Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Rat and Mole and Midtown Madness

Not much seems to be happening lately. It's February; I guess that explains it. But the house is tidy and the kids are happy and that's enough. It's always helpful for me to lower my expectations in February.

Most of the year I am pulling my hair out about the mess all over the house. A couple of weeks ago I made five "Clean Cards". These are 4x6" index cards with obsessively detailed instructions for tidying the five living areas of the house: dining area, living room, kitchen, bathroom and family room. "Get the broom and dustpan from the kitchen. Put the garbage pail and booster step in the hall. Sweep starting with the corner under the sink and sweeping towards the doorway with every stroke. Sweep the other three corners too. Imagine you're painting the floor with the broom and you don't want to miss any spots. Place the dustpan against the gold strip at the doorway....." Every afternoon we place the tidy cards upside down and someone picks one. Then we choose a reader and the rest of us are do-ers. The kids take turns being the picker and the reader. It takes about 15 minutes, and since we manage this about five days a week, the house is properly cleaned through once a week. We're doing well at keeping this up and the house is so much better: even in between the days we clean a room the kids are now noticing messes and recognizing that the next time we have to clean it will be so much easier if it's kept clean. The enforced regularity of cleaning is helping get this message across. I don't suppose this system will be effective for long (nothing ever is, it seems) but I'm really happy with it for now.

Another new ritual is "Best Thing, Worst Thing". At supper time each night we each explain the best thing that happened to us that day and the worst thing. By doing it at supper we're able to include Chuck which is, I think really important. It's often interesting what the kids choose, and the discussion that follows is often very worthwhile.

Twelve days ago the kids counted their money, did some price-comparisons on the internet, and discovered they could afford to buy Midtown Madness 2 and a Logitech steering wheel/pedal doohickey. I ordered it on my credit card, took all their cash, and they started waiting. Shipping takes a while where we live. They decided they should stay off the computer for a few days before it arrived because they knew they'd be up for a big binge after it got here. I'm not sure why they decided this, but it seemed darned sensible to me. So they spent about a week playing a lot of board games and card games in Noah's bedroom. Hours a day.

Today the long-awaited package arrived. They got all their practising done first and have been taking turns at the computer on and off since about noon. Midtown Madness has astronomically little educational value. There are maps to refer to, left and right turns to learn, there's visual memory to enhance, and a lot of crashing and driving through malls and evading police to be done. They're happy with their purchase. I expect the novelty will wear off in a few weeks. It may be a long few weeks for me.

Erin set up a rule for fair sharing of the new computer game. The way the rule worked was this: she would get the computer for two days, then Noah could have it for two days, and then Sophie. Sophie could see that this was equal, but as Erin's first hours with the game wore on, I could see she was getting frustrated. She said she had too long to wait (sheesh! no kidding!). We talked about how there's often a difference between equal and fair. Erin knew full well she'd pulled a bit of a scam. I good-naturedly reminded her that it was a little unrealistic for her to expect her 5yo sister to be happy about a rule that said she had to wait four days to try out the new game she'd helped buy. Erin flashed me a guilty grin (thinking "well, it was worth a try!") and agreed to split the afternoon three ways.

Of course, then Erin wouldn't budge on which third of the afternoon she wanted (the first, even though she'd already been playing for 2 hours). Sophie and Noah begrudgingly compromised. I had listened to their negotiations and was feeling angry at Erin for taking advantage of her siblings' generosity and good nature. I asked her why she couldn't at least once in a while demonstrate as much maturity as Sophie and Noah. It was a low blow, but she is so tenacious, and I find it so frustrating when it is always her younger siblings and not her "doing the right thing". She stalked off angrily but (astonishingly) came back and asked for the last time-slot, giving a contrived rationale why she preferred it anyway. So I think I must have got through to her a bit. Later I apologized for the dig.

We don't have many of these sorts of inter-sibling issues, but today we had one, and I found it interesting to see it play itself out. Erin did budge for a change, although she needed to find a way to save face to do so.

