Thursday, June 28, 2007

Swimming lessons

Owen is in his first week of swimming lessons. No longer is this Baby and Me with the child held securely in his mother's arms. Now he's in the water independently, with his fellow classmates and teachers. Not only is this a new experience for our preschoolers, this is a big change for us parents as well. We sit on the edge of the pool calling out instructions: stay on the wall, listen to your teacher, don't splash the person next to you, etc. When the teachers wrapped noodles around our little charges and lead them into the deep end, we leaned in closer and held our breathes.

I'm fighting the impulse to be a smother mother. When Owen has strayed from the group, a few times I've reminded him to stay with the teacher and a few times I've remembered my decision to let the teacher lead and bit my tongue while the teacher encouraged him to come back.

We're both growing up, Owen and I. He is learning to jump into the deep end without me and I am learning to sit on the side and cheer him on.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I am the Lord of me

Driving home from errands today I heard a sweet voice in the backseat sing, "I am the Lord of me, yes sir! I am the Lord of me." Although Owen got the theology mixed up, I give him props for heartily singing a song--on his own, about God, and without prompting.

(He was trying to sing "I'm in the Lord's army, yes sir! I'm in the Lord's army.")

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Night, night kisses

Jonas has started a new beguiling bedtime routine that has me wrapped around his finger, quite literally. After prayer and a good-night kiss, he flings his arm around my neck and plants a smacking wet kiss on my check. I give him another kiss. He leans in closer to rub his nose against mine and we giggle. We rub noses, we share kisses, we both have big grins. What could be better?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Let children be children

Melissa over at The Lilting House posted the following article from the San Francisco Chronicle and I had to share it. This is one of the reasons that I'm choosing to homeschool kindergarten.

Let children be children
Is your 5-year-old stressed out because so much is expected?

by Penelope H. Beven
published in the San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, June 3, 2007

I was watching one of my second-grade girls try unsuccessfully to tie her shoes the other day, and I thought, "This is a person who is supposed to be learning plural possessives?" I think not.

We've just finished test time again in the schools of California. The mad frenzy of testing infects everyone from second grade through high school. Because of the rigors and threats of No Child Left Behind, schools are desperate to increase their scores. As the requirements become more stringent, we have completely lost sight of the children taking these tests.

For 30 years as a teacher of primary kids, I have operated on the Any Fool Can See principle. And any fool can see that the spread between what is developmentally appropriate for 7- and 8-year-old children and what is demanded of them on these tests is widening. A lot of what used to be in the first-grade curriculum is now taught in kindergarten. Is your 5-year-old stressed out? Perhaps this is why.

Primary-grade children have only the most tenuous grasp on how the world works. Having been alive only seven or eight years, they have not figured out that in California there is a definite wet and dry season. They live in high expectation that it will snow in the Bay Area in the winter. They reasonably conclude, based on their limited experience with words, that a thesaurus must be a dinosaur. When asked to name some of the planets after he heard the word Earth, one of my boys confidently replied, "Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter and Canada!" to which a girl replied, "No, no, no, you gotta go way far outer than that."

Research has shown that it takes approximately 24 repetitions of a new concept to imprint on a young brain. The aforementioned plural possessives come up twice in the curriculum, yet they are supposed to know it when they see it. This is folly.

Currently, 2 1/2 uninterrupted hours are supposed to be devoted to language arts and reading every morning. I ask you, what adult could sustain an interest in one subject for that long? Yet the two reading series adopted by the state for elementary education require that much time be devoted to reading in the expectation that the scores will shoot up eventually. Show me a 7-year-old who has that kind of concentration. Show me a 64-year-old teacher who has it. Not I. The result of this has been a decline in math scores at our school, because the emphasis is on getting them to read and there isn't enough time to fit in a proper curriculum. Early math education should rely heavily on messing about with concrete materials of measurements, mass, volume and length, and discovering basic principles through play.

