Sunday, October 31, 2010

10 yr old bonfire party

Here's my brand-new 10 year old, happy as a lark fireside at his birthday party on Saturday night. We had about 40 friends over to help us celebrate, and it seemed like everyone had as much fun as J did. A special nod to Mimi for taking the photos (and Uncle Bob, who took at least the cake photo).

The rather enormous cake. A lot of cake went home with a lot of people, and I hope the folks in The Map Man's office likes cake, because they are getting a rather large chunk of this tomorrow....

"Happy Birthday to you,..."

Toasting marshmallows for S'mores. Mmmmm....

It was quite the chilly night, but the fire kept everyone warm and toasty like..., well, like a marshmallow!

Openings gifts. He took in quite a haul, including books, games, gift certificates, an inventor's kit, and a DVD of the Nutcracker.

Thank to everyone who came out to make J's big day extra special!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

kids in the kitchen -- worms and eyeballs (WHAT!?)

Just so none of you think I've completely lost it, the worms are really pasta and the eyeballs are really Chinese meatballs.

This meal was a PAIN IN THE BUTT to make. It required skills a bit beyond my fledgling chefs' ability, so I was involved a lot more with the hands-on stuff than I find ideal (which means we're lacking in photos of some of the key steps), and Zoo Boy had some massive sensory issues with the ingredients, which left me short a set of hands frequently. BUT. It was so ridiculously outrageously delicious, and actually GOOD for us, that I'm bound to make it again. Without the kids involved. Or the disgusting name.

Anyway, here's how we did it -- the kids mixed together ground chicken, onion (supposed to be garlic but somehow that got left off the shopping list), scallions, salt, pepper, and hoisin sauce (which I had never even heard of, and which spellcheck apparently does not recognize). Note: there's supposed to be diced red pepper in there too, but we all hate red pepper so we left it out. Then they formed little meatballs and placed them on a cookie sheet. Zoo Boy's not in the photo because he was in the bathroom gagging after having touched the raw ground chicken. Yup, my life, it's a carnival ride! But J stuck in there even though he probably thought it was equally disgusting. He's not so much about the drama anymore.

Then the meatballs went into the oven at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes.

One of those great learning opportunities I mentioned the other day (learning from mistakes) came as Zoo Boy was reading the recipe steps. He read, "Form the mixture into meatballs and place on a cookie sheet," which we did. I said "Ok, ready for next step!" and he read, " with a light coating of vegetable oil." Huh? I looked over his shoulder and saw that the actual step was "Form the mixture into meatballs and place on a cookie sheet, with a light coating of vegetable oil." Uh oh. I showed him the comma and explained that he needs to read the ENTIRE SENTENCE. J and I did our best to add a bit of oil under each meatball, but we had some stickage after baking that I assume would not have happened if we'd prepared the cookie sheet properly. (That's one of the things I don't like about the cookbook we're using. by the way -- it's written in a "friendly format" so that it's fun for the kids, but honestly, numbered steps are a blessing when cooking with children!)

While the meatballs cooked, we got the pasta cooking, and we prepared and stir-fried the vegetables. We used shredded carrots, bean sprouts, and snow pea pods. We were supposed to have used red peppers also, but, as I stated above, we hate them, so that didn't happen. I've actually never stir-fried before, I've always preferred my veggies raw, but I loved the result, so my guess is this might be the start of a big stir-fry addiction for me.

When the pasta was done, we tossed the veggies with the pasta and some tamari sauce. Then we put the whole thing on a serving dish and topped with the meatballs (which did not look nearly enough like eyeballs to make Zoo Boy happy).

And here it is! OH MY GOSH, this was SOOOOO delicious!!! I could eat Chinese food every day anyway, but this was like the best Chinese food EVER.

Of course, the kids hated it. Zoo Boy even made a big dramatic production out of gagging and threatening to vomit, and wound up trying his meatball while leaning over the bathtub in case it caused some horrid unwanted result. Once he tasted it, he realized it wasn't as horrible as he was making it out to be. Seriously, I think most of his problem is that he THINKS about it too much. I just know he was remembering the feel of the raw meat rather than concentrating on the fact that the darned thing actually smelled good.

But we survived another week of cooking and trying new foods! And, thanks to the boys' pickiness, we've got leftovers to eat today! Yum!!

four times

My initial 4 times table work above, J's below, and Zoo Boy's at the bottom. Of particular note, Zoo Boy put a lot of thought into what message Big Sister is trying to convey to the world about her strength -- made for a lively discussion as we did our drawings!

