Thursday, July 26, 2018

One Last Walk

Sometimes, doing things according to plan is exactly what we don't need. 

Those who know me well would call me a planner. It would be a completely appropriate proper noun for me, as if Planner could be exchanged for my first name. It would need an article before it though, like The Planner... as in, "There goes The Planner, sticking with her plan." 

This morning, the plan was to brown some ground beef for burritos at dinnertime. I've been cooking in the mornings --er, planning ahead--to make sure I'm not sweating over a hot stove at 5:30, tired and cranky. This routine has proven useful and yet, there is a lot of prior planning involved to make it happen. I don't mind it. Cooking was never my forte in the younger parts of my life; my mother never taught us how to cook, just that we should somehow pick it up by osmosis, which is not how I learn at all. I want the explanations, the techniques and logic behind what I'm doing in the kitchen. Having an unrelated chat while someone cooks is far from instructive for me. 

That said, being a live-in nanny for a shrewish woman who had a vicious temper and Cordon Bleu training did put the spark in me to learn more. She was a mean woman who could also be wickedly funny and extremely practical, which were two things I appreciated about her. She wrote out recipes for me to cook at my boyfriend's house. A friend of mine says they still use her recipe for making black beans, and that was over twenty years ago. She also bought me the New Basics cookbook, which was a great real first cookbook, so different from the Betty Crocker and Land O' Lakes volumes I'd been previously given. We ended up parting ways when she was moving to another nearby town and her manner became too terrible to me to want to move with her. Friends took me in for a few weeks while I worked temp jobs, saved money for my own place, and tried out new recipes from my head. Sure, the black beans were a hit, but what about the chicken heart stew I made? It was cheap and the disgust factor kept me from having to share too much...and it was delicious. I was hooked on cooking.

From those days back in 1994, I would never have planned how my life would be now. I strongly believe that to be a good thing. The experiences I've learned through, grown through, endured and enjoyed... all of them bring me to who I am today: someone who likes to have a plan but won't get fussed if we go too far away from it. When the time is right for a plan to change, I can switch gears a lot more easily. The security, confidence and comfort in my life right now allows for that sort of ease in flexibility. 

Today seemed right to do just that... switch gears. After breakfast, instead of getting out the skillet and browning the beef, I suggested that we get a walk in while it was still cooler. Kiddo was amenable, and we strolled through the winding streets full of grand houses, then more modest ones, down to Providore, our favorite food market. Kiddo was on board to get focaccia and dolmas for dinner. I added olives (always, olives!) and then a peach and some strawberries to the basket for a fruit salad, a good way to use up the prolific blueberries we've had this year. Finally, a novelty... some rose water. A friend recently shared a bit of her rosewater fizzy water with me in a drink and I'm inspired to try out some new ideas with it. 

Kiddo got a honey stick and we headed home. That's when I realized that I hadn't written here for a while, and really, it was time to change this plan, too. So, as of this writing, I'm shuttering The Skyteahouse. 

The concept started out as a name for a studio apartment I rented from a guy who was more or less a slumlord. The Skyteahouse was a state of mind, and this makes sense. As a person who has a tendency to live in one's head, it's easy to imagine this as a remote refuge, not necessarily insulated from reality, but the goal was to be removed enough to have peace and a more objective perspective. Now, I have a husband and a son who both have that same tendency; we all have very rich inner lives, no matter what's going on outside of us. 

As a new parent, I wrote to share the joys, challenges and insights of having a child. His infancy brought out my sense of humor, perhaps a bit silly with sleep deprivation. The toddler and preschool years made me contemplate what I knew, what I thought I knew, and what still needed to be learned, which made me more philosophical. Hard moments and a lot of advocacy marked the elementary school years. All of these stages have helped me understand more about my family, myself, and our place in this world. Some of us lie blithely and say "I wouldn't have changed a thing", but really, that's such a crock. No one would not want to change some of the harder times and there's a short list of moments and situations we could have done just fine without. Not everything is informative to one's experience as false optimism might suggest; some of it is only superfluous and stupid. 

