Friday, April 09, 2004

The Outdoors Beckons

Noah is usually up by 8:30 and plays a bit of totally uneducational Midtown Madness 2 on the computer. This morning, while trying to win enough races to unlock a new car, he got to the point of tears several times. He would not quit. I reminded him that games were supposed to be fun but of course (I should know better!) this made no difference. Fiona was the only one able to break his negative spiral. He took a break, went back, finally won the crucial race and unlocked the coveted car. He said "that's better... now you don't have to worry about me crying and screaming," and laughed. I'm amazed how easily he bounces back from outbursts like that. Erin assumes one wins a badge of honour to be able to cling to a bad mood for hours.

When the girls arise, they eat breakfast. This is usually cereal, though lately Noah has been asking for "family breakfast" from time to time, which basically just means I prepare something healthy and set it down in front of the bunch of us, including Chuck if he happens to be home. Porridge, orange juice smoothie, maybe some fruit or toast. Then they all go outside. I've discovered that if I go outside they'll soon follow, which is odd because they're rarely the slightest bit interested in what I'm doing and usually end up in a totally different corner of the property from me. But I guess they just need me to remind them, after a long winter, that the weather is lovely outside. I'm trying to get some garden beds tidied up, raking the leaves and twigs, doing the last bit of pruning, divide some overgrown stuff and remove some ugly bushes. The kids are biking, mixing mud and water and sand and various bits of foliage, doing the occasional bits of yardwork.

Lately they've all be whittling wood. Erin wanted to make a staff, and I turned a nice straight 5' apple branch over to her. As I got a knife out and set her to work peeling bark, it occurred to me that whittling is exactly the sort of mesmerizing and relatively mindless pursuit that she'd likely really enjoy. It would give her time to be alone with her thoughts outside. I was right: she sat there for three hours the first day and has continued to strip and carve and whittle for a while every day since. Noah and Sophie have enjoyed sticks and knives too lately. I haven't been supervising terribly closely. They know the safety rules and have always been scrupulously observing them when I've checked. So far no missing digits.

At some point during the day we generally have somewhere to go.... violin group class, orchestra, violin lessons, art class, gymnastics/piano or the community garden. We've done pretty well lately at squeezing in a daily activity or two at home together: bookbinding, dyeing eggs, starting sprouting seed, making seed pots, baking muffins, this and that.

Today I made and bound a slim journal as a guestbook at the open house being held to memorialize an elderly friend who died earlier this week. I also toted the kids around to borrow coffee urns and put together cheese and cracker trays. We'll go to his home tomorrow morning and help set the food up. We're taking the Lego for his 4-year-old granddaughter who will probably enjoy some child-friendly diversion. My kids and I talked about how they felt at what they fondly term their grandpa's "Deathday Party" last summer ... how nice it was that some kid friends came and played with them amidst a sea of adults.

Practising has been occurring during the late afternoon and/or evenings. I'm not pulling my weight on it. I seem to manage to practice effectively with one child one week, and another child the next week, but never everyone at once. Two weeks ago Noah had an amazing week of progress. Last week Sophie had a big leap with her tone and bow direction. One of the pluses of this spotty support I'm offering them is that they do see the difference my help makes, when available, to their progress.

Erin got told off at her violin lesson this week. She'd been practising the Bach a minor violin concerto for weeks at top speed with no care whatsoever, and both my mom (her teacher) and I were getting fed up. Probably Erin was getting fed up too with her lack of progress. My mom and I carefully orchestrated the lesson admonishment, and it worked very well I think. My mom basically said "Hey, who are we kidding here? This isn't any better because you're not working on it properly at home. There's no point in you playing any more of it for me, because we both know what it's going to sound like: just like it did last week, right? Rather than pretending you're trying hard at home and everything will eventually work out, let's just put that behind us and do some proper work on it today." I think that the good-natured "you-can't-pull-the-wool-over-my-eyes" and "let's get on with it" approach was what she needed. She had a pretty good working session at her lesson and was unusually cheerful and responsive. It will be interesting to see if she does any effective home practising this week.

The high school kids who make up most of the 1st violin section of the orchestra were away this week, and so Erin was the only 1st violin there. She sat as concertmaster and played up a storm. She really knows that music! I was impressed! Noah, who had come to his first orchestra rehearsal two weeks ago and got really fired up about it, balked when it came time to go this week. Oh well: it's too late for him to truly join the orchestra this year (concerts are this month) and he'll be more than ready next fall.

Math usually happens in the evenings. Noah has recently finished Singapore 2A, Erin has finished 6A. Erin is getting to a level where she actually has a little learning to do. Nothing's too challenging yet but she's beginning to have to really think about the story problems. Noah is still finding his math very easy, which is a great place for him to be. He needs to build confidence. Sophie is plugging through Miquon Red. She's clearly learning. Even a couple of months ago she wasn't totally clear on what 32 really meant (i.e. 3 tens and 2 ones) but she's now confidently doubling 16 and 30 and such-like, without manipulatives. I'm often not sure where she's picked things up. The other day she was playing the piano and calling out note-names. I've never taught her any note-names: the program we've looked at a bit is totally interval-based at this point. But there she was, calling out "F! A! F#!" and playing them all appropriately.

Fiona has been out of diapers, even for out-of-town trips, for a couple of weeks. I guess my family is done with diapers forever. I'd probably be a little more wistful about this landmark, were it not for the fact that I'm so proud of her and me for the success of our elimination communication adventure. She's 14 months and got her first immunization today. Took it like a trooper.

I'm continuing my efforts to create a children's gardening club. I've got a proposal on the agenda for the community health centre's next board meeting. I ordered a terrific "curriculum" book which is chock full of amazing activities and ideas: the "Junior Master Gardener Level 1 Teacher's Guide." If my kids were more amenable to mom-directed canned activities, it would be just great for at home. The activities are creative, kid-friendly and extremely varied. Looking forward to using it next year in a group setting though!

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