Friday, April 29, 2011

Story for Max

When I was pregnant with Emmett, I made up a story that I told to Max every night at bedtime. He loved this story and would often ask me to tell it again and again. I really think this simple little story had a big part in how amazingly well Max transitioned into becoming a big brother. I was telling a family friend about this story recently, and she asked me if I had ever written it down. No, I hadn't, but -duh- what a great idea! One day I'd like to create an actual little storybook to go with it. So, here it is, for posterity:

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Max. He was such a sweet and wonderful little boy, and his parents enjoyed having him around so much, that they decided to have another little boy to come live with them and be part of their family. Finally, after lots of waiting, it was time for the baby to come home. He was SO tiny! He needed lots and lots of attention from Mommy and Daddy. He cried a lot, and had to be fed a lot, and have his diaper changed a lot. And Max had to be very quiet whenever he was sleeping. It took a long time, but eventually the baby grew into a little boy. Max helped to teach him lots of things, like how to walk, how to talk, how to eat big boy food... stuff like that. And those two boys played together every day and were best friends, forever and ever.

The end. :)

Big Picture

Here is a thought-provoking video looking at the big picture of the educational system. It was posted in one of the homeschool groups I follow - just had to share. Very well done... WOW.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How I motivate my 5-year-old

This is Max's chore chart. I found it at an office supply store a year or so ago. For every task he completes without me having to ask, he gets a star.

If you can't understand my illustrations, the items on the list are:
  • Clean your plate
  • Feed Noodle (the dog)
  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Listen to Mom & Dad
  • Pick up toys
  • Read 3 books
  • Poop on potty (without pooping in pants first)
The first four are pretty self explanatory. "Listen to Mom & Dad is kind of an arbitrary one for me - I award it for general good behavior and cooperation, and the absence of whining and arguing. I sometimes award him the "Pick up toys" star for any act of spontaneous cleaning, such as sweeping or dusting. "Poop on potty" was the magical solution to the problem of his resisting going #2 until he could no longer contain it, and then having an accident. Nothing we did or said or offered him would get him to do it. Finally I added it to the chart and voila! Problem solved. What's great about this chart is that it motivates him to think about what he needs to do, and get it done, without me having to badger him. Also it's great because the categories are dry-erase, so I can change them to tasks of increasing complexity as needed.

Now Max has a passion for video games - especially ones in the Mario Bros. family. He is not allowed to play any games until he has earned at least five stars each day, and then he can play for an hour. (Ok, I'm not gonna lie, I do sometimes let him play a little bit longer when I get busy doing household chores or need a few moments of "me" time - sue me!) Recently he had been wanting a particular new game for the Wii, and I decided that he should start earning them himself, so I started awarding him 10 cents for each star he earns. As soon as I started doing that, he was on fire to earn those stars every day! Last week he met his first goal of saving up $20 for the new game he wanted - it had taken him about a month. I exchanged all of his coins for a twenty dollar bill, and we were off to the store. Here he is proudly displaying the first $20 he ever earned:

He tightly clutched his money all the way there, and once we located the game, he took it to the counter and handed the man his money. It was a very exciting and memorable experience for him - he was quite proud of himself!

I have heard arguments against giving kids allowance or other monetary incentives, but I think this is a great learning opportunity. I have a part time job. I don't go there for fun, although I do believe it's important to like one's job, but I go for the paycheck. I want my kids to have a strong work ethic and understand that if you want something, you work for it, and you earn it. I think this is a quality severely lacking in our society today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Socialization Documentation

A friend brought her granddaughter over today for a playdate. I offer the following quote from said friend's Facebook status afterward as proof that my child is becoming socialized just fine:

"A big thank you to Max for the beautiful flowers he picked for us. Mallory's flower is going in her memory book because this is the first flower from a boy. It was so sweet."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting Out There, and Religion

On Monday night, I went to a used curriculum sale. Not only did I find some great stuff, but I got to scope out a local homeschool co-op for the first time. Well, not counting the "recess" day we went to the previous week at a huge indoor park (Amazone). We had a great time there and I did meet a few nice people, but I wasn't able to have a conversation with anyone for longer than about 60 seconds because I kept having to run off and chase Bug. At the sale, though, I was kid-free and able to meet and talk to several homeschooling moms and pick their brains. This is an area where I know I will constantly have to push myself out of my comfort zone, as I am not exactly a social butterfly. As an introvert, I am generally quite content in my own company and am not terribly outgoing. Although I am friendly, I am fairly shy and socially awkward - I guess that great public school socialization I received didn't quite "take". (Haha) But I feel like I need to get out there and get involved, for the kids' sake, and to have something to offer for critics' questions about socialization. I would be really happy to meet a few families of similar mindset, values, and interests to ours. The biggest hurdle for me is that most of the people I have come across so far are very religious, and we are not. Specifically, there seem to be many homeschoolers out there who are shunning school so they can teach their kids things like Intelligent Design and that the Earth is just 6,000 years old. Which I quite deeply disagree with. This co-op is actually at a large "megachurch" which already makes me a smidge uncomfortable. Not only am I struggling to keep others' differing beliefs from being a deal-breaker for me, in terms of forming potential friendships, but also to keep my views to myself and prevent my beliefs from being a deal-breaker for them as well. I think I can do this, but can they?

