Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Maybe these bullet points will become a weekly occurance

I have still to teach piano lessons to K. and Y., as well as go over TM's schoolwork before I run out in the car to collect P. from the stable, so this will have to be short. (Hey, your sigh of relief doesn't have to be quite so loud.) And, since bullet points proved to be so popular the last time (over 1000 hits so far... really?), I will resort to them once again.

  • My nutty children are playing outside. This doesn't sound too unusual except for the fact it is raining and 48 degrees outside. At least they are helpfully refilling our bird feeders in addition to getting wet and muddy.
  • Just when you think your children are not paying too much attention to what you read to them in school, they prove you wrong. G. and L. had created some huge imaginary play this morning. I was informed that they were in George Washington's camp and they were soldiers. I think it was Valley Forge because the third floor was a wee bit chilly.
  • A. is going to be going on a mission trip with her university crew team to Nicaragua in January. If you are interested in reading about it, or sending some money her way, you can take a look at her fundraising page
  • Can I just say again that I am not supermom, whoever that is? For instance, last night we were due to have potpies. When J. arrived home at 7pm, I had the crust made, but the filling (which I had neglected to take out of the freezer in time) was still thawing at an incredibly slow rate. We decided rather than eat at 8:30, which is when the pies were looking to be done, we would order pizza and eat at 7:45 instead. This is late even for our generally late eating family. We'll be having the potpies tonight along with a much earlier bedtime.
  • J. and I both agree that it seems that R. has done a little maturing. Instead of feeling as though she is working at 18 month old level, now we see her more as a 2 to 3 year old. Kind of a 'terrible twos' sort of thing, though we tended to experience it more of a 'terrible threes'. It's progress. At least that's what we keep telling ourselves.
  • Remember the speech therapy evaluation for Y. that was so not fun to be a part of due to Y.'s lack of enthusiasm? Well, I got the written evaluation in the mail the other day. I learned that the child was very cooperative in the session. Really? Were we in the same session? The child I saw was doing everything but holding up a sign to signal how unhappy she was to be there and her level of cooperation reflected that. It could be why the evaluator decided that the child was not physically able to sit up straight. Evidently body language was not part of the course work to train future speech therapists.
  • I've been keeping track of how many books I've read this year, mainly because I'm curious and I like to be able to remind myself of what I've read. I just wrote down the title to book #60 a couple of nights ago. You need to know that I include any books I've read out loud to my children, so that bumps the number up quite a bit. I know I used to be able to read between 8 and 10 books per month when I was younger and had more leisure time, so as far as my personal reading statistics go, this feels a little low. (Can I write this as merely information without it sounding like bragging? I have no idea how this comes across.)
And now, life beckons and I hope it stops raining before I have to go out in the car. I don't really like to get wet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

STEM, schmem

You've all heard the acronym, STEM, by now, right? If by some chance you missed it, it stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math. And whenever I read it or hear it, it always sounds a bit like this to my ear: IF WE DON'T TEACH OUR CHILDREN THESE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT THINGS STARTING WHILE THEY ARE STILL GESTATING BECAUSE WAITING UNTIL THEY ARE THREE IS TOO LATE THEN WE WILL RUIN OUR CHILDREN AND THEY WON'T SUCCEED IN COLLEGE AND LIFE AS WE KNOW IT WILL END!

With all this screaming in my ears, you can understand why I find the acronym and the hype surrounding it to be a wee bit annoying. Because hype is really what it is. Why do we need to push our children to do things as early as possible? What is the ultimate purpose? My sneaking suspicion is that if we really get down to it, the root of it all is that every parent wants to be special, and the best way to be special is to have special children. No, not the special that means behind the curve, but the special which screams says advanced. My mother liked to term them 'gifted parents' and secretly enjoyed pulling me out of the gifted program (at my insistence) because of the reaction she got from other parents when she told them. (I didn't fall far from the tree in that respect.)

Sorry if I just alienated a bunch of you, but I really am going somewhere with this. The end is a worthy goal... to have children, who, when they are grown, have a good working knowledge of the maths and sciences. It's good to have an educated populace. It is good to have citizens who can invent and create new things.