One more week of this (we'll work with 5 and 6 next week) -- seems like this is being stretched out a little longer than necessary, but not only is that my M.O. in general, but it leaves us plenty of time for seasonal fun -- we're on the verge of winter here, we need to take advantage of as much outdoor time as we can get!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

taking responsibility

I'm going to type out a written confession, while I let you look at some pics of the kids having some outdoor fun yesterday, amidst unusually warm, blustery weather.

My confession is this -- I dropped the ball. I fell into the "let someone else educate my kids" trap that I am usually so ready to scorn. I sat back and stopped taking responsibility for implementing what my kids need in order to optimize their development.

I realize that might be hard for some of you to buy. I'm certainly doing plenty of running around and making opportunities available to my kids. In some cases I'm dead-on accurate: the Enki 2nd grade curriculum has been a perfect fit (and I have no doubt 3rd will be the same as we ease into that over the course of the next few months); our Monday Homeschool classes are fabulous; we certainly get plenty of exposure to science and nature and exercise and socialization; our Kids in the Kitchen projects has been a smash hit.

However, in terms of sensory development, I've pretty much left it in the hands of our OTs. Don't get me wrong, our OTs are great. They are also over an hour away, which means we sacrifice an entire afternoon each week to get to them. That's about 5 hours out of our life -- and when doing that math, that's an extra hour each school day that COULD be spent working on sensory stuff at home, but is NOT spent that way. Yeah, yeah, we do some sensory activities, but not to the extent I have done in the past. And you know what? Once a week at the OT is just plain not enough. J is pretty much holding his own -- he's had years and years of thoughtful guidance from me in this area, and is pretty well along the developmental path. Not to mention that fact that ballet (and to a lesser extent his other dance genres) keeps his sensory systems on their toes (literally!). Zoo Boy, however, has been slipping. Not only are we not seeing improvements, he's actually backslid in a lot of areas he was doing OK in previously.

I've also been treading water with the speech issue. For nearly a year, the OTs keep promising us a speech therapist. They keep not working out for one reason or another -- this one is too busy, that one quit, this one is pregnant, that one isn't the right personality. Meanwhile, I've seen a bunch of sliding in Zoo Boy's ability to speak and be understood. And instead of jumping in on my own and DEALING with it, it's been easier to just play wait-and-see with the therapists.

And then there's the whole Spanish thing.

It is VERY important to me that my kids learn to speak a foreign language, and the language that makes the most sense where we live is Spanish. So I've been knocking myself out to find a Spanish class for them, as I am not capable of teaching it (I know less Spanish than they do!). The class they most recently completed was not even close to ideal -- the teaching method was too direct, too lacking in a holistic approach. Zoo Boy was stressed out about how long the class was (sitting at a table for an hour) and how much homework there was. So I went out and scoured the landscape for another Spanish teacher, and found someone who I thought was going to be fabulous. I met with her, she seemed great, she seemed enthusiastic, she seemed committed, she seemed very Holistic and downright groovy. She was even willing to tie in with our Monday Homeschool Classes. I thought she was a sure thing. Then yesterday, out of nowhere and without explanation, she dropped the news on me that she would NOT be offering classes.

That was the wake-up call that I needed to re-examine what exactly it was that I was doing about Spanish. And that's when I realized I was doing NOTHING. Rather than taking what the kids were being presented with at the class they were taking, and turning it into a format that was usable at home, it was just easier for me to whine that the approach wasn't what I'd been looking for. I spent absolutely no effort, other than driving them to and from class, to make that class work for my kids. Here I had a Spanish teacher that is actually willing to work with my kids for the next several years, and I was treating the opportunity like a shopping trip -- try it on, oh this size isn't a perfect fit, let's discard it and find another rather than adjusting it so that it fits right. Never mind that the next one might be cheaply made and fall right off your body after the first couple of uses!

So, here's where I drop my lazy habits and start taking responsibility for my kids again! I told the OTs that we're cutting back to no more than twice a month, hopefully once a month WITH speech (the busy SLP thought that she should be able to fit us in once a month), and I'll do the work with the kids at home, they can provide ongoing professional counseling to keep me on track. I called up the Spanish teacher, whose session we just finished last week, and registered for the next session that starts later this week. I arranged to be IN the classroom with my kids, so that I can learn alongside them, and then I will commit to bringing that work alive in our home and create the program I've been chasing around trying to find.

