Saturday, December 17, 2005

Math again

Unschooling or not, I took the bull by the horns. Erin had written "completion of Singapore 'New Math Counts' Level 1" into her Self-Design learning plan, quite voluntarily, back at the end of the summer. A term went by and we were encouraged to revisit the plan and what's happened, learning-wise. Erin had not opened the Singapore book. I asked her if she wanted to set that as her goal for the next term. Surprisingly, she said "okay" without complaining.

Erin finished Singapore's primary program (nominally Grade 1-6, but more like 1-7 by Canadian standards) before her 10th birthday. She's now almost 12 and she hasn't really touched formal math in the past two years. Perhaps if she hadn't written it into her learning plan I would have convinced myself to let it lie. Maybe I shouldn't have been quite as eager when I saw the door was opened a crack. But whatever. She seemed to agree it was time to get back to formal math.

The next day, I grabbed the proverbial bull horns and said "okay, time for math."

She rolled her eyes, but came willingly.

Gosh, her computation sure is rusty. And she's having a hard time getting focused on the review work we're doing, as it's hazy and half-remembered. We had a few good laughs over it, actually, which shows how relaxed and comfortable she is with our math work, I guess.

"Okay," I prompted, "so you'll need to take half of eighteen too...."

Erin smiles guiltily, opens her mouth, looks blank and says ... "um, six? or, eight?" and starts laughing at herself.

"Erin," I say, laughing too. "You have this look on your face that says 'My brain is not present, but my mouth is open and I'm going to speak a number anyway.' You nut. Now, when your brain returns, maybe you could let me know what 4/18ths is."

She laughs a bit more and then it occurs to her that it's 2/9ths.

Three days in and it's flooding back and it's apparent that intellectually she's well beyond ready for this stuff and it will come really quickly. She's finished two (of twelve) chapters, and is agreeable and cheerful about our daily work together. It's almost enough to make me start to believe that there really are families that use a parent-directed curriculum without necessity of coercion.

Sophie is blasting through the end of Singapore 2B this week after having taken a several-month break. Noah has started plugging away at 3B again. I wouldn't be surprised if Sophie overtakes Noah some day before too long. She is so enthusiastic, and doesn't seem to have any trouble with the concepts. Noah doesn't have intellectual trouble with concepts either, but his perfectionistic defeatism gets in the way when he encounters something he doesn't get intuitively at a first glance.

So things feel kind of mathy around here all of a sudden. Fiona, on the other hand, is working on reading and writing right now. Today she learned to spell her name, verbally, on the computer, and with pencil and paper. Sophie taught her - what fun!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fionisms

Me: "Fiona, you're playing in the pantry with the door closed. Are you sneaking treats?"
Fi: [while scarfing Christmas toffee] "Yes. ... I mean no. I'm sneaking snacks. I mean no. Not sneaking, just eating. Healthy snacks."

...

Me: "Fiona, no running, okay."
Fi: "I'm not running, I'm prancing."

...

[while bouncing rhythmically on the couch]
Fi: "Please! Do! Not! Jump! On! The! Fur! Ni! Ture!!!! Please! Do! Not! Jump! On! The! Fur! Ni! Ture!!!!"

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fiona

Fiona is growing up, and I'm looking at her moving out of toddlerhood with a certain wistfulness. She will be three soon and she's grown up faster than her older siblings, I think, because she drags herself relentlessly forward trying to keep up with them. She's also more verbal than any of them were, and more sociable.

She still calls her forehead a "twohead." I think 8 or 10 months ago she mis-remembered the word, and the rest of the family took to her little slip with delight. But aside from this developmental anachronism and occasional overgeneralizations of grammatical rules, her speech is remarkably grown up. She has a whole lot of 'ketchup' adverbs ... words that get added as a condiment to various complex sentences. Words like "apparently" and "actually." A typical sentence: "Apparently I enjoyed the blueberry candy cane that I got at the Silverton Christmas Faire." She truly speaks in paragraphs, this child.

At the aforementioned Christmas Faire she met Santa. We've done next to nothing to hype the Santa Myth, since the older kids have never believed in the literal truth of it. But Fiona is at a wonderful age for wonder and excitement, and still isn't particularly interested in teasing apart the real and the imaginary. When we arrived at the Faire and she spotted the man in the bright red suit, her eyes got very big and a smile lit up her face. This particular Santa had a real bushy grey-white beard and was just milling about in the crowd, greeting children. Very unintimidating. Fiona walked up with her big round eyes and he squatted and had a few quiet words with her. She shook his hand. She told him she was all ready for Christmas. She was delighted by the whole encouter and so was I.

Lately I think I see flashes of the Future Fiona. When she plays her tiny violin, she bursts into tears when a note doesn't sound right. She sits on the couch with a needle and thread and a bin of 1/4" beads and spends 45 minutes silently stringing the longest necklace I've ever seen a child make. She painstakingly works to copy out her name in every colour marker she can find. She knows how to turn on charm to serve her wants and needs. She is curious about complex issues like death, war and family relatedness. She has a very complex understanding of time and tells me, for example, that she now goes longer and longer between breastfeeding, and after she turns three she'll stop breastfeeding altogether -- and I almost believe her.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The mother of invention

Noah has been hankering after a webcam for use with his viola club of friends on MSN. He's made a few noises about wanting to buy one, but hasn't done the research yet, and I confess I haven't been in a big hurry to facilitate this for him. But last week he managed to tweak our QX3 Digital Microscope into believing it's a webcam. He unplugs the microscope, starts MSN, and then plugs the microscope in while the window is active. He can then send a webcam invitation to whomever he's chatting with at the time. He needed to add some ambient lighting because the USB-powered webcam light is insufficient at a distance of a metre or so, but he discovered that he could get identifiable blurry moving images of his face on the 'net.

Then one night before bed, when he seems to think laterally the best, Noah said "That digital microscope is near-sighted. I wonder if I could make the focus better by giving it glasses. Your old glasses might work, mom -- you're nearsighted."

The next morning, thanks to a lot of sticky tape, he got the microscope wearing glasses, and I'll be darned, the quality of the webcam image he's getting from it has improved two- or three-fold. If I'd been on the ball, I would have offered to order him a cheap webcam weeks ago with his allowance savings. Because I wasn't, he's learning all sorts of things, and now he feels like a successful 'inventor'.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Patchwork Weekend

I spent the weekend fitting together colourful squares in patterns. First, I got a good start on tiling the kitchen backsplash (finally). Paradoxically it takes a lot of organizing and trial and error to make something look random! Fiona passed me the right size and the right colour squares upon request. This project yielded pretty quick results. This half of the kitchen looks so different. Grout on Tuesday!

I also spent the weekend piecing a quilt top. Last weekend we started tie-dyeing squares for a quilt we're making Fiona for her third birthday. The kids did most of the tying and dyeing and lots of the ironing. For some reason I didn't generate too much interest in the sewing, so I did most of that with Fiona's (un)help. I haven't opened the whole thing up for Fiona to see and don't intend to. Most of the rest of the work can be done in secret. We've been talking about working on her "Q - U - I - L - T," and she is delightedly talking about how we're all sewing her "Q - U - I - L - T," not having the slightest inkling (we hope!) of what that is.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

It's alive!!!

We are new sourdough addicts. A week ago, based on my request many months ago, my friend offered to help me learn to bake sourdough. We ground some fresh rye wheat into flour. To a pinch of commercial yeast we added water and rye flour. Each day on four subsequent days we added another dose of water and rye flour. We left it in a warmish corner of the kitchen, open to the air for the first day, and then lidded. By Day 4 the stuff was bubbly and decidedly sour-smelling. The kids were alternately curious, disgusted and helpful.

On Day 4 we had a fully-formed sourdough 'chef'. Late that evening we pulled out a cup of it to make a sourdough starter, replenished the chef and tucked it in the fridge. By morning the starter was vigourous. It worked beautifully, just like regular yeast, though it didn't need sugar or anything else to encourage it to action. We made our first loaves then and as soon as they disappeared replenished the breadbox with more. The chef seems like it's going to be pretty low-maintenance, just needing re-feeding once a week in the fridge, and by setting up the starter at bedtime, the time required for producing the sourdough isn't particularly onerous and fits nicely into a morning at home.

It's so much fun to learn something new and find out that it's not as complicated as you thought.

A Basic Sourdough Chef:
Day 1: 2/3 c. rye flour, 1/2 c. water, 1/16th tsp. yeast
Day 2: 2/3 c. rye flour, 1/2 c. water added to previous day's mix. Cover.
Day 3: Same as Day 2
Day 4: Same as Day 2 -- should double in bulk within 8 hours.
Evening of Day 4: Remove 1 cup of mixture to make a starter (or discard), and replenish chef with 3/4 cup of rye flour and a little over 1/2 cup of water. Tuck in the fridge.
No more than a week later: same as Evening of Day 4

Sourdough Starter:
1 cup of chef
1/2 cup of water
1 cup of rye flour
Mix in a bowl, cover tightly and leave in a warm place overnight.

There are zillions of recipes. One we've liked adds to the starter 3 cups of lukewarm water, 2 tsp. salt, about 7 cups of wheat flour (about 1/3 of which is whole wheat), and a cup or two of carmelized onions. Mix, knead, let rise for 2 1/2 hours. Deflate, knead, shape into loaves, let rise for 1 1/2 hours. Bake very hot (400F+) for 30-40 minutes. Tossing 1/3 cup of water into the bottom of a very hot oven a couple of times at the outset of baking helps make a wonderful crust.