Yet, these upcoming middle school years are where I stop sharing. Kiddo's privacy is important to me. He's at an age when I am loving spending time with him and he's also pulling away. This is what he's supposed to do, and I am not entirely sad because really, it's a good thing. He's finding his own unique way in the world. Part of that, he needs Joe and I for, part of that he can do on his own. 
None of it, however, needs to be publicly documented with my insights and feelings about it. Kiddo will want to narrate his own story about this stage of his life, and it won't do him any favors to fit it into the themes which work for me. If he is a blueberry still wrapped in the embrace of that silvery bloom of freshness, what does that make me? A barren old part of the wood, no longer producing but still integral to the plant? These metaphors are mine, not his perception of himself. 

Some things, like history, we have learned to understand are nuanced and their 'truth' is the perspective of the person writing it, not the objective truth itself. Perhaps this is one of the best gifts I can give to Kiddo.... to allow him to compose his own story of himself at this age, when he's seeking out who he is and what is important to him. It's important not to try to fit that into my own template or thinking. His life is for him to interpret and with that knowledge, I am unsure it would be right of me to share any more of my deep thoughts about it. In short, he'll be just fine. 

This is also a time when I feel my desire for how and what I write shifting. The domestic hearth and garden is still my love, but that's not what the world needs more of at this point. I'm unsure about what comes next, only settled in my heart that it's time to say goodbye to this blog and move on to new things, new ideas. Thanks to all the readers who have come to peek in on our cozy little bungalow... let's drink a toast to the future with one last cup of tea, my friends, then we will shut the door and venture back down the mountain to whatever lies ahead. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

At the Kitchen Table

It's nearly eleven a.m. and the cold winter sun is streaming in through the curtains here at the kitchen table. "Read it aloud," I tell Kiddo, who is musing over the construction of a two-paragraph essay. He speaks the words he has typed in already, and then looks to me for help. "After the quote, " tell him, "you can use your own words to show how she goes about finding comparisons. Where else does she study besides the canopy?"

At the kitchen table sits a slightly overwhelmed kid who is trying his best to do something which is not easy, not by any means. He's being asked to draw conclusions on his own based on evidence in a text which does not give easy answers within itself. Yet, he doesn't give in to that doubt; instead, he keeps plunking through the work of finding quotes to support his thinking. We look at the text and draw connections-- just like the topic at hand, biodiversity, everything is connected--and then toy with conclusions. "What does the author learn about biodiversity?" That's a tough one....nothing in the text is spelled out for the reader.

An intellectually rich education means grappling with challenging questions in order to learn how to think for oneself. Richness can also be provided in some sweetness and loving support, so I make a glass of chocolate milk for Kiddo and a cup of cocoa for myself. If you have to work really hard on something, a few sips of something yummy can only make the moment a little better, right? He continues on with his work, and when I offer to type for him so he can perhaps have a little more ease in the flow of composition, he declines. His attention settles more toward his work than his anxiety about it and after several minutes of halting typing and scrutinizing the screen, he feels he's got a good enough rough draft to hand in for feedback from his teacher.

The fractions work which follows is easier for him. He feels good, proficient. We did a lot of work on fractions when I was homeschooling him on my own and I have a feeling this is something his mind just naturally understands. He types the answers into a Google document, photographs the work on paper that he did, better to meet the 'show your work' requirement, and submits all this. Since he has done quite a bit of that work in his head, I'll be interested to see if the teacher asks him to show all the work written out or accepts that he only needed to work out a couple of problems.

