Sunday, January 18, 2004


More brushes with the age- and ability-leveled world. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting stranger, more radical, less mainstream, while the rest of the world is busy becoming increasingly conformist. Some of the kids' unschooled friends, who seemed incredibly sheltered and naive two or three years ago are now jubilantly bouncing into tween-dom, complete with a burgeoning awareness of achievement milestones like grade levels and popular culture.

Tonight my kids have a friend staying overnight. She spent a lot of time explaining how great her competitive gymnastics program is. When Noah said "maybe when the weather is better we could do gymnastics outside together like we did last summer." And the friend replied (I kid you not, this is a direct quote) "Hmmm, well.... I'd be open to that I guess. I wonder how I could coach you on grass. Well, I guess I could try." Honestly! Eight months ago she and Noah and Erin were in the same program and all doing very well and loving practising handstands on the lawn together.

The questions of so many of the kids' friends have to do with sizing up other kids' rank in the pecking order:

What piece are you working on in piano? I'm going to be starting Grade 2 piano soon, my teacher says so. Do you know how to multiply yet? I know all my timestables. How long are the books you can read? I read one that was 200 pages. Yeah, well, but mine had really small words. And an advanced vocabulary. So who is your best friend? And your second best? Hmmm... she's my fourth-best. My second-best is so-and-so.

I guess I'm just surprised that this comparative orientation is so obvious even in the kids who always seemed so out-of-the-mainstream to me. We meet it at art class, at music recitals, at orchestra, on playdates.

Fortunately it just seems to roll off my kids' backs. I ask them about it later, and they don't even remember the comments or think them no big deal. So I guess it's my hangup.

We got our water back about five days ago. Hurrah! Life is back on an even keel.

We had a successful piano recital today. Erin and Noah played both violin and piano. Erin's violin piece got a special "whoop!" from the audience. Noah did a quite amazing thing and spoke aloud to announce his violin piece when his teacher forgot to do so. Clear, confident voice. He forgot to mention the composer, but this was a spur-of-the-moment thing, so I was really impressed anyway.

Noah and Sam connected again. They'd met at the Christmas piano party. Sam is a more recent piano beginner than Noah, having started this September (Noah last February) but they seem like two peas in a pod... both are very talented and serious pianists, verbally precocious, 7 years old and budding composers. And boys! Someday they'll be great duet partners, I'll bet. Apparently there's a boys' piano event coming up. Sam may or may not be there... his family will be trekking through Central America for three months this spring.

Tonight the kids listened to about two hours of East Indian folktales on audiotape. Erin did some math (multiplying decimals). Sophie blew me away with her math, spontaneously sitting down with her Miquon Orange book and working through one of the "putting it all together" pages without batting an eye. I thought she was still needing help verbalizing math problems to make sense of them, but she was managing 13+2-4 and (3x2)+(2x3) and 11x0 and 15-2 and (3x5)-5 with no help at all. And enjoying the challenge!

Noah declined to do any math today. He has been adding double-digit numbers in his head for a long time, and has reached the point in Singapore where the regrouping algorithms are taught. He's balking a little. He doesn't like the "cookbookish" approach. What he does with 78+17 is to add 8+17 and get 25 and then add that to 70. This bit about disciplining yourself to start with the ones and regroup anything over 9 into the tens column bothers him for some reason. He understands it but it seems like a "long boring" way to do the problems. He resists memorizing an algorithm with the same energy that Erin leaps to do so. Anyway, yesterday I finally showed him how learning the algorithm in its simple form (double-digit addition) would allow him to use it for complex problems that wouldn't be suitable for mental math. I showed him a four four-digit numbers in a stack and showed him how the algorithm let me find their sum. He liked that. Suddenly the algorithm seemed useful and he leapt right into problems of that level of difficulty. This kid definitely needs to see the big picture first, before dealing with the little details.

We started making our worm bin. This entailed measuring and drawing dots on the bottom of a Rubbermaid bin and then using the power drill to make about 200 1/4" holes in the bottom. The kids had fun with the power drill. One bin almost got done before Fiona started crying. This will be a stacked three-bin system for vermicomposting in the basement.

At bedtime I read a chapter from a pretty good, pretty funny book about composers, "Why Beethoven Threw the Stew..." We read that because we didn't want to subject the sleepover friend to chapters from the three novels we're in the midst of. This week's novels are "Inkheart" by Cornelia Funke, "The Monsters of Morley Manor" by Bruce Coville and "The Bronze Bow" by Elizabeth George Speare. I'm totally enthralled by the first and last of these. We'd never read anything by Speare before, but "Sign of the Beaver" and "the Witch of Blackbird Pond" have jumped right to the top of my wishlist. (Of course my wish list is relatively uninfluential, as the kids choose the readalouds. But I can influence subtly!)

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