It is the means I completely and totally disagree with. We do not need to hand small children iPads and phones to teach them technology. They will pick that type of technology up all by themselves, thank you very much. And if you think the technology you just handed your three year old will have anything to do with the technology they will have access to as an adult, you are not paying attention. Having math skills are great, but let's wait to introduce higher math until their brains have developed to a point where they can actually use it and not just perform it. Sure there will always be the outlier who can understand and play with numbers and advanced mathematics far earlier than most, but that's an easy and unique case which can be handled in and easy and unique way. The same with science. The best way to introduce science to children younger than adolescense is by allowing them to explore it, and more often than not, that exploring is much more effective if it is self-directed.

This isn't just me being reactionary and holding nutty ideas. This time I have some real articles to share with you. My tune doesn't change. What children need is to explore a wider world at their own pace, using all their senses. They need to listen to stories and to develop a strong relationship with their parents. The need real, solid objects to manipulate and hold and not some image on an ever present screen. They need freedom from tests and rigid book work and overly controlled schedules.

The first article is How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off. I find this one particularly interesting as it discusses the adult life of gifted children and why we don't see that particular population well represented in the group of Nobel Laureates. The take away from it, for me at least, is towards the end where it discusses the wide spectrum of interests that these scientists have. They are dabblers (though I expect they all dabble quite well) in many areas... not just in STEM fields... and these areas influence them in their science work.

If we want adults who are interested in more than just the narrow world of their own particular field, we need to introduce the wider world of arts, music, and literature when they are young. Narrowly focusing and emphasizing one area of learning over another is not great for overall creativity, and without creativity, not only will the arts die out, but new discoveries in the sciences will as well.

It also turns out that creating scientists has more to do with literature and parental relationships than it does anything else. Reading to Children 'More Effective than Technology at Boosting Science Skills' is an article that my science-majoring son sent me. Pretty much books read and discussed with adults is the best way to create a skilled scientist. Books move at a better rate for children to make us of, and the added bonus of discussing the ideas of the book afterward with an adult makes that information useful. I love it when I find my recipe for education (play, read, read, play) supported by outside sources.

Finally, about those real books verses screen books. Take a look at Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain Aren't the Same Thing. We use different parts of our brain to read different things. The part of the brain that reads screens is far better at skimming and jumping than the part of the brain that reads text off a page. It is the part of our brain that we use for deep and sustained concentration. If this part of our brain is not used, like any other neurological ability that is not used, the brain real estate is taken over by some other function and that original function is lost. It is not your imagination if you find reading an actual book, even one that would have been easy for you years ago, feels so much harder and more difficult to concentrate on if you are out of practice. We need these skills for much of our adult lives and by allowing our children to learn solely on computers, we are robbing them of even developing abilities at deep and sustained concentration.

Our children are natural scientists. They explore, discover, categorize, organize, question, and solve all the time. If we were to give our children the time they need to do these things at their own pace and their own time, we wouldn't need to come up with some backwards focused 'program' to fix what wasn't broken.

Monday, October 24, 2016

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Yesterday was gorgeous. Warm (oddly warm for mid-October) and sunny and just beautiful. The kind of day where you have to spend it outside. So many of us decided to take a walk to a nearby park.

Our walk took us right by a favorite spot, the neighborhood Little Free Library. It was a banner day because yesterday it was filled with children's schlock. Princesses... pretty ponies... TV characters. It was so difficult for the younger set to choose.

And when you have new books, you must look at them, whether you are on a walk or not.

Seven blocks later, we made it to the park.

One of the highlights of this park, other than its size, is that it is right on the lake and there are plenty of rocks (otherwise known as blocks of concrete) to climb on.

More book reading.

See what a beautiful day it was? Looking south you can see the Chicago skyline,

and looking north you can see Northwestern.

