting bit of knowledge. This helps to give me an outlet and a way of recording things. I also hope that my interest in keeping a timeline notebook will transfer itself to my children. It usually doesn't fail that if I just start doing something interesting, most children will want to join in. We'll see if this happens here.

Monday, July 18, 2016


You know that feeling when your toddler decides not to sleep and stays up all night, so you have to stay up, too, so other household members can sleep?

Yeah, we have that going on today. Except our toddler is 11 on paper and probably 14 in reality. The disconnect between the age you expect and the age you get is particularly discordant at 4am.

I am not at my best at 4am and it was not my best parenting moment. Is it dinner time yet?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dear City of Evanston,

I woke up this morning to see someone posting the news that on July 11 the City Council authorized the City Manager to negotiate the potential sale of the parking lot next to the public library. This means that 74 outside parking spaces will be lost in a lot immediately next to the library. Once again, it seems, the city is putting financial gain above the quality of life of its citizens. How do I figure that? Well, the population of Evanston is currently 75,570. The number of parking spaces underneath the public library is 39, with five more handicapped spaces. That's not a whole lot of spaces compared to the possible patrons.

And for some of us, we don't even have access to those 39 spaces. You see, I have a few children. I have enough children that in order to cart them about safely, I must drive a 15-passenger van. Trust me when I say, if I had any other options I would take them as it's not much fun to have your personal vehicle be so large. But, since I happen to like my children and I like to go places, it's a small price to pay. It also means that I cannot park in the underground parking garage at the library. The van just doesn't fit, so we park in the lot next door to enjoy the library paid with our significant tax dollars. Without a place to park, I'm not sure we will be able to come to the library. That would be the library we help pay for, and would probably be forced to travel to Skokie instead.

Why don't we just walk, you ask. I know we like being green here in Evanston, but sometimes life just doesn't work exactly as we would like it to. You see, on top of having a few children, one of our daughters has mobility issues. In fact, if I asked, we would qualify for a handicapped placard for the van. She is mobile enough for the distances we usually walk, so I haven't yet, preferring to leave those spaces to those who need them more. But even if I did have a placard, it wouldn't make any difference at the library, because, as I mentioned above, our van doesn't fit, so we couldn't use the handicapped spaces.

And let's talk about those spaces for a moment. If the lot next door is developed into yet another condo building, I wonder about the library's compliance with the ADA. If someone were needing to use a van for, say, a wheelchair, there is no way that it would fit underneath the library. Instead, like us, that van would have to park in the above ground lot, in the handicapped space there. Without those spaces, so much for accessibility. Or perhaps the City of Evanston doesn't believe people who use wheelchairs should use the library... it makes you wonder.

I'm so glad that the City Council has really thought about all the ramifications of their decision before chasing the all mighty dollar. It just makes me proud and happy to live here, in a city where my family is really supported.

I will amend this to add, that the all time favorite excuse for raising taxes, cutting services, and charging excruciatingly high property taxes is already being trotted out like trained ponies in a circus.

--But the tax revenues will go to fund our schools.
--It's for the children!!
--We can't deny our children a decent education!!

Yeah, it sounds good. Sort of. The schools already spend over $8000 and $10,000 per student in the elementary and high school districts respectively. How on earth is the tax revenue from one condo building going to make that much of a difference? I don't even need to resort to the fact that the library is a key way I educate my own children with those numbers.

No, it hasn't been a good day, why do you ask?
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