I said to Chuck "don't throw out the grey stuff in the fridge -- it's my sourdough starter." He said "when have I ever thrown out grey stuff in the fridge?" :-D

Friday, November 25, 2005

For the past couple of weeks we've been getting together with another unschooling family to plan a radio show. It will be part of a 16-week half-hour series on Kootenay Co-op Radio devoted to "Homeschooling Families: Pursuing our Passions." We're slated to do two shows, one, collaborating with this other family, about GRUBS and one about, well, I initially thought we'd do it about our music. More on that later.

We've had three sessions. The first was just a regular GRUBS meeting where we were putting the garden to bed and planting garlic. I took my minidisc recorder and caught a half hour or so of "ambient sound" of hoes and chatter and giggling and humming. When I reviewed the recording later it was kind of funny to realize that while there was lots of noise of kids playing and giggling, and my kids were generally one half of any group or dyad, they spoke about half as much as their playmates and at about half the volume. I could hardly ever hear them!

The next time we got together it was a planning session where we talked about the kinds of things we'd fill the show with and how it might be organized. That went pretty well. Everyone contributed ideas. Some prodding was required here and there, but it was relatively easy to keep the kids focused and the ideas flowing.

Then today we got together to do some recording. The kids were supposed to have thought about one activity the GRUBS had done that they'd found particularly enjoyable, and to be ready to talk about it. I was pretty sure it would be a stretch for my kids. And it was. Their verbal reticence had them smiling and looking away and mumbling "someone else can say." But all the kids found it hard to speak "as if to someone who didn't already know what they were talking about." I could probably have jumped in and done the 'teachable moment' thing, but I knew that was only going to make my kids more self-conscious about speaking. We just meandered around various topics for a long time, and Erin, Noah and Sophie did speak up a few times when things seemed to be turning into a real conversation rather than some seemingly artificial communication. Some of that stuff will no doubt be useful for splicing in here and there.

The outcome of that mostly-unsuccessful attempt at laying down some useable audio for the show was that the kids unanimously asked to be more formally interviewed by myself and the other mom. They wanted questions to set the scene or topic, to prompt them and lead the conversation where necessary. I'd sort of been hoping to do the whole show with children's voices only, but we definitely need to concede to the kids here. They need the guidance. And that's what we'll do at our next session, after next week when we go for our studio tour and orientation.

The funny thing is that afterwards my three were talking amongst themselves about a hypothetical Euwy Radio Show. Euwy World (a.k.a. Planet Egypt) is their vast imaginary world. I asked "would you like to do an Euwy World radio show?" They gave me a resounding, unanimous, enthusiastic "Yes!!" Erin said "That would be fun, because we could be silly. It wouldn't be serious and stilted like the GRUBS show." The ideas started flowing.

We might try this.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Time to quit

Here's a letter I wrote to Noah's piano teacher last weekend. It explains where we were at and what we did. Noah read most of what I wrote over my shoulder and felt okay about it.

After much discussion over many weeks, and a few long heart-to-hearts this weekend, we've decided that Noah will not be continuing with piano lessons. As you know, he's really struggled for the past year or two. Not musically as much as emotionally.

His perfectionism is at the root of the problem. I had hoped that piano would be an arena in which he would be forced to work through some of his perfectionism. Alas, it seems he's mostly entrenched himself in a kind of 'perfection paralysis'. He has Erin out there as a model and because of his musical perceptiveness he knows exactly how far he has to reach to attain the level of competence he's striving for. And his mechanism of coping with the vast gap between where he's at and where he wants to be is to put off doing the hard work that reminds him of all the learning that lies ahead, and then have huge sobbing meltdowns over the fact that he doesn't feel prepared for his lesson, or isn't 'ready' to practice with my help, or whatever.

I have tried so many, many approaches to help him and myself deal with this. Leaving him alone, helping him practice, insisting on a certain task list, leaving him to noodle around, letting him coast, coddling him through, problem-solving together, playing the heavy. Nothing seems to be able to jiggle him loose. He's miserable at the piano so often that I'd do almost anything to help put an end to it. I've suggested a break from piano many times. In the past he's seen this as punitive (if you don't practice, your mom will take away your lessons!) or as an acknowledgement of failure (you're not progressing, so you might as well quit) and so he has resisted
the idea. I've suggested that maybe a change of teachers would give him a fresh spin. He's refused to consider this. And so we've continued on. He's made some progress on the instrument, but has continued to struggle emotionally.

This summer he had a thrilling Suzuki viola institute experience and followed it the next week with the VSSM week with T___ G___. He really liked her, a lot, but felt just as "yucky" about piano at the end of the week as he had at the beginning. He commented that he often felt totally psyched about viola, but never ever felt that way about piano.

And then at the end of September he managed to quickly learn a couple of more advanced piano pieces and felt a nice sense of competence from that experience. He didn't get a sense of joy and accomplishment, but he was reassured that he was capable. I think that these two experiences have allowed him to see that (a) the piano is not giving him joy the way the viola does and (b) he's not a failure at the piano. Those two things have made him feel okay about leaving piano. His sense of relief was almost palpable, actually.

So that's where we're at, and why. We've come up with some ideas for tackling the perfectionism in other arenas -- it's certainly a pervasive character trait -- and I think he's feeling quite okay about himself.

We'll come at our usual lesson time this week unless I hear otherwise from you. I want to make sure that he and you have a sense of closure and that he is comfortable and not feeling ashamed. I know he is worried that you will be disappointed in him or that your feelings will be hurt and it would be helpful if you could reassure him on that count. I guess we can then work out what would be best for you in scheduling Erin's lesson.

As the above letter attests, it was difficult to get him to the point of accepting "quitting" as an option. I had to take the initiative in raising the possibility and helping him look seriously at it. I wasn't sure I was doing the right thing. But a couple of days later, it's seems clear that it's a good move. He's happier. He's more passionate about his viola. He's sat down a few times at the piano just to play for fun, something he hadn't done much of in a long time.

His teacher was wonderful when we went to talk to her before Erin's lesson. She made him feel happy and comfortable with his decision. She told him that the door is always open, and that things may get rusty but never forgotten, but that he's absolutely made the right decision for now at least. She talked about her (now grown) boys, all three of whom studied piano, only one of whom didn't quit. "And," she said "I love all three of them. The piano worked for one of the but not the others. They're all still wonderful, intelligent, compassionate young men."

She gave him a little gift, just a party-favour-like thingie that she had on hand, and he was quite smitten by the fact that she made this gesture.

About an hour later, out of the blue, he said "I think I might want piano lessons again someday. Maybe next fall. That's not too far away." Whether he was just feeling a bit wistful or actually meant it doesn't matter... time will tell, and for now he's happier.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A fall rhythm

I suppose I haven't blogged in a while because things are just ticking along. I actually feel like we've got the overscheduling under control for the first time in many years. I have time to think about what we/I should be doing at home. It's a great feeling. I have to resist the urge to take on new 'projects' to fill the space in my life. Not that there's really space. Just that it doesn't yet feel like my life is full to bursting with committments.

The kids' weekly activities are as follows:

• Monday: Piano lessons, public swim
• Tuesday: Afternoon playdate, Violin Group Class or Community Orchestra (alternating weeks)
• Wednesday: Violin/viola lessons during the morning, art class in the p.m.
• Thursday - Sunday: nothing!

My weekly activities fit around theirs, mostly on Thursdays and Fridays:

• Monday: grocery shopping while we're in Nelson for piano, once-a-month evening clinic
• Tuesday: I lead group class and community orchestra
• Thursday: morning clinic alternate weeks, afternoon teaching
• Friday: afternoon teaching

Our weekends are completely clear, and even our weekdays are pretty sane. For now, at least, there's no choir, no skating, no soccer. There are no impending concerts or recitals. GRUBS is pretty much finished for the year. My volunteer committments are under control. I'm not in the midst of rehearsing for a chamber music concert. Our kitchen renovation is pretty much complete. The pace feels terrific right now.

My only problem with all this is that I'm having moments of panic regularly over not seeing the kind of self-directed productive work and play that I'd like to see from the kids. I'm no longer too busy to care that they're not doing anything.

Noah and Sophie agree with me that they are happier when they are filling their days with tangible things, things that feel like "fun work" or "hard fun" or just "worthwhile". Even though they have great difficulty motivating themselves to actually start, they feel good about themselves when they've done stuff like dishes, working with the dog, exercising, writing or math. So I have some justification for strong-arming them into things -- they are grateful at the end of the day to have 'done something' and they ask for similar structure or guidance the next day. The fact that they often exhibit a fair bit of resistence in the moment is just an annoyance. Erin, on the other hand, would never admit that she feels good when she's accomplished things that she knows I approve of. So 'encouraging' her to pull her weight in the family is very difficult to do. Likewise, strong-arming is highly counterproductive. She does practice both her instruments, fairly diligently, every day without reminders, and I'm certainly grateful that this is no longer an issue for us. But the rest ... ahh!!! It is a challenge.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

An hour in the life

Something got me thinking today about the little tiny details that creep into our lives just as we live them. I looked at my "Day in the Life" posts and realized that although they seem very detailed, they don't do the various and sundry unschooling moments justice. So for about an hour this afternoon I observed the details. It was a transitional hour between two activities for the kids, and not enough time to really get into an activity in much detail ... one of those fleeting hours where nothing much seems to happen, one that doesn't tend to get written into my memory. A lot actually happens, though, as it turns out:

Fiona noticed that the laundry airer isn't as heavy on the pulley coming down as going up... because the clothes are dry! She folded pants, along their line of symmetry. "The same on both sides," she said, making a neat fold.