Kenzie got to come along as well. He was very well behaved. Well, except for the barking at other dogs. That was tiresome. It is so nice to have a dog who can join us on outings. Gretel could never manage it no matter how often we tried. It just made her anxious and would pull and whine and pace and slather the entire time we would be out. It was not relaxing to have her along. It does make us appreciate Kenzie's calmer demeanor.

And then we walked seven blocks home. I'm thrilled to say that Y. was able to do it under her own steam, at the same pace as the rest of us, and never fell once, even though we didn't take her crutches. This is no small accomplishment and really highlights exactly how much strength she has gained in eight months.

There were a couple of scooters brought along and shared, and toward the end of the walk, R. really, really wanted a chance to try. She hadn't shown much interest in the scooters until now, so the fact that she noticed other people were having fun with them and that she might be able to have fun with one as well was kind of a small victory on its own. So for the last, homestretch block, we let R. ride on the scooter. With some prodding she managed to scooter, more or less, the rest of the way home.

Since her life is pretty much all therapy, all the time, I think I'll have her ride the scooter a lot more while the weather is still decent. It forces her left foot to not toe out, and oddly, when her left foot is straight, so is her right. Plus, she pushes herself along with her right leg, which is the one which needs more strengthening. (Because when the neurologist tells me that her right leg will just always be weaker, it makes me want to prove the doctor wrong.) And it forces a movement across the midline and balancing, which are also things that are still very much a struggle for R.

So, we made the most of the beautiful day.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Puzzles and games

I thought I would show you a little bit of the Big Ugly House that I think you've never seen, and it will give me a chance to talk about game and puzzle storage. Is this a never ending battle at your house as much as it is in mine? Homes for the games and keeping the games in their homes and returning the instructions to the proper games. Ugh, the instructions! It's as if my children purposefully go about removing game instructions and putting them as far away from the game as possible.

Many of our nicer, older people games live on the top of the armoire in the front living room.

It stays looking like this for a while, but then the games never quite go back as nicely as they were before and I will have to come along, empty it, and stack them all up nicely again. If the games could live in shorter piles, it would make the whole thing easier, but they can't, so we deal with it.

Small games or games that live in plastic bags because their boxes were lost or games that have silly containers live in the drawer underneath. This quickly becomes a mess because it gets riffled through and then the games are thrown back in. I ignore it for as along as possible and then have to empty it out, put all the pieces back in the right game, and make it look nice. It holds too much to be truly organized.

But we have more games and puzzles than this. I don't know about you, but I don't find piles of boxes in various states of disrepair particularly nice to look at, so as well as storage the trick was to find a place I didn't have to stare at them. Here's my solution.

I don't think I've ever shown you this part of the house. Can you see the door?

Here, I'll crack it open for you.

This little oddity was the servants' entrance. If you look down the half flight of stairs, you can see what is left of the exterior servants' entrance. It is sealed on the outside. When we bought the house, this door led to a full bathroom which was down that flight of steps. It was odd. Very, very odd. I can tell you that no one in our family ever used the bathtub that was in it, and only used the toilet in desperate circumstances. When we redid the kitchen, we moved a small working kitchen to the basement so we could eat. But, how would we get down to it? The only flight of basement steps was going to be part of the remodeling. We decided to demolish the bathroom and then J. and a friend constructed new stairs down to the front of the basement.

Now, it is not only a second entrance to the basement, but serves as useful storage as well.

This is where we keep the younger people's games (and the overflow of older people's), puzzles, and various other things.

There is the white cabinet and a black wire shelf that hold a bunch of boxes as well as insulated coolers.

On the wall opposite hang ice skates and our painting bags.

Then a little further down, on the top of a shelf that holds luggage there are even more games and puzzles. If by some chance we were ever snowed in for weeks at a time, we could entertain ourselves with no problem.

The room that the stairs lead down into also doubled as B.'s room when he's home. He decided living down here in a little cave seemed more appealing than bunking with a very early rising and energetic little brother.

The last category of games are those that are pretty and can double as a decorative object such as this Chinese chess game we brought home from China.