The kitchen table is the nexus for life's essential moments: we eat and drink here, gaining sustenance; we do school here, a place where we can both sit down and look at the work together as needed; and below the surface of the tablecloth is hidden entertainment, which I uncover after lunch. A jigsaw puzzle, mostly done, lies protected from the cats. Milton likes to roll around on the table when a puzzle is started, a passive-aggressive way of getting my attention--until I flick him with a bit of water and watch the pieces shoot out from under his feet as he scrambles down. Winter naturally keeps us indoors, but I'm also dealing with strained and painful tendons due to my flatter feet, and so my ventures out of the house are well-planned and often abbreviated, closer to home than I would like. The in-shoe braces I wear to hold those arches up are helpful and the orthopedic doc isn't done with me yet, but for now, I'm home a lot. Puzzles are a great way to get myself out of my own head and focused on something engaging. Anyone can join in and help, but when Kiddo finishes his lunch and his chores, schoolwork done, he is ready to go play his video game and I am ready for the satisfying work, alone, listening to NPR and contemplating which piece might go where.

Later, dinner will bring us together. Joe is out with a friend at a basketball game I was meant to go to as well, except that our sitter woke up sick. I boil up some tortellini for him, make shoyu chicken for the both of us and zap some leftover Thai veggies and tofu for myself. At the table, together again, Kiddo and I chat and eat and chat some more. It's a time for looking into each other's faces, making jokes, talking about the little moments which make up our separate-but-together lives. After the dishes are done,the kitchen tidied up, he asks to go back and play online some more. When he works hard and is responsible, I tend to give him more freedom. But first, I look at him with a comically sad face and say "But I wanted to play a game with you", to which he replies "yeah, but I want to play with my friends." It's been a long week. Joe has been gone for meetings the previous three evenings, and I smile. "Okay. Go have your fun." I mean, it's not like we haven't spent a week together doing other things and frankly, I'm tired. My puzzle is finished, my feet are sore, and there is Netflix and knitting waiting upstairs for me. I turn off the light above the kitchen table, ice packs in hand for my ankles and the knowledge that today's work is done as my prize.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Rigor and Rain: Moving through this new season




Yesterday, Kiddo and I went up to Powell Butte to meet up with some of his classmates at his new online school. We dressed for the just-turned weather, meaning that raincoats were on hand as well as my trusty green fleece cap (makes me warm, makes me happy). Kiddo, of course, decided that shorts were the thing as he was glad for the cool weather. Once, I would have argued with him to wear long pants. At this point in his life, though, I've decided that they are his skinny legs and that he knew what he was getting into.

Meeting his teachers was a delight and much of my walk around this little-known and sweet conservation area made up of beautiful woods and meadow was taken in solitude, if that's possible with 50 some odd people around. Kiddo had met another boy in his class and they stuck to each other like glue for the entire time, the hour and a half or so we tromped through over paths in the rain. Would that the walk have been a bit slower, I'd have had more time to focus on the gorgeous surroundings, but a young and vigorous teacher led the way up and around the Butte, full of energy. I can see why he is an inspiration to the kids he teachers, and it didn't hurt me any to get a bit of extra exercise and tag along near the back where the pace was slower.

I suppose it's a metaphor of sorts, my experience of this school outing. I was, I'll admit, a bit challenged to push myself to stay in pace with the group. Yet, I know that Kiddo is being challenged in this same way academically. The past few weeks has stretched him (and if we are being honest, myself as well) in mental work and sticktuitiveness. Even when we do hard things, whether they are double-digit multiplication with decimals or hauling my butt up a steep hill, there are benefits. One of which was having a chance to connect with Kiddo's teacher. She's doing an amazing job of taking this class on a thoughtful learning experience and while we'd been in good communication, it was great to see her (and her darling baby!) and I came away from our conversations feeling even more assured that we have made the right choice for Kiddo's education.

The other day, sitting on the porch and taking a snack break from some work on a slide presentation, Kiddo said to me that "it's nice to have a teacher who is kind and wants to help you. It makes me want to work hard to do well for her." I shared this with her on our walk; I know she was touched that he felt so positively about his experience, but I wonder if she could know how deeply moved I was by his comment. A sense of emotional safety and security was so important for him and to hear him state that need was met gave me something beyond a sense of relief. It had struck the sweet spot of where I had hoped we might one day be.