Sophie helped Fiona practice on her new (real! not a box any more!) violin. Guided her bow-hold, helped her mimic the Twinkle Rhythms.

Fiona learned some names of the parts of her new violin. From Sophie.

Sophie learned that when the bridge on Fiona's violin shifts, the A and E strings go flat. We talked about why Fiona's bridge shifts so easily, while those on bigger violins don't (because the tension on the strings is lower, the strings being shorter but tuned to the same pitches).

Noah and Sophie worked on some invented origami patterns for a while. They had to do some problem-solving with planes and directions to figure out why their two figures were turning out differently when they were apparently doing the same things.

Erin looked through a newly arrived Latin book. We browsed through it together and decided to work on a little bit of the first chapter together this evening.

We all watched a bit of a puppy training video and discussed why the puppies responded the way they did... trying to see the experience being portrayed through their canine eyes. The kids made observations about how this applied to our puppy Freya.

We discussed the difficulty inherent in having five self-motivated self-directed people co-existing all day long who all occasionally (but rarely at the same moment) want to do particular things together as a group. How can we make those collaborative ventures happen when we all have such difficulty making transitions? No brilliant solutions reached, but plenty of food for thought.

Noah and Sophie prepared a snack to take to art class.

Noah and I talked about how he felt about sharing a sketch he'd done this week with his art teacher. He'd rather not, though he's proud of it. We talked about his need for privacy when doing work that's important to him.

We talked about whether we wanted to give our surplus mat board to the art teacher. How much will we want to keep for bookbinding projects?

**********************

I suppose this is a typical hour. It's amazing how much happens when nothing's happening.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Renovations

When we started the kitchen renovation I had visions of involving the kids in the process, getting them to help install cabinets, mud drywall, paint and so on. They did a little of that, and a lot of adapting and contributing to coping with the mess and inconvenience, but it turns out that the most useful lesson may have been a metaphorical one.

"Sometimes," I told Erin today, "when you're in the middle of making some really nice changes to your house, the mess and chaos are almost overwhelming. Sometimes you wish you could just forget it and go back to the old way, but you realize that it'll be worth it, because the new kitchen or family room or deck or whatever is going to be great. It's just a fact of life with renovations... things get a lot worse while they're getting better.

"The same thing happens with the insides of kids (and adults too sometimes). They're growing up, maturing, becoming more responsible or more capable, preparing for a change for the better. But it's like their insides are renovating. It can be a big mess in there for a while.

"Sometimes it's easy to forget, or not realize, why the mess is there. Things inside you just stink, big-time. And it spills out, like with snits over borrowing Noah's Heelys. And it drives your mother nuts to have seen evidence of all this growing up but then to be hit with the metaphorical equivalent of washing dishes in the rain with a garden hose. Lousy stuff, stubbornness, irrational behaviour.

"Probably we both need to remember that you're in a process of renovating. It's going to be messy sometimes.

"Here... have a chocolate."

Things are better this evening between us.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Day in the Life -- Saturday again

Today we all had a lazy start to the day. Erin was up at 7 (late for her) and the rest of us around 9. Chuck installed his new weather monitoring system, so the kids were curious about that ... the barometer, the windspeed and wind direction measurements, the rain guage, humidity and temperature sensors, and how it uses all that information to "predict" weather. Very excited when it began raining a bit.

Then we (Chuck especially) did "Saturday" sorts of things, which is a bit of a coincidence (and only a coincidence) in that it actually is Saturday. Split and stacked firewood, cut down some overhanging limbs and burned them, split and stacked more firewood, did some laundry and hung it on the laundry airer, washed some dishes, organized some wardrobey stuff.

The kids spent some early afternoon IM'ing their friends (they're now hooked up not only with each other but with two teenaged friends, both excellent kids). They took photos of each other, some silly, some not, with the digital camera and resized them and used them as their personal photos on MSN. They had fun figuring out how to transfer files and images on MSN. Erin took a picture of Noah into PaintShopPro and turned his skin yellow and gave him a green spotted rash.

Noah and Sophie worked together glueing up the Viking longship model from Noah's birthday gift. They really enjoyed this. They also spent a long time with the posters of Viking life and mythology and the map of Viking lands / conquests / explorations. Noah put this up on his bedroom wall and then found a world map to mount above it; he was pleased that he was able to compare the two maps and understand what he was seeing.

Some unschooling friends of ours run a cafÃ© and were selling off their summer supply of gourmet gelato in a 2 for 1 sale this weekend, so we hopped in the van and headed down there and browsed at the cafÃ© and socialized with them and others who came in and out for a while. Noah was wearing and showing off his new Heelys and Erin had a seriously huge fit of Heely Envy and refused to come into the cafÃ©. Every once in a while I forget how incredibly stubborn, spirited and tenacious she is -- and then we have a day like this to remind me. She wanted to wear Noah's Heelys when we arrived at the cafÃ© and he had every right to wear them. She wouldn't budge on it, even though Noah offered many concessions, and so she hunkered down in the back seat of the van, hiding under a blanket, crying and yelling rudely at anyone who attempted to talk to her, and didn't come out from 2:00 until 7 pm (at which point it was dark and cold and she was very hungry). Although she rarely has meltdowns these days (maturity works wonders!), the severity -- a five-hour tantrum, in essence -- is typical for her.

With our lump of black fury in the back of the van, we drove by the community garden to check on our plots and harvest some tomatoes. Then home and parked Erin in the carport. I went out to our home garden and dug up the rest of the potatoes and jerusalem artichokes. The three younger, good-humoured kids played with the Viking longship and then played SodaConstructor for a while.

I went out to the minivan in the carport, taking Erin a candle, when we were ready to sit down for our late supper. She was a little surly, but ready to come inside. She cheered up once it was clear we were all willing to let the whole incident pass without comment. She ate all her supper (a rarity) and we all had left over birthday cake for dessert.

She practised piano for a long time after supper, sight-reading through anything interesting she could find. Her sight-reading skills astonish me. She can sight-read almost fluently right up to her current playing level (i.e. the easier Chopin Waltzes and Schubert Scherzos and even wild atonal stuff by people like Aleksina Louie and Robert Starer). Noah had his turn at the piano; his playing has taken a huge leap in the past month and he is really enjoying his newfound sense of competence. He worked pretty hard on some fussy details. I complimented him on some musical details he'd thrown in on his own (ritards, crescendos and the like) and for once he seemed pleased to hear my positive feedback. The kids did their violin/viola practising after being given the choice of practising or dishes. Dh and I did the dishes together, which was nice. But I didn't hear the violin/viola practising. It turned out Noah was practising without his sheet music, while his assignment this week had been specifically to use the music to sort out and memorize the bowings of his concerto movement. Oops. Tomorrow I will be sure to practice with him to get him back on track. Sometimes he's diligent and responsible on his own, but sometimes he needs a nudge or a reminder.

Fiona and I unloaded the laundry airer. The kids put their laundry away. I'm finally through the backlog of vacation laundry! It takes quite a while when it's raining outside and I have to wait for a load of laundry to dry indoors before pushing another load through.

Three millimetres of rain had fallen by bedtime. Wind is negligible from the northeast. Temperature: 5.2 degrees Celsius. Barometer is steady. Still, I checked the internet weather forecast to be sure: it says precipitation should stop this evening and it will be partly cloudy tomorrow. Good news -- it's Harvest Festival!

Friday, September 30, 2005

Day in the Life -- Friday again

Friday was a good day for music. Everyone did lots of good practising, and both Erin and Noah did some entertaining / showing off on the piano during the evening. The kids had decided that they were going to work double-hard at their practising today, and they did just that. Piano lessons start next Monday, so it's nice that they had a hard-working day.

Friday was also a day of instant-messaging. Noah was jealous of the IM capabilities Erin's been enjoying on the Wondertree Homeschooling Village. He's feeling a sense of regret that he didn't sign on with the program too. But he doesn't want the learning goals and reporting and interaction with liaison teachers, so I think it's good he didn't sign up. Anyway, it was his birthday celebration day so I figured I'd set him/us with MSN to give him some fun.

I signed myself up first. Then I typed in the address of an 18yo friend of the family who is away at college this fall. She was on-line and thrilled to chat with me and the kids. They were instantly hooked on this form of chatting. I busily went to the other computer and got Noah and Erin set up with MSN and then abandoned the bunch of them to their chat with Rosie. She's a wonderful friend and mentor whom the kids have been missing a lot. She's also Erin's touchstone with the world of teenagehood ... a sensible and down-to-earth girl who has given Erin a model for gracefully coping with all the social and emotional stuff of adolescence. We know her through music; she's been the only violin student in the region at/beyond Erin's level, and Erin especially is missing her. She talks to Erin like a peer, and yet understands her age and emotional maturity. So that was a very nice connection to re-establish. We'll see her in real life in another week when she comes home for Canadian Thanksgiving, but we'll have more contact with her before and after through MSN. The kids spent piles of time chatting to her. Erin is a lightning-fast touch-typist and gifted writer. Noah is a hunt-and-peck kid with relatively rudimentary writing skills. His spelling and punctuation and typing skills seemed to improve even in the course of the afternoon. Erin and he chatted between our two computers for a while.