I grew up in a Christian family, went to church and all that... but as I got older I questioned the things I was taught more and more. Over time, as I have read and thought a lot about it, I have come to a point where I consider myself to be an Atheist. I am simply not sold on the idea of the existence of an all-powerful supernatural being. I think the human need to believe in such is primitive and unneccessary, and in my opinion, organized religion often functions as an instrument of control, using guilt, shame, and fear as their main tools. And I reject that. If there is any such thing as divinity, I think it exists within each individual, although it seems like most people are unable to recognize this in themselves. There seems to be a general perception of Atheists as angry, hateful, and without morals, which really bothers me. I am probably one of the happiest and most well-adjusted people you will ever meet. (I'm not saying I'm perfect or that I never have a cranky moment - I do have plenty of them! - but overall I'd say I'm on a pretty even keel.) On the rare occasion I have "come out" to someone as an Atheist, the reaction is always surprise. To quote my boss, "You?!? Really?!? But you're so... nice!" I have a strong sense of right and wrong, and I believe in being kind and treating others as I would like to be treated. I think the universe is a beautiful, mind-blowingly amazing place, and I am filled with a sense of awe when I contemplate it. And I just don't find that I need to have a God to feel that way.

Back to the homeschool co-op. It seems like a group of very nice people - I enjoyed the conversations I had and I felt welcome. I think it will be a great resource for us. Although I will continue to keep looking for more secular homeschool groups and events, I am going to try to keep an open mind and see what happens with this co-op too. After all, we do share this great common goal of nurturing and teaching our children, and raising them to be good, happy people.

Oh, and here are the goodies I came home with from the sale:

Many of the books were 50 cents or a dollar; the most expensive book I bought was $5. Not pictured is a cool number flipchart I got for 75 cents and a rotating multiplication/division tube/chart thing that was free. I got some books for the kids, some for me, and some "sample pieces" of curriculums I had been wanting to check out. Score!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shopping spree!

Ok, I've been meaning to write about this for days. I was signed up to go to the annual homeschooling convention in Cincinnati at the beginning of April, but unfortunately my trip was cancelled due to my grandmother's passing. So instead, I went on a bit of an online shopping spree with the bit of money I had saved up to spend on, and during, the trip. My favorite homeschool supply site so far is called They have such a great selection of interesting things, and to my surprise, their prices were better than Amazon's on every single thing I compared. Even for those who are not homeschooling - check out this site for some great, unusual, fun stuff! I have decided not to purchase any official pre-packaged curriculum (well, ok, just one - more on that below), rather, just an assortment of books, toys, and games that I think Max will enjoy and be interested in. I plan to use "real" books instead of textbooks as much as possible. So here's my loot. Many, but not all of these items came from Timberdoodle.

And, to highlight a few favorites so far:

This is a toy that encourages kids to practice writing movements. It has tiny magnetic balls inside it (don't worry, they can't come out) and when you run the magnetic stylus over the letters, the balls audibly snap into place. To "erase" all you do is run your finger back over the letters to pop the balls back down. As Max is a kinesthetic (aka hands-on) learner, the tactile sensations are perfect for him. He loves it already. Actually, so do I - we have had a few arguments over whose turn it is to play with it!

These are called Inchimals. They are wooden blocks ranging from 1 inch to 12 inches, with animals painted on two sides, and inch marks on the other two sides. They are great for teaching all kinds of mathematical concepts, like measuring, comparing, ordering, adding, subtracting, etc. They also come with a spiral-bound dry erase notebook with problems of gradually increasing difficulty. Again, a great hands-on tool for my hands-on learner.
*The one curriculum I do plan to buy is called Math-U-See, which has manipulatives similar to this concept, but goes to much more advanced levels. (More on that at a future date.)

This is a simple little thing, but I think it will be a really useful tool. I plan to do a lot of reading aloud to Max, and while I am doing that, he will likely need to have something to keep his hands busy. Purpllinker is similar to a carpenter's ruler, and can be bent and folded into many different shapes, such as letters, numbers, shapes, or possibly illustrating elements of what whatever story I happen to be reading. Another great tactile tool.