So much change is evident in this last month, both within and without. My garden is starting to wind down, but the more-frequent rains help it to feel cleaner and the plants seem relieved from the summer heat at last. The orange calyxes on the Chinese Lanterns in the front yard seem brighter and more defined as the light changes. I've built a stumpery garden with six old stumps and an hodgepodge of various rocks and stones, bricks and concrete pieces, fitting chicks and hens and other succulents, an old small vase and seashells in the cracks and crannies and am gearing up to fill the top bed in with more succulents and a variety of plantings. In our backyard, it was high time for the old lavender to be pruned back hard, so much of the greenery on the ends is being cut off to give energy and space for the tiny new tufts of green closer-in on the old wood. This is an experiment of sorts, and I'l see how things really fare by next spring or summer, when the plant has had a chance to go dormant over the winter and catch its breath. I'm guessing it will be more compact and hopefully, that will extend the life of the two plants heavenly-scented plants I bought for my preschool 7 years ago.

Joe and Kiddo had a Cub Scout camping event to attend after our trip to Powell Butte, so after a busy week, I was finally left alone in a quiet house. It takes a while to settle into relaxing after the guys leave. Usually the stress of getting all of the packing done and helping them out the door leaves me a bit at loose ends when they finally pull out of the driveway. Going outside to the back yard, I was grateful that I'd plucked several mostly-ripe tomatoes from the vine before the rain had started. Smiling to myself, I also came upon a happy discovery: my osmanthus tree is nearly ready to bloom again.



I love the promise of that tree and the seasons. That tree, a discarded delight from a neighbor's garden years ago, blooms tiny ivory flowers in both spring and fall and they give off the most heavenly scent. In spring, on a warm day, it's bliss to stand out there and let my senses take it all in. In fall, it makes me hope for a dry day so I can fully enjoy it. But it always blooms like clockwork, and the buds are so small, when they do pop open, it always takes me by surprise. That beauty can be dependable, relied upon--- this is such a gift. My gardening philosophy is to use as much salvaged and discarded materials as possible. Last weekend, the same neighbor who was 'done' with that beloved tree also gave me some crocosmia bulbs which she was clearing out. I'll find a few places to plant them in for next year as I love the fiery red, arching flower sprays.



Education is a lot like gardening. Sometimes there are challenges, sometimes --whether in one's back or one's brain-- it makes you sore. It makes you push yourself in order to benefit later. The level of commitment is a balm, it soothes... as we see ourselves gaining more skills and knowledge*, we feel the intrinsic reward of a job well done and of having achieved new things. This isn't to say there aren't hard times, the inevitable uneven ground to tread or the new concept which challenges one's mind and will. I push myself that little bit harder to be down on my knees, doing work which I know will hurt and look good later on as flowers bloom, and Kiddo does the same, wanting to get those 100% marks and to please his teacher who is working to help him understand new things about his world. Hard work seems to be the theme of this season, the transitions both in our hearts and out in nature as the weather cools. The garden looks bright in the overcast light this morning, somehow the pink and red mums and the orange-yellow squash blossoms, the dazzling green of the Italian parslesy seem even more pronounced this rainy morning. The leaves of the forsythia outside the kitchen picture window shiver in the breeze and I know that soon, we'll be building fires in the woodstove, carving pumpkins and the rains will come and come and come. For now, this morning of rest, spying a lone hummingbird in the back taking shelter in my sweet tree, I'm appreciative of both the rigor and the rest. Autumn is a chair I will rest in comfortably each evening, to knit a scarf for a stranger and know that we have worked hard during each day. Peace be with you.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

New Frontiers

This morning, we walked out into the sunshine, Kiddo and I. Happy together, heading toward Portland Nursery for chrysanthemums (me) and a fancy Italian soda (him), I was celebrating in my heart our last day of just hanging out we'll have in a while. In my post a few months ago, I was reflecting on how much I enjoyed our year-round homeschool learning. However, a few things have happened since then which is why I've been making the most of the last few days.