We had the birthday celebratory dinner. Last year Noah hosted a bonfire on his birthday... his first experiment with a party with invitations outside the family. It was wonderful. He asked for no gifts, but donations to the Heifer Project in lieu, and he was able to buy a goat with the money he received. Kids came with their families, and we roasted marshmallows in the dark, the kids played flashlight hide-and-seek and ran through the forest. We ate cake, looked at the full moon through the telescope, etc.. He really enjoyed it. But this year he was feeling more like a homebody after our holidays, and less like a big energetic gathering, and decided to go back to just a family birthday. So we had a nice supper with my mom in attendence. He opened his gifts. He got a nice swiss army knife and a pair of Heelys (very extravagant compared to our usual birthday fare!) from his parents. Erin gave him a watch she'd found on the beach that he'd wanted but she had claimed as her own. When his watch fell off while kayaking last month, she secretly decided she'd give this one to him for his birthday. He was thrilled. And he got a Viking activity / exploration pack from his grandmother, something that will no doubt become part of the Euwy world, since many Norse gods and goddesses already have alternative existences there.

I forget (already) what else happened throughout the day.... The kids did some dishes. There was talk of renting a video (we almost never watch TV, but it seemed like a fun special thing to do on a birthday) but the kids totally forgot to follow through on this. The Heelys got lots of play; Erin and Noah have the same size feet, and we just renovated our kitchen/dining area, giving the kids a good 15-foot-long expanse of glossy smooth rolling room. So even though we have no pavement near our home, they managed to become pretty capable on them. Noah and Sophie worked together to start building a cardboard model of a Viking longship. Noah read jokes aloud to us for a while. Erin cooked porridge and macaroni & cheese for us for breakfast and lunch.

A nice, family-centred day. Noah thought it was a brilliant birthday, and the 'gift' of an MSN Messenger account was his favourite, with Heelys and mocha semifreddo cake a close second and third.

I'm finding Oppel's "Skybreaker" a thrilling book to read aloud. Unfortnately I was dropping off to sleep before we finished our chapter, as were the kids. A big, long day.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Day in the Life -- Thursday again

Dreary unproductive day. Last night after I logged off and went to brush my teeth, Chuck realized the water pump was cycling, and cycling. There were no taps open. He couldn't figure out where the problem was. He eventually flipped the breaker to shut it off.

This morning I woke up knowing we had no water. Fortunately we have a back-up gravity-fed system, so we switched over to that, but it bypasses the filter and doesn't get enough pressure up to the shower for it to be useable. So I had to forgo my morning shower.

Erin was up and on the computer, making lists of names for fiction works she'll someday write. Fiona woke up. I made breakfast for everyone. Sophie and Noah awoke just before I left.

Then I headed out to work at the hospital. I'm not really sure what transpired during the morning. It was cold so they built the first fire of the season in the woodstove together. Erin played piano. Sophie and Noah tidied, cleaned and vacuumed their bedrooms (weird!). Erin cooked eggs, toast and veggies for lunch.

I got home at 1:30. I checked my e-mail and message boards and did bit more unpacking and laundry. I started some pizza dough. I had brought home the tablet PC from work to get it to do some voice recognition training. I did that. The kids were very interested. Noah set up a profile for himself and went through all the training stuff. It entailed reading aloud for about 10 minutes while the computer "learned" his speech patterns. I was very impressed with his fluency with the pretty advanced, technical text he had to read. Then the kids played a 21st century variant of the old "Telephone" game. They spoke a sentence to the computer and let it do its voice-recognition thing. It has about a 15% error rate early on in the process, so there were lots of inaccuracies. They would then read back to it what it had transcribed, and of course there would then be errors on top of the errors. And then they'd read that transcription. And so on, until the sentence was totally unrecognizable and quite bizarre. Very fun. Lots of hilarity.

Erin went on the Self-Design Virtual Village and discovered she was getting chat requests from other students. She figured out the chat module on her own and chatted away. Noah and Sophie read over her shoulder for a while; then she shooed them away.

Then I let Noah log in as me on the other computer and he and Erin chatted back and forth for a while, from a distance of 5 feet. Noah got a lot of writing/typing practice. They were very silly, laughing and sending each other insults and crazy stuff.

I made pizzas. We had supper. After supper Chuck tackled the pump issue. Bled off the pressure tank, installed a new pre-filter that we'd been waiting for an opportunity to install, and then tried to figure out what's up with the pump. He called a plumber friend who was too busy to come and do anything, but suggested that the problem, as we had guessed, was likely in a backflow valve. He helped Chuck figure out where the backflow valve was and what it looked like. We will try to replace it very soon, but it may take a week or more to get the part. We switched to a "manual electric pump" regimen, where we open a valve and turn on the pump to pressurize the water supply every time we notice water is barely dribbling out of a tap, then shut everything off again.

Erin was back chatting. I logged on and she and I chatted for a while, doing tag-team silly story-writing while Sophie and Noah read over our shoulders and laughed their heads off.

It poured rain all day, and I felt like I had had little productive time at home with the kids, so I decided we should just vegitate for the rest of the evening. Sophie played with hinged locker-mirrors and pattern blocks. Noah answered some e-mail and phoned a friend (using the phone for personal calls is a new thing for him). Erin read. Lazy evening which finished with the standard readalouds and journal-writing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Day in the Life -- Wednesday again

I got up early-ish (6:30 am) with Fiona, and Erin was already up. The middle two kids slept another hour and a half. So we seem to be reverting to our usual sleep-wake cycles. Erin likes to be up before everyone else (this after years of being the night-owl to end all night-owls) so she generally tries to get to bed so that she can awaken at 5 a.m. with a gentle nudge from her alarm clock when necessary.

She was doing Sudoku puzzles on-line, challenging herself with hard ones. To think that she laughed at my obsession with them during one week of our holidays. She then spent some time entering books from the children's/young adult novels section of our [extensive] home library into the database she's set up on the computer.

Noah and Sophie got up. Noah has turned 9 today but opted to wait until his dad is home later in the week to celebrate. Sophie, Noah and Fiona played with Duplo and Playmobil in the attic. Sophie has been using fabric in her Duplo creations lately, with impressive results. The kids had breakfast. Erin started playing a bit of piano.

I needed to get the dog to the vet, but darned if I couldn't find the van keys anywhere. I retraced my steps from last evening a dozen times but couldn't locate them, so I phoned and cancelled the appointment. Then I found the keys in the crack between the front door and the deck ... just a little bit of keyfob was showing -- I can't believe I found them! They must have fallen out of my shirt-jacket pocket as I was feeding the dog in the dark last evening, and got kicked into the space.

So all was well. We headed off to violin/viola lessons. Fiona has a 5-minute "lesson" where she shows off her pre-violin skills on her cardboard violin exactly the same way every week. Then Erin gets an hour; she's polishing up the Czardas by Monti and a couple of Suzuki Book 8 pieces and working on spiccato and sautillÃ© bowing and finger flexibility. Noah gets 45 minutes; his lesson was focused on 3-octave scales, sight-reading, vibrato and polishing up a Seitz Concerto movement. Sophie gets half an hour or so; she worked on polishing the "Theme from Witches' Dance" in Suzuki Book 2 and on left hand position and technique.

Afterwards I spent some time with my mom (their teacher) discussing ways to integrate the new crop of ready-for-orchestra violin students into the community orchestra I run. The kids played in her guest room with the toys I grew up with.

Then we went to the post office to collect the mail, and to the grocery store for ingredients for Noah's birthday cake a Mocha Semifreddo that he requested specially. There's a good reason we normally shop in the town 75 minutes away on the days we have piano lessons there (piano doesn't start until next week) -- it took us trips to three different stores in two different villages to find Oreo crumbs and whipping cream. Then we delivered invitations to the GRUBS club harvest festival to some of the community members who had volunteered services or donated supplies to help get the community garden off the ground this year.

We decided to stop at the Donation Store. It's sort of a thrift store run by a community association, but there are no prices ... you just donate money as thanks. They had immense amounts of clothing, so we picked up 6 items for Erin, 3 for Noah (including a beautiful cotton sorta-golf shirt and some awesome Umbro tearaway pants) and one each for Sophie and Fiona. The younger girls had just got piles of hand-me-downs from cousins, so that seemed fair.

A crow was trying to open a hazelnut, dropping it on the road in front of the store in an attempt to smash it, I think. The kids chased down the rolling hazelnut and stole it! Poor crow.

We went home and grabbed a very late lunch. Erin went back to the piano. She spent an hour or two playing only the left hand part of every piece in the Royal Conservatory Grades 5 through 8 albums ... I have no idea why; sometimes she is so weird. She pulled out a loose premolar in the midst.

Noah was off reading. Sophie played a bit on the computer. I called my friend and had The Talk about the kids' Sleepover Issue, which went just fine. Sophie and Fiona and I cooked up Noah's mocha semifreddo.

I cooked supper while the kids did the day's accumulated dishes. Noah went out and ran some energy off the dog and discovered 3 fresh bear poops on the corner of the property. Apparently our puppy isn't yet as attentive to intruders as we'd hoped she'd be. We don't really mind the black bears, except when they take all our apples. These poops were pure apple sauce. (TMI, I know, sorry!)

I managed to get a block of time booked next week with our cider-press friend.