There is no time for this. The teaching of art is all but a subversive activity. Teachers whisper, "I taught art today!" as if they would be reported to the Reading Police for stealing time from the reading curriculum, which is what they did.

It is also First Communion time in second grade. Yes, I teach in a public school, but First Communion happens in second grade, and it is a big deal, the subject of much discussion in the classroom. The children are excited.

A few months back one of my girls exclaimed, "Jeez, I have a lot to do after school today, Teacher. I gotta do my homework, go to baseball practice and get baptized." I laughed to myself at the priorities of this little to-do list, so symbolic of the life of one second-grader. But there was a much larger issue here. What is happening to their souls? You may ask, what business it is of the schools what is happening to the souls of these little children?

I will tell you. Any fool can see that those setting the standards for testing of primary-grade children haven't been around any actual children in a long time. The difference between what one can reasonably expect an 8-year-old to know and what is merely a party trick grows exponentially on these state tests.

Meanwhile, children who know they are bright and can read well are proved wrong time and again because of the structure of these tests. Teachers spend inordinate amounts of time trying to teach the children to be careful of the quirky tricks of the tests when they should be simply teaching how to get on in the world.

Twenty years ago, I had a conference with a parent, a Sikh, whose child was brilliant. I was prepared to show him all her academic work, but he brushed it aside and said, "Yes, yes, I know she is quite smart, but I want to know how her soul is developing."

The present emphasis on testing and test scores is sucking the soul out of the primary school experience for both teachers and children. So much time is spent on testing and measuring reading speed that the children are losing the joy that comes but once in their lifetime, the happy messiness of paint, clay, Tinkertoys and jumping rope, the quiet discovery of a shiny new book of interest to them, the wonders of a magnifying glass. The teachers around them, under constant pressure to raise those test scores, radiate urgency and pressure. Their smiles are grim. They are not enjoying their jobs.

Our children need parents and teachers who, like Hamlet, know a hawk from a hand saw, who know foolishness when they see it and are strong enough to defend these small souls from the onslaught of escalating developmentally inappropriate claptrap. The great unspoken secret of primary school is that a lot of what is going on is arrant nonsense, and it's getting worse. Any fool can see.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Fingerprint owies

"Mommy, Mommy!" yelled Owen as he came running to me with a Thomas the Tank Engine bandage in his hand.

"What's the matter? Are you hurt?" I said thinking there must be blood.

"I got fingerprints rubbed into me. Can you get them out?"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Falling for Flotsam

Based on the recommendation of a couple of friends, I bought the latest Caldecott winner, Flotsam, and I'm glad I did. It is a charming picture book using incredible artwork to tell the story with no words whatsoever. Children have the marvelous and often rare opportunity to use their imaginations to narrate the tale.

The American Library Association has this to say:

Flotsam is a cinematic unfolding of discovery. A vintage camera washed up on the beach provides a young boy with a surprising view of fantastical images from the bottom of the sea. From fish-eye to lens-eye, readers see a frame-by-frame narrative of lush marinescapes ebbing and flowing from the real to the surreal.

“Telling tales through imagery is what storytellers have done through the ages. Wiesner’s wordless tale resonates with visual images that tell his story with clever wit and lively humor,” said Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Janice Del Negro.

The boys have been mesmorized by it. And so have I.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Gender Matters

Jack picked up Why Gender Matters at the library before a long car trip. We took turns driving and reading to each other while the boys colored, looked at books, stuck stickers on the windows and made faces at each other. Perhaps we are somewhat nerdy, but this was one of the highlights of our trip.

Based on emerging science, Dr. Sax offers a fascinating look at the differences between girls and boys. He begins by discussing the biological differences scientists have discovered that are not widely known. For instance, when your son acts as if he didn't hear you, he may not actually have heard you. Apparently, a boy's sense of hearing is not as acute as a girl's. This has all sorts of implications, such as a boy who sits in the back of the classroom getting into trouble when he simply may not have heard the teacher. Or a girl feeling like her father is yelling at her when he is simply speaking in a normal volume for him.