I'm picking up that dropped ball, and I'm running with it!

three times

My work with the 3xs table is above, J's is below, Zoo Boy's at the bottom. Now that Zoo Boy has realized that these guys look like the number they use for their steps, he's totally into doing the lead-drawings. Go figure. In fact, if I hadn't declared our work time over, he would have kept on going with the counting by 3 until he went right off his page.... I was only going to go to 24, but both boys insisted we had to go at least until 30.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

outdoor classroom

I tagged along on the boys' Planet Protection Project class yesterday afternoon, and couldn't resist snapping some photos to share. So here's where my kids were learning while the rest of the schooling world was sitting at desks:

What a great classroom, huh? Homeschooling is the BEST!!

more cultural crafts

Thought I'd share a couple more of the crafts I'm doing with my Harriet Tubman class. One of the things we did was to make quilt squares. Since not all of the kids in that class are masters at sewing, I decided to focus on the content of the squares rather than on piecing them together, so we used fabric glue rather than needle and thread. It was a good choice -- J and a few of the older kids could have handled this as a sewing project, but I think the class in general got more out of it by concentrating on designing their quilt blocks. J chose to depict Harriet herself in his block, pictured here.

Zoo Boy chose to depict a scene from a dream that he had. We had looked at examples of African American quilts that depicted scenes from the bible, from traditional stories, and scenes from their own experience, hopes, or desires.

The block I made is a scene from my own life, a duck on a farmyard pond.

Most of the kids in the class depicted some sort of scene. Some, however, chose to do a pattern, which would have been used in a quilt that was thrown together quickly to provide warmth rather than one that was worked on over the course of time to tell a story. Both methods of quilting were used by the slaves, and it was fun to see all of the original ideas laid out in cloth!

We pulled all of our quilt squares together into a class quilt (still waiting for two more students' squares to complete this one). We'll use the quilt during our presentation on Share Day -- we're putting together a little informational/musical show to share the highlights from our Harriet Tubman story with the Monday Homeschool Classes community, and will be acting out a few scenes. This quilt will be used during scenes in the slave quarter where Harriet lived.

We also learned to tie and wear bandannas, and thought of all the reason why slaves wore them. Zoo Boy liked his so much that he wore his for the rest of the day, here seen building in Keva class with his "head rag" on.

I will again mention how much value sharing our cultural crafts with a group has been for our family. So much so that from now on I will be planning classes around our home study schedule (or planning our home study schedule around classes I can bring to the community). Sharing both the crafts and the cooking (we do a lot of that during class too!) portion of our cultural studies in a community setting brings the culture so much more alive for us, it's definitely one of the best ideas I've had to date!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

flashlight maze

Zoo Boy saw a sign for a haunted woods walk and thought it sounded fun. I was more hesitant -- my guys are spooked pretty easily, and my gut said that the walk was going to be too intense. So I suggested visiting a flashlight corn maze instead, which they both thought was a GREAT idea!

We got to the farm in the late afternoon, still enough time to have a hayride out past the pumpkin fields and traverse the smaller of their two corn mazes in the daylight. (If you see me regularly, be sure to ask me about the little lost boy that we helped -- an UNBELIEVABLE experience -- I really wonder about some parents....)

We took a photo of the larger maze entrance before it got too dark to see it. Then the boys played on the play equipment and visited with the farm animals, biding their time until it got dark enough to make doing the maze just a little bit scary.

Finally, the sun went down...

...and the full (well, just past) moon came up, and into the maze we went!

J was a little freaked out at first, and I was patting myself on the back that I had chosen such a mild introduction to nighttime Halloween high-jinx. Finally I convinced him that there was nothing actually dangerous out there, otherwise the owners wouldn't let us come into their corn field. Then he settled down and had a great time, and even joined in with the rest of us in trying to sneak away then sneak up and startle each other.

We found all our checkpoints and punched all of our cards. J's usual keen sense of direction and map following was a little messed up due to his low-level anxiety about being lost in a maze at night, but The Map Man kept us on the right track (wouldn't be much of a nick-name for him if he hadn't!), and we found our way home again, no problem.

Fun night! J declared it awesome! Zoo Boy said it was fun, but maybe something a little scarier for next year. I dunno, I thought this was just about right for our family.

Friday, October 22, 2010

two times

Our work with the beginnings of the "2" times table. Mine first, J's 2nd, Zoo Boy's 3rd, this is Grandmother Strange, limping along on her cane and counting by twos. Zoo Boy had the huge "aha!" moment today with this as we were doing our drawings. He sort of casually observed, "She kind of looks like the number two." Suddenly he stopped drawing and looked at me and said, "Is that because she walks in twos?" I smiled back at him and he got all excited, pointing to the side of our paper where the numbers were going to go, and shouted, "I know what goes here! 2, 4, 6, 8, like that, right?!" I LOVE THIS METHOD OF LEARNING!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

what's wrong with mistakes?

Why is it that people think there's something wrong with children making mistakes?

I've been meaning to do a blog post on this topic, and I was reminded of people's apparent need to prevent kids from making mistakes yesterday while grocery shopping. The boys were doing their weekly shopping for their Wednesday evening meal. We were at the store at a slow time, there was nobody in line behind us, so there was no rush to get us out of there. When the cashier told the boys the total ($16 and change), Zoo Boy looked at his fistful of bills and paused. He was trying to figure out what to give her, and out loud he wondered what bills he should use. The overly helpful (or overly impatient?) cashier jumped in and said "Just give me the twenty." And quick as that she killed a perfectly good learning opportunity right in it's tracks.