Toward the beginning of August, while scrolling through some nonsense on Facebook, I found an ad for a new online charter school. They were advertising this school as being project-based and inquiry-driven, two things I believe help to form a strong education. In fact, I've believed this since I first encountered Neil Postman's book with Charles Weingartener, "Teaching as a Subversive Activity". If I have a guru, it's likely Postman, who died in 2003 but will always live on through his extensive writing on education, communication and technology. Postman didn't just write this book, which suggests that learning how to learn, learning how to ask questions, and learning how to discern substance from noise ('crap detecting', he rather aptly put it), he also put his theories into practice with his "Program for Inquiry, Involvement, and Independent Study", which was a school within a school in New York and ran for 15 years. 

For me, this book is my touchstone. This dovetails with the emergent curriculum style of early childhood ed that I practiced for years as a preschool teacher. The children drove the activities, the information presented and the play. Of course, older students need more formal guidance and the school focuses on some things Kiddo is adept at and others which he will find challenging: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creative thinking. While his goal today, if asked, is to become a famous YouTuber, I can see that the skills being developed (and, I should add, the technology which he will be learning, as the school is online with the Google suite being used) can assist him in pursuing both his hobbies and have practical application in the future. No harm in working toward an end goal like his when one is gaining a lot of knowledge in how to deal with this new world and new economy. 

After my due diligence, we decided to enroll J a few weeks ago, therefore we have been taking the past few weeks to do fun things: spending days with friends, playing Monopoly, and truth be told, being a bit lazy. It's been nice to get to do housework at a slower pace because I wasn't trying to get school time in. 
Next week, though, that changes for us. I take a backseat as teacher and am now a parent coach/helper in this new arrangement. This will mean a lot from me, but in a different way than we'd previously experienced.

Many emotions come with this change. First, the letting go of doing something I've so loved, creating that educational space for both of us to learn and grow. Our relationship as teacher and student is something which has added a new layer of closeness and connection. I'll be more able to do some other projects since I will not be doing the work of planning and preparing curriculum,  because this is something I have always greatly enjoyed. Even when it was work, the work was meaningful to me and greatly rewarding. This has also given me a fuller sense of freedom, in that what I do really only matters so long as it matters to me. This isn't said in a selfish way, but is grounded in a history of wanting outside approval. I'm seeing that this need for validation has lessened considerably; to put it in a different way, if it matters to me, it matters. 

The other feelings, though, that I least expected to discover, was the realization of a feeling of failure surrounding Kiddo's previous school experience. This came to me, powerfully, as I spoke to one of the administrators of his new school. In fact, it hit rather like a punch to the gut. Somehow, I'd never realized one part of my frustration when we had pulled him out: I felt that I had failed my son. That I should never have left him in that situation as long as I did. That I should have pushed harder (to what end?) about the bullying issues, been less tolerant and reasonable, that I should have intervened sooner. That's a pretty monumental load to discover I was carrying. Entering a situation where I have to give up control of his educational engagement means putting trust in strangers again. Well-qualified strangers, to be sure, but  there does carry a feeling of risk. Over the last year and a half, Kiddo has made great strides in his perception as a learner; his anxiety is all but gone. He's becoming more confident in his abilities in areas which were previously a tearful struggle. I am handing over the put-back-together new and improved student I've nurtured to new hands. This isn't an unreasonable fear; imagine if you had a car, it was cracked up in a wreck and you've finally got it good as new...you'd probably be wary of a stranger driving it. It's normal. Please be gentle, dear teachers. For both our sakes. 

