Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Communicating and a new month

I've been remiss in posting blog entries the last couple of weeks, so I'll try to start the new month off on a better note.

Fiona is communicating like crazy. "Nine-nine" means she wants something, and she'll now point or take you by the hand and lead you through the house to show what she wants. "Gah" and pulling up her shirt and patting her tummy means she has to use the potty. She says a few real words, too. But the delightful thing is this recent discovery of purposeful communication: she knows that she can explain to us what she wants. She's also developed a fondness for sitting with me reading and looking through board books.

Sophie is doing some almost-daily preparatory piano work in joyful anticipation of starting piano lessons "soon" (probably not until the fall). She's writing long phonetic notes for "purposeful communication." Left on Chuck's laptop the other night was a piece of paper saying


The kids pooled their allowance for the last four months and found a good deal on a USB steering-wheel-and-pedals control device for their computer, along with "Midtown Madness 2", a simulation of no-holds-barred nutso driving through London and San Francisco. They'd seen it at a friend's house. It arrived about 10 days ago and has taken a lot of their time. The initial obsessive enthusiasm has finally almost burned itself out. Noah has displayed very high levels of intensity. I'm sure I've mentioned before how he hates competitive, score-keeping situations and avoids them at all costs. MM2 allows you to unlock cool new vehicles for winning races. Twice I've found him hyperventilating, red in the face, and in tears trying desperately to win a race to unlock a specific vehicle. He understands intellectually that he's too tightly wound, that he needs a break, that the game is affecting him too strongly, but he gets to the point of emotional crisis without sensing the need for a break.

I have mixed feelings about this game. I think the kids have spent too much time at the computer, BUT they seem to have reached the point of self-regulation without my interference. I think the message about driving like a maniac being fun is not a positive message BUT it's so much less toxic than games of human violence and really, they're many years from learning to drive and harbour no illusions that it's anything like this. It seems to have precious little educational merit, BUT then again their map-reading skills, visual-spatial memory and multi-tasking skills are growing to amazing levels. I'd love to set limits, BUT I know they'll backfire and create conflict, and cause the kids to miss learning to limit themselves. So we carry on.

Noah, who likes to learn in a "Gestalt manner" (getting the whole picture first) has struggled with taking problematic bits of piano pieces apart to work on them slowly, hands separately and in small chunks. He doesn't want to work this way, and his initial difficulty with figuring out exactly what the little chunk feels and sounds like in isolation leaves him complaining that it's harder to play parts than the whole. "I can't start there, it's too hard!" (Of course I know that it's precisely because these little bits aren't well-learned in isolation that he can only get the whole piece to "almost-fluid" status and not completely there, but it hasn't helped hearing it from me. On reflection, it seems like maybe we need a good metaphor here. For instance "when your bike tire kept getting just a little bit flat, we tried just adding air, but every morning it would be flat again, so eventually we had to fix it right: turn it upside down, loosen the nuts, slip off the chain, remove the wheel, pry off the tire, check the tube and patch the leak. Reminder to self to try this explanation.) Anyway, this week at his lesson, thanks to some leading comments from me, he was given clear, unwavering directives that he must work this way in order to continue to progress at this level. I hope this helps.

Noah and Erin have been doing paper making and marbeling and collage at art class. The marbling is really neat. I'd like to use their marbled paper for book covers. I have marbeling supplies at home but I haven't yet got courageous enough to try it here (the mess... the mess...).

Erin has read the Harry Potter books in entirety twice in the past 10 days. She's going through a challenging time. She stays in her bedroom reading until noon, emerges to eat and complain about everything. And she's been adamant she doesn't want to be bugged about doing her practising, so her practising has not been happening at all regularly. Her last two lessons (one each of violin and piano) have consisted principally of just sight-reading duets with her teachers, since it was obvious she hadn't done her assigned work and there was not point in revisiting the same problems. She has an agreement with her piano teacher to practice every day this week at 7 pm, with a maximum of two simple reminders from me. The type of practising that's been assigned this week is right up Erin's alley: lots of playing through easier repertoire for fun. So I imagine we'll have better luck with piano at least this week. I hope she'll discover first-hand that if she wants to progress to new levels rather than coast at her current level, she needs to return to the kind of work she doesn't always enjoy.

On a positive musical note, Erin did a great performance of the Clementi Op. 36 No. 4 Rondo movement last Friday at an honours recital. She'd learned it very quickly and easily and it shows off her speed and agility very well. She even spoke to announce her piece: a first and a real surprise for me. And she's also asked to do a chamber music option this summer on violin when she's enrolled as a piano student at the music summer school. She seemed positively enthusiastic about that possibility.

We still have 14 inches of snow on the ground, despite above-freezing temperatures and lots of rain and melting lately. So, while it's staying light until supper time and we are beginning to think about gardening, it isn't exactly spring yet. It's that icky in-between season. I started germinating some sweet pepper seeds on the window ledge.

We had a great cross-country ski a week ago with some friends. The conditions were great and there were snow fleas (springtails) all over the snow, which was very neat. Afterwards we went to a friend's place and held an informal music-sharing recital in her living room with a bunch of other kids. Lots of food and fun afterwards.

Erin has finished up the last gap in her Singapore 5B book and, despite my suggestion that we might set the formal math aside for a while, has decided to continue filling in the gaps in the 6A book (she's grazed ahead in the past on the topics that interest her the most). Noah and Sophie continue to plug away at their books (Singapore 2A and Miquon Red respectively), probably asking to do math about every second evening on average.

Our current readalouds are "Bud, Not Buddy" by Paul Christopher Curtis (excellent story of an orphan kid during the Great Depression), "Return of the Indian" by Lynn Reid Banks and "The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame. We've also been reading sporadically from "Nibbling on Einstein's Brain" by Diane Swanson, a book about thinking critically about scientific claims.

I've been working hard this past week on a couple of website revisions, VSSM and NurturedByLove.ca, so I'm less "available" to the kids and I should acknowledge the role that's playing in their lack of creativity and self-discipline. I'm hoping for better this coming week.


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