After supper Erin went on-line to the Wondertree SD Village. I had her read through the weekly report I'd done on her behalf for the program for last week, as a sort of example for future reports I expect she'll do on a weekly basis. She seemed satisfied with the format and content.

She did another Sudoko puzzle and then grabbed the very book of Sudoku puzzles I was working through while we were on vacation ... the one she teased me about being obsessed with ... and obsessively did another couple of puzzles.

Noah and Sophie played with Duplo and Playmobil again, doing more "Euwy World" story-telling. Sophie spent some time typing into the computer a list of all the novels she's been reading lately. Noah and then Sophie played on Neopets for a while.

We watched a packrat (a western woodrat, actually a member of the squirrel family, if I'm not mistaken -- cute with a bushy tail) chasing moths on the outside of the window of our family room, after climbing up on the woodpile. It was fun -- he was nutty, and didn't seem aware of our presence.

We started the readalouds earlier tonight, since the kids wanted more chapters. My voice is now hoarse.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Day in the Life -- Tuesday again

Chuck left at the crack of dawn for a two-day training session out of town. Today felt like a chaotic, wasted day for me, but in retrospect there was a fair bit that got done. Erin learned how to cook scrambled eggs. Noah and Sophie prepared their own lunches and one for Fiona too. Noah spent a good bit of time training the dog. I installed the new digital camera software and the kids spent a delighted half hour or more using the slide show feature to examine every family photo on my hard drive (over 750 of them). Erin wrote a few messages on the Wondertree Village message boards, including offering up a nice introductory paragraph for a fantasy novel she's hoping to write, inspired by Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy and the "Dark is Rising" series by Susan Cooper.

Not all the practising got done. Noah has a birthday tomorrow, and we have a family tradition of no practising on your birthday. But he has a viola lesson tomorrow, which is considered equivalent to practising, so I suggested he skip his viola practising today in lieu. He did take a few minutes to go over the ensemble music that had been assigned for group class. Erin did a brief piano practising and an even briefer violin practising. Sophie and I practised together but it was a challenge ... her first goal-directed practising with me in 8 or 9 days.

I taught two violin lessons this afternoon. My mom has taken over the lion's share of the local Suzuki teaching, so I only have 3 regular students. Two of them came today. My kids fended for themselves, amusing Fiona.

I managed to unpack one more suitcase and do one more load of laundry. I managed to cook a meal and host our Tuesday dinner guests (family friends who have two unschooled girls, 8 and 11, the elder of whom plays violin ... they need a place to hang out and get a meal between her violin lesson and the evening group class, so they come to our place for supper every Tuesday). As it turns out, the student I teach before supper is a Wondertree unschooler, as are the two girls who come for supper, as it Erin. All of us are new to the program, so we parents had a good talk about it at that pre-supper transition time.

After supper we went to violin group class. My mom taughtit, knowing I wouldn't be properly prepared after just returning from holidays. All four of my kids participate in this group class. Fiona enthusiastically scrubs away on her cardboard violin until she tires and retreats to the book nook in the corner. Sophie and Noah are sort of in the middle of the pack in group class, being in late violin book 2 and mid-viola book 4 respectively, and aged 6 and 8 in a class spanning ages 4 to 15. The group class is probably most relevent to them. Erin is the most advanced student, and one of the oldest, so there's little challenge for her, though she's always gracious about attending. She and two of the other older, more advanced students got sent away to work on a trio piece on their own for 20 minutes. Then they had to return to the group and perform it. There's a really nice comraderie that showed amongst these three and they did some good work.

The Suzuki families in town are my kids' pseudo-extended-family. They had a wonderful time reconnecting with them after the summer and our holiday. The half hour afterwards was filled with conversation and play. Noah especially seemed to have really missed his Suzuki friends.

After group class we came home and unwound. I did a bit of tidying and the kids gravitated to the computer. We had a family meeting, something we do once a week or so, over hot chocolate and biscuits. On the agenda: Noah's birthday celebration, keeping the house tidy, dealing with our over-boisterous new puppy, fitting in enough readaloud time and a rehash of the sleepover issue. Dh phoned from his hotel room, and everyone talked to him, even Fiona.

Afterwards the kids played on the computer for a few minutes and Erin did some Soduko puzzles, explaining to the other kids what she was doing.

Readaloud time now beckons us all, and it's nearing 11 pm.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Day in the Life -- Monday again

I woke up at 6:30 even though I went to bed quite late (still on eastern time, I guess). I fussed around for a while with a web-like interface being used by the hybrid homeschool - independent school program Erin is using this year. Because we've been away, today is really our first day with the program. The independent school is Wondertree in Vancouver, a sort of free school, and the hybrid program is their home-based "Self-Design Learning" program. The basic idea is that they get some government funding on behalf of enrolled students, and pass some of that on to us in terms of receiptable expenses. They also provide a virtual "Village of Conversations" in which parents, students and teachers interact, learn and explore various things. The Village looks very much like a very safe, accepting, tolerant and very slick set of message boards, with teachers, students and parents all conversing with little to no regard for hierarchical formality of school. In other words, parents and teachers are just as likely to be learning from students as the other way around. We are required to report both a log of hours of learning and "observations for learning" which will be Erin's own reflections on her week's learning activities. Erin was very keen on the idea of the village, and was willing to do her own reporting, so the money we get from the program for expenses (\$1000 Cdn) will be simply a bonus.

She woke up soon after I did and installed the software on the kids' computer and then spent an hour or so exploring the Village and posting a few messages.

The younger three kids all woke up between 7:30 and 8:00. The computer is proving to be a kid magnet right now, as the kids just spent three weeks with no computer access while on holiday. Noah went through his e-mails and replied to a couple of friends' messages, then deleted a few hundred pieces of spam. Sophie and Noah spent a few minutes at Neopets.

I cooked breakfast : oatmeal porridge, since there's little food in the house. Chuck (who has the day off) and I installed some new lighting in the kitchen.

Erin helped me create a grocery list, since she's going to cook a couple of suppers this week. Chuck went off to do the grocery shopping (this requires an out-of-town trip, and about 51 weeks a year it's me this falls to, since he normally works long hours).

Sophie and I sorted through her fall clothing and added a bunch of hand-me-downs from her cousins once we'd created room in her drawers. She went off to read a Spider magazine that had come in the mail while we were gone. Erin was reading a Calliope magazine (ditto). Noah was off in his bedroom reading a Philip Ardagh Eddie Dickens book. Things were quiet so I started unpacking (three people travelling for 6 weeks means a lot of stuff in suitcases). Managed to get a couple of loads of laundry through and one of three suitcases emptied and put away.

The kids made themselves rice cakes, veggie sticks and Ramen noodles for lunch while I jumped in the shower.

I got called to work an out-of-town clinic tonight so I tried (and mostly failed) to get the kids motivated to do anything that needed my help during the afternoon. Did a bunch of phoning to get appointments and classes geared up for the fall. Got the three older kids registered for a wonderful weekly art class starting next week; Erin has been doing this class for going on four years now, Noah for two, and Sophie just started last winter. I puttered around trying to organize my own life for the fall a bit. The older three kids went up to the attic to play with Lego and Playmobil and work on their extended story-telling/mythology-creating. They built Euwy characters, buildings and landscapes. Later Noah and Erin played around in the Age of Mythology (computer game) editor, creating virtual worlds for the Euwy world.

Sophie went off to practice her violin. She practices without my help about a third of the time. She has a hard time getting started with me helping her, but we both recognize that she usually ends happily and makes much more progress when I help her. So we try to reserve alone-practising for days when she needs something "easier" for her emotionally. Today was one of those days, being the first day back at home after three weeks away and pretty spotty practising while on holiday.

We had a difficult visit from some friends of ours. They're fellow unschoolers, and wonderful people... mom and 5 kids from 1 to 12. But they have such high social needs and are so much more extroverted than we are... and after 3 weeks without seeing us they were just in our faces and loud and excited -- the energy level was just overwhelming for me, and for the kids too. A few nice things did come out of the visit ... the 12yo boy helped Noah take apart a defunct mini-RC car and extra the motor and rechargeable battery and test them with his electronics kit, Erin played her new violin for our friends, and we began talking about putting together a half-hour radio show about our organic gardening / environmental club for the homeschool timeslot on the co-op radio station nearby.

After they left Sophie continued pestering me to schedule a date for her to host her friend for a sleepover. I was worn out by all the chaos and mess and noise from the visit we'd just finished, so I sighed and admitted that I really find sleepovers hard. Sophie said "me too," and there was this pregnant pause, with me and all the kids looking at each other all having a sort of epiphany. "Does anyone like hosting sleepovers?" I asked. "Nope," they all said.

"Then why are you always asking me if you can have sleepovers?" I asked.

"The other kids always want them," they said. And laughed a little self-consciously, realizing how silly it was that they were so often whining and pestering me for something they didn't even like.

We talked about it and decided that I should have a frank but diplomatic discussion with the other mom, explaining that much as we enjoy their friendship, none of my kids really enjoy sleepovers. They're introverts and find time away from home draining -- they need their evenings and nights to recharge. Big sighs of relief from my kids. They've "endured" a year and a half of monthly-or-thereabouts sleepovers, because they felt they were supposed to like having them.

My mom dropped some ensemble music off for the two elder kids for them to read through and have ready for violin/viola group class tomorrow night. Chuck arrived home with groceries for the pantry and quotes for snow tires for the van. The snow will start flying on the higher-elevation roads here within a month or two.