Yes, the last situation was lousy, but I also have to ask myself what a great child psycholist said to a complaint: "So what?" This is probably the best crap-detecting question there is, and previously I'd brushed it off as being a bit brusque, but the fact of the matter is, "so what?" makes one distill things. What do I need to hold onto from that experience any further? Get the lessons and then, make the choice to emotionally walk away from that moment. Let it go. So what? It's over and while it's a bad hangover, I don't want to carry it around any longer. I'm not sure it will matter in five years or when he's an adult. I realize that my anxiety is my own this time, not his. Change and growth are hard sometimes, even when they are good. We now have a kid who really doesn't need hugs (or at least, prefers them only occasionally now), who can walk down the block to a friends house on his own, who now remembers to look both ways when crossing the street. He's grown up a lot. As for me, I've been stepping back from being as engaged with the world at large. Writing here had given way to writing curriculum, questions, and other school-related work. Part of me thinks I have less to say than I previously thought, so I don't know what form my writing will take or what I'll share in the future. I know I want to focus on getting a few things done around here to make our home more enjoyable. A outdoor 'room' for the backyard is a priority, and we need to finish the kitchen and nook. For now, the deep garnet and the pink mums will go in near a single gorgeous sunflower, red centered and yellow-tipped, along with some gorgeous annual with darling white flowers. And I'll go back now and finish doing the dishes. Life is good, these days. Life is really good. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Not the Last Day of School

There are a lot of photos on my Facebook feed today, reminding me that outside our little Lively Learning House, many local kids are celebrating their last day of school. They hold up signs to tell us which grade it is they are finishing, toothy grins abound. Some children are wearing jackets as it's a rainy, blustery day out there. Not so great for lingering on the playground to say goodbye to friends, but I'm hoping that parents still keep their promises for a celebratory ice cream cone or other treat to commemorate the end of the academic year.

Year-round homeschooling, though, does not offer an official 'end' of anything. Kiddo will likely tell people he's going into fifth grade if they ask, but we have really moved out of that way of thinking. Learning is something that is constantly happening. We might take off a week or two of formal work, but those are spaced out between weeks of focused assignments. Our breaks are connected to what's happening in our family. A few months ago, we took most of Spring Break off because his friends in public school were off, too. It was a good time to get together with buddies. A few weeks ago, he had several days off of school-- he had traveled to Florida with his father to visit family, and between the day-before excitement, packing, and subsequent jet lag, a one week visit needed a few extra days off as a cushion. The first day back into studies is always a bumpy ride, but not nearly as big of an adjustment as the September return-to-school usually was. We can ease back into things and build up our stamina for school, rediscover what we were studying before the break and move forward in just a few days. 

This adjustment to year round learning is one which works for our family. Summer learning loss was very real previously, and we spent money for tutoring to keep his skills sharp. Now, though, with year round school, different challenges arise. How to keep school feeling good,fresh, and, albeit not my first intention, dare I say it- fun. It is that balance of having enough routine to help school feel predictable without falling into the trap of being boring. Schools do it by having those little distractions like Spirit Week: Crazy Hair Day; wearing one's school colors; Pajama Day... all those fun and silly times when some kids feel more excited about going than usual. Those little public school celebrations which we have become accustomed to culturally here in the US do serve a purpose.

Without a larger student body, though, things don't quite have the same charm. Pajama day? There is nothing novel about seeing Mom in yesterday's shirt and fleece pajama pants. Crazy hair day? Who's going to see it, besides the people at the grocery store or maybe a friend in the afternoon? School colors? Well, um.... the house is orange and white, so are those the school colors? Who knows. 

What I have learned, so far, is that keeping school fun means taking the time to think about what Kiddo is excited about, and then to run with it. A few days ago, Kiddo was completely stoked; he had just used his own money to purchase a rank on a video game. (For those of you who haven't lost part of your brain to a deluge of Minecraft information, players can pay a certain fee to have special privileges within the game and to unlock special abilities on a specific server.) When I told Kiddo that we were having his favorite, pasta and meatballs that evening, he shouted "We could have a party to celebrate me getting Lifetime MVP!" 