Although Dr. Sax provides compeling research, the second part of the book branches out to his opinions on how to apply this knowledge in everyday situations. He discusses discipline, drugs, sex, self-esteem and education. In regards to drug prevention for example, the research shows that boys tend to get into drugs because of peer pressure, whereas girls do drugs because of a low self-esteem. When it comes to education, Dr. Sax is a strong proponent for single-sex education. I've heard many arguments in favor of single-sex education for females, but I haven't heard much about the benefits for males until I read this. I can see his point. In single-sex education, the students can learn regardless of gender stereotypes and the teachers can tailor their lessons to meet the needs of the students more effectively. For instance, a high school English teacher at an all-boys school divided the students into two teams and asked questions Jeopardy style. This teacher drew upon the boys natural desire for competiton to help them review for the exam.

As with all discussions that put people into categories, you must be careful not to generalize to the extent that you forget that these are guidelines. The descriptions may fit the majority of boys and girls, yet it may not fit you or your child. Nonetheless, this is a thought-provoking and must-read book for all parents.

Owen the orator

"Mommy, I need you because I need you." Sounds like a good reason to me.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Lessons in the produce section

The boys were taking turns picking the food items off the shelves at Stater Bros. this morning.

"Jonas, please find the bananas," I say.

"I got nanas," says Jonas.

"Great! Owen, what's the first thing we put in salad?"

"Guacamole."

"Well, yes, sometimes we put avocados in our salad. But what is the first thing we put in the salad bowl?"

"Uhhhh...," he replies.

Then I realize that he calls all forms of lettuce salad, as in he wants pickles, cheese and salad in his sandwich. So I switch my tactic. "Where is the lettuce?"

"Right here!"

At this point a woman leans close to me and says, "You're doing school right here."

Exactly!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Shopping for compliments

I dragged the boys to Penney's this morning to find a few summer clothes for me. I wasn't feeling good about this since most of my clothes from last summer don't fit. Aagh. The boys weren't enjoying shopping either. Jonas, sitting in the back of the double stroller, seemed to think it funny to hit whatever was in front of him--Owen's head. Thankfully, Owen didn't scream or hit Jonas back. After Jonas' time-out, Owen said, "I don't like shopping. I want to go home." I'm with you kid.

Somehow I was able to grab a couple of items and managed to get us all squeezed into the dressing room. I miraculously found an outfit that fit and didn't look too bad either. Owen said, "You're beautiful Mom!" Aaaahhh, that made the whole outing worth it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Me without children

Here I am relaxing in a serene spot at the B&B we stayed at in the Okanagan Valley. Jack and I (That's right, just the two of us. It doesn't happen often and it was wonderful!) spent a lovely long weekend there to celebrate the wedding of some good friends. I'd rather post a photo of me immersed in a novel, something that I actually spent more time doing and actually preferred. But that photo was embarassingly ugly. So my vanity wins out and you see me painting my toenails rather than educating my mind. Sigh.

The view we soaked our souls in. The very same one I enjoyed from the wicker chair above. Now I know why the license plates advertise, "Beautiful British Columbia."

Monday, June 4, 2007

Happiest day of my life

Having just returned from a wedding, of course, that topic is on my mind. Even now, six and half years after Jack and I publicly stated our vows to each other, I'm instantly transported to that day whenever we witness others doing much the same thing.

As a mother I know I’m suppose to say that the happiest day of my life was the day my children were born. But let’s be honest, it was quite painful. Lest I be misunderstood, I’m trilled to have my children in my life! Although parenting is much harder than anyone can understand pre-baby, I really don’t want to go back to life before them. I love them more deeply and thoroughly than I could have imagined.

Yet the happiest day of my life was the day I married their father. I knew that marrying this man was the right thing for me. No doubts. And without that day, my boys wouldn’t have come into my life.