Erin has been enjoying Calliope magazine (world history), another issue of which arrived this week. Noah wrote a long letter to a new penpal in Holland. He dictated, I typed. He's understandably far more enthusiastic about snail-mail than e-mail so he's hoping to get a letter back in the post.

We've been limping along on our malfunctioning CD player in the van, listening to "Alice in Wonderland" over and over lately. We've owned if for quite a while, but it's only just become popular. We also watched a video version. The Red Queen is now a huge part of the kids' imaginative play. I've been downloading audiobooks from Audible.com, but I'm saving them up for listening in the van if/when we replace the deck. For now it doesn't play CD-R's and it only plays at all for about 20 minutes before needing a "rest" for half an hour. I have "Bud, Not Buddy" and Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy in waiting.

Fiona is doing very well with her toileting again all of a sudden, after a couple of months of lots of pees in diapers. I think we've only had 2 misses in the past 3 days, both of those entirely my fault (misinterpreting her fussiness). I got her a little potty which she can get onto an off of herself, thinking that she might be ready for a bit of independence in toileting before too long. (I've been holding her over the toilet thus far.) She likes the potty, though so far she waits for me to put her on it.

I made another book last weekend, for photos from our fall vacation. I decorated the cover with rubber stamps I'd made with lino-cutting tools. I used some lovely hand-made papers that I'd bought at an import store for the cover and endpapers. The kids are doing paper-making at their Thursday art class. I'm hoping they'll have some hand-made paper they'll want to use for bookmaking. Also at art class Erin and Noah learned a nifty little paper-weaving technique for making tiny baskets shaped like hearts. They were very pleased that I couldn't see how the weaving was accomplished without actually having separate strips of paper. They get a kick of seeing me genuinely incompetent at something they can do.

Readalouds right now are Michael Morpurgo's "The Butterfly Lion", Cornelia Funke's "Inkheart" (almost finished) and Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows". The latter always amazes me, every time I read it, with the complexity of its grammar and its languidly whimsical poetic style. The plotline is very simple but the language is amazing. Out of interest I checked its reading level on an Accelerated Reader database and discovered it rates an 8.2. That seems about right to me. It's very highbrow stuff for little kids. I think I'll consider it an antidote to Midtown Madness ;-).

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Questionable Musical Motivation

On Monday, during our Nelson piano trip, we made our first visit to "Changes", a recycling depot that is manufacturer-funded. We'd just heard about it. It will take back packaging from almost any of the store-brand products at our grocery store, plus a pile more. I'm hoping the kids will take an interest in reducing our garbage output. We do pretty well already, but environmental awareness is something I want to encourage in the kids. I'm hoping this will be a big gardening summer for us too. Maybe Fiona will be past the dirt-eating stage; we'll see.

On Tuesday the phone rang and it was our regular Tuesday supper guests (musical friends who stay over between violin lessons and orchestra rehearsal) to say they wouldn't be staying for supper. The girl who is Erin's close friend got on the phone and asked me to "tell Erin that I got to skip Grade 2 piano and go right into Grade 3. Maybe I'll catch up to her some day. Is she in Grade 5 still? Oh, and what's she on in violin? Is she in Book 7 yet? No? Oh, good. I'm trying to get into Book 5 by the end of June."

Sigh.... This child is unschooled, but has such an interest in these "leveled milestones". Now, she's been in Erin's shadow on violin, piano and academics since they met. So I guess a certain amount of this is understandable. But it's still tough for me to know how to react to.

I told Erin that her friend was really excited about being promoted right past Grade 2 piano. I didn't mention any of the rest of it. But Erin volunteered that the friend had told her she was planning to "catch up" to her. And then (another sigh) Erin started asking how long it would take her to move up to the next Grade in piano, and the next level in violin. It was like a fire was lit. She's decided she wants to teach herself ahead in both piano and violin. She started working like a demon.