And so we did. The party consisted of my making dinner, him making a paper replica of his game character, and then watching the Lego Batman movie together, which had arrived earlier that day. To me, it was a fun evening with lots of dishes, but to him, it was so much more. It was something to look forward to, something relatively spontaneous and simple which meant something to him. That was the beauty of it: like the Spirit Days at public school, it was something small which had meaning because of the energy and excitement he brought to it. I couldn't have planned it to make it any better. Sometimes, simple is the way to go.

A few days ago, we had been told that yesterday was the last day of school. Bright and sunny, even though it wasn't our last day, the awareness of it put me in the mind to go for a walk and get some ice cream for Kiddo. Besides, we needed a few groceries. It was a gorgeous day and we traveled through the streets down to 28th and Burnside, soaking up the Vitamin D and looking at houses, talking of all manner of things. We grabbed some bread at the store and then headed over to 50 Licks for a treat. Kiddo wanted a blood orange creamsicle ice cream in a waffle cone; I chose a more conservative sugar cone with a small scoop of some wonderful coconut milk based treat with chocolate and caramel. (The lactose-intolerant of us are in luck; 50 Licks offered at least 4 vegan options, and not just your usual fruit sorbet suspects but CHOCOLATE and other delights!) Taking our cones, we walked around the Kenton neighborhood for a while, chatting and looking at the dogs wandering with their humans, the cats in various windows,wondering at bugs and my endless delight in other people's gardens. 

Tomorrow is a school day; next week, we will play some, school some. I think this is the rhythm which feels respectful of Kiddo's whole person as well as my own. On Monday, we go with friends to the Oregon Trail interpretive center. We've been studying a lot about First Americans, Lewis and Clark, and Westward Expansion, so this trip will be business and pleasure of course. Over the summer, we have nearly a month of half-day camps and he's got a week of Scouting camp with his buddies. We have a busy time ahead of us. I know, in the coming months, I'll continue listening for those moments he wants to celebrate and remember. We will find ways to bring a little extra zip and joy into our lives, even when we have a day's worth of learning to do. Finding bright spots along the way means keeping one's eyes open and appreciating all that life has to offer, even when it seems like something silly or unimportant. Because it's not-- not to him, anyway. Those are hopefully the moments which will remind him, sometime in the future, that sometimes homeschooling was tough, but it was also fun. Educating and nourishing not only our brains, but our hearts and souls as well. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Multiplication Dice Game for Skill Building

(note: as with all good ideas out there, I'm probably not the first to come up with something like this. That said, I hadn't seen this anywhere else as of yet, so I'm sharing this idea knowing that some of you also have little learners struggling with learning their factors and products.)

Dice Multiplication/Addition Game

I came up with this game to help Kiddo review basic multiplication of factors 1-6. This is for kids who need some reinforcement of those skills with low stakes-- in short, keep it easy, keep it fun, keep it within their grasp.

You’ll need:
1 large piece of paper
2 dice (1-6; I am hoping to purchase some Dungeons and Dragons multi-sided dice to 10 and 12 as we progress)
Small objects to serve as ‘tokens’, one for each player

Take the piece of paper and make a ‘path’ which will consist of a start, an end, and 100 spaces in between.. Number each space in numerical order. Make sure the spaces are large enough to hold a token, one inch square is fine. I let Kiddo do some of this with me.

Game:
First player rolls both dice and then multiplies the numbers. So, if one die reads “4” and the other reads “6”, your product(result) is 24. Move to that space/that number of spaces.

Go round the table, each person gets a turn.
Next time around you can:
Add the product to the number the token is already on
Or’
Let your child count out the spaces.

Be sure to provide scratch paper, or allow your child time to do the computation in their heads.
This is a great time to teach little shortcuts: “Oh, your token is on 47 and you get to go forward 25; we know 50 plus 25 is 75, so…?” Let them figure it out or not. Don’t get stuck on this if they have their own way of working it out. The point of the game is to keep it moving and keep it fun.

The first one to 100 is the winner. Play again!