While she was making change for him, I reminded him "Don't forget about my card" to get him thinking about picking up my store card, which the cashier already placed on the shelf in front of him, and handing it back to me. Before he could even look to find the card, the cashier grabbed it and shoved it in his face. Kaboom, another learning opportunity shot, and worse yet, an opportunity to practice taking responsibility for borrowed items.

It didn't stop there. I had pushed my cart out of the way (I had done a little shopping as well) so that it would be clear to the bagger than the boys' bags didn't belong with mine. When she turned around to put their first bag in my cart anyway, I pushed it further away and said "no, those are their bags," indicating the boys. She scowled at me, pursued the cart and put the bag in there anyway. I retrieved the bag, and as I was turning to hand it to J, she ducked around my back to put their other bag in the cart too, giving me a smug look. I just shook my head, removed the bag, and handed it to Zoo Boy.

Nope, not done yet! As I headed to the parking lot, I noticed that J was only holding one handle on his bag and that his groceries were listing badly to the side. I very purposely said nothing, because what better way is there to learn to hold your bag properly than having all the contents spill out? Half way to our car, a passing lot attendant pointed the bag out, and went as far as helping J adjust his grip on the bag while J was still looking at the bag and trying to figure out what to do about it. So what did J learn from this? Maybe nothing. Maybe that adults are helpful. But maybe that adults will come to his rescue so he doesn't need to take responsibility for his own actions. He certainly didn't learn that if he holds his bag wrong he's going to lose all his groceries.

I know, I know, the people were just trying to be helpful (well, not so sure about that bagger, I think she was just trying to be a righteous pain in the patootie), and I'm willing to attribute a lot of the worlds' ills to people not being helpful enough, so probably I shouldn't complain about an overly helpful attitude. But it got me thinking -- whatever happened to letting children learn from their mistakes? What ever happened to teaching kids to take responsibilities for their actions? Why is it that adults are so quick to step in and "fix" things for kids, rather than letting them learn from direct consequences?

When was the last time you stepped in to help a child when they would have benefited more from figuring it out on their own?

I think this is something that we, as parents, and especially as home educators, really need to be conscious of. By stepping in to assist our kids, we are taking valuable learning opportunities away from them. Clearly there's a line to walk, you wouldn't want your child floundering to the point of utter failure and discouragement. But what's wrong with a little healthy frustration and learning to work through a problem? What's wrong with building problem-solving skills and accepting that not everything goes the way you planned?

Just a little something to ponder as you sit there with your coffee.

kids in the kitchen -- ham-n-egg Hawaiian pizza

The kids chose Ham-n-egg Hawaiian Pizza as their project for this week's meal. I raised my eyebrows at the name, but actually, this was DELICIOUS and I'm apt to make it again (or have them make it for me!). I also liked that it involved so many aspects of cooking.

So after making out their ingredient list, shopping for the ingredients, and convincing me that I should pay for the butter instead of them because they are only using a tablespoon of it and I'll use the rest (good point...even tho they really only wanted to have enough money in their budget to buy a sweet dessert), it was time to cook! First, breaking eggs and scrambling them up with a little salt and pepper.

While Zoo Boy went to change his clothes (because he broke his first egg all over himself rather than into the mixing bowl), J cooked the eggs (like regular scrambled eggs, but stopping while the eggs were still slightly wet).

Then he spread the eggs on top of a thin-crust Boboli pizza crust, while Zoo Boy opened the package of cheese.

They sprinkled shredded cheddar cheese generously over the eggs.

Then they used the kitchen shears to cut up slices of breakfast ham, and placed those on the pizza.

Then they added tidbits of pineapple. The pineapple was packages in it's own juice, so I sent them to find a slotted spoon -- apparently they'd never seen a slotted spoon before, so it was an amusing search, as I wouldn't give them any hints until they made a guess. First Zoo Boy pulled out a measuring spoon, and I said "Does that have slots in it?" Then J pulled out a spatula, which DID have slots in it, and I said "Is that a spoon?". They finally found the appropriate item and were able to finish topping their pizza.

Then it was into the oven for 12 minutes. Mmmmmmm....I can't even tell you how tasty this was.

No, the boys didn't eat it, but they did try all the components. J said he liked pretty much every part of it, but wasn't interested in eating it all combined together. Zoo Boy discovered that he really, REALLY hates pineapple. (Yet he swallowed it like a trooper.)

The Map Man and I willingly scoffed up whatever they didn't want to eat.