Would you believe that all of these games and puzzles are the ones that make the constant purging cut? I've decided that no family, regardless of how many people they are, need more than this. Pretty much, if the games and puzzles exceed this storage, something has to go. It is a never ending process.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A stern parental lecture disguised as an animal and food post

I am both amused and baffled by something I noticed in my stats for this blog. A few times in the past month, I have written short (maybe that's the key) posts with what I consider to be very little content. In fact at least one of them had such little content I almost didn't publish it. Yet these same little nothing posts have received over 800 hits.

You know what I think it is? I think we in the US are all suffering from too much stress and anxiety as a result of the upcoming election. It's everywhere we turn, and no matter which side we are reading or listening to, the article or post or news item is filled with the dire and horrible and outrageous consequences which will happen if the other side wins. The fear mongering is unbelievably extreme and almost impossible to ignore.

To try to tune out (or engage thoughtfully) with the rhetoric is exhausting. None of us have any reserves for anything else, especially if there are personal concerns as well. If I had the ability to look, I bet the stats for things such as Netflix and YouTube show that light, funny, escapist choices are ranking high as well. I kind of wish the election was tomorrow, then we could get it all over with, after discovering the sky hasn't fallen as we slept.

Notice the calming presence of a picture of a cat. This is Midnight. Remember to take a deep breath.

While I am not crazy about either candidate and will probably not be happy with who wins or the decisions that person makes, I am also pretty sure that life is not going to end. It's just not. But you know what might just do us all in? The crazy fear mongering that is happening as well is the vilification and demonization of the supporters of the 'other side'. It doesn't matter which side, both are doing it. Pretty much the rhetoric contends that if you support 'that' candidate you are both evil and stupid.

Now I'm moving onto calming photos of food. TM made this spice cake. Looks yummy, huh? It was.

The minute we allow this type of thinking to occur, we have lost our collective soul, because it means that half of the population has lost their humanity. This is what we need to be afraid of. We may not agree with someone from the other party, but that does not mean we get to treat them poorly or post hateful things about them (even if they are supposed to be 'funny'). It does not mean that we imply that a vote for the wrong person means that life as we know it is going to end. 

Now we have a calming picture of two animals. This is Midnight and Kenzie... I think it was posed.

So stop. Just stop. Before you post or write or share something, ask yourself if it is helpful or are you doing it to create fear. You know, enough with the whole fear-thing. Stop it or you'll have to spend some time thinking about things in your room. Instead, first remember the other person's humanity. They, too, are a child of God, whether you like it or not and whether you agree with them or not. It's the whole love your enemies-thing. You can love someone and treat them with respect whether or not you agree with them.

Cookies! Everyone likes cookies. Cookies make us happy.

Let's all just go back to kindergarten, shall we? Be kind. Be respectful. And if you cannot do this don't say anything and certainly do not use social media. Then you can follow it up with a retelling of the Henny Penny fairy tale and take a nap. We will all be happier and calmer and just might survive this current electoral season.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

School philosophy.. or it's all in the spin

The Hinman Academy

A Private K-12 Preparatory School
Established 1996

The Hinman Academy seeks to provide a quality education using the best of both traditional and modern educational methods. A low teacher to student ratio is maintained at all times and all faculty members hold a master's degree or higher. All graduates from The Hinman Academy have been accepted to and have attended colleges and universities. 

In the primary grades, the emphasis is age-appropriate hands-on learning. A play based curriculum is the focus as children develop the necessary mental scaffolding for later academics. In this context world history, literature, and the natural world are introduced, with opportunities given to respond to these new ideas in creative ways. Numeracy and literacy are encouraged through both direct instruction and ample opportunities to work with a wide variety of manipulatives. Since physical movement and competency are keys to greater mental function, plenty of opportunities for large muscle play and activity are given throughout the day. Periods of free time are also provided to encourage the imagination and development of ideas.

