Sunday, April 18, 2004

Juggling activities

Noah's penpal's team lost their soccer championship game. Too bad. The good news is that we'll be meeting him and his sisters and mom in less than a month.

We had another tough day juggling activities. Three of us wanted to go to the community cleanup day. Two of us wanted to stay at home playing K'nex. Two of us wanted to go to the recital rehearsal and stay afterwards to socialize. Two wanted to bake cookies, but ... later. Only one kid was interested in doing practising early enough in the day to free up the social time after rehearsal. Some kids wanted a video. Others wanted a big imaginary game instead, but insisted everyone participate.

So we didn't get much done. We hung around home. I did some garden digging. Sophie helped sow some beans, peas and onions. Erin and I went to the rehearsal (it was terrific!) and then came home directly. No cookies got baked. No community cleaning-up happened. There was a fair bit of testiness in the family relationships.

I'm feeling a bit frustrated. Prior consensus helps, and that's been lacking. But even so, even when everyone agrees about the day's schedule, there's invariably one or two kids who change their mind and decide they'd rather just keep whacking the tetherball around, or reading, or whatever.

I'm also feeling the impending onslaught of craziness that will occur over the next 4 weeks as I resume violin teaching and deal with three huge music education organizational endeavours in the region. It feels like a tidal wave is about to break over me, and I'm not as relaxed with the day-to-day stuff as a result.

Everyone did some math bookwork today. It's 8:15 pm and we're still working on getting the last bit of practising done. Tomorrow is a "town day", with gymnastics, grocery-shopping and piano lessons. I hope we find our stride again soon when it comes to juggling things at home.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Penpals and Screen-Free Day

Yesterday Noah's penpal's dad came for a visit. The penpal lives in Holland. His family is planning to immigrate to our neck of the woods (which is why we were originally in touch, which led to the boys' contact). Anyway, the visit was a rousing success. Noah was very excited to spend time with someone so intimately acquainted with his friend. There were photos and gifts and stories and comments about similarities.

Since then Noah has been very focused on his penpal. He knows about today's soccer championship game and is hoping to hear soon who won. He wants to learn to speak Dutch. He's looking forward to meeting J. some day (maybe soon!). He wants him to teach him to play soccer. He carries the photo album around with him. I've come to appreciate what a good friend Noah is. He cares deeply and (more to the point) demonstrably about his friends. He is thoughtful and loyal and proactive in nurturing the friendships he has. I expected the penpal friendship to be so remote and abstract that it would take some prodding on my part for him to continue putting energy into it, but that hasn't been the case. I think that the people who have Noah as a friend are lucky people indeed.

Erin, though almost 3 years older, needs so much more help in this department. And yet, as in all areas, she rebels against help.

We tried a screen-free day today. I kind of sprang it on the kids, which wasn't fair, and it showed. I asked Noah and Sophie last night if they'd be okay about it and they said yes. Erin wasn't impressed when she got up this morning. She came around with time. But by supper time she was really wanting to write a story (although her handwriting is astronomically better lately, she still only writes creatively on the computer, where she's much faster and can edit easily). And Sophie and Noah were fast losing their enthusiasm for a screen-free day. So I caved in. We turned on the computer. Dh came home and turned on the hockey game without anyone complaining.

However, it was a good day. Everyone did their practising. There was lots of outdoor play. Erin and Noah decided to try to teach themselves to play soccer. Neither has ever played. They got a kickball out and took shots and made a pylon course for dribbling the ball practice. I did a fair bit of gardening (digging over the soil and creating two 4x15-foot beds, mixing in some wood ash and compost).

I read aloud from a magazine this morning, a funny article about the "slow food" movement (pro-slow-food). The kids were mildly interested and we talked about a bit of this and that. I should read more like this to them, rather than always just fiction at bedtime story-hour. We did a lot of tidying. I spent almost two hours catching up on the laundry and managed to excavate the laundry room down to floor level. We listened to a variety of music ("The Proclaimers", Bach Oboe works, Jascha Heifetz violin encores, etc., a rather eclectic mix!) that the kids chose. Well, I chose the Proclaimers, and while Noah enjoyed it and practiced keeping the beat and then subdividing it into duplets and triplets, drumming on his knees, Erin objected and put on Bach.

Somebody did an experiment with licorice strings and water. No one will confess.

I ran soil chemistry tests. Only Sophie was even mildly interested. We are seriously potash deficient... hence the wood ash added to the garden today.

Chuck was out of town at an auction for flooring materials. We had a bit of discussion about strategies for pricing and talked about why things are sometimes cheaper at auctions.

We have decided (I think we're all on board) that every Thursday will be a screen-free day. It's as tough for me as it is for the kids, but it helps us all be aware of the additional time we have for ourselves without the computer. And we tend to make an effort to do something nice together when the computers aren't occupying us.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Art gallery

Sophie is reading everything lately. She'll sit with magazines, comic compilations (Garfield is a favourite), easy readers, novels, newsletters, anything, really, and I'll hear her reading aloud quietly to herself. The other two learned to read more internally, silently. It's fun to witness the progression.

Weather is pouring rain today and cold, so I'm trying to inspire some spring cleaning indoors. Success is limited. The kids polished the piano and tidied the living room floor.

The art show last weekend was a great success. It was the exhibition marking (almost) the end of the year's art classes for Noah and Erin. The teacher mounted the artwork nicely and made nice display cards with the kids' names. The exhibit was in a real gallery space, following an outdoor community event, so there was a huge busy influx of visitors, just like a real art show opening. It was great for the kids to hear people oohing and ahhing over the work of themselves and their friends. And everything looked so professional in that setting.

When their paintings and drawings came home this week I was inspired to hang it at home with a little more care and respect than usual. It looks really nice. I've been thinking lately about how a parent responds to a child's creative output is a balance. While you want to demonstrate interest and support and encouragement, you don't want to give the impression that you feel every scribble is a work of art, or should be. I think too much focus on the end-produce stunts creativity and joy. I think it's important for kids to understand that not everything has to be worth displaying on the fridge, that creative work is valuable even if (or perhaps especially if) it doesn't yield a highly-polished end-product. I find that specific comments about the art, rather than general praise, makes a good strategy. "You made some really intriguing colour choices in this one. I think the blue and brown really work together nicely, and the orange just jumps out at you and draws attention to the centre. That's really neat." And I find that if I let the artwork they produce linger a little in piles that in a few days or weeks the kids are quite clear about what they consider worthy of display.

So today we have two beautiful walls of construction-paper-matted artwork, distilled from reams of stuff the kids have produced over the past 8 months or so. It's quite inspiring.

We're (I'm) having a bit of an issue with the amount of screen-time in this family. I feel a family meeting coming on with this at the top of the agenda. A couple of weeks ago the computer crashed and wouldn't reboot for love or money. Alas, Chuck took it upon himself to fix it that very evening. Lack of parental communication. Some intentional procrastinating would have been most appreciated by me. Still, there's lots of outdoor play happening too, so there's some balance there.

Friday, April 09, 2004

The Outdoors Beckons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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