I was feeling horribly ambivalent about the motivation for her sudden spurt in interest. But as the week has worn on, things have transformed a little. She's discovered a couple of pieces of challenging new violin and piano repertoire that she really loves, and I think she's enjoying mastering them. She's also getting more and more interested in the idea of surprising her teachers with her hard work. I think the idea of "staying ahead of J." is slipping into the back seat. At least I hope so. (final sigh....)

Erin did an amazing violin solo from Suzuki Book 3 at group class this week. Sophie and Noah were the two eager volunteers for playing solos at the next class in 2 weeks' time. I'm so happy that they are turning into keen performers just like Erin. I think it's great when kids can share their music without anxiety. Erin was given the go-ahead to start Suzuki Book 7 at her violin lesson this week and has been working hard.

The kids have been painting a fair bit lately. They now do a good job of getting out and (more to the point) cleaning up the watercolours, so they're getting them out whenever they have some time. Erin's finally kind of figured out some basic techniques and is using them to advantage. She's done a couple of really striking paintings. Sophie seems on the verge of beginning to do more than simply play with the paints on the paper. She did a neat beach painting where the sky had "wind in it". Noah's still life in acrylics from art class is quite stunning. I'm really impressed with how the art teacher is working with them. I hope Sophie will be able to start some sort of art class with her next fall. (Noah's the youngest in the class by at least a year, so I'm hoping the teacher will start a new class for younger kids.) I bought three sheets of colourful tag-board (bristol board) this week and made some simple art portfolios for their larger-format artwork (up to 14x18). They're pretty pleased with them, and they each cost less than a dollar.

Erin and I spent some time looking at internet resources today. We discovered a really excellent Harry Potter fan-fiction site called FictionAlley. It includes peer-editing and peer-review and has a terrific sense of community from the look of it. But you need to be over 12 to use it. We're looking for other options. Erin writes so well, but doesn't want to share her writing at home. We both feel she'd benefit from some feedback and inspiration, and an internet community would be a terrific possibility. We also looked at BoxerMath which I suggested might be worth subscribing to for a while after she finishes Singapore Primary Math (probably before the fall). I'd really rather steer her clear of Singapore's linear, leveled workbook approach for a while. I like it, but she's still so young, and the NEM series (the high school stuff) is really challenging. I want her to relax with math for a while. She's worked through so much in the past year. A BoxerMath subscription wouldn't be cheap, but it would let her graze on math for a while, following her interests, rather than relentlessly heading towards Calculus.

I've talked so much about Erin this week. I should post an update about Noah's math. He's capably mastered the regrouping algorithms in addition and subtraction after a switch to Singapore a month or so ago. He's losing some of his initial enthusiasm for the program. I think he's only doing it about once or twice a week, but he keeps plugging away slowly. Sophie has finished up Miquon Orange and is enjoying the first part of the Red book. I'm sure she'll hit a bit of a wall before too long, but I've been saying that since the beginning of Orange and it hasn't happened yet, so I may be wrong.

Today we went cross-country skiing. It was fun, even though the skiing wasn't great (it warmed up and got sticky). We went with another homeschooling family and a couple of tag-along and very fun adults.

Noah has recently been reading aloud from picture books and other short stories with comical commentary interspersed to amuse his sisters. It's great to hear him reading aloud so confidently and unaffectedly. Sophie seems to be reading more and more; she isn't choosing to read aloud much yet, but she's finishing short picture books easily for her own pleasure.

Tonight the kids are watching "The Lion King" on network TV, a rare treat. They're making lots of fun of the advertisers' marketing ploys, which is great to see. Their dad goads them on a bit. Call it "developing healthy media skepticism and critical thinking skills." They seldom watch regular TV and I'm glad to see that they see through the shallow consumerism. They had a good laugh over the "Kid Cuisine" TV dinners. "Bet mommy will buy us lots of those! They sure look sooooo nutritious and I bet they don't cost very much either!"