I offered the kids the choice of doing dishes or collecting apples. They chose apples, so I started the dishes. Outside they began throwing the hundreds of mushy scabby windfall apples into the agri-fab cart, and then sorting the keepers into "eaters" and "cider apples". We had a visit from a black bear this morning so it is crucial that we get the apples in. We've had a bumper crop this year, but they began ripening and falling while we were away. Hundreds of lovely apples are still on the trees. We'll get lots of cider! They worked for an hour or so in the orchard.

I made supper, with Chuck's help (another lovely treat -- he usually doesn't get home until very late). We ate and I ran off to my evening clinic.

Erin and Noah did their violin/viola and piano practising (two practisings each) while I was gone. Then they watched the second Harry Potter video.

When I got home we read aloud from "Skybreaker" by Kenneth Oppel and "Inkspell" by Cornelia Funke. Great books.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Learning Plan

Erin has decided to jump aboard an alternative program this year. Wondertree's SelfDesign Program is a hybrid homeschool / school program run through a partly-government-funded independent school with an unschooling philosophy. Erin is intrigued by the "On-line Village of Conversations" message board system that she hopes will provide her with support, friendship and inspiration. We also get some cash reimbursement for receiptable educational expenses.

As part of the documentation requirements, we are required to create a learning plan. The starting point for this plan is an "anything goes" set of ideas Erin generates of things she'd like to learn this year. Here's what I wrote up, based on her ideas, today:

Latin – she’d like to build on her basic understanding attained through perusal of Minimus, and perhaps move beyond that into more advanced study.

Music:
~ continuing violin studies with more chamber music work
~ continuing music theory study to complete RCM Grade 1 or Alfred Level 2
~ continuing piano studies with perhaps some additional emphasis on accompanying
~ wants to master Finale® music notation software, a professional-level music publishing program, for use in composition and arranging
~ she is considering joining the (adult) community choir

Math -- Singapore NMC (Secondary) Level 1 completion is a goal for this year

Cooking – meals and baking – wants to strive for more independence and competence in the kitchen

Gardening – will continue to be involved in local children’s gardening/environmental club, learning more about organic cultivation techniques, environmental sustainability in agriculture and otherwise, and about the natural world through stewardship of the garden and its environs

Soccer – wishes to be involved in community soccer next spring, after trying it out very successfully last spring

Swimming – wants to improve swimming ability

Creative Writing – wants to work on her ability to sustain her interest in particular writing projects, as she writes from inspiration and finds that when her writing gets interrupted she can’t get back into the mindset that inspired her in the first place

Erin would like to work on watercolour technique and drawing technique

Electronics – she would like to get access to a comprehensive electronics kit and work towards learning simple electronic circuitry, principles and terminology

Erin is interested in creating card games and modifying the rules for existing games that we have. She would like to create a card game (or more than one) from scratch.

Erin would like to create a website which introduces visitors to the rich and bizarre imaginary world of Planet Egypt which she and her siblings have been busily inventing over the past year.

Our "Learning Consultant" was very pleased with this list. So was I. It was nice to have the excuse to talk to Erin about her ambitions, ideas, frustrations and accomplishments. She volunteered more about her creative writing and reading processes than I've ever got out of her before. I was surprised that she suggested goals for math and music theory (even if they're very conservative goals as she's almost halfway completed both).

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Saturday - Day in the Life

Erin had to leave for her friend's by 10, so she spent the time from 8 to 10 practising violin and piano, and packing her sleepover stuff. The occasion is her unschooled friend J.'s 11th birthday. The girls have been friends since age 5 and they are yin and yang in many respects but the friendship is genuine and close and important to both of them. They live 45 minutes apart, so time together, other than on the fringes of their common musical pursuits, is precious. Today J.'s other close friend S., whom Erin has never met, will be there. The three girls will be floating down the river in inner tubes, hanging out, riding J.'s horse and spending the night camping in a tent.

Some friends of J's and ours who live in town half the year, and in Georgia the other half, were leaving today. They had some things they wanted us to pick up to return to J's family, and we had some borrowed things to return to each other, so we stopped by to say goodbye. They have two unschooled boys, 2 and 7. Picked up stuff, exchanged stuff, said 'bye'.

Then we drove to J's. On the way we listened to part of a great Naxos recording of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Other Tales", which was one of the things we were supposed to be returning to J.'s family on behalf of the departing family. We decided to borrow it ourselves so we could finish it. Spent half an hour at J's house, visiting the horse, looking at photographs of the Suzuki institute that J.'s mom had taken (wonderful!), and looking at what they've been building this summer ... a beautiful timber-framed wood shed with a poured-concrete-and-river-rock foundation.

We left Erin, and the three younger kids and I went to our favourite little independent bookstore. We spoke to the owner for a while, browsed, and walked out with the "Eragon" sequel "Eldest" by Chris Paolini, which we'd pre-ordered, "Wee Free Men" by Terry Pratchett, and a Dover colouring book of Norse Gods and Heroes which Noah was entranced with and wanted to have to keep himself busy on the flight to Ontario next week.

Then we went next door to the funky little cafÃ© for lunch. This was a little 'treat' because Erin was having fun on her way down the Slocan River in an inner tube. We had a partial family meeting, talking about Sophie's and Noah's practising (something which doesn't require everyone's participation) and having a little preliminary discussion about Erin's obstinate bedtime habits. It turns out neither Sophie nor Noah want to change the bedroom assignments, most especially Noah, who has his own bedroom now but is very much looking forward to having Fiona move in when / if she ever decides to sleep outside of groping distance of her mother's breasts . We will have to see what happens over the course of our holidays. Perhaps that break will give Erin a chance to adopt more reasonable habits without losing face over the current situation. We finished with coffee and chocolate milk and lingered in a leisurely way over our lunch.

We drove home. Fiona had been up quite early and was very tired. She fell asleep in the van. We listened to more Rudyard Kipling. We did a bit of grocery shopping when we got back to our town.

At home, I got busy baking and organizing food for tomorrow's lunch-time entertaining. The kids decided to watch a bit of TV as a 'treat' and turned on a dog agility show which made them laugh a lot. Then they watched a totally innocuous preschool show, Max & Ruby. I don't remember the last time they watched TV ... must be over a month at least. I managed to fake my way through to a nice batch of gluten-free peach muffins. (I forgot to mention that yesterday I did manage to get most of the crate of peaches washed, cut and into the freezer.) I started the rice-pasta salad. The kids had been asking for a new batch of playdough for forever, and I'd been putting them off until we had a kitchen area where they could play with it, so I started that, and they did the cooking and stirring and kneading, and then played with it for at least an hour.

I threw together some supper and we ate in our new dining room.

The kids spent a little time on the computer playing Age of Empires, and a little time outside with the puppy. Sophie found two pears on our pear tree that we didn't know we had! I planted four pear trees the year Noah was born, two Siberians and two very young Ure pears as cross-pollinators. Unfortunately, the Ures were planted along the border of the lawn where it meets the forest, and for the first three years, Chuck kept accidentally mowing them down. (He also mowed one of the Siberians one year :-( ). Anyway, they kept sprouting back, thankfully, and finally I got wise and caged the one Ure that looked like it might make it. While the really good Siberian has been big enough for fruit for at least the past two years, the little Ure wasn't quite big enough to set blossoms this year. But through serendipity two pears seem to have got pollinated anyway ... perhaps a bee had a bit of pollen from somewhere far afield. Next year I expect we'll get a proper crop, because our cross-pollinator has grown really well this summer.

We figured out how to play the card game "Frog Juice." I had bought it a few weeks ago, and the kids had been unable to figure out the confusing instructions, so they'd invented their own version and taken great delight in it. However, Noah asked me to help him figure out the real rules, so, after a lot of reading and laying out of cards and a trial game, we got it (quite simple, really, just poorly explained) and played a couple of games. Sophie joined in and we played again.

Noah did his piano practising. It took two tries, because he had a major meltdown the first time after knowing that there were some wrong notes in a melody he was playing but getting overwhelmed by the written page and collapsing in a fit of insecurity. He sat on the couch feeling badly for quite a while. I came in and talked to him. I explained that he seems to like to get the "big picture" of anything first before he works on the details, but his piano music is getting complex enough that he can't always do that. Now sometimes the details have to come first, before he gets the big picture, and that's hard to get used to. He nodded. He played with Fiona for a while and then I called him back to the piano. He came willingly and did some detail work on the trouble spot, picking it up with no difficulty of course. He felt better and finished his practising.

Neither Sophie nor Noah wanted to do their violin/viola, and given the late hour and my own feelings about it, I decided we'd be best to let it go. I try to make sure they miss less than one practising a week. They've done well for a couple of weeks now, so that's fine.

Noah, Sophie and I did the dishes. I offered to read aloud while they worked, but they said "dishes are too much fun, so we won't be able to pay attention." Huh? Maybe they just wanted to make sure I did a share of the work.

Afterwards they got out their math and printing. This used to be something they took delight in at least 3 or 4 times a week, but it hasn't happened in months. I realized tonight that this routine must have been inextricably bound to the dining room table, which we haven't had proper use of for months. They both did some good math work, and Noah did a lot of printing. Fiona got out the pencil crayons and paper and made F's in every colour of the rainbow. Then she started drawing "guys". A couple of weeks ago she'd begun drawing faces (circle, line for mouth and two dots for eyes). Tonight her "guys" had egg-shaped head/bodies, eyes, noses, mouths, hair, "twoheads" (what Fiona calls foreheads), arms, hands, legs, knees and feet. Noah and Sophie were entranced by her progress and very encouraging.