In the middle grades, more emphasis is placed upon formal academic learning. Literature, grammar, and formal mathematics play a larger role in the student's day. The curriculum for the student is determined individually to meet the student where he is as well as move him into further study. This course work is self-paced and a teacher is always available for help, questions, or discussion. Literature, from both the United States and around the world, will be assigned, keeping in mind each student's particular interests and abilities. Since play is an important part of learning, even for children at these older ages, time will be allotted for the creative expression of what has been learned. This is also the stage at which students will be encouraged to discover their own unique interests, as well as how to research and explore these interests on their own. 

In the upper grades, students play a key role in mapping out their academic pursuits and well as how to implement them. Each high school program will be unique and a direct reflection of the student who helped to create it. We encourage our students to be imaginative in what they want to study and not feel constrained by a more typical and boxed-in curriculum. Learning takes place at the student's chosen speed and assessments of learning will be through discussion with the teacher as well as through any formal assignments decided upon. In-depth learning is encouraged, as is a greater engagement with the broader world.

The Hinman Academy believes that all ages should interact and not be segregated into age-based classrooms. This allows students to gain practice in socializing with others who are at a different developmental stage than themselves, as well as providing opportunities to both teach and learn from peers.

The Hinman Acedemy believes that children of all abilities are valuable members of our community and worthy of inclusion and instruction. Students with varying intellectual and emotional abilities are included in all classes. Not only do we aim to educate any child attending our school, but we also hope to instill the character traits of compassion and understanding in all of our students. Since we provide highly individualized instruction, teaching students with special needs is not different from teaching typically functioning students.

The Hinman Academy does not believe in traditional formal grading practices. With a low student-to-teacher ratio, discussion and observation provide the teachers with enough information as to how the student is learning. The focus at The Hinman Academy is on mastery learning, which a grading system would undermine.

The Hinman Academy does not believe in homework. Academics are just a part of a student's life and must not intrude into other equally important areas. Family time, meals, rest, and sleep are as important to the learning process as formal academic work.

Application and acceptance policy, tuition, and fees are available upon request.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I'm not above a bit of bribery

For a month or so now, both G. and L. have had bizarre teeth-things going on. On both girls, the front four adult teeth grew in, but failed to completely dissolve the roots of the baby teeth. Instead, the adult teeth merely pushed the baby teeth forward so that they just stuck forward, especially the top ones. It looked very odd and as if the girls were perpetually wearing fake Halloween teeth. Last week A. was by and bribed both girls with candy if she could pull out one of the teeth. They adore A. and she can get away with things that no one else can... such as pulling out teeth. This left G. with three to go and L. with one.

Now I need to tell you a seemingly unrelated story.

Last week G. and L. accompanied me to the grocery store to pick-up some prescriptions. As you probably know the Cubs are doing quite well these days, so there is a plethora of Cubs related items for sale. When the girls and I walked into the grocery store a full end cap of Cubs items was the first thing to greet us. L. sees it, stops dead in her tracks and just stares with her mouth hanging open. Clearly, the fact that you could buy so many different things related to Cubs baseball was news to her. She eventually raises her arm, points at the display all the while saying, "I need that," over and over. We spent quite a bit of time looking at each item. I pointed out she could save her money to buy one of these miraculous things. Finally she settled down to a package of baseball cards. (This was far better than the framed picture of Wrigley Field which cost three times the amount of the cards.) You should also be impressed that I didn't cave in right there and buy them for her.

For the past week, she has been counting her money and working to earn money to buy the coveted baseball cards. While she was doing this, I was becoming increasingly bothered by the silly tooth poking out of each girl's mouth. I told L. that if she got that tooth out, I would pitch-in the rest of the money she needed for the cards. Yesterday was spent with L. having a piece of dental floss which was tied around the tooth, hanging out of her mouth. She spent the day pulling on the floss and wiggling the tooth. It was a long day. This morning, hallelujah, the tooth came out. The household breathed a huge sigh of relief.

This meant that L. and I took a little walk this afternoon.

It was far cheaper than a trip to the oral surgeon. Now, we just need to get three teeth out of G.'s mouth. She is really not too wild about the idea of the teeth getting loose enough to pull out and her reply when I asked what she would like as a reward for getting them out was, "Nothing."
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