I’m going to add in some fun things over the next few days, like having Kiddo write in silly activities for the spaces which are products of factors squared. (like 4, 9, 16, etc.) You can also have them count the spaces in between those products; they actually have a pretty interesting pattern. Or have multiples of 5 colored in, signalling ‘get up and dance’, that many jumping jacks, or a simple “woot! Woot!” for kids who are less inclined to do the physical things. :) Again, the point is to keep it fun, keep it moving.


If you have a child for whom losing just destroys them-- play it as a cooperative game. Maybe make a prediction at the beginning of the game to see how many turns it will take for your ‘team’ to reach 100. Like all open-ended games, make it work for your kid!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Can't Sleep.... Clowns Will Eat Me

It's 11:37pm. The kitchen is dim and quiet, a bowl of oatmeal sitting placidly on the counter. It's one of those instant packets Kiddo likes, and I'm about to find out how it tastes. I've never had one of these before and I'm hoping that wallpaper paste is not the first thing I compare it to.

For the past few days I've been dealing with a doozy of a cold. I don't usually get colds this bad; usually garden variety sniffles. This one has featured fever and chills and moved into my lungs. The cough syrup is a new one and I wasn't expecting this wakefulness. Nor was I expecting to be so hungry. Here's to hoping a bowl of oatmeal will take the edge of, make me feel warm and cuddly, and help me get some rest.

After a few bites, I decide that,while I prefer my steel-cut oats that take 20 minutes to cook, this stuff Kiddo likes is passable. That's a plus.

A lot of things go through our heads when we are laying there with nothing to distract us. I'm not the only person in our family to deal with this problem; Kiddo, too, gets the 'lie awake and think about stupid worrisome stuff' gene from me. Joe, on the other hand, can sleep through pretty much anything. I cannot recall any time in my life with him that he was staying awake, worried. Well, maybe once, when I was at the ER and sent the guys home because A. I knew it was kidney stones and B. who wants an audience when they feel like crap? Otherwise, the guy has an ability to sleep which rivals Sam-I-Am's ability to eat green eggs and ham. In short, in a box, on a train, in the rain (okay, in a tent in the rain), at a play (it really happened!)... the man has amazing sleep abilities. I am in awe of them.

Apparently, the oatmeal has a limited window when it comes to keeping a desirable consistency.

Sometimes I lay awake and try to console myself with what I think is the funniest idea in that moment. Usually it is a phrase of odd reassurance. My new favorite: "Don't worry, it's not like you'll never fall asleep ever."

It is a small consolation, but the effect it has is a good one. This is not an insurmountable obstacle. It's one night in a chain of many nights, many opportunities. It's just.... I want to sleep.

If you tell me that I shouldn't have my computer on, well, you are right. That said, I finished my book a few hours ago and wanted to write. Oh, and I guess I wanted to get freaked out a little bit because a centipede just scampered across the kitchen floor and in the time it took to get a killing device (paper towel!) it had disappeared. And now I've got the creepy crawlies. Sheesh. If you came to the conclusion that I now am No Longer Relaxed but am now on Alert Mode, you win the prize.

Can't sleep. Centipede on the loose.

I'd actually prefer the clown. The clown is a joke, a line from The Simpsons. (Homer gives Bart a bed with a clown headboard. A really creepy, psycho-looking clown.) We have it on a bumper sticker on our car. Just one of those funny things both Joe and I, and now Kiddo, really dig. If I could fall asleep to The Simpsons, or better yet, Perry Mason, without waking anyone up, I'd do so in a heartbeat. Perry Mason is great for that. I've seen all of the episodes so many times and since they are on disc, there are no blaring commercials to deal with. I've nodded off to Perry many a time.

Perhaps I'll start earlier tomorrow night. Put some Perry on at 9 and hopefully doze off. Fictitious, 1960s pretend murder is better than both hypothetical clowns or real-- very real--centipedes. In any case, Kiddo's got a workshop tomorrow morning that I have to get him to. I'll take him to lunch right after, and then home. For a nap. Because centipedes and creepy clowns don't keep daylight hours, right? At least, I hope not.