We read from "The Star of Kazan".

Friday, August 26, 2005

Friday - Day in the Life

I vow that I will continue day-in-the-life blogging through the weekend, since this week has been one long mess of drywall and paint. I feel like I've been ignoring the kids.

The good news is that I finished today! I got the second coat of paint on the ceiling, then both coats on the walls. I washed brushes and rollers and paint trays almost non-stop, pulled off the masking tape, cleaned up dust and splatters, put away all the paraphernalia, and prepared to move the dining room table out of the family room (where it's resided since June 19th) back into the dining area. Erin did a bit of painting with me. Noah and Sophie took apart the light fixtures and washed them and re-assembled them. Sophie helped me cut squares of old carpet and glue-gun them to the legs of chairs and tables to protect the new cork flooring. When Chuck got home we ceremoniously moved the table back and had a humble supper, luxuriating in our actual dining area. Brilliant!

In the midst of it, the kids amused themselves for most of the day. There was a lot of "Planet Egypt" imaginative play on the hammock and gym rope (these have been great investments this summer!) and on the play structure.

There was a lot of computer time. Today's game of choice in Zoo Tycoon. What the kids did with it today is typical. They use a cheat to get limitless amounts of money, and then they use that money to create an imaginary world of a type that the program was not really intended for. Today they used Zoo Tycoon to build a resort town populated by themselves and their friends, adapting all the construction options to create homes (with massive kids' bedrooms!) and grocery stores and swimming pools and hiking trails and boating lakes and a church and school and parks. All with animals roaming around. There was a moment of panic when the tigers got into the grocery store!

Noah and Erin played Carcassonne. Sophie used the Labyrinth card game to create complex mazes. There's been a real resurgence of interest in family games this week. Often they're not touched from week to week.

The day trickled away.

After supper, the kids got busy practising. The way it worked today was typical.

Erin sat down at the piano. She practices completely independently.

Noah headed off to get his viola out. I went and spent five or ten minutes with him. He has a goal chart with eight particular tasks listed that he is working towards 'making them easy'. I try to touch base with him on these goals every couple of days. We worked together on the ones that weren't 'easy' yet. We decided not to set new goals to replace those that are easy just yet... maybe in a couple of days. He does the lion's share of his practising independently these days. I wish we could work together better, but this is our compromise for now. He needs his space.

After they've finished, they switch tasks. Erin heads out to practice her violin, and Noah comes to the piano. I hover a little bit, working with him for about half of his practising. Unless he's in a really receptive mood, I try to limit my input to suggestions I give him just before he starts to work on something. If I suggest something while he's already working on it, he takes it as a criticism and bursts into tears. This is true no matter how non-critically I frame things. Even if I say, cheerfully, "Hey, here's an idea I heard about once. I don't know if it's totally out to lunch, but I once heard someone practice staccato chords like this [demonstration]. Don't know if you think that's too weird." He'll likely start crying or tell me to get lost and leave him alone and sit "on strike" at the piano for 5 minutes trying to recover from this afront. So I try to catch him just before he starts the Arabesque and remind him of the three places that probably need extra work (based on what I heard yesterday) and suggest some ways of doing that work.

Once Noah finished his piano, Sophie went and pulled out her violin. Fiona began insisting on practising too (typical). So Fiona and I got out her cardboard violin and bow and spent three or four minutes, with Sophie patiently watching, working on bow-hold, on setting her own violin-hold, and on the rhythmic-motor pattern of the first Twinkle rhythm. Then Sophie and I started to work together on her violin work. We did about half an hour of good work together. Sophie is learning really well the past month. She's learned "Two Grenadiers", "Theme from Witches' Dance" and almost all of "Gavotte from 'Mignon'" in the past six weeks. Her bow direction and bow arm mechanics are much better. She is feeling more confident and is almost ready to get back to some sight-reading work (she's very good at reading, but it is hard work to do sight-reading practice, so it's the first thing she gives up when she feeling a bit discouraged, as she was this spring).

After practising I had a bath with Fiona and got the drywall dust out of my hair and the flecks of paint off her. Noah and Sophie played outside with the puppy until well after dusk. Erin went off to bed early-ish, because she's off to a friend's early tomorrow, and knows she needs to get her practising done first thing. That solved the issue of Sophie getting to bed at a time that suits her easily.

We read the last chapter of "The Bad Beginning". We'd lost the book in the family room about three weeks ago, and it had been excavated out of the chaos when we moved the dining room table out. Then we read aloud from "The Star of Kazan." I went to bed right away because I'd been up until past two the night before painting (and blogging!).

Thursday - Day in the Life

Another fairly useless day.

I finished my pre-read of "The Ruby and the Smoke" this morning. Neat book.

Fiona and I did the morning chores (chickens and puppy duties). I did the last of the sanding and mudding and sanding and then did my best to start cleaning up the drywall dust.

A photo of my natural dyed fabrics. Top to bottom: madder (1st bath), onion skin, madder (2nd bath), woad, rhubarb root. I definitely need to find a green. Surprisingly, deep greens are hard to create from nature; chlorophyll is not a useful dye chemical.

A friend phoned about a homeschooling/public-school hybrid program they're trying to start in our town. Although I'd love to support the local school by letting them collect funding on my kids' behalf, it sounds to me like the administration either don't have all their ducks in a row yet, or they're trying to pull off some sort of scam with the government. There's a meeting on Monday -- a firm proposal is being tabled. I feel like a killjoy, but I think I'm going to have to be grumpy and refuse to sign on. We'll see. I spent about an hour on the phone discussing the intricacies and my concerns with my friend.

I made oatmeal for breakfast with nectarines because we had about four tablespoons of milk in the house and no bread products. We eked out the milk and managed to all fill our tummies.

The kids worked away cleaning up the family room. I could sort of tell something positive had happened but it certainly didn't get clean.

Sophie and Noah did their practising(s). Erin did her violin practising.

Everyone played outside for quite a while. Then they wanted to go to the beach. I relented, since I needed to buy latex primer and milk anyway. We took the puppy along. Picked up the mail (just boring stuff). Bought the paint. On the way to the beach saw the fruit guy had his stall up so stopped and bought a case of peaches, knowing at the time that I was being really silly -- those we can't eat will need to be processed and frozen within 36 hours and it's not like I have time to spare.

We spent most of the afternoon at the beach. We got the puppy to swim to the raft, and to jump off the raft and swim to shore again (that was much more frightening for her). Erin and Noah, who are fearless and adventurous in the water, invented a game called AquaSumo. It's a best-of-21 wrestling match where you try to push your opponent off the raft into the drink to score a point. My favourites were the two-pointers when they both went in.

Returned home. Remembered to buy milk. Spent almost two hours putting the primer on the walls and ceiling of the dining area. Where were the kids during this? What were they doing? I have no idea. This isn't much of an unschooling blog, more of an enumeration of the ways in which I've been ignoring the kids.

I made pasta for (late) dinner. The kids were outside playing with the puppy and doing imaginative games on the play structure. Fiona is getting to the age of beginning to engage with the other kids in their 'stories'. The contributions she offers up are often outrageous and rather out in left field, but she's trying to be funny, so everyone laughs really hard.

After dinner we did a major dishwashing together. Chuck got home at about 7:45. Erin practiced piano. She was feeling really snarky. It started with her complaining over her piano teacher's suggestion that she spend the rest of this month working on two or three post-romantic lyrical pieces, which she was claiming to 'hate'. She asked why Anne always suggested those types of pieces (she doesn't... Erin spent the spring doing Bach and Haydn and Kuhlau and Mozart) and I said that apparently Anne felt she still needed to work on phrasing and voicing singing lines, something which doesn't come as easily to her as rapid precise playing. Erin got really testy at this, which she no doubt heard as an enumeration of her pianistic faults. Things had already been circling the drain and my 'explanation' didn't help. After reading through an Oscar Peterson Waltz that she complained loudly about because it's got lots of tenths, she quit in a huff and went to the computer where Sophie and Noah had been happily playing "Age of Mythology" together and started saying rude things. Sophie began crying. Erin said she was going to stay up really late so that Sophie wouldn't be able to come to bed for ages, because Erin wouldn't be done her private readaloud until after midnight.

I asked Erin to find somewhere where she could be without upsetting everyone in the room she was in, and reminded her that she was not to ban a tired 6yo room-mate from her own bedroom. Erin started all sorts of silly twisted logic arguments about how late she used to stay up when she was 6 and why it makes no difference whether you or someone else decides on your bedtime and why Sophie shouldn't complain because ...

I just ignored her and eventually she went off to bed. It was about 10:30, very late to bed for Erin, so clearly she was trying to inconvenience Sophie. She came out two or three times after that to where Noah was setting up a modified solitaire version of "Settlers of Catan" on the floor of the living room and told him he was stupid and that his game was idiotic. She did this quietly, so that I couldn't hear from the next room. Noah didn't react. He just sighed and told me about it. He speculated about why Erin was being so hurtful. I said I didn't know, but that she was hurting about something and lashing out trying to hurt other people because "misery loves company". Noah responded "she sure doesn't love my company" and went happily back to his game.