Finally, I had to mention this game. Equilibrio is one of those "simple to learn, difficult to master" kind of games. There is a spiral bound book with pictures of structures to be copied with the solid plastic blocks; the structures gradually increase in complexity. Max enthusiastically played with it from the minute we took it out of the box from the UPS man, for a good 45 minutes or so. Here he is proudly displaying a tower he built. Although it is really fun, it actually teaches construction, geometry, logical analysis, perspectives, design, and spatial logic.

I'll write more about some of the other items in the top picture later. Also, in my next post, I will be writing about the curriculum sale I went to a couple nights ago at a local homeschooling co-op - the first function of theirs I attended.

Monday, April 18, 2011

From the "Experts"...

I have to vent about this before my head explodes. I just watched the following clip from PBS's "Need to Know" series, entitled "Big Thinkers on How to Fix American Education". You can watch it here:

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Or, if you like, I'll give you a summary of what I heard. Basically, each "expert" thought that the problems with the education system can be resolved by focusing in their own particular fields. The head of the American Museum of Natural History thinks we need to focus on science. The President of the New Teacher Project and the head of the National Education Association (Teacher's Union) both think we need to focus on teachers, the former on teacher evaluations and the latter on recruiting, training, and hiring practices. The head of the Asia Society thinks we need to "partner with Asia" and focus on "cultural literacy". Do you see a pattern here? None of them had any specific, concrete suggestions, just vague generalities. The most baffling comments were from a professor at Stanford University. She says that states that have been successful have "forged a consensus... set a path... and kept it going." What does that even mean?!?

While I did agree with a few bits and pieces of what these people said, I really didn't see any evidence of "Big Thinking" going on here. Everyone considered the problem in terms of their own focus areas and didn't go any further beyond. I didn't hear any talk of HOW TO ACTUALLY HELP CHILDREN LEARN. The only person who almost touched on this was the representative from Kids Count, an organization for disadvantaged kids. She thinks we need to focus on birth through age 5, and prepare kids better before they start school. While I agree with that statement, I strongly disagree with her assertion that educating kids is a "pocketbook driven" thing, and that people with more money prepare their kids better. I assert that people who care about learning prepare their kids better, regardless of income levels. My pocketbook is pretty darn tight, and I am doing a fine job of teaching my kids, thank you very much. SO many parents nowadays just wash their hands of any responsibility for facilitating learning in their kids and just expect the school system to do everything for them. THAT is the problem, and dumping more money into the school system won't do a darn thing to change it.

In my opinion, the flaws within the system lie in the rigid institutionality of it. There is no flexibility to adapt to different learning styles, skill levels, or interests. Teachers have zero flexibility on what they teach or how they present it. You will learn what everyone else your age is learning, in the same order, by the same method, at the same time. Period. I think that school, for many kids, is simply tolerable, tedious, or outright tortuous. I would love to see some real experts address that.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Just had a "WOW" moment...

Max was looking at the timer on the stove, waiting for lunch to be ready. It's a digital timer, but it only changes by the minute - it doesn't count down the seconds. He was quietly counting backwards to himself, and when I realized what he was doing...

Me: Are you counting backwards?!
Max: Yeah.
Me: I didn't know you knew how to do that!
Max: *grins* 100, 99, 98, 97, 96 ...

...and proceeded to count all the way down to zero with an ornery grin on his face, as I stared at him, open-mouthed.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A life ended today...

My Grandmother passed away today. She was 92 years old, so it's not like it was unexpected. To be honest - either I'm really insensitive or it just hasn't really sunk in yet - but I'm just not feeling that sad. I do feel relieved for her to be at peace and no longer suffering now. I have spent the last 24 hours poring over old photos and family history-type stuff, and reflecting on her life - a long, full one. My Grandfather, her husband, used to write poems constantly. Here's one of my favorites, that he wrote about her:
How clearly I remember
When I first saw your face.
It was early in September,
I still recall the place.

It was at your Daddy's drug store
In that small Ohio town.
I was deep in love before
I even put my old bike down.

I knew, when first I saw you,
You simply had to be
The only girl in all the world
To spend her life with me.

I've failed you many times, babe;
But you never did complain.
If you had another go at it,
Would you marry me again?

We've had happy times and sad times,
But, this I know is true:
I'll always and forever
Keep right on loving you.

How can you be sad for a person who lived a life in which she was so loved? Although I am admittedly quite skeptical about the possibility of an afterlife, if it's possible, I hope they really are together now. I know she's missed him a lot for a long time.


*Bonus extra poem: while I have Grandpa's poems in front of me, let me share one more of my favorites (written about yours truly):
A ray of love from heaven
Beamed down upon our hearts,
And gave to us a gift of love
That only God imparts.

A little bit of starlight
Conveyed in human form,
A lovely little baby girl,
All thanks to Him, was born.

Of all the things He's done for us,
Believe me, there are many,
The sweetest thing of all must be
His gift to us of Jenny.