I read aloud to Sophie and Noah. Fiona dropped off to sleep in my arms. I put her to bed and came back downstairs to do a first coat of paint on the ceiling. Sophie stayed up and chatted with me for a while. Thankfully Erin had gone to sleep, so she was able to head off to her bedroom without incident when she got tired. Unless we can find a mutually agreeable solution to the bedtime thing very soon, I think we must consider rooming Sophie with Noah. So far Erin will not budge willingly, and if I force her to budge, she will make Sophie's life miserable. I don't want poor Sophie to feel intimidated when entering her own room, and that's the way things are going the past couple of weeks. We'll take another stab at this issue at our next family meeting. Unfortunately everyone, including Chuck and myself, has made it abundantly clear to Erin that we think what's she's doing is utterly wrong -- and that's sure to put her in an uncompromising frame of mind. I am not hopeful we'll sort this out.

I finished up the ceiling and sat down to write this. Off to bed in a minute.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Wednesday - Day in the Life

Useless day. I'm sure you'll be glad to hear I have days like this. The kids spent too much time on the computer. The day seemed to trickle away down the drain. I'm not sure what happened to it.

I woke up at 7:30. I'm pre-reading "The Ruby and the Smoke" by Philip Pullman for Erin. I love it; I'm not sure she will, because it's a mystery. But maybe, since she loved the "His Dark Materials" trilogy so dearly, she'll cut Phil some slack and give this one a go. I think she'd have to read with more attention to detail to keep track of the characters and the plot, which would probably be good for her.

Got out of bed at 8:15, with a chipper Fiona in tow. Erin of course had been up for a while. Noah and Sophie got up about the same time. Chuck had meetings this morning so he'd been off early.

I folded and sorted laundry for what seemed like forever. Erin played one-on-one with Fiona in a lovely way for about an hour.

Fiona and I took the dog to the vet for a well-puppy visit. She's doubled her weight in the month since her first visit. I thought so!

I went out to the garden and harvested the madder I've been growing for 3 years. Sophie and I washed it and chopped it and set it to steep. I set up an alum mordant bath for some unbleached hemp/silk fabric I've had in reserve for a year or two. Sophie and I talked about mordants and what they do.

Noah and Erin spent a good part of the morning writing on two different computers. Noah's building some sort of calendar in his journal, so he wanted to know how many days in each month. I taught him the "knuckle trick" for figuring out which months have 31 days. [Put your two fists together so that the eight knuckles line up in a row. The knuckles are the long months (with 31 days), the "valleys" between knuckles are the short months (with 30 or 28 days).] Erin seemed to be making a long list of descriptive opposites but I would never confess that I peeked.

I looked for gluten-free muffin recipes for a friend. I responded to some e-mails. I think the kids fended for themselves for breakfast and lunch. Sophie and Noah played some Blokus.

I did a little more drywall mudding. I put the fabric into the madder dyebath. Sophie and Fiona stirred for a while. It started to go a nice dark red. Put another bit of fabric in the mordant.

The kids asked to go to the beach. I told them to forget it, because I had asked them repeatedly to do some housecleaning to help prepare for our holidays and our house-sitter/locum, and no one had yet lifted a finger. I felt lousy about saying that, but I can see a last-minute housecleaning marathon settling onto my shoulders and I'm already feeling resentful about it.

I folded more laundry and cleaned out the fridge. Wiped the kitchen counters more often than was strictly necessary. Have I mentioned how much I love my almost-complete new kitchen?

Erin's friend called to invite her to a birthday party on Saturday/Sunday (tube-floating down the river, then sleepover). Erin decided to sew a little carry-bag for hair fixings or jewelry for her friend as a gift. She chose a funky print from the fabric scrap bin and a contrasting aqua colour. I cut the circles out because we couldn't find the good lefty fabric scissors. I walked Erin through the construction (she'd helped with one of these before, but it had been a long time). She did almost all the sewing, all the pinning and ironing. She even used a protractor to divide the circle into eighths for the pocket seams. It took about 90 minutes from start to finish and looked really nice. Basically it's a circular drawstring bag which when opened reveals a largish central compartment and eight small pockets arranged around the sides. Very simple to make but quite elegant to look at.

I went into Noah's room, looking for more fabric in his closet, and found him lying on his bed. Asked him if he was tired, planning a nap. "Nope, just having a think," he replied. He's so sociable these days that it's easy to forget he's an introvert.

We played Pre-Rummy Roots and Rummy Roots 1 & 2. Erin and Sophie went off to their bedroom to play more games.

Chuck came home and we had supper. The kids played outside for a long time. I had to remind them about practising, which they all did without protest, all except Sophie, who whined "No, I don't want to." I responded without missing a beat by asking "Are you saying you're not going to practice, or are you pretending you're not going to, because you're having trouble getting started right now?" She looked at me, grinned, and said "Pretending." Fifteen minutes later she began practicing happily with me and did some good work on her bow arm and on the nasty fingering passage in "Gavotte from Mignon."

I pulled the first fabric out of the madder dyebath and put the other one in. The first is a lovely variegated but deep red. Well, pretty deep for a natural dye. The next will be a pale salmon or peach, I think. I acidified the bath to make it a little yellower. I've been saving vegetable-dyed fabric for a while: now I have a greyish-tinged pink made from rhubarb root, a medium yellow made from onion skins, a pale blue made from woad, and my red and light orange from the madder. I feel a quilt coming on. What I'd like to do is get the kids to make mandala-like print blocks that we'd use to create repeating images in black fabric paint on various squares of vegetable-dyed fabric. We'll see what evolves. This is a project I began almost 3 years ago when Erin and I dyed the first fabric with onion skins.

More drywall sanding and mudding before bed. Then the obligatory 30-40 pages of "The Star of Kazan".

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Tuesday - Day in the Life

I woke up and read for an hour in bed, since I figured Fiona would pop up as soon as I left bed, and I was relishing a quiet hour of R&R. Erin was up and about, playing with the puppy. The wind was blowing outside. Fall is blowing in.

By the time I stopped reading and I got up (with Fiona popping up immediately as predicted), Sophie and Noah were also up. Chuck was up too and making the coffee. I left the kids to their own devices and went upstairs to clean the big bathroom. In 10 days we have to turn the house over to a locum-cum-housesitter, so I have to get it out of health-hazard status. One room at a time. Fiona helped with the bathroom-cleaning. She was actually more help than hindrance, though I did run her a bath at the end to keep her happily out of the way of my work.

Then I came down to the dining room to do another smidge of drywall mudding. With Fiona around I rarely get to do more than a little bit. I washed dishes. Noah dried.

Sophie and I played a game of Rummy Roots. Noah joined in and we did another game. Erin was writing on the ancient laptop. She was using some sort of code to keep the text illegible to passersby, but she was very serious and prolific in her output. Her touch-typing is very fast these days -- probably 40 wpm, I'd wager. I hadn't even really noticed until just recently that she was totally touch-typing.

I had to go to the bank, and to the medical clinic to get caught up on some paperwork. Fiona came with me. I'm not really sure what the kids did while I was gone. Chuck had the morning off and was working on finishing carpentry in the kitchen. I picked up more drywall mud while I was out.

We ate the last of the cinnamon buns for lunch, among healthier fare.

Did a big sanding of the drywall mud after lunch. As I was cleaning up as much as was possible, a friend showed up. She was dropping her 10yo off for a much-desired playdate with Erin. My friend and I chatted about this and that for 20 minutes or so. Sophie and Fiona showed off their piano 'skills' for my friend.

After my friend left, I sat down for a stint at the computer and to nurse Fiona into her afternoon nap, which she seemed to be needing today.

The friend who was here for the playdate changes the play dynamic here for the better, but in an unexpected way. She tends to sit at the computer and play games the whole time she's here, being rather controlling and demanding of Erin. So Erin tends to move off into another room to avoid being ordered about (some assertiveness would not be amiss here, but Erin is who she is). Anyway, what often transpires is that my three older kids play together beautifully, very imaginatively and without the games, gimmicks and technology that live in the family room, because of their desire to get a little distance between them and M.. So Erin, Noah and Sophie had a wonderful giggly time together in the living room, and M. played on the computer ten feet away in the next room, and then complained at the end of the afternoon that Erin hadn't spent any time with her. :-P Oh well.

At 4pm M.'s brother and her dad came for the brother's violin lesson. I went to the basement to teach B. for what ended up being almost an hour. Afterwards I chatted to the dad, B. played with Noah, M. continued on the computer and Sophie flitted around, sometimes watching M. on the computer.

After they left I cooked supper. Chuck came home. We ate supper. The three older kids did the dishes. Then they all did all their practising. Sophie and I in particular had a wonderful productive session together. Noah cut his viola short because his 4th finger had been injured while wrestling with Erin. After practising, the kids continued the work/play they'd started during the afternoon on the "Euwy Folder". This is a loose-leaf binder that they've started which contains information, notes, cartoons, humour pieces, background, stories and pictures of the characters that inhabit their imaginary "Planet Egypt". Today they added a restaurant menu from a restaurant called "Brown Teeth of the Ukraine" which consisted of various overpriced inedibles with hilarious descriptions. They did it in Microsoft Works after discovering the publishing wizards there.

Noah and Sophie spent some time in the late evening browsing through the Sears Christmas Wish Book catalogue which had arrived earlier today.

Noah did some writing / journaling in "YeahWrite".

I scrubbed the dining room ceiling to get it ready for painting.

We read three more chapters from "The Star of Kazan", which I highly recommend, BTW. Erin was already asleep tonight before Sophie